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Assembly Health Committee to Hear COVID Liability Bill

Yesterday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos introduced a bill related to state government actions to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The 63-page bill extends the time limit for emergency rule procedures, provides an exemption from emergency rule procedures, and grants rule-making authority. A Senate companion bill is expected shortly. The legislature is expected to take quick action, with a hearing before the Assembly Health Committee today that WBA’s Executive VP and COO Michael Semmann will submit written testimony supporting liability provisions in the bill and the bill as a whole. Potential floor votes may come as early as this week. Out of 44 provisions, key points include: 

  • Creating a liability exemption for an entity for the death of or injury to an individual or damages caused by an act or omission resulting in or relating to exposure (directly or indirectly) to COVID-19 in the course of or through the performance or provision of the entity's functions or services. 
  • Prohibiting employers from requiring their employees to receive a vaccine against the SARScoV-2 coronavirus, or showing proof of having received such a vaccine. 
  • Allowing the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL) to offer loans to a city, village, or town to ensure that a municipal utility is able to maintain liquidity through April 15, 2021. 
  • Permit extension: Specify that a person who has received a covered approval relating to challenged permit or challenged plat or survey may obtain a term or duration extension by notifying the governmental unit that issued the covered approval of the person's decision to exercise the extension not less than 90 days before the expiration of the unextended term or duration of the covered approval. 
  • Changing local health order restrictions such that the duration of any order issued by a local health officer to close or restrict capacity of businesses to control outbreaks and epidemics of the 2019 novel coronavirus may not exceed 14 days unless the governing body of the local governmental unit in which the order is intended to apply approves, by a vote of two-thirds of the elected members, an extension of the order, with each extension not to exceed 14 days. For these purposes, define a "local governmental unit" as a city, village, town, or county. 
  • Requiring the Governor submit a plan to the Joint Committee on Finance for expenditure of federal COVID-19 funds under a 14-day passive review process. 
  • Occupancy prior to final inspection: specify that a dwelling unit occupied in accordance with local ordinances before undergoing all inspections for compliance with the one- and two-family dwelling code may be granted an occupancy permit if the dwelling unit later passes a final inspection for compliance with the one and two-family dwelling code.  
  • Extending the 2019 Act 185 waiver of the unemployment insurance (UI) waiting week requirement through the week ending March 13, 2021. Currently, under Act 185, the waiting week requirement is waived from March 12, 2020, through February 7, 2021. 
  • Requiring the Department of Workforce Development to develop a plan to reduce the number of weekly claims for UI benefits in processing to levels comparable to those in January 2020, and February 2020 and to include measures to ensure maintenance of program integrity and fraud detection. 

"Banks have a unique perspective in the state economy and admirably stepped up to help Wisconsin consumers and have been part of the solution to the hardships this pandemic has created,” Semmann states in his testimony. “A key component of our state’s economic recovery is for banks to continue in their abilities to serve their customers smoothly and help them maintain access to their finances in the months ahead. If banks are taking the necessary precautions and actions to keep their customers and employees safe, they should be shielded from predatory lawsuits. AB 1 accomplished that, and many other goals.

WBA appreciates the efforts by the committee to address liability retroactively without affecting suits which have already been filed, and extend protection of individuals, businesses, schools, and universities from liabilities related COVID-19. We applaud the efforts to ensure compliance with applicable statutes, rules, and guidance should be substantial and not absolute.” 

Read a summary of the provisions here

By, Alex Paniagua