, ,

Assembly Health Committee Advances COVID Liability Protections for WI Businesses

On Tuesday, Jan. 5, the Assembly Committee on Health held both a public hearing and then voted to recommend passage of 2021 Assembly Bill 1, legislation introduced in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Most notably for WBA and its members, AB 1 contains a provision protecting Wisconsin businesses from liability claims related to contraction or exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. WBA’s government relations team registered in support of the bill and Executive VP and COO Michael Semmann contributed to the discussion by providing written testimony to the committee on behalf of WBA members.  

Oral testimony from the hearing featured a range of those in favor and opposed to the bill for a variety of reasons. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, lead author of the bill, kicked off the hearing. Kristine Hilmer from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association supported the bill, citing that 37% of restaurants are considering closing permanently, and nearly 50% of all restaurants are considering shutting down until the pandemic is over. Others in favor included Steve Baas from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Cory Fish from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and Wisconsin Independent Businesses Legislative Director Brian Dake, who stated the provisions in Assembly Bill 1 “has a beneficial bottom-line impact on Wisconsin small businesses.”  

Notable opponents of the bill included Heath Straka, immediate past president of the Wisconsin Association of Justice, who expressed concerns the business liability protection was too broad in the bill as written. Additionally, Shawn Phetteplace of the Main Street Alliance testified with Amanda Dixon, owner of the Lazy Susan in Milwaukee, to call for a cohesive vaccination plan, robust public health policies, and small business grants.  

Others supported the bill overall with notable concerns, such as a call for current statute allowing for exemptions from vaccines (religious reasons, medical reasons, and personal conviction) to be the only path to not getting vaccinated and concerns surrounding dentists being allowed to administer COVID vaccines.  

In addition to WBA, many other businesses, consumer groups, and trade associations provided written testimony to the committee, which Chairman Sanfelippo strongly encouraged legislators and members of the public. As of this writing, over 50 lobbying principles have registered in support of AB 1.  

Following the public hearing, the committee entered an executive session to vote on advancing the bill. The Republican-led committee voted along party lines 11-5 to recommend passage of AB 1. Late Tuesday, the Committee on Rules placed AB 1 on the calendar for an Assembly floor session to be held this Thursday, January 7th.  

By, Alex Paniagua