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WBA Testimony on COVID-19 Liability Bill

Chairman Sanfelippo and Members of the Committee:   

My name is Michael Semmann, Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer for the Wisconsin Bankers Association, the state’s largest financial industry trade association. WBA represents 225 commercial banks and savings institutions, their nearly 2,300 branch offices and 28,000 employees.

On behalf of its membership, WBA supports 2021 Assembly Bill 1, specifically the provisions protecting Wisconsin businesses from liability claims related to contraction or exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.

Wisconsin’s financial institutions are on the economic frontlines of this crisis and have been since its inception. Before government programs were even developed, financial institutions across the state were already proactively engaging with their customers to determine the impact the COVID-19 pandemic was having on their financial well-being.

Over the course of the last ten months, and from the moment emergency health declarations were made at the state and federal level, WBA began hearing concerns from customers about their financial stresses. WBA continues to hear stories of economic hardship as people continue to take steps both on their own and in response to various actions to help mitigate the spread of the virus.  

The pandemic has indeed created challenging situations for individuals and businesses. Banks, as a steadfast and essential industry, have worked overtime as a resource in these uncertain times, especially through the execution of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Wisconsin banks helped facilitate nearly 90,000 loans to small businesses worth over $9.9 billion – ranking the state as  18th best in the country by volume. Throughout the pandemic, drive-thru lanes and lobbies have remained open and staffed by personnel dedicated to customer service.

Wisconsin’s banks have a unique perspective in the state economy and admirably stepped up to help Wisconsin consumers. They have been part of the solution to the hardships this pandemic has created. A key component of our state’s economic recovery is for banks to continue 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 this 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.

Those who aid in the state and the public during a pandemic or other emergency should have assurance that their actions and good intentions are met with in-kind action by government. Wisconsin businesses, non-profits, schools, and homeowners need a measure of consistency and security as we turn the page to 2021 and look to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

I want to thank the members of this committee, along with the other members in the Assembly and Senate for working on this important legislation to ensure everyone in Wisconsin can move forward with confidence.

For more information, contact WBA’s Mike Semmann at 608-441-1206, msemmann@wisbank.com or John Cronin at 608-441-1215, jcronin@wisbank.com. 

By, Alex Paniagua