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Assembly Republicans approve changes to COVID compromise bill

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MADISON (WKOW) — Republicans in the state Assembly approved on Tuesday a series of amendments to a $100 million COVID-19 relief package that previously had the support of Senate Republicans and Democratic Governor Tony Evers.

The amendments included a ban on employers being able to require their workers to get the vaccine once it became available to them.

That amendment also included language barring local health officials from being able to close places of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also allowed dentists to administer the vaccine.

A second amendment gave the Legislature oversight of Evers’ use of future federal relief money.

“What is in the amendment are things that should not be controversial as those previous three items, I guess to some, appear to be,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

The Assembly vote was 58-34 in favor, divided along party lines.

The Senate earlier this month had removed some of those provisions. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said the removals were necessary to pass in the Senate and were done in an effort to ensure Evers would sign it.

Evers has not yet indicated whether he would sign the bill should the Senate approve the version with Tuesday’s Assembly changes.

Democratic legislators said both parties gave up on some of their priorities in order to reach consensus on the bill the Senate passed. Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) called for the Assembly to pass the bill as it was written in the Senate.

“The fact that we have a compromise, that we have something that passed with bipartisan support that the governor would sign means we have the opportunity to come here today to pass that bill with bipartisan support,” Hintz said.

LeMahieu had not indicated whether he believed his caucus would pass the bill with the changes introduced and approved by the Assembly Tuesday.

Vos said Republican members were still compromising because they wanted to add more amendments but opted not to in an effort to keep the bill palatable for Evers.

“Because we also want to get a bill to the governor, we agreed to take those out,” Vos said. “We are gonna bring up legislation in the future and we will keep advocating for those positions but we ultimately get a bill that could be signed.”

Hintz said the same could have been said for items Democrats wanted in the compromise deal but left out for the sake of passing some relief. The legislature has not passed a bill in more than nine months.

“[The compromise bill] was good enough,” Hintz said. “It was how divided government works. It resulted in compromise and it resulted in a package that would extend a lot of the things we did, address some other changes we could agree with.”

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