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Rotunda Report
  • Rotunda Report
    April 10, 2020

    Legislature Holds First Ever Virtual Session Day

    Mr. Cale Battles

    Wisconsin Senate Chamber Door

    As many Wisconsinites have transitioned to remote work places, the Wisconsin Legislature plans to do the same soon with a Virtual Legislative Session for both houses this week. The Assembly moved Tuesday on a bipartisan virtual vote (97-2), moved on a sweeping legislative package to address a number of policies challenges as the state and nation continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Assembly Bill 1038 (AB 1038), was introduced on Monday after continued negotiations between legislative leaders and Governor Evers’ Administration. The areas of agreement include changing a Medical Assistance formula to gain additional federal funding that was approved in the federal CARES Act and removal of the waiting period for Wisconsin citizens to receive unemployment benefits. AB 1038 also includes a number of important tax law changes, waivers dealing with K-12 education requirements, and legislative oversight of waivers requested by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services related to COVID-19. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau provided a full summary of the 87-page legislation.

    Cale BattlesCale Battles is a Government Relations Coordinator for the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6077.

    While many local governments, county boards and school boards have already used virtual meetings to conduct their governmental business, the Legislature has never used a remote system to conduct a session day. The ability of the Legislature to conduct a virtual meeting resulted from a 2009 Joint Legislative Study Committee on Emergency Management and the Continuity of Government. Now almost a decade later many of the recommendations from the committee are now being used or considered due to the on-going public health orders. 2009 Wisconsin Act 363 specifically dealt with the concept of how the legislative branch could continue to operate during any type of emergency.

    In addition to COVID-19 related legislation, the Senate also has outstanding legislation from regular session to address, including some issues the State Bar would like to see passed, such as SPD pay progression. While the Assembly completed their legislative session at the end of February, the Senate planned to return for one or two more days at the end of March to complete their legislative business. However, the escalating coronavirus crisis derailed those plans. Upon return, all bills that were in Senate at the time of adjournment will need to be revived by resolution calling the extraordinary session to order and once that happens, they will have same bill status as they did before.

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