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News & Press: Legislative & Policy Updates

WPA Legislative & Political Update, July 2020

Thursday, July 16, 2020  
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Hubbard Wilson Zelenkova, LLC
WPA Contract Lobbyists

Legislative News

The legislative floor session was cut short by the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency.   While the Assembly completed its action on regular session legislation in February, the Senate intended to finish up on March 25th.   That of course did not happen.   The Senate has kept the door open to returning to finish action on bills it had intended to concur on from the Assembly.  Under normal circumstances, any bills that had failed to pass by now would be dead for the session.  Under these unusual circumstances, however, the Senate may still come back to act.   Bills that could still receive action include: 

  • AB 443:  Grant to Eau Claire county to expand psychiatric bed capacity.  This bill passed the Assembly unanimously.
  • AB 526:  CME requirement for suicide prevention.  Passed assembly with bipartisan opposition.  Likely would not be taken up by the Senate if they return.  
  • AB 525:  Suicide prevention program and funding.  Passed Assembly 93-2.
  • AB 527:  Preventing suicide by firearm.  Passed Assembly 92-2.
  • AB 575:  Physician Assistants’ “Cares Act”.   Passed assembly on voice vote after significant amendments.
  • Of note, AB 664, that created and funds a school based mental health consultation pilot program passed both houses and was signed into law as WI Act 117 in early March.  

Both houses of the legislature did return to pass legislation related to the public health emergency.  The COVID-response legislation, most notably, included changes necessary for the state to accept increased FMAP funding under MA and gave DHS the ability to take actions during the Emergency Declaration that would otherwise require at least passive review under normal circumstances.  Significantly, HWZ worked with WPA, WMS and other physician groups to include immunity to civil liability for claims that arise as a result of treatment decisions made in response to the emergency.  The application of this provision however recently ran out as its duration applied for only 60 days after the Governor’s emergency declaration expired on May 11.

During the Governor’s 60-day Emergency Declaration, numerous emergency orders were issued.  Many EO provisions were related to healthcare, particularly availability and staffing for emergency response including delaying license renewals, easing temporary licensure guidelines, and the like.  Other provisions increased access and expanded services like telehealth application for emergency mental health services and outpatient mental health services.  The latter provisions contained in EO 35 were short-lived as they were only issued a week before expiration of the Declaration.  Efforts are underway to continue some of the COVID-related regulatory flexibilities related to telehealth, licensure and liability.

There has been much speculation as to whether or not the Legislature will convene a special or extraordinary legislative session prior to the beginning of the 2021-2022 legislative session in January.  As mentioned, in the Senate there was unfinished work to do on regular business legislation.   But more importantly, depending on where state revenues stand as a result of the pandemic, it is possible that a Budget Repair bill may be necessary.   State law requires that should state revenues dip below .5% of funds necessary to maintain a balanced budget then corrective legislation is necessary.  However, even if budget action is triggered, it is our assessment that it is very unlikely the legislature would address a budget shortfall before the November election.   Instead, if necessary, it would be more likely that a budget shortfall would be addressed when the new legislature convenes in January 2021.

2020 Elections

Despite limitations on collecting signatures, candidate nomination papers were due on June 1st.   While some incumbents will get a free ride, most legislative seats will have contested races. Several legislative retirements have left vacancies in the legislature and a dash for open seats.   Here is a list of sitting legislators who are either retiring or running for other elected office:

Retiring Senators:   

Sen. Luther Olsen (R- Ripon)
Sen. Dave Craig, (R-Big Bend)
Rep. Fred Risser (D-Madison)
Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona), 
Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) 
Sen. Jen Shilling (D-La Crosse) (vacated senate seat on May 15)

Retiring Senators running (or successfully ran) for higher office

Sen. Tom Tiffany (R- Hazelhurst) (Won 7th CD special election)
Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) (Running for 5th CD)

Retiring Representatives:   

Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) (Appointed Dane County Circuit Judge effective August 1)
Rep. Deb Kolste (D-Janesville)
Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee)
Rep. Mike Rohrkaste (R-Neenah)
Rep. Bob Kulp (R- Stratford)
Rep. Romaine Quinn (R-Barron)

Retiring from Assembly and running (or successfully ran) for higher office:   

Rep. Joan Ballweg (R- Markesan) (Running for 14th SD)
Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) (Running for 12th SD) 
Rep. David Crowley (D-Milwaukee) (new Milwaukee County Executive)
Rep. Amanda Stuck (D-Appleton) (Running for 8th CD)
Rep. Rob Stafsholt (R-New Richmond) (Running for 10th SD)
Rep. Jocasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) (new Milwaukee city council member)
Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) (Running for 16th SD)