Tuesday, January 12, 2021

State Senate Passes Amended COVID-19 Relief Bill

The full State Senate voted by a voice vote earlier today to pass an amended version of COVID-19 legislation adopted by the State Assembly last week. Governor Evers issued a statement after the vote saying that he supports the bill as amended by the Senate and will sign it if it makes it to his desk. Before that can happen, the State Assembly will need to vote to concur in the Senate’s amended version of the bill. 


The Senate Committee on Organization adopted an amendment to the bill on Monday that removed several controversial items from Assembly Bill 1 as originally drafted. The amendment removed language placing restrictions of local public health departments' ability to close businesses and language that would have banned employers from requiring their employees to receive COVID-19 vaccines. It also removed language that would have required schools to receive approval from their school board before moving to virtual instruction. Shortly before voting, the full Senate further amended their version of the bill to:


  • Allow hospitals to receive Medicaid reimbursement for some hospital services provided in home settings until January 1, 2022. 


  • Require the Department of Health Services to provide the state’s contracted aggregator with Medicaid fee-for-service and managed care claims data. The health care aggregator must de-identify the data and make it public.


  • Allow the Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development to waive certain current law restrictions related to extended unemployment benefit timeframes. 


  • Exempt administration of a COVID-19 vaccine from the surprise billing provisions that cap physician reimbursement for out-of-network services related to COVID-19 at 225% of the Medicare rate.


  • Remove language that would have allowed businesses to receive a civil liability exemption for the purposes of COVID-19 lawsuits even if they failed to comply with government regulations related to business closures or capacity limits. Businesses will still have immunity under the bill just not for situations that were reckless or misconduct.  


  • Tweak liability exemptions for health care providers during COVID-19. 


Highlights of the bill as passed by the Senate include: 

General COVID-19 Response


Coverage of COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination without Cost-Sharing: Requires health plans to cover COVID-19 testing and vaccinations without cost-sharing until June 30, 2021. 


State Funding:  Authorizes the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to transfer up to $100 million between state appropriation accounts. 


Prescription Extension: Allows a pharmacist to refill a prescription for a 30-day supply without contacting the prescribing physician through June 30, 2021. 


Other Prescription Drug Protections: Prohibits insurers through June 30, 2021 from requiring prior authorization for early refills or placing other restrictions on refills, such as limiting refill supplies to less than 90-days. 


Nursing Home and Assisted Living Visitors: Allows a nursing home or assisted living resident, their guardian or health care agent to designate an essential visitor to visit and provide support to the resident in compassionate care situations. The resident's guardian or health care agent under a power of attorney is also considered an essential visitor.  A nursing home or assisted living facility may refuse to allow access for visitation to any essential visitor who refuses to comply with public health policies of the nursing home or assisted living facility



Employers


Civil Liability: Creates a civil liability exemption for entities such as businesses, nonprofits, associations, schools, tribes, governmental entities and others related to COVID-19 exposure, death or damages. The exemption also covers employees, independent contractors or volunteers of an entity. The Senate ultimately removed language that would have allowed businesses to be exempt even if they ignored government guidance related to closures or capacity limits. 



Education 


College Credit for Helping with COVID-19 Response: Requires the UW System and technical colleges to offer students an opportunity to satisfy course requirements using time spent volunteering or working to assist Wisconsin in responding to COVID-19. 


Reports on Virtual Instruction: Requires school boards to submit reports on virtual learning to the Department of Public Instruction following each semester in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. One of the required elements of the report is a description of any challenges or barriers the school board faced related to implementing virtual instruction. DPI must then compile this information into a report for the Legislature. 


BCPL Loans: Allows the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to loan money to cities, villages, and towns to ensure that a municipal utility under the control of the city, village, or town is able to maintain liquidity. This authorization would end on April 15, 2021. 


Rehiring WRS Retirees: Allows a Wisconsin Retirement System Retiree to return to work without suspending their annuity if they return to work in a critical position during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retirees must wait at least 15 days after leaving their job before they return to work at a WRS-covered position. 


Waiver of Rules for the School Choice Program: Extends DPI’s authority to waive certain rules related to the school choice or special needs scholarship programs through October 31, 2021. DPI's waiver authority does not apply to requirements to administer pupil assessments.



Unemployment Insurance


UI Backlog: Requires the Department of Workforce Development to publish a plan on addressing the unemployment insurance claims backlog within 30 days of the bill becoming law. 


UI Call Centers: Requires the Department of Workforce Development to extend unemployment insurance call center hours to 12 hours per day, 7 days per week. 


UI Waiting Period: Extends the waiver of the state’s one week waiting period for unemployment insurance to March 14, 2021. 


Extended Benefit Periods: Allows the Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development to waive certain current law restrictions related to extended unemployment benefit timeframes. 




Thursday, January 7, 2021

State Assembly Passes COVID-19 Relief Bill with Uncertain Future

The Wisconsin State Assembly voted 56-34 on Thursday afternoon to pass Assembly Speaker Vos's COVID-19 relief bill, Assembly Bill 1.


An amendment was adopted to the bill prior to the vote. It added language to the bill allowing individuals to serve as short-term substitute teachers without a license as long as they submit an application to DPI and pass a background check. In addition, it allows schools to close for in-person instruction for up to 14 days before requiring school board approval. The original version of the bill would not have allowed schools to close for in-person instruction without first receiving approval from the school board.


The bill faces an uncertain future after Senate Republican leaders came out against it early on Thursday. Governor Evers has also indicated that he may veto it if it reaches his desk.


Education 


BCPL Loans:  Temporarily authorizes the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL) to loan money to cities, villages, and towns to ensure that a municipal utility under the control of the city, village, or town is able to maintain liquidity. This authority would expire on April 15, 2021. 


Rehiring WRS Retirees: Allows a WRS retiree to return to work at a critical position during the COVID-19 national emergency without suspending their annuity. It also reduces the break in service requirement from 75-days to 15-days.  This would apply for either the duration of the national emergency or for 60 days following the enactment of this bill, whichever is earlier.  



School Board Approval for Virtual Instruction: Prohibits schools from closing a school building or grade level to in-person instruction for more than 14 days. School boards could extend the closure by a two-thirds majority vote. Each extension could be for no more than 14 days. These provisions would not apply after June 30, 2022


Short-term Substitute Teacher License:Allows an individual to teach as a short-term substitute without a license or permit if: they have submitted an application for a license to DPI but have not heard back yet and DPI completes a background check on the individual and finds that they are not ineligible for a license. The bill requires DPI to conduct a background check on applicants as soon as possible. These provisions would apply until June 30,2022.


Reports on Virtual Instruction: Requires school boards to submit reports to the Department of Public Instruction on virtual learning 30 days after the end of each semester in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.  One of the items required to be included in the report is a description of  “any challenges or barriers the school board faced related to implementing virtual instruction during the semester.” DPI is then required to compile the information received by schools boards and submit a report to the Legislature. 



General COVID-19 Response 


Transfer of State Funds:  Allows the Joint Finance Committee to transfer up to $100 million between state appropriations accounts until June 30, 2021. 


Legislative Approval of Federal Funds: Requires the Governor to submit a 14-day passive review request to the Joint Finance Committee before spending any federal COVID-19 funds. 


Coverage of COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Without Co-Pay: Prohibits health plans from charging co-pays for COVID-19 testing and vaccination through June 30, 2021. 


Local Health Orders:  Limits a local health officer’s ability to enforce an order related to COVID-19 that closes or restricts capacity of businesses to a maximum of 2 business days. The local governing body could approve extensions of the order with a two-thirds majority vote for up to 14 days at a time.  


Prohibiting Mandatory Vaccination of COVID-19: Prohibits the Department of Health Services and local health officers from requiring individuals to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.


Allowing Dentists to Provide Flu Shots and COVID-19 Vaccines: Allows dentists who complete 12 hours of training to administer COVID-19 and flu vaccines without a prescription order.  


Nursing Home and Assisted Living VisitorsAllows a nursing home or assisted living facility resident, their guardian or health care agent to designate essential visitors who would be allowed to visit the resident in compassionate care situations so long as they agree to follow public health guidelines. 


Prescription Order Extensions: Allows pharmacists to extend a prescription for up to a 30 day supply without contacting the prescribing physician through June 30, 2021. 


Other Prescription Drug Measures: Prohibits health plans or pharmacy benefit managers from requiring prior authorization for early prescription drug refills or otherwise restricting the period in which a prescription drug may be refilled and from imposing a limit on the quantity of prescription drugs that may be obtained if the quantity is no more than a 90-day supply. 


Surprise Billing: Implements COVID-19-related surprise billing provisions through June 30,2021. Caps patient cost-sharing at in-network rates for out-of-network services that are either related to COVID-19 treatment or provided by an out-of-network provider because an in-network provider is unavailable due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Allowing Out-of-State Health Care Providers to Practice in Wisconsin: Allows out-of-state health care providers to practice in Wisconsin or provide telehealth services to patients in Wisconsin with a temporary credential from the Department of Safety and Professional Services.


Employers


Civil Immunity: Exempts businesses, associations, governmental entities,  schools and nonprofits from civil liability related to the death or injury of any individual or damages caused by an act or omission resulting in or relating to exposure of COVID-19. 


Prohibiting Employers from Requiring COVID Vaccinations:  Prohibits an employer from requiring an individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or to show evidence of having received a vaccine.





Wednesday, January 6, 2021

REMINDER: State Superintendent Candidate Forum TOMORROW, January 7

The Wisconsin Public Education Network and the League of Women Voters are holding a State Superintendent Candidate Forum tomorrow, January 7 at 7 p.m. This is a great opportunity to hear from the crowded field of candidates vying to replace State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor--who is not running for re-election-- before the February 16, 2021 primary. 

Register to attend here

There are currently seven candidates registered with the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC).  They are: Sheila Briggs, an assistant state superintendent for the Department of Public Instruction; Joe Fenrick, a Fond du Lac Teacher; Troy Gunderson, who recently retired as superintendent of the West Salem School District; Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams, Director of Governor Tony Evers’ Milwaukee Office and Education Administrative Director of DPI’s Teacher Education, Professional Development and Licensing (TEPDL) team; Deborah Kerr, former superintendent in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer; Steve Krull, a principal at Milwaukee's Garland Elementary School; and Jill Underly, superintendent of the rural Pecatonica Area School District.

The top two vote-getters from the February 16 primary will advance to the general election on April 6. 



Monday, January 4, 2021

State Assembly Fast-Tracking COVID-19 Relief Bill

The 2021-22 session of the Wisconsin State Legislature officially began on Monday, January 4 and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) promptly released a COVID-19 relief bill, Assembly Bill 1. The bill was immediately scheduled for a public hearing which will take place on Tuesday, January 5 at 11 a.m. Speaker Vos said that the full Assembly will vote on the bill this week. 

According to a statement released by Speaker Vos, the bill was negotiated with the Wisconsin State Senate and includes many items discussed with Governor Evers.

Assembly Democrats announced the framework of their own COVID-19 relief bill on Monday as well. However, it has not been officially introduced yet. 


Items of interest to WEMTA Include:


Education 


BCPL Loans:  Temporarily authorizes the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL) to loan money to cities, villages, and towns to ensure that a municipal utility under the control of the city, village, or town is able to maintain liquidity. This authority would expire on April 15, 2021. 


Rehiring WRS Retirees: Allows a WRS retiree to return to work at a critical position during the COVID-19 national emergency without suspending their annuity. It also reduces the break in service requirement from 75-days to 15-days.  This would apply for either the duration of the national emergency or for 60 days following the enactment of this bill, whichever is earlier.  


School Board Approval for Virtual Instruction: Requires two-thirds approval by a school board to use virtual instruction instead of in-person instruction. Approvals of virtual instruction would be valid for 14 days. These provisions would not apply after June 30, 2022. 


Reports on Virtual Instruction: Requires school boards to submit reports to the Department of Public Instruction on virtual learning 30 days after the end of each semester in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.  One of the items required to be included in the report is a description of  “any challenges or barriers the school board faced related to implementing virtual instruction during the semester.” DPI is then required to compile the information received by schools boards and submit a report to the Legislature. 



General COVID-19 Response 


Transfer of State Funds:  Allows the Joint Finance Committee to transfer up to $100 million between state appropriations accounts until June 30, 2021. 


Legislative Approval of Federal Funds: Requires the Governor to submit a 14-day passive review request to the Joint Finance Committee before spending any federal COVID-19 funds. 


Coverage of COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Without Co-Pay: Prohibits health plans from charging co-pays for COVID-19 testing and vaccination through June 30, 2021. 


Local Health Orders:  Limits a local health officer’s ability to enforce an order related to COVID-19 that closes or restricts capacity of businesses to a maximum of 14 days. The local governing body could approve an extension of the order with a two-thirds majority vote.  


Prohibiting Mandatory Vaccination of COVID-19: Prohibits the Department of Health Services and local health officers from requiring individuals to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.


Allowing Dentists to Provide Flu Shots and COVID-19 Vaccines: Allows dentists who complete 12 hours of training to administer COVID-19 and flu vaccines without a prescription order.  


Nursing Home and Assisted Living Visitors:  Allows a nursing home or assisted living facility resident to designate an essential visitor to visit and provide support for the resident in compassionate care situations. A health care agent under the resident's power of attorney for health care is also considered an essential visitor. 


Prescription Order Extensions: Allows pharmacists to extend a prescription for up to a 30 day supply without contacting the prescribing physician through June 30, 2021. 


Other Prescription Drug Measures: Prohibits health plans or pharmacy benefit managers from requiring prior authorization for early prescription drug refills or otherwise restricting the period in which a prescription drug may be refilled and from imposing a limit on the quantity of prescription drugs that may be obtained if the quantity is no more than a 90-day supply. 


Surprise Billing: Implements COVID-19-related surprise billing provisions through June 30,2021. Caps patient cost-sharing at in-network rates for out-of-network services that are either related to COVID-19 treatment or provided by an out-of-network provider because an in-network provider is unavailable due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Allowing Out-of-State Health Care Providers to Practice in Wisconsin: Allows out-of-state health care providers to practice in Wisconsin or provide telehealth services to patients in Wisconsin with a temporary credential from the Department of Safety and Professional Services.


Employers


Civil Immunity: Exempts businesses, associations, governmental entities,  schools and nonprofits from civil liability related to the death or injury of any individual or damages caused by an act or omission resulting in or relating to exposure of COVID-19. 


Prohibiting Employers from Requiring COVID Vaccinations:  Prohibits an employer from requiring an individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or to show evidence of having received a vaccine.




Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Congress Passes COVID-19 Relief, Year-End Spending Deal

Congress passed a bill Monday night that includes both $900 billion in COVID-19 relief and a $1.4 trillion year-end spending agreement needed to prevent a government shut-down. The full 5,593 bill can be viewed here

The bill now goes to President Trump for his signature. 


Highlights from the bill include:



COVID Relief Bill 


Economic Assistance


Rebates for Americans:  Provides a refundable tax credit in the amount of $600 per eligible family member. The credit is $600 per taxpayer ($1,200 for married filing jointly), in addition to $600 per qualifying child. The credit phases out starting at $75,000 of modified adjusted gross income. 


Eviction Moratorium. Extends the CDC eviction moratorium until January 31, 2021.


Broadband


Grants for Broadband Connectivity. Establishes two grant programs at the NTIA. The first is a $1 billion grant program to support broadband connectivity on tribal lands throughout the country. The grants would be directed to tribal governments to be used not only for broadband deployment on tribal lands, but also telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion. The second is a $300 million broadband deployment program to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas. The grants would be issued to qualifying partnerships between state and local governments and fixed broadband providers. Priority for grants would be given to networks that would reach the most unserved consumers.


FCC Data Mapping: Provides $65 million to the FCC to create broadband data maps required under the Broadband DATA Act. 


Benefit for Broadband Service During Emergency Period Relating to COVID-19. Establishes a $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program at the FCC, under which eligible households may receive a discount of up to $50, or up to $75 on Tribal lands, off the cost of internet service and a subsidy for low-cost devices such as computers and tablets. Internet service providers that provide the discounted service or devices to customers can receive a reimbursement from the FCC for such costs. Households that qualify for the benefit include those with: children that qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, Pell grant recipients, recently laid off or furloughed workers, an individual who qualifies for the Lifeline program, or an individual who qualifies for a low-income or COVID-19 discount program offered by internet service providers.


Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand (ACCESS BROADBAND) Act. Establishes the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (Office) at the NTIA. This Office would be tasked with performing certain responsibilities related to broadband access, adoption, and deployment, such as performing public outreach to promote access and adoption of high-speed broadband service, and streamlining and standardizing the process for applying for Federal broadband support. The Office would also track Federal broadband support funds, and coordinate Federal broadband support programs within the Executive Branch and with the FCC to ensure unserved Americans have access to connectivity and to prevent duplication of broadband deployment programs


Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program. Appropriates $1.9 billion for the FCC’s Secure and Trusted Reimbursement Program. Expands eligibility for the Secure and Trusted Reimbursement Program at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that compensates providers for the cost of removing and replacing certain unsecure equipment from their networks. It also ensures that smaller providers and public or private educational institutions are prioritized for such reimbursements.


Connecting Minority Communities. Establishes an Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to focus on broadband access and adoption at Historically Black colleges or universities, Tribal colleges and universities, and other Minority-serving institutions, including the students, faculty, and staff of such institutions and their surrounding communities.


Education 


Education Stabilization Fund: $82 billion Education Stabilization Fund to provide flexible funding to support the educational needs of States, school districts, and institutions of higher education and the students they serve in response to coronavirus.


Emergency Relief Fund: $54.3 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which provides formula funding to States and school districts to help them respond to coronavirus.


Governor’s Emergency Education Relief: $4.1 billion for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, including $2.75 billion for non-public schools. 


Educator Expense Deduction:  Requires the Secretary of the Treasury to issue guidance or regulations providing that personal protective equipment and other supplies used for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 are treated as eligible expenses for purposes of the educator expense deduction. Such regulations or guidance shall be retroactive to March 12, 2020. 


Appropriations Bill


Broadband


Rural Broadband: Invests more than $730 million in the expansion of broadband service to provide economic development opportunities and improved education and healthcare services. 


FCC:  $33 million is provided for the FCC to improve its broadband maps as required by the Broadband DATA Act.


Education 


Student Support and Academic Enrichment State Grants:Provides $1.2 billion for Student Support and Academic Enrichment State Grants, an increase of $10 million above the 2020 enacted level. 


Education Innovation and Research: Provides $67 million within the Education Innovation and Research program, an increase of $2 million above the 2020 enacted level, for grants to expand opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), including computer science.


Public Broadcasting: Provides $475 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), in 2023 advance funding, an increase of $10 million above the 2020 enacted level. In addition, the bill includes $20 million for the interconnection system and system wide infrastructure, the same as the 2020 enacted level. 


Institute of Museum and Library Services: $257 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an increase of $5 million above the 2020 enacted level.




Tuesday, December 15, 2020

State Superintendent Candidate Forum January 7

The Wisconsin Public Education Network and the League of Women Voters are holding a State Superintendent Candidate Forum on January 7 at 7 p.m. This is a great opportunity to hear from the crowded field of candidates vying to replace State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor--who is not running for re-election-- before the February 16, 2021 primary. Register to attend here and submit a potential question about WEMTA's priority issues here

There are currently seven candidates registered with the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC). In order to officially get on the ballot, each candidate needs to submit at least 2,000 valid signatures to the WEC by January 5, 2021. 

The candidates trying to get on the primary ballot are: Sheila Briggs, an assistant state superintendent for the Department of Public Instruction; Joe Fenrick, a Fond du Lac Teacher; Troy Gunderson, who recently retired as superintendent of the West Salem School District; Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams, Director of Governor Tony Evers’ Milwaukee Office and Education Administrative Director of DPI’s Teacher Education, Professional Development and Licensing (TEPDL) team; Deborah Kerr,
 former superintendent in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer; Steve Krull, a principal at Milwaukee's Garland Elementary School; and Jill Underly, superintendent of the rural Pecatonica Area School District.

The top two vote-getters from the February 16 primary will advance to the general election on April 6.