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Wisconsin lawmakers OK bills on Holocaust education, sex assault kits, vaccine administration
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Wisconsin lawmakers OK bills on Holocaust education, sex assault kits, vaccine administration

WI Capitol Building 010721 05-01132021211048 (copy) (copy)

Trees surrounding the Wisconsin State Capitol Building are covered in rime ice in Madison on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.

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Bills to require lessons on the Holocaust in schools, outline the state's approach to tracking and processing sexual assault kits and protect coverage of those with pre-existing conditions cleared at least one chamber of the Wisconsin Legislature on Tuesday.

The measures, among the host of proposals that were brought back this year after similar efforts died last session, are just a few of the pieces of legislation lawmakers considered when they convened Senate and Assembly floor periods Tuesday afternoon.

During the proceedings, legislators sent along a number of bills to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' desk, including one seeking to lower prescription drug prices by targeting pharmacy benefit managers and another that would let dentists administer COVID-19 and flu vaccines.

[Wisconsin lawmakers work to revive bills left for dead during last legislative session]

Republican lawmakers touted the health care provisions in the lead-up to and during Tuesday's session, with Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc, saying in a floor speech: "What a great day for health care in Wisconsin, particularly those living in rural areas like myself."

Many of the items on both chambers' calendars passed with broad bipartisan support. That includes a pair of bills aiming to streamline the collection, testing and tracking of sexual assault kits.

Those bipartisan efforts, which seek to prevent a future backlog of sexual assault kits in Wisconsin, easily passed the Senate last session but faced roadblocks in the Assembly after Republicans in that chamber introduced their own competing plans featuring provisions the Senate authors didn't endorse.

"We must do all that we can to support survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence," said Madison Sen. Melissa Agard (formerly Sargent), who was a lead Assembly Democratic author of last session's bipartisan sexual assault kit bills. "I hope that the Assembly follows our lead to pass these bills swiftly."

In other legislation:

  • Holocaust, genocide education: Wisconsin schools would be required to provide students instruction on the Holocaust and other genocides at least once each during middle and high school. The proposal, which mirrors one from last session, passed the Senate Tuesday and now heads to the Assembly.
  • Pre-existing coverage: Health insurance companies would be barred from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, prohibited from charging someone a higher premium due to their health status and more under legislation that would only take effect if the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," is repealed or struck down. The measure unanimously passed 92-0. Last session, it also passed the Assembly but was never taken up in the Senate. 
  • Pharmacy benefit managers: The bill seeks to drive down prescription drug costs by creating new rules for pharmacy benefit managers, which serve as go-betweens for pharmacies and health insurance companies by managing prescription drug pans and price negotiations. A similar measure cleared the Assembly last session but never cleared the Senate following COVID-19's onset. But now, it's headed to Evers' desk after the Assembly voted to approve it Tuesday. 
  • COVID-19 measures: Two bills that were previously included in a broader COVID package that Evers vetoed received bipartisan support Tuesday: one that would speed up the process for licensed health care providers in other states to get their credentials in Wisconsin, provide reimbursements through Medicaid to hospitals offering nursing-facility-level custodial care as well as outpatient care due to the COVID-19 crisis and more; and another to let dentists administer COVID-19 and flu vaccines. The dentist bill is now on its way to Evers after gaining Assembly support this week.

The Assembly is scheduled to meet again Wednesday to vote on a plan to legalize takeout cocktails. Specifically, the framework would allow bars and restaurants with a Class B license to sell wine and spirits on premise, enabling them to sell mixed drinks and glasses of wine in to-go containers. The change would be a boost for restaurants, where profit margins are higher on alcohol than food.

Rush Limbaugh resolution

Senate Republicans passed a resolution along party lines honoring conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, a recipient of the presidential medal of freedom who died at the age of 70 last month.

The party-line approval came over protests from Democratic lawmakers, who pointed to Limbaugh's history of derogatory comments toward gay people, including those who died during the HIV/AIDS crisis; degrading remarks about women, as part of broader critiques of feminism, which he opposed; and racist comments on professional athletes, former President Barack Obama and others.

The vote came in the weeks after the Republican-led Legislature declined to pass a resolution drafted by Black Democratic lawmakers recognize February as Black History Month — the latest in years of partisan debates over the language and who was being honored. Sen. LaTonya Johnson sought to introduce a Black History Month resolution on the floor Tuesday, but Republicans rejected the effort.

The Assembly will take up the Limbaugh resolution, which in part honors him as "a talk radio pioneer beloved by millions of loyal listeners for his ardent defense of conservative politics," on Wednesday.

Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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