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Gov. Tony Evers concerned about GOP desire for oversight of vaccine deployment, COVID-19 spending
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COVID-19

Gov. Tony Evers concerned about GOP desire for oversight of vaccine deployment, COVID-19 spending

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Gov. Tony Evers said he’s “concerned” about a GOP proposal to give the Republican-led Legislature oversight of future COVID-19-related spending and the state’s vaccine deployment.

Evers’ comments come as Wisconsin continues to wait on another round of federal coronavirus relief aid, as well as new state legislation — which the Democratic governor has been discussing in recent weeks with Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly.

During a Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce webinar Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said they want more legislative control over how the state and federal pandemic funds are spent, as well as how the COVID-19 vaccine is prioritized and deployed.

“Clearly, if you think about over 100 people in the Capitol figuring out who gets the vaccine first or second and so on, that doesn’t even pass the smell test,” Evers said on a media call with reporters Thursday.

The governor also expressed concern that legislative oversight into COVID-19 spending could be cumbersome and time-consuming.

The state Department of Health Services reported 4,034 COVID-19 cases and another 57 deaths Thursday, bringing the totals to more than 426,000 cases and 3,944 deaths since the pandemic began. The seven-day average of new cases fell to 3,770 Thursday, compared with more than 6,500 last month.

However, public health officials have attributed the downward trend in cases to a drop in overall testing since the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

“I do think we are a little bit concerned that the decrease in the testing that we have seen coming out of the Thanksgiving holiday may be falsely undercounting our number of new daily cases,” DHS Secretary Andrea Palm said. “I think we certainly could and would expect to see increases in daily cases now that we’ve hit that 14-day incubation period.”

Evers has proposed a roughly $541 million package of bills, while Vos has laid out a plan that would allow the GOP-led budget committee to spend up to $100 million for virus response measures. LeMahieu said some items in the Assembly package could receive support in the Senate, but he also has proposed using some of the state’s existing surplus Medicaid funds to address pandemic needs. Evers opposes LeMahieu’s proposal, as those state funds often go to health care coverage, long-term care and other services.

Both Republican leaders also said future legislation could include WMC-supported liability protections for businesses, schools and local governments to prevent an influx of COVID-related lawsuits.

“We’re in December, we have yet to see this tsunami of litigation,” said Ryan Nilsestuen, Evers’ chief legal counsel. “So I think it’s really problematic when you want to provide protections against litigation, but you don’t want to do anything in terms of mitigating the virus or protecting people.”

Vos has said the Assembly may still convene this month, while LeMahieu said a session in the Senate is unlikely to occur until next year. Evers has urged immediate action from the Legislature and has hinted at calling for a special session on COVID-19, but such sessions have not been successful in previous attempts.

Fave 5: State government reporter Mitchell Schmidt shares his top stories of 2020

Choosing my five favorite stories of 2020 seems almost paradoxical.

This year has felt like one exhausting slog of pandemic stories, state Legislature updates and, oh yeah, a presidential election thrown in for good measure. Thanks to a split government, there's been no shortage of politically-charged stories here in Wisconsin and the partisan divide has, maybe unsurprisingly, felt as wide as ever throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

I don't know if "favorite" is the best way to describe them, but here are a few stories from 2020 that stood out to me:

Back in March, Gov. Tony Evers issued the state's first public health emergency in response to the then-emerging pandemic. At the time, Wisconsin had reported eight total cases of COVID-19.

As the pandemic progressed, positive cases and deaths climbed and state lawmakers battled over the appropriate response. In May, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Evers' stay-at-home order, a decision that still resonates today with the state's coronavirus-related measures.

One story I was particularly excited about before I officially started working for the State Journal was the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. However, like most things this year, the pandemic drastically altered that plan.

In non-pandemic news, the state in October formally denied billions of dollars in state tax credits to Foxconn Technology Group — a story we managed to get before any other outlet in the state through records requests and sourcing.

Lastly, in November I worked on a story about how GOP-drawn legislative maps once again disproportionately benefited Republicans in state elections. Wisconsin is headed toward another legal battle next year when the next batch of 10-year maps are drawn.

Feel free to read my top stories below, or check out my other state government articles from this year, (by my count, there have been more than 300 so far).

Also, thanks to all the subscribers out there. This year has been challenging on so many people, so your support is so much appreciated.

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