Assembly's COVID Package Restricts Local Health Departments; Senate Amendment Removes the Restrictions

Last week, the Assembly introduced, held a public hearing on, and passed an amended version of AB 1, the Assembly Republican's response to the COVID pandemic. The amended version of the bill the Assembly passed contains the following restrictions on local health departments and health officers: (Note: Although most municipalities are served by county health departments pursuant to Wis. Stat. sec. 251.02, 16 municipalities operate their own health department or partner with the county or other municipalities: Appleton, De Pere, Eau Claire, Franklin, Greenfield, Hales Corners, Madison, Menasha, Milwaukee, North Shore, Oak Creek, South Milwaukee/St. Francis, Wauwatosa, West Allis, Racine, and Watertown.)

  • Vaccine Mandates. Prohibits vaccine mandates by employers, the Department of Health Services (DHS), and local health officers.
  • Local Health Orders. Limits the duration of any action taken by a local health officer to control the spread of COVID-19 to two business days unless an extension is approved by a two-thirds vote of the local governing body, and each such extension may not exceed 14 days. The amended version passed by the Assembly also specifies that this approval procedure does not confer authority to close or restrict capacity in businesses or places of worship. The original bill allowed a local health officer to enforce an order to close or restrict capacity of businesses to control outbreaks and epidemics of COVID-19 for a maximum of 14 days unless the governing body approved an extension of the order. Currently, local health officers have the statutory authority to do what is reasonable and necessary for the prevention and suppression of disease and forbid public gatherings when necessary to control outbreaks or epidemics among other public health powers. In addition, local health officers must take all measures necessary to prevent, suppress, and control communicable diseases and report those measures to the appropriate governing body along with the progress of the communicable disease.

The League opposes AB 1 as passed by the Assembly because of the severe limitations it imposes on local health officers.

The Senate Committee on Organization (originally the Senate Finance Committee) is meeting this morning at 11:00 am to hear AB 1 and recommend Senate modifications. Senate Republican leadership introduced a Senate Substitute Amendment to AB 1 this morning that makes no changes to current law relating to the powers of local health officers. The Senate Substitute Amendment addresses our concerns about AB 1. The Senate Committee on Organization will likely vote to recommend passage of the Senate Substitute amendment at an Executive Session scheduled for immediately after the public hearing, and the Senate will be on the floor to approve the amended package tomorrow. You can follow this fast paced action on Wisconsin Eye.

The Assembly will need to meet to approve the Senate's amendment before the bill can be advanced to the Governor.