Senate Passes Amended COVID Response Bill

Last week, the Senate passed an amended version of AB 1, the COVID response legislation. The Senate amendment removed several items from the Assembly version that they knew would cause the Governor to veto the bill, including restrictions on the ability of local health officers to order capacity limits or closings to address surges in the spread of COVID-19. The League opposed the Assembly version of AB 1, but we removed our opposition to the bill after the Senate's amendment addressed our concerns.

This Legislative Council memo explains the differences between the Assembly and Senate versions of AB 1.

Over the weekend, Assembly leadership indicated that the Assembly will meet to amend the Senate's version in the next two weeks. Such an action will require the Senate to meet and affirm any Assembly changes to the bill before it can be sent to the Governor for his signature or veto.

League Urges COVID Vaccine be made Available to Critical Municipal Staff

Last week, the League submitted the following comments to the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee Vaccine Distribution Subcommittee urging that certain crucial municipal employees be allowed to receive the vaccine under phase 1b. 

To:      Members of the SDMAC Vaccine Distribution Subcommittee
From:  Curt Witynski, J.D, Deputy Executive Director, League of Wisconsin Municipalities
Date: January 15, 2021
The League of Wisconsin Municipalities represents nearly 600 cities and villages of all sizes throughout the state struggling with the continuing impacts of the pandemic, including the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. We appreciate the opportunity to offer the following comments on the Vaccine Distribution Subcommittee’s recommendations for COVID-19 Vaccine Priority Group 1b.

In addition to police and fire, Wisconsin cities and villages provide the following vital services to the public: drinking water, wastewater collection and treatment, plowing and maintenance of streets, and administration of elections. On behalf of our members, we urge the committee to broadly enable each municipality to determine which of their employees qualify as front-line and non-frontline essential workers critical to the continuation of operations of the municipality and therefore eligible under Phase1b for the COVID-19 vaccine. The leaders of each municipality are in the best position to determine what municipal workers serve crucial functions, are difficult to quickly replace, and without whom important public services could not continue. We seek local flexibility for determining who, in addition to police and fire, should be included in the list of essential workers eligible for the vaccine under Phase 1b. The list will vary by community depending on the size of the municipal staff and resources available.  

If it is impractical or not possible for the committee to delegate to municipal leaders the ability to determine which municipal employees should be prioritized for the vaccine under Phase 1b, we urge the committee, at a minimum, to include the following frontline and non-frontline essential municipal workers in Phase 1b, based on the essential nature of their jobs, difficulty in quickly identifying trained replacements, and other unique circumstances of their duties:

  1. Operators of municipal water and wastewater systems. Many Wisconsin municipalities are less than 1,500 in population and have one or two staff trained and licensed to operate their water and wastewater systems. These individuals cannot be replaced quickly should they become infected with the COVID-19 virus. Providing safe, clean drinking water to municipal residents and treating wastewater before it is discharged to the state’s surface waters are essential functions that must be performed 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year without lapse. 
  2. Public works employees. City and village public works staff are responsible for plowing, maintaining, and keeping open local street networks so that police, fire, and ambulances can quickly and efficiently respond to emergencies, employees can get to work, and commerce can proceed. Trained snowplow operators, foresters, and other public works staff are not easily and quickly replaced.
  3. Municipal clerks, deputy clerks, and poll workers. Municipal clerks and their staff are the most public facing of all essential municipal employees. They interact with the public more than any other municipal position. Most importantly, they administer elections. Two elections will be conducted this winter and spring, One in February and one in April. The unique role that clerks play in running our election process requires them to be in contact with the public, not just on election day, but also for the two weeks prior to election day when in-person absentee voting is conducted. 

The League urges the committee to include the above three groups of essential municipal workers in vaccine priority group 1b.

The League appreciates the opportunity to file these comments. Thank you for considering them.