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Special Interests Want COVID Lawsuit Immunity

Republican bill protects businesses from lawsuits even if they violate public health guidelines.

By - Jan 9th, 2021 04:25 pm
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. File photo by Riley Vetterkind / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. File photo by Riley Vetterkind / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

The state’s most powerful special interest business and trade groups support a Republican bill that would give businesses broad immunity from lawsuits brought by customers and employees who contract covid-19 even if businesses don’t follow public health guidelines.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1, was introduced Monday by GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, of Rochester, and approved by the Assembly Health Committee after a hearing on Tuesday. It now goes to the full Assembly. GOP legislative leaders hope to get the bill approved and to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers by the end of the week.

AB1 would also:

Restrain state and local governments and health officials from imposing restrictions or shutdowns on businesses. Public health orders limiting capacity or imposing shutdowns would only last for up to 14 days. Each extension of those orders would last for up to 14 days and would require a two-thirds vote by elected officials for each extension.

Make it harder for public schools to switch from in-person to virtual education. A switch to virtual education would require a two-thirds vote by a school board and would only last up to 14 days. Subsequent extensions would also be limited for up to 14-days and each extension would require a two-thirds vote by a school board.

Prohibit state and local governments from imposing public-gathering restrictions on places of worship.

Prohibit state and local health officials and Wisconsin employers from requiring people to get covid-19 vaccinations.

Increase the authority of the GOP-controlled legislature over federal money spent by the state on covid-19 programs and relief.

The liability provision would make businesses, local governments, and school districts immune from covid-19 lawsuits even if they did not follow local, state, or national orders to close or limit their capacity because of the pandemic.

The special interests backing the bill include:

Americans for Prosperity, a rightwing electioneering group backed by Charles Koch

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC). The state’s largest business group said in a letter late last month that it leads a coalition of more than 70 business and trade groups that support covid-19 lawsuit immunity for businesses.

Association of Wisconsin Tourism Attractions

National Federation of Independent Business

Dairy Business Association

School Choice Wisconsin

Wisconsin Bankers Association

Wisconsin Hospital Association

Wisconsin Builders Association

Schneider National

Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, a coalition of business, construction, agricultural, and transportation groups

Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation

Wisconsin Insurance Alliance

Wisconsin Grocers Association

Wisconsin Independent Businesses

Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association

Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

Wisconsin Restaurant Association

Wisconsin Dairy Alliance

NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association

Independent Insurance Agents of Wisconsin

Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin

More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

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