As the 2021-22 biennial state legislative session comes to an end early next month, legislative proposals are progressing through both the Wisconsin State Assembly and State Senate. Some bills will likely be approved by Governor Tony Evers and become law, while others seemed designed to prompt a Gov. Evers veto. Bills that fail to pass through both houses before the end of general session will expire.
Some bills of particular interest for the Wisconsin Medical Society (WisMed):
Assembly Bill 348 puts Wisconsin law in synch with federal law, raising the minimum age for buying cigarettes, tobacco or nicotine products from 18 to 21 years old. The State Assembly passed AB 348 February 22 on a voice vote; a large coalition including WisMed sent a memo to the full Assembly prior to the vote. Companion legislation (Senate Bill 355) is ready for a full State Senate vote; if that bill is scheduled for a full vote the reconciled proposal could make it to the Governor’s desk.
Making Harm/Threats to Health Care Workers a Felony
Current state law treats intentionally causing bodily harm (battery) to certain health care workers as a felony: harm to nurses, emergency care providers and emergency department workers currently prompts that enhanced level. Responding to troubling incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic, Assembly Bill 960 expands that enhanced penalty to battery against a health care professional, a staff member of a health care facility, or a family member of a health care professional/staff member. The bill also treats certain threats as felonious if the threat comes as a response to a health care worker doing their job in an official capacity or in response to something that happened at the health care facility. Following strong health care advocacy, the Assembly passed AB 960 on February 22 via voice vote; companion legislation is progressing in the State Senate.
Direct Primary Care
Legislation ensuring that direct primary care businesses would not be considered insurance plans passed the State Senate February 21 on a party-line vote. The 21-12 vote on Senate Bill 889 could signal trouble for the bill’s ultimate fate if it were to reach the Governor’s desk. Also hampering its chances: the Assembly version of the proposal has not received a committee hearing in that house, and it appears today’s (February 24) Assembly floor session may be the final one for the biennium.
A proposal (Assembly Bill 599) legalizing substances found in kratom – the leaf of a southeast Asia evergreen tree with opioid-like properties – was originally placed on the February 23 Assembly floor calendar. Medical and law enforcement groups have joined forces to oppose the bill (with memos you can read here and here), which would remove two substances found in kratom from Schedule I of the state’s Controlled Substances Act. The Assembly skipped over AB 599 during the February 23 session, signaling that the bill might not have the votes to prevail. The bill was still eligible to be brought up during today’s (February 24) Assembly session – but no action has been taken as of press time, with the Assembly still in session.
Natural Immunity in Lieu of Work Vaccination/Testing Requirements
One of many COVID-19 bills designed to undercut vaccination promotion, Assembly Bill 675 would allow employees to opt out of an employer’s vaccination/testing requirement if they can document “natural immunity” – in this bill’s case defined to mean having tested positive for COVID-19 any time after March 1, 2020 or a serology test showing the presence of naturally occurring antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 any time since March 1, 2020. Either attestation needs to be signed by a “health care provider,” which the bill defines to include physicians, nurses, chiropractors, physician assistants or pharmacists. The bill requires employers to inform current or prospective employees in writing of this option. This is the second time AB 675 has passed through the Assembly, after having been amended by the State Senate. Many organizations, including WisMed, have registered against the proposal; no organization publicly supports it. Gov. Evers is expected to veto the bill.
Contact WisMed Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer Mark Grapentine, JD for more information or with any questions on these or other bills.
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