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Evers, Republican leaders to begin negotiating COVID-19 relief Friday morning

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Rainbow over the Wisconsin state capitol building in Madison, Sept. 30, 2020. Image courtesy WKOW

MADISON (WKOW) -- The governor and Republican leaders in the Legislature have scheduled a discussion on Friday as the first step in hashing out a deal concerning COVID-19 relief.

A spokesperson for Gov. Tony Evers confirmed the meeting in an email to News 9's affiliate 27 News on Thursday.

The governor is scheduled to talk on the phone with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, at 9 a.m.

Vos confirmed the time of the scheduled phone call in an interview with 27 News.

The state last passed a bill responding to the pandemic in mid-April.

Evers has put forward a package of 19 bills totaling in $541 million to bolster various parts of Wisconsin's pandemic response.

The governor would like to extend the waiver of the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance, a measure included in the first COVID-19 response bill passed in April that is slated to expire at the end of the year.

Evers also wants to require insurance companies to cover COVID-19 treatment and testing.

Assembly Republicans, led by Vos, came out with their own list of ideas, but have not yet turned those into actionable legislation.

Among their proposals are expanding testing and contact tracing capacities, providing aid to small businesses and giving more resources to health care providers.

"We are trying to be sincere... here are some good ideas we have and we think (Evers) has some potentially good ideas as well and then hopefully we can find that common ground," Vos said on Tuesday.

LeMahieu indicated that he did not support either approach.

While the Assembly, State Senate and governor remain at odds, the prospects for passing a pandemic relief bill have improved given that the leaders now plan to speak to one another.

After passing the pandemic response bill earlier this year, Republicans and Evers' administration have actively undermined each others' preferred approach to respond to the pandemic.

Republicans in the Legislature successfully sued the governor in the spring to block his emergency orders known collectively as "Safer at Home."

GOP Legislators said they wanted to let local governments enact their own public health measures. Lawmakers have been largely absent from the Capitol since the spring.

Evers, favoring a statewide approach, has declared a series of emergencies, giving the state Department of Health Services the authority to issue orders like a statewide mask mandate and a now-defunct limit on gatherings. These actions have been challenged in the courts.

Court rulings and a cavalcade of overlapping state and local orders have created confusion for some about what public health rules they are supposed to be following at any given moment.

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Sierra Rehm

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