January 22, 2021

Education Advocacy Update: Mandatory Vaccine Legislation and More

Education Advocacy Update: Mandatory Vaccine Legislation and More Featured Image
Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin

The Senate Human Services, Children and Families Committee has passed a bill that would impact a school district’s ability to require educators to get a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment and another that would limit districts from providing virtual instruction instead of in-person classes. Read about that, and more, in WEAC’s latest Education Advocacy Update.

Bills We’re Watching

Mandatory Vaccines for Employment

Senate Bill 5 (SB-5) would prohibit employers from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. The provision, which was removed from the Assembly COVID bill (AB-1), was introduced as stand-alone legislation. WEAC encourages educators to get vaccinated but does not support employers mandating it as a condition of employment.

Limits on Virtual Instruction
Senate Bill 6 (SB-6). The bill would cover the remainder of the 2020-21 school year and the 2021-22 school year. Under the bill, districts would not be able to provide virtual instruction for a grade level or the entire district student population for more than 14 consecutive days. A two-thirds vote of the school board would be required to extend virtual instruction for 14 days at a time.

The bill would also require a school board to offer a full-time, in person option to all pupils enrolled in the district by no later than 15 days after the date on which the Department of Health Services indicates that COVID-19 vaccinations may be allocated to individuals in phase 1c. of the state’s vaccination prioritization guidelines. The bill requires a unanimous vote of the school board for partial or complete virtual instruction.

Amended Assembly COVID-19 Bill (AB-1). The Assembly will meet Tuesday, January 26 to take up an amended bill to address COVID. The Senate has approved a stripped-down version of the COVID-19 bill, reached in agreement with Governor Tony Evers. That revised bill includes a proposal to provide immunity for schools and other entities from civil liability. The provisions the Senate pulled from the bill included proposed bans on mandatory COVID-19 vaccines and new restrictions for schools that provide only virtual learning opportunities, along with stripping state and local officials of their powers to restrict gatherings in places of worship. All of those items are moving as stand-alone bills.

Facilitating and Prioritizing COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution (AB-5). This bill lays out prioritization of vaccines and requires certain plans of the Department of Health Services.

Bills Circulating for Co-Sponsorship

Expanding the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (LRB-1472). For the 2021-22 school year, this bill would increase the income eligibility for the statewide voucher program to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, allows a pupil to submit full-time open enrollment applications to an unlimited number of nonresident school districts, and prohibits a resident school district from denying a full-time open enrollment application submitted under the alternative application process if the basis for the application is that the pupil’s parents and nonresident school board agree it is in the student’s best interest.

Virtual Charter School Student Participation in Interscholastic Athletics (LRB-1444). 1) This would require local school districts to treat virtual charter students the same way statute currently requires them to treat homeschooled students for the purpose of interscholastic athletics and activities. This change effectively ensures that virtual charter students would have the same eligibility to participate in extracurricular and athletic events. It also allows students to be eligible for athletics and extracurricular events when they transfer from a district teaching virtually to a district with in-person instruction.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest during Youth Athletic Activities (LRB-0651). This bill would require the Department of Public Instruction, in consultation with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, to develop information, including an information sheet that may be distributed to participants, about the nature and risk of sudden cardiac arrest in youth athletic activities. It mirrors the provisions of Wisconsin’s concussion legislation.

State Employees Returning to In-Person Work (LRB-1464). This bill would require the governor to submit to the legislature, by February 28, 2021, a plan detailing when all state employees who previously worked in a state office will return to that office to conduct their duties.

Quick Updates

  • Governor Evers’ latest executive orders creating a new statewide public health emergency and requiring face coverings will last through March. Senate Republican leaders have introduced Senate Joint Resolution 3, which would terminate the order.
  • Republican legislative leaders gaveled into and promptly adjourned a special session on unemployment called by the governor, taking no action on overhauling the state’s unemployment insurance computer system.
  • Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm will leave her position to join incoming President Joe Biden’s administration. Karen Timberlake, who served as DHS secretary during the 2009 swine flu pandemic, will take over January 25.
  • The Employee Trust Funds Board announced Deputy Secretary John Voelker will become the agency’s next secretary, effective April 5. He will succeed Bob Conlin, who is stepping down after almost 10 years leading the agency.
  • Rebecca Kleefisch’s 1848 Project continues to staff up the conservative advocacy group created by Scott Walker’s former lieutenant governor. Kleefisch is expected to run for governor in 2022.