Governor Evers signed January 2021 Special Session Senate Bill 1 into law this morning (2/25) as 2021 Wisconsin Act 4. This new law would, among other things, provide businesses, schools and governments with liability protections from COVID-related lawsuits, waive a one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits through mid-March and begin the long overdue process of overhauling the state’s 50-year-old Unemployment Insurance computer system.
The governor’s action came after the state Assembly gave unanimously (89-0) approval to the bill earlier this week. The state Senate last week approved the bill by a 27-3 margin.
This new law provides immunity for a variety of entities, including schools, from civil liability for an alleged injury or death from COVID-19 in the course of or through the performance of the entity’s functions or services. This immunity does not apply if an act or omission involves reckless or wanton conduct or intentional misconduct.
The immunity is retroactive to claims accruing on or after March 1, 2020, but does not apply to an action filed before enactment of the bill.
Immunity from civil liability under the new law is in addition to, not in lieu of, other immunity granted by law, and nothing in the bill limits immunity granted under any other provision of law, including immunity granted under s. 893.80 (4), Stats. The WASB advocated for the liability relief provisions.
The bill specifically makes the following changes to unemployment insurance:
- extends the waiver of the unemployment one-week waiting period granted under 2019 Wisconsin Act 1852 from February 6, 2021 to March 13, 2021.
- extends the flexibilities in the unemployment insurance work-share program under 2019 Wisconsin Act 185 from December 31, 2020, until the termination of the national emergency declared by the President in response to the novel coronavirus or July 3, 2021, whichever is earlier.
- extends the relief from unemployment benefit charging for employers under 2019 Wisconsin Act 185 from December 31, 2020 to March 13, 2021, and specifies that DWD must presume that all initial claims through that date relate to the COVID public health emergency declared in Executive Order #72 unless certain exceptions apply.