Wisconsin GOP wants to give unemployment benefits to people who refuse vaccines

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Republican state lawmakers are reportedly circulating a bill that would grant unemployment to those who quit over workplace vaccine requirements, weeks after trying to end benefits for others.

Republican legislators in Wisconsin reportedly want to pass a bill that would grant unemployment benefits to anyone who quits their job rather than get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The news comes just weeks after the party attempted to end expanded unemployment benefits related to the pandemic, claiming the money was incentivizing workers to stay at home.

State law currently prevents those who quit or are fired from their jobs from receiving unemployment benefits. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Madison ABC affiliate WKOW, a group of GOP legislators are aiming to change the law to ensure those who leave or are forced out of jobs over their refusal to get a COVID vaccine are guaranteed aid.

The bill was authored by GOP state Sen. Duey Stoebel and GOP state Reps. Rob Brooks, Dan Knodl, and Rick Gundrum.

News of the bill's circulation among lawmakers, an attempt to gain cosponsors, was first reported by Tone Madison.

"Individuals are better able to determine their personal healthcare [sic] needs than government bureaucrats, elected officials, or employers," a note seeking co-sponsors read, according to Tone Madison. "Protecting those rights is of paramount importance."

In a press release on Thursday, Brooks made a similar argument. "Individual liberty is the bedrock of a free republic and must be respected and protected," he said. "The decision of whether or not to get the COVID-19 vaccine is a decision to be made by individuals, not government bureaucrats or employers."

Democratic state Rep. Mark Spreitzer responded to the news Thursday, telling WKOW that the bill was "politics at its worst."

"It seems Republicans only want to give unemployment benefits to the very people who are putting our state at risk for another crushing wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations by refusing to get vaccinated," he said.

Republican state lawmakers notably attempted to end a $300 federal expanded unemployment benefit tied to the pandemic earlier in the summer, claiming it discouraged people from working.

"Do you believe we should help the small business community?" Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said in June. "Work should be what pays, not waiting for a government paycheck."

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers ultimately vetoed that attempt to end the temporary subsidy before its September expiration. Republican legislators unsuccessfully tried to override him in July.

"Today I voted to overturn Governor Evers' veto of Assembly Bill 336, legislation that would have ended Wisconsin's participation in federal unemployment enhancement programs which discourage able-bodied adults from returning to work," Brooks wrote in a Facebook post on July 27.

There has been no evidence thus far that ending the federal benefit in other states has actually gotten people back to work; Wisconsin has gained tens of thousands of jobs in recent months even with the subsidy.

Evers reportedly plans to veto the latest bill giving unemployment benefits to vaccine refusers if it reaches his desk.

In recent months, Republican lawmakers in the state have also attempted to bar businesses, governments, and colleges from requiring proof of vaccinations, and tried to block businesses from making determinations about their own virus safety rules.

COVID-19 cases have been again on the rise in Wisconsin of late as the delta variant sweeps across the country. The seven-day average for new cases is now over 1,100 for the first time since April.

The vast majority of serious cases leading to death or hospitalization have been among the unvaccinated.

To date, about 52% of Wisconsin residents have been fully vaccinated.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.