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Washington
AP
House Democrats outline their next coronavirus relief bill, but GOP says it’s too soon to act

WASHINGTON

House Democrats on Tuesday released a $3 trillion proposal that would provide payments to state and local governments and another round of $1,200 checks to individuals to help them weather the coronavirus pandemic, a plan that Republicans have already brushed off as too expansive and costly.

Members of the House are expected to come back to Washington on Friday to vote on the bill.

Democrats wrote the bill without negotiations with the White House or Republicans, meaning the legislation is more of a Democratic wish list and will need to be changed to pass the GOP-led Senate and be signed by President Donald Trump.

Republicans have signaled they have no interest in enacting a new coronavirus response bill anytime soon, meaning passage of a law could be weeks away, despite mounting unemployment and mortality figures.

“This is nothing more than a messaging exercise by House Democrats,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate.

Democrats’ strategy has been focused on the idea that the public is eager for more government support and programs—not less—and that Americans will favor their expansive, 1,815-page proposal.

“It was clear from the very beginning of this pandemic that its tragic consequences and scope and impact on the American people and the global community (meant) that robust response was essential,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday.

Called the Heroes Act, the centerpiece of the plan is more than $900 billion for state and local governments. Democrats have focused on ensuring local governments have funding to pay public workers, including transit employees, police officers, firefighters and teachers. Republicans are skeptical of such spending, saying they don’t want to “bail out” state governments that were in a dire financial picture before the COVID-19 pandemic.

It would provide a second round of $1,200 economic stimulus payments—expanding the list of people eligible—and extends enhanced unemployment benefits through January.

The bill also would provide $200 billion in hazard pay for health care workers, $75 billion to expand testing and contact tracing, student loan relief, $175 billion in mortgage and rent help, $14 billion for food assistance, and more than $3 billion for the November elections to be conducted by mail. It also provides $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, which is in financial trouble.

Republicans quickly derided the proposal as a list of Democrats’ dream proposals. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats are “cobbling together a big laundry list of pet priorities.”

He said Monday that he doesn’t feel as though there is a need for an immediate bill.

“I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately,” he said. “That time could develop, but I don’t think it has yet.”

McConnell said Tuesday that he is discussing next steps with the Trump administration. When they make a decision to proceed, “that will be the time to interact with the Democrats.”

Republicans’ top priority is protecting health care companies and employers from lawsuits from patients, workers and customers who are exposed to COVID-19. They have not yet released a plan, but McConnell said Tuesday that it will include enhanced medical malpractice protections for health care providers on COVID-19 cases.

Hoyer identified funding for state and local governments and payments to individuals as the top priorities for House Democrats when bipartisan negotiations get underway.

“That would be a red line for us because that’s what we think is critically important,” Hoyer said.

Also Friday, Democrats are expected to approve a measure to allow the House to conduct some of its business remotely.

House rules require lawmakers to be in the House chamber to vote on legislation. Under the new plan, which Republican leaders oppose, lawmakers would be able to give another member their proxy to vote on their behalf in the chamber during the pandemic.

The proposal would also allow House committees to do some of their business—including oversight—remotely.


Local
top story
Beloit to offer free COVID-19 testing as officials grapple with impact on Hispanic community

BELOIT

Beloit city officials are looking for reasons why Hispanic residents have gotten sick from COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate compared to other races and ethnic groups, a city spokeswoman said.

Nearly half of Rock County’s 369 confirmed cases are present in Hispanic or Latino individuals—an ethnic group that makes up 9% of the county’s population.

Data from the Rock County Public Health Department show 47% of the county’s COVID-19 cases are in Hispanic or Latino individuals.

Rock County’s mapping of cases by census tract shows a concentration of cases in Beloit where one-fifth of the population is Hispanic or Latino, according to census data.

The National Guard will begin free public testing in Beloit on Friday as a response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the city, according to a news release.

Three census tracts in the Beloit area house 20 or more confirmed cases of the disease each, according to health department mapping.

“We know that COVID-19 is here in Beloit and disproportionately impacting our Hispanic/Latinx community members,” said City Manager Lori Curtis Luther in a news release.

“The free community testing will provide an opportunity for Beloit residents to get tested if they do not have a primary care physician or cannot afford the test.”

Beloit houses many of Rock County’s residents who work at Birds Eye foodprocessing plant in Darien, which reported a large outbreak of cases among its employees in recent weeks, Beloit city spokeswoman Sarah Millard said.

Many workers at the plant are Hispanic, and that might be why the disease has been circulating within the Hispanic community, Millard said.

The Gazette reported April 21 that 13% of the county’s COVID-19 cases at that time were in Hispanic or Latino individuals.

The news of the Birds Eye outbreak was made public by The Gazette on April 18.

Results from Birds Eye testing started coming in around April 23, when the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 began climbing, health officials said.

Kelsey Cordova, spokeswoman for the county health department, said a majority of recent test results have come from large-scale testing efforts at Birds Eye and Hormel, a food processing plant in Beloit.

“So the demographics of the employees at those facilities are having a large impact on our overall testing results,” Cordova said.

Cordova indicated these workplaces have many Hispanic workers.

Beloit has a significant population of Hispanic individuals throughout the city, and there has not been evidence showing cases are linked to one neighborhood or area of town, Millard said.

The city of Beloit and the health department have been offering information in English and Spanish, hoping to reach more people in the community, she said.

The health department relies on partnerships with local organizations that serve the Hispanic community to help spread information, Cordova said.

The Gazette was unable to reach representatives from two Hispanic and Latino organizations for comment by press time.

There have been 369 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Rock County and 13 people have died.

As of Tuesday morning, 17 people were hospitalized with the disease across Rock County’s four hospitals, according to a news release from the Rock County joint information center.

Of those infected in Rock County, 20% have been hospitalized.


Crime
COVID-19 procedure keeps man out of jail despite two OWI arrests in a week

JANESVILLE

A rural Janesville man arrested Monday on suspicion of a second intoxicated driving offense in one week was released because of a recent change of procedures intended to keep the coronavirus out of the jail.

Under normal procedures, Robert E. Luek, 42, would have been jailed pending a court appearance because of the offense was suspected to be his fourth intoxicated driving arrest, a felony, officials said.

But he was released with a court date. About 13 hours later, Janesville police arrested him again on the same charge after he was spotted driving erratically.

In all, it was Luek’s third intoxicated driving arrest in five days. Beloit police had arrested him Thursday on OWI and drug paraphernalia charges.

No one was injured in the Janesville incidents.

The jail reduced its population by more than half starting in late March as part of an effort to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak, which would be difficult to control in jail conditions.

As part of that effort, the sheriff’s office, in consultation with the district attorney’s office, instituted a rule that only people arrested on suspicion of violent felonies or those accused of domestic violence would automatically be held at the jail, said jail Cmdr. Erik Chellevold.

“We have a very vulnerable population, so the lower we can keep (the number of inmates) and reduce contact between individuals, the better,” Chellevold said.

The procedures have worked so far. No inmate had tested positive for the virus. And for the most part, people not held because of the new procedures have not committed new crimes, Chellevold said.

The new procedure allows for exceptions: If police believe a person should be held because of repeat offenses or other reasons, police can contact the on-duty jail supervisor, and that person can be jailed, Chellevold said.

Police did not do that Monday night, reports indicate, even though police were aware of Luek’s arrest in Beloit, Janesville Deputy Chief Terry Sheridan said.

But on Tuesday, after the third such arrest in a week’s time, Luek was held at the jail.

After Monday’s arrest, the officer included in his report that Luek was not held because of the COVID-19 procedure, Sheridan said, and Luek was released to a responsible person.

That’s consistent with the county guidelines, Sheridan said.

Luek was held after his arrest Tuesday, however, and that was the right thing to do after Luek showed himself to be a clear danger to the community, Sheridan said.

Luek already had three intoxicated driving convictions on his record before the recent arrests, so if convicted on the new charges, he would be facing prison time for his sixth offense, said Janesville police Lt. Todd Kleisner.

Luek has not yet been charged with any of the three alleged offenses, according to online court records.

Police responded at 11:35 p.m. Monday to 2922 N. Pontiac Drive for a report of an unconscious person in the driver’s seat of a vehicle, according to a news release.

Luek showed signs of impairment from narcotics, according to the release.

Then at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, an off-duty Janesville police officer reported a black Ford Focus with no license plates traveling in two lanes on Centerway at Parker Drive, according to a second news release.

Police stopped Luek on Milton Avenue at Blaine Avenue, and officers found that Luek “could barely keep his eyes open and admitted to using heroin on the south side of Janesville prior to the stop,” the release states.

The maximum prison sentence for a sixth intoxicated driving offense is 10 years.


Obituaries and death notices for May 13, 2020

Donald L. Braaten

Larry Godfred

Kerrie Marie Gray

Frieda F. Lubkeman

Peter Jon Samuelson

Roland W. Schroeder

Thomas D. Worden


Delavan-Darien’s Jasmin Speth was set to be a senior leader for the Comets this spring.