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New COVID clampdown angers businesses

The Brillion News

MADISON - The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a leading advocate on behalf of small business, is strongly urging Governor Tony Evers not to release the names of thousands of Wisconsin small businesses with reported COVID-19 cases since June.

Even worse, the association said, is the governor’s plan to also release business information even if they have no employees test positive but had two or more contact tracing investigations.

The NFIB said it understands that there are legal requirements under the state’s open records law which require the release of information, the group said it is concerned with the damage in reputation and finances that could to cause thousands of struggling small business owners in Wisconsin.

The NFIB praised Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Lloyd Carter for his ruling two weeks ago that issued a temporary restraining order banning the governor from releasing the names of businesses whose employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

The association said it urges Evers to take notice of the ruling and not cause further harm to Wisconsin small businesses.

“The release of the names of small businesses with reported COVID cases will punish struggling Main Street businesses in communities across Wisconsin,” said NFIB Wisconsin State Director Bill G. Smith. “We are deeply disappointed Governor Evers feels he needs to take this action even when hard working small business owners are doing everything they can to keep their employees and customers safe. Releasing this list is essentially telling the public these small businesses are unsafe and the public should not go there anymore. The governor’s actions will only send our economy back into a tailspin while hurting our job creating and economy stabilizing entrepreneurs.”

Identifying the names of small businesses that had employees or customers who tested positive for COVID-19 gives the false impression that the employees or customers got the virus at their place of work or at a small business location – when that is impossible to know.

The information could also expose small businesses to greater liability for frivolous lawsuits.

The NFIB called for Wisconsin lawmakers to pass legislation that provides liability protection for small business. NFIB considers that a top NFIB priority.

In fact, the state’s non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) has drafted a bill to protect many businesses from predatory COVID-related lawsuits.

“This bill creates a liability exemption relating to COVID-19 for owners, lessees, occupants, or other individuals or entities in control of a premises who invite or permit another person onto the premises,” the bill’s LRB analysis said.

The bill offers immunity to a person or entity unless it knowingly violates an emergency public health order “or engages in reckless, wanton, or intentional misconduct.”

The NFIB said that without that protection, providing the name of a small business with employees or customers who have tested positive for the virus is giving trial lawyers a list of victims to target, and recklessly placing the economic future of small businesses in jeopardy.

“Small business owners are already in a bad financial and economic situation. There’s no need to single out and embarrass small businesses,” it said in a public statement. “NFIB is also concerned that some Wisconsinites will see the list and believe it is unsafe to return to work even when that small business is following CDC and state recommendations to keep their workplace safe. Right now, we need to encourage economic activity so small business owners can help get Wisconsin’s economy back on track.”

Angry chamber

The Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, on October 5, blasted the City of Eau Claire and Eau Claire County for considering draft COVID-19 ordinances the chamber says would have a chilling effect on private enterprise.

The chamber called for the proposed ordinances to be withdrawn from consideration “until a broader community consensus can be reached on what they should contain.”

The business group said the ordinances, as drafted, are too vague and ambiguous, and could result in closing entire categories of businesses.

The chamber said the ordinances don’t clearly define limitations on enforcement and do not have enough legislative oversight.

Specific criticisms of the proposed ordinances include:

  • The ordinances are vague, ambiguous and overly broad in trying to cover ever possible future situation.

  • Business are uncomfortable with an ordinance that allows government to close businesses within broad categories.

  • The proposed ordinances do not have clearly defined limits as to enforcement and penalties.

  • The legislative (city council or county board) oversight is too passive or weak.

  • The draft ordinances were drafted and introduced without input, notice or consensus from key stakeholders in the business community, education and health care.

“The ordinances should be withdrawn and taken back to the drawing board,” the chamber said.

The chamber said they should not be brought back for consideration until “a consensus can be reached on the appropriate approaches to orders of general application, emergency powers, legislative oversight, and enforcement.”

The chamber said any new proposal should include shorter limits on the length of time emergency orders are in effect; have no “categorical” closure of sectors; have timely and affirmative legislative oversight; and clearly defined enforcement powers and penalties.


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