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Legislature needs to act to help small businesses


Members of the Courier Sentinel editorial board include publisher Carol O’Leary, general manager Kris O’Leary and Star News editor Brian Wilson.

This week, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) announced a new round of grant funding would be available for small businesses, particularly those in the hospitality and entertainment industries, which have been hit disproportionally hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grant program is a much-needed boost that will help business owners continue to tread water a little while longer.

Unlike previous rounds of grants, this one has reduced some of the rules and opened up more uses that the money could be used for.

While these types of grant programs are a necessary part of a safety net to help businesses survive the unique challenges of the pandemic, the governor’s office and executive branch of state government can only do so much.

Wisconsin’s small businesses need a working state legislature, to ensure their needs are being considered by Madison rule makers.

Take, for example, the recent emergency order reducing capacity to 25 percent of the posted capacity of taverns and restaurants. From a purely public health perspective, the order makes sense.

However, what it does not take into account, is that while having posted capacities for public spaces is very common in urban areas in Madison and Milwaukee, across most of the state, those posted limits are not in place. Without that sign in place telling people the absolute capacity, taverns and venues drop to the unsustainable capacity of 10 people at a time.

Had the legislature shown up for work the past six months, this is the type of oversight that would have been caught and the order could have been easily modified to be based on the size of the building, not just if there was a sign on the wall. After all, the intent is to have people spaced far enough apart to allow for some degree of social distancing.

Beyond this, the legislature should be busy putting together revisions to administrative rules and tweaking regulatory laws, in order to remove barriers to businesses being able to remain viable. Giving the option for a restaurant to include a growler of margaritas with the take-out order of tacos, or allow a patron to carry a drink out onto the public sidewalk in front of a tavern, are small changes that would help these businesses.

Legislators are in a position to work with business groups and develop plans that address public health concerns, while allowing the business owners to continue to afford to keep the doors open.

Wisconsin has a full-time legislature, for which each of the 132 members of the Assembly and Senate are paid a salary of $52,999 (not counting the per diem pay when they are in session). For nearly seven months, the legislature as a body, has done nothing other than have party leadership complain about the job the governor is doing and attempting to hide behind the skirts of the state supreme court.

Wisconsin needs its legislature to stop sitting on their hands, and instead be the voice of the people and advocates for Main Streets, and communities ravaged by the economic side effects of battling the pandemic.

It is time for the legislature to go to work.