ASSEMBLY (copy)

The Wisconsin state Assembly convened on Tuesday to pass a series of bills. The chamber is also planning to meet on Thursday. 

The state Assembly has signed off on a package of bills aimed at combating homelessness, including proposals to expand resources and boost stable housing options.

The legislation passed the chamber Tuesday following a series of voice votes and is now heading to the state Senate for approval.

The eight bills are based off of recommendations from the Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness, which was created in 2017 under legislation introduced by Republicans.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, who's a leading co-sponsor of all the bills in the package, told reporters ahead of the vote that the legislation represents the latest step on "the long road" to ending homelessness in Wisconsin. 

"(The bills) really tackled homelessness at every possible point on the spectrum, from when people first start experiencing instability in their current homes to the point where they’re homeless and looking for a place to live in short order, to the point where we’re trying to provide them services and worker re-training to get them to a point where they’re independent again," the Kaukauna Republican said. 

Although the total package carries a $3.75 million annual price tag, the Legislature's budget committee already set aside funding for the legislation in its past votes through the state's two-year spending plan.

The bills that passed Tuesday only contain policy, and would give the Joint Finance Committee the go-ahead to allocate funding in those areas. 

Because the funding is included in the budget, state agencies that would administer programs or award grants under the bills would have to go back to the Joint Finance Committee to first obtain the funding. GOP leaders said they're confident the money would be appropriated. 

Among the proposals in the package are a bill that would provide grants to homeless shelters while adding performance criteria to help incentivize shelters to move people more quickly to stable housing, and another to free up funding for case managers who help families in shelters.

The legislation would also create a revolving loan fund to encourage landlords to house lower-income individuals; work to expand employment and training opportunities for homeless individuals; and increase funding for skills enhancement programs, in addition to other initiatives that were approved.

While some Democrats signed on as co-sponsors to the bills and supported them in both committee and on the floor, Rep. Chris Taylor slammed Republicans in a floor speech for including the funding in the budget. 

The Madison Democrat also knocked their support of measures to speed up evictions and promote landlords' positions, efforts she said particularly impact domestic violence survivors. 

"If we want to truly address homelessness, looking at these (landlord/tenant) bills and evaluating (them) and rolling some of them back is absolutely critical," she said.  

Steineke, though, argued on the floor that it's counterproductive to spend time "beating up landlords," who he said are "the very people that go into business to provide housing for people of lower incomes that can't afford to purchase housing on their own."  

State representatives Tuesday also voted to advance a bill that would establish a set of criteria to allow doctors and patients to override step therapy protocols in some circumstances.

Through step therapy, an insurance company can require a patient to first try less expensive treatment options — and if those don't work, the patient will "step" his or her way up toward the more expensive medication originally prescribed by the doctor.

But proponents of the bill argue that approach is expensive and could delay appropriate health care access to patients. 

The legislation cleared the chamber on a voice vote. It now heads to Gov. Tony Evers' desk, after passing the Senate earlier this month

The Assembly is planning to reconvene on Thursday, when it's expected to take up a bill to delay the closure of the state’s youth prisons, among other things. 

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