The Republican-led Assembly on Tuesday passed several measures to reduce unemployment benefits in Wisconsin, a response to the state’s ongoing labor shortage and Wisconsinites approving a nonbinding measure calling for people receiving taxpayer-funded benefits to work or seek work.
The Assembly also approved a GOP measure that would require Wisconsinites receiving public health care assistance through BadgerCare Plus to renew their status with the state every six months, instead of automatically reenrolling in the system.
The unemployment and health care measures that passed Tuesday mirror bills that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed last legislative session. It’s likely Evers will veto the measures again.
But before the session, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, urged the governor not to, pointing toward a nonbinding referendum that 78% of Wisconsin voters approved, which asked voters, “Shall able-bodied childless adults be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits?”
People are also reading…
“Hopefully, Gov. Evers looks at the results of what happened around the state, realizes that he should have probably signed them before and that most of these bills should be bipartisan,” Vos said. “I hope all of them would be.”
All of the measures passed with all Republicans present in favor and all Democrats against. The bills now head to the Senate.
Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said lawmakers shouldn’t cut unemployment benefits but instead address workforce challenges by passing affordable child care policies and expanding low-income housing and paid family leave.
Bill opponents said the April referendum, focusing on welfare programs, had nothing to do with the bills before the Assembly on Tuesday, which relate to an insurance program.
Among the passed bills, AB 147 would update the Wisconsin laws outlining the conditions for people to be fired from their jobs for misconduct, temporarily eliminating them from unemployment benefit eligibility. Under the bill, those conditions for misconduct also would include the destruction of an employer’s records, theft or unauthorized possession of property, a violation of the employer’s absenteeism policy or a violation of the employer’s social media policy.
AB 149 would require employers to inform the state workforce department of any ineligibility questions when notified of a claim for unemployment insurance. The bill would require the workforce development agency to consider reports of an individual declining a job offer or failing to attend a scheduled interview when determining a claimant’s eligibility for benefits.
AB 150 would change references to “unemployment insurance” in state statutes to “reemployment assistance.” The bill also would require the Department of Workforce Development to enforce federal drug testing requirements for individuals claiming unemployment benefits in certain occupations.
An individual who fails a drug test would be ineligible for benefits “until certain requalification criteria are satisfied or unless he or she enrolls in a substance abuse treatment program and undergoes a job skills assessment, and a claimant who declines to submit to a test is simply ineligible for benefits until he or she requalifies,” according to the bill.
Under the bill, DWD would have to create rules identifying occupations for which drug testing is required.
Another measure, AB 152, would make various changes to how DWD operates, including requiring benefits claimants to provide proof of identity when filing an initial unemployment insurance claim. The bill also would require DWD to expand call center hours if the volume of calls received increases dramatically.
Lawmakers didn’t vote, however, on another bill scheduled for Tuesday’s session, AB 153, which would tie the number of weekly unemployment benefits an individual could receive to the state’s overall unemployment rate.
Currently, an individual can receive up to $370 in weekly state unemployment benefits for 26 weeks. Under the bill, the maximum number of weeks a claimant could receive benefits would be based on the state’s unemployment rate.
Claimants would receive 26 weeks of benefits if the state unemployment rate was greater than 9%, while the number of weekly benefits would be reduced to as few as 14 weeks if the rate was at 3.5% or lower.
Proponents of the bill to update BadgerCare Plus, AB 148, say the changes aim to reduce the number of ineligible individuals receiving public benefits and reduce state spending. More than 1.6 million Wisconsinites are enrolled in BadgerCare or Medicaid programs, which are provided to low-income, pregnant, disabled and elderly individuals, according to state data.
The bill, which now heads to the Senate, would bar the Department of Health Services from automatically renewing eligibility for BadgerCare recipients. DHS also would have to determine an individual’s eligibility every six months and would be prohibited from filling out eligibility forms for recipients in advance.
In addition, any BadgerCare recipient who fails to timely report to DHS any changes that may affect their eligibility would become ineligible for benefits for six months.
Evers vetoed a similar bill in April 2022, writing in a veto message at the time that “individuals who otherwise meet existing eligibility criteria are entitled to these program benefits under federal law.”
“The provisions of AB 148 are out of compliance with current federal regulations and would jeopardize Wisconsin’s ability to draw down both regular and enhanced federal funds for the Medicaid program,” Department of Health Services Legislative Director HJ Waukau wrote in testimony about the bill.
Inside the battle over the upcoming 2-year Wisconsin budget
Over the next several months, the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will battle their way through the the 2023-25 biennial budget process as the state has a projected surplus of more than $7 billion.
Evers has called for a 10% tax cut for individuals earning $100,000 or less a year and married filers making $150,000 or less.
The governor's budget proposal is all but certain to receive pushback from legislative Republicans, who have championed the need to implement a flat income tax in Wisconsin.
Evers on Tuesday also unveiled proposals to cut taxes, increase local government funding, spend more than $100 million to deal with PFAS contamination and support child care providers.
Around a third of students across Wisconsin feel sad and hopeless almost every day, according to the Office of Children's Mental Health.
Wisconsin's latest fiscal outlook projects the state will wrap up the current fiscal year with about half a billion dollars more than previous projections.
The two top options being discussed are adjusting the state's income tax to benefit middle class earners or eliminating the current tax and creating a 3.25% flat tax.
Gov. Tony Evers calls for increased aid for veterans related to housing, employment, mental health services
Evers will unveil his formal budget request on Feb. 15. From there, the Republican-controlled budget committee will rewrite the document before sending it back to the governor.
Of the more than 4.2 million licensed drivers in Wisconsin, 770,000 had at least one OWI citation or conviction as of the end of 2021.