Wisconsin is the only state in the country not to legally recognize Veterans Day by closing its offices and agencies. Some state lawmakers hope to change that.
Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton, introduced a bill designating Nov. 11, Veterans Day, a state holiday. Rep. John Jagler, R-Watertown, introduced an identical bill in the Assembly.
Instead of having a specific day off for Veterans Day, state employees currently get a floating holiday. If the bill passes, the floating holiday would be replaced by the paid day off on Nov. 11.
Roth said a floating holiday doesn’t have the same impact or significance that a designated holiday has. He likened the floating holiday to the disappointment of celebrating a birthday late.
“This shows veterans that we value them so much that, in the fast-paced world we live in, we’re going to stop government to honor them,” said Roth, an Iraq war veteran. “Taking one day to stop all work and honor them is extremely important.”
Since the legal holiday would replace a floating holiday, there would not be a significant fiscal impact for most agencies, according to a Department of Administration estimate.
Law enforcement, care facilities and prisons — which require round-the-clock staffing — would see an increase of more than half a million dollars for salaries and fringe costs since state employees who work on the holiday would be paid time and a half. Despite the increase, the DOA estimate suggested the extra cost could likely be absorbed by the departments’ budgets.
“By no means do I think this bill is a slam dunk,” Jagler said. “I know with a fiscal attached, there could be some push back.”
If the bill passes, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2018, so Veterans Day 2017 would still be recognized as a floating holiday for state employees. But Roth noted the significance of first recognizing Veterans Day next year — 100 years to the day after the armistice was signed to end World War I.
One of the reasons Jagler said he was motivated to introduce the bill was because he said he felt Wisconsin needed to catch up and join every other state in honoring Veterans Day.
“It was important to some of my constituents who are veterans,” Jagler said. “What got me interested beyond hearing from them is that they said they go to these conventions and they get teased or ribbed for being the only state that doesn’t have a day off.”
Jagler hopes people will attend events or programs that honor veterans with their day off.