Republicans use results of advisory referendum to push stricter rules for unemployment benefits

By Anthony DaBruzzi

MADISON, Wis. — Collecting unemployment benefits in Wisconsin would be tougher under several Republican-backed bills debated Tuesday in the Assembly.

The proposals come after more than three-quarters of Wisconsin voters said “yes” to a nonbinding referendum question on the ballot earlier this month, which asked whether childless, able-bodied adults should have to look for work to get unemployment benefits.

With record low unemployment and high workforce participation across the Badger State, Democrats and Republicans did not debate the data. However, they were at odds over the best solution for a worker shortage.

“The problem in Wisconsin is not folks sitting on the sidelines, and we need to address our workforce challenges by recruiting and retaining workers for long-term success,” Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said ahead of Tuesday’s floor session.

Democrats felt the bills up for a vote Tuesday did not do enough to break down barriers many families face.

“I’ve worked very hard to ask my Republican colleagues to work with us on issues like child care, college affordability, expanding access to transit so people can get to work so that we can truly solve the workforce crisis at our hands,” State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said.

Republicans, however, said those ideas aren’t off the table. Instead, lawmakers want to first focus on getting as many people as possible into the workforce.

“We’ll work on child care separate from this,” State Rep. David Armstrong, R-Rice Lake, explained. “We can do multiple things at once, so, again, this is addressing the need that’s out there right now for getting people back to work.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the results of the advisory referendum on the April ballot should convince the governor to act.

“I heard Governor Evers, in his inaugural address, where he said, ‘The will of the people should be the law of the land,’ well, here’s a prime example,” Vos said. “Hopefully, he’s changed his mind.”

Gov. Tony Evers previously vetoed similar legislation that made it to his desk, so it seems he will likely do the same again if the bills clear both chambers.