Bills targeting unemployment benefits reintroduced by Republicans

By: Emilee Fannon

MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- Republican lawmakers reintroduced a series of bills aimed at restricting the number of weekly unemployment benefits and implementing changes at the state agency that processes claims.

Last year, similar proposals passed the Legislature along party lines, but Gov. Tony Evers vetoed them, and they are likely to face the same outcome.

The bills range from tying the number of weekly benefits someone receives to the state's unemployment rate to taking away benefits if someone doesn't show up for a job interview.

"We're paying people to stay home and that's not the way this thing was designed," said Rep. Jon Plumer, the author of a bill that would penalize those who skip job interviews. "I believe in the unemployment system, but it was never meant to be a career choice."

Republicans are attempting to pass the proposals again after nearly 80% of voters approved a non-binding ballot referendum last week that asked whether "abled-bodied childless adults should be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits."

During a public hearing on the bills, Republicans and business leaders stressed the need to find solutions to address the ongoing worker shortage. They believe targeting the unemployment system would ensure benefits only go to those who lose jobs through no fault of their own and are looking for jobs.

"The bills before the committee today would help provide unemployed individuals with incentives, encouragement and assistance to join or return to the workforce," said Bill Smith, State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business who testified in support of the proposals.

But Democrats on the committee were skeptical.

"Taking action on these bills is not going to address our long-term workforce development challenges," said Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay).

Lack of childcare was a recurring theme Democrats say is crippling the workforce. Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) challenged her Republican colleagues to support measures to address barriers some workers face in addition to childcare.

"If your car breaks down or there's no linkage for public transit, good luck getting to work," Shankland said. "For every person that has a story like that, that's every employer and employee who is at work and stressed which leads to burnout. So, I hope the Legislature can have a larger conversation."

Other GOP Bills:

Mandate the Department of Workforce Development to conduct random audits over recipients' work search requirements to make sure they remain eligible.
If someone is fired for misconduct, they would be ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Require DWD to expand its call center hours to help people apply for benefits if there's a massive uptick in those seeking unemployment.