Bail Reform and Stronger Workforce Pass Assembly

It was a busy week for the Legislature, with the Assembly and Senate both meeting on February 15, and the Assembly meeting again on February 17.  It was also another marathon week for committee meetings.

During its February 15 session, the Assembly approved Assembly Joint Resolution 107, which is a proposed amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution that will require judges to consider the totality of circumstances when determining whether to allow bail for defendants accused of violent crimes.  AJR 107 will now go to the Senate.  Assuming the Senate concurs, the amendment process requires identical language to be approved again by the Assembly and Senate during the 2023-2024 legislative session before it goes to a statewide referendum.

Also on February 15, the Assembly and Senate met in joint session for Governor Evers' State of the State address.  Although I was unable to attend the address, I read the Governor's remarks, and I shared my reaction earlier this week.  To summarize, many of the accomplishments he trumpeted - Wisconsin's economic recovery, its record-low unemployment, and its record-high budget surplus - are almost entirely in spite of his own actions and instead are the result of legislative Republicans standing up to him on behalf of Wisconsin families and businesses and rejecting his misguided policies.

The February 17 Assembly calendar included a much longer list of proposals, perhaps most importantly the Stronger Workforce package that legislative Republicans introduced earlier this year.  The package includes a number of provisions intended to address the workforce shortages that employers across Wisconsin are reporting, as well as to remedy the myriad shortcomings in the unemployment insurance system that were exposed during the pandemic.  Among the bills the Assembly passed are:

Assembly Bill 883, which renames UI to reemployment assistance (recognizing the fact that UI is supposed to be temporary assistance while a claimant actively seeks new work) and makes additional changes to eligibility requirements.

Assembly Bill 935, which requires the Department of Health Services to enforce work and drug testing requirements for participation in the FoodShare program (DHS continues to waive these requirements despite well over 100,000 job openings, according to the Job Center of Wisconsin.)

Assembly Bill 936, which generally withdraws Medical Assistance eligibility from individuals who decline job offers or wage/hour increases in order to remain on MA.

Assembly Bill 937, which allows the maximum number of weeks of UI eligibility to vary from 14 to 26 weeks to reflect the state unemployment rate.

The Stronger Workforce package also included to proposals I introduced:

Assembly Bill 938, which makes a number of changes to the UI program to improve its efficiency and integrity, including increased audits of the work-search requirement, extended call center hours during times of unusually high demand, and beefed-up ID measures and database cross-checks.  The Department of Workforce Development's performance during the early weeks and months of COVID was deplorable at a time when hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents needed timely assistance.

Assembly Bill 940, which requires the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to submit to the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee a plan for spending at least $3 million on talent attraction and retention.  WEDC has been slow to act on this front, and I hope AB 940 will move its efforts along.  AB 940 enjoyed bipartisan support in committee and passed the Assembly on a voice vote.

Adjacent to the Stronger Workforce package is Assembly Bill 912, which forbids governors and local governments from declaring businesses "essential" or "nonessential" during future emergency declarations.  Governor Evers' arbitrary distinctions hurt thousands of Wisconsin businesses and their employees, and we're still experiencing the fallout from these discriminatory actions.

These proposals will now go to the Senate for further consideration.

The Assembly plans to reconvene next week.

Legislative Website

If you are interested in learning more about bills that I have authored, co-sponsored, or voted on, please click here.  This link will take you directly to my Wisconsin State Legislative page.  Also, if you are interested in viewing my office website, click here.