MADISON, Wis. – After much talk, lawmakers are now taking the first steps to fix Wisconsin's outdated unemployment system, which faced a backlog of claims for most of last year.
The bill starts the process of upgrading Wisconsin's outdated computer systems that handle unemployment claims but provides no money to do it.
Leaders on the Joint Finance Committee want to get a better idea of what the price tag for the overhaul would really be, leaving the state to seek out federal funds first, and then request additional money from the Republican-controlled Legislature.
“If you have an $80 million budget on construction of your building, I can guarantee you what the price is going to come in at, and it won't be much less than the $80 million, so I appreciate the approach that the co-chair used there,” State Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) said during a WisPolitics event last week. “Let's get some information first and then go from there.”
Gov. Evers called a special session of the Legislature in January to consider his plan to fix the system, which called for $5.3 million to get the process started, but no action was taken by lawmakers until Republicans in the Senate passed this latest bill on a bipartisan 27-3 vote Thursday.
“It was clear, he [Evers] kept saying this was important, this is a priority, but he seemed to think we could only do it the one way and he wasn't willing to lead on it, and so we just came in with this different approach trying to accomplish a similar goal and said 'Here you go,'” State Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) said. “This is the compromise. This is how we can move forward with what you're saying is a priority. If it's really a priority then lead on it and here's the path.”
The bill also waives the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits until March 14.
It would prevent employers from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine and protect businesses from Coronavirus-related lawsuits too. Both of those proposals were part of an earlier bill the governor objected to.
In a statement, the governor expressed disappointment over a lack of funding, but called the Legislature's move “a step in the right direction.”
"While I wish the Legislature would have provided the funding we asked for that we need to fix this system once and for all, I’m glad the Legislature is finally be taking this issue seriously after years of inaction,” Gov. Evers said. “It's not enough, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.”
Lawmakers in the State Assembly are scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday at 1 p.m.