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Evers signs school bus driver law, vetoes bills on energy, unemployment, occupational licensing 

Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill into law at the New Glarus Elementary School Friday that adds school bus driver to the list of volunteer positions a school board member may hold. Board members who take the uncompensated position will need to receive a school bus endorsement from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, hold a valid commercial driver’s license and abstain from voting on issues that directly concern school bus drivers.

“Unfortunately, we know districts of all sizes across our state are struggling to find drivers to get our kids to school, to their games, and their extracurricular activities,” said Gov. Evers at the signing ceremony, surrounded by school officials and community members. “This legislation is critical for reducing barriers and helping expand the pool of available folks who can fill these important roles.”

In addition to the school bus driver bill, Evers signed seven other bills and vetoed another 10 measures on Friday. 

The bills Evers signed into law include SB 7, which increases access to the drug epinephrine for people suffering from severe allergic reactions; SB 66, which adjusts the number of days a seasonal farm service employee can hold a restricted commercial driver’s license, SB 157, which increases funding for ambulance service providers; AB 131, which allows a broader array of people involved in farming to serve on a county land conservation committee; and AB 203, which changes some requirements for renewing business and health credentials.

Controversial criminal justice measures

Evers signed two criminal justice measures that generated heated testimony and objections from the public during the last legislative session. One was SB101, which increases the penalty for first-degree reckless homicide involving drugs from a Class C felony to a Class B felony. 

The new law makes drug dealers and users alike eligible for prison sentences of up to 60 years if they are involved in a fatal overdose. While framed as a way to punish drug suppliers, the Examiner reported earlier this year that the measure has drawn criticism for lacking protections for people who use drugs with others — including friends who call for help when someone overdoses. 

The other criminal justice bill Evers signed, AB 47 expands the definition of crime victim to include any member of a victim’s family younger than 18 and adds notification requirements for the parole or release of offenders. The new law also makes changes in the parole system, a subject of recent political controversy, by requiring specific information about the actions of the state parole commission to be posted on the Wisconsin Department of Corrections website, including guidance documents the commission uses when making parole decisions and monthly and annual totals of the number of person granted parole, denied parole, and retired to prison.

In a signing message, Evers wrote: “Ensuring transparency, accountability, and appropriate support and notification for victims, survivors, and their families is absolutely vital to the success of the Parole Commission and of our criminal justice system as a whole.” 

‘Continued efforts to preempt local control and undermine trust in local governments’

With a series of vetoes Friday, Evers rejected bills to block curbs on fossil fuel use as well as changes to Wisconsin unemployment insurance program and demands lawmakers sought to impose on the agency responsible for professional licenses. 

Energy sources

Evers took his veto pen to three bills that Republican lawmakers had passed to protect the use of fossil fuels in automobiles, power generation, machinery and appliances. SB-49 would have blocked state agencies and local governments from restricting utilities or discriminating against them based on their source of energy, and would have similarly protected liquified gas retailers from government action based on “the nature or source” of the service they provide.

AB-141 would have blocked state or local restrictions against using or selling devices “based on the energy source” they use, while AB-142 would have blocked restrictions against motor vehicles for the same reason. Backers had cited actions in other states setting future restrictions on fossil fuel-powered cars and devices. 

In all three veto messages, Evers criticized the legislation for hampering local and state initiatives “to transition away from fossil fuels or to constructively combat climate change.” He also criticized “the Legislature’s continued efforts to preempt local control and undermine trust in local governments across our state.” 

Environmentalists praised the vetoes. “As our state and nation have faced a summer of record heat, flooding, and dangerous air quality from wildfire smoke, it’s impossible to ignore the reality of climate change,” said Erik Kanter, government relations director for Clean Wisconsin. “If Wisconsin communities want to do all they can to curb carbon emissions and cut air pollution, they should be allowed to do so without interference from the state legislature.”

Unemployment insurance

Evers vetoed four bills directed at Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance (UI)  system: 

  • AB-147, adding new grounds for disqualifying jobless people from collecting unemployment, requiring the state to audit at least half of all work searches required for UI recipients, and giving the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee a veto over future federal UI bonuses such as were provided in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic;   
  • AB-149, penalizing UI recipients who decline a job offer or decline or fail to show up for a job interview;
  • AB-150, renaming and revamping the UI program, including steering recipients to apply for job listings and requiring drug tests for people collecting UI benefits.
  • AB-152, directing the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development how to handle future surges in UI claims as occurred in the first year of the pandemic. 

Evers also vetoed AB-151, which would require all job training, placement and related programs across state agencies to be assessed based on employment statistics and earnings of program graduates as well as other metrics.

“I continue to be perplexed by the Legislature’s misplaced emphasis on changing and restricting economic assistance programs while offering no other comprehensive solutions or plans to meaningfully address our state’s workforce challenges,” Evers wrote in each of the five veto messages, while alluding to workforce training and support proposals he has made that were stripped from his budget proposals. 

Occupational licensing

Evers signed one bill relating to the state’s occupational licensing system while vetoing two others. All three bills were directed at the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS), which administers Wisconsin’s occupational licensing program. 

The bill he signed, AB-203, clarifies when a credential is considered to have been renewed, what is required for a renewal application to be considered complete, and ensures that the license of a renewal applicant who has submitted a completed renewal application stays in effect while the application is processed.

Evers vetoed AB-200 and AB-201. AB-200 would require DSPS to report statistics related to license applications and renewals and AB-201 would require the agency to post application data on its website.

Both bills were introduced after more than a year of criticism, public hearings and a special study committee led by Republicans in the Legislature criticizing DSPS because of backlogged licensing applications

The agency, as well as Democrats in the Legislature and some of the professional groups affected by the backlog, said the problem was due to understaffing at DSPS and the failure of Republican lawmakers to authorize more personnel. 

Evers wrote in both veto messages: “I object to the Legislature mandating additional reporting requirements without providing the necessary resources for implementation, most especially given that the Legislature is acutely aware of urgent resource needs at the department but nevertheless refused to fulfill my request for additional staffing and resources to meet the department’s current workload.”

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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F08%2F07%2Fevers-signs-school-bus-driver-law-vetoes-bills-on-energy-unemployment-occupational-licensing%2F by Erik Gunn

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