Evers to GOP committee chair: Schedule hearing for workforce, child care bill

Gov. Tony Evers has reached out directly to the Republican senator whose committee has been assigned the governor’s sweeping bill to provide support for child care and other workforce-related measures.

On Tuesday, Evers sent a letter to Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac), who two weeks ago stated he would hold a hearing on the legislation. Feyen chairs the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Technical Colleges.

“I urge you to hold a public hearing and executive session on this bill without delay,” Evers wrote Feyen in a letter the governor’s office made public Wednesday morning.

In August, Evers proposed the $1 billion legislation that included continuing broad state support for child care providers that began during the COVID-19 pandemic and additional provisions to boost funding for higher education as well as for teacher training, support expanded workforce development projects and institute a paid family leave program in Wisconsin. 

The proposal calls for drawing on the state’s projected $4-billion surplus remaining after Evers’ use of his partial veto power when he signed the 2023-25 state budget.

“As many legislators have both publicly and privately acknowledged, our state has long experienced a shrinking labor pool due to several long-term factors that, coupled with our state’s current historically low unemployment and high workforce participation, are causing Wisconsin’s small businesses, farmers and producers, hospitals and healthcare sectors, and schools, among other critical employers and industries, to face significant challenges filling available jobs,” Evers states in his letter to Feyen.

Evers launched the legislation with an executive order calling for a special session of the Legislature. Republican leaders in both the Assembly and the Senate gaveled in the session on Sept. 20 and then adjourned without action — prompting a widespread assumption that the session and Evers’ legislation were dead. 

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu issued a statement the same day that included a lengthy criticism of Evers while noting in passing, “The Governor’s special session bill will be referred to committee and follow the normal legislative process.” 

The next day, in an action that surprised leaders of the Senate Democrats, the Senate Committee on Organization introduced Evers’ proposal as special session SB-1 and assigned it to Feyen’s committee. Feyen declared his plan to hold a hearing on the measure.

Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac)

“There’s no question that Wisconsin faces workforce challenges and the state must step up to find solutions. Some of the issues included in this special session bill need to be addressed sooner rather than later to keep the Wisconsin economy on track,” Feyen stated.

“I plan on treating this bill the same as every other bill referred to this committee.  I look forward to holding a public hearing and gathering input from the people of Wisconsin as we focus this legislation to have the greatest impact possible.”

Since then, the only recorded action on the bill has been Sen. Melissa Agard’s addition of her name as a co-author of the legislation. The Madison Democrat is the Senate minority leader.

Evers’ letter to Feyen Tuesday takes the GOP senator up on his intentions, quoting from Feyen’s Sept. 21 statement. 

“I was heartened to see you acknowledge my concerns about these pressing challenges when this bill was referred to your committee, stating, ‘Some of the issues included in this special session bill need to be addressed sooner rather than later to keep the Wisconsin economy on track,’” Evers wrote. “I could not agree more. We have a historic opportunity and responsibility to address state needs that have long been neglected — that includes addressing Wisconsin’s longstanding workforce shortages that have plagued our state for generations and that will continue holding employers, families, communities, and our state’s economy back without urgent action.”

The letter reiterates talking points that Evers has been highlighting for the last two months in support of his proposal, with a particular focus on the provision for $365 million to continue Child Care Counts, the federally funded COVID-19 pandemic program that helped providers increase wages for child care workers while forestalling increased fees for families. 

It describes Evers’ tour of child care centers across the state, including the second-largest center in Lancaster that closed in August, leaving the parents of 35 children to seek alternatives in an area where child care is already scarce. 

“It is estimated that without the necessary investments to continue this crucial program, 2,110 child care programs are projected to close across our state,” Evers wrote to Feyen. “That could result in the loss of over 4,880 child care jobs— leaving more than 87,000 Wisconsin kids without child care, potentially causing about a half billion dollars or more in economic impacts between parents leaving the workforce and reduced employer productivity.”

Evers’ letter also highlights other provisions in his proposal for the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Technical College System, additional investment in education and health care training and a paid family leave program. 

“I am hopeful you will join me in this important work by holding a public hearing and executive session on my comprehensive workforce plan without delay so we can not only give kids, working families, employers, and child care providers the certainty and stability they need but finally give our state’s workforce the focused attention and action it has long deserved,” Evers wrote.



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F10%2F04%2Fevers-to-gop-committee-chair-schedule-hearing-for-workforce-child-care-bill%2F by Erik Gunn

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