Wisconsin Legislature rejects governor’s special session on child care, worker shortages

By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature ignored a special session that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called for Wednesday in the hopes of passing a $1 billion package that would keep a pandemic-era child care program running, send more money to the University of Wisconsin and create a paid family leave program.

Republicans in the Senate and Assembly convened the session as required by law, but adjourned less than a minute later after taking no action. It’s a familiar show in Wisconsin, as Evers has called 12 previous special sessions that have largely gone this way. But Evers and Democrats use them to draw attention to issues they argue Republicans are ignoring, such as abortion rightsaddressing gun violenceexpanding Medicaid and increasing education funding.

“I’m calling the Legislature into a special session to make real, meaningful investments in our child care industry so we can do the right thing for our kids and parents can stay in our workforce,” Evers said on social media Wednesday morning.

Evers also announced Wednesday that not a single Republican lawmaker responded to a survey he sent them asking for their suggestions on how to address the state’s child care needs.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos dismissed the survey sent to all 132 members of the Legislature, including 86 Republicans.

“How stupid was that? That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said on WisconsinEye last week. “Talk about an out-of-touch governor. We’re going to send a survey rather than maybe actually meeting with people. How about talking to people?”

The package Evers called on Republicans to pass would spend $365 million to make permanent the pandemic-era Child Care Counts program that’s set to end in January. The legislation would also provide up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for Wisconsin workers starting in 2025 at a cost of $243 million, and would give UW an additional $66 million.

That money would give UW a boost after the Legislature cut its budget by $32 million. On top of that, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said last week that he won’t approve pay raises for UW employees that were included in the state budget unless the university cuts diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Evers also asked the Legislature to spend nearly $200 million to build a new engineering building on the UW-Madison campus. The project was the top priority for university leaders, but Republican lawmakers rejected it. Republicans did say they were open to reconsidering the funding, but they haven’t proposed anything to date.

The Evers package also includes $40 million more for the Wisconsin Technical College System; $100 million more for a grant program targeting healthcare-related worker shortages; $60 million for programs targeting nursing shortages; and $16 million to address teacher shortages.

Republicans are also taking a different approach on child care.

The Assembly last week approved a package of child care bills that would create a loan program for child care providers, lower the minimum age of child care workers and increase the number of children workers could supervise. The Senate is expected to consider the package this fall.

Evers is almost certain to veto the bills, which he has called inadequate to deal with the state’s shortage of child care providers.

Democrats want to prolong the Child Care Counts program, which distributed nearly $600 million to more than 4,900 child care providers from March 2020 through March 2023, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The program has employed more than 22,000 child care workers who have cared for more than 113,000 children, according to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

Providers struggling to make ends meet as parents worked from home used the money to cover expenses such as rent, mortgage payments, utilities, cleaning and professional development. If the program ends, Democrats and child care providers have warned that some facilities may have to close or reduce their offerings.