Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

GOP rejects Dems’ push to study paid family leave

- Laura Schulte

MADISON - Democratic members of the Legislatur­e’s state budget-writing committee on Tuesday pushed to spend state funds to study the economic impact to Wisconsin of a paid family leave program — a move that Republican­s who control the panel rejected, at one point muting the microphone of the minority’s most senior member on the committee.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in February proposed creating a $243 million program that would provide 12 weeks of paid family leave for public and private sector workers in his 2023-25 state budget plan.

The idea, which had been long called for by Democrats in the state Capitol and rejected by Republican lawmakers, had a brief moment of bipartisan support last year in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturnin­g Roe v. Wade, which effectivel­y outlawed abortions in Wisconsin.

In August, a lobbyist for the antiaborti­on group Wisconsin Right to Life said the group was working with “a large coalition of pro-life elected officials” to draft legislatio­n. Three Republican­s who ran against Evers in the fall midterms also showed support for the idea, with Evers’ general election opponent Tim Michels pledging to sign a bill creating a program.

Evers’ proposal was stripped out of the state budget earlier this spring by Republican­s who control the committee. On Tuesday, they told Democrats they could not speak about the idea since it had been removed from budget considerat­ions and at one point turned off Rep. Evan Goyke’s microphone as he pushed for the idea.

Goyke’s microphone was turned off just after recounting Michels’ comments during a televised debate showing support for the idea.

“I just want the record to show that the Republican nominee for governor this past fall supported publicly paid family leave for mothers and fathers,” he said.

Rep. Tip McGuire, D-Kenosha, in comments following Goyke’s, said the chairs were “muzzling” Democrats.

“We will never be able to discuss many things that the governor included in his budget,” he said. “I think it was certainly designed to avoid any actual debate on real issues that are facing Wisconsin families.”

Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R- River Falls, said paid family leave was just another way that taxpayers would end up paying for those who didn’t want to work.

“I mean, we have a shrinking pool of workers and the answer that we’re hearing here is ‘Let’s continue to find more ways that that shrinking pool of workers are going to support those who don’t really want to work or can’t work,’” he said. “So that’s going to counter to what we’re tying to accomplish here entirely.”

Committee co-chairman Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, repeatedly asked Democrats to stop talking about the paid family leave measure.

“The motion is out of order,” he said. “We’re going to dispose with this.”

Under Evers’ proposal, all Wisconsin employees would have been able to take up to three months of a paid leave of absence for family or medical reasons by Jan. 1, 2025. The governor planned to allocate $243 million in one-time funding for the effort, but employees and employers would also have contribute­d to a fund that would have made the program self-sufficient by 2026.

The four Democratic members of the committee attempted to introduce a measure that would have hired an economist to study the economic benefit of a paid leave program, but it was quickly rejected because the paid family leave issue had been removed from the budget previously.

Though it did not pass any initiative­s related to paid family leave, the committee did approve $19 million in funding over two years for youth apprentice­ship grants, in addition to funding for career and technical education incentive grants and commercial driving license training grants.

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