Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GOP rejects Dems’ push to study paid family leave
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 officials” 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 find 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 effort, but employees and employers would also have contributed to a fund that would have made the program self-sufficient by 2026.
The four Democratic members of the committee attempted to introduce a measure that would have hired an economist to study the economic benefit 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.