Gov. Evers Discusses Workforce, Healthcare, PFAS in Sixth State of the State Address

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) delivered his sixth annual State of the State address on January 23 before a joint session of the Wisconsin Legislature. The address was delivered in the Assembly Chambers of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. The governor’s office has released the prepared remarks and a video recording of the speech.

Gov. Evers began his address by reviewing some of his administration’s priorities and bipartisan initiatives that have passed during the 2023-24 session, including new legislation and funding in the 2023-25 state budget. In particular, he highlighted affordable housing, roads and infrastructure, agricultural exports, and conservation. He announced a partnership with the federal government and a nonprofit fund to establish a new conservation easement of nearly 55,000 acres in the Pelican River Forest.

Gov. Evers spent the rest of his address discussing several ongoing policy priorities for his administration. Those topics are discussed below including links to subject-specific press releases from the governor’s office and other information.


Gov. Evers called on the Legislature to release $125 million in PFAS remediation funding that was set aside in the 2023-25 state budget. Republican legislators have waited to release the funding while they develop legislation to create new programs and implement the funding. That legislation, Senate Bill 312, passed the Senate along party lines last November and was recently recommended for passage by the Assembly Committee on Environment.

Gov. Evers has indicated he would likely veto the bill over concerns from environmental groups that the bill lacks “accountability” measures and limits certain powers of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), even after the Senate voted to remove a provision to limit the authority of the DNR to require a property owner to test for PFAS without meeting certain standards.

Gov. Evers also asked the Legislature to allow DNR to continue its rulemaking to establish groundwater standards for several PFAS compounds. Last month, DNR announced that it was pausing the rule due to the requirements of Wisconsin’s REINS Act, a 2017 law that requires legislative authorization of any administrative rule with a compliance and implementation cost totaling at least $10 million over a two-year period.

After receiving many comments from stakeholder groups, the department’s revised economic impact analysis found that its draft PFAS rule would cost $33.3 million for businesses, individuals, and local units of government to comply with in the first two years. Some associations have estimated that the total cost of the rule could be much higher than that.

Reproductive Healthcare

Gov. Evers announced a directive to the Department of Health Services “to issue a standing order that will remove barriers for over-the-counter contraception, including emergency contraception,” for members of BadgerCare Plus, the state’s primary low-income healthcare program.

He then urged the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 110, which would extend coverage under the state’s Medical Assistance program for postpartum women to a full year after birth. The bill has a large, bipartisan list of authors and cosponsors and passed the Senate 32-1 last September. Despite broad support in the Assembly, leadership in that house has been opposed to bringing the bill to the floor.

The governor restated his support for abortion and promised to “veto any bill that takes away your reproductive freedom or makes reproductive healthcare any less accessible in Wisconsin than it is today.”

Mental Health

In last year’s address, Gov. Evers declared 2023 the “Year of Mental Health.” In this address, the governor highlighted mental health funding included in the 2023-25 state budget, announced the creation of an Interagency Council on Mental Health, and directed “state agencies to work together to reduce barriers and address gaps in mental health services.” The governor’s council will develop “a statewide action plan for mental health that addresses prevention, increases awareness, reduces stigma, ensures access and affordability of quality care, and builds capacity among caregivers, providers, and community partners.”

Workforce Development

As he has done in past years to highlight specific policy issues, Gov. Evers declared 2024 the “Year of the Worker” and highlighted his support for several policy proposals that the Legislature has previously rejected or scaled back in past legislative sessions and state budget cycles.

According to the governor, “three things are key to addressing our state’s workforce challenges: first, we must find a long-term solution to our state’s looming child care crisis; second, we must expand paid family leave; and third, we must invest in public education at every level, from early childhood to our technical colleges and universities.”

Gov. Evers also announced the following workforce initiatives:

  • The governor will sign an executive order to create a Healthcare Workforce Task Force “focused on finding long-term solutions to our state’s healthcare industry challenges and make recommendations for me to consider in my next biennial budget.”
  • To improve retention of new teachers, “through the Department of Workforce Development, our administration is launching a new teacher apprenticeship pilot program with the Department of Public Instruction to provide more mentorship and support for new educators.”
  • The governor’s office is “creating a new Office of State Employee Engagement and Retention to improve retention, mentorship, and engagement of our state workers across all of our state agencies.”

Reactions from Legislative Leaders

  • Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) called the speech “typical Tony Evers” and said there were “not a lot of new ideas and a lot of rehashing of old things that have been proposed over the course of the past few years and failed.”
  • Senate Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) said that “Wisconsinites are at work and working hard, and I am proud to support Governor Evers’ plan to address our state’s ongoing labor needs: address childcare needs, expand paid FMLA, and invest in public education.”

Gov. Evers’ Previous State of the State Addresses

In his 2023 address, Gov. Evers declared 2023 the “Year of Mental Health” and used the address to highlight four aspects of his 2023-25 state budget proposal: mental health, PFAS, workforce and economic development, and child care.

In 2022, Gov. Evers discussed the challenges of and responses to COVID-19, including how his administration allocated federal funds. The core of the address focused on his plan for spending some of the state’s projected surplus revenue, including surplus checks, new income tax credits, and funding boosts for K-12 and higher education.

In his 2021 address, Gov. Evers declared 2021 the “Year of Broadband Access” and discussed redistricting and his proposal to reform the state’s unemployment insurance system. Because of COVID-19, the governor chose to deliver the address virtually via YouTube and Facebook.

Previously, Gov. Evers focused his 2020 address on agricultural policy, redistricting, PFAS, and the so-called “dark stores” loophole. In his first address, the governor declared 2019 the “Year of Clean Drinking Water” and discussed his proposals for education spending and Medicaid expansion.