Legislative Update: Special Session and Veto Override Attempt End Without Changes

On July 27, the Wisconsin Assembly met in extraordinary session to vote on a veto override of Assembly Bill 336. The bill would have ended Wisconsin’s participation in federal programs to provide or supplement unemployment benefits. It also would have prohibited the state from waiving the work search requirements for unemployment benefits for any reason related to COVID-19. As we covered in detail here, Congress enacted temporary programs providing new or additional unemployment benefits as part of the first major federal COVID-19 response package (CARES Act). Those federal unemployment programs have been extended twice and are now set to expire on September 6, 2021.

Governor Tony Evers (D) vetoed AB 336 on June 29, writing to the Legislature that he objected to legislative interference with executive branch authority and that he believed “there is a lack of evidence to support the notion that eliminating supplemental unemployment insurance benefits would bring more individuals into the workforce.”

Republican legislators supporting AB 336 have argued that employers are having trouble finding enough workers in part because substantial, easy-to-obtain unemployment benefits are keeping workers at home. This view has been supported by many statewide employer associations. In turn, Democratic legislators opposed to the bill have argued that it adds unnecessary restrictions to the benefit application process and ignores the concerns of workers who have not yet returned to the job because of difficulties in securing childcare and fears of contracting COVID-19 at work.

The Assembly’s veto override attempt failed 59-37 along party lines. A two-thirds supermajority of the members of each house of the Legislature is required to successfully override a governor’s veto. The Assembly met in extraordinary session because the Legislature’s next regularly scheduled floor period will be September 28-30.

Governor Calls Special Session on Education Funding; Legislative Leaders Gavel Out Immediately

On July 26, one day before the Assembly met to attempt a veto override for AB 336, Gov. Evers announced that he had issued an executive order calling a special session of the Legislature to consider his proposal on education spending. The bill, LRB-4297/LRB-4299, would have directed $550 million in state funds towards K-12 and higher education:

  • $240 million to increase K-12 per-pupil aid by $146 per student
  • $200 million for K-12 special education aids
  • $90 million for the University of Wisconsin System
  • $20 million for the Wisconsin Technical College System

The additional education spending proposed by the governor matches an amount that he vetoed from the 2021-2023 state budget. The budget approved by the Legislature included a transfer of $550 million from the state’s general fund to its budget stabilization or “rainy day” fund. As we covered here, Gov. Evers used his line-item veto authority to remove that provision, writing in his veto message that he “object[s] to making these funds unavailable for supporting the needs of Wisconsinites that the Legislature failed to address. … I request the Legislature work with me to instead invest these funds to address the immediate needs of Wisconsinites.”

A few hours following the Assembly’s failed veto override vote on AB 336, Assembly and Senate leadership gaveled in and out of the governor’s special session on education funding without considering or debating his proposal.