Assembly approves workforce training bill

Measure would provide $15 million in grants to companies

Published On: Mar 11 2013 10:57:50 AM CDT   Updated On: Mar 01 2013 07:36:32 AM CST
MADISON, Wis. -

Despite concerns from some lawmakers, the state Assembly approved a bill Thursday that would provide $15 million in job training grants to companies.

Companies that set aside money to train both new and current employees would be eligible for grants. The bill would also provide $5 million to the state Department of Workforce Development to administer the program, which drew criticism from Democrats.

"In principle, if there is a middle-person, that can get in the way of funding," Madison College President Bettsey Barhorst said. "But, in our case, we have a very good relationship with -- and we are willing to compete for those funds -- with the (South-Central) Workforce Development Board, and also with the state Department of Workforce Development."

Barhorst called the bill "a good thing for Madison College."

The measure passed 94-4 after Republicans defeated several Democratic amendments, such as requiring an audit of the program. The bill next goes to the state Senate.

The bill would also require the Workforce Development department to create a new website database so job-seekers could find job opportunities that match their skills.

Legislative Republican leaders said they've been working with Gov. Scott Walker on a budget allocation for job training grants.

"We wanted to get things up and going so the department knows the money's going to be allocated," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said. "They can begin putting everything together and have it ready to go much quicker than waiting for passage of the budget and then beginning the process."

Republicans said the measure was bipartisan, despite Democrats' concerns. One of the changes both parties agreed to in committee was a requirement that the Workforce Development agency make annual reports on how much money it had allocated, who had received it, and how many people had been trained.

"I think this bill does a good job working together bipartisan-wise," said Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, the bill's sponsor. "I know I worked with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle."

The state Assembly has also passed a bipartisan bill that would lay out $100,000 for manufacturing forums.

The bill would require the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to facilitate the forums. The measure's authors, Rep. Scott Krug, a Nekoosa Republican, and Rep. Andy Jorgensen, a Fort Atkinson Democrat, said the bill will bring manufacturers together so they can develop better ways of doing business and more efficient supply chains.

The Assembly passed the bill 92-6 Thursday. The legislation goes next to the state Senate.

The Assembly also approved a bill that would fund a program to promote Wisconsin-based manufacturers. The bipartisan bill would require the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to devote $250,000 into an account devoted to the program on Jan. 1, 2014. WEDC would be allowed to cancel the program any time after its first annual review.

The Assembly passed the measure 90-8 on Thursday, sending the bill on to the state Senate.