Assembly passes bill clearing way for unemployment system overhaul; sends to Gov. Evers’ desk

MADISON, Wis. — The Assembly has voted to send a bill to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk that would clear a path for overhauling the state’s antiquated unemployment system, after months of backlog and unemployment claims went unanswered in 2020 as unemployment spiked during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The measure passed the Assembly with no members voting against it.

The bill passed the Senate last week on a wide 27-3 bipartisan vote, and Gov. Evers has indicated he’ll sign it.

In a press conference before the Assembly floor session, Speaker Robin Vos accused Gov. Evers of using the antiquated system as an excuse, and the bill provided a “simple, easy roadmap” for the governor to move forward.

“The agency head who was fired didn’t do his job,” Vos said. A state audit last year showed the agency had answered fewer than 1% of calls, leading to Gov. Evers firing former Secretary Caleb Frostman.

The bill doesn’t provide immediate funding to the state to overhaul the system; rather, it allows the state to open up the bidding process and seek federal money first. It would also allow Gov. Evers to ask for funding from the state’s budget committee. In his budget proposal, Gov. Evers estimated the overhaul would cost close to $80 million.

“What is the Assembly doing today that it could not have done weeks ago or months ago?” Assembly minority leader Rep. Gordon Hintz said on the Assembly floor Tuesday.

The bill also includes limited liability measures against Covid-19 illness and death claims for schools and businesses, a measure included after Gov. Evers vetoed Covid-19 relief legislation with a similar measure earlier this month.