Republicans take no action on unemployment upgrade bill, say Evers has money to move forward on his own

MADISON, Wis. — The Republican-controlled legislature failed to take action during another special session on Tuesday – this one aiming to fix the state’s outdated unemployment system.

Republican leadership said that the governor has the money and means to start on this project on his own, but this has turned into another area where neither side can agree.

The governor called the legislature to action last week during his State of the State address, later revealing he wanted them to approve $5.3 million to get an it upgrade started at the Department of Workforce Development. The bill would also make online communication between the department and employers the default.

Republicans repeated their response after the legislation was release: the governor already has the money and power to get at least the IT upgrade going.

“That’s the thing that’s frustrating for us is he does this dog and pony show with the special session when he has the unilateral ability to do this on his own,” said Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna and majority leader in the state Assembly. “so if he’s looking for legislative approval to start moving forward, he’s got it.”

He and other Republican leaders cite a nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo outlining options, but a spokesperson for the governor said those funds aren’t available.

Legislative leaders also suggested Evers go through the Master Lease Program for the money – which this bill does – but the governor’s office and the fiscal bureau suggest the legislature needs to sign off on the funds required to finish the project over the next few years.

The DWD has blamed the IT system for part of the delay in processing benefits behind the No. 1 cause of millions more claims than normal.

Republicans have repeatedly called for a fix to the delay, and Steineke welcomed the idea behind this solution.

“We’re happy to have him go forward and implement what he’s asked for in this legislation,” he said. “The legislation is just not necessary.”

The special session will technically continue on Thursday, but the state Senate is expected to wait until later next week, after a committee hearing on unemployment benefits, to decide if senators will take action on this bill.