MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, a former teacher and state superintendent of schools, assigned “homework” to the Republican-controlled Legislature on Thursday, calling on them to spend more money on combating homelessness, restrict the use of water-polluting chemicals and close a loophole that lowers property taxes for large retail stores.
But one Republican gave Evers a failing grade for his approach.
“I thought I had a good meeting with the governor last week where we discussed priorities,” Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement. “But giving a coequal branch of government ‘homework’ in a condescending letter won’t help him grow support for an agenda with Senate Republicans. The tone of this letter is ridiculous.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who invited Evers to give his State of the State speech with a snarky letter that noted unemployment had increased since Evers took office, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Many of the issues detailed by Evers in the letter to Democratic and Republican legislative leaders have bipartisan support. But Evers does not name issues Republicans have said they intend to take up, including cutting property taxes.
The Legislature is scheduled to return to work next week but will be in session only a handful of days before adjourning for the session, perhaps as soon as February. Evers said in his letter that he hoped the Legislature would remain in session as long as necessary to act on the priorities he laid out.
“The people of Wisconsin elected us to show up and get to work, so I look forward to working with you in the new year to continue moving Wisconsin forward, together,” he wrote.
Republicans have shown little interest in passing many of the priorities of Evers and the Democrats. Evers called a special session of the Legislature to act on gun control measures, but Republicans refused to debate them. The Senate also fired Evers’ agriculture department secretary and nine other members of Evers’ Cabinet remain in limbo.
Evers did not renew the call for lawmakers to take up the gun control bills in his letter Thursday. Instead, he focused on seven areas where bills have already been introduced, including five that have bipartisan support.
— Capping the cost of insulin at $100 for a 30-day supply. The measure has no Republican co-sponsors.
— Closing the “dark store” loophole that allows retail stores to pay less in property taxes by having vacant stores taxed at a lower value. The bill has bipartisan support.
— Directing the state Department of Natural Resources to create and enforce new standards to reduce the level of pollution-causing chemicals known as PFAS in the water supply. No Republicans support the bill.
— Doing more to prevent sex trafficking in Wisconsin. One bill would not allow children to be charged with prostitution if they are victims of sex trafficking. Another would impose a mandatory $5,000 fine for people convicted of patronizing or soliciting a prostitute. Both have bipartisan support.
— Preventing future backlogs of sexual assault testing kits. Evers named two bills that have bipartisan support. Passing the measures also has the backing of Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul and victims of sexual assaults who have lobbied the Legislature to take action.
— Spending more to fight homelessness. A bipartisan package of bills spending $3.7 million a year has passed the Assembly, but it remains stalled in the Senate because of opposition from some of the most conservative senators who question the spending.
— Reimbursing local municipalities for the costs of administering special elections. The bill has bipartisan support.