Democrats are questioning the timing, as Governor Scott Walker calls for a special session of the Legislature to take up a package of welfare reform bills. The Republican governor has scheduled stops around the state on Thursday to promote the Wisconsin Works for Everyone welfare reform legislation authored by Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield). “We want to take able bodied citizens who are able to work, and do everything we can to encourage them to go and fill those help wanted ads that we see everywhere in Wisconsin,” Vos said.
The proposals consists of ten separate pieces of legislation, including bills to place asset restrictions on eligibility for FoodShare, Wisconsin Works, and Wisconsin Shares, to require drug screening, testing, and treatment and employment screening of and employability plans for residents in public housing, and to require photo identification cards for FoodShare recipients.
“Unfortunately, there’s kind of a black market where people have utilized FoodShare cards, to trade them in for non-covered items or even in exchange for illicit items like drugs,” Vos said.
The announcement from Walker comes a day after an electoral setback for his party, as Democrat Patty Schactner won a special election in western Wisconsin’s 10th state Senate District. Walker on Wednesday called the loss of the seat a “wake-up call for Republicans.”
Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Martha Laning made note of the loss in a statement:
“Scott Walker is clearly scared by Republicans’ election loss this week. So today he’s grabbing for what self-serving career politicians always do–dividing people. He is lashing out at lower-income families down on their luck to please his wealthy elite donors. His crass, calculated political move to make Wisconsin hate again is a desperate tactic pitting Wisconsinites against one another — and it will fail.”
But, even with Schactner’s win, Republicans maintain their majorities in both chambers of the legislature, meaning that there’s little Democrats will be able to do, to impede passage of the legislative package.
“It’s interesting, the governor isn’t calling for a special session on sparsity aid for rural schools, he’s not calling a special session on closing Lincoln Hills, he’s not calling a special session on transportation funding,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh). “I would say those issues are far more important to the state, but don’t seem to be an issue for this governor after an election where Republicans got creamed.”
“I think the governor seems a little unhinged right now, with his late night tweets after the election,” said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse). “They are looking to energize their base.”
Kapenga though, said the proposals are the result of 18 months of work on the issue of helping people get into work, and he believes that if they are passed and implemented, it will help individuals on assistance as well as employers looking to fill positions. “That’s why we started this work 18 months ago, looking at what we can actually do here that will make this connection and be a win-win for everybody.” he said. “We want to incentivize getting people into a position.”
Vos said Walker is “really putting a special focus on this, which is going to help Senator Kapenga move these bills through the spring session, to hopefully get them on his desk before the snow melts.”
AUDIO: Speaker Vos, Rep. Hintz (:38)
Several of the bills, including those requiring drug testing for benefit eligibility, would also require waivers from the federal government before they could be implemented.
“Governor Walker is pushing this mistaken narrative that if someone needs help, then there is something wrong with his or her character,” said Senator Lena Taylor (D–Milwaukee). “This is about gutting services and punishing low-income children and families who made the mistake of being born into poverty.”