A bill to extend unemployment benefits advances through Senate and Assembly committees Monday. The full legislature will likely pass the bill next week. It would give eligible jobless folks an extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits using federal stimulus money.

Representative Mike Endsley (R-Sheboygan) is co-author of the Assemby bill. During a joint public hearing at the Capitol, Endsley recalls standing behind his constituents in the unemployment line. “I not only lived it personally, but I lived it for a number of months last year with people in my district.”

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development estimates that 23,000 to 40,000 Wisconsin citizens will be impacted by this legislation. Georgia Maxwell with that agency says the state has already borrowed about $1.4 billion from the feds, all of which needs to be re-paid. The additional $89 million from the federal government will not have to be paid back.

Representative Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) is the only no vote, saying he’s concerned about the cost. “The fact is this is gonna be $89 million that somebody’s gonna pay for; it’s not free money. I’m very concerned on the lack of concern that I see on that.”

One person testifies that the GOP-controlled legislature and Governor Walker “actually took unemployment benefits away” from jobless citizens. Representative Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) quickly clarifies the facts. “It is my knowledge we have taken nothing away from anybody on unemployment. Maybe we haven’t reacted quick enough for you, however there’s been no …” The woman interrupts “but they’ve ended without the extended credit.” Honadel agrees, “There’s no argument there.”

Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) authored the Senate bill. He says they’re acting as fast as they legally can. The payments would be given retroactively to those who stopped getting checks in April. Both Wanggaard and Democrat Representative Christine Sinicki (Milwaukee) say as soon as lawmakers got the OK from the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council, they immediately introduced a bill.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 2:07

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