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Gov. Evers Sues Republican Legislators for Continued Obstruction of Investments PDF Print E-mail
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Written by GOV Press Wisconsin   
Tuesday, 14 May 2024 09:18

assembly-wi-robin-vosGovernor’s countersuit comes as Republican lawmakers refuse to release nearly $200 million in already-approved investments to fight PFAS, improve kids’ literacy, respond to hospital closures in Western Wisconsin.


MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers sued the Wisconsin State Legislature on Monday over its refusal to release a critical investment aimed at improving K-12 student literacy, one of many investments intended to respond to pressing challenges facing Wisconsin. The move comes as Republican lawmakers on the Republican-controlled state budget committee—the Joint Committee on Finance—are refusing to release nearly $200 million in already-approved investments, including $125 million to fight PFAS contaminants statewide, nearly $50 million to help improve K-12 student reading outcomes, and $15 million in crisis response resources to respond to hospital closures in Western Wisconsin. Republican legislators concluded legislative business for the 2024 calendar year in March.

As of today, May 13, 2024, Republican lawmakers have refused to release:

  • $125 million to fight PFAS contaminants statewide for 313 days;
  • $15 million to respond to hospital closures in Western Wisconsin for 75 days; and
  • Nearly $50 million to help improve reading outcomes and literacy in K-12 schools across Wisconsin for 67 days.


tony-evers“Our response to challenges facing Wisconsin like water contamination, improving our kids’ reading outcomes, and responding to hospital closures in rural communities is being held up by Republican lawmakers who continue to obstruct the basic functions of government in this state,” said Gov. Evers. “The fact that Wisconsinites and communities across our state have waited months to receive funding to respond to pressing issues because Republican lawmakers refuse to release investments they already approved is unconscionable. Some of this funding has been sitting in Madison for over 300 days waiting for Republicans to take action—that’s ridiculous, there’s no excuse for it. 

“The people of this state should not have to wait one day longer than they already have—these are taxpayer dollars, the Legislature and I already approved these investments months and months ago, and Republican legislators should not be able to single-handedly prevent us from doing the people’s work. Period,” Gov. Evers continued. “I again urge Republican legislators to release all of these funds immediately and without any further delay.” 

Republican lawmakers have offered virtually no meaningful justification for their ongoing refusal to release nearly $200 million in already-approved investments intended to fight PFAS contamination statewide, improve reading outcomes for K-12 education, and support Western Wisconsin in the wake of abrupt hospital closures, respectively, and have likewise given no apparent indication of when they plan to release the investments or if they plan to release them at all.

This is not the first time Republican members of the Wisconsin State Legislature have come under fire for months of inaction and delays. At the height of the worst economic disaster in a decade and the worst public health crisis in a century during the coronavirus pandemic, Republican legislators took a 300-day hiatus from passing any legislation. A contemporary analysis conducted by WisPolitics.com at the time found Wisconsin’s Republican-led Legislature was the least active full-time Legislature in America. Some of those same Republican legislators are still serving in the Wisconsin State Legislature and serve on the Joint Finance Committee. 

jfcphotoRepublican lawmakers of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee who are refusing to release nearly $200 million in already-approved investments include:

  • Committee Co-Chair Sen. Marklein (R-Spring Green)
  • Committee Co-Chair Rep. Born (R-Beaver Dam)
  • Sen. Stroebel (R-Saukville)
  • Sen. Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk)
  • Sen. Ballweg (R-Markesan)
  • Sen. Testin (R-Stevens Point)
  • Sen. Wimberger (R-Green Bay)
  • Rep. Katsma (R-Oostburg)
  • Rep. Zimmerman (R-River Falls)
  • Rep. Rodriguez (R-Oak Creek)
  • Rep. Kurtz (R-Wonewoc)
  • Rep. Dallman (R-Green Lake)


Gov. Evers has spent months repeatedly urging Republicans to immediately release critical funding to respond to pressing, statewide issues. Most recently, the governor has called the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee into two respective special meetings to release $125 to fight PFAS contaminants statewide and $15 million in crisis response resources to respond to hospital closures in Western Wisconsin.

Gov. Evers called the Joint Committee on Finance into a special meeting on April 16, 2024, to release the $140 million to fight PFAS and respond to hospital closures, respectively, but not one of the 12 Republican lawmakers on the committee showed up for the meeting. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, many of the Republican committee members were reportedly in Washington, D.C. to attend campaign fundraisers instead, despite the special meeting coinciding with a scheduled floor period for the Wisconsin State Legislature. “None of the Republican members of the Joint Finance Committee responded to requests for interviews about their whereabouts,” the newspaper reported. Gov. Evers attended the special meeting, delivered remarks, and took questions from the press, a video of which is available here.

Gov. Evers again called the Joint Committee on Finance into a second special meeting on Tues., May 7, 2024, at 1:01 p.m., to coincide with an existing committee meeting Republican members had themselves already scheduled at 1 p.m. Republican committee members declined to participate in the special meeting called by Gov. Evers, leaving the committee hearing without taking any action on the governor’s request to release $125 million to fight PFAS statewide and $15 million to stabilize healthcare access in Western Wisconsin after recent hospital closures.

A copy of Gov. Evers’ counterclaim filed today is available here. The governor’s counterclaim was filed in response to litigation brought by Republicans in the Wisconsin State Legislature regarding Gov. Evers’ line-item vetoes to 2023 Wisconsin Act 100.

COMPREHENSIVE TIMELINE OF CONTINUED GOP DELAYS IN RELEASING CRITICAL FUNDING TO FIGHT PFAS, STABILIZE HEALTHCARE IN WESTERN WISCONSIN

$125 MILLION TO FIGHT PFAS CONTAMINATION STATEWIDE
During the 2023 State of the State address, Gov. Evers announced his plan to address contamination caused by PFAS statewide, proposing to invest more than $106 million to support municipalities in responding to local PFAS contamination, bolster staff and resources at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and increase PFAS testing, sampling, and monitoring. The governor’s plan also included implementation, allocation of funding, and policy for PFAS standards, but Republicans on the JFC removed all of these provisions from the final budget.

The final budget signed by Gov. Evers last July ultimately included a $125 million investment to address and prevent PFAS contamination statewide, one of the first real and meaningful investments by Republican legislators to address PFAS, set aside in a PFAS Trust Fund.

In the following months since the signing of the 2023-25 budget, Republicans in the Wisconsin State Legislature still have not made the funds available. Republican lawmakers instead insisted on pursuing stand-alone legislation outside of the biennial budget process to govern the distribution of the funds—something the DNR has repeatedly argued is unnecessary given the agency’s existing programs that can be utilized to get these resources to local communities and private well owners. Despite months of negotiation between Gov. Evers and the Republican bill authors to reach bipartisan consensus, Senate Bill (SB) 312 was advanced through the legislative process with controversial “poison pill” provisions designed to benefit polluters that could have functionally given polluters a free pass from cleaning up their own spills and contamination that Gov. Evers and the DNR had insisted was a non-starter from the beginning. SB 312 also would not have released the $125 million as approved through the biennial budget to fight PFAS contamination statewide.

In December, after nearly six months of Republican inaction, the governor directed the DNR to submit a Wis. Stat. s. 13.10 request to release the $125 million in approved state funding to ensure impacted communities could work to address contamination and reduce their exposure to PFAS. Unfortunately, Republicans on the JFC still refused to schedule a meeting for the request.

Additionally, at that time, Gov. Everssent a letter to Sens. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay), the authors of SB 312, urging the lawmakers to sponsor legislation to provide an exemption to the REINS Act, which would empower the DNR to continue their work to create standards for PFAS contamination in groundwater through the rulemaking process. The governor expressed this would be critical to earning his support of their bill, stating “SB 312, as currently drafted, weakens the DNR’s existing authority to protect the public from these substances without having these standards in place, which is counterintuitive to the important steps my administration has taken to address PFAS contamination over the past five years.” Later writing, “As we discussed in our November 8 meeting, without these standards set, having gone completely through the rulemaking process, the current language in SB 312 is not workable. It is my sincere hope that you will move forward quickly with this draft legislation to enable the DNR to continue this important rulemaking.” Despite the governor expressly warning them of the fate of their bill without important amendments, Republicans advanced SB 312 without the necessary changes.

In February, Republicans passed SB 312, absent key provisions that would release the $125 million previously secured through the biennial budget process. Further, SB 312 still contained “poison pill” provisions designed to benefit polluters—provisions the governor had made clear in conversations with Republican bill authors, stakeholders, and local community leaders would result in the bill being vetoed.

Gov. Evers consequentlydirected the DNR to submit a new compromise Wis. Stat. s. 13.10 request, which he urged the Republican-controlled JFC to support. Aimed at reaching bipartisan compromise and consensus, the latest request submitted by the Evers Administration that was functionally identical to SB 312 as amended and passed by Republicans in the Legislature, including provisions protecting innocent landowners but without the controversial “poison pill” provisions from the Republican-backed proposal. A copy of Gov. Evers’ proposal is available here. A copy of Gov. Evers’ letter to JFC Co-Chairs urging them to take up his compromise is available here. Again, Republican lawmakers declined to act.

Gov. Evers, joined by conservation groups and water quality advocates from communities impacted by PFAS contamination, vetoedSB 312 as previously promised. Importantly, the governor’s veto of SB 312 has no effect on the $125 million already approved through the biennial budget or whether the $125 million to combat PFAS remains available or will be released by the Republican-controlled JFC.

Notwithstanding the governor’s veto, Republican members of the JFC may release the $125 million secured through the biennial budget to fight PFAS statewide at any time—as has been the case for the last 313 days.

$15 MILLION TO STABILIZE HEALTHCARE ACCESS IN WESTERN WISCONSIN
In January, HSHS and Prevea Health announced their decision to close several locations across Western Wisconsin. The Evers Administration swiftly got to work to launch rapid response and other efforts to support local workers and community members affected by the announcement.

In February, Gov. Tony Evers approved SB 1015, now 2023 Wisconsin Act 97, securing $15 million in crisis response resources to support healthcare access in Western Wisconsin in the wake of the recent announcement of HSHS and Prevea Health’s decision to close several locations. Gov. Evers approved Act 97 with improvements through line-item vetoes to provide additional flexibility for the $15 million in crisis response resources, enabling the investments to be used to fund any hospital services meeting the area’s pressing healthcare needs, including urgent care services, OB-GYN services, inpatient psychiatry services, and mental health substance use services, among others. Without the governor’s vetoes, these services would not have been eligible under SB 1015.

SB 1015, as passed by the Legislature, included unnecessary restrictions on the $15 million crisis response funding, limiting the funds to be used only for hospital emergency department services exclusively. The governor’s partial vetoes improved the bill significantly, broadening the scope of the grants available under the bill and allowing the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) to make the crisis response funds available for any hospital services that meet the needs of the region.

In addition to severelyimpacting healthcare access in the area, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the closures have been estimated to impactapproximately 1,400 workers, among others, in the surrounding region. At the time he signed the bill, Gov. Evers directed DHS to submit an official request to the JFC toimmediately release the $15 million provided for under Act 97. A copy of the request submitted by DHS to JFC is available here.

In March, nearly three weeks after signing Act 97, Gov. Evers visited healthcare providers in Western Wisconsin to, again, call on Republicans to release the funds and blasted the committee members for their continued delays in releasing these funds. The governor’s visit came on the heels of HSHS announcing its plans to close HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls approximately a month earlier than had previously been announced.

Now, over two months after Gov. Evers signed into law the $15 million in crisis response resources to stabilize the healthcare industry in Western Wisconsin, Republican members of the JFC are still refusing to release the funds.

More information on the governor’s veto message for SB 1015, now 2023 Wisconsin Act 97, and the Evers Administration’s ongoing rapid response efforts to the HSHS and Prevea health systems closures is available here.

 
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