MADISON, WI – In a week of wall-to-wall committee meetings, as legislators prepare for the few remaining floor periods of the 2021-2022 legislative session, State Rep. Dave Armstrong (R-Rice Lake) was happy to report that two proposals he introduced as part of Assembly Republicans’ “Stronger Workforce” package have been recommended for passage by their respective committees.
“As both a state legislator and Barron County’s economic development director, I am constantly working with employers who are desperate to find employees to fill vacant positions. In the 75th Assembly District, I don’t think you can walk down any community’s main street without seeing ‘Now Hiring’ or ‘Help Wanted’ signs,” Representative Armstrong said. “The Stronger Workforce package is intended to address the current labor shortage through a number of approaches, including critical, commonsense reforms to the unemployment insurance system and talent attraction and retention measures.”
Assembly Bill 940, which the Assembly small business development committee approved on February 9 on a unanimous, bipartisan vote, builds on a measure included in the 2021-2023 state budget act and requires the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to submit to the Legislature’s joint finance committee its plan for spending at least $3 million on talent attraction and retention initiatives.
“The budget the Legislature passed last year – and which Governor Evers signed – required WEDC to spend at least $3 million on talent attraction and retention,” Representative Armstrong explained. “However, WEDC has been slow to act, and while I have heard that WEDC is finally getting around to this, I believe AB 940 is necessary not only to move the process along at a time when Wisconsin needs to step up its efforts, but also to keep the Legislature informed.”
Assembly Bill 938, which the Assembly workforce development committee approved today, makes a number of changes to the unemployment insurance (UI) system. Among many other things, it updates the definition of “misconduct” for the purposes of determining benefit eligibility, requires random audits of 50% of reported work-search actions, and requires weekly comparisons of UI recipients’ records with state and national databases, including death, employment, and prison records. AB 938 also requires the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to extend UI call center capacity and hours during certain declared emergencies and periods of unusually high call volume.
“DWD’s reaction to COVID was a disaster,” Representative Armstrong said. “Thousands of Wisconsin residents in need of immediate UI assistance had to wait weeks and even months for their claims to be processed and paid out. That is unacceptable. Also unacceptable is Wisconsin’s 15.56% rate of improper payments, compared to the national average of 9.17%. AB 938 beefs up DWD’s UI fraud detection and prevention responsibilities while ensuring that people who find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own and who are actively seeking new employment are able to obtain timely assistance.”
Assembly Bills 938 and 940 are now available for floor votes in the Assembly. Other bills in the Stronger Workforce Initiative are also making their way through the legislative process.