Governor Tony Evers sets social priorities for state Legislators by assigning them “homework”
At a press conference on January 9, the governor and former school teacher laid out some of his legislative priorities for 2020. They are things he said have bipartisan support.
Governor Evers called on legislators to remain in session long enough this year to pass bills he identified as having been introduced in one or both houses of the Legislature. On the list of priorities released by the governor’s office are capping copay amounts for insulin; closing the state’s “dark store” loophole; improving water quality; and addressing homelessness.
He pointed to a bipartisan bill on homelessness and the results of the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality, which on Wednesday unveiled its proposals. The proposals amount to a $10 million effort to reduce nitrates and boost well testing and pollution remediation efforts. Governor Evers said he believes the legislation that comes out of the task force will be a good start.
He noted that none of the recommendations address PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals” that have seeped into some Wisconsin groundwater and can cause health problems. And none of the task force’s recommendations address removal of lead pipes or the elimination of lead from drinking water.
“I have lots of young grandchildren,” Governor Evers said. “Having them consume water that is either PFA-contaminated or lead-contaminated, that would scare the living hell out of me, frankly.”
Also on the homework list Governor Evers made for legislators were help for family farmers, justice and protection for survivors of sexual assault and sex trafficking, support mental health services for kids. Some of those issues, including farm supports and boosts to mental health services, were also addressed in the 2019-20 state budget. But Governor Evers said new bills could further improve people’s lives.
The “dark store” loophole allows big-box retailers to pay lower tax rates by assessing their property taxes at the rate of vacant stores. The Wisconsin League of Municipalities, Wisconsin Counties Association and Wisconsin Towns Association have called for ending the practice, which they say shifts property tax burdens onto homeowners and small businesses. Bipartisan legislation to end the loophole has failed to pass in previous legislative sessions.
Governor Evers noted that he had met with Republican legislative leaders, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, to discuss these priorities. State Senator Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, appeared with Governor Evers at the press conference. He said that although power in the Capitol is divided between the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature, on multiple issues public opinion shows a lot of agreement in the state.
“Wisconsinites aren’t divided on the issue of medical marijuana,” Erpenbach said. “Wisconsinites aren’t divided on the issue of broadband expansion. Wisconsinites aren’t divided on the issue of making sure we do what we can for our family farms. Wisconsinites aren’t divided on the issue of clean drinking water. We are not as divided as the Republicans might have you think.”