Senate committee revisits Gov. Evers workforce, child care proposals

NOW: Senate committee revisits Gov. Evers workforce, child care proposals

MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- A Senate committee revisited Gov. Tony Evers' special session call to bolster the workforce and invest in day care centers by holding a public hearing Wednesday on his sweeping proposal.

The Senate Committee on Economic Development and Technical Colleges listened to hours of testimony on Gov. Evers' $1.1 billion bill, which supporters say will address the challenge of finding enough workers to fill open jobs.

Sen. Dan Feyen, the Republican chairman of the committee, indicated after the hearing aspects of Evers plan could survive while others will likely be rejected. He said the bill will likely be amended but did not have a timeline on when that will occur.

It was held after lawmakers kept open Evers special session on Sept. 20, a different outcome compared to the 12 other special sessions Evers previously called on issues such as health care, school funding, and abortion rights that were immediately rejected by Republicans.

During the hearing, state agencies touted aspects of Evers plan including expanding paid family and medical leave. About a dozen states, including Illinois and Minnesota, have paid leave laws.

Amy Pechacek, Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development, said providing 12 weeks of paid leave to employees would bring financial security to more families when work isn't an option due to major circumstances.

"Studies have shown significant retention of the workforce following the birth of a child in those states that had paid leave, they also found decreased turnover," Pechacek said.

Feyen said he was skeptical of the measure because employers and their workers would be required to pay a percentage to fund paid leave.

"It's putting another tax or fee on businesses and employees which very much concerns me especially with the rising cost of fuel, utilities costs," Feyen said.

The Fond du Lac Republican also said he still wants to study how other states have enacted paid family leave to "make sure we get the right package moving forward."

Another proposal up for debate would pump nearly $365 million into the child care industry by investing in two federal pandemic-era programs, Child Care Counts and the Partner Up! Grant Program.

Child care providers who testified urged lawmakers to continue the programs they say have helped keep their business afloat.

"If we do not invest in the early learning experience our children have access to, we are failing them," said Caitlin Mitchell, owner of Sports & Stripes Early Learning Center in Bloomer. "Focus on the catastrophic impact our economy will face if access to child care becomes non-existence for the people in the workforce."

Feyen and other Republicans on the committee expressed concerns about how much it would cost the state to keep a federally funded program running.

One proposal that could gain support providing $200 million to construct a new engineering building on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The new building is geared toward preparing hundreds of engineering students to enter fields that employers are highly seeking.

Feyen said he "thinks it will remain in the bill" but also acknowledged how Republicans rejected the funding during negotiations when crafting the 2023-2025 state budget.

Evers proposals also include:

$100 million for the Workforce Innovation Grant Program

$16 million to address teacher staffing shortages

$60 million to address shortages in the healthcare industry

$40 million investment for Wisconsin Technical College System

$10 million for Wisconsin's nurse educators program

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