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GOP eyes overriding veto on bill to end $300 a week in additional unemployment benefits

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers called the Republican-controlled Legislature into a special session on Monday to increase spending on public schools and higher education on the same day the Assembly planned to vote to override the governor’s previous veto of a bill ending $300 weekly supplemental unemployment payments.

The override attempt on Tuesday was almost certain to fail because there aren’t enough Republican votes to pass it without persuading some Democrats to cross sides. Likewise, Evers’ special session call was also likely to be ignored, which Republicans have done repeatedly when he’s made similar attempts to pass his priorities.

Evers, in a video message announcing the special session, said as long as Republicans were coming back in session to vote on the override, they should “do the right thing and invest in our kids and our schools.”

“If they have time to come into session to play politics, then they have time to come in and do what’s best for our kids,” Evers said.

He called on Republicans to spend $240 million per pupil aid for K-12 schools, $200 million more for special education and $110 million for higher education, including the University of Wisconsin System.

Republican legislative leaders had no immediate comment on the special-session call.

Lawmakers will be required to gavel into this special session, but they won’t have to debate, let alone vote, on the proposals Evers is putting forward. Republicans have ignored Evers on several other special sessions since 2019.

Republicans said Monday they planned to vote on overriding Evers’ veto of a bill that would have ended the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit earlier than scheduled on Sept. 6. The Legislature passed the proposal last month. All Republicans were in support and all Democrats against.

The extra payment, coming on top of Wisconsin’s weekly $370 unemployment benefit, was designed to help the unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic. But

Republicans, business leaders, trade groups and others said it was a disincentive for the unemployed to go back to work, exacerbating the state’s worker shortage problem.

Evers, in his veto message, said nothing supported the claim that the $300 payment is keeping people from seeking work, pointing out that the state’s unemployment rate was 3.9% in May, nearly two points lower than the national average.

Ending the payment early would eliminate a “lifeline” for many Wisconsin residents and hurt the state’s economy, Evers said.

More than two dozen states have ended the payment early, citing concerns about worker shortages.

Labor experts say the labor shortage is not just about the $300 payment. Some unemployed people have been reluctant to return to work because they fear catching the coronavirus. Others have found new occupations. And many women, especially working mothers, have left the workforce to care for their children.

For the veto override to be successful, it must pass both the Senate and Assembly with a two-thirds majority.

The Senate was not scheduled to be in session this week to take up overrides and it wasn’t clear if they would take up the same bills or not. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Republicans, who hold a 61-38 majority in the Assembly, would need 66 votes in favor of an override if everyone is present. That means at least five Democrats would have to switch sides, something that Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said would not happen.

“We’ll uphold the veto,” he said Friday.

Veto overrides in Wisconsin are rare. The Legislature tried, unsuccessfully, to override an Evers veto in 2019, the first attempt in nine years. The last successful override was in 1985, a 36-year span that is the longest in Wisconsin history, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.

The Legislature last attempted an override in February 2020, failing to get the needed votes to undo Evers’ veto of a state budget provision creating a $1 million grant program for fabrication labs in schools. The Assembly in May scheduled, but then delayed, override votes on bills Evers vetoed that would prevent health officials from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine and prohibit the closing of churches during the pandemic.

Override votes are often scheduled not because lawmakers think they will succeed, but to instead bring more attention to an issue, please a special interest or force the other side to cast a possibly unpopular vote.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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