MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers will lay out his policy agenda and goals for the year in his second State of the State speech to lawmakers on Wednesday, a wish list sure to include some bipartisan measures that the Democratic governor hopes will have a chance of success in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Evers and Republicans have found little they can agree on during the governor’s first year in office, and there will be little time this year for them to do anything of substance. Lawmakers plan to be in session voting on bills just a handful of days, with the Assembly hoping to complete its work by the end of February and the Senate likely done shortly after that.
The prime time speech gives Evers a chance to showcase his agenda while also prodding lawmakers to get on board. Both Democratic and Republican legislative leaders said ahead of the speech they were looking for areas where they could agree.
“We have been continuing to look for things that are bipartisan,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Tuesday. That includes bills combating opioid addiction, protecting water quality and preventing suicides, he said.
“We hope he addresses the problem of rising unemployment but we also hope he focuses on topics that could bring people together,” Vos said. “I hope he doesn’t choose to make it a partisan exercise.”
Evers will talk about areas where Republicans and Democrats could work together to get things done, like criminal justice reform, said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz.
“The governor’s certainly going to highlight the opportunities we have,” Hintz said. “We’re at our best when we get things done.”
Evers’ office released excerpts from his speech Wednesday in which he calls on Republicans to address student debt and redraw legislative district boundaries fairly.
“There’s no rest for the elected, folks,” Evers said in one of the excerpts, “and we’ve got a lot to get done before anyone takes a vacation.”
Several bipartisan proposals, such as increasing funding to fight homelessness, were included in a “homework” assignment Evers gave Republicans earlier this month.
He already has called on Republicans to restrict the use of water-polluting chemicals known as PFAS, close the so-called “dark store” loophole that lowers property taxes for large retail stores, do more to prevent sex trafficking and prevent future backlogs of sexual assault testing kits.
Republicans have not been willing to go as far as Democrats want on those and other issues.
Evers this week also called on the Legislature to pass a series of bills aimed at reducing vaping among youth people. The measures would ban vaping and vapor products at K-12 schools and fund a public health campaign to address youth vaping in the state.
Vos faulted Evers for not working with Republicans before putting forward his anti-vaping agenda.
Statement from Governor Evers' office
Below are excerpts from Gov. Tony Evers' 2020 State of the State Address as prepared for delivery. Gov. Evers will give his address at 7:00 P.M. today in the Assembly Chambers of the Wisconsin State Capitol:
… As I reflect on my first year in office, although there were setbacks and occasional political posturing—what I call ‘huffing and puffing’—we also had a lot of success, and I am proud of everything we accomplished in just a year’s time.
One of the best parts of my job is getting out of the Capitol and visiting with people all across our state. And holy mackerel, that’s what we did. Lieutenant Governor Barnes and I both visited all 72 Wisconsin counties this past year.
I was also proud to sign executive orders affirming equity, inclusion, respect, and dignity for state workers in Wisconsin. Last year, I visited every single one of our agencies to thank our employees and hear about the good work they’re doing for our state.
This past year, I also made good on my campaign promise to reinstate the pardon review board. We granted the first pardons in our state in nine years, offering forgiveness and a second chance to folks who’ve made amends in their lives and communities.
In my last State of the State Address, I asked the legislature to set politics aside so we could work together on the issues facing our state. I said I expected bills to be passed with broad support and in the spirit of bipartisanship. So one of the things I’m most proud of is that more than 95 percent of the bills I signed my first year in office had bipartisan support.
We have to work on making higher education available to more folks in our state. We have to understand how education-related debt affects not just our students, but their families, too. And we have to address the fact that student debt is preventing folks from buying a car, starting a business, saving for retirement, and starting a family.
From nonpartisan redistricting and investing in our rural communities, to addressing youth vaping and capping the cost of insulin, to closing the dark store loophole and getting PFAS out of our water, we’ve got work to do. There’s no rest for the elected, folks, and we’ve got a lot to get done before anyone takes a vacation.