A month after its initial implementation, the Wisconsin Legislature’s special session on jobs continues to be a divisive issue between Republicans and Democrats.
The “Back to Work” special session that Gov. Scott Walker called on Sept. 27 consists of 24 bills from both parties. The bills are directed toward lowering the unemployment rate, which has risen to 7.9 percent since Walker took office.
The special session has so far passed four bills in the Senate and none in the Assembly, although both chambers have met in their regular session and passed legislation as usual.
Several bills from the special session will be dealt with in committee this week, including legislation that allows an employer to fire or refuse to hire an employee who has been convicted of a crime regardless of its nature. The bills passed in the Senate earlier last week and are up for debate in the Assembly.
Walker released a statement on Oct. 27 that highlighted the special session’s accomplishments and said he hopes that more of the proposed legislation will pass.
“This productive special session proves that we are laser beam-focused on making it easier for employers to create jobs in Wisconsin,” Walker said. “I am confident that more pro-jobs bills will make their way to my desk and become law, helping small business owners and employers put more people back to work.”
Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, criticized the loss of jobs under Walker’s tenure, citing monthly losses in private and public sector. He pointed to the state’s rise in the unemployment level while there has been modest economic growth at the national level.
Larson said that the Legislature needs to not only create jobs, but also ensure that people have the training to fill the jobs that are already available.
“We also need to educate the workforce with skills that are needed right now for jobs that are open like welding and nursing. The technical schools got their funding cut by one third by the Republicans [earlier this year], and the big proposal I put forward was to restore their funding,” Larson said.
Larson said the special session largely favors the special interests that support Republican legislators and does not represent the interests of the majority of people.
Mike Mikalsen, spokesperson for Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said the overall goal of the special session has been to improve the bottom line of businesses in the state and create an atmosphere that allows them to be profitable.
He said the Legislature is creating an improved business climate by promoting regulation reform and tax credits. He said businesses must be allowed to be profitable in order to have the resources to hire workers, as well as to provide higher salaries and better benefits.
Mikalsen said one bill cannot magically create jobs in the state. State and federal Democrats have tried and failed using this method, he said, particularly with their stimulus bills.
Jay Heck, the executive director for Common Cause Wisconsin, said the special session as well as the Legislature in general has not been bipartisan this year, calling the legislation that has passed this year “very one-sided.”
Heck said the special session is an attempt by Republicans to increase their electoral chances in the 2012 elections by showing loyalty to businesses.
“The Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald is running for the U.S. Senate, so I think he wanted to show the business community he was friendly towards them and not particularly interested in bipartisanship,” Heck said. “The special session has been about a lot of things, but it has not been about jobs at all.”