News Column

Wis. Assembly Overwhelmingly Passes Jobs Bill

February 28, 2013

Jason Stein

The state would overhaul its worker training programs to help Wisconsin's labor force overcome challenges from overseas competition and its own gray hair, under a bill passed by the state Assembly Thursday.

The proposal passed on an overwhelming vote of 94-4 and now goes to the Senate. The legislation aims to create and launch by 2014 a faster system to track jobs data and guide workers into in-demand professions. It would also provide state grants to groups that would help train workers for those jobs at a cost of $15 million over two years.

"This is a step in the right direction. We are proposing to educate and train unemployed and underemployed Wisconsinites," said the proposal's lead sponsor, Rep. Kathleen Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls).

The proposal from GOP Gov. Scott Walker is part of his administration's larger platform for improving the skills of the state's aging labor force and boosting the state's economy in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. The governor's agenda on working training draws on reports by Competitive Wisconsin and former Bucyrus International executive Tim Sullivan.

Democrats, however, have pointed out that so far Walker has proposed far less new money for training workers than the hundreds of millions of dollars that he and GOP lawmakers cut two years ago from the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System to help balance the state budget.

"We're not even close to replacing the dollars taken out in the last budget," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha).

Walker made the UW cuts -- as well as ones to local governments and school districts -- just after approving a measure that all but eliminated collective bargaining for public workers and required them to pay more for their pensions and health care. He has argued that those savings and the added flexibility offset the cuts, and that to him his proposed spending such as the bill that passed the Assembly Thursday amounts to new money.

The governor's separate budget bill also provides additional money for both state universities and technical colleges, though it is still less than the full amount of the 2011 cuts.

The bill passed 15-0 Tuesday out of the Assembly Committee on Workforce Development. The competitive grants available under the bill would go to technical colleges, local workforce boards and regional economic development organizations working in partnership with state businesses, which could provide matching funds.

Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) offered an amendment to have the workforce programs run by the state's technical colleges rather than the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Mason said giving the grant programs to the labor department amounted to duplicating work already done by technical colleges. Republicans voted to set aside that amendment 58-40 largely along party-lines and also tabled several other amendments that Democrats said would add accountability to the programs and make them less redundant and reduce the number of state jobs that would have to be created to do the work.

"It duplicates government in a way that is completely unnecessary," Mason said of the bill. "Why on earth would you create another bureaucracy?"

On another bipartisan vote, the Assembly passed 92-6 a bill to requiring the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to spend $100,000 by June 30 to conduct trade shows for state manufacturers to build ties and business between them. The proposal goes to the Senate.

The Assembly also passed 90-8 legislation to have the WEDC award up to $1 million in total over five years to a manufacturing group to set up a marketing assistance program for manufacturers. The program would be reviewed by the WEDC yearly and could be canceled at any time after the first year. The bill was supported by the Tool, Die & Machining Association but opposed by the Wisconsin Economic Development Association, according to state records.

Last, the Assembly passed by voice vote a proposal to delay for one year the requirement that electricians and their apprentices be licensed or registered by the state Department of Safety and Professional Services. Under the bill, which now goes to the Senate, the provisions would take effect on April 1, 2014, instead of April 1, 2013.

Source: (c)2013 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Distributed by MCT Information Services

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