Wisconsin Assembly passes unemployment bill, Evers to sign

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Assembly on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill designed to jump-start updates to the state’s antiquated unemployment claims processing system that led to many people waiting weeks or months to get paid during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Tony Evers has promised to sign the bill which the Senate passed last week on a 27-3 vote. The Assembly passed it 89-0.

Evers has taken intense criticism for months over a backlog of unemployment claims. He has largely blamed the state’s 50-year-old computer processing system for handling the claims, but Republicans said it was a case of mismanagement.

The governor called a special legislative session to consider his plan to spend $5.3 million to start upgrades to the system. Republicans instead put forward an alternate plan that would start the process to find a company to do the upgrade work, but no funding is attached. It is expected to cost $80 million or more.

Evers would have to get approval from the Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee to spend any state money.

Evers said the bill didn’t go far enough, but it was a good start.

The bill as passed also waives the one-week waiting period for receiving unemployment benefits until March 14 and extends limited liability from COVID-related lawsuits to businesses, governments and schools. Both are priorities for Republicans.