Subscribe for 33¢ / day
CapitolStatues-06132017154118 (copy)

The state Senate was set to vote Tuesday on a package of bills championed by Gov. Scott Walker to overhaul public assistance programs by expanding requirements for recipients to work, pay child support or undergo drug screenings.


The state Senate has approved a package of bills championed by Gov. Scott Walker to add new requirements to receive public assistance, including new requirements for recipients to work, pay child support or undergo drug screenings.

Nearly 80 bills were on the agenda for a Senate session that began Tuesday morning. The session is part of a scramble by lawmakers to conclude their 2017-18 session as early as this month.

The Senate had voted to pass all nine bills shortly after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Support broke on party lines, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.

One of the bills would increase the work requirement for able-bodied adults on food stamps and impose it on parents for the first time.

Others would:

  • Require Medicaid enrollees determined by the state to be "able-bodied" to pay child support and participate in child paternity testing, or face losing benefits.
  • Require drug tests for residents of public housing the state deems to be both "able-bodied" and either unemployed or underemployed.
  • Limit the amount of assets, including homes and vehicles, that a person can own to stay eligible for public programs such as the welfare, child care subsidies and food stamps.

The bills passed the state Assembly earlier this month, meaning their Senate passage would send them directly to Walker's desk. Some of the bills require federal approval before their requirements would take effect.

The bills' sponsor, Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said they're intended to help, not punish, people on public assistance.

"We want to engage people and help them become self-sufficient," Kapenga said.

Democratic lawmakers dismissed the measures as punitive and unhelpful.

"We're picking on poor people again, because it's the easiest thing to do," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton.

Other items on Tuesday's Senate docket include:

  • Bills to raise pay for state workers, including University of Wisconsin System workers, by 2 percent in each of the next two years.
  • A bill to specifically ban so-called "straw" gun purchases, in which a person buys a firearm with the intent to transfer it to someone legally prohibited from possessing it. The measure strengthens existing state and federal restrictions on the practice. State law already prohibits a person from knowingly providing a firearm to someone prohibited from possessing one. And federal law criminalizes straw gun purchases if they're done through federally licensed gun dealers.
  • A GOP bill to stabilize Wisconsin's so-called "Obamacare" exchanges, or virtual marketplaces where people can buy health coverage plans under the federal health care law, is up for legislative approval in both the Senate and Assembly.
  • A GOP measure to prohibit state health insurance programs from covering abortions for state workers. State health insurance plans currently cover only medically necessary abortions. The bill would allow coverage only in cases of rape or incest or if a doctor certifies the abortion is needed to save the woman’s life or avoid long-term damage to her health.
  • A bill to allow about 100 low-spending school districts to raise property taxes without a vote and give them $6.5 million in additional aid.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.