Friday Capitol Update: Welfare Reform, Unemployment Insurance Fraud and Collective Bargaining

February 2, 2018 | MacIver News Service

MADISON, Wis. – Once again, your friendly MacIver staff is here to keep you up-to-date on all the happenings at the Wisconsin Capitol. With dozens of bills being pushed through the Legislature this week, we selected a few especially important bills to keep you caught up on. From new rules on drug testing to unemployment insurance fraud to the Foodshare program and more—you’ll find it all in this week’s Friday Capitol Update!

Unemployment Insurance Fraud Penalties May Increase

This past Tuesday, the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform held a public hearing for Assembly Bill 710, pertaining to unemployment insurance (UI) fraud.

“Matching the penalties for UI benefit theft to those for other theft is fair…and helps ensure that the program functions for its intended purpose–a temporary safety net for those who are out of work through no fault of their own,” bill author Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Kenosha) said.

Current penalties and penalties under the bill are as follows:

The bill’s Senate counterpart (SB 542), authored by Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), received its latest fiscal estimate on Wednesday.

According to a report from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development from December 2014, from Fiscal Year ’11-’12 to ’13-’14 alone, the the number of cases of intentional fraud was nearly 65,000, amounting to $86.3 million of stolen taxpayer money (see table below).

DHS 38 Drug Testing Rule

Also heard on Tuesday by the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform was rule DHS 38. This rule proposed by the Department of Health Services (DHS) would require that able-bodied adults enrolling in the FoodShare Employment and Training Program (FSET) receive drug screenings.

Casey Himebauch from the Wisconsin DHS testified in favor of DHS 38, stating that the rule was not being created to kick people off of FSET, but to give them the necessary drug treatment that those who fail the test need to return to the workforce.

“[DHS 38] would not require everyone in FSET to take a drug test, only those whose screen indicates they may be at risk for substance use disorder… The department does not anticipate a large cost associated with drug treatment from this rule,” Himebauch said.

Massive Welfare Reform Hearing

The other big hearing this week at the Capitol was on welfare reform. On Wednesday, committees in the Senate and Assembly held a joint public hearing for 10 separate welfare reform bills (Senate Bills 1-10). The bills were authored by Senator Chris Kapenga and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

Gov. Scott Walker called for this special session on January 18 to pass the package of bills, which he’s dubbed “Wisconsin Works for Everyone.”

Five of the bills (SB 1, 2, 3, 6, 10) relate to the Foodshare program, covering required hours of participation for the training program, a requirement for able-bodied adults in Foodshare to undergo training, additional restrictions on eligibility, payments based on performance for training contractors and photo ID requirements for all recipients.

The other bills make changes in the Medical Assistance, Wisconsin Works and public housing programs in the state.

“These bills promote accountability, encourage personal responsibility, prevent fraud and abuse, and ultimately, get people back to work,” said Vos in a press release after the hearing. “Welfare was never intended to be a permanent way of life.”

Additional hearings or an executive session on the bills is likely to be scheduled in the coming weeks. Follow the MacIver Institute for updates.

Collective Bargaining Preemption Passed Senate Committee

This Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform recommended passage of Senate Bill 634 with 3 ayes and 2 noes. The bill, authored by Kapenga, aims to prevent state and local government from requiring constituents to accept any collective bargaining requirements.

On January 10, a public hearing was held on this bill. Opponents of the bill claimed that the bill – which aims to protect the labor rights of Wisconsin citizens – would widen the gender wage gap in affected municipalities. Proponents of the bill argued that municipalities were forcing people into collective bargaining agreements, ignoring the state’s right-to-work law and public sector labor laws. Forced collective bargaining infringes on the rights of individual workers, proponents say.