by Baylor Spears, Wisconsin Examiner
March 29, 2024

Gov Tony Evers, who took action on over 50 bills Friday, rejected Republican proposals including bills that would have loosened school licensing requirements, required the establishment of a statewide wolf population goal and cut income taxes. 

He also approved legislation that allows the state Department of Health Services to create new mental health crisis observation centers. 

Slate of Republican education bills rejected

Evers vetoed a bill that would have allowed school boards across the state to employ a school district administrator who is not licensed by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). State law currently requires that school boards employ administrators who hold a license issued by DPI with the exception of Milwaukee Public Schools. 

Evers called the policy a “non-starter” in his veto message. He said he objected to allowing people with no license, education, training, experience, specific skill sets and virtually no qualifications to become school administrators and interact with students.

“We maintain high standards for education professionals for good reason: Wisconsinites entrust school district administrators with the important responsibilities of leading our local school districts and educating our kids,” Evers said. “As a governor who is a father and grandfather and former educator, principal, superintendent, and state superintendent, I cannot sign a bill that could have us entrust one of our most precious responsibilities to any given individual whose only qualification is a mere passing interest in education.”

Republican lawmakers, who proposed the bill, had said it would help address recent turnover challenges and provide school districts additional flexibility in the hiring process. 

Coauthor Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) said in a statement responding to the veto that Wisconsin’s requirements are exacerbating the state’s ongoing workforce problems. He said that “being superintendent is like being the CEO of a company.” 

“One does not need to have spent a lifetime in the field to effectively manage the professionals working for you. There are probably thousands of Wisconsinites who would do a great job serving their communities in this role who have not spent their entire careers licensed in a classroom,” Stroebel said. “This veto maintains the absolute prohibition on locally elected officials considering anyone outside the box.”

Evers also vetoed SB 608, which would have created a pathway for paraprofessionals to obtain a lifetime teaching license from DPI without having to go through the traditional licensure path. He said in his veto message that he objected to the bill because it could potentially interfere with his administration’s existing teacher apprenticeship pilot program. 

Evers also blocked Republicans’ second attempt at implementing a “parental bill of rights” in Wisconsin. The bill — AB 510 — would have established 16 specific “fundamental rights” for parents related to their child’s religion, medical care, records and education and established a way for parents that claim these rights have been violated to sue. 

Evers said in his veto message that he was vetoing the bill because he objects to “sowing division” in schools. 

“This bill is neither aimed at supporting our parents, our kids, and our schools, nor improving

student outcomes, nor fostering collaboration and communication to do what is best for our kids,” Evers stated in his veto message. “This bill is yet another attempt to divide our schools and communities and inject political ideology in the very last place it belongs — in our classrooms and our schools.”

Evers vetoed three other Republican education proposals as well. They included a bill that would have required technical college district board members to be U.S. citizens; a bill that would have required public higher education institutions to waive an immunization requirement for a student if a student objected for health, religion or personal conviction reasons; and a bill that would have prohibited requiring “loyalty pledges” — including statements related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) — at higher education institutions. 

Evers approved one bill, now Wisconsin Act 248, which will allocate $400,000 for the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC) to support Holocaust education in Wisconsin schools. 

Wolf population bill vetoed 

Evers vetoed Republicans’ attempts to change certain policies of the state Department of Natural Resources. 

One proposal — SB 139 — would have blocked the DNR’s new plan for managing Wisconsin’s wolf population.  The bill would have required the DNR to set a statewide wolf population goal as a part of the Wisconsin wolf management plan, just as the DNR has been moving towards a “adaptive management” method. Instead of setting a statewide goal, the agency’s method breaks the state into regions where the wolf population will be assessed annually to determine if it needs to be allowed to grow, kept the same or reduced.

Evers said he objects to requiring the DNR to establish a numeric goal because it doesn’t “consider the social, scientific, biological and legal complexities of a recovered wolf population,” and he objects to limiting the DNR’s flexibility to address regional and local issues through adaptive management strategies to achieve a healthy wolf population.

Another bill Evers vetoed would have repealed the DNR’s administrative code provisions that prohibit a person from hunting or pursuing a free-roaming wild animal with the aid of a dog from May 1 to June 30 north of highways 8, 53, 54, 13, 29 and 22 in northern Wisconsin. It also would have repealed the agency’s restrictions on dog trialing and dog training on free-roaming wild animals in that area and during that period. 

Evers said that he objected to object to “increasing the risk of harassment against ground-nesting birds, deer fawns, elk calves, bear cubs and other wildlife in ecologically sensitive areas,” and that the DNR restrictions “protect wildlife during the important spring breeding and migration season.”

Evers also vetoed a bill that would have prevented local governments from creating agriculture-related regulations that are stricter than state regulations.

In his veto message, Evers said he objected to removing local authorities’ control over animal welfare standards and preempting their ability to pass ordinances, potentially revoking  existing ordinances related to animal welfare and the potential impact on enforcement of animal welfare regulations at the local level. 

“The broad language included in this bill may result in local municipalities not pursuing other enforceable ordinances that protect animal welfare due to lack of clarity with respect to the scope of the restrictions in this bill,” Evers said. 

The legislation was supported by some of Wisconsin’s largest agricultural interest groups. It was proposed after California enacted a rule that requires breeding farm animals to be given more space and in response to efforts in Laketown, a town in Polk County, to pass ordinances regulating odor, pollution and other issues associated with factory farms. 

The Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network, a statewide coalition dedicated to preserving the health and economic vitality of rural communities, celebrated the veto in a statement. 

Lisa Doerr, a farmer from Polk County who helped develop town ordinances, said the legislation contradicted claims that had been made by the lobbyists who had supported it. 

“For years they’ve been telling us that local ordinances are illegal. Their attempt to preempt local control proves what we knew, our ordinances are legal,” Doerr said. 

Mary Dougherty, a representative with the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, called the legislation “part of a multi-year strategy for livestock factories with one goal — no regulation!” 

Crisis observation centers legislation approved 

Evers signed legislation that will authorize the state Department of Health Services (DHS) to create a framework for issuing certifications for new round-the-clock regional mental health facilities. The legislation, now 2023 Wisconsin Act 249, will require the agency to create a grant program using $10 million that was set aside in the state budget to support and develop the facilities. 

The new facilities are meant to help people be treated closer to home. Currently many have to be transported to Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh. The new locations are also intended to reduce the amount of time law enforcement and first responders spend transporting individuals for emergency detentions. 

“Our state’s crisis intervention and emergency detention practices must be improved to make sure we’re best serving individuals in crisis across our state,” Evers said in a statement. “This critical step will help Wisconsinites experiencing a crisis get the urgent care and treatment they need closer to home and their support systems while helping to alleviate the burdens on law enforcement and local counties.” 

DHS will be required under the law to obtain approval from the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) under a 14-day passive review process before certifying a location as a crisis urgent care and observation facility. 

DHS Deputy Secretary Deb Standridge said in a statement that the legislation will help address a significant gap in the state’s system of care and ensure people experiencing mental health emergencies get the right care, at the right time and in the right place.

Evers also vetoed a bill that would have allowed out-of-state mental health care providers who are licensed where they are working to provide telehealth services to patients in Wisconsin without a Wisconsin license, as long as they are not under investigation for unprofessional conduct. He said in his veto message that he had concerns about how the policy would affect the quality of care that Wisconsinites receive. 

“I appreciate the need for Wisconsin to retain, train, and recruit more qualified mental health providers across our state; however, achieving that goal through potentially sacrificing the quality of healthcare that Wisconsinites may receive—most especially for mental health services, which individuals may be seeking because they are experiencing a life-threatening

mental health crisis — is untenable,” Evers said. 

Republican income tax cut vetoed

Evers, as expected, vetoed a bill that would have reduced the state’s third individual income tax bracket rate from 5.3% to 4.4%. It would have also eliminated state income tax for retirees in Wisconsin for single filers with up to $150,000 for joint filers and $100,000 for single filers. The cuts would have reduced state revenues in 2023-24 by $1.8 billion and by $1.4 billion annually beginning in 2024-25. 

The bill was one of many income tax cuts that Republicans introduced over the course of the legislative session — some of them introduced and passed even more recently — and that Evers also vetoed. 

In his veto message, Evers noted that he has signed several tax cut measures during his time in office, including a recent bill that expanded child and dependent care tax credit. He said that “making sound financial decisions and being prudent with Wisconsin taxpayer dollars remains a top priority and always will for me.”

Evers said that he objected to the bill because it would leave the state unable to meet its “basic obligations to adequately fund education, health care, public safety and aid to local governments in the 2025-27 biennium and beyond.” He said the bill would reduce revenue so much that it would “partially or fully drain the Budget Stabilization Fund just to provide bare minimum inflationary adjustments to key programs in the 2025-27 biennium.” 

Other bills that Evers vetoed Friday include: 

AB 388, which would have created a $15 million revolving loan program that child care centers could use to help pay for renovations of their properties.  Republicans had included the same proposal in the state budget, but Evers vetoed parts of the provision to make it into a grant program. The bill sought to reverse Evers’ earlier veto. 

He said in his veto message that he objected to lawmakers’ “failure to address the looming child care industry fiscal cliff that, if unaddressed, will have serious consequences for our state’s workforce and economy, including thousands of projected child care programs closures, child care job losses, tens of thousands kids without child care, and half a billion dollars in economic impacts between parents leaving the workforce and reduced employer productivity.” 

He said the funding included in the budget should be distributed as grants rather than loans as providers might be hesitant to accept the loans that  would have to be “immediately repaid if a child care provider is unable to maintain enrollment, even based upon factors beyond their control.”

Three bills — SB 186, SB 187 and SB 188 — that would have relaxed building inspection regulations in several ways. Evers criticized lawmakers for not relying on DSPS expertise and for not authorizing additional staff for the agency. He said in one veto message that lawmakers should “allow the department to use its established expertise and experience in plan review to determine which activities are appropriate for early permission to begin construction.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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