Evers vows abortion bill vetoes, calls for focus on workforce in 2024 State of the State address

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers vowed in his sixth State of the State speech to veto any bill that would limit access to abortions, and declared 2024 the "Year of the Worker" while calling on lawmakers to address worker shortages, affordable housing and child care.

Associated Press

January 23, 2024

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Tony Evers speaks while standing behind a podium on a wood legislative dais, with three people seated behind him on the next level and dozens of people facing him while seated in rows of wood desks, in a high-ceilinged marble masonry room with a taxidermy bald eagle, the U.S. and Wisconsin flags and a large painting with an arched top behind the dais, digital vote registers on either side and U.S. flag bunting beneath two arches on the side wall.

Gov. Tony Evers gives his annual State of the State address on Jan. 23, 2024, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. (Credit: AP Photo / Morry Gash)

AP News

By Scott Bauer, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers vowed in his State of the State speech on Jan. 23 to veto any bill that would limit access to abortions and announced plans to expand access to emergency contraception.

Evers also declared 2024 the “Year of the Worker” and called on Republicans and Democrats to work together on addressing workforce issues, including expanding access to affordable housing, child care and paid family leave.

Evers also called on the Legislature to release funding to address PFAS pollution.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos derided the address, Evers sixth State of the State, as “typical Tony Evers.”

“Not a lot of new ideas and a lot of rehashing of old things that have been proposed over the course of the past few years and failed,” Vos said.

Evers issued his abortion veto pledge even as Republicans move forward with a measure that would let voters weigh in on whether it should be banned after 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The speech comes as Evers and Republicans who control the Legislature have had some bipartisan successes, but continue to fight over redistricting, abortion, tax cuts, election administration and other key issues in a presidential election year.

Evers, like many Democrats nationwide, made abortion rights a focus of his winning 2022 campaign, and he returned to that theme again on Jan. 23. He noted that his opponent, Republican Tim Michels, supported banning abortions and lost.

“I want to speak directly to women in Wisconsin tonight,” Evers said. “I will veto any bill that takes away your reproductive freedom or makes reproductive health care any less accessible in Wisconsin than it is today. Period.”

Evers announced that enrollees in the state’s BadgerCare Plus Medicaid program will have access to over-the-counter contraception, including emergency contraception, without a separate prescription. The medication will be provided without any out-of-pocket costs, Evers said.

Evers said the public’s widespread support of abortion rights as shown in statewide and nationwide polls shows the importance of having legislative maps that fairly reflect the population. The Wisconsin Supreme Court in December tossed out the current Republican-drawn maps as unconstitutional.

“When elected officials gerrymander themselves into safe seats, they can comfortably ignore the overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites,” Evers said.

Evers also renewed his pledge to fight efforts to make it more difficult to vote in the battleground state. Evers has vetoed a raft of Republican proposals over the past five years that seek to make changes to election administration in the state.

Evers said that in coming weeks he will be announcing new steps his administration is taking to increase voter turnout. He didn’t reveal any details.

Vos said he was disappointed that Evers didn’t mention cutting taxes as Republicans have proposed.

“We’re going to move forward with our plan and hopefully Gov. Evers once he has a chance to review them will sign them into law,” Vos said.

Evers called for expanding paid family leave, an idea the Legislature rejected in 2023, investing more in public education and coming up with a long-term solution to child care shortages. Republicans also rejected a plan from Evers last year to continue the Child Care Counts program, but he got around them by allocating $170 million in pandemic relief funds to keep it running through June 2025.

“Republicans are officially on the clock to make the meaningful investments necessary to prevent the collapse of an industry that’s essential for maintaining our current levels of workforce participation,” Evers said.

Evers challenged Republicans to come up with alternate plans if they continue to reject his comprehensive workforce proposals as they have done twice already.

“I will work with any legislator, any partner, any stakeholder who’s willing to engage in meaningful conversations on these issues to do the right thing for Wisconsin,” Evers said. “In the meantime, my administration will continue to pursue every pathway and seek every avenue to address our workforce challenges without legislative action, just as we have for five years.”

Evers also renewed his call for Republicans to release $125 million in funding approved in the state budget to fight pollution from so-called forever chemical known as PFAS. He also called on them to spend more on mental health services statewide. Evers announced the creation of a new interagency council designed to reduce barriers and address gaps in mental health services.

In his speech delivered before lawmakers, members of the state Supreme Court, tribal leaders and others, Evers highlighted bipartisan successes in the past year, including an agreement on a plan to pay for repairs to the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium that will keep the team in Wisconsin through at least 2050.

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