Gov. Evers signs bill to update Wisconsin unemployment system

Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday signed into law a bipartisan bill to begin the work of updating the state's unemployment claims processing system that contributed to many people waiting weeks or months to get paid during the coronavirus pandemic.

Evers signed the bill after the Assembly passed it unanimously on Tuesday. The Senate approved it last week on a 27-3 vote. It is the first bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature under a special session called by Evers, a Democrat.

The bill starts the process to begin the upgrade, but there is no funding included as Evers wanted. The upgrade is expected to cost $80 million or more.

"It’s unfortunate that the Legislature chose to cut the funding we’d asked for to commit to upgrading our system from start to finish — because I want to be clear, this bill won’t be enough to solve the problem," Evers said in a statement. "But after a decade of failing to act, I’m proud my special session could finally prompt the Legislature to do something on this issue."

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Republican lawmakers had faulted Evers for not acting sooner, saying he didn't need the Legislature's approval to make improvements to the claims processing system, including bringing on more workers and expanding hours at a call center to handle the influx of people who lost their jobs early in the pandemic.

The new law 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.

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