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Gov. Evers proposes action on farm crisis, redistricting in state address

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Governor Tony Evers (D-Wisconsin) announced he will use his executive powers to address the state’s farming crisis, student loan debt and create a non-partisan redistricting commission during his second State of the State address.

Evers said he will call a special session next week for lawmakers to address challenges facing farmers -- referencing the impact of the trade war, tariffs and the state losing more than 800 dairy farms in 2019.

“We have not forgotten those who have shared the harvest and bounty, feeding our families, our communities, and tonight, we say that we are ready to be a partner in the promise of posterity,” Evers said.

The governor called on lawmakers to invest in farmers, agricultural industries, and rural communities by announcing a package of bills. His office noted that additional details will be released this week. 

One would focus on expanding dairy exports with a goal to increase exports to 20 percent of the U.S. milk supply by 2024. Another creates a Farm-to-Fork program, similar to a Farm-to-School program to connect farmers to areas they supply food.

He also proposed expanding staffing at UW Extension of Agriculture and forming a program to provide mental health services to farmers.

State GOP leaders did support Evers' push to address the needs of farmers. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he's "on board" to listen to the governor's ideas.

“There have been a number of proposals by the Legislature but I’m all ears on what the governor has to offer,” said Fitzgerald. “It sounds like he’s been working on something comprehensive so absolutely I think the Legislature should take time to see what the special session includes and work on those bills.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said he supports ideas to help the ag industry but had doubts they’d meet for a special session without details on how much the proposal could cost.

“We'll see but we're not coming back for a special session," said Vos. “It’s really just an awful lot of empty rhetoric... perhaps there are things we can support, we just don’t know at this time.”

REDISTRICTING REFORM

During his speech, Evers announced he’ll form a nonpartisan redistricting commission to draw new legislative maps after the census, a process done every 10 years. 

The commission will not consist of any lawmakers, policymakers or lobbyists.

Both Fitzgerald and Vos rejected the idea, as the constitution gives the legislature the ability to create and approve new maps. 

“He can form whatever kind of fake, phony partisan process he wants to create, but I have no doubt in the end we will do it the way we have always have, which is to follow the constitution,” Vos said.

STUDENT LOANS

The governor, who campaigned on calling himself the “education-governor,” announced he will sign an executive order to create a task force on student loan debt. 

“We have to address the fact that student debt is preventing folks from buying a car, starting a business, saving for retirement and starting a family,” he said.

Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld will be in charge of leading the effort.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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