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Senate passes bill advancing start of unemployment system overhaul

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The state Senate approved a measure directing the Department of Workforce Development to begin the large undertaking of modernizing its unemployment claims processing system.

The bill was born from a special session ordered in January by Democratic Governor Tony Evers. That plan called on lawmakers to spend about $5 million on beginning the process of overhauling the outdated processing system.

The Evers administration then amended that plan to include in its budget proposal the additional $74 million it estimates is necessary to cover the entire cost of the project.

Republicans in control of the Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday removed all funding guarantees from the bill. Instead, GOP lawmakers said they wanted the DWD to put out a request for bids within then next 30 days.

Democrats put forth amendments both Wednesday before the committee and Thursday on the floor to include the $79 million upfront but the Republican majority rejected the idea both times.

Republican members of the committee said they worried contractors would all bid up to the $79 million figure if they knew that's what the state was offering.

Democrats argued the financial commitment would allow the process to start more quickly and possibly save the state money should avoid borrowing any money to pay for the project.

While the bill must still clear the Assembly, Evers indicated Thursday he would sign the measure.

"While I wish the Legislature would have provided the funding we asked for that we need to fix this system once and for all, I’m glad the Legislature is finally be taking this issue seriously after years of inaction," Evers said in a statement Thursday. "It's not enough, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.” 

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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