Evers vetoes GOP proposals on unemployment and gas engines but signs bills on crime

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Friday vetoed two packages of bills passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that would have created new requirements for unemployment assistance and prevented local governments from banning gas-powered engines.

Evers, who was criticized as soft on crime by Republicans in last year’s midterm, also signed into law measures to increase transparency in the parole process and set harsher criminal penalties for people who sell drugs that lead to fatal overdoses.

People receiving unemployment assistance in Wisconsin must already perform four work-search activities each week. The five unemployment bills Evers struck down Friday sought to allow employers to report benefits recipients who either turn down or don’t show up to a job interview. The measures also proposed requiring the Department of Workforce Development to audit more work-search activities and increase drug testing for certain occupations.

“I object to creating additional barriers for individuals applying for and receiving unemployment insurance benefits, which is designed to provide critical support during times of economic hardship,” Evers said in his veto message.

Three other bills Evers vetoed would have barred local governments from enacting bans on vehicles, machinery or new utility connections based on the type of power they use. The Legislature passed those measures in June in reaction to a law in California requiring all new vehicles sold in the state to run on electricity or hydrogen by 2035, and a law in New York prohibiting natural gas stoves and furnaces in most new buildings starting in 2026.

Democratic Wisconsin lawmakers said they had no plans to pursue similar bans and accused Republicans of fear mongering.

“The state should be a partner in—not an obstacle to—addressing the unique challenges facing our local communities,” Evers said in a veto message.

One of the bills Evers signed into law aims to crack down on fentanyl distribution by setting a maximum prison sentence of 60 years for someone convicted of reckless homicide for providing drugs that lead to a fatal overdose, up from the current 40.

The bill is “a step in the wrong direction,” the ACLU of Wisconsin said in a statement Friday.

“If we’ve learned anything from the failed War on Drugs, it’s that we cannot incarcerate our way out of addiction and drug use. Yet, after decades of abject policy failure, we still repeat the same mistakes,” said James Stein, the group’s deputy advocacy director.

Another bill signed by Evers gives victims more rights to speak at parole hearings and forces the state parole commission to meet in public and post online the names of individuals granted or denied parole.

Republicans have heaped criticism on Evers and the commission after it decided to parole convicted murderer Douglas Balsewicz last May. He had served 25 years of an 80-year sentence for fatally stabbing his wife. Her family insisted they weren’t notified of the decision until only a few days before he was set to be released.

The issue became a hot topic in the governor’s race that summer and, at Evers’ request, commission chair John Tate ultimately rescinded Balsewicz’s parole and later resigned.

Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Venhuizen on Twitter.

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