By Jason Stein and Patrick Marley
The state will distribute $15 million in worker training grants and overhaul its system for tracking jobs figures, under a bill Gov. Scott Walker signed into law on Wednesday.
Under the new law signed in Oshkosh, the state will remake a computer system to identify trends in the workforce more quickly and guide workers to in-demand professions. The jobs database is scheduled to be in place by next year.
Another measure signed privately by Walker on Wednesday will strip Wisconsin's secretary of state of his power to briefly delay legislation from taking effect. The proposal renewed in part the 2011 fight over Walker's labor legislation, in which Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette had a significant role in a court fight over the law.
The labor force legislation has broad bipartisan support, passing the Senate unanimously and the Assembly 94-4 in recent weeks, though Democrats say it still falls short of the needs of businesses and workers.
"We all agree we need to continue to do everything we can to ensure workers have the necessary skills for the jobs available today," Walker said in a statement. "This bill will help address the skills gap by investing in worker training grants and developing a Labor Market Information System."
The jobs database and training grants are part of the Republican governor's platform of improving the skills of the state's aging labor force and boosting the state's economy in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. The training plans draw on reports by Competitive Wisconsin and Tim Sullivan, the former Bucyrus International chief executive officer.
Democrats have noted that Walker has proposed far less new money for training workers than the hundreds of millions of dollars that he and GOP lawmakers cut two years ago from the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System to help balance the state budget.
The governor's proposed budget would provide additional money for state universities and technical colleges, though the increase would be less than the amount he cut in 2011. Lawmakers will decide this summer whether to keep or alter Walker's proposal on higher education spending.
The competitive grants available under the new law would go to technical colleges, local workforce boards and regional economic development organizations working in partnership with state businesses, which could provide matching funds.
Walker also signed a bill Wednesday to reduce certain routine state audits to allow auditors to focus on problem areas. Lawmakers have been seeking more audits of programs such as one in which a private foster care agency allegedly defrauded taxpayers of millions of dollars.
The secretary of state legislation was passed last week by Assembly Republicans on a 59-37 vote that divided along party lines, as did a January vote of 17-14 in the Senate.
Walker said in a statement that the bill and other more minor proposals he signed Wednesday would improve the operations of the state and other local governments but didn't address the secretary of state bill directly.
La Follette sharply criticized the measure, which is the latest in a long line of steps to strip the secretary of state's office of most of its meaningful powers.
"It was a foolish and vindictive thing to do because of one thing where they didn't get what they want," La Follette said of the bill and its Republican supporters. "It's a bad way to run the government, but they're running the government."
Previously, bills that passed by both houses of the Legislature and were then signed by Walker had to go through a final process to become law. Within 10 working days of receiving the signed legislation, La Follette had to designate a date for it to be noticed in the official state newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal, and notify the Legislative Reference Bureau so it could publish the legislation.
But in the fight over Walker's legislation to repeal most collective bargaining for public employees, opponents of the proposal sued in March 2011 to block the signed bill from becoming law, arguing that the Legislature violated the state's open meetings law in passing it. In the ensuing legal scuffle, La Follette waited the full 10 days as allowed under state law before publishing the bill, which was long enough that a Dane County judge was able to order La Follette not to go any further. The Supreme Court later reinstated the law.
Going forward, bills will be published by the Legislative Reference Bureau on the day after they are signed by the governor. Unless otherwise specified in the bill itself, all legislation will take effect the day after being published by the Reference Bureau. La Follette will still arrange for publishing notices on new laws in the State Journal.
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