MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republican Gov. Scott Walker will use his State of the State speech Wednesday to outline an election-year set of priorities built on some long-held Democratic priorities, including guaranteeing insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, while appealing to conservatives with further toughening of state welfare program requirements.
Walker's eighth State of the State to be delivered to a joint meeting of the state Assembly and Senate comes as Wisconsin's unemployment level is at a record low, and as more than a dozen Democrats vie for a chance to knock off the two-term Republican incumbent in November. At least two of Walker's challengers are sitting lawmakers who will be in the Assembly chamber to hear the speech.
Walker has previewed the themes he plans to cover in the weeks leading up to the speech. They include further overhauling the state's welfare system, bolstering the private insurance market to lower rates, overhauling the state's juvenile prison system, investing more in rural schools and in rural economic development.
Democrats have long called on Walker to close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison north of Wausau in Irma. Walker's administration has taken steps to address conflicts there that have resulted in numerous federal lawsuits by inmates alleging abuse by guards. Workers complain of unsafe conditions and there have been multiple reports of staff injuries caused by young inmates. A federal investigation into the facility is in its third year.
Walker is proposing replacing juvenile inmates with adults and moving all male juveniles into five new regional prisons. He initially called for the Legislature to take up the idea in 2019, but under pressure from Democrats he's now calling for action this year. Walker has said he will announce more details Wednesday.
Walker on Sunday announced his plan to seek a federal waiver to allow Wisconsin to offer a reinsurance program to the roughly 200,000 people in Wisconsin who purchase health insurance on the private marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Reinsurance, which has bipartisan support, basically sets up a pool of money for the government to cover the cost of insurers' most expensive cases.
Walker estimates the program will cost the state $50 million if the federal government pays for $225 million.
Walker is also calling on the Legislature to pass a law guaranteeing that no one with pre-existing conditions is denied coverage.
On welfare, Walker is asking the Republican-controlled Legislature to force parents on food stamps with school-aged children to work or be in job training, and to increase the work requirement already in place for childless adults. He's also calling for mandating photo identification for food stamp recipients, a move long opposed by Democrats and others who say it's an impediment to poor people getting food.
Walker is also calling for passage of a proposal in the Legislature to boost aid for rural schools and allow low-spending districts to raise their property taxes without a vote, similar to a change he vetoed from the state budget.
Hours before his speech Walker proposed spending $50 million more each year on programs targeting rural economic development.
You can watch Walker's State of the State address Wednesday at 3 p.m. live on TMJ4.com.