MADISON -- Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers will urge the Republican-controlled Legislature in his State of the State speech on Wednesday to keep working on a host of issues, including many with bipartisan support, before they adjourn for the year and begin to focus on elections in the fall.
The Democrat Evers will call for enacting nonpartisan redistricting reform, an issue Republicans have long opposed, clamping down on vaping among young people, capping the cost of insulin and getting the chemical pollutant PFAS out of the water, according to excerpts of his speech released ahead of delivery.
Evers will also prod lawmakers to do more to make higher education more available to Wisconsin residents, including understanding the impact of loan debt on students and their families.
"We've got work to do," Evers said in the excerpts. "There's no rest for the elected, folks, and we've got a lot to get done before anyone takes a vacation."
Evers and Republicans have found little they can agree on during the governor's first year in office, and there will be little time this year for them to do anything of substance. Lawmakers plan to be in session voting on bills just a handful of days, with the Assembly hoping to complete its work by the end of February and the Senate likely done shortly after that.
Bipartisanship requires "actual compromise" and not rhetoric, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said at a Wednesday news conference ahead of the speech. Vos said he hoped Evers focused on ways to bring people together. Republicans were looking for issues that could be bipartisan, like combating opioid addiction, protecting water quality and preventing suicides, he said.
When asked if he thought the lame-duck session Republicans convened, which weakened Evers' power just before he took office, fostered bipartisanship, Vos said "no doubt about it."
"The ability from the special session to force consensus, to say you have to sit at the table, is perhaps something Governor Evers wasn't familiar with," Vos said. Democrats, and Evers, have roundly criticized the lame duck session as a partisan power grab by Republicans.
The prime time speech gives Evers a chance to showcase his agenda while also prodding lawmakers to get on board.
Evers will talk about areas where Republicans and Democrats could work together to get things done, like criminal justice reform, said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz.
"The governor's certainly going to highlight the opportunities we have," Hintz said. "We're at our best when we get things done."
Several bipartisan proposals, such as increasing funding to fight homelessness, were included in a "homework" assignment Evers gave Republicans earlier this month. The Legislature has passed just one bill out of eight in the homelessness package that was championed by Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, but has met opposition from Senate Republicans unwilling to spend money on the effort.
Evers, in his homework assignment, also urged the Legislature to close the so-called "dark store" loophole that lowers property taxes for large retail stores, do more to prevent sex trafficking and prevent future backlogs of sexual assault testing kits.
Republicans have not been willing to go as far as Democrats want on those and other issues.
Evers this week called on the Legislatur e to pass a series of bills aimed at reducing vaping among youth people, a call he is renewing in his speech. The measures would ban vaping and vapor products at K-12 schools and fund a public health campaign to address youth vaping in the state.
Vos said the vaping issue should have been a "layup" for Evers and the Legislature, but instead Evers didn't consult with Republicans before releasing his proposals earlier this week.
This is Evers' second State of the State speech and marks the kick off of his second year in office. His first year was dominated by debate of the state budget. This year the focus will be on the presidential election and state elections for the Legislature. Republicans hold a 63-36 Assembly majority and a 19-14 majority in the Senate.