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Friday, February 23, 2024

Committee approves measure to eliminate legislators’ sick leave

A bill that would stop politicians from accruing any new sick leave cleared a Senate committee Tuesday, making way for the bill to be voted on in the full Senate.

The Senate Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection voted 4-1 to advance the measure. State Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee, was the sole committee member voting against.

The proposal, co-authored by state Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, and Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, would also end the practice of allowing legislators to use unused sick leave as credits to pay for health insurance premiums upon retirement.

Cowles argued at a public hearing last week that the benefit largely goes unused.

“Considering a lawmaker's absence for illness cannot affect their compensation,” Cowles said at the public hearing. “This low usage of sick leave indicates it is an unnecessary and costly benefit to the state.”

According to a report by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, current legislators have banked over $2.4 million in unused sick leave, although a separate LFB report indicated that the savings to the state would be negligible because the number of legislators is so small.

The measure has gained some measure of bipartisan support but Harris Dodd said after the session that the bill could pave the way for future legislation to jettison sick leave for all state employees.

“Precedent shows that this could happen to other state employees. We’re in an environment with Act 10 and right-to-work and this doesn’t give me confidence,” Harris Dodd said, adding that “things can happen quickly around here.”

State Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said the bill’s purpose is straightforward and will not be expanded to include other state employees. However, he did not say whether other legislation to alter the state’s sick leave law was being considered.

“The intent of the bill is fairly clear,” Stroebel said after the session. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

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