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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Fran Hong Press Conference
Fran Hong speaks at a press conference Feb 14, 2024.

Wisconsin Democrats revive paid leave fight

Republican lawmakers killed the governor’s paid leave plan last summer. Now, Democrats are picking up the pieces.

Democratic state lawmakers unveiled a proposal Wednesday that would allow Wisconsin workers up to 14 weeks of paid family and medical leave per year.

The bill — introduced by Rep. Francesa Hong, D-Madison, and Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee — establishes a social insurance program through the Department of Workforce Development. Workers would contribute a certain percentage of their wages and receive up to 90% of their average weekly earnings while on leave.

Wisconsin workers are only eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave under current state law.

“This bill builds the bridge between individual well being and collective prosperity, ensuring that no one has to choose between caring for themselves, their loved ones or financial security,” Johnson said at a press conference Wednesday. 

The move continues a year-long push from Democrats to join neighboring states, like Minnesota, in offering paid leave.

Last February, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed a 12-week paid leave plan in his 2023-25 state budget proposal. Republicans stripped his plan, along with 500 other provisions, from the final budget.

“No one should ever have to choose between care for themselves or a loved one and a paycheck,” Hong said. “Sometimes — a lot of times actually — in this body, the majority party likes to talk about what’s going to help the workforce and our workforce challenges, but the people behind me are the folks who are actually doing that work.”

Kat Klawes, a supporter of the bill and a cancer survivor, said her run-in with Wisconsin’s employment system inspired her to take action.

When Klawes was diagnosed with cancer at 26, she didn’t have a job with paid leave. After treatment, she was left with $40,000 in medical debt. Her brother could not take time off from work, so Klawes resorted to driving home from her appointments in an Uber.

I don't think in a society — a progressive society — we can say taking care of your family, your loved ones and yourself while ill or when you're welcoming a new child is a ‘benefit.’ That is a fundamental right every Wisconsinite should have access to,” Klawes said at Wednesday’s press conference.

Now, as an advocate with Citizen Action Wisconsin, she has access to paid leave for the first time in her life. She said it immediately paid dividends.

“My mother is having surgery today. I cannot tell you the weight off my shoulders knowing that should my family need me, I can be there for her, and we can be there for each other,” Klawes said.

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Nick Bumgardner

Nick Bumgardner is a staff writer with The Daily Cardinal covering state news and politics. You can follow him on Twitter at @nickbum_.

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