MADISON — Qualifying for unemployment insurance could become more difficult under a series of changes to rules and regulations across state government being pushed by Gov. Scott Walker.
Walker released a report Tuesday just before his State of the State speech that identifies more than 300 rules for possible changes, including those setting requirements for recipients of unemployment benefits.
While Walker’s report offers generally broad recommendations, more specific changes will likely come from the Republican-controlled state Assembly. It is conducting its own review in advance of proposing a series of bills to change the law.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who had not read the Walker report as of Wednesday afternoon, said GOP lawmakers will hold news conferences across the state asking for the public’s help in identifying rules and regulations it believes need to be changed.
Those ideas will be taken together with Walker’s report and ideas generated by Assembly committees, Vos said. Changes may be done internally by a state agency, through a rule suspension, or through legislation, he said.
While some of the changes are likely to generate little discussion or consternation, others like those targeting unemployment insurance have already gotten the attention of Democrats.
“I strongly support helping business navigate the regulatory process and eliminating unnecessary regulations,” said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca in a statement. “But there is a huge difference between that and eliminating protections that are important for workers, children, consumers, health or the environment.”
Barca said the public deserves to see more details on any proposed changes.
Walker’s report, written by the Small Business Regulatory Review Board, said that while the benefits provided to the unemployed are vital to helping people get back on their feet, “common sense changes” could improve the program.
One specific recommended change was to require the unemployed to file four applications for jobs a week instead of the current two. The report also calls for looking at ways to reduce fraud and to limit exceptions that allow workers to quit a job and still receive benefits.
The report calls for running a “responsible” program that “protects benefits for the unemployed while responsibly administering a solvent program without unnecessary spending of vital employer tax dollars.”
The unemployment insurance reserve fund was hard hit by the recession and began 2012 with a $1.2 billion deficit. The state had to limit benefits for those out of work and borrow money from the federal government to continue paying benefits. Employers have been paying a special payroll tax to cover the interest on the loan since 2011. The report says that charge is expected to remain in place through next year.
Walker issued an executive order last year calling for creation of the report identifying rules that hinder economic growth. Wisconsin businesses were also surveyed for input.
“Making these changes will make it easier to do business in the state, while maintaining the safety and health of our citizens,” Walker said in his State of the State speech.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald praised the Walker report, saying it had solid ideas for reform.
“This is the first step in this process to remove onerous red tape and help businesses create more jobs,” Fitzgerald said in a statement.