Wisconsin lawmakers hope to build momentum to push climate job equity package through state legislature
A small cluster of people gathered inside the State Assembly Chambers Thursday for a press event put together by a couple of state legislators. They’re proposing a sweeping climate and jobs package. Although it won’t be introduced until early 2023, the authors want to build buzz among voters and fellow legislators over the summer.
The small crowd didn’t dampen state Rep Supreme Moore Omokunde’s excitement about proposed legislation he said would tackle climate and create jobs—equitably.
"We can make sure that those who are currently employed can have a just transition, those who are underemployed can get access, and those who are unemployed can also get access to economic opportunities as well," Omokunde said. "Making some bold steps in order to do so. So we're going to lay out a framework for how we do that to do so."
For 10 months, the Milwaukee Democrat, fellow legislators and advocacy groups have been hammering away at the climate and jobs package. It builds on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' Clean Energy Plan released earlier this spring.
Milwaukee state Senator Chris Larson is on board. “The most exciting things in our package are, number one, we set specific greenhouse gas emission standards for 2030 and 2050. Nothing else matters all that much if we don’t reduce emissions,” Larson says.
Robert Kraig with Citizen Action of Wisconsin sees another component, creating a transitional jobs program, as pivotal.
“That will employ people to learn green job skills. Right now, the green workforce is over 80% white, and over 75% male and predominantly older. It is not an inclusive workforce,” Kraig said.
Kraig said Wisconsin needs a large, trained workforce to meet climate standards. “There are going to be jobs because we’re making these investments to save human civilization. So, it all fits together and makes sense,” Kraig said.
Work remains on crafting the bills and figuring out how to fund the initiatives it creates. Kraig speculates that one possible funding source might be through a federal reconciliation bill if President Biden successfully makes some of those dollars available to states for climate and job equity projects.
As Citizen Action’s climate and equity director Rafael Smith began to speak, he quietly looked to Rep Supreme Moore Omokunde.
“We’ve come a long way, Supreme, a long way. It was three years ago when I walked into the office of Ashanti Hamilton, then the common council president of Milwaukee and then county supervisor Supreme Moore Omokunde. We asked the city and the county what was their plan around meeting the Paris Accord that the city signed onto in 2016,” Smith said.
That conversation resulted in a Milwaukee city-county climate and equity task force. Two-and-a-half years of research helped inform the pile of bills Omokunde hopes to shepherd through the state legislature.
But Smith didn’t want to talk about that back story. Instead, he focused on why, from his experience, change must come.
“The community I come from, the north side of Milwaukee, used to be a place where you could go and get a good working class, living wage job with a union representation. My great grandfather came here from Mississippi and worked for over 30 years at A.O. Smith,” Smith said.
Those jobs disappeared by the time Smith, now 37-years-old, came of age.
“And all I do now is walk around, and I see nothing but empty buildings of things that used to be. Now hopefully, this begins to get people back to work in good-paying, green jobs of the future,” Smith said.
Lawmakers will introduce the climate-jobs package next January when the state legislature’s new session begins.
In the meantime, advocates hope to meet with people throughout the state and gather input from fellow lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Democrats backing the package will need support from Republicans who control the legislature.
During Thursday’s briefing, Rep Omokunde said he’s spoken with several GOP lawmakers about climate justice and elements of the climate-job package.