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Evers Proposes Sweeping Initiative To Help Struggling Wisconsin Farmers

Gov. Tony Evers gives his first State of the State address in Madison, Wis., at the State Capitol building on Jan. 22, 2019. He addressed a joint meeting of the Assembly and the Senate.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is urging lawmakers to work together to address the state’s farm crisis. In his annual State of the State address Wednesday night, the Democrat said struggling farmers need help now. So he called for a special session to begin next week.

Evers wants to attack the problem on several fronts. He hopes lawmakers will take up bills designed to invest in farmers and rural communities. One measure would make it easier for farmers to access a wide variety of mental health services. Evers said relief won't happen overnight, but he believes the bills would be a good start.

“I’m not under any misguided belief that what I’m proposing today is a silver bullet. But here’s the bottom-line folks: We’re losing more than two dairy farms a day, and for each day that we delay, the challenges will get harder and harder,” Evers said.

READ: Amid Wisconsin Farm Bankruptcies, Farmers Promote Hope And Hard Work

Republicans who control the Legislature are under no obligation to take up the measures. Evers previously called a special session on gun control bills, but lawmakers didn’t debate the legislation.

In his annual speech Wednesday, the governor also took up the issue of gerrymandering. He said he would sign an executive order to create a redistricting commission to redraw the state’s political boundaries. Every 10 years, the Legislature is charged with drawing new maps according to the latest U.S. Census figures.

Republicans controlled the Legislature and the governor's office during the last redistricting process in 2011. Democrats say the resulting maps have given the GOP an unfair advantage in races for the state Senate and Assembly. Evers argues that a nonpartisan commission made up of citizens would prevent gerrymandering.

“I believe, and Wisconsinites do too, that people should get to choose their elected officials, not the other way around,” Evers said.

The governor also addressed the cost of higher education. He said he'll create a panel to study student loan debt and ways to make college more affordable.

Turning to the health of the state's residents, Evers called on the Legislature to cap the cost of insulin, take steps to reduce vaping among young people, and work to keep so-called “forever chemicals” such as PFAS out of the water supply.

READ: Wisconsin Lawmakers Pass Bill Restricting Use Of Firefighting Foam Containing PFAS

State Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, gave the GOP response to Evers' speech. Roth says the GOP can take credit for improving the lives of Wisconsin families when Evers' predecessor, Republican Scott Walker, was in office. Evers defeated Walker in the fall of 2018.

“In the last decade, Wisconsin Republicans have enacted reforms that continue to ignite our economy and have taken our state from budget deficits to budget surpluses. The results have been spectacular economic growth, record low unemployment, higher wages and frozen college tuition, all without raising taxes,” Roth said.

Roth says Republicans will take the lead on key pieces of legislation as the two-year session draws to a close in March. He says that includes acting on bills that would provide property tax relief and drive down health care costs.

Watch Evers' full State of the State address below (he starts his speech at about the 8:30 mark):

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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