Homeless bills deserve Senate votes; Broad support, modest cost, big impact for desperate families should compel action
By the Wisconsin State Journal
The Republican-controlled state Senate has one more shot this year to do the right thing and pass a smart package of bills to help the homeless. The Senate has no excuse for inaction.
All of the proposals have plenty of bipartisan support to clear the Legislature, if only Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and a handful of his stubborn colleagues would allow votes.
We know the bills would pass because they cleared the Republican-dominated Assembly by wide if not unanimous margins. All of the proposals have Republicans cosponsors. Even some critics of the bills who have raised vague concerns have said they support most of ideas.
So let’s finally get this done. The public can help by calling their state senator and demanding action this month before the Senate adjourns its regular business for the year.
When Assembly Bill 119, which steers $500,000 more per year to homeless shelters, was taken up last month, the Senate approved it unanimously. Seven more bills remain, all of which have funding in the current state budget, which the Legislature approved last summer.
The remaining bills would help desperate people find and keep stable housing, help the homeless develop skills for employment, and assist landlords with repairs to low-cost housing. Fitzgerald and others have questioned the cost, which is $6.5 million over two years. But that’s an infinitesimal part of the state’s $81 billion budget.
Even if the entire package is approved, Wisconsin would continue to spend far less than what cold-winter states such as Minnesota commit to the problem. In some cases, the bills would save money by helping more people to improve their lives and become more self-sufficient. If the state can’t afford these bills, then why are the names of Senate Republican budget committee leaders Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, on several of them?
Moreover, all of the bills are the result of hard work by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, with Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch championing the cause.
The State Journal invited three GOP senators — Devin LeMahieu of Oostburg, Chris Kapenga of Delafield, and Steve Nass of the town of La Grange — to meet with our editorial board and explain their concerns. They didn’t respond.
Fitzgerald was happy to rush a sweetheart deal through the state Senate to lure Foxconn to Wisconsin. Taxpayers could be on the hook for as much as $3 billion in direct payments from the state treasury to the Taiwanese-based manufacture if its plant lives up to its hype, which so far it hasn’t.
Compared to the Foxconn splurge, the seven remaining homeless bills are bread crumbs. They would provide a modest hand up, not a handout, for struggling people including many single mothers with children.
If Fitzgerald and a few of his colleagues want to snub this noble cause, that’s their prerogative. They can vote “no.” But they should at least allow an honest vote so those with more compassion can have their say, too.
Call your senator
Tell your state senator to approve Assembly bills 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125 and 144 to help the homeless. Go to go.madison.com/senators or call the legislative hotline at 800-362-9472.