Wisconsin Examiner

Gov. Evers Vetoes PFAS Bill, Calls Special Meeting of Budget Committee

Governor urges GOP legislators to release budgeted funds for PFAS and hospitals.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - Apr 10th, 2024 01:00 pm
A deadlock between Gov. Evers and Republican lawmakers over how to release $125 million to combat PFAS continues after Evers' veto Tuesday. Evers addresses the Legislature in his 2024 State of the State message. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

A deadlock between Gov. Evers and Republican lawmakers over how to release $125 million to combat PFAS continues after Evers’ veto Tuesday. Evers addresses the Legislature in his 2024 State of the State message. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have provided a way for $125 million to be used to combat PFAS across Wisconsin, continuing a deadlock with lawmakers over how to release the money. He also called for a special meeting of the Joint Finance Committee to take up the PFAS funding as well as $15 million that lawmakers haven’t released to support hospitals in western Wisconsin.

Evers had previously said he would veto the bill — SB 312 — which would have created a grant program under the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to be funded by money in the 2023-25 state budget. The bill would have provided funds to people whose properties are contaminated by PFAS.

Democrats and clean water advocates opposed the bill because it contained an “innocent landowners” provision that they say could have shielded polluters from being held accountable.

Evers said he was vetoing it because he objects to limiting the DNR’s enforcement power and because the provisions in the bill are largely unnecessary for combating PFAS contamination in Wisconsin.

“While I appreciate the Legislature has finally decided to join this important work, the bill before me today is not good enough,” Evers said in his veto message. “This bill does not do nearly enough to combat the PFAS contamination challenges we face as a state, it does not do enough to protect Wisconsin taxpayers from being forced to clean up the messes polluters make and it does not do enough to help ensure the [DNR] can continue to protect and clean up our water.”

Evers also noted that the legislation would not have directly released the money to the DNR.

Evers pushed lawmakers on the Republican-led budget committee to release the money, calling for them to convene for a special meeting on April 16 to release the $125 million for PFAS funding and $15 million for to support hospitals in western Wisconsin. He noted that it’s been 279 days since he signed the budget that included the PFAS funds and over 40 since he signed the bill to provide support for health care services.

“That’s $140 million in already-approved and agreed-upon investments to address urgent, pressing issues facing our state, but these funds are sitting unspent in Madison because the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee has refused to release even one cent — and that’s just wrong,” Evers said in a statement. “PFAS are affecting communities across our state, and Western Wisconsin is facing serious challenges due to recently announced hospital closures—there is no reason Wisconsinites should have to wait any longer than they already have for these funds to be released.”

Evers said he was calling the meeting under his authority provided under a state statute that says JFC “shall hold regular quarterly meetings and shall hold special meetings upon call of the governor or upon call of the cochairpersons for the purposes of considering matters under this section.”

Evers tried a similar approach in 2019 while trying to get lawmakers to release $7 million that was going to be used to address homelessness.

Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), who had urged Evers to not veto the bill last week, immediately rejected Evers’ call, describing it as “phony” in a statement.

“[Evers] tried this before and he is, once again, playing politics,” the lawmakers said. “As was the case four years ago, the Governor has no authority to call the committee into a meeting.”

The lawmakers pointed to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo dated April 9 that states Evers “may call a meeting of JCF but may not require the JCF cochairpersons to convene any meeting, require JCF to consider any matter or compel any member to attend that meeting.” According to the memo, when Evers last called a special meeting in 2019, the committee co-chairs at the time did not convene the meeting nor did any of the majority Republican Party members attend.

Born and Marklein said Evers would have signed the bills that would have addressed PFAS contamination and supported health care in the Chippewa Valley if he were serious about addressing the issue. They said Evers “failed the people of Wisconsin, not the Legislature.”

The lawmakers also maintained that they would not take what they said was a legal risk if the committee “undermines the legislative intent of bills vetoed by the Governor.”

Democrats on JFC called on their Republican colleagues to take action in a statement: “The health of millions of Wisconsinites is at stake if we do not approve the requests before the committee.”

Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison), one Democrat on the committee, told the Wisconsin Examiner that Evers’ call for a special meeting is about “getting money into the hands of Wisconsinites who need it urgently, and trying to overcome Republican obstructionism.”

“This is not insurmountable,” Roys said. “If Republicans were willing to actually talk about making sure that we can get these funds in a timely way to the communities that need them, I think we can easily agree… What we don’t agree on is that we should let polluters off the hook so they can continue to profit from their pollution now and into the future, and that’s the sticking point. That’s an ideological fight that we can have another day.”

Roys said she wasn’t sure what to expect from a special meeting, but hoped that Republican lawmakers would show up.

“It’s very disappointing when Wisconsinites feel like we can’t even count on our elected officials of one party to even show up to listen, to consider doing something. They won’t even have the conversation,” Roys said. “They won’t even defend their position about why they don’t want to do anything or why they’re unwilling to pass a clean bill without a poison pill.”

Gov. Evers vetoes PFAS bill, calls special meeting of budget committee was originally published by Wisconsin Examiner.

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