Gov. Tony Evers will make over-the-counter contraceptives free to Wisconsinites who receive public health insurance, he announced Tuesday during his annual State of the State address.
The announcement comes as the status of abortion access in Wisconsin is pending in state court. Evers has made reproductive choice a lynchpin of his tenure.
BadgerCare Plus recipients can currently receive emergency contraception over-the-counter, and receive daily contraception as long as they have a prescription. The Evers mandate will make norgestrel — a daily oral contraceptive that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for nonprescription use last summer — available to BadgerCare Plus recipients for free.
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“Every Wisconsinite should be able to access the health care they need when they need it. And, yes, that includes contraception,” Evers said Tuesday evening during his annual address in the state Assembly chambers.
And one day after a public hearing about a GOP bill that would limit abortion access to the first 14 weeks of pregnancy — down from 20 weeks, and as the status of abortion is pending in state court — Evers pledged to veto any bill that would affect reproductive choice.
He tied the abortion question to a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that overturned the state’s gerrymandered legislative maps, arguing that different maps will force the Legislature to reflect that a majority of Wisconsinites support legal abortion.
“What has happened on the issue of reproductive freedom in Wisconsin over the last two years is another good example of why we need fair maps,” he said Tuesday.
A call for bipartisan problem-solving
Evers’ speech focused on workforce shortages, with calls to legislators to take action on child care, education and infrastructure.
He called for Republicans to work on re-funding Child Care Counts, a pandemic-era federal subsidy program that kept some childcare providers afloat during COVID-19 closures. Advocates flooded the state Capitol throughout 2023, warning that care centers would shutter without the continuation of that program.
Republicans in the Legislature did not extend funding, instead offering their own proposals aimed at addressing the child care shortage. Evers argued on Tuesday that 87,000 kids would be left without care if that program is not supported.
“Republicans are officially on the clock to make the meaningful investments necessary to prevent the collapse of an industry that’s essential for maintaining our current levels of workforce participation,” Evers said.
Speech continues push for mental health services
His address also focused on mental health — the theme of last year’s State of the State address. His budget plan included more than $500 million to expand access to mental health services statewide, but most of the funding was cut by legislative Republicans.
On Tuesday, Evers announced the creation of the Governor’s Interagency Council on Mental Health, saying his concerns have not waned.
Evers said the council will develop a “Mental Health Action Plan to address the root causes of our mental health crisis, increase awareness and reduce stigma, and build capacity for us to expand access to mental health services statewide.”
He cited a recent report from the state Office of Children’s Mental Health that found one in 10 teens have attempted suicide and nearly half of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide.
“My administration and I are not going to let up on our work on this issue in 2024,” Evers said. We’re going to double our efforts and take a whole-of-government approach.”
Evers also called on lawmakers to take up a bill that would extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers for a year, up from 60 days. That bipartisan proposal has passed in the Senate, but has not been taken up by the Assembly. Last year, Evers called for $34 million in his biennial budget for this purpose; legislative Republicans, who control the Joint Finance Committee, nixed that item.
“Tonight, I’m urging Republicans and Democrats to work together to get this bill across the finish line this session and to send it to my desk,” Evers said Tuesday. “We have to get this done.”
Supporters of this proposal argue that expanding health coverage for low-income mothers will reduce maternal mortality.
According to Evers, Wisconsin would be the 44th state to expand its coverage for low-income mothers to one year postpartum.
Republicans call for new tax cuts
Speaking to reporters after the speech, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, criticized Evers for not engaging with tax cut proposals that legislative Republicans introduced earlier in the day.
“My biggest disappointment is that, with a record surplus in the till, we didn’t hear him mention a single thing about giving relief back to the average taxpayer,” Vos said.
Wisconsin has a state surplus of about $7 billion, and Evers has frequently been at odds with Republicans about how to use it. Evers has called for spending it on programs like the ones he named Tuesday, while Republicans have called for it to be redistributed via tax cuts.
Early Tuesday, Vos unveiled a package of bills that would lower taxes and change the tax code at a cost of about $2.1 billion until 2025, and $1.4 billion a year after that.
Evers’ spokesperson said he is reviewing the proposals. He vetoed two proposed tax cuts last year, but signed one in the 2021 budget that cut income taxes by $2 billion.
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