In Wisconsin on March 15, 2022, lawmakers reintroduced an Economic Justice Bill of Rights that they hope will alleviate the state’s workforce shortage while revitalizing both the economy and the quality of life for local residents.
Representative Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay), said the measure would create an equitable living income, union collective bargaining rights, environmentally friendly transportation and affordable, accessible and high quality health care.
This is the sort of legislation that’s needed in most states, but especially in Wisconsin, where Tea Party radicals declared firemen, police and teachers to be enemies of America for having the guts to organize and stand up for their right to fair pay. Many honest, hard-working Americans lost their retirement income as a result of the Tea Party, which was created by the billionaire Koch brothers to brainwash gullible conservatives into believing that low-and-middle income folks pay all of the taxes, and the wealthy almost none.
The other two Koch agendas were: 1) to make sure that giant corporations continued to pay wages on which no family could survive without a second job; and 2) to ensure that Koch Industries continued to be heavily subsidized by taxpayers (corporate socialism).
The Economic Justice Bill of Rights also calls for affordable and accessible public education, child care and other things. Shelton said Democrats will continue fighting “like hell” to accomplish those goals despite the current legislative recess.
“We are done being told that demanding the seemingly impossible is beyond our reach,” she exclaimed. “And so together we’re going to visibly fight like hell with every act that we take for the economic security for all Wisconsinites and against reactionary right wing attacks to dismantle the most basic human rights of all who live in our state, but especially from those in our most marginalized communities.”
While the Legislature has already recessed for the session, Rep. Francesca Hong, D-Madison, said they are sending a message about what they want to get done.
“We are all people who care deeply about the state of Wisconsin,” she said. “This message is for those who care deeply about the state too.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Town of Vermont) said Republicans and Democrats need to find common ground to improve working conditions and that this is one area they should all agree on. “When you have a statement of principles like this, what you find is you can bring in folks who may not necessarily always have the same theological perspective, but if you can agree on these standard principles, you can move forward on legislation that actually helps people,” he said. “And, you know, who’s against having an equitable living income and life?”
Here’s what Rep. Shelton says about the bill:
It’s our time.
We must fight, with every action we take, for the economic security of all Wisconsinites. This will ensure that all people can live dignified lives through establishing a living wage, healthcare as a human right, access to safe and affordable housing, clean drinking water, and excellent public schools.
The pandemic unveiled the gaps and failures in our system to support hardworking families. We must not wait for another pandemic to strike for the sense of urgency to surface at the Capitol.
We must act now.
First, we start with a bold, unapologetic commitment that builds solidarity across our divides, knowing that our shared values will center us. The Economic Justice Bill of Rights for All Wisconsinites provides an aspirational, yet common sense framework to advance our values through progressive policy and legislation.
Then, we organize to mobilize.
Every Wisconsinite – urban, suburban, and rural; white, African American, Asian American, Latinx, and Native; LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming; and people of all ages and ability statuses are entitled to the rights outlined in the Economic Justice Bill of Rights.
All Wisconsinites deserve the right to:
- An equitable, living-income and livelihood
- A union, public or private, and collective bargaining
- Affordable and accessible high-quality healthcare
- Equitable and accessible public education and child care
- Pollution-free water and a healthy planet
- High-quality, safe housing
- Reliable, climate-friendly transportation
- A fair and equitable justice system
- Life, self-determination, and liberation regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability status, and age
- Live free from fear of racial, religious, and gender oppression(s)
An equitable, living-income and livelihood
Everyone deserves to live dignified lives, and that starts with being paid fair living wages. Living wage jobs and economic security for working families are critical to achieving the American dream and helping our young people see a future for themselves in the place in which they grew up. Organized working people must be at the center of restoring and revitalizing the economy and social democracy throughout Wisconsin.
A union, public or private, and collective bargaining
It has never been more important for workers to have a voice in the workplace and to access a union. We need to strengthen workers’ power by restoring prevailing wages on state economic development projects and the right of workers to negotiate union security clauses. We should develop the political will to create sectoral wage boards to develop guidelines for living wage rates in every economic sector and to help Wisconsin employers, especially small businesses, to ensure they have the employees they need to grow the economy.
We must strive to ensure our workforce is the best and most prosperous in the country, and it cannot be the best if there aren’t enough good-paying jobs. It is imperative that we invest state resources in expanding public works projects, economic development, and small businesses, especially those owned by minority entrepreneurs. Wisconsin’s talented workers and dedicated employers deserve the opportunity to support and grow a robust economy that supports our local and state-level priorities, mitigates climate change, and helps conserve our natural resources.
Affordable and accessible high-quality healthcare
One measure of our state-level success is how we treat our residents who are most in need. We must ensure all of our state’s residents are healthy throughout their lifespan. It is essential that any action toward healthcare reform addresses a central tenet – healthcare is a human right.
Wisconsin must take immediate steps to make healthcare more affordable and accessible for all. Wisconsin should expand Medicaid and accept the $1 billion in additional federal funds with the program. This simple action would extend Medicaid benefits to 91,000 additional people, address long-standing racial disparities in health coverage and access to care, invest in preventative care including drug treatment and mental health services, improve patient outcomes, and build economic security and mobility by reducing medical debt, problems paying bills, and even evictions.
Wisconsin must also take steps to address the rising cost of prescription drugs. Governor Evers’ Less for Rx Act legislative package tackles issues of transparency, accountability, and out-of-pocket expenses. The act would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board, establish a $50 copay cap on insulin, and increase consumer protections.
Protecting the reproductive rights of all and ensuring accessible sexual health services is critical to protecting all Wisconsinites. The legislature must repeal a 172-year-old state law that makes providing an abortion a felony in Wisconsin, which could go back into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The Birth Equity Act, a package of bills aimed at reducing maternal health disparities, must also be advanced by the legislature.
The BadgerCare Public Option Act, authored by my office in February 2022, creates a state-based online insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act, establishes a program for all Wisconsinites and small businesses with under 50 employees to purchase health care coverage, and creates a Basic Health Plan for individuals without children making between 133-200% of the Federal Poverty Line. The bill is an ambitious effort to expand access to health care for Wisconsinites.
Equitable and accessible public education and child care
Wisconsin’s public schools accept, embrace, educate, and empower all of our students! We need courageous solutions to meet the immediate and basic needs of our students and close the achievement gap for students of color.
It is crucial that we invest in public education and overhaul the state’s school funding system. We need statewide investments in special education, full-day 4K and early education, diverse teacher recruitment and retention programs, mental health, social work, nurses, childcare, and healthy school meals. Wisconsin must also sunset the state voucher program that sends over $350 million of our tax dollars to private schools without oversight, accountability, or protections for students and teachers.
The Healthy School Meals for All Act, introduced by Rep. Shelton’s office, would ensure that all students have access to healthy school meals at no cost. Rep. Shelton was also a leader on the Reaching Higher for Higher Education bill package to invest in higher education and make college more affordable.
Pollution-free water and a healthy planet
Caring for our environment is a priority all Wisconsinites share — it’s what connects us, our families, and our ancestors, as those who inhabit this beautiful land. The Earth has unconditionally given us so much, and we must reciprocate. The environment is even more important at this moment in our state’s history, and naming climate change is a vital part of the solution. Green Bay is already feeling the effects of climate change and we need legislators who take charge to protect our water, air, and land. After all, environmental justice starts with us.
In 2021, Democrats introduced the Forward on Climate, a package of 22 bills aimed at fighting climate change, creating green energy jobs, and addressing environmental justice.
Wisconsin is also facing significant crises with water quality and safety. Pollution from Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), known as forever chemicals, are creating major problems for residents and families across Wisconsin. Democratic lawmakers released the CLEAR Act, one of the most comprehensive proposals in the nation, to address PFAS pollution.
High-quality, safe housing
We need to invest in housing that works for everyone at all stages of life. Wisconsin families are struggling to find affordable, safe housing during a time of rising prices and low vacancies. Further, the pandemic only further highlighted the disastrous impacts of evictions, limited protections for renters, and economic insecurity. Now is the time for leaders to work through collaborative public and private sector approaches to open up the housing market to more families and protect vulnerable communities from housing insecurity.
The state legislature must take action to support Wisconsin counties and municipalities in their action to grow high-quality, safe housing while at the same time ensuring that working families have a secure place to call home. Additional protections are also needed for renters and marginalized communities.
The 90th will continue to fight for robust, sustained funding to address the housing crisis at both the state and local levels as well as for working families seeking safe, affordable housing.
Reliable, climate-friendly transportation
A strong, comprehensive local infrastructure, including roads, public transport, and housing, are literally the foundational components of a thriving community. For the residents of the 90th assembly district, well-maintained and reliable roads not only support safe driving but also contribute to the expansion of city and school district-wide walking and bike path plans, which play a positive role in our residents’ physical health and overall well being. Further, as Green Bay continues to develop downtown, we must commit to maintaining affordable, reliable, and safe public transportation.
Healthy and active communities must have the necessary tools to promote and expand tourism, recreation, and transportation while at the same time, prioritizing public safety. Safer streets and areas to bike and walk encourage healthier lifestyles, increase a sense of overall well-being, and reduce our carbon footprint, having a direct positive impact on our environment. The state legislature must take action to ensure Wisconsin uses a “complete streets” model to ensure that roadways are designed and operated to enable safe, convenient, and comfortable access and travel for all users. Wisconsin must also take action to restore access to driver’s licenses for all regardless of immigration status, and end the practice of suspending licenses solely due to inability to pay fines.
A fair and equitable justice system
We all want and deserve safe, resilient communities. It’s time for Wisconsin to commit to robust public investments to prevent violence, support living wage jobs, end homelessness, poverty, hunger, and housing insecurity, and provide access to affordable healthcare and great public schools.
Wisconsin has some of the highest Black incarceration rates in the entire country. Reports indicate that 1 in 36 Black Wisconsinites are currently incarcerated. Black Wisconsinites are nearly 12 times more likely to be incarcerated than white people. Rather than double down on “tough-on-crime” policies, we must commit to reimagining a criminal justice system that shifts our policies and practices to a “justice reinvestment” model to reduce the cycle of incarceration and dismantle the school to prison pipeline. Socially and culturally, we must commit to a criminal justice system that prioritizes public safety through investment in people and community.
In November 2021, Attorney General Josh Kaul released Safer Wisconsin, a comprehensive legislative package to reduce crime and support stronger communities. Safer Wisconsin would strengthen community trust and prevent crime, help keep guns out of the hands of people who’ve been shown to be dangerous, address substance use disorder and mental health crises, and help hold offenders accountable. The “Enough is Enough” package, authored by some Assembly Democrats, also included a number of police reform bills for consideration.
It’s high time that we fully legalize in Wisconsin. In 2021, legislative Democrats introduced a bill to legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes as well as for adult recreational use over the age of 21. A Marquette University Law Poll from 2019 found that nearly 60% of Wisconsinites support full legalization of marijuana, and 83% support legalizing medical marijuana.
Life, self-determination, and liberation regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability status, and age
The basis of a healthy democracy is for us to be sure all eligible voices can be heard in free and fair elections. We must do all we can to make it easier for people to vote, not harder. Protecting and enhancing voting rights has been a key priority for my office.
In 2021, I authored a package of bills aimed at ensuring fair, transparent, and well-staffed elections as well as streamlining the process of voter registration for young people. To focus on active citizenship for elected officials, we introduced AB 359 to require non-judicial elective state officials to directly volunteer as poll workers in some of the elections where their name isn’t on the ballot. By signing up to be poll workers, state elected leaders will be more educated on Wisconsin election law and local practices and will ensure Wisconsin polling locations are well-staffed, efficient, and functioning to the highest standard of the law.
I will continue to promote legislation to protect and expand voting rights because the citizens of Wisconsin deserve fair elections where voting is safe and convenient.