Walker asks Trump to ease federal rules on Wisconsin
Madison — Gov. Scott Walker called on President-elect Donald Trump to immediately clear federal barriers to Wisconsin GOP goals like drug testing public benefit recipients and keeping Syrian refugees out of the state.
But the Republican governor offered few details on what Wisconsin wanted to do and only some specifics on how federal government could help, leaving it unclear whether a Trump administration could act as quickly as requested.
"Too often, states have become mere administrative provinces of an all-powerful federal government in Washington," Walker said in a statement. "Now is the time to reverse that trend. These requests are the first of many my administration will make as Wisconsin leads the effort to restore balance between state and federal government."
The Wisconsin governor has already made a sweeping request that the Trump administration and GOP Congress look at shifting health and infrastructure programs to a "block-grant" model that would come with greater flexibility and fewer rules but also the likelihood of much less federal tax money, especially over the years to come.
In a letter to Trump Dec. 20 Walker highlighted several other requests to remove federal rules blocking state action on:
Drug testing. The state so far has been unable to implement a 2015 policy approved by Walkerand GOP lawmakers that seeks to drug test food stamp recipients. The policy, which conflicts with federal rules but has been popular for Walker on the campaign trail, would require drug testing of able-bodied adults without children who are seeking Food Share benefits.
The results from other states have suggested that large-scale testing could cost state taxpayers more than federal taxpayers would save in decreased benefits, since relatively few drug users are detected. Last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott dropped his legal defense of a plan to drug test welfare recipients in his state after two federal courts ruled it was unconstitutional.
Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee, said she thought Walker's plan would be challenged in federal court if it moves forward. She said that the state can already test Food Share applicants if there's reason to think they're abusing drugs and that it wasn't cost effective to test everyone.
"Why are we throwing away all this money?" she asked of the proposal.
Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said he broadly supported Walker's call for decreasing federal rules and encouraging states to innovate and save tax dollars. But there could be constitutional concerns with the drug-testing proposal, he said.
"I'm very skeptical of that requirement," he said.
Higher costs for health risks. Walker wants to be able to put new requirements on 143,000 childless adults in Wisconsin's Medicaid program making less than the federal poverty level of $11,880 per year for a single person. The state would require higher premiums for adults who take undisclosed health risks such as smoking, perhaps.
Since the Walker administration hasn't identified what risky behavior it would target or how much more it would charge in premiums, it's hard to estimate the impact of the proposals for taxpayers and health care recipients.
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the letter is "just the first of many requests and more details will be available as we go through the process." It's been almost two years, however, since Walker first made this proposal in February 2015.
Refugees. Walker also wants the federal government to give the State of Wisconsin some unspecified role in determining how many refugees the state receives and from which countries. It wasn't clear what Walker is proposing and how he would like to see the entry or movements of refugees restricted.
In November 2015 after terrorist attacks in France, Walker and other Wisconsin Republicans said they opposed the settling of Syrian refugees in the state. They have not laid out a plan for ensuring that doesn't happen.
Advocates for refugees such as the International Rescue Committee said then that refugees in the United States go through a vetting process that can take years and that is thorough.
Like Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Tuesday that the federal government should coordinate more with states on refugee settlement.
"We (should) know they're coming, know they're vetted and there is a plan to put them somewhere where they can find a job," Vos said.
Wolf hunting. Walker also wants to bring back hunting seasons for wolves as Wisconsin had from 2012 to 2014 with the goal of keeping the growth in their numbers in check.
Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota all lost their ability to have hunting and trapping for wolves after a federal judge in December 2014 put wolves in the western Great Lakes back on a list of federal endangered species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services appealed the ruling, and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has proposed legislation to allow the three states to manage their wolf populations. In a statement, Johnson immediately backed Walker on his requests to Trump on wolves and other issues.
Wisconsin's estimated minimum wolf population rose 16% to 897 in the year after the judge's ruling, reaching its highest levels since the return of wolves to the state in the 1970s.
Air quality. The governor also wants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lift limits on smog-causing pollutants in Wisconsin counties along Lake Michigan. The limits increase costs on area utilities and industries but also cut respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.