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The Wisconsin Capitol isn't nearly large enough to house all state agencies. (AP) The Wisconsin Capitol isn't nearly large enough to house all state agencies. (AP)

The Wisconsin Capitol isn't nearly large enough to house all state agencies. (AP)

By Sophia Voight January 30, 2024

What happened to paid family leave proposals in Wisconsin? And did our neighbors beat us to it?

If Your Time is short

  • Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed paid family leave policies twice in 2023. Republican lawmakers blocked both tries.

  • Polling shows a majority of Wisconsinites favor paid family leave for new parents.

  • Minnesota passed paid family leave in 2023, but the others did not.

  • Larson’s staff said they did not mean to suggest all three states had passed it.

Whenever a new year approaches, many like to look back on what they did – and didn’t – achieve in the past year.

State Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, did just that when he took to X to lament what legislation wasn’t passed in Wisconsin.

"Our far-right legislature has thwarted (Gov. Tony Evers’) every attempt to enact proven, progressive policies in WI. In 2023, we saw our neighbors (Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois) blow past us with a host of highly popular, landmark policy wins like cannabis, paid family leave, abortion rights, and more."

Now Larson mentions a lot in his Dec. 12 post, but paid family leave caught our eye.

That refers to policies requiring employers to offer workers paid leave to care for a new child or care for themself or loved one with a serious health condition. 

It was introduced by Evers twice in last year’s legislative session but never made it to a vote. 

So, let’s look at what happened to Wisconsin’s paid family leave proposal, how popular the policy is in the Dairy State and what moves our neighbors made toward it in 2023.

Some of Wisconsin’s neighboring families gained paid leave in 2023

Larson’s post reads as though all three states passed policies on cannabis, paid family leave and abortion rights.

But when asked for backup, Justin Bielinski, Larson’s communications director, told us the tweet didn’t intend to say all three states passed marijuana, abortion and paid leave policies in 2023, but that each had passed at least one of the mentioned policies.

So, the poor phrasing gets Larson off on the wrong foot from the start.

Of the states mentioned, Minnesota was the only one to pass specific legislation on paid family leave in 2023. The measure will provide nearly every working Minnesotan paid leave when they cannot work because of serious health or caregiving needs. 

Last year, Illinois passed the Paid Leave for All Workers Act, which requires 40 hours of paid leave per year at companies with at least five employees. 

But "paid leave" can differ from "paid family leave." The former provides compensation for any number of reasons, although the latter is specified leave to care for a child, family member or one’s health. 

Additionally, general paid leave provides full hourly wages for time off, while paid family leave typically provides a designated portion of income and comes with more time off.

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So, Minnesota’s and Illinois’ laws differ in that Minnesota’s law guarantees workers the right to paid leave when they cannot work because of serious health or caregiving needs. In contrast, Illinois’ law gives workers paid leave to be used for any reason.

And vice versa, Minnesota’s new law requires paid leave of employers only for health and caregiving reasons — but doesn’t require a general paid leave option. 

Our other neighbor, Michigan, didn’t pass any new paid leave laws last year, though it did renew a 2019 paid sick leave law.

Wisconsin Republicans block Evers’ paid family leave bills

There were two times last year Evers introduced paid family leave bills and little — if any — action on paid family leave was initiated by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Evers proposed public and private sector workers get 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave benefits in his budget plan at the beginning of 2023. But that proposal was cut by Republicans during the budget adoption process.. 

Paid family leave reemerged in September when Evers drafted an expansive bill on funding the state’s child care providers. The proposed legislation included provisions for a paid family leave program.

Evers requested a special session for the bill and after multiple changes were made to it by GOP lawmakers, Evers vetoed the bill.

Paid family leave is popular in Wisconsin — even among Republicans

Larson’s tweet also claims policies such as paid family leave are "highly popular."

A November 2022 Marquette Law School poll found 73% of Wisconsinites favor paid family leave for mothers and fathers of new babies. This includes 62% of Republicans favoring it and 95% of Democrats. The poll had a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points.

Those numbers support Larson’s claim that paid family leave is popular in Wisconsin.

Our ruling

Larson said in the past year, Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois passed "highly popular" policies on cannabis, paid family leave and abortion rights — issues that have been stymied in Wisconsin by Republicans.

Evers twice tried passing paid family leave policy. Both times, GOP lawmakers blocked the policy, even though recent polls find it favorable among voters in both parties.

In 2023, Minnesota managed to get its paid family leave bill into law, but the other states did not.

The post was poorly worded — something his office acknowledged, and, in our view, was confusing to anyone who read it. It reads as though all three neighboring states passed paid family leave policies.

Based on how the post reads, we rate the claim Half True, which we define as "the statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."

Our Sources

Wisconsin Sen. Chris Larson, X, Dec. 12, 2023.

Email exchange, Justin Bielinski, Chris Larson’s communication director, Dec. 19, 2023.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tony Evers is proposing paid family and medical leave. Here's how it would work and why Republicans may not be on board.", Feb. 21, 2023.

Wisconsin Examiner, "Governor’s child care funding proposal might get a second life", Sept. 22, 2023.

Illinois Department of Labor, "Paid Leave for All Workers Act," accessed Dec. 19, 2023.

American Progress, "Fast Facts About Minnesota’s New Paid Leave Law," May 19, 2023.

Michigan Bureau of Employment Relations, "Wage & Hour Update Regarding Litigation on Minimum Wage and Paid Medical Leave," accessed Dec. 20, 2023.

September 2023 Special Session Senate Bill 1, accessed Dec. 20, 2023.

Marquette Law School, "Final pre-election Marquette Law School Poll," Nov. 2, 2022.

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More by Sophia Voight

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