I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I am so very grateful that I was able to spend the holiday with family members and long-time friends. It was nice to take some time to appreciate the many wonderful people I am extremely lucky to have in my life. My family also got some good bonding time with our black lab puppy Ollie, who is now almost 80 pounds!
I also want to thank so many of you who reached out to me after I lost my father in October. I so appreciated the many kind words and thoughts you sent.
The Thanksgiving break was a nice little pause in an otherwise continued chaotic political environment. We only had three floor session days this fall, the least in my political tenure. However, many devastating bills were passed, including a removal of permitting restrictions for sulfide mining, which is the most toxic industry in the world. Women’s reproductive health was again targeted, with health coverage for medically necessary abortions removed from the state health insurance plan. A very dangerous body camera bill advanced out of the Assembly which would severely restrict the public’s access to this footage when even critical incidents occur. And to top it all off, toddlers are now allowed to carry hunting rifles and get a mentor to deer hunt (Yes—it’s true. See 2017 WI Act 62). More details on some of these harmful policies are below.
There was almost no focus on building our public infrastructure and improving public education opportunities, creating a 21stcentury transportation system or providing economic relief for low and middle income working individuals and families who have experienced flat wages. Truly, the central priorities of the people of this state were totally ignored.
Now, many of my Republican colleagues are jumping on the “tax reform” bandwagon we are seeing at the federal level. Instead of making the public investments that build important infrastructure and attract the private investments that continue to be sluggish in our state, I believe that we will see efforts to establish a flat income tax here in Wisconsin, reducing state revenue and the public investments that are critical to our success.
Nonetheless, I continue to work on many proactive bills, like my RESPECT Women Act (read more below) and I have authored more bi-partisan bills than in any other session. The most important thing to me is to be the strongest advocate I can for your voice, while creating opportunities to collaborate and get some important policies passed.
GOP Once Again Limits Access to Reproductive Health Care
In a continuation of a long line of attack against patients and physicians, Assembly Republicans voted to pass Assembly Bill 128, which prohibits the Group Insurance Board from covering medically necessary abortion services. The real travesty of this bill is that most women and families aren’t going to be aware that a medically necessary abortion isn’t going to be covered under their insurance until they are in crisis and are experiencing a medical emergency that requires extensive medical intervention that is very costly. Physicians should be the ones determining whether their patient needs a medically necessary procedure, not politicians.
In a bizarre section of AB 128, abortion is defined in a way that appears to target birth control. In committee, Democrats offered an amendment that would at least make the definitions in the bill medically accurate, but they were voted down on party lines. This cruel bill is now in the Senate, where I hope no further action will be taken.
Here’s my floor speech on AB 128.
RESPECT Women Act
In response to Republicans inserting themselves into the exam room time and time again, Sen. Jon Erpenbach and I introduced the RESPECT Women Act. This package of bills is intended to show what reproductive health care SHOULD look like in Wisconsin. The bills:
- Repeal restrictions to reproductive health care that are not grounded in medical science and aren’t related to enhancing women’s health;
- Protect each patient’s right to receive, and each health care provider’s right to provide, medically accurate information; and
- Enhance provider and patient safety.
Since 2011, the Republican-led Legislature and Governor Walker have passed several harmful laws aimed at undermining access to reproductive health care. Many of these laws are grounded in “junk science,” are contrary to widely accepted standards of patient care, and represent unwarranted political interference in the doctor-patient relationship.
At the end of the day, the RESPECT Women Act is about getting back to basics. It’s about taking personal, private health care decisions away from the Capitol and the politicians who are interfering, and putting them back where they belong – In the health care setting between patients and their physicians.
Medical Marijuana Tour
In February, Sen. Jon Erpenbach and I introduced the Compassionate Cannabis Care Act (AB 75), which would legalize marijuana for medicinal use. Under this tightly-crafted bill, patients, in consultation with their physician, could access medical marijuana in specific situations.
Despite introducing the bill in February and writing two letters to the chair of the Assembly Committee on Health, Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, and the chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, Sen. Leah Vukmir, requesting a public hearing, no legislative action has been taken. This is despite national polling showing support at 89% in favor of allowing medical use of marijuana!
Sen. Erpenbach and I decided to take the issue to the people of Wisconsin. We traveled to LaCrosse, Wausau, Green Bay, and Milwaukee to talk about the importance of ending the practice of criminalizing patients trying to obtain a medicine that works for them. The tour culminated with a public forum in Milwaukee where we heard from Veterans and others suffering from chronic pain who want marijuana as a pain management option.
Additionally, in the midst of the opioid crisis, medical marijuana can offer a solution. A 2016 University of Michigan study found patients using medical marijuana to treat chronic pain reported a 64% reduction in their use of opioid painkillers. Further, a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that states with legalized medical marijuana saw a 25% cut in opioid overdose deaths.
Progressive Caucus of Wisconsin
Democratic members of the State Assembly and Senate will soon announce the formation of the Progressive Caucus of Wisconsin (PWC). Working with grassroots groups throughout the state, the PWC will study, develop and advocate for proactive, progressive policies and be committed to a bold and inspiring agenda that will ensure every Wisconsinite has a chance to succeed.
This new caucus is a great opportunity to reach out and connect with young people and others throughout our state who identify as progressives, but not necessarily as Democrats. We’ll be working with local communities and members of the federal Congressional Progressive Caucus to develop and promote policies that invest in the people and communities of our state, instead of out-of-state special interests that currently drive the Republicans’ legislative agenda. A key component of this new group is to organize and collaborate with the various new groups that have formed throughout our state to combat the reactionary policies that are now flourishing.
Additionally, the PWC is launching a listening tour across Wisconsin to hear about the issues that matter most to people in their communities. The inaugural event will take place in January 2018 at UW-Madison. More details to come!
Recent Legislative Action
It’s been a busy fall, and I’ve rolled out several bills in the last few months:
- DOJ Litigation Transparency (AB 487) – Requires DOJ to document the cost of all of the unnecessary civil litigation they engage in.
- The Rights of the Child (AJR 78) – Resolution calling for the US to uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Secular Celebrants (AB 562) – Allows secular celebrants to perform weddings, allowing couples to have a ceremony that reflects their worldview.
- Use of Force Reporting (AB 561) – Requires DOJ to publish an annual report on law enforcement use of force incidents.
I’ve also been working hard to find consensus with my Republican colleagues where I can, and have authored the following bills on a bipartisan basis that are advancing through the legislature:
- Blue Alert (AB 563) – Establishes a system to disseminate threats or acts of violene against law enforcement in a timely manner.
- Electronic Service (AB 566) – Adds email to the list of ways parties to a case can serve one another (this bill passed the Assembly!).
- Company Moving Expenses (AB 574) – Prohibits a business from deducting expenses to move outside of Wisconsin.
- Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence Reporting (AB 604) – Requires DOJ publish an annual report on sexual assault offenses and domestic violence cases.
- Dane County Farmers’ Market (AJR 85) – Resolution congratulating the Dane County Farmers’ Market on its 45th anniversary (this resolution passed the assembly!)
- PANDAS/PANS Advisory Council (AB 638) – Establishes a DHS council on pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders (PANDAS) and pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS).
As we close out 2017, I’ll be holding office hours in December to hear directly from you!
Friday, December 1st
2166 Atwood Ave.
Friday, December 15th
1825 Monroe St.
I hope to see you there!
The new 2017-18 Blue Books are in! The Blue Book was first published in 1853 and is essentially and encyclopedia of state government. They are available at no cost for residents of the 76th Assembly District. If you’d like one, please let my office know, and we’d be happy to mail you one!
As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office with any state legislative questions or concerns! And keep those policy ideas coming. I get many policy ideas from you.