While we are just over a month into the 2017-18 legislative session, we have hit the ground running and I have been hard at work for the people of the 76th Assembly District. The Governor has introduced his 2017-19 state budget (WARNING: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is), our legislative committees are beginning to meet regularly and I have already introduced eight pieces of legislation!
Gov. Walker’s Budget Proposal
Just as with previous budgets, Governor Walker has shown once again that he is dangerously out of touch with what Wisconsinites need. Much of the Governor’s “funding” comes from unrealistic savings from things like self-insurance (see below). Essentially, he is funding our schools, healthcare, and roads with made-up Monopoly money.
There are always strings attached to Governor Walker’s recommendations. For example, in order for our college students to receive more funding, the UW System must meet arbitrary “performance-based” standards. In order for our public school kids to receive more funding, many teachers must take a pay cut by being mandated to pay more towards their health insurance premiums.
There was one bright spot to the Governor’s proposal. After I introduced legislation last session and repeatedly urged the Department of Health Services (DHS) and the Governor to take action, the Governor included an update to Wisconsin’s outdated lead poisoning standards in his proposal. Currently, Wisconsin’s definitions of “lead poisoning” and “lead exposure” are dangerously out-of-date and allow double the lead poisoning as the federal standard before triggering remediation. Despite this small victory, there is still much more work to do for our kids suffering from lead poisoning.
It has just been over a week since Governor Walker released his nearly 1000 page budget to the public and over the next several weeks, we will be pouring over his budget line-by-line. The devil is always in the details. As we learn more, we will do our best to get this information to you as quickly as possible.
Like previous sessions, we will be holding budget listening sessions across the Madison area later this spring. Stay tuned for more details.
Read my press release on Governor Walker’s budget proposal HERE.
My Economic Bill of Rights
Throughout this budget cycle, I will continue to advocate for a robust economic agenda that works for everyone, not just those at the top. I have drafted an economic agenda for working individuals and families called an “Economic Bill of Rights.” Plain and simple, Wisconsin’s economy is rigged to benefit those at the top. As long as Governor Walker and legislative Republicans remain in control, we can expect more handouts for corporations and big tax breaks for the wealthy, paid for by working families facing stagnant wages who are struggling to get ahead.
In order to economically succeed, each individual, willing to work hard, shall have the right to:
1. Earn a family supporting wage from stable employment.
2. Keep more of their money through a fair taxation system.
3. Maintain individual and family health.
4. Have a say at work.
5. Access a quality public education.
6. Enjoy retirement security.
I am in the initial stages of developing this Economic Bill of Rights and welcome any and all feedback you may have. Some of my best bills have come directly from my constituents!
Un-Elected Group Insurance Board Votes to Overhaul State Employee Health Care Program
Currently, Wisconsin’s Group Health Insurance Program consists of 17 health plans and serves more than 250,000 state and local government employees, retirees, UW employees and their dependents. Approximately 100,000 of these residents live in Dane County alone.
Under GHIP, the State of Wisconsin funds state employee health insurance through premiums to an outside third party that covers costs and liabilities of all claims. Our current model allows insurers to work with both local providers and the state to establish service areas that keep costs down and ensure high quality care. With one of the most competitive health insurance markets in the country, our premium increases have remained well below the national average and the current format of GHIP has saved $283 million over the last nine years, despite efforts by legislative Republicans to shift more healthcare costs on employees.
Given the high quality and competitiveness of Wisconsin’s health insurance market, nearly everyone – health care professionals, economists, program participants and even the health insurance companies themselves – oppose the switch to self-insurance. Despite the strong opposition to this risky scheme, the GIB recently voted 10-1 to approve this overhaul of the state employee health care program. Under the Board’s action, they approved dividing the state into four regions which would be serviced by six insurers, thereby significantly reducing the number of plans available to state employees by up to 50 percent.
The Governor did include the self-insurance proposal in his 2017-19 state budget which over the next several months will be reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) and is statutorily required to be signed into law by July 1. Legislative Republicans have indicated they have significant concerns with the proposal, but only time will tell if they’ll have the courage to tell Governor Walker, “No.” Government should not be in the business of picking your doctor – it is time we trusted Wisconsinites to make the health care decisions that are best for them and their family.
Read my press release on the Group Insurance Board’s action HERE.
Medical Marijuana Legislation Introduced
Earlier this month, standing alongside a trusted local physician and Iraq War veteran, I joined Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) at a press conference to introduce two pieces of medical marijuana legislation – the Compassionate Cannabis Care Act and legislation that would authorize a non-binding statewide referendum on legalizing medical marijuana. Twenty-eight states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, including Wisconsin’s neighbors Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. Several high-profile Republicans have previously expressed public support for a public referendum on the issue – including Governor Scott Walker. Recent national polling from May 2016 shows that 89 percent of Americans support medical marijuana.
To read my joint press release with Sen. Erpenbach, click HERE.
Proven effective at reducing opiate abuse, a 2016 University of Michigan study found patients using medical marijuana to treat chronic pain reported a 64 percent reduction in their use of opioid painkillers. In addition, a 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found states with legalized medical marijuana saw a 25 percent cut in opioid overdose deaths. Last month, Governor Walker called for a special session on opiate abuse. We have written the Governor and asked for our medical marijuana legislation to be included, and at a minimum receive a public hearing during the special session.
It is time we stopped criminalizing Wisconsinites from receiving the relief they so desperately need. Grandparents with cancer should not be punished for seeking the medical care they need. Veterans with PTSD should not treated as criminals for taking medicine that helps with the horrific trauma they experienced, trauma that most of us cannot even fathom. No patient should have to break the law to get the medication they need when seriously ill.
More coverage of our press conference HERE.
Don’t Forget! Primary Election Day – February 21
The Spring Primary Election will be held this Tuesday, February 21. Most voters will be participating in local primary elections like City Council and School Board that have more than 2 candidates running, as well as the statewide office of Superintendent of Schools. The top 2 candidates will advance to the Spring General Election in April.
In-person absentee voting for the election is available through Sunday, February 19, at the Madison City Clerk’s Office and additional locations throughout the city. To learn more about in-person absentee voting in Madison, including locations and times, click HERE.
DO NOT FORGET: You must present an acceptable photo ID card to vote in Wisconsin. To find out if you have the correct identification click HERE.
International Women’s Day - We Need Your Help!
In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, we are working with other legislators through our Women’s Health Workgroup, which I co-chair, to make a video documentary featuring clips of Wisconsinites talking about what issues are important to them on International Women’s Day.
We would love to have you send our office a short video clip (no longer than 20 seconds) that we will then use in this video. Video clips, including those taken on your phone, can be sent to Rep.Taylor@legis.wi.gov. If you have any questions about submission of your video, feel free to contact my office directly.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact me on any state legislative issues. Have a great weekend and enjoy the warmer weather!
Rep. Chris Taylor
76th Assembly District