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Task Force on Mental Health 
 
This past week, I announced the creation of a Speaker's Task Force on Mental Health at a press conference at the state Capitol.  I asked Rep. Erik Severson (R-Osceola), an emergency room physician, to serve as chair, and Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood), a mental health nurse and former nursing professor, to serve as vice-chair of the task force.  We all know that issues surrounding mental illness affect families across our state and I wanted to do more than just talk about the problems.  I'm asking this special committee to come up with some meaningful legislation that addresses some important issues pertaining to mental health.
 
Here's what I charged the committee to make recommendations on:
  • Eliminating barriers to treatment, and promoting early and voluntary intervention for juveniles and adults in need of mental health services
  • Improving coordination of care among those who treat people with mental illness
  • Increasing awareness and reducing the stigma that often accompanies mental health diagnoses
  • Identifying and promoting best practices for addressing the link between mental
    illness and substance dependence and abuse
  • Addressing mental illness in the prison population
The Task Force on Mental Health will be an 11-member committee, which also includes Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan), Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), Rep. John Jagler (R-Watertown), Rep. Kevin Petersen (R-Waupaca), Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis), Rep. Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc), Rep. Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau), Rep. Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee), and Rep. Debra Kolste (D-Janesville).
 
Last week I asked you if you thought legislators should take a comprehensive look at mental health issues.  More than 86 percent of respondents said, "yes."  One person said the system is broken and must be fixed.  Another suggested that we improve access to mental health services. Most of the respondents provided comments in addition to answering the question.  Thank you for sharing your input.  I appreciate that you took the time to not only answer the question but also to provide some feedback.
 
This week Governor Walker unveiled his budget proposal for mental health.  I'm pleased that the governor is making this issue a priority and I think by working together, we can address these important health concerns.
 
On a final note, the Journal Times has been doing a special report on mental heath, Mental Health, the Power, the System and Success.  I know that I've enjoyed reading their stories and I hope you have the chance to read them as well.   
 
The first hearing of the Speaker's Task Force on Mental Health will be Wednesday, February 27th. The final report is due to the legislature before the end of May.
 
 
UW Whitewater Alumni at the Capitol
 
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Rep. Vos is joined by his fellow UW Whitewater alumni in the state Legislature and Chancellor Richard Telfer.  Pictured from the left Rep. Andy Jorgensen, Rep. Howard Marklein, Rep. Bill Kramer, Speaker Vos, Chancellor Telfer, Rep. Kerkman, Senator Neal Kedzie and Rep. Stephen Nass.
 
The Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Mining this week passed the"Mining for Jobs" bill, AB1/SB1,  on Wednesday as did the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue.  Both committees adopted several amendments that I believe make the bill better.  The bill does even more to protect the environment while allowing for new mining in Wisconsin. The legislation now heads to the Joint Committee on Finance before being voted on by the entire Assembly and Senate.
 
Echo Lake Foods Update
I am happy to report that after the horrible fire at Echo Lake Foods, the company told us that they plan to rebuild in Burlington.  I was part of a meeting Monday with company representatives and local and state officials.  Racine County Workforce Development and state officials are currently working to help the displaced workers with new positions or unemployment benefits.  In addition, there's a job fair for Echo Lake Foods employees at Veterans Terrace on February 13th from 1 to 4 p.m.  It's amazing to see our great community come together to help these workers.  I'm proud that the state is doing all it can to keep this employer in our state and in Burlington.