December 3, 2015

Creating Change with Laws

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

It is the end of the year and while some are shopping, others are standing with us on Justice or Else. Preparing for the final few months of the legislative session (which officially ends in May) and creating laws is where my head is at during this holiday season.

You know the crisis areas. So you’ll understand why I’m concentrating on:

  • Education
  • Economic Security
  • Justice

My efforts will include a lot of bills. Some will pass, some will just help to educate my colleagues and the community, but all of the more than 100 bills and resolutions are needed.

Justice: As you can imagine, our incarceration rate troubles me. It’s not the Department of Corrections anymore. It’s more like the Department of Punishment. But what happens to people after we let them out of prison? Many don’t have two pennies to rub together. They’ve got a record that will make it difficult for them to find a job or housing, not to mention the challenges to take care of their children or families.

That’s why my justice reform package focuses on justice reinvestment. Not only do we have to work on preventing crime, we also need to make sure our laws make it possible for people coming out of prison can be productive members of our society. Stay tuned for ideas like banning the box on job applications that asks about felony convictions, CCAP reform, sentencing reform, probation reform, gun safety, marijuana law reform and sex offender law reforms.

Education: Another policy area that’s deeply personal to me is education because if you ask me, it’s all about the babies. I’ve already introduced a bill to give our high school students one week every year to apply for a Wisconsin public college for free and a bill to provide over $1 million to the Milwaukee Summer Reading Project. I am also working on bills to tackle to record number of school suspensions and expulsions amongst our youngest kids, long-term substitute teacher pay equality, college affordability, vocational training and putting black history back in our schools.

Health Care: When talking about solving our society’s problems, it’s also about health care. After all, how safe and productive of a society will we have if our physical or mental health isn’t being taken care of? That’s why I’m working on bills about community health workers and improving the mental health of our community.

Economic Sustainability: If you’ve got a safe community, good education and solid health care, the next step is to ensure all these safe, happy, healthy and educated people have a great economy to participate in. Studies show that crime is lower where the economy is stronger. A recent story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows Milwaukee County’s median family income has dropped by 10.3% from 2009 to 2014. We need opportunities for everyone from people coming out of prison to people coming out of college. The data shows that the middle-class is disappearing and being replaced with low wage jobs. We need to take care of our lowest wage workers and create an incubator for our small businesses to start-up and flourish.

Democracy: Finally, I have a series of bills that I believe will strengthen our democracy. They include everything from returning voting rights to disenfranchised voters to penalizing deceptive election practices.

There are too many legislative ideas to mention in one column, so stay tuned to this column for updates as I introduce these bills. As always, your feedback is crucial. In December, I’m having three different outreach events to gather your feedback. Please join me at Coffee with the Senator on December 7 from 8:30-10 at Collectivo in Bayshore, on December 9 at a listening session from 5:30-7pm in my district office in Glendale or on December 15 from 8:30-10 am at Coffee Makes You Black. For more information, I always invite you to email me at Sen.Taylor@Legis.WI.Gov.