March 17, 2016

Work left undone

By: Sen. Lena C. Taylor

Only in politics are you paid to not finish the job.

That’s what happened Tuesday when the Senate Republicans banged the gavel for the last time on this legislative session. Here’s a list of just a few of the items we didn’t fix.

CBD oil:

In the middle of a debate about whether or not to fix a broken law intended to provide potentially life-saving treatment for children suffering from severe seizures, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald pulled a fast one to end debate. About 30 of the 33 Senators support the CBD bill. Instead, a few members forced Fitzgerald to prevent a vote because the medicine is a marijuana extract. Wisconsin’s failure to fix this law led Vicky Pletka to move from Milwaukee to Colorado where her 5-year-old daughter Lily could access CBD oil. Lily has gone from 100 seizures a day to several days without a seizure. 

Lead poisoning:

You know what happened to the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, right? What’s scary is elevated lead levels can be extremely dangerous to people. Lead affects the liver, kidneys, reproductive system, brain and nervous system. Children are particularly vulnerable. So why is it that in Flint, where 4.9% of children tested positive for elevated lead levels in their blood, everyone’s talking about it? But in Milwaukee, where 8.6% of children tested positive for elevated lead levels, nobody’s talking about it? 70,000 lead pipes lay under our streets feeding poisoned water to people in older homes and apartments. The city has to step up, but the state should too.

Student loan debt relief:

America has her priorities out of order. Did you know there is $1.3 trillion worth of student loan debt in America? Can you imagine how different our economy would be if people didn’t have student loan debt? There are about 43 million Americans in debt from going to college. About one million of those people live in Wisconsin, where our average student loan debt is $28,800. Education is supposed to be a gateway to the American dream, not a life of debt. We have payday loan stores on almost every street corner. You can refinance car loans and mortgages, so, why not student loan debt? It makes no sense.

Public education:

In 2011, Scott Walker cut about $1 billion out of public education, the largest cut to public education in the Wisconsin’s history. Governor Walker followed that up with a $250 million cut to the UW System in his last budget. Governor Walker is probably the most anti-public education governor in Wisconsin history.

Re-entry:

People make mistakes. When they do their crime and do their time, they deserve another chance to make things right. There are over 20,000 people behind bars in Wisconsin. Almost all of them will rejoin society one day. Every year, thousands of people reenter Milwaukee from prison. But what happens to them? About 1/3 of them will end up back behind bars within three years. But there is hope. A person is 3 times less likely to end up back behind bars if they have job. The case seems clear, we should be working harder to employ felons. After all, I’d rather have them working to put money in their own pocket, than taking money out of taxpayers’ pockets.  

Gun violence:

There were 125 homicides in Milwaukee in 2015. These deaths are tragic, senseless and avoidable. On March 15th, Senator Fitzgerald ended the Senate session leaving my gun violence bills on the table. Those include universal background checks, microstamping of bullets, mandatory liability insurance on guns and banning gun sales to people on the “no fly” list. That’s just a start. Many other legislators also have bills we should have taken up.

Juvenile corrections:

The passing of former Milwaukee State Representative Tamara Grigsby this week was sad news. She was such a great friend and tireless advocate for kids. There probably wouldn’t be a Department of Children and Families without her. I remember working with her to try to place juvenile corrections in the DCF instead of the Department of Corrections. Can you imagine the difference it would make if we treated them more like troubled teens than delinquent teens?

One of the things I loved most about former Representative Tamara Grigsby is she never forgot at the end of every bill was a real person who would be impacted. Sadly, this legislative session will go down as one of the least helpful to average Wisconsinites in history. It’s clear to me, work has been left undone.