The Surprising Truth about Our Polarized Politics


Governor Walker recently signed nearly 50 bills into law, including four bills that I authored. While my bills received strong bipartisan support, they weren’t the only ones. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that of the 184 bills signed into law this session, over 90 percent passed with votes from legislators in both parties. Despite what you may have read or heard, and even considering some of the very real policy disagreements between legislators of both parties, when all is said and done, Wisconsin legislators are working together to get things done.


Even some of the most contentious issues that you read about in the paper or hear about on the local news like reforming youth prisons, cutting taxes for families, or improving school safety –  were all approved with bipartisan support. Our juvenile justice reform package, which replaces the current system with smaller, regional facilities and expands access to mental health services for the children, passed unanimously in both houses.  Our bill to address school safety got support from 28 of Wisconsin’s 33 Senators, creating a state Office of School Safety, increasing comprehensive psychological care in schools, and providing $100 million in grants to help schools improve building security. With our budget surplus projected to be even larger than expected, we wanted to return some of that money to taxpayers. Our $100 child tax credit for families and statewide sales tax holiday passed with support from both parties.


Since January, when we laid out an ambitious legislative agenda, we’ve been working across the aisle to tackle some of Wisconsin’s biggest challenges. We pushed back against rising healthcare costs fueled by the federal Affordable Care Act by passing a state-based reinsurance program to stabilize costs and help folks keep their healthcare coverage. We increased sparsity aid for rural schools from $300 per student to $400 to help rural schools address their unique challenges. We passed a major welfare reform package that leads the nation in encouraging personal responsibility, increasing accountability, and helping folks get the help they need to find work. We also lowered prescription drug costs, cracked down on drunk drivers and took major steps to combat opioid abuse.


On a personal note, my Right to Try bill was signed into law, providing new hope for those with life-threatening illness by allowing them access to promising new treatments that haven’t been fully approved by the FDA. Under the new law, instead of petitioning the federal government for permission to try to save your own life, patients and their doctors can seek experimental medication or other treatments that have shown promise and have passed the FDA’s safety trials directly from their makers. Given that promising new treatments can often take more than a decade to get FDA approval, Right to Try is good news for those who’ve exhausted other treatment options and can’t afford to wait.


Another one of my bills just signed into law provides terminally ill patients, sponsored by a charitable organization, with hunting, fishing and trapping licenses and permits at no charge. The new law will allow groups that help terminally ill patients live out their dreams to get outdoors to hunt, fish, or trap in Wisconsin.  The bill was supported by the Wisconsin Sportsmen’s Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislator-sportsmen and women that I helped create, and the United Special Sportsman Alliance, a group that helps terminally ill patients and disabled youth and veterans fulfill a wish to get outdoors and participate in sporting activities.


As the Legislature’s regularly scheduled session period comes to an end, many more bills the legislature has been working on will make their way to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. Chances are, when the Governor’s pen hits the paper and the camera flashes, smiles will be seen from both sides of the aisle.