One of the most rewarding experiences over the past two years has been the opportunity to work with a number of area moms to develop and pass legislation that will update the requirements for newborn testing to include a simple “pulse oximetry” test that can detect critical congenital heart defects. The process was long and complicated, but in the end, we accomplished a result that will save children’s lives and help families.
The journey actually began back in August 2012 when I was invited to meet with Sara Schuh in Manitowoc. Sara shared the story about her daughter Rayna with me, and the stories of other area families whose infant children were seriously injured or died due to congenital heart defects that were not detected prior to their birth. Sara informed me that if a simple, inexpensive pulse oximetry test had been conducted, many of the congenital heart defects could have been detected and treated before the child left the hospital.
Impacted by the stories, and a personal one involving my young nephew, I offered to work with Sara, other area families, the medical community and the American Heart Association on legislation that would work to get these tests conducted.
I enjoyed working with Senators Jerry Petrowski, Leah Vukmir, Representative Paul Tittl and others to find an answer. As with many legislative answers – this wasn’t easy. After months of effort, I think many thought we would not be able to find the right legislative solution. But Sara and her fellow moms didn’t want to give up. We met again in October 2013 at which time I had the privilege of meeting many more moms and dads and their children - wonderful children all enjoying life. Sadly, I also met Katie Sidewalk and Chris Debauchery, whose son Alek died within months of birth due to undetected heart defects. Our visit was inspiring and I left committed to finding a way to accomplish our goal, asking my legislative colleagues to find a way to draft legislation that would save lives.
I am happy to report that on Monday, March 3, 2014, Governor Scott Walker signed Senate Bill (SB) 523 into law, which allows Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services (DHS) to add or update requirements for newborn testing with those that have been the most effective for diagnosing congenital and metabolic diseases. DHS previously had authority to require certain blood and urine tests for newborns. SB 523 expands their authority to cover “point of care” tests such as the “pulse oximetry” test which can detect critical congenital heart defects.
SB 523 is a significant piece of legislation, not only for the positive impact it will have on the health of infants, but also because it showcases the legislative process and how constituents, law makers, and organizations can all work together to get a bill passed into law. It is through respectful diligence and perseverance that laws like this are written and approved.
Thank you to all of the local moms and families for your commitment to this effort. As a dad, uncle, citizen and Senator, I was humbled to work with you on this important cause. The final result, SB 523, is an improvement because it gives DHS the flexibility to keep up with modern practices as research and technologies improve.
~ Senate Passes Tax Relief and Worker Training Legislation ~
As I have shared previously, the legislature has recently been considering two important bills which, taken together, will provide significant tax relief for the citizens of this state while also making important investments in worker training programs to grow jobs. These investments are possible because of the positive news earlier this year that Wisconsin is now projected to end the 2013-15 biennium with a budget surplus of over $1 billion received.
Earlier this week, these bills were considered by the State Senate. I was pleased to vote in favor of both proposals as your State Senator, and am excited to announce that both bills did pass. Below is a brief outline of the major provisions of these bills:
First, the legislation cuts income taxes by $98.6 million. This will be accomplished by reducing the bottom income tax bracket from 4.4% to 4%. For single filers, this will mean that the tax rate on the first $10,910 of income will be reduced by .4%, allowing them to keep approximately $50 more of their income.
Second, the Secretary of Revenue has been instructed to reduce income tax withholdings by $322.6 million. Currently, the state withholds more from each paycheck than is necessary and returns the money to taxpayers through a larger state income tax refund. By changing the amount the state withholds, taxpayers will keep more of their hard-earned incomes up-front in their paychecks. The average family of four will see about $58 more in their monthly paychecks, which amounts to more than $520 per year that individuals will receive up-front, rather than waiting for a tax refund.
Third, technical college property taxes will be reduced by $406 million. For the median homeowner, this will mean a $100 cut in property taxes in 2014.
Finally, an additional $35.4 million will be invested in workforce development initiatives through the Wisconsin Fast Forward Program. This program, established in 2013, began with an initial investment of $15 million and is designed to make grants available for skilled worker training to help ensure that job applicants around the state have the skills they need to fill the job openings that exist, now and in the future. A specific portion will be dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities use their abilities to work.
Even with these strategic investments, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) currently projects that Wisconsin will still end the current biennium with a balance of more than $178 million leftover in the general fund and an additional $278 million in our rainy day fund.
As always, it has been a pleasure communicating with you. Please remember to communicate with me and share your input by calling 888-295-8750, writing to me at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882, or by e-mailing me at Sen.Leibham@legis.wisconsin.gov. You can also log on to the 9th Senate District on-line office at www.leibhamsenate.com.
It is an honor to work for and represent the residents of the 9th District in the State Senate!
~ Issue Corner – Assembly Bill 609: Physical Education in Public Schools ~
This bill requires that every school district operating grades kindergarten to 5 ensure that pupils in those grades participate in physical education for at least 30 minutes each day on which school is held.
~ Out & About ~
WHBL – I enjoyed my monthly visit to WHBL and shared some information about upcoming topics that will be before the legislature during the next couple of weeks.
Manitowoc County School Districts – I met with leadership from several school districts in Manitowoc County for our monthly update.
Dutchland Plastics – I enjoyed visiting with the tam of folks at Dutchland Plastics in Oostburg to learn more about their operations and plans for the future.