I've said it before, and I'll say it again: despite how it may seem sometimes, and despite what the media might try to sell you, the vast majority of ideas cooking in our state legislature in Madison end up being bipartisan ideas. Over the past several months, I've served as a member of the Assembly Speaker's Task Force on Foster Care. This work group was co-chaired, equally, by Rep. Pat Snyder (R-Schofield) and Rep. Steve Doyle (D-Onalaska). And earlier this week, the 13 of us -- Republican and Democrat, male and female, black and white, from the cities of southeast Wisconsin to the farthest corners of our northwoods -- stood together to announce our introduction of 13 ideas that we think are positive steps toward helping the most vulnerable kids in our society succeed.
Kids in need don't care about party lines. They need help right now. I'm excited about the ideas that floated to the top during our task force's conversations and research, and I'm excited about the way we went about finding the ideas. Keep reading below to learn more about what we came up with.
As always, I encourage you to follow my updates on social media or contact my office directly with your questions. Best wishes on your weekend!
Fighting for the Most Vulnerable: Foster Forward
Our task force's "Foster Forward" package of legislative proposals focuses on six narrower topics within the subject of foster care: prevention, foster youth, foster parents, the courts, youth aging out of foster care and administration of the foster care system. Our preliminary report is now accessible online by clicking here. We offer 13 ideas; every single one is offered by Republican and Democrat lead authors. A few highlights follow:
Under current law, during a child in need of protection or services (CHIPS) court proceeding, the court generally may appoint counsel from the State Public Defender's office only for the child, not for the parents. (Occasionally, a juvenile court may appoint counsel for a parent, but at county expense.) We propose lifting that general prohibition and also creating a temporary five-county pilot program in which state funding will be provided to the Public Defender Board to ensure that all parents attending CHIPS proceedings are represented by competent counsel. The program will operate from July 2018 until June 2021, at which time a report will be due to the legislature so that we can evaluate the program's outcomes.
A few Wisconsin counties are served by trained volunteers called Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). A CASA volunteer is assigned by the court to be an unbiased observer and assistant throughout the CHIPS proceedings. The volunteer maintains regular contact with the child; gets to know the family members; gets to know the appropriateness and safety of the child's environment; and reports back frequently to the court about what is working for that child and what isn't. Children who are served by CASA volunteers are far more likely to succeed and are far less likely to reenter foster care after leaving it. We propose a modest amount of new state funding to stabilize and expand this highly-useful, cost-effective program.
Current law generally prohibits a child's mental health treatment records from being shared with anyone without the subject's informed consent. In practice, that means that mental health care providers can't communicate with a foster parent or a child welfare agency about a child's treatment, a situation that can seriously disrupt a child's health and/or treatment plan. We propose allowing a health care provider to release relevant portions of a child's mental health treatment records to an out-of-home care provider or a child welfare agency if the health care provider reasonably believes it necessary for the child's proper care.
We have many more ideas. Read all about them here!
Life Insurance Policy Locator
If you're a faithful reader of this newsletter, you may recall from some time ago that Wisconsin's Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) partnered last year with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to offer a nationwide search tool that helps families discover lost, misplaced or unknown life insurance policies and annuities after the death of a loved one. Maybe you even saw news coverage highlighting this issue; I even remember a 60 Minutes episode about it. The new OCI/NAIC search program has been in place for about a year now, and the results are impressive!
Nationwide, more than 40,000 people have used the online tool to conduct a search. Since the launch of the online tool one year ago, fully 8,210 (more than 20 percent) of these people have been matched with a total of $92.5 million that is rightfully theirs! In Wisconsin, 121 beneficiaries have been matched with more than $1.5 million in unclaimed or unknown benefits during the past year.
Just click this green button to give it a try for yourself if you believe you might be the beneficiary, executor or legal representative of a person whose life insurance policy was never paid out!
Great Work, Storm!
If you're a frequent caller or writer to my Madison office, then you probably know my very capable aide, Storm Trendel, who spends most of her time helping me serve and communicate with constituents like you. This past Monday, Governor Scott Walker signed into law a bill that I authored to save local taxpayers money when their governments are planning future projects. In addition to Storm's regular duties, this bill was the first for which she was chiefly responsible for assisting me at every step: working with the attorneys to get the language drafted properly, preparing me to deliver public testimony during the committee process, liaising with our Senate colleagues and so much more. It was my honor to have her next to me for the signing of the bill into law; that pen that the Governor is holding went to her, and it is well-deserved indeed!