October 1, 2021

  

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ABLE Accounts for Wisconsinites with Disabilities

This session, I've worked with a number of legislators on an important bill that I believe will help individuals with disabilities improve their financial situations and options. Individuals with disabilities are unfortunately told to keep assets under $2,000 or they will loose access to Medicaid, which not only helps cover essential services, but other supports for those living with significant disabilities. In 2014, Congress passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Law as a sort of work-around, which allowed people to save money or save it for their disabled children tax-free without losing access to Medicaid.

Under federal law, states may create their own unique state ABLE Program. In 2016, Wisconsin passed ABLE tax legislation but chose not to establish its own state ABLE program, instead allowing Wisconsinites to open accounts in other states. Right now, use of the accounts in Wisconsin has been slow, potentially because we don't host our own ABLE Program, as ABLE use in other states with their own ABLE Programs is higher. This means that while Wisconsinites can open an ABLE account in another state, this information is not well known among the disability community, nor is it widely in use in Wisconsin despite the benefits it can provide for participants.

To look into this issue, I've introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 167/Senate Bill (SB) 158, which would require the Department of Financial Institutions to conduct a study examining the advantages and disadvantages of either establishing a WI ABLE Program directly or contracting with another state to administer an ABLE Program. This analysis would provide helpful information to guide the legislature in making an informed decision on the best way to improve access to ABLE accounts for people with disabilities and their families. I believe it will take concrete steps towards making ABLE accounts more accessible for Wisconsinites with disabilities. 

The bill has already been passed by the State Senate, and next week it will receive a Public Hearing in the Assembly Committee on Financial Institutions before it can move on for an Assembly vote. If you would like to speak at the public hearing, the notice can be found here, or feel free to send written testimony along to my office and I can share it with the committee. I am so pleased by the progress made on this issue so far, and look forward to the opportunity to vote in favor of its passage this session. 

Updating the Timber Direct Sale Threshold

In these times of ever-changing and uncertain wood markets, it’s essential to provide land managers with the flexibility to sell timber readily, ensuring continued management of our vast and valuable forests. Under current statutes, the direct sale limit allows State, County and Community Forest land managers to sell smaller amounts of timber directly to a contractor without advertising. In certain instances, being able to quickly work with a contractor is advantageous because they may have the availability or type of equipment that is a perfect match for a smaller timber sale. The direct sale limit currently rests at $3,000 for State, County Forests and Community Forests. I've introduced a new bill that would raise the direct sale limit to $10,000 or 500 cords equivalents, whichever is lesser.

This issue had been brought up earlier this year during a Council on Forestry meeting, and the changes in the bill would to allow more discretion among professional forest managers while also maintaining ideal forest management and industry supply. In instances where market demand, market options, and delivered wood pricing may be depressed, small (low volume or value) or less desirable timber sales are often passed by as loggers look to maximize production and minimize cost. Being able to work with a contractor efficiently and quickly is advantageous in situations like this, to where the volume and value of the wood being sold is below the standards that would attract a competitive sale process but the harvest is still needed to promote sound forest management objectives.

Increasing the limit and adding the flexibility to sell based on volume will enable land managers to capitalize on contractor availability to increase managing minor sales and small tracts of land. While these changes will allow for more flexibility, they don’t require any sale under the limits to be sold direct, leaving the land managers if control of how to best sell their timber and manage their forests efficiently. 

Question of the Week: 
Make WI Superintendent, Treasurer & Secretary of State Appointed Instead of Elected

Currently, the State Treasurer, Secretary of State and State Superintendent of Public Instruction are all elected positions, under the Wisconsin Constitution. However, there has been recent interest in changing the way these positions are filled. Instead of keeping these as election positions, some legislators have proposed a constitutional amendment that would make these cabinet appointed positions by the Governor. It would make the following changes to these positions:

State Treasurer

  • Would replace the DOR secretary as the head of DOR, meaning their duties would be that of both the current Treasurer and DOR secretary
  • Under the proposal, the final election for state treasurer required by the constitution is the one held in November 2022. The incumbent will continue to serve until either their 4-year term expires, a governor assumes office who did not appoint the sitting secretary, or any other event provided by law – whichever occurs earliest.

Secretary of State

  • All duties would remain the same.
  • Under the proposal, the final election for secretary of state required by the constitution is the one held in November 2022. The incumbent will continue to serve until either their 4-year term expires, a governor assumes office who did not appoint the sitting secretary, or any other event provided by law – whichever occurs earliest.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

  • All duties would remain the same.
  • Under the proposal, if this constitutional amendment is ratified on or before the election for state superintendent to be held on April 1, 2025, the final election for state superintendent required by the constitution is the one held in April 2021. If this constitutional amendment is ratified after the election for state superintendent to be held on April 1, 2025, that will be the last election for that seat. In either event, the incumbent will continue to serve until either their 4-year term expires, a governor assumes office who did not appoint the sitting secretary, or any other event provided by law – whichever occurs earliest.

In order for the constitutional amendment to go into effect, it would have to be passed in the Senate and Assembly in two consecutive sessions of the legislature. The Governor is not involved in passage of constitutional amendment proposals. Then, voters would be able to decide in a statewide referendum whether to adopt the new constitutional amendment.

Supporters of the bill share that it doesn't eliminate the positions, but instead allows the Governor the opportunity to add duties to the State Treasurer and Secretary of State. The State Treasurer only has one assigned duty currently, serving as a member of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. The Secretary of State has very few official duties, primarily revolving around authentication of documents for the state and official purposes. They feel that these positions should have more responsibility, and that accountability could also be increased making them appointments since Governor appointments require Senate approval. In addition, they say that the State Superintendent of Public Instruction is only elected in 13 states, and is the only agency head not appointed by the Governor in Wisconsin. They feel that this change would bring the DPI in line with other state agencies to create uniform processes for filling these positions.

Opponents of the bill feel that this would keep voters out of the process of picking the state's education leader, and feel it is limiting the public's involvement. They are concerned that it would also lead to lengthy Senate approval hearings for these positions, and feel that if we want to add more duties to these positions, it could be done without a change to the constitution. There are also concerns raised that it would consolidate all the power to set agency heads and top positions in one place. 

Any proposed changes to the constitution should be considered very seriously. As the legislature considers this constitutional amendment for the first time, I would like to hear your thoughts. Please take a moment to answer my question of the week:

Click here for my Question of the Week

Last Week's Results:
Continue DOT Waiver of Road Test

I've heard from many people around the 36th Assembly District in response to last week's question. The chart below represents the responses from constituents to the question as of Friday morning. 

Nominate An Exceptional First Responder!

Applications are still open for the 2021 First Responder of the Year Award from the 36th Assembly District. This award recognizes the brave work our emergency service providers do for our communities and is a great opportunity to display our gratitude for their service. Nominations may include: police and sheriff officers, fire-fighters (paid and volunteer), and EMS personnel including  paramedics, EMTs and volunteer first-responders. 

Nominations for this award can be done for a variety of reasons, such as a specific heroic action, a significant professional achievement, the person’s body of work over time, something special they do for the community relating to their work, and/or their length of service. Nominations must be in to my office by the end of the day on Friday, October 8. My staff and I will review each nomination and select a district winner who will be recognized during an October floor session as part of First Responders Appreciation Month.  

Nominate a First Responder

2021-22 Blue Book Now Available!

The 2021-22 Wisconsin Blue Books are in stock and actively being shipped around the 36th Assembly District! The blue book has information on state officers, the organization of Wisconsin's government, and statistical information along with articles of general interest. The publication can be found online here, but if you'd prefer a physical copy, you can request your own free hardcover copy through the following order form:  

Order a 2021-22 Blue Book

Upcoming District Events

The following are just a few of events that will be occurring soon around or near the 36th Assembly District. Please let me know if you have an event you would like to have considered for inclusion on this list. As always, remember to take proper precautions when at events for COVID-19 and check their webpages for any updates or cancellations.

Follow the Legislative Action

In order to stay up to date on any legislation, proposals, or your legislator, a free notification service is available through the Wisconsin State Legislature's website. You can sign up for nightly personalized email notifications based on our state's legislative activity. This is a wonderful way to stay informed about state politics and proposals that you are interested in.