There is a
lot happening at the State Capitol and it is my hope that this email will
help you stay in touch with your government. As your Senator, I truly
believe in public service. If there is anything my office can do to
assist you, please feel free to contact us.
Bill Heads to Senate Floor
On Tuesday, SB 393, a bill that I authored along with my colleague Rep.
Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) was voted out of the Senate Committee on
Judiciary and Public Safety. We introduced this legislation after
learning that multiple incarcerated women in Milwaukee had given birth
while shackled. Chaining pregnant inmates while in labor an during the
birthing process endangers the health and safety of both the mother and
the fetus, is inhumane and is rarely needed for safety and security of
medical staff, the public or correctional officers. At least 18 states
and federal agencies have policies that prohibit this callous practice.
This bill would also give maternal support services, such as pumping
breast milk for their babies and expand voluntary STI testing in
correctional facilities. We are encouraged that as this bill is headed to
the Senate floor for a vote, all legislators will vote for its passage
and help to create healthier environments for the mother and newborn
Hills Should Be Closed
This week, Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) and I, introduced a bill that
would close the Department of Correction’s Lincoln Hills and Copper Lakes
Youth Correctional facilities within a year. Plagued for years with
reports of both physical and sexual abuse of juvenile inmates, as far
back as 2012, Governor Scott Walker’s administration was contacted by a
judge raising concern about these allegations. However, a federal
investigation was initiated to address these claims. Eventually Governor
Walker prompted the state’s Office of Special Operations to investigate
the assertions in 2014. Upon discovering “too much” about the atrocities
of the inmate treatment and prison culture, instead of taking affirmative
steps to deal with the problems identified, Walker simply closed the
Office of Special Operations.
With no substantive attempts to address the claims raised, lawsuits
were brought on behalf of the juveniles by the ACLU. U.S. federal
district court Judge James Peterson ordered the facilities to cut back on
using pepper spray, restraints, and solitary confinement for youth. After
a coordinated attempt by Republican officials to cover up their lack of
action, the violence at the prison continues, with new reports showing
that the use of pepper spray or dangerous altercations have not declined
and staff injuries. Since Governor Walker refuses to stop the abuses of
these children, we would like to see these juveniles returned to their
communities of origin for regionalized correctional services. We need to
rethink juvenile incarceration. Best practices dictate that these young
offenders be in facilities near their home counties, closer to their
families for more sustained rehabilitation outcomes. Most importantly,
though, we need to stop the inhumane treatment that has plagued Lincoln
Hills and Copper Lake.
Orchard Farm Tour
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to visit and tour Lake Orchard
Farm in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The huge property is home to a bed and
breakfast, fully functioning farm and fish nursery on the shores of Lake
Michigan. I was excited to observe the operations of this family-owned
farm and its purposeful distribution of resources. I couldn’t help but
think about how places like Lake Orchard Farm connect to my LOVE and
FAITH initiative, an effort to advocate for economic wealth and health
through the collaboration of agencies and organizations. By utilizing
resources effectively and efficiently we can connect people to means for
bettering themselves and our community and achieve maximum productivity.
The techniques that I witnessed at Lake Orchard Farm and other places
around our state will be applicable to continuing the development of
urban agriculture and other industries in and around Milwaukee.
Protections for Minors
This week, SB 396 passed unanimously out of committee. This piece of
legislation that I have been a part of will increase the penalty for
those who patronize individuals under the age of 18 for sex from a
misdemeanor to a felony charge. It sickens me to know that there are
people out there who solicit sex from minors. We need to provide a more
adequate punishment for this crime and deter future culprits.
Additionally, it is my hope that this bill will play a part in reducing
the incidents of human trafficking throughout Wisconsin. The bill is now
awaiting scheduling, and I hope to have it passed in the Senate soon.
Questions Surround UW Merger
Recently, UW System President Ray Cross proposed merging the
University of Wisconsin System's two-year campuses with nearby four-year
UW institutions to address declining enrollment on the two-year campuses.
However, the restructuring process to date appears to be absent of
meaningful collaboration with those most impacted. In undertaking such a
transformational plan everyone from chancellors, faculty, staff,
students, and community members should be engaged in the process. There
are certainly questions from legislators, students and the public that
have not been answered regarding tuition, programming, and accessibility.
Slated to go the Board of Regents in November, the impacts of such a move
are not fully understood. Many of my colleagues and I are requesting that
this proposal receive a measured, deliberative and all-engaging process
to examine its merits.
Justice Council Meeting
This Wednesday, I met with stakeholders of the Community Justice
Council at Clinton-Rose Senior Center. We had thoughtful and productive
discussions regarding the current state of the justice system and
corrections at the state and local level. We discussed the difficulties
in overcoming the indifference from Republicans on this matter. As the
ranking Democrat on the Joint Committee on Finance I have been steadfast
in my support for motions to increase funding for reform practices. One
of the motions would have required increased staff levels to be in
compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, but my
Republican colleagues shot it down. Additionally, Governor Walker vetoed
a proposal that would have constructed correctional facilities suited for
the health needs of elderly prisoners. Further, I have proposed that
Lincoln Hills Juvenile Correctional Center be shut down following their
horrific track record of mistreatment of incarcerated individuals. I,
along with the Community Justice Council, are working to see a justice
system that works for all Wisconsinites.
In September, I announced the opening of the 2018 Senate Scholars Program
applications. There is now less than a month left until the deadline.
Sponsored by the State Senate’s Legislative Education and Outreach
Office, the Senate Scholars program is a week-long, educational program
in which 33 exceptional high school juniors and seniors have a chance to
gain first-hand experience in the legislative process. They have the
unique opportunity to staff the Senate floor during session while
witnessing legislative debates. Students will also draft their own bills
and amendments, create mock committees, and elect mock committee
leadership. This rewarding experience is a highly competitive program
designed to engage scholars in state affairs. Previous Senate Scholars
have continued their chance to be a part of the political process,
returning to the Wisconsin State Capitol to work as interns, pages and
staff. In fact, in previous years, Senate Scholars have returned to my
office to work as summer interns. Applications are due by November 22nd.
For more information regarding this remarkable and educational program,
please contact Dr. Tammy Wehrle at (608) 261-0533 or visit www.legis.wisconsin.gov/ssgt/senatescholar.
Audit is Cause for Concern
On Tuesday, committee members of the Joint Legislation Audit
Committee heard testimony from the most recent Wisconsin Economic
Development Corporation (WEDC) audit. The audit revealed that the agency
has a history of failing to follow through on oversight and
accountability that cost taxpayers millions of dollars since the agency’s
creation in 2011. Specifically, it revealed that agency misused taxpayer
money by not verifying performance and contractual terms by WEDC
awardees, despite the existence of the independent agency hired to verify
the performance reports. The audit additionally showed that the agency is
unsure of the number of jobs that were created and retained. Such issues
are not new to WEDC, as they were also addressed in previous audits in
2013 and 2015, further showing the lack of improvement within the agency.
This new information that has come to light calls into question WEDC’s
capability to oversee the Foxconn deal that they are tasked with negotiating.
The agency’s history of mismanagement creates a lot of worry over whether
the agency has the ability to handle a $3 million corporate handout.
While promised that the Foxconn deal will create more jobs for
Wisconsinites, this new audit places more doubt in my mind about whether
WEDC is capable of holding Foxconn accountable for tracking the amount of
jobs they promised to create.