Currently, Wisconsin is ranked the worst place in America to raise a Black child. This ranking did not occur overnight but is instead the result of historically racist policies and practices that have sought to disenfranchise Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) individuals and communities. Black babies in Wisconsin are 3x as likely to die before their first birthday as compared to white babies. Specifically, the infant mortality rate in Wisconsin is 14.6 deaths per 1000 live births for Black babies compared to just 4.9 deaths per 1000 live births for white babies. Wisconsin has significant racial disparities in pregnancy outcomes for mothers as well. Black mothers experience 1.75x the risk of significant complications from labor or delivery facing White mothers, and 5x the risk of dying in childbirth or from complications. A 2016 DHS study found that 5.0% of children under the age of six in Wisconsin had blood lead levels above 5 µg/dL and 8.8% of children in Milwaukee County had blood lead concentrations that exceed this ratio.

Apart from mothers and children, general health of Black individuals and families also shows significant disparities. Life expectancy is a useful indicator of general health and Wisconsin state death records indicate that White residents live an average of 15 years longer than Black residents. Heart disease serves as an example of a more specific health disparity between communities. CDC data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicate that Wisconsin has the third-highest racial disparity in the rates of death by stroke in the country. To this point, black women are 7x as likely as White women to die from a premature stroke (before age 65), and Black men are at 4x the risk of White men to die from a premature stroke.

Overcoming these structural inequities requires structural changes that promote equity and justice for all. As such, I am proud to have recently introduced and advocated for several bills that promote racial equity within the area of health care.

Birth Equity Act

The infant mortality rate for Black babies in Wisconsin is 14.3% compared to 4.9% for white babies. We cannot accept this fate without change any longer - lives are at stake. That is why I am proud to introduce the Birth Equity Act, which seeks to disrupt our state's most onerous barriers to child and maternal health, while also bringing awareness to these pervasive disparities. This legislative package includes six bills that will:

 

The Birth Equity Act is a significant first step toward instituting actionable policy and system changes for Wisconsin’s BIPOC mothers and infants. For more information about the Birth Equity Act and how you can show your support, visit www.wibirthequity.org.

Respect Act

Starting a family, becoming a parent, and ending a pregnancy are some of the most personal, private decisions of our lives. Every person should be able to make these decisions without political interference. That is why I was proud to introduce the Respect Act along with my colleagues, Sen. Kelda Roys and Rep. Francesca Hong. This legislative package includes two bills that will:


The Respect Act supports both patients and health care professionals by keeping politicians out of the exam room. Moreover, it will restore the rights of Wisconsinites to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions, free from harassment, intimidation, political interference, or false information.

SCHOOL Act

There are two bills included in the SCHOOL Act. The first bill, 2019 Senate Bill 423, addresses lead in school drinking water by requiring testing and, if necessary, requiring that contaminated water sources be taken offline and replaced with clean water sources while incentivizing long-term remediation by buying down the interest rate of BCPL loans. The second bill, 2019 Senate Bill 424, tackles lead in the drinking water of daycares, group homes, and summer camps by requiring testing as a component of licensure and, if necessary, ensuring that contaminated water sources be taken offline and replaced with clean water sources.

Lead Service Line Removal

Co-authored bill with Rep. Haywood, this legislation would provide $40 million in bonding for lead service line removal in our state.

Tax Credit for Lead Abatement

To encourage landlords to remove lead hazards from tenancies, Senator Johnson co-authored a bill to provide a tax credit to property owners who undertake lead abatement in a dwelling.  The bill is supported by the Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Apartment Association.


2021-2023 Budget Policies & Their Outcomes

Post-partum BadgerCare coverage for new moms for 12 months

Provide $20,948,600 in 2022-23 to reflect the estimated cost of extending benefits for Medicaid-eligible pregnant women. This would extend benefits until the last day of the month in which the 365th day after the last day of the pregnancy falls, instead of the last day of the month in which the 60th day after the last day of the pregnancy falls, as under current law.

Outcome: Republicans cut Governor's post-partum BadgerCare coverage to just 3 months

$8 million Black Infant and Maternal Health Initiative to reduce mortality disparities

Provide $1,750,000 GPR annually, beginning in 2021-22, to address the racial disparities in women's health by providing targeted grants to organizations led by Black women in Racine, Dane, Milwaukee, Rock, and Kenosha Counties to improve Black women's health. In addition, the bill would provide $1,750,000 annually for DHS to award to organizations that work to reduce racial disparities related to infant and maternal mortality, and one-time funding of $500,000 GPR annually in the 2021-23 biennium for DHS to provide as a grant to an entity to connect and convene efforts between state agencies, public and private sector organizations, and community organizations to support a statewide public health strategy to advance Black women's health.

Outcome: Not included in the GOP budget proposal that was passed into law. 

Birth-to-3 eligibility for lead-poisoned children

The Birth to 3 program provides early intervention services to young children who are at risk for or who have developmental delays. Changing Birth to 3 eligibility based on blood lead level from 10 μg/dL (micrograms of lead per deciliter) to the CDC definition of 5 μg/dL will serve an additional 2,000 children and families each year, and will allow children to receive services earlier, preventing further learning delays and improving their outcomes.

Outcome: Not included in the GOP budget proposal that was passed into law.