by Senator Howard Marklein
December 13, 2019
Building Stronger Bridges
I recently met with Randy Romanski, the new Interim Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) for, what I hope will be, a regular, monthly meeting. I have also reached out to Department of Revenue (DOR) Secretary Peter Barca and Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld to schedule regular meetings as well.
As the Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Revenue & Financial Institutions, I decided to initiate regular, predictable meetings with the leadership of the three state agencies that fall under my purview as the committee chair. I believe that a consistent, predictable opportunity to connect will help us to build stronger bridges and pave a positive path forward for our shared roles. We all serve our constituents and I want to work together to do the best job we can do for you.
Interim Secretary Romanski invited Assistant Deputy Secretary Angela James to join us for a very good overview and conversation about our shared priorities. We discussed the overall structure of DATCP, their staffing opportunities and challenges, their funding structure and a number of large issues facing the agricultural industry overall.
DATCP’s largest areas of focus are Food and Recreational Safety and Agricultural Resource Management. Thirty-six percent of the DATCP workforce is dedicated to Food and Recreational Safety. These are the inspectors who visit our restaurants, swimming pools, campgrounds and other locations to make sure laws and regulations are being followed to protect consumers. The agency also employs inspectors who conduct Weights & Measures compliance, such as whether gas pumps are accurately distributing the weights they register for customers.
The Agricultural Resource Management division includes 10% of DATCP’s 627 total employees. This division recently refocused more than half of their staff to concentrate on hemp farming in Wisconsin. According to Romanski and James, program participation has grown by 600% from year one to year two. Sign-ups for hemp farming are up for next year. As a result, the department has shifted workforce to provide the support hemp farmers need.
Romanski and James recommended that I consider hosting an Informational Briefing on Hemp Regulations this spring for Senate Committee members. Hemp regulations in Wisconsin are very new and subject to changes coming from the Federal government. They suggested that a timely briefing in February or March would help legislators – and the farmers we serve – to better understand our states’ status and the changes that may be coming in the near future. I appreciated this idea and will be planning a briefing for 2020.
We also discussed several of the bills I am working on such as a proposal to change the restrictions on hours that ag haulers can drive for short-trip agriculture-related work, on-the-farm teaching credit for University of Wisconsin Extension Specialists and Truth in Food Labeling bills. I appreciate the department’s input and support for legislation that directly impacts farmers throughout Wisconsin.
I will be meeting with Secretary Barca and Secretary Blumenfeld in the near future. I am hopeful that we will have positive, collaborative discussions as well. Communication is key to working together and I am optimistic that these bridge building meetings will bring us closer together.
For more information and to connect with me, visit my website http://legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/17/marklein and subscribe to my weekly E-Update by sending an email to Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov. Do not hesitate to call 800-978-8008 if you have input, ideas or need assistance with any state-related matters.
Marklein represents the 17th Senate District, which includes all or parts Grant, Green, Iowa, Juneau, Lafayette, Monroe, Richland, Sauk and Vernon counties. Marklein serves on the legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and is Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Revenue & Financial Institutions.