This Legislative Session Gets a Grade of “Incomplete”
By State Senator Julie Lassa
Although it’s still early spring, the leadership for the majority party in the Senate and Assembly say that the legislature will not come back to the floor again this year, and so the current legislative session appears to be over. Reporters often ask legislators to give a letter grade to the session that just ended, so I thought this would be a good time to review some of the high and low points of the 2015-2016 legislative biennium.
Despite the hyper-partisanship in Madison, I was able to get fifteen bills passed through the legislature, including the Children First bill to help parents better support themselves and their children; a bill to require social service agencies to report missing children; and a bill that removes the statute of limitations on 2nd and 3rd degree sexual assault, ensuring that more perpetrators can be brought to justice. I was also pleased to support legislation that makes it easier to confront the opioid addiction crisis and to better prepare health care workers to help patients with dementia. And I joined with a bipartisan group of legislators to form the Legislature’s first Children’s Caucus to research and introduce evidence-based policies to improve the wellbeing of young people. I am honored to co-chair this caucus along with Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan).
Sometimes, victories also consist of what you can prevent from happening. We were able to derail legislation that would have allowed counties to eliminate their County Veterans Service Officers, the first line of support for our veterans when they need help. Other proposals that would have allowed for the privatization of municipal water systems, perpetual permits for high capacity wells, and indiscriminate dredging of streams and wetlands also failed to pass.
The low points of the session were pretty low, however, as the Republican majority continued to focus on passing legislation to keep themselves in power and to shield their activities from the public. They abolished the state’s ethics and elections watchdog agency, and exempted themselves from John Doe investigations. They tried to gut the state’s open records laws, and they made it harder for people to register and vote.
At the same time, Republicans also passed a budget that maintains huge, expensive tax breaks for corporations at the expense of everyone else. As a result, even the few small window-dressing measures they did propose, like the Governor’s much-ballyhooed tax deduction for student loan debt, had to be scrapped because they ran out of money to pay for them.
In fact, this legislative session was mostly marked by what the majority party didn’t do. They failed to restore funding for our struggling public schools, they failed to find a way to repair our crumbling roads and bridges, and they failed to do anything about our stagnant economy. They did nothing substantial to confront our growing skilled worker shortage. Despite another damning audit and scandalous headlines, they didn’t do anything to restore public confidence in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). And they neglected to bring together all the affected stakeholders to work on a balanced proposal to manage our groundwater resources for everyone who relies on them.
All in all, then, I’d have to give this legislative session a grade of “Incomplete,” because the legislative majority party failed to deal with so many of the challenges Wisconsinites really care about. We need to return to our traditional values – clean and open government that works for the people, and not just moneyed special interests. We need to take seriously the plight of middle class families who are falling behind faster in Wisconsin than in any other state. We need to rebuild our roads and reignite our stalled economy. Those are the values that my Democratic colleagues and I will continue to fight for, now and in the future.