Legislative Update from Senator Lena Taylor

Joint Finance Committee Meetings Cancelled Over Education Dispute

As the ranking Democratic member of the state’s Joint Committee on Finance, I should have been sitting in committee this week. However, my Republican colleagues can’t agree on the direction our education plan should take, how much political self-interests should impact that direction, and what’s best for our state’s most valuable resource, our children. With pressing issues that include increased funding for special education, requiring additional voucher school accountability, restoring funding to the AODA grant program for schools, or increasing resources in the classroom, we need to get to busy.

Whether working to increase funding to critical non-traditional programs intended to deal with issues that impede far too many students’ academic outcomes, like mental health, trauma-informed service delivery, or bullying, the needs of Wisconsin’s most challenged students can’t continue to wait. As the representative of a senate district that houses some of the most challenged schools in the state, I know postponing this work is not an option. That is why I am working to introduce motions in the budget that will increase Poverty Aids to low performing or failing schools. With an appreciation for the trauma that many students can experience, to include parental divorce, drug use, domestic violence, or incidents of ancillary community violence, I am committed to working to wrap services around these students. Therefore, I am offering motions to ensure our children don’t receive Band-Aids but a get a cure for the services they need. Of course, we won’t all agree on every proposal or budget idea, but I think we can all agree that the committee needs to return to work.

Gun Safety Equals Community Safety

“Constitutional Carry” has become a phrase that garners a pretty emotional response, no matter who you talk with. The axiom refers to Senate Bill 169 (SB 169), a proposed bill that would remove requirements of both a permit and firearms training in order to carry a concealed firearm. Taking things a step further, school districts would be tasked with deciding if guns will be permitted on school grounds, because the bill also creates a new permit that allows gun owners to carry concealed guns on school property.

In a recent Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, I and my colleagues listened to scores of people testify, both in favor and against the proposal. It’s difficult to have the discussion and not be reminded of the Weston High School, Washington High School, and Wauwatosa West High School shootings, right here in Wisconsin as well as the national incidents of school shootings. Those for and against, argue the impact, either positive or negative that introducing guns into a school environment can make.

In response to the many concerns raised around firearms and gun safety over the years, I have put together a gun safety and accountability package aimed at making Wisconsin a safer place for everyone. The package includes proposed legislation that would improve standards for concealed carry by specifying that applicants must participate in at least eight hours of training; a “no fly, no buy” policy that prohibits anyone under suspicion of terrorist activity from purchasing a gun; micro-stamping laws so that we can link bullets found at crime scenes to the weapon that fired them, and requiring that concealed carry applicants have proof of general liability insurance of at least $800,000 to pay for any injury, death, or property damage that may arise from the gun holder’s careless use of the weapon.

Supporting the Mental Health of Our Students

As a part of our budget deliberations on education, it is refreshing to see a measure that has been introduced by the Walker administration to address the mental health needs of Wisconsin students. Specifically, there is $2,500,000 in Mental Health Collaboration Grants intended to allow for the establishment of a program that would screen children for early signs of mental health issues or concerns. According to research from the US Department of Health and Human services, for adolescents, ages 13 to 18, the lifetime prevalence of mental disorders severe enough to cause significant impairment in daily functioning is approximately 20%. Poor mental or emotional health can impact a student’s school attendance, perceived competence, concentration, academic achievement and graduation.

The grant is based on similar legislation passed by the Minnesota legislature nearly ten years ago. The irony is that even 10 years ago, Minnesota passed their legislation with twice the amount of funding currently being proposed in our current budget. Once again, Wisconsin is playing catch up. It is time to lead and set examples of our own by improving our mental health care initiatives and outcomes. Therefore, I am introducing budget motions to adequately fund this grant. We must ensure that our children don’t receive Band-Aids but a get a cure.

Correcting Corrections

We need to do more in Governor Walker’s budget to improve our corrections system and improve the outcomes for both youth and adults coming through out system. For years, whether through Legislative committees, national organizations, or key community stakeholders, recommendations have been made to reduce corrections costs, reduce recidivism and put formerly incarcerated residents on a path to becoming a productive citizen.

Therefore, in working on the budget, I am advocating for the state to adopt a series of Juvenile Justice Reinvestment recommendations put forth by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank based out of our nation’s Capital. Additionally, I am drafting motions to make our corrections system adhere to federal laws regarding the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) which will provide resources and funding to protect incarcerated individuals from sexual assault. Furthermore, I seek to prioritize residential space for youth who commit long term and violent crimes, and implement proven strategies in reducing the amount of young people from re-offending. My work includes advocating expansion of pre-court alternatives for juveniles, a strategy used in Utah that’s expected to reduce the number of juveniles in state custody tremendously. Wisconsin lags behind other states’ efforts to improve the corrections system and the current budget takes small steps to address big problems. It’s time we implement these recommendations and correct corrections.

Show Me the Money, or at Least a Job!

After six years of control, it is clear that Governor Walker’s job creation plan has failed the state of Wisconsin. The numbers came out this week and they don’t look good. Wisconsin has been below the national pace in creation of private sector jobs every year since Governor Walker’s first budget was passed (6 years ago!). In fact, prior to Governor Walker taking office, Wisconsin had been ahead of the national pace for 5 straight years. If we had maintained that direction, Wisconsin would have gained nearly 148,000 jobs by now.

Instead, Walker has chosen to narrowly focus on giving tax breaks to just the manufacturing and farming sectors. This strategy is not enough and has not generated the job growth badly needed across the state, particularly in Milwaukee. That is why this session, I am working with my colleagues on innovative ways to strengthen Wisconsin’s economy and create a diverse climate of employment opportunities. In that spirit, I am introducing a budget motion at the behest of Sen. Chris Larson to create a tax credit that will help businesses hire apprentices from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. I am also introducing a motion to create a forestry curriculum in high schools, enabling students to learn a valuable trade that is not only interesting and capable of helping our local environment, but that will also expose them to good family supporting jobs. We should be working on helping all sectors of our economy, not just the ones that benefit big business.

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on June 10, 2017

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