The State Senate recently wrapped up its fall session, moving forward a number of reforms and measures that address important issues and streamline government regulations. One of the highlights of the fall session was a series of roundtables held around the state by the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Commerce to receive input directly from small businesses, employers, and those involved in economic development. I was pleased to be part of this effort and to secure a roundtable in Menomonie to provide an opportunity for western Wisconsin to provide input on economic development initiatives. As a result of those roundtable discussions, several ideas and suggestions are being developed into legislation that will be considered as the legislative session continues.
Another top priority that moved forward this fall was a second package of bills to address our state’s heroin epidemic. Following up on the progress made in the last legislative session, I have authored legislation with Representative John Nygren to improve oversight of highly addictive prescription drugs, which are frequently a gateway for young people into illegal drugs. Working with stakeholders to develop solutions that will save lives and prevent addiction, the HOPE 2.0 bills have all been unanimously approved by legislative committees this fall. Along with the heroin epidemic, the State Legislature has sought proposals in recent sessions to respond to the need for improved mental health services. This effort continued this fall with the passage of Senate Bill 293 (SB 293) that creates pilot projects on behavioral health care and psychiatric care. SB 293 was passed last month by the State Senate on a unanimous 30-0 vote.
The State Legislature has also been seeking ideas and solutions to reduce bureaucratic red tape and make it easier for Wisconsin residents to work with our state government. One of the ongoing points of focus is reducing barriers for those seeking to enter the workforce or start a business in Wisconsin. I was the author of one of these initiatives in the State Senate that seeks to adopt the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact in Wisconsin. Given the input I received from physicians and hospital administrators in our area, I brought forward this legislation to make it easier for physicians to obtain licensure to practice across state lines. This legislation seeks to increase the pool of physicians that hospitals and clinics can draw from, particularly in our border communities, while improving access to health care and specialists in rural areas.
The State Legislature also advanced several bills that I have authored based upon suggestions and ideas I have received from residents in our area. Senate Bill 153 was brought to my attention by a veterans’ organization in New Richmond and allows law enforcement to donate abandoned vehicles to charity. Senate Bill 160 updates state law relating to the use of oxygen tubing and was suggested by a nursing home resident in River Falls. Based upon concerns raised by ambulance providers in Pierce County, Senate Bill 210 eliminates hurdles for first responders from a neighboring state in responding to calls for mutual aid during emergencies in Wisconsin. All three of these bills received final approval and were signed into law this fall.
One of the bills that received much attention this fall related to reorganizing the Government Accountability Board (GAB). The legislation relating to the GAB will bring greater transparency and accountability to the administration of our elections and ethics laws and will help ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to prevent abuses. I worked with the bill’s authors to ensure that the ethics board will function and be a working board by including retired judges, similar to the role that retired election clerks will serve on the elections board. This legislation, as amended, is intended to preserve confidence in our elections and ethics laws.