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Northwoods Political Digest

August 23, 2019

Hemp bill passes state Senate agriculture committee unanimously

Hemp as a Wisconsin crop took another step forward this week as members of the state Senate Committee on Agriculture, Revenue, and Financial Institutions voted unanimously for both the Growing Opportunities Act and its amendment, which were authored by Sens. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) and Reps. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) and Dave Considine (D-Baraboo).

The legislation transitions Wisconsin’s hemp pilot program into a permanent program with oversight by the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Inaction following the passage of the 2018 federal farm bill would have meant the program would eventually fall under the direction of the United States Department of Agriculture. Additionally, the lawmakers state, the amendment makes some changes to the original bill’s OWI provisions, causing law enforcement organizations to move from opposing the bill to a neutral stance.

“As we move forward, it’s important that Wisconsin manage its own program,” Testin said. “Wisconsin is poised to be a national leader in hemp production, and we want to do all we can to encourage that. I’ve enjoyed working with stakeholders from across the state, including law enforcement, to craft a bill that works for everyone.”

Kurtz, who grows organic hemp on his Juneau County farm, agreed.

“I’m very encouraged by the unanimous, bipartisan support for this bill in the Senate’s agriculture committee,” he said. “I’m confident that this bill will continue to move forward.”

Wisconsin is the home to both indoor and outdoor cultivation of hemp, which Taylor pointed out creates opportunities throughout the state.

“Technology has enabled hemp cultivation, production, and product development to occur in rural and urban areas,” Taylor said. “Urban communities can be drivers for this industry, and Milwaukee has a definite role to play. This vote is a step in the right direction.”

WILL suggests improvements to UW free speech policy

Attorneys from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) submitted public comment Monday to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, applauding their new campus free speech policies but suggesting particular modifications to safeguard the First Amendment rights of all. 

The UW Board of Regents is currently in the process of codifying elements of their campus free speech policy, first introduced in 2017 in response to campus disruptions like the one that occurred at a Ben Shapiro speech at UW-Madison.

While WILL attorneys Rick Esenberg, Luke Berg, and Anthony LoCoco said they were generally supportive of the campus free speech policy crafted by the UW Board of Regents, they asked the board to consider modifications that will provide clarity for students and faculty, preserve discretion, and safeguard the First Amendment. 

In particular, WILL suggests amending three elements of the board’s proposed rule making.

First, WILL opposes mandatory sanctions against students for violating the campus free speech policy. The rule making outlined by the Board of Regents proposes to require suspending a student after two violations and expulsion after the third. 

“The difficulty of balancing the right of legitimate — and nondisruptive — protest with protecting the right of speakers to be free from physical disruption suggests a greater degree of discretion in the selection and imposition of sanctions,” WILL’s comment stated.

To safeguard First Amendment rights, WILL is also asking the board to add “clear and narrow” definitions of what conduct can be sanctioned. 

“Efforts to protect speech ought not to provide opportunities to suppress constitutionally protected speech offered in response,” the comment stated.

Finally, WILL suggests incorporating specific language clarifying, in particular, that “Criticism — or the expression of an opinion that some find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive — does not constitute interference with the expressive rights of those who disagree with that criticism or opinion.”

“We are pleased to see the UW Board of Regents addressing the real and growing threat to free speech on campus,” WILL president Rick Esenberg said. “But any policy must tread carefully and balance the First Amendment rights of all speakers and all points of view. With these modifications, the UW Board of Regents can better accomplish that goal.”

Assembly Republicans call for veto override on mental health care initiatives

A group of Republican state representatives are calling on Gov. Tony Evers to prioritize the mental health needs of the state of Wisconsin.

As such, Reps. Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc), Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin), John Jagler (R-Watertown), Romaine Quinn (R-Barron), Pat Snyder (R-Schofield) and Nancy VanderMeer (R-Tomah) want to override Evers’s vetoes of GOP mental health care initiatives.

The legislators claim the governor has repeatedly shown his lack of support for mental health care with his multiple budget vetoes. Although he says Wisconsin needs to expand welfare and accept federal Medicaid dollars, putting more people on welfare, he isn’t willing to spend the money the legislature invested to care for the mental health needs of people already on it, the lawmakers said.

“Gov. Evers is turning his back on the mental health needs of our state,” Tittl said. “He chose to veto roughly $30 million the Legislature directed to mental health care. He vetoed another $30 million that could have been used to improve access to mental, behavioral, and substance abuse treatment and other health care in the state, saying the funding was unnecessary.”

Additionally, the governor vetoed $15 million in the capital budget that would have funded the establishment of a much needed mental health crisis center in northern Wisconsin, the lawmakers state. Instead, the governor redirected that money to a facility in Madison, they said, ignoring the needs of people in rural areas of the state.

“This project is vital to our community,” Quinn said. “The costs in time and resources for police officers to transport people in the middle of mental health crises to facilities on the opposite sides of the state are a major drag on the finances of northwest Wisconsin. These beds would be a major improvement for both law enforcement and mental health in our communities.”

Snyder said Republicans in the Legislature provided critically needed funds to improve mental health care in Wisconsin.

“Mental health reform is a priority for Assembly Republicans, and it should be a priority for all elected officials including the governor,” Snyder said.

Lawmaker: Speaker’s Task Force on Adoption envisions solutions 

State Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc) this week praised the progress of Speaker Robin Vos’s (R-Rochester) Taskforce on Adoption.

“We have received outstanding testimony and information at each of our hearings throughout the state thus far,” Dittrich said. “Personally, I am extremely grateful to all of the individuals and organizations that took the time to attend the hearings and testify in front of the committee, sharing their experience and expertise on this complex and difficult issue. In particular, I am thankful for all of the families who came and testified, telling us their personal stories of struggle and triumph as they sacrifice to improve the life of a child.”

Dittrich said many solid recommendations have been made by a variety of stakeholders throughout the process. 

“I feel confident that this task force will be able to conclude in September with viable bipartisan legislation to improve the process for our vulnerable children as well as their parents and foster parents,” she said. “I continue to invite individuals and families that have not had a chance to testify at these hearings to share their adoption stories, including the good and the bad, via the website for the Speaker’s Taskforce on Adoption https://legis.wisconsin.gov/2019/committees/assembly/adoption/share-your-story/contact/ or via e-mail [email protected]

While each individual case cannot be legislated, Dittrich said personal testimonies can help lawmakers gain a better understanding of roadblocks in the journey to successful permanency and how it can operate more effectively to help give children at risk the opportunity to thrive in a stable home.

The Speaker’s Taskforce on Adoption has one final public hearing scheduled on Wednesday, Aug. 28, to be held at noon on the campus of UW Platteville-Richland. A final informational hearing will be held in September prior to the Task Force assembling its legislative recommendations.

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