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Northwoods Political Digest

September 20, 2019

Evers announces more than 60 new assistant attorney positions

Gov. Tony Evers this week announced more than 60 new assistant district attorney positions throughout Wisconsin in what he calls the largest state investment in the district attorney program in the state’s history and the first new full-time GPR-funded positions created for the program by the state in more than 10 years. 

These positions were allocated throughout the state based on requests made by the county district attorneys, with 56 Wisconsin counties receiving a total of 64.95 new positions, the governor said.

However, Oneida and Vilas counties will not share in the bounty; neither will receive any of the new positions. Still, Evers touted his plan.

“For far too long our county district attorney offices have been doing more with less,” he said. “This historic investment will enable our county officials to improve victims services, enhance diversion and treatment options for those struggling with substance use disorders, and address backlogs that are standing in the way of justice. District attorneys are on the front-line of the criminal justice system and we can’t make the critical changes needed to reform our criminal justice system in Wisconsin if our county district attorney offices are overworked and understaffed.”

However, state Rep. John Nygren said he was disappointed because Evers was again choosing Milwaukee and Madison at the expense of the rest of the state.

The budget passed by the Legislature utilized a Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) needs assessment when determining how to allocate new prosecutor positions, Nygren said, adding that the governor vetoed the county-by-county allocation for 35 of 65 new positions in the budget and instead allowed unelected bureaucrats to determine the distribution of new prosecutors.

“As rural Wisconsin continues to deal with the scourge of the opiate and methamphetamine epidemics, the best thing the governor could have done was leave the Legislature’s allocations alone,” he said. “The plan we passed as part of the budget came directly from a coalition of prosecutors who worked together for over a year using LAB’s needs assessment. Not only does the governor’s action ignore prosecutors around the state, it puts politics ahead of public safety.”

According to a Legislative Audit Bureau analysis, Milwaukee and Dane County district attorney offices are staffed at 115 percent and 85 percent for their respective workloads, Nygren said, which are among the highest in the state. Budget recommendations from the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association recommended zero new positions for these two counties.

“As passed, our budget provided much-needed personnel to the Fond du Lac, Monroe, Manitowoc, Marathon and Sheboygan County DA offices, whose staffing levels hovered around 60 percent or less for the workload,” he said. “Shockingly, the governor decided to slash a whole position from Monroe County, which currently has only 41 percent of the staff needed to meet its workload.”

Lawmakers introduce bill to update child safety seat laws

State Reps. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison) and Chris Taylor (D-Madison) have introduced legislation that they say would update Wisconsin’s statutes on child safety seats to ensure that state laws are not putting children and families at risk. 

Wisconsin currently allows children over one year old, or 20 pounds, to sit in a front-facing car seat, the lawmakers say. However, they say evidence and guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics clearly show keeping young children in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible, or until they are at least two years old, maximizes their safety and chances of surviving serious car crashes.

The proposed legislation would update the statutes to be in line with medical guidelines by requiring infants and toddlers be in a rear-facing car seat system until they are at least two years old and advising that children over age two can be rear-facing until they outgrow the height and weight requirements.

“I want to do everything I can to protect my daughter and all the young babies of Wisconsin,” Tusler said. “It is an undisputed fact that children under two years old are safer in rear facing car seats. I’ll be putting my daughter in a rear facing car seat car seat until she is at least two and I think you should too.”

Infants and toddlers under three have the highest number of deaths from crashes each year, Taylor said.

“Many of these injuries and deaths can be prevented by proper use of car seats, boosters, and seat belts, but it’s confusing for parents when our statutes say one thing, but their pediatrician says another,” Taylor said. “This simple bill updates our statutes, not only to alleviate this confusion, but to save the lives of our youngest kids, and to give parents the safest, most accurate information.”

WDC: Insurance industry supports time cut for policy notices

The insurance industry is backing bills that would cut from 60 days to 45 days the amount of advanced notice that insurers are required to give policy holders about premium increases, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The measures were introduced by GOP Sen. Dave Craig, of Big Bend, and GOP Rep. Mary Felzkowski, of Irma, who owns an insurance company — CIS Insurance Group in Tomahawk, WDC states.

Current law requires insurers who offer to renew policies on less favorable terms or with a premium increase of at least 25 percent to notify policyholders about the new terms or the increased premium at least 60 days prior to the policy’s renewal date.

The bills would reduce the 60-day time frame to 45 days for personal property and casualty policies. The bills have bipartisan support, with the following Democrats as co-sponsors: Sens. Janet Bewley, of Mason; Patricia Schachtner, of Somerset; and Rep. Steve Doyle, of Onalaska.

WDC says insurance giants American Family, State Farm, and Sentry, as well as industry trade and lobbying groups like the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, are backing the bills.

The insurance industry gave more than $1.9 million in individual, corporate, and political action committee (PAC) contributions to current legislators between January 2011 and July 2018, WDC states. More than $1.5 million, or about 80 percent, of those contributions went to Republicans who control the Assembly and Senate.

Alzheimer’s Association supports legislation for family caregivers

The Alzheimer’s Association Wisconsin chapter is supporting two pieces of legislation being introduced by state Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Rep. Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin) to aid family caregivers in Wisconsin. 

The Wisconsin Credit for Caring Act would provide a tax credit for family caregivers, helping to shrink the burden of often devastating costs associated with being a family caregiver. 

The second piece of legislation, The Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, would ensure that family caregivers are given accurate and updated information on issues such as medication management when their loved one is released from the hospital or discharged to another facility.

“Alzheimer’s disease is the most expensive disease in America,” says Michael Bruhn, state director of public policy for the Alzheimer’s Association Wisconsin chapter. “For those individuals who wish to remain at home, the costs for their families can be overwhelming. The Wisconsin Credit for Caring Act and The CARE Act are important pieces of legislation that can empower family caregivers both financially and emotionally to be able to provide a better quality of life while maintaining the independence of their loved one in their own home.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2019 Facts and Figures Report, the total lifetime cost of care for someone with dementia was estimated at $350,174 in 2018 dollars. The costs associated with family care make up 70 percent of lifetime dementia care costs, or upwards of $245,000. 

Costs most closely identified with supporting a family member who lives at home include transportation, respite care, home modifications, skilled care services, home health aides, and assistive technology,  that association states.

“These monetary estimates don’t even include the additional expense to a family caregiver who has lost income through reduced wages, or taken early retirement in order to care for a family member,” Bruhn said. “Historically, caregivers also experience their own increased health concerns and costs associated with the high stress of long-term caregiving. For many families, it amounts to a financial avalanche.”

Baldwin warns against pharmaceutical mergers

In light of ongoing consolidation in the pharmaceutical sector, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin has joined her Senate colleagues in calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to closely scrutinize pharmaceutical mergers that could increase prescription drug prices and reduce patient access to needed medications.

In a letter to FTC chairman Joseph Simons led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the senators raised concerns about the potential impact of these proposed transactions on pharmaceutical innovation and the potential harm to consumers that may come from the increased negotiating leverage of merging companies. 

The senators also urged the FTC to take all necessary steps to ensure that the terms of any consent decrees under which pharmaceutical mergers are allowed to proceed are effective in addressing threats to competition.

“The past several years have seen a steady increase in mergers and acquisitions across our economy, and the pharmaceutical sector is no exception,” the senators wrote. “This industry consolidation is occurring against a backdrop of ever rising prescription drug spending and reports that one in four people taking prescription drugs have difficulty affording their medication.”

It is more important than ever that the FTC take appropriate action to protect consumers, the senators continued: “The Federal Trade Commission must carefully consider whether the proposed transactions may lessen competition, stifle innovation, or harm consumers.”

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