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Northwoods Political Digest

October 11, 2019

State Senate gives unanimous support to bills to help vulnerable citizens

The Wisconsin state Senate gave unanimous support this week to four bills to help protect vulnerable citizens, including to help victims of sexual assault, stop sex trafficking, protect homeless teens, and stop the diabetes epidemic.

“I’m proud to author these important bills which help protect the vulnerable in Wisconsin,” said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), a leading proponent of the legislation. “They will help make our state safer and healthier.”

One bill would allow 17-year-olds from broken homes or living on the streets to find shelter and a safe place to sleep. According to the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse, one out of every three homeless teens is recruited for sex trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home. 

Having a safe place to sleep would greatly increase the chances of that student finishing high school and may help protect them from sex trafficking, Darling said. 

A second bill would help train truck drivers in identifying sex trafficking. All 72 counties in Wisconsin have reported incidents of human trafficking. The bill, authored by State Sen. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee, would help train truck drivers to recognize and report the signs of human trafficking. 

A third bill would create the Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Tracking System. The system would allow victims of sexual assault to track the location and status of their rape kit. 

Finally, a fourth bill would require the Department of Health Services and the Employee Trust Fund to create a Diabetes Action Plan for Wisconsin. The plan will recommend ways to reduce the impact of diabetes in the state.

Evers declares Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Wisconsin

Gov. Tony Evers, joined by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, signed Executive Order #50 this week, declaring the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Wisconsin. 

The executive order was signed on Tuesday at Indian Community School in Franklin.

In the executive order, Evers recognized the importance of the Native Nations to Wisconsin and reaffirmed the significance of Native Nations’ sovereignty, culture, and history.

“Through this executive order, we recognize and appreciate our tribal nations and Indigenous people and their resilience, wisdom, and the contributions they make to our state,” Evers said. “Native Americans in Wisconsin and throughout our country have suffered unjust treatment — often at the hands of our government — and today is about recognizing that Wisconsin would not be all that it is without Indigenous people.”

Barnes said the state seeks to recognize and honor Indigenous communities while moving beyond a dated practice that perpetuates inaccurate teachings and honors genocide.

“The story of Wisconsin’s Indigenous people has long been one of resistance and resilience,” he said. “In the coming years, our administration will work to ensure that story evolves into one that includes respect and justice.”

Both Evers and Barnes, through the executive order, strongly encourage Wisconsin businesses, organizations, public institutions, and local governments to be in solidarity with indigenous people by recognizing, celebrating and cultivating strong relationships with Wisconsin Native Nations.

Hemp bill passes Senate

Those participating in Wisconsin’s burgeoning hemp industry scored a win this week with the passage of the Growing Opportunities Act through the state Senate.

The bill, authored by Sens. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) and Reps. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) and Dave Considine (D-Baraboo), would transition Wisconsin’s hemp pilot program into a permanent one — a move made possible by the passage of the 2018 federal farm bill last December.

“Hemp is Wisconsin’s comeback crop,” said Testin. “This bill works to build confidence at every level of the hemp industry. Farmers, processors, retailers, and customers need to have a reasonable regulatory framework that ensures maximum opportunity and safety.”

In 2019, over 1,400 farmers applied for grower’s licenses from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), up from 250 in year one. The number of hemp processor applications also grew exponentially, from around 100 to nearly 700. 

Kurtz, a certified organic farmer, holds one of the growing licenses and planted hemp for the first time this year.

“Hemp gives farmers the opportunity to diversify,” Kurtz said. “That’s especially important when commodity prices are low. I believe that with the right framework, Wisconsin can and will be a national leader in hemp production. That’s something we can all support.”

Considine, a former livestock farmer, agreed that now is the time to make Wisconsin’s hemp program permanent.

“The Growing Opportunities Act will ensure that Wisconsin’s hemp program continues to be managed right here in Wisconsin,” said Considine. “That’s important to me, and I know it’s important to the hundreds of farmers across the state who are investing their time, money, and effort in this crop.”

Sen. Lena Taylor, a Milwaukee Democrat, points out that hemp is providing opportunities for people in every corner of the state.

“Hemp is providing opportunities for rural and urban entrepreneurs alike, and many of my constituents are emerging as leaders in this industry,” Taylor said. “Americans already consume millions of imported hemp products. That’s money that can and should be spent here in our state of Wisconsin, and my city of Milwaukee.”

Now that the Growing Opportunities Act has passed the Senate, it must now pass the Assembly, where it had a hearing earlier this month.

Health insurance for fallen officers’ families clears Senate

The State Senate passed two bills this week authored by Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) that would provide health insurance coverage for the surviving members of police officers killed in the line of duty, and another that makes it easier to develop new wetlands.

“When a police officer loses his or her life in the line of duty, it has many devastating effects on the family and the community,” said Wanggaard. “Making sure the officer’s family doesn’t lose their health insurance coverage is the least we can do. I am so pleased my colleagues have unanimously supported our police officers by adopting Senate Bill 266.”

Another bill that passed the Senate would incentivize the creation of wetlands and require the new wetlands to be developed closer to where existing wetlands were disturbed. In addition to making it easier to develop new wetlands, the bill also requires new wetlands to be in the same area as the disturbed wetland.

“With all our economic growth in Wisconsin, we need to make sure we take care of our environment, too,” Wanggaard said. “Senate Bill 169 will allow us to develop responsibly, and also protect our vital wetlands.”

Kaul praises passage of sexual assault kit legislation

Wisconsin attorney general Josh Kaul today praised the unanimous passage of sexual assault kit legislation in the Senate.

“I applaud the members of the state Senate for recognizing the importance of preventing another backlog of untested sexual assault kits,” Kaul said. “The next step is for the Assembly Committee on Health to hold a hearing. I ask the members of that committee to take this legislation up without delay.”

Under current law, Kaul says, there is no clear statutory procedure for the collection and processing of sexual assault kits. This lack of a standard process has resulted in thousands of kits not being submitted to the state crime laboratory for testing until recent state and national efforts. The proposed legislation creates procedures that will prevent a backlog in the future.

Under the bill, when a health care professional collects sexual assault evidence, a victim will have the choice to report to law enforcement or not. If the victim chooses not to report to law enforcement, the health care professional will send the kit to the state crime laboratories for storage within 72 hours. 

The crime lab will then store the kit for up to 10 years, or until the victim decides to report to law enforcement. This feature of the bill provides the sexual assault survivor with options in the event they change their mind about reporting.

If a victim does choose to report to law enforcement, under the proposed legislation the health care professional will notify law enforcement within 24 hours after collecting the sexual assault kit. The law enforcement agency then has 72 hours to collect the kit from the health care professional, and then 14 days to send the kit to the state crime laboratories for analysis.

The bill would also enable the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) to collect valuable information on sexual assault kits to better inform future evidence-based analysis and policy making.


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