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News & Press: Legislative Updates

Assembly health committee signs off on suicide prevention training, other health bills

Thursday, October 31, 2019  
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October 31, Wisconsin Health News

Lawmakers on the Assembly Committee on Health signed off on a slew of bills Wednesday, including a measure that would require providers to undergo additional training for suicide prevention. 

The plan, recommended by the Speaker’s Task Force on Suicide Prevention, would require doctors, psychologists, social workers, counselors and marriage and family therapists to complete two hours of continuing education on suicide prevention. Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc, said the measure is needed given a rise in the number of suicide deaths in the state.

“All we are asking is... two hours out of an entire career for suicide prevention,” Kurtz said Wednesday. “That’s a Lifetime movie.”

Doctors and social workers pushed back at a hearing Tuesday, arguing the bill would set a precedent for the Legislature to mandate more disease-specific and condition-specific carve-outs from their required continuing medical education hours.

Lawmakers also greenlit a proposal Wednesday allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills. 

Rep. Chuck Wichgers, R-Muskego, who opposed the bill, said the number of babies born in the state is decreasing. Therefore, lawmakers shouldn’t advance a measure that would further decrease that number, he said.

Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, said she's worried about increasing the scope of practice for pharmacists without more discussion. 

Bill author Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, dismissed both concerns. 

“A lot of times we have rules and regulation in place, and we do it originally to protect society,” she said. “And then I think it gets to the point where a lot of professions want to start boxing people out.” 

Felzkowksi also said that no one is trying to decrease the population in the state.

“We are just giving people the tools to have those families and plan those families when it makes not only sense for them mentally to have those children, but financially also,” she said.

In addition, the committee advanced legislation establishing a scholarship program for Marquette University School of Dentistry students who practice in rural areas. Gov. Tony Evers partially vetoed a similar measure in the budget.

The bill would award up to five scholarships of $75,000 a year.

Rep. Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa, voted for the proposal but voiced concern over the bill’s price tag and that it wouldn’t do enough to impact the state’s underserved population. 

“We are in a crisis situation,” she said. “And I think when people are in crisis, we need to try things, and this is on the table. I have some concerns, but I do think it’s worth trying.”

Other bills approved by the committee would:

  • Require the Department of Health Services to implement a suicide prevention program.
  • Make permanent Wisconsin’s participation in a compact allowing doctors to more easily practice across state lines.
  • Allow advanced practice providers working with doctors to make the determination that activates an advance directive or power of attorney.
  • Expand an educational loan repayment program to providers who work at free and charitable clinics. An amendment passed by the committee would exclude clinics that provide abortion services.
  • Increase awareness of tick-borne diseases, like Lyme disease, by creating a study committee to recommend policy changes and establishing an annual awareness campaign.