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News & Press: Legislative & Policy Updates

Legislative & Political Update, December 2019

Thursday, December 12, 2019  
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AJ Wilson & Greg Hubbard,  Hubbard Wilson Zelenkova LLC

Legislative News

The state legislature had its most active period thus far in the 2019-2020 legislative session during the fall months.   The Speaker’s Taskforce on Suicide Prevention recommended several bills for introduction, many of which have already passed the Assembly.  Additional bills related to mental health issues were introduced while others received no action.   The legislature attempted, but failed, to override the Governor’s veto of a provision included in the legislature’s version of the state budget that provided $15 million for psychiatric beds in an Eau Claire County hospital.  This proposal was also introduced as stand alone legislation (discussed below). 

The Department of Health Services announced Medicaid rate increases for several psychiatric and related services.   These increases were submitted to the Joint Finance Committee for passive review.  The committee has until December 20th to accept or raise objection.  Several psychiatric services will receive a 33% reimbursement increase if approved.  Read more

The Emergency Psych task force met with the Attorney General’s office in September and led a break out session at the Attorney General’s Summit on Emergency Detention on Medical Clearance Process Improvements at the end of October.   The group (Dr. Thrasher and Dr. Repplinger, ER physician) also met with the WI Sheriffs Association to discuss shared issues and concerns.

Highlights of Proposed Legislation

AB 526/SB 520 requires all continuing medical education to include two hours of instruction on suicide prevention.  The bill was amended to require it only once for a physician.   The bill passed the Assembly but no action thus far in the Senate. Wisconsin Medical Society has been actively opposed arguing that the Medical Examining Board should make these determinations.

AB 573/SB 540 – “Red Flag Law” – this bill covers two subjects – Extreme Risk Protection Orders and Universal Background Checks for gun purchases.   The Governor called a special session to take up such legislation but the Legislature did not move forward.  This bill, that was introduced prior to the special session call, is authored by Rep. Sargent and Sen. Taylor.  No legislative action is expected. 

AB 443/SB 405 creates a $15 million grant to an Eau Claire County hospital to fund an expansion of psychiatric bed capacity.   This bill provision was included in the budget that passed the legislature but was vetoed by the Governor.  Further, legislative republicans attempted to override the governor’s budget veto but failed.  If this bill is passed, it will likely be vetoed again.

AB 433/SB 392 requires DHS to award grants totaling $5 million to regional crisis stabilization facilities for adults based on criteria established by DHS established in five regions of the state.  While this bill has bipartisan support, it is unlikely to move this session. 

AB 633/SB 565 expressly provides that a law enforcement agency may contract with another law enforcement agency, an ambulance service provider, or a third-party vendor to transport an individual for emergency detention. Additionally, this bill creates a mechanism for these transport services to be reimbursed by the Medicaid program if the individual who is being transported is a Medicaid recipient.  This bill is at the request of the Wisconsin Sheriffs Association and was shared with the Emergency Psych taskforce prior to introduction. 

Political News

A special election will be held for the 7th Congressional District seat vacated by Sean Duffy (R).  The seat leans republican and because it will have to be defended again in November 2020, democrats have not made it a priority despite success in recent special elections.   The primary will take place on December 30 and the general is scheduled for January 27th.   On the Republican side, current State Senator Tom Tiffany, Jason Church, a retired Army captain and current staffer for US Senator Ron Johnson, and Michael Opela, a hobby farmer, will face off.   On the Democratic side, Lawrence Dale, a businessman who actually lives in Michigan and Tricia Zunker, the Wausau School Board president and associate justice in the Ho Chunk nation will compete.  

In the 5th Congressional District to replace the retiring Jim Sensenbrenner, current Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald appears to have cleared the field in this heavy GOP district. (This is also significant because it pretty much guarantees there will be a new Senate Majority Leader next session.)  Fitzgerald at present is expected to face Tom Palzewicz, a Waukesha County democrat.  

The most significant political news on the local level at present is that Chris Abele announced he will not run for reelection as Milwaukee County Executive this spring.   Several candidates have announced their interest or intention to run including: David Crowley (current state representative), Chris Larson (current state senator), Theo Lipscomb (Milwaukee Co. Supervisor and Board Chair), and Jim Sullivan (former state senator and current Milwaukee County child support services director).