Eight Wisconsin State Legislators gathered for a panel at the September 20th Eggs & Issues Legislative breakfast at the Lismore Hotel. They were asked an array of questions regarding political matters arising in the Wisconsin Capitol. The discussion largely centered around the shortage of labor in the workforce, but questions regarding regional mental health beds and bipartisanship were addressed as well. The Legislative panel included Senator Kathy Bernier (R-23), Senator Jeff Smith (D-31), Representative Jesse James (R-68), Representative Bob Kulp (R-69), Representative Romaine Quinn (R-75), Representative Jodi Emerson (D-91), Representative Treig Pronschinske (R-92) and Representative Warren Petryk (R-93).
The panel first addressed workforce shortage, particularly in the medical and manufacturing fields. One way that the Legislators are hoping to fix this issue is by implementing Assembly Bill 72. This 230-word bill would require the Department of Workforce Development to include all 16 specific occupational areas, also known as "career clusters," for the Youth Apprenticeship Program. The DWD currently includes these specific 16 clusters in their Career and Technical Education Programming, but is not technically required to include them.
The gathered legislators lauded AB 72 as an important step to encourage students to stay in Wisconsin, Representative Petryk noting that 92% of those who take on an apprenticeship will stay in the area they worked. Within the last few Legislative sessions many improvements have been made to make the process of becoming an apprentice easier, Representative Quinn emphasized that “they’ve worked for these initiatives because we cannot afford to lose the kids we have and this is a perfect way to do so.”
Another topic discussed was the need for higher supply of nurse education. This issue goes hand-in-hand with the issue of workforce shortage mentioned above. The issue is that the demand for nurses is high, but the supply of educators to support this demand is low not allowing for an increase of employee development within the medical field. Representatives Smith and James concluded that this is simply how the labor market will operate under current wage offerings, saying “it’s clear that nurse educators aren’t making nearly as much as those practicing nursing in a hospital,' adding that it is really only fair for nurses to be practicing and being compensated at the level they’re being trained at. The Legislators agreed that having a sufficient supply of nursing professionals is one step in creating a well-rounded Wisconsin, but “Unfortunately," said Representative Kulp, "this may not be an issue government can fix right now.”
The next question asked to the panel asked under what circumstances would the legislators support lifting the 8-year tuition freeze for in-state students at UW System schools. It was noted that the freeze has not been funded and has caused universities to fall further in debt, but has also benefited students already struggling to pay the costs of higher education. According to Representative Smith, “Wisconsin now has a governor that’s upholding the freeze with full intentions to fund it.” Senator Bernier explains, “The government treats all universities equally, where in actuality, only some UW schools, UW-Eau Claire being one, have legitimately tried to carry out innovative initiatives where others have not.” With that, Senator Bernier sees it important that Legislators work to lift the freeze then limit the actions universities are able to take. Representatives Kulp, Quinn and Pronschinske, see that universities need to make innovative improvements before they’d allow the freeze to be lifted. Whereas, Representative Emerson believes “We are putting politics over education, and if we don’t work to fund this freeze, we’ll have to lift it.” Each Legislator agreed that student debt is high but the steps they want to take to fix this differed.
Another current area of concern is the need for more crisis mental health beds in hospital. This would allow patients to not have to be transported to other parts of the state. The governor vetoed funding for the bill that'd establish beds in the Chippewa Valley; the Legislators were asked if they were optimistic about a solution to this. Of the Legislators at Eggs & Issues, Senator Bernier displayed the most confidence in finding a solution and has been working hard to do so. The committee that Senator Bernier is working with found that the government investment in mental health beds would save law enforcement and county government in the 29 counties that this initiative would serve around $2.7 million a year which is a six-year payback. Senator Bernier believes that many of her colleagues are having hesitation on this investment because it wouldn’t be directly helping their own counties. This was the reason that Representative Emerson said she did not sign on, she saw it directly targeting one medical system and wanted more open government put into this decision.
Left to right: Reps. Warren Petryk, Treig Pronschinske, Jodi Emerson, Romaine Quinn, Bob Kulp, and Jesse James;
Sens. Jeff Smith and Kathy Bernier; Moderator Jennifer McHugh, Royal Credit Union (Chair, Chamber Govt Affairs Committee)
View from the stage: From a Facebook post by Rep. Bob Kulp
Lastly, the panel was asked to discuss the issue of bipartisanship found in the Wisconsin Capitol with a democratic governor and a republican led Legislation. The Legislators in the panel all saw this to be a serious issue. Representative Kulp notes that “It’s definitely a different environment,” and Senator Bernier agrees with this and adds that policy making is slowed down dramatically because of the split. Even with this ever present bipartisanship, the Legislators all emphasized that they need to work together to better Wisconsin as a whole not just for their own party. Representative Smith emphasized that as Legislators, they have the choice to continue using the adopted term “split-government”. He goes on to say “We all have to do the best we can to start changing the term to "shared-government" because that’s what’s expected of us.”
Join us for our next Eggs & Issues on Friday, Oct 18 from 7-8:30 a.m. at The Florian Gardens Conference Center. With the City of Eau Claire in the midst of considering its 2020 operating budget, the next Chamber breakfast will welcome in Finance Director Jay Winzenz. Winzenz will provide clarity on how city finances work and what goes into creating a balanced budget. Click here for more information and to register.
Workforce development concerns area Legislators (Leader-Telegram)
Lawmakers revive hope for Chippewa Valley mental health expansion (WQOW News 18)
Wisconsin Legislature Website (contact information for local legislators)
Posted by Amy Oldenburg, Legislative Intern
Eau Claire Chamber
The Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,200 members.