By Penny Barnard-Schaber
Here we are entering the New Year of 2015. January is always an exciting time for me because I am able to look forward to the upcoming year while also taking time to reflect on the past year. January holds many hopes and expectations for all of us. We probably all hope for peace and success in 2015, but we expect that these hopes will not occur on their own; they will take some effort and require patience.
Looking ahead to the legislative session in Madison, I also have hopes and expectations that I would like to share with you. The newly elected state legislature will be inaugurated on January 5, 2015. That is a very exciting day for legislators at all stages of their careers. Those just beginning are very excited and quite nervous, those in the middle of their careers are a little less excited and nervous while those who have many years in office may be excited for new opportunities to make changes, or they may be very frustrated with a system that limits their input and limits opportunities to be productive.
The way the state legislature is set up allows for the majority party to be in full control of the legislative calendar; they set up of the committees and the legislative agenda. The Speaker of the Assembly and the Majority Leader of the Senate basically have control of what does or does not happen in the upcoming legislative session. It is up to them to guide the state through many important decisions. This is a big responsibility regardless of the party in control of the state legislature.
My hope is that the state legislature will be able to work together to address many of the concerns and issues we face in Wisconsin where we have a history of standing up for strong and ethical government that addresses the needs of everyone in our great state. Wisconsin is well known for pulling together and working to create opportunities for a better life for everyone. I hope that the new state legislature does this in 2015-2016.
I expect that the legislative agenda will be very different than that. Here are a few things that I expect to be addressed by the state legislature this year:
The Government Accountability Board (GAB) seems to be a target for “reform” by the majority party. The GAB was created in 2008 through state law, 2007 Act 1; it is charged with oversight of our campaign finance, elections, ethics and lobbying laws. The GAB came about because of what became known as the “Caucus Scandals” in 1999 through 2005 when campaign work was being done in the Capitol and violations of ethics and elections laws were occurring. (For a full chronological discussion of the Caucus Scandals check out Democracy Campaign’s website, http://www.wisdc.org/wdc_caucus_scandal.php)
The GAB is not perfect and can be improved, but it should not be dismantled or drastically changed. Here is what Ohio State University Professor Daniel P. Tokaji said about the GAB in 2010: “The best American model is Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, which consists of retired judges selected in a way that is designed to promote impartiality.” Professor Tokaji followed up in 2013 with a draft paper titled “America’s Top Model: The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.”
I hope that the state legislature takes the time to carefully assess and study the GAB and its role and function before it makes major changes to it.
I hope that our state legislature focuses on making our state stronger, not on making it like other states. The referenda that passed in the November 4 election should give some guidance to our state legislature. Several referenda passed in many parts of the state with wide margins of support. The referenda show that the people of Wisconsin want to earn a living wage for the work they do. They want to take the influence of money out of politics. They want Wisconsin to accept the funds available for expanding Medical Assistance to more people who do not currently have health insurance because they do not qualify for BadgerCare and because they cannot afford to buy health insurance. (For more information on the Medical Assistance referenda check out this link: http://www.citizenactionwi.org/strong_mandate_federal_funds)
What I expect to see in Madison is more of the same: pretending to listen while doing something quite different. It is very interesting that the three referenda mentioned above passed in many areas across the state, but the Republicans who were elected indicated publicly that they did not and will not support the referenda. It is difficult to understand this puzzle: the people indicated what they wanted and then they voted for the candidates who do not support it. This is a puzzle. I expect to see more puzzles like this in the state legislature throughout 2015-2016.
Here is another thing to hope for in 2015-2016: Let’s hope that Wisconsin continues to be a leader in advanced manufacturing, with many small and highly skilled manufacturing businesses right here in the Fox Valley. Business leaders in this area know that when their subsidiaries or other companies have difficult projects to complete, they often come to Wisconsin to get those jobs done. They come here because of the strong work ethic and high level of competency demonstrated by the area workers.
I expect to see a push from the majority party to make Wisconsin a “Right to Work” state. This is very worrisome because many states that are currently “Right to Work” states have some of the highest levels of poverty, poor education and increased dependence on government assistance.
Business leaders in Wisconsin have recognized this and have formed a coalition of 300 businesses that are joining together to oppose the push toward “Right to Work.” (See this article in the Milwaukee BizTimes for more information: http://www.biztimes.com/article/20141217/BREAKINGNEWS/141219798/0/MAGAZINE)
We live in a great state, a state that historically worked in such a fashion that the state as a whole benefited and acted as a leader in our country. I hope that this tradition continues in the New Year of 2015. I expect that many of you have that same hope.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org