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  • Diversity of Opinion within our Profession

    by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

    Although many members expressed their appreciation for NASW WI’s strong support for the Wisconsin protests and in opposition to the budget repair bill, a few members disagreed.  One member wrote that our stance would make her consider dropping her NASW membership.     

    At a recent speaking engagement at the University of Wisconsin, Madison School of Social Work where I discussed bills such as the Voter ID bill, conceal carry legislation and the proposed 2011-2013 state budget, one attendee asked me whether NASW WI would support a dialogue about diverse opinions within the profession.   This attendee was a supporter of Governor Walker and the Voter ID bill, which NASW WI strongly opposes.     I invited this attendee to facilitate such a networking session at our annual conference. 

    When the issue of NASW WI’s legislative advocacy and political endorsements arise, I am sometimes asked how NASW WI makes a decision on these controversial issues.   First we look for guidance from Social Work Speaks.   Social Work Speaks is a booklet that includes NASW’s official policy statements as passed by the NASW Delegate Assembly.  The Delegate Assembly is an elected body from every NASW state chapter that meets every three years to determine the Association’s policies, long term goals, Code of Ethics and selected bylaws.   Social Work Speaks includes public and professional policy statements on 64 issues.

    Although chapters are not required to actively promote all the position statements in Social Work Speaks, they are not allowed to take a public position in opposition to Social Work Speaks.  

     We also look for guidance from the NASW Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics’ value of Social Justice and its Ethical Principle of “Social workers challenge social injustice” provide some guidance for our policy decision.  More specifically, Section Six of the NASW Code of Ethics, “Social Workers’ Ethical Responsibilities to the Broader Society” provides a basis for many of our policy decisions.  In a negative sense, periodically there are bills in the legislature that would violate provisions of the Code, including a bill that would allow health care professionals to neither serve nor make a referral for a client who requests a service the health care professional opposes for religious reasons.

    At the Wisconsin Chapter the Board of Directors has delegated authority to the Legislative/Social Policy committee for decisions on legislative bills.  However the board expects to be fully informed of decisions made by the LSP committee and could override these decisions. 

    In my 18 & ½ years with NASW WI there have been at least two bills that we did not take a position on because our membership was too split.  One was the Physician Aid in Dying bill and the other bill was the 5th Standard for civil commitment bill.    In the case of the Physician Aid in Dying bill, we opted for presenting an annual conference session giving both sides of the issue.   For both of these bills we printed position statements in our newsletter from both sides of this issue from members.

    Aside from decisions on bills introduced into the Wisconsin Legislature, our Political Action Committee makes decisions on candidate endorsements that occasionally result in dissent from one or more of our members.   The PAC basis its endorsement on a report card of votes by legislators on bills supported or opposed by NASW WI.   They base their endorsement decisions for challengers on responses to a questionnaire we develop.

    Of course NASW WI members are not required to personally support or endorse all the decisions made by our Legislative/Social Policy Committee or Political Action Committee.   With 2100 members I would not expect to have 100% consensus on every policy position or political endorsement.  I do welcome dialogue and would welcome feedback to this column or a “letter to the editor” on this topic for our newsletter.   Although we do take positions on issues and candidates we need to be open to hearing the diverse opinions in our membership. 

    Despite our passion for the legislative and political activities, these activities are only a small part of our overall operations.  As a membership association, we spend most of our time providing services to our members, including continuing education, information and referral on a wide variety of practice concerns, mentor contacts, job information, ethics consultation, monitoring governmental rules and policies affecting the profession and other items.