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  • From the Executive Director


    by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

    The election of Tony Evers as Governor provides some great opportunities for NASW WI to impact policy affecting our profession and our clients. Wisconsin had one of the highest turnout rates in the United States at around 59%. We can all be proud of our efforts to maximize voter turnout.

    Despite the fact that the Republicans retained control of the State Senate and State Assembly, a Democratic Governor can have a great influence on the state in several areas. First the Governor appoints all the Secretaries and many other high level personnel in the various state departments. These Departments include; Health Services, Children & Families, Corrections, Insurance, and Safety and Professional Services. Policies developed and implemented by the Departments of Health Services, Safety and Professional Services and Children & Families in particular, have a direct impact on social work standards and practice. These department policies, along with those of Corrections and Insurance also have a huge impact on our clients.

    The policies of the Department of Health Services (DHS) have impacted whether social workers can get reimbursed for their services and under what conditions. For as long as I have been NASW WI’s Executive Director we have had to continually fight against DHS’s over regulation of clinical social work practice and refusal at times to reimburse independent practitioners in different settings. The Department of Safety and Professional Services, under our current Governor, has tried to eliminate critical practice standards for social workers that protect the public against unqualified members of our profession. The Department of Children & Families oversees child welfare services in Wisconsin and runs the child welfare system in Milwaukee county. The current administration eliminated the previous provision that child welfare intake and assessment workers in Milwaukee County be certified social workers. We have strongly advocated, unsuccessfully until now, that they reinstate this requirement.

    Leadership of the Corrections Department can determine the extent to which treatment, education and training are priorities in the correctional system. Decades ago Probation and Parole officers were all social workers. That is not the case today.

    The Commissioner of Insurance can impact the extent that the Insurance Department is consumer oriented or oriented to the needs of insurance companies.

    After Governor-elect Evers appoints Secretaries of some of these key Departments, we will be requesting meetings with either the Secretary or other high level staff to discuss some of our policy concerns in such areas of child welfare standards, social work reimbursement and social work standards in general. As reported elsewhere in this newsletter, we are currently requesting a meeting with Governor-elect Evers’ transition team to discuss child welfare issues.

    A second critical area that our new Governor can greatly influence is the state budget. With divided government there will need to be a compromise between the Democratic Governor and Republican State Senate and Assembly. The state budget has a tremendous impact on all aspects of our lives. Our social work practice can be directly influenced by how much money is put into mental health and substance abuse services, how much money is provided to county human services departments and how much money is provided to the public schools to support school social work services, among other areas.

    A third critical area that will be directly impacted by a Democratic Governor is redistricting. Every ten years each state must redraw their legislative and congressional district lines to equalize representation. Wisconsin has arguably the most skewed or gerrymandered districts in the United States that makes it practically impossible for the Democrats to ever take back the State Senate or Assembly no matter how many more votes they get overall. Because we now have a Democratic governor and divided government, the next redistricting-for the 2022 elections will likely have districts drawn by judges that are fair and impartial. This could lead to the Democrats being able to take back either the Assembly or Senator or both (like they did in 2008). It could also possibly lead to more moderate legislators from both parties getting elected with district that are more evenly divided between Republican and Democratic votes. With more moderate candidates and possible Democratic control over one or more branch of the Legislature, the power of special interest groups like the NRA to stop gun violence prevention legislation or of Wisconsin Family Action to derail the Child Victim’s Act will be reduced.

    Finally a Democratic Governor can veto legislation that can be harmful to our profession and our clients. Over the last several legislative sessions we have had to lobby aggressively to derail legislation that could erode either the standards of our profession or our ability to regulate ourselves. New threats to our profession can occur at any time. Texas legislators are proposing a bill that would allow mental health professionals to refuse to serve a client for religious reasons. It is nice to know that if our lobbing efforts fail to stop a bill damaging our profession, the Governor would likely veto the bill.

    The 2018 mid-term elections demonstrated around the country, including in Wisconsin, that, working together and doing our part, we can change the direction of our state and country.