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  • THE 2018 ELECTIONS: WHAT DIFFERENCE WILL IT MAKE FOR SOCIAL WORKERS AND OUR CLIENTS?

    by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISWMarc Herstand

    Passage of the Child Victim’s Act to help victims of childhood sexual assault.  Passage of the Higher Education Lower Debt bill to ease the burden on social work professionals with high college debt load.  Passage of common sense gun violence prevention legislation such as closing the loopholes on background checks for the purchase of guns or a Lethal Violence Protection Ordinance, which has been shown to reduce suicides.   Increased funding for K-12 education and the University of Wisconsin system.  Passage of a bill banning conversion therapy with LGBT children. Passage of a caseload size and supervisor ratio bill with funding to help counties meet national standards, Passage of a social work safety bill. Protection against bills that would undermine social work standards. And perhaps most importantly impartial drawing of legislative district that would remain in effect for ten years.  These are just some of the policy changes that could pass or advance if the Democrats take back the Governor’s office, the State Senate or (highly unlikely) the State Assembly in the 2018 elections.

    Over the last seven years, since the Republicans took total control of Wisconsin’s government we have seen major cuts in support for K-12 education, the UW system, support for the poor, as well as major abortion restrictions, restrictive welfare policies for the poor and repeated attempts through legislation to undermine the ability of the social work profession to set its own standards.  Our attempts to pass a Social Work Safety Bill and a Lethal Violence Protection Ordinance were frustrated by the NRA, which has a stronghold on the Republican Party.  Our Child Victim’s Act was killed by the Wisconsin Family Action and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference who pressured a Republican State Representative to withdraw his commitment to serve as the lead sponsor of the bill.   The Higher Education Lower Debt bill that would allow Wisconsin residents to refinance their federal loans at a lower interest rate and deduct their payments from their state taxes, never even received a hearing.   Similarly a bill that would ban conversion/reparative therapy for LGBT children never received a hearing.

    Probably the most consequential result of the 2018 elections will be whether redistricting in 2021 will be done fairly or whether Wisconsin will continue to have the most gerrymandered or skewed legislative districts in the United States.  As one example, in 2012, although the Democrats took 52% of the votes in State Assembly races they ended up with only 39% of the seats in the Wisconsin Assembly.  No matter how big of a Democratic wave occurs in 2018, there is practically no chance that the Democrats can take back the State Assembly because of extreme gerrymandering.  They would change if the Democrats control at least one part of State Government through 2021.

    As the NASW WI lobbyist I work “across the aisle” to get support for our profession and our issues with some success.  With the help of State Representative Joan Ballweg (R-Markeson) two critical bills for the profession related to clinical hours and the state jurisprudence exam passed the Legislature and were signed by the Governor.  With bi-partisan help from State Representatives Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin)) and Deb Kolste (D-Beloit) we were able to force the Department of Health Services to change their rules to reimburse independently practicing clinical social workers for in-home services.  We have also had good working relations with other Republican legislators like State Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) who is the legislative leader on opioid legislation, Mike Rohrkaste (R-Neenah), one of our Republican sponsors of the Child Victim’s act and State Representative Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc), the Chair of the Assembly Mental Health Committee.   And indeed our PAC has endorsed for re-election Representatives Tittl, Rohrkaste and, Ballweg for their support for our profession.

    However our PAC is also working to flip the State Senate to the Democrats and elect Tony Evers as Governor so we have a chance of passing legislation mentioned above.  Although individual legislators of both parties have been supportive of our profession and issues, it is the leadership of both parties that set the agenda for the state legislature and determine which bills get considered and which bills never see the light of day.

    If you would like to end gerrymandering in Wisconsin, help pass Gun Violence Prevention legislation, the Higher Education Lower Debt bill, the Child Victim’s act and generally change the priorities of this state I strongly encourage you to get involved in the 2018 Wisconsin State elections.  Please vote, volunteer and give money if you can to our PAC endorsed candidates.  These elections can begin the process of returning Wisconsin to a progressive and compassionate direction.