Some Legislative Successes in a Most Difficult Environment

by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

As the 2015-2016 legislative session comes to a close, despite a very difficult political environment and many very bad bills passed, we actually achieved a few remarkable successes.

The most remarkable success was the passage of the Mental Health in Schools bill with an NASW WI amendment requiring DHS to reimburse independently practicing licensed mental health professionals. This amendment was opposed by the Department of Health Services and almost until the end the lead Republican Assembly supporter of the bill did not want to include our amendment for fear of jeopardizing the whole bill. Thanks go to State Senator Jon Erpenbach who effectively shamed the Republican Senators about opposing our amendment on the floor of the Senate and to State Representative Paul Tittl who ultimately submitted our amendment on the Assembly floor. This bill still needs to be signed by Governor Walker.

Two other very important mental health bills are also headed to the Governor’s signature. One eases prior authorization requirements for mental health clinicians serving Medical Assistance clients and the other bill requires HMO’s contracting with the Department of Health Services to reimburse Certified Advanced Practice Social Workers and other Qualified Treatment Trainees. Both these bills had been requested by NASW WI.

Another bill that NASW WI strongly supported, the Pet Protection Act, will be signed by the Governor the first week in March. This bill would legal protection for the pets of victims of domestic violence. Former NASW WI intern Crystal Hester testified on behalf of NASW WI at the legislative hearings on this bill.

In addition to these bills NASW WI has, at least temporarily, stopped one very bad bill and one very bad rule from going into effect. The first bill as discussed elsewhere in this newsletter would eliminate the Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Professional Counseling Section. The rule would eliminate the state jurisprudence exam for social work applicants. NASW WI was also part of a very large number of advocacy groups that helped stop the “transgender bathroom bill”.

Of course there were numerous bills passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Walker that NASW WI opposed. This include the State Budget, which slashed the university system, provided minimum relief for the K-12 public education system previously slashed in funding, and declined to accept federal Medicaid monies to cover 70,000 lower income residents. Other bills opposed by NASW WI that passed or may yet pass included the elimination of the 48 waiting period for purchase of hand guns, bills severely penalizing unemployment recipients (but not employers) for “fraud” , and bills requiring food stamp and welfare recipients to be drug tested.

Even in the most difficult political environment it is possible to advance our profession and the interests of our clients. While our defeats may outnumber our victories, these victories can be very significant and build relationships and future successes.