Risser bill would require veterinarians to report animal abuse
State Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, is proposing legislation that would require veterinarians to report cases of animal abuse to law enforcement or to a humane officer.
"The mistreatment of animals is a serious crime and is one which we can better address with the help of veterinarians," Risser said. "As experts in assessing injuries and ailments, veterinarians are invaluable in identifying and protecting animals who have been subject to cruel treatment."
Current law only requires that veterinarians report abuse when an animal is suspected to have been used in animal fighting. Risser's bill expands those reporting requirements to include reporting any suspected animal abuse. Veterinarians would be immune from civil liability for filing such a report.
"It is not enough to report the abuse of an animal only if that animal is suspected to have been used in a fight," Risser said. "My bill would make the state statute more comprehensive in addressing all animal abuse. Such legislation is already law in 27 other states."
Risser's bill is being circulated for co-sponsorship.
Committee hears bill to add photos to FoodShare cards
A bill to add photo identification to FoodShare benefit cards received a public hearing this week in the Assembly's Public Benefit Reform Committee.
The bill seeks to eliminate recipient fraud - fraud that occurs when a card is used by a person other than the designated FoodShare recipient - by implementing photos on the cards. In Wisconsin, recipient fraud amounts to approximately $14 million, or 1.3 percent of the $1.11 billion the state receives annually.
Recognizing the millions of dollars being wasted by recipient fraud each year, the proposal by Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, seeks to help deter future fraud and abuse by implementing the photos as an additional security measure.
The bill would require the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to submit an implementation plan and waiver request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The waiver request would allow DHS to obtain permission to require that FoodShare recipients show a photo QUEST card when making purchases. If both the implementation plan and waiver request are cleared by the USDA, the package goes to the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee for final approval.
Upon adjournment of the committee hearing, Kremer emphasized that the bill had nothing to do with cutting benefits, but said it had everything to do with preserving benefits for those who are truly in need.
"Every year, millions of dollars are wasted by a criminal element in Wisconsin who engage in the trafficking of FoodShare cards," Kremer said. "Although the percentage of fraud may seem minimal, tens of millions of our taxpayer dollars are simply being thrown away. In this age of technology and stolen identities, banks and other institutions are beginning to implement photos on debit cards as an extra layer of security. It seems reasonable that we should look to do the same in our state benefit programs."
Subeck says ID for FoodShare would burden hardworking families
Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, had a decidedly different view of Kremer's FoodShare ID bill. She said it would make it harder for Wisconsin's most vulnerable individuals and families to access FoodShare assistance and would cost the state millions to implement.
"Republicans are again working to score political points with the most extreme right-wing interests at the expense of our communities' most vulnerable residents," Subeck said. "AB 222 would add new barriers for FoodShare participants, making it harder for senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, and hard-working families to put food on their tables. And this comes at the expense of millions of taxpayer dollars."
Subeck said the change would have a seriously disproportionate impact on the elderly and people with disabilities, who rely on others to assist them with purchasing food using their FoodShare cards.
"If this bill becomes law, these elderly and disabled individuals would be forced to find independent means and transportation to get themselves to the grocery store or go without adequate food to meet their nutritional needs," she said. "It is a shame that Republicans are willing to waste taxpayer dollars to create a system that will do nothing more than burden our state's most vulnerable and needy residents."
Wisconsin school mental health project gets under way
A five-year project to improve students' emotional well-being and mental health is moving ahead with the selection of participating districts and training for the first group of school and community teams.
Twenty-seven school districts from across the state will participate in the Wisconsin School Mental Health Project. The kick-off event included 30 schools from 14 districts that attended a one-day professional development session in August.
Goals for the project are to train more school-community teams to develop policies, programs, and practices that support students with mental-health challenges and to integrate those activities into the schools' existing behavior and discipline systems so they work together to improve the overall climate for student emotional well-being.
In Wisconsin, it is estimated that one in five children and adolescents experience a significant mental health issue that impairs their functioning in the community, at home, or in school. Symptoms of student mental health issues are wide ranging and can include behavioral outbursts, disengagement from friends and usual activities, problems with grades and school attendance, substance use and abuse, and thoughts or attempts of suicide.
Wisconsin's youth suicide rate is more than 30 percent higher than the national average. Among the young people with mental health challenges, it is estimated that in any given year a mere 20 percent to 30 percent receive the services that they need.
"Students' emotional well-being is essential for learning, and too many kids have unnoticed and unaddressed struggles," state superintendent Tony Evers said. "That's why we are taking powerful steps to build capacity in Wisconsin public schools so we can support students' emotional well-being and mental health. We need more adults who recognize the signs of youth who are having trouble and know how to approach the student and their family so appropriate services can be accessed to help."
School districts applied to be part of the Wisconsin School Mental Health Project, assuring that they had between one and three schools that met requirements of demonstrated need, principal commitment, staff buy-in, and current implementation of a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) system.
The professional development offered through the project will directly address students with high mental health needs while also supporting strategies that benefit all students. The professional development and technical assistance will promote the emotional well-being of all students; engage families as partners in supporting student emotional well-being; detect early warning signs of student mental health challenges and make effective referrals; provide effective services by school staff and community partners for youth with mental health needs; integrate mental health and emotional well-being work with PBIS; and use a "coaching model" provided by a school mental health consultant.
Project evaluation will gauge improvements in student engagement in learning, positive school climate, and attendance and behavior.
The Wisconsin School Mental Health Project is supported by the Wisconsin School Climate Transformation Project through funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Wisconsin Safe and Healthy Schools Project, Wisconsin AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education) Project, and state alcohol and other drug abuse (AODA) funds.
Russ Feingold shares economic priorities
After traveling thousands of miles across Wisconsin to hear the ideas and concerns of families and small business owners, Russ Feingold outlined his economic priorities based on what he says he heard about directly from Wisconsinites: creating jobs, improving wages, making college more affordable, and guaranteeing Wisconsinites who work hard get a fair day of pay that allows them to pay the bills and spend time with their families.
While visiting with Wisconsinites, Feingold said he heard about an economy that still favors the wealthiest Americans and isn't working for families struggling to make ends meet. He said Wisconsinites are tired of the divide and conquer politics of the last five years, and a Congress that isn't doing anything to help struggling middle class and working families.
Among other proposals, Feingold pledged to support a 21st Century Glass-Steagall law to properly regulate big banks, raise the minimum wage gradually to $15, make college more affordable by allowing students to refinance student loans, and oppose unfair trade agreements.
Shilling denounces Walker's health-care proposal
State Senate Democratic leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, panned Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate key provisions of the Affordable Care Act should he be elected president.
"The Affordable Care Act has worked to strengthen consumer protections, bolster patient rights, improve access and lower health care costs for everyone," Shilling said. "Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 16 million more Americans have access to health care coverage, over 200,000 Wisconsin residents have been able to purchase a health plan through the insurance marketplace and the level of uninsured residents is at the lowest level ever."
Shilling said Walker's plan would end up costing working families more while largely benefiting big insurance companies and wealthy special interests who are backing his presidential campaign.
"Rather than undoing the progress that's been made, we need to keep moving forward and find bipartisan solutions that expand access to affordable health care coverage for hardworking Wisconsin families," she said.
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