2020 WI Legislature Preview

The start of 2020’s Forums was a Meet & Greet with the new Onalaska School Superintendent, Holmen Village President, Onalaska Police Chief, and Interim Onalaska Mayor. They joined Senator Shilling and Reps. Billings, Doyle, and Oldenburg who provided a preview of the Wisconsin State Legislature’s upcoming session and let us know what we could expect to see out of their offices in 2020.


    Rep. Jill Billings:

    • Substance Abuse and Prevention Committee – The committee held a public hearing last week on the current HOPE (Heroin, Opioid Prevention, and Education) Agenda and heard testimonies on addiction and overdoses.

    The HOPE Agenda has been spearheaded by Representative Nygren, and focuses on ways to combat the prescription drug crisis and substance abuse in the state. The HOPE agenda has had successes, leading legislators to remove sunsets on programs that are working to reduce the use of these addictive drugs. For example the prescription drug monitoring program that was created in the past has been very successful, as prescriptions have decreased by 23%. Other solutions that are being looked at currently, are immunity for aiders, reimbursements for peer recovery individuals, alternative pain relief coverage, and a recovery housing registry that would let individuals find housing and areas where medically assisted treatment would be available.


    • The Water Pollution Notification Act – This bill was created by Representative Billings and Senator Shilling to address a lack of communication regarding contaminated wells. The goal of the bill is to ensure that residents and county officials get notified when area wells are contaminated. It received a hearing this week.
    1. The bill requires that if the DNR finds that the holder of a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit has violated groundwater standards, the DNR must notify the county health department and county land and conservation department in the county in which the permit holder is located, and those departments in any adjacent county that the DNR determines may be negatively affected by the violation.
    2. Additionally, these notices must come within 7 business days after confirmation of the violation, and the DNR must establish and maintain a notification system for these instances.
    • Insulin Cost Cap – Rep. Billings also has a legislative proposal which would cap the cost of insulin.
    • Child Care – Representative Billings has requested a summer study committee on the childcare shortage in Wisconsin. The childcare shortage is one of the issues we advocated on during Oktoberfest in the Capitol this past fall. NOTE: they need a consultant who can conduct the study.

    Rep. Steve Doyle:

    • Re-Election – Rep. Doyle’s Assembly seat is up for election this fall and is likely going to be targeted. Doyle also emphasized that our part of the state and the 3rd Congressional district is “ground zero” for federal elections. Additionally, Doyle pointed out that the results of the 2020 elections will decide many elections for the next 10 years due to redistricting.
    • Task Force on Adoption – Rep. Doyle discussed his work on the legislature’s Task Force on Adoption. Currently the big thing they are working on is looking into open adoption, as right now Wisconsin does not legally recognize open adoption.
    • Suicide Prevention Task Force – Doyle discussed his work on this Task Force, stating that they have held public hearings all across the state. They are continuing to work on solutions, but it is clear that there is no single right answer or magic solution to suicide prevention.
    • Duty Death Bill – Doyle proudly shared one of his legislative successes of the fall, which was the passage of the “Duty Death Bill.” This bill ensures health coverage continuation for the families of public servants like police and veterans who have died in the line of duty.
    • Days In Session – Doyle highlighted that there are only about four or five days of session remaining, which is not a lot of time to get work done.

    Rep. Loren Oldenburg:

    • Wetlands Restoration Bill – The goal of this bill is to speed up permiting by the DNR for flooding solutions. Specifically, the bill requires the DNR to issue a general permit that authorizes wetland, stream, and floodplain restoration and management activities that will result in a net improvement in hydrologic connections, conditions, and functions. Oldenburg views this bill as a potential solution to all of the flooding this region has encountered in the last dozen years. He also indicated that he may ask the Speaker for a special task force on flooding.
    • Re-Election – Rep. Oldenburg is up for his first re-election this fall. A high school senior is running against him.
    • Additional bills – Oldenburg has signed onto bipartisan bills such as the Opportunity Zones bill authored by Rep. VanderMeer and Rep. Billings.
    • Dynamics – Said the dynamics between both parties need to improve in Madison to get things done. He also emphasized that the state government is an “arranged marriage.” Oldenburg: “We need to find common ground. We need to sit down and talk.”

    Sen. Jennifer Shilling:

    • January 21 – The Senate is in session
    • January 22 – Governor’s State of the State Address
    • Water Quality – There are many bills in the legislature currently pertaining to water quality and particularly cleaning up contaminants. Shilling is the author of one, the Water Pollution Notification Act with Rep. Billings.
    • Prison Reform – Adult prisons are currently  at 130% capacity so they are looking at expanding supervised release and policies on non-violent incarceration. This is an issue that both Democrats and Republicans are seeking to address, as they were able to work bipartisanly in years past to address the problem of youth prisons in the state.
    • Issues She Hopes Will Be Addressed – Sen. Shilling is looking for movement on a package of bills addressing homelessness that were not seen by the legislature prior to the beginning of winter. She is also looking to see legislation on mental health services and is hopeful that progress can be made on the gun violence and safety problems we are experiencing in our state. She noted that Republicans have been supportive of mental health funding, so we could see something in the legislature on that in the future. In addition, she is hopeful that more of Governor Evers’ Cabinet Secretaries will be confirmed, as there have been few so far.
    • Elections – The Senate Republcans need three votes to override the Governor on vetos, so they will likely be targeting “swing seats” in the state this fall to try to get a veto-proof supermajority.

    From Questions From the Audience

    • The reliance on property taxes as funding for municipalities is becoming challenging, as right now greater than 50% of revenue is coming from property taxes and homeowners. The question was whether the legislature is looking to address the need for diversification of revenue streams or not. For the most part, opportunities to discuss diversifying the revenue streams has not been met well in Madison’s divided political environment, but they are looking to address “dark stores” this session.
    • Rep. Doyle on shared revenue: how states treat the local governments is not fair with unfunded mandates