As we begin 2018, my colleagues and I in the legislature are gearing up for the spring legislative session. There are a lot of issues that are expected to come up for votes soon, but my top priority isn’t one particular issue. It is bipartisanship.
One of the things I am working on in the spring session is a bipartisan package of bills designed to improve Wisconsin’s foster care system.
These bills came out of the Speaker’s Task Force on Foster Care and I had the honor of co-chairing that committee. We traveled around the state and heard from foster parents, former foster children, biological parents, social workers, county human service professionals, nonprofits, and other experts. It was a daunting task – there are so many aspects of the child welfare system that we learned about and so many issues that we wanted to address. But my co-chair and I knew we had a limited amount of time to work on proposals so we tried to prioritize and focus on what we thought would make the greatest differences in the lives of our children.
We came up with thirteen bills that were introduced late in 2017 and I’m really proud of the work we’ve done so far. The bills have broad bipartisan support in both the Assembly and the Senate and they are on track to come up for votes this spring.
Being the co-chair of this task force has given me a new perspective on my work in the legislature. So often, members of the minority do not even try to put forward their own legislation because they assume it will never be passed by members of the other party. Even worse, the creative proposals that they do introduce are considered “dead on arrival” and their authors never get to experience the full legislative process. On the other side, majority party members often never get to work with their minority party counterparts. These members don’t usually get to experience the compromises and negotiations that minority members attempt to try to get their bills passed.
In short, majority and minority members have a lot to offer each other but rarely is that knowledge taken advantage of.
Through the Task Force on Foster Care, I got to simultaneously experience working in the majority and the minority. I helped my co-chair find compromises to various proposals in order to get true bipartisan support. We met with stakeholders from all sides of the issues (and all political ideologies) and listened to their suggestions. We sat down with the Speaker of the Assembly to brief him on our progress and consulted with minority members on the taskforce. By working together, we actually made the bills better than they would have been if we had worked alone. We found we had a lot in common and already have plans to continue our partnership on other legislation.
In a way, the experience of working on these foster care bills is a good model for thinking of the rest of the 2017-2018 session. We have a limited amount of time to work, a lot of areas we want to address, and a real opportunity to work together.
There are many, many proposals at various points in the legislative process – some good, some bad, some that make you wonder why anyone would think to write them. In order to best serve the citizens of Wisconsin, the leaders of the Senate and the Assembly need to work together. Instead of getting caught up in partisan bickering and feuds, my colleagues and I need to think about what legislation can help strengthen our economy and our families.
We need to focus on proposals for small business owners facing burdensome regulations, middle class families with high property taxes, and college graduates struggling with debt. We need innovative solutions to help bridge the gap between unemployed workers and the jobs available. And probably most importantly, we need to fix our crumbling roads.
My colleagues on both sides of the aisle already have a lot of these great proposals ready to go. It is my hope that in the New Year we can form partnerships to make them even better. Majority and minority members can bring their unique experiences together and along the way they might find out that they have some things in common. At the end of the day, we all want what is best for our constituents – and I’ll bet that our constituents, no matter their political party or their Assembly district, have quite a lot in common too.