In the fall Wisconsin legislative session, Democrats are pushing for expanding Medicaid, legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum wage and enforcing stricter gun controls.
State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, said she hopes her Republican colleagues recognize the importance she sees in these pieces of legislation.
Sargent is the lead sponsor on bills that enforce stricter gun control. Assembly Bill 431 states the purchase of a firearm has to be made through a federally licensed firearms dealer that includes a background check. A sale or transfer of a firearm to law enforcement or armed services agency, a firearm that is an antique and a firearm that is inherited by a family member are all exempt from this bill.
AB 417 is another gun-control bill Sargent authored. This bill states a firearm must be securely locked in a container or has a trigger lock if there is a minor present in the residence where the firearm is located. Under current law, a person can be charged with a misdemeanor if a child under 14 uses the firearm to cause harm or possesses it in a public space.
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Sargent is supporting another bill that would allow a family member or law enforcement official to petition against an individual from obtaining a firearm. After an injunction hearing, a court can determine if the individual is a risk to themselves or others. A penalty exists for filing a false petition.
“I think it’s absolutely egregious that Republicans are playing politics with life and refusing to hear these bills,” Sargent said.
Sargent said she supports legalizing marijuana for recreational use because the industry has the potential to generate many jobs in Wisconsin and tax revenue, referring to it as a “billion-dollar industry.”
This money can be invested in schools and create safer communities, she said. Sargent said she has talked to “many farmers” who show interest in entering the cannabis industry.
State Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, authored a bill legalizing the medical use of marijuana.
“More than 375,000 voters said cannabis should be available for medical use; that is over 80% support in places where referenda were held,” according to the bill’s text, sent through an email from Testin’s office.
Testin wrote an op-ed explaining his support for the bill. He stated it was “time for government to stop turning patients into criminals,” and that the decision to use cannabis should be between the patient and the doctor.
State Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, is co-sponsoring the bill because he believes marijuana has medical value. Kitchens said, however, that he is “reluctantly supportive” because it’s an issue that should be dealt with at the federal level.
Kitchens stated some of his concern stems from the fact that legalized marijuana is breaking federal law, and marijuana is not yet regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule I drug.
Kitchens thinks the bill can pass the state Assembly with a reasonable chance, but will be difficult to pass in the Senate. He added he believes pushing for this bill now will set the stage in the future, and will be likely to pass once legislators become more comfortable with it.
Sargent also believes that the passing of this legislation is possible in the future.
“It’s only a matter of time before this happens in Wisconsin,” Sargent said.
Sargent supports the expansion of Medicaid because she said health care costs are rising and Wisconsin’s population is aging.
Medicaid provides healthcare coverage to low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities, according to the Medicaid website. It exists at a federal level, but states can choose whether or not to use it. It’s funded by both states and the federal government.
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Those who don’t have health insurance are costing the state more money because they’re using emergency room and primary care services, Sargent said.
Sargent also said she supports raising the minimum wage because she believes when everyone can support themselves and their families, Wisconsin will move forward.
“Getting by on $7.25 an hour is not possible in Wisconsin, regardless of where you live,” Sargent said.
Dennis Dresang, University of Wisconsin professor emeritus of political science, said legislators push items that aren’t likely pass because it gets the message out about what they stand for.
Republican legislators will follow their leadership loyally, so their actions can be determined by the actions of the assembly speaker, the assembly and senate majority leader and the senate president, Dresang said.
All of these positions in the Wisconsin Legislature, he said, are currently held by Republicans.
Positions that Republicans generally take may hurt them in the long term, but not the short term because Wisconin’s gerrymandering districts protect them, Dresang added. In the case of expanding Medicaid, he said, Republicans are going against what the majority of Wisconsinites want.
State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, wrote in an email that she is concerned about other issues as well, such as providing clean drinking water, employment opportunities, educational funding, environmental justice and criminal justice reform.
“[These] impact all of us, regardless or race, ethnicity or what part of the state we live in,” Taylor’s email said.
Taylor said community members need to actively show their support for legislation that want. “Far too many” constituents underestimate the power of their voice, she wrote.
Introducing a bill is a way to educate the public and raise awareness on an issue, Taylor added.
“It’s our job as legislators to listen to the priorities and values of the people of Wisconsin,” Sargent said.