Legislative Update – September 27, 2019

A series of bills are circulating aimed at suicide prevention, including measures that impact school employees. The proposals were introduced amid some political turmoil, as a task force shifted from asking for a bill to create a hotline to instead demand that funding included in the state budget be released. Democrats are also speaking out because the slate of proposals does not include a bill on a ‘red flag law’ to allow for weapons to be taken from individuals deemed to present a threat to themselves or others. A bill on that was introduced last week, apart from the suicide prevention slate. Here is the list of suicide prevention proposals seeking co-sponsors:

  • Wisconsin Safe and Healthy Schools Center grant. Requires DPI annually award a grant to CESA to support the work of the WISH Center, funded with $70,000 this year and $200,000 the next.
  • Suicide prevention program. Requires DHS to implement a suicide prevention program, providing for two staff positions. The entire program would be funded at $250,000 a year.
  • Competitive grants to support peer-to-peer suicide prevention programs in high schools. Appropriates $250,000 per year to DPI for distribution in the form of competitive grants. Grants may be up to $1,000 per school and may be renewed up to three times.
  • Requiring continuing education on suicide prevention. Requires that physicians, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, and substance abuse counselors complete at least two hours of suicide prevention continuing education every two years in order to renew the applicable credential.
  • Farmer tuition assistance grants. Recreates a program to provide $10,000 for farmer tuition assistance grants to low-income farmers who enroll in a course on farm and business management techniques offered by a technical college.
  • Student identification card information on suicide prevention hotlines. Requires elementary, secondary, and post-secondary educational entities to include suicide prevention information on student identification cards beginning in 2020. 
  • Suicide by firearm prevention grants. Appropriates $150,000 biennially to DHS to award grants to organization or coalitions to share guidelines and train staff at a firearm retailer or firearm range on how to avoid selling or renting a firearm to a person who may be considering suicide. DHS may award a one-year grant of up to $5,000 to an eligible organization or coalition with a matching grant.
  • Suicide prevention programming grants. Appropriates $500,000 biennially to DHS to organizations or coalitions of organizations for suicide prevention programming. Grants may be awarded up to $10,000 in a single fiscal year to an eligible organization or coalition, which is required to do a match.
  • Interim psychologist license. Requires the Psychology Examining Board issue an interim psychologist license to an individual who satisfies all the requirements for a psychologist license, except for the experience requirement.

Additionally, the task force is developing recommendations on:

  • Disclosure for law enforcement peer support services.
  • School-based accommodations or best practice for working with students who have attempted suicide.
  • Standardization of death reporting forms and the creation of suicide death review teams, which may require training in the practice of conducting psychological autopsies with the family and friends of an individual who died by suicide.
  • Increased services and supports for veterans.
  • Threat assessment units embedded in law enforcement offices.
  • Establish a statewide suicide prevention call center in to increase the capacity to handle Wisconsin-based calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in state.

Another proposal circulating for co-sponsorship:

  • Seclusion and physical restraint of pupils. This would require restraint and seclusion data be reported to the DPI annually, in addition to the currently-required reporting to local school boards. The bill clarifies the definition of a reportable incident and on the specific data that districts must report. It would require schools to convey written information about incidents to parents, where current law only requires schools to notify parents of the written report’s availability. It provides for debriefing for staff involved in incidents of physical restraint and seclusion, and updates training requirements to emphasize de-escalation and prevention. Finally, the bill would clarify the law’s applicability to district students placed in non-district educational settings. WEAC is currently analyzing the proposal language.

Municipal leaders urge action to prevent mass violence. The leaders of Wisconsin communities and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities have asked for “action against incidents of mass violence” in a letter to state and legislative leaders. The letter does not ask for specific piece of legislation, but says, “Municipal leaders respect your role in deciding on a proper course of action, but we beg you: please decide; please act.” Read the letter.

Senate committees have approved the following bills, which now go to the full Senate:

  • School Board Meeting Notice (SB 160AB 170). This changes the way that school board meetings can be noticed. Notably, it provides that, “if a school district clerk or, in the clerk’s absence, the school district’s president determines that providing notice at least 24 hours before the meeting is, for good cause shown by the clerk or president, impossible or impractical, the clerk or resident may notify each school board member of the date, time, and place of the meeting less than 24 hours, but not less than 2 hours, before the meeting.”
  • Out-of-State Teacher License Reciprocity (SB 184AB 195). Would change the way a person who has been educated and licensed to teach out of state can become licensed to teach in the state of Wisconsin. This bill would continue to allow a person who is educated and licensed out of state to begin teaching in Wisconsin with a 1 Year License with Stipulations. After two successful semesters, that person would then be eligible for a License Based on Reciprocity. Furthermore, this bill would move the License Based on Reciprocity to a Tier II Provisional License. This bill has already passed in the Assembly.
  • Minority Teacher Loan Program. (AB 51/SB 55). Provides for statewide expansion of a program offering loan forgiveness for minority teachers who teach in schools that have at least 40 percent minority students. Right now, only teachers in Milwaukee schools are eligible for the program.
  • Teacher Prep (AB-232 / SB 230). This bill would allow flexibility for student teaching hours, so that aspiring educators could spread the required hours out over a longer period of time. Most students and must work while enrolled in school, so the bill would allow them to continue earning while student teaching. The bill also benefits paraeducators, who could continue their work with students while fulfilling their student teaching responsibilities. WEAC has registered and testified in favor of this bill. 
  • Human Trafficking (AB22 / SB 25)Establishes industry-specific materials on the recognition and prevention of human trafficking for use in the instruction in driver education courses that provide instruction in the operation of commercial motor vehicles. This will affect new drivers only.

A public hearing was held this week by the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform:

  • Employee Wage Claims (SB 40 / AB 40). This bill would make changes to rules on how claims are handled when an employee has not been paid owed wages, require terms of employment statements, and prohibit the state from issuing or renewing credentials for employers with unpaid wage claims against them. This bill would allow educators more time to file wage claims to recover underpayments and allow educators to go back further to recover damages. It would also allow one claim to be filed on behalf of many educators and for more damages to be recovered in the event the claim is not resolved with the Department of Workforce Development and instead filed in circuit court. The Assembly Committee on Labor and Integrated Employment has not taken up the companion bill.

Assembly, Senate Floor Sessions. The state Assembly will be on the floor October 10 with meeting dates for November yet to be announced. The Senate has asked senators to keep open October 8 and November 5 for floor dates. Available for scheduling:

  • School Report Cards. (AB 67 / SB 64). Would require school report cards to include the percentage of pupils participating in music, dance, drama, and visual arts, and would be amended to clarify that changes would begin with the 2020-21 school year under an amendment offered by Rep. Joel Kitchens. Under the bill, DPI would include this information for each high school and school district, along with the statewide percentage of participation in each subject. The bill specifies that this information may not be used to evaluate a school or district’s performance. 
  • Safety Drills. (AB 54 / SB 56) Under this bill, the person having direct charge of the public or private school may provide previous warning of any of these drills if he or she determines that providing previous warning of the drill is in the best interest of pupils attending the school. Currently, no advance notice is allowed. 
  • Pupil Records (SB57 AB53). Would expand pupil information allowed to be disclosed by a public school to include the names of parents or guardians. Under current law, the information that may be included in “directory data” that may be disclosed to any person (as long as a public school notifies families of the categories of information and informs families an opt out procedure) includes pupil name, address, telephone, date/place of birth, major field of study, activity/sport participation, attendance dates, photographs, weight and height as member of athletic team, degrees/awards, and most recent school attended. School districts may include all, some or none of the categories to designate as directory data.
  • Free state park admission for fourth graders (SB 212). This would waive the fee for fourth grade students and their families on an annual vehicle admission state parks. A family would receive only one annual waiver, should they have more than one child.

Coming up:

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy will hold public hearings on the following bills Tuesday:

  • Lead Testing (SB-423). Lead testing of potable water sources in certain schools; providing loans for lead remediation in certain schools; and providing an exception to referendum restrictions for lead remediation.
  • Lead Testing (SB-424). Testing for lead in drinking water in facilities used for recreational and educational camps and child care.