Committees Are the Workhorses of the Legislature

The State Legislature, unlike Congress, does not take a summer recess.  Committee work continues all summer.  Recently legislative work in Madison has intensified with committee and caucus meetings filling my week. 

Committees are where the bulk of the Legislature’s work is done.  Every bill introduced is referred to a committee that deals with its particular issue.  This smaller subset of bills is examined by a subset of legislators who consider the variety of perspectives on an issue.  Committee members make recommendations for amendments and compromises to accommodate different concerns.

An important task of all committees is taking the input of citizens on the effect of proposed legislation. The committees on which I serve have taken public input or “testimony” on a variety of topics.  I have truly benefitted from the testimony of people from all over our Senate District and the state on both sides of a particular topic.

As a member of the Children and Families and Workforce Development committee I listened to a full day of testimony from those involved with adoption of Native American children. The state is implementing the federal Indian Child Welfare Act – a nearly thirty year old law with a lack of detail that caused much concern about Native Americans and those who work with child adoptions.

The next day I heard several hours of testimony on a bill to license dietitians that was before the Public Health, Senior Issues, Long-term Care and Job Creation committee. My colleagues and I learned many alternative health practitioners were concerned their practices would be affected by the bill.

The Audit Committee has required me to dig deep into the management and effectiveness of state government programs.  My co-chair, Rep. Peter Barca, and I were presented with a request to audit the two state-run veterans’ nursing homes and the management of the state Department of Veterans Affairs.

Issues related to public safety became the focus of the Audit Committee. As part of the ongoing audit of Wisconsin Shares, the state’s child care subsidy program, the Audit Bureau found identical matches between the addresses of four registered sex offenders and licensed child care providers.

Audit Bureau staff immediately notified the Department of Corrections and no child was harmed.  But the report provided clear and compelling evidence the necessary safeguards are not in place – likely since the program began in 1997. While state officials move to correct problems revealed by the Audit Bureau, the continued uncovering of fraud, abuse and lack of internal controls to protect children are extremely disturbing.

This week the Audit committee will turn attention to the Department of Transportation. Following an anonymous call to the fraud and abuse hotline, state auditors uncovered a problem with the thickness of concrete in new roads. We will hear testimony from state officials, inspectors and the public on the problems and remedies.

The Audit committee will also hear testimony from the state auditor on the plans to monitor the use of federal stimulus funding coming into the state as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. 

Committees aren’t the only place I gathered important information.  Some of the most pressing problems in our Senate District center on federal issues not easily dealt with but having serious consequences to our state. One such issue is low milk prices.  I joined members of the Legislature’s Rural Caucus in a meeting with Rod Nilsestuen, Secretary of Agriculture, to discuss troubles in the dairy business as continued low prices cause untold difficulties for our farmers. We discussed efforts to address the issue on a federal level, activities in our own state and help legislators can provide to constituents.

When all is said and done, it is the work accomplished in committees and caucuses that help craft solutions for many of the problems facing our citizens and our state.  And it is through this important process that you, the People, inform, educate and assist your elected officials in making the government work for all.