Wrong Turns in the Fight to End Discrimination, Poverty, and Protection for Women's Health

Bill Further Erodes Our Minimum Wage Protections

In the 2009-2010 session, the Legislature passed bipartisan legislation that would give community members the option to petition to end the use of of race-based mascots at local schools in their area. Of the 65 schools that had Native American related mascots in 1989, 30 schools changed their nickname prior to the 2010 law while 32 schools still have Indian mascots. Despite only four schools having been affected by this bill--three changed their names and one is challenging the change request in court--legislative Republicans have felt compelled to overturn the law designed to diminish discrimination.

This past Tuesday, the Wisconsin State Senate took up this legislation, Assembly Bill 297, which will send Wisconsin backwards in the fight to end discrimination of all kinds, including towards Native Americans across the state. This bill eliminates the current process allowing people to file complaints with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) over race-based mascots and team names, and giving DPI the authority needed to enforce mascot changes at these schools. I was disappointed to see that so many of my Republican colleagues refused to even participate in the debate on this offensive bill.

Click here to view a copy of Senate Bill 320.

A Wrong Turn in the Fight to end Discrimination

Those who support this discrimination bill and the continuing use of race-based mascots argue that these mascots are used out of respect for the tribes. However, the reality is that these mascots and their continued use represents an incredible level of disrespect that reflects a disturbing lack of tolerance in our state. It was not until 1924 that Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, which granted all Native Americans, on or off the reservation, citizenship and the possibility of suffrage. While the act gave Native Americans voting rights, states often passed laws that limited this right. In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited states from discriminatory voting practices and ensured all Native Americans had access to the polls. These mascots are the last remnants of this past racial discrimination. 

This bill maintains discrimination and insensitivity in our state. The schools that still retain race-based mascots, as well as the schools that compete against them, tend to reinforce offensive stereotypes by turning this ethnic group into a cartoon, mocking cultural traditions, and shouting racial slurs or bigoted comments. We can no longer justify the continued use of such disrespectful terminology as "Redskin" and "Savages." 

The truth is that the use of race-based mascots promotes discriminatory actions against neighbors in our community and around the state. It is a fact that no other ethnic group has as many mascots parroting their identities in our state, and we must do something about that. This type of discrimination is not only unfair, but wrong. For this reason, I voted "no" to Assembly Bill 297.

Click here to view Assembly Bill 297. 


More Anti-Woman Legislation Being Proposed

Today, the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services passed two anti-women's health bills along party lines. As a result these bills--Senate Bill 201/Assembly Bill 217 and Senate Bill 202/Assembly Bill 216--which have already passed the Assembly can now be scheduled for a vote before the full Senate. A vote in the full Senate is the last step these bills need to take before being signed into law by the governor. Continue reading for more information about these bills and the negative impact they can have on women across Wisconsin.


Restricting Birth Control Coverage
Women have long faced discrimination when it comes to health insurance coverage. Over the years, insurance companies in Wisconsin have been required to cover basic women's health care like mammograms, maternity care and, in 2009, birth control. In addition, the Affordable Care Act put in place federal protections to ensure that all women had access to preventative services under their health plan--including birth control. Organizations from the National Institute of Medicine to the World Health Organization to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists tell us that access to birth control is the single greatest investment in women's health that a community can make. 

Despite the clear evidence of positive effects birth control has on our community, a bill that would allow religious employers to discriminate against women by denying them affordable access to birth control is being pushed by legislative Republicans. The proposal is illogical given that a fall 2012 study released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) demonstrated that access to no co-pay birth control coverage leads to significantly lower unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.

Birth control methods are widely used, and restrictions could affect a significant number of women. In fact, another CDC study released this February found that virtually all women of reproductive age between 2006 and 2010 who had ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method at some point in their lifetime (99%, or 53 million women aged 15 to 44). In addition, birth control is not only a valuable family planning tool, but it also has many other medical benefits, According to the Guttmacher Institute, 58% of women use birth control for noncontraceptive health care reasons, which include:

Law is Unfair, Creates Uncertainty

In Wisconsin, we currently have a managed forest law in place. This generous tax relief program was created in 1985 to encourage timber production and provide more recreation space for outdoor enthusiasts. Under the program, land owners receive a tax break if they agree to follow a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) approved forest management plan and keep the property open to the public. There are approximately 30,000 Wisconsin landowners who participate in the program and play by the rules.

Recently, Republican senators introduced legislation, Senate Bill 278, that would allow the open-pit iron mining company drilling in Northern Wisconsin to be exempted from some requirements of this program. Under the bill, this property owner would be allowed to close public access of up to 4,000 acres of managed forest land indefinitely. This sweetheart deal is excessive, unjustified, and unfair not only to taxpayers and outdoor recreation enthusiasts, but also to the other 30,000 Wisconsin landowners participating in the managed forest program. It also treads on our stewardship tradition and shared Wisconsin values. 

Forty acres might be modest but 4,000 acres by any rationale and reasonable standard is excessive. Therefore, in contrast to this partisan proposal, Senators Cullen, Jauch, and Schultz introduced an alternative that would provide additional protections to mine workers, while still allowing the public to utilize these lands. This bipartisan solution would create a defensible public safety zone around bulk sampling and drilling locations to protect workers and the public. It would require football field separation from the five bulk sampling sites and a 50-foot safety zone away from a drill site. If explosives would be used a separate safety zone could be determined by the permitting agencies.

 Click here to view a copy of Senate Bill 278.

Unfortunately, Republicans ignored this bipartisan alternative, opting instead to slightly amend their own proposal. The amended bill still allows this out-of-state mining company the ability to play by a different set of rules in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Further, the minor improvements to this bill do not address the fact that the out-of-state corporation will still be able to close public forest land to the public for undefined reasons. Even the DNR remains unclear on this process and how it will be applied to the company. As a result, Senate Bill 278 remains both unfair and uncertain for local businesses and Wisconsin citizens. Additionally, most hunting and recreation will still be restricted on closed property. 

It is important to remember that this company is no better nor is it more important than the other 30,000 property owners who respect and follow the law, as well as Wisconsinites who use the land. Therefore, I voted against this bill, which has been sent to the Assembly.

  • Alleviating cramps and menstrual pain, which can sometimes be debilitating

  • Regulating the menstrual cycle

  • Preventing anemia, which can lead to dizziness, fatigue, and headaches

  • Helping in treatment of endometriosis, which often leads to infertility if untreated

  • Treating polycistic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which if left untreated can lead to weight gain, hair loss, depression, and infertility

Limiting access to birth control for these women may not only make it impossible for them to have children when they decide to expand their families, but also prevent them from being productive members of the workforce. Debilitating cramps, painful migraines, extreme exhaustion, and unpredictable menstrual cycles can cause women to miss work, produce poorer quality work, or be admitted to the hospital. With extremism blocking access to health care treatments, such health issues could be costly to employers, workers, and taxpayers alike.

Additional Intrusion into Doctor-Patient Relationship
This proposal, Senate Bill 201/Assembly Bill 217, could put our medical professionals at legal risk by allowing the mother, father, or grandparents of an aborted fetus to sue the physician if the abortion they provided was "sex-selective." This proposal also has the potential to put undue strain and suspicion on a woman after she receives an abortion, even if it was not sex-selective.

Let me be clear, response to an unplanned pregnancy is a personal medical decision that is not taken lightly. And while there are many legal options available to a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, including becoming a parent, adoption, or abortion, it is up to each woman to choose her path based on her personal circumstances and beliefs. The idea that Wisconsin women would choose an abortion because they are displeased by the gender of the fetus is outrageous. According to WebMD, the sex of a fetus can sometimes be determined by about the 18th week of pregnancy and Planned Parenthood states that in-clinic abortion is only offered up to 19 weeks after the start of a woman's last menstrual period. This leaves a small to non-existent window for a woman who opts to have an abortion the potential option to determine the gender of the fetus beforehand. Therefore, this scenario is likely not one that is occurring in Wisconsin, and thus is a nonexistent problem that does not require legislation.

Government interference in matters of family planning, which are intrinsically private and personal, is unacceptable. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, women have a constitutional right to privacy, as well as the authority to make decisions related to their own body. To wage a legislative war on women by attacking and chipping away at this fundamental freedom is an insult to women across Wisconsin.

In an ideal world, women would never face such a difficult and deeply personal situation as whether or not to continue a pregnancy. The unfortunate reality, however, is that they do, and I can only imagine how distressing it must be. 

Ensuring access to affordable, quality health care is a priority of mine. Thus, I support health care coverage for all aspects of women's health. That is why I firmly support a woman's right to choose as well as access to contraception and will oppose these bills if they reach the Senate floor for a vote. 









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