Governing Begins

2017 | Week of January 23 | #1187

The highly anticipated, much reported inauguration of America’s 45th president is now history. Now the governing begins.  It’s often difficult for elected officials, whether president or school board member, whether federal or state, to leave the campaign rhetoric, shift from transitioning and actually govern.

On January 3, newly elected or re-elected state senators and state representatives took their oath of office in Madison. At those ceremonies, they went from campaigning and transitioning to governing. So, in the early days of this new two-year legislative session, what does their governing look like?

Here’s a sampling of what we know is either already introduced or will be soon. You need to be the judge of whether or not you think these are wise and helpful proposals—and then you need to communicate your opinions to your own state representative and state senator. That’s what good citizens do.

First, in an effort to be part of some push nationwide, at least a couple of Republicans are authoring a measure that will, for lack of a better term, “decriminalize” child prostitution. California passed such a measure late last year. The obvious intent is to recognize the vast majority of children acting as prostitutes are, of course, coerced into it. They are victims, not criminals, is the mantra.  But does this bill help law enforcement actually get the real criminals—the pimps who are hiding in the shadows threatening these children? Or does the bill make it harder for law enforcement to both protect the children and get to the real criminals? And since much of the sex-trade marketing is done over the internet, what does such a bill mean if a tech-savvy teen pimps himself or herself on line?  It’s legal until they are 18—and suddenly then it’s not?

Some Republicans are also seeking to remove the requirement that teens ages 16 and 17 need a parent’s signature to get a work permit. Their argument? We have teens in our major population centers, especially in Milwaukee, who can’t get a job primarily because they can’t get a parent’s or guardian’s signature because their family is pretty much non-existent. The teens and communities would be much better off, they argue, if these teens could get a job. Some states have either never done work permits or have recently done away with them for 16 and 17 year-olds. However, many states still require work permits, with a parent’s signature, for anyone under 18. So who do work permits protect? The teen? The parent? The employer? Why were work permits with a parent’s signature ever instituted? What’s changed since this law was originally implemented that would indicate today’s 16 and 17 year-olds should be able to get a job without a signed worked permit? Who will be legally liable for any on-the-job, work-related felony or misdemeanor a 16 or 17 year-old minor may commit? Are parental-signed work permits overall good for 16 and 17 year olds and for their parents, or are they a deterrent for getting a job?

Another bill, again authored by Republicans, seeks to add crimes against law enforcement personnel to the state’s existing hate crimes statute. Wisconsin’s hate crimes law is the oldest in the country. It already covers race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry. It basically works as a penalty enhancer for misdemeanors and felonies. The proposed so-called “Blue Lives Matter” bill would open the hate crimes up to an entirely new category: profession, which is not a protected category under the U.S. or Wisconsin constitutions currently.  The authors argue that the legislature wants to send a strong message that they have the backs, so to speak, of those citizens in law enforcement and that they value them. But is this bill, which is about punishment after the fact, the best way to send that message?  Historically, conservatives have been opposed to the whole idea of hate crimes laws. Does adding something some think is good to a bad law, make a bad law good? What about the argument that because the hate crimes law is on the books, we should use it in this instance? How does a court convict on the basis of motive? That’s never been part of our jurisprudence. What’s the next group that gets added to the hate crimes law? Veterans? Fire fighters? Legislators?

Finally, Democrats are pushing a bill that would legalize medical marijuana. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he’s willing to talk about it. Well, what does that mean? How far is the Speaker willing to go on this?

The bills I mentioned are very real. Now is a great time to contact your representative and senator, find out their positions on these issues and let them know your opinion on these matters. Help them govern rightly. That’s our responsibility as citizens.

For Wisconsin Family Council, I’m Julaine Appling, reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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