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March 30, 2015

Advocates for elderly, disabled testify at JFC hearings

Wisconsin aging and long-term disability rights advocates converged on the rotunda last week. (PHOTO: Bob Hague)

Wisconsin aging and long-term disability rights advocates converged on the rotunda last week. (PHOTO: Bob Hague)

Among those opposing Governor Scott Walker’s $70 billion budget are advocates and participants in Family Care and IRIS. The third of four public hearings on the state budget takes place Monday in Rice Lake.

IRIS provides daily support to the elderly and people with disabilities, but the long term care program is eliminated in the state budget. Julie Burish of Brookfield is a member of the grassroots coalition: Save IRIS. She spoke at the hearing in Milwaukee on Friday. “Every person who uses IRIS did not choose to be frail or disabled and they simply wanted to live a self-determined, self-directed life like the rest of us,” she said. “Save IRIS because IRIS works.”

Burish explained IRIS is a valuable, cost-effective program giving people greater control over their lives in their own homes.

Marion Holmberg of Waukesha represents those using the program and, she said, all of us. “Because at any moment any one of us could become part of the disability community. And certainly all of us will at one point or another join the group of senior citizens who may need to use this program.”

Participants rely on IRIS to select and hire personal care workers to help with bathing, dressing, and accessing meals. Advocates spoke to the Joint Finance Committee during a public hearing last week.

Approximately 52,500 people statewide rely on Family Care and IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct), according to advocates. Walker’s budget proposal would eliminate IRIS and radically change both Family Care and ADRCs (Aging & Disability Resource Centers).

The final official public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Thursday in Reedsburg. All meetings are streamed live on WisconsinEye.

Allowing terminally ill patients access to experimental options

Drugs (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Drugs (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

It’s a last resort, according to Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison). The Madison Democrat is introducing “Right-to-Try” legislation for individuals who are dying and all other treatments have failed. “It applies only to terminally ill patients — patients who are about to pass away. It permits them to use, you might say, experimental drugs.”

The hope is that it gives the patient one more chance at life. If it doesn’t work, Risser said it’s not a total loss. It could speed up the drug-testing process and help many lives in the future. “And if I were terminally ill and a drug was available, I would certainly be willing to try it,” said the longtime lawmaker. “Maybe it wouldn’t help me but it might help move the drug along and in the future save many lives.”

Patients would know what they were getting into, so Risser said there’s limited liability written into his just-introduced bill.

It takes years for researchers to test new drugs and get FDA approval for general use. Under the legislation, a manufacturer may make an investigational drug, device, or biological product available to an eligible patient.

AUDIORisser asks why not? :13

“Patients who are at the end of their rope and are willing to accept the risk should be permitted to jump the lengthy approval process for the sake of survival,” said Representative Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), who is the Assembly sponsor of the bill.

Though an investigational drug, device, or biological product has not yet been approved for general use by the federal Food and Drug Administration, the bill requires it has successfully completed a phase one clinical trial. The bill prohibits a state official from blocking an eligible patient’s access to an investigational drug, device, or biological product.

Six states already have Right-to-Try laws: Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Missouri, Louisiana, and Michigan. It’s been introduced in 24 other states.

Joint Finance Committee hears from educators, others

(IMAGE): Wisconsin Eye.

(IMAGE): Wisconsin Eye.

A second round of testimony from individuals giving their two-cents worth on the governor’s budget took place all day Friday.

Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver asks members of the Joint Finance Committee to provide a sustainable and predictable funding structure for all public schools. “Today I urge you to see public education as an investment, not an expense.”

MPS faces a cut of more than $12 million. Considering previous cuts and higher costs due to inflation, Driver says further cuts to school programs would be unavoidable. “That’s why we’re asking that you recognize the value of investing in Wisconsin’s public schools. Our children are our most precious resource and education is the civil rights issue of our generation.”

Driver told lawmakers on the legislative budget writing panel that MPS made use of the tools in ACT 10 after funding reductions four years ago, but further cuts can’t be absorbed. Also, she says she understands the popularity of property tax relief, but a five-dollar-a-year tax break is not worth the sacrifice to education.

Driver spoke at a public hearing on the two-year state budget in Milwaukee, at Alverno College, Pitman Theatre.

As MPS superintendent, Dr. Driver serves more than 77,000 students every day; 87 percent are of color, 84 percent are living in poverty, 20 percent receive specialized services, and 10 percent English language learners.

The third meeting with Joint Finance is Monday in Rice Lake. (Schedule)

Social media means heightened scrutiny in politics

It’s been described as a necessary evil, but everyone who wants attention uses social media.

Governor Scott Walker has been called the “Twitter-in-Chief.” President Obama signs his tweets: BO.

UW Madison assistant professor Michael Wagner is an expert on Twitter and Facebook. He explained, “Social media is immediate and usually forever.”

Comments don’t necessarily have to be new; Wagner said old messages can come back to haunt a person.

Veteran GOP strategist Liz Mair stepped down from her new role on Scott Walker’s digital social media team Tuesday, just one day after being hired to that post, because of previous controversial tweets.

Several people have gotten burned from their public messages. Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner was forced to resign in 2011 following a scandal involving sexting.

“Another general problem is just getting into arguments with people,” Wagner said, “and being overly emotional in some of the language that might be used.”

Most political candidates or elected officials use social media to engage the public. Several benefits include the immediacy of the message and an ability to bypass traditional media. A comment takes mere seconds to create and distribute, but its effect — negative or positive — can last forever.

JFC members get earful from public on Walker’s budget cuts

Joint Finance Committee public hearing in Brillion (PHOTO: Twitter post from state GOP)

Joint Finance Committee public hearing in Brillion (Twitter photo, Wisconsin Assembly Republicans @WIAssemblyGOP)

The Joint Finance Committee heard seven hours of testimony on the governor’s budget Wednesday in east-central Wisconsin.

The first of four official public hearings was heavily represented by school administrators talking about the need to fund education.

Todd Carlson is superintendent for the Gillett School District, a small city just north of Green Bay. He recalled how a senior who expressed interest in a future in education, was convinced by his father — a teacher — to try something else. “His son is one of our best students. And I’m sad to say that his father talked him out of it,” Carlson said, “Because of the lack of support, the lack of funding, increased accountability, he’s convinced his son not to go into education.”

Carlson told members of the budget-writing committee it wasn’t that long ago that a public education was seen as an investment. Now, he said, it’s seen as an expense.

Superintendent Brain Hanes of the Ashwaubenon School District said Wisconsin schools can’t take another hit. “I believe we’re at a tipping point in how the state is starting to affect the supply and demand of quality teachers and how this is affecting Wisconsin.”

Hanes said many districts are “at the end of their rope.”

Green Bay parent Kathryn Carley told lawmakers, “Schools are not failing,” instead she says, “They are struggling to succeed” with the little resources they are given.

Public school administrators also gave their two cents worth about a proposed expansion of the program that gives tax-funded vouchers to low-income kids to attend private or religious schools, saying it takes money away from public schools.  Walker’s budget would lift the enrollment limit, and use public school aid to cover the vouchers.

There were also many people testifying on health care, disabilities, smoking cessation programs, transportation funding, and other issues.

The meeting was in Brillion, Calument County. The next hearing is scheduled on Friday at Alverno College in Milwaukee. (Schedule) All meetings can be streamed live on WisconsinEye.