April 16, 2014

Democrats join call for Kramer’s resignation

The top Democrats in the state Assembly are backing up Republican lawmakers in their call for ousted Majority Leader Bill Kramer to resign from the Legislature. Democratic leaders sent a letter to the Waukesha Republican on Monday, asking him to step down before his term ends next January. Republicans made a similar request last week.

The push for Kramer to resign comes after he was charged last month with sexual assault, based on allegations that he aggressively groped a woman in the parking lot of a Muskego bar in 2011. In a separate incident, Kramer is also accused of groping a legislative aide and sexually harassing another woman during a fundraising trip to Washington D.C. earlier this year. Kramer was stripped of his role as majority leader last month after those reports first surfaced and has indicated he will not seek reelection in the fall.

Democrats also sent a letter to Republican leadership, accusing them of not going far enough to discipline Kramer’s behavior. They are asking for Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) to keep the option of forming a special ethics committee on the table to consider the allegations, along with possibly starting the process to expel Kramer from the chamber. Vos and other Republicans decided last week not to pursue action to remove Kramer from office, citing concerns that holding hearings could impact the pending sexual assault case against him.

Kramer’s attorney has so far indicated that his client has no intention of leaving the Assembly before his term expires, while also arguing that any efforts to remove him now would violate his constitutional rights to due process. While he has been accused of wrongdoing, Kramer has not been convicted of any crimes. The embattled lawmaker is due in court next week for his initial appearance on the sexual assault charges.

Walker signs heroin bills

Efforts designed to help in the battle with heroin are now law in Wisconsin. The bills were authored by state Representative John Nygren, a Marinette Republican with a personal stake in the issue.

“My daughter Cassie has been addicted to heroin for a number of years,” Nygren said. “We’ve had struggles like a lot of families have had. I’ve heard from families throughout the state who’ve often had similar stories and often more tragic stories.”

The package was dubbed the HOPE agenda, for Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education.

The bills grant limited immunity to encourage witnesses who report overdoses, allow medical personnel administer an antidote, and provide grant money for diversion programs and to boost prescription drug disposal programs.

Governor Scott Walker acknowledged that Nygren’s efforts address growing needs, as the state grapples with a heroin epidemic. “We know if you don’t treat the addiction, particularly with heroin, they’re going to be right back there again.”


Pasch announces retirement

Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood)

Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood)

With the legislative session done for the year, the list of lawmakers announcing plans to retire continues to grow.

Assistant Minority Leader Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood) becomes the 16th member of the Assembly to say they will not seek re-election to their current post this fall. Pasch cited “personal matters and family health circumstances” for her decision.

The Democrat is a psychiatric nurse who she served on a task force that recommended a series of bills to improve mental health care throughout the state. Those bills were approved, and she believes she can have a greater impact outside of the Legislature than within it.

Pasch says she will continue serving in her Assembly leadership post until her term ends early next January.

Medical “I’m sorry” bill ready for Walker’s signature

Wisconsin medical professionals will be able to convey condolences and apologies to patients and their families when things go wrong, without having to worry about those statements being used in malpractice actions, under terms of a bill now ready for Governor Scott Walker’s signature.

The bill’s author, Senator Lea Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) is also a registered nurse. She said the bill addresses a “wall of silence” between healthcare professionals and patients. “Right now, if you talk to most medical students, they’ll tell you they’re told to zip up their lip when something bad happens,” Vukmir said. “That healthcare provider, that doctor, that nurse, they’re feeling it, too. Do you think they don’t feel that failure?”

The bill prohibits statements of condolences or apology from doctors or other healthcare providers from being admissible in lawsuits. Senators Fred Risser (D-Madison) and Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend), both attorneys, were among those opposed to the bill.

“Any statement, gesture or conduct by a healthcare professional that satisfies the requirements is not admissible into evidence,” noted Risser. “It’s really hard to justify, and it’s not like we have a big problem in med mal cases here,” said Grothman. “You’re going to the point where you’re almost saying it should be almost impossible to ever win a med mal case.”

This sort of so-called “I’m sorry” legislation has been proposed the last several sessions. A version even passed the legislature in 2005, but vetoed by then-Governor Jim Doyle.

The bill, which previously passed the Assembly, was approved by the Senate on a 19-14 vote on the last regular day of the legislative session.

In other action on Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill which requires Wisconsin police departments to bring in outside agencies to investigate the deaths of persons in custody, The measure was drafted in response to the deaths of several men in recent years, including the 2012 shooting death of Paul Heenan by an officer in Madison, and the 2011 death of Derek Williams in a Milwaukee squad car. No officers were charged in either man’s death.


Senate approves amended oral chemo bill

The state Senate has passed a bill designed to lower the costs of oral chemotherapy treatment for Wisconsin cancer patients. Opponents argued the bill, which the Assembly amended to cap co-pays at $100 a month, leaves too many loopholes for insurance companies to exploit and charge more.

“You can’t put more than one chemo in a single pill,” said Senator Tim Cullen. The Janesville Democrat is a cancer survivor with a background in the insurance industry. “So if a doctor orders two or three different chemos, that’s two or three different prescriptions. Each prescription, under this legislation, is a separate $100.”

The bill passed 26-7, with moderate Republican Dale Schultz among the no votes. “It’s not real, it’s not fair, it would be like bait and switch,” said Schultz. The bill’s author, Republican Senator Alberta Darling, attempted to give assurances that the $100 co-pay will mean something.

“The commissioner of insurance says the co-payment is limited to $100 for thirty days supply, and he also says it’s parity, oral chemo and intravenous,” Darling said. “So I am assured we’re going to be able to hold the commissioner’s feet to the fire. All of you have this document in writing. You know that means a lot.”

“All the insurance commissioner can do . . . is write a letter to an insurance company saying ‘please don’t use the loophole that was included in the Assembly amendment,” said Senator Jon Erpenbach, a Dane County Democrat, adding that’s unlikely to happen.

The bill now goes to Governor Scott Walker for his signature.