Pubdate: Thu, 05 Jan 2017
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Copyright: 2017 Journal Sentinel Inc.
Author: Jason Stein, Patrick Marley


Madison - The state would expand the fight against heroin abuse and
approve labor contracts with the few remaining state employee unions,
under legislation unanimously passed by lawmakers Tuesday.

Without dissent, the Assembly approved the measures on drug abuse and sent
them to the Senate, which is expected to take them up in the coming weeks.
Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen support the

If the heroin bills become law, users of the deadly drug would be immune
from liability if they called 911 to report overdoses, and more first
responders could carry drugs to counteract overdoses. People also would
have to show identification when they pick up many prescriptions, and
communities would be able to set up drug-disposal programs more easily.

"We can't give up on our kids, no matter how bad the case is," said one of
the bill's co-sponsors, Rep. Lee Nerison (R-Westby). "There's always hope
to get them off these horrible drugs."

The labor contracts - approved unanimously by both houses - would provide
a 1% pay raise for five state employee unions representing about 2,400
workers, matching the raise that non-union employees already received in
July. The contracts would cost the state about $1.65 million through June,
and they now go to Walker for his signature.

Heroin. The bills on heroin are being promoted by Rep. John Nygren
(R-Marinette), whose daughter, Cassie, has struggled with addiction to the

Lawmakers from around the state also told tragic stories from their own
districts of young constituents cut down by heroin overdoses and spoke of
the growing concern among local law enforcement.

The first of the proposals would make people immune from criminal
prosecution for drug possession if they brought someone to an emergency
room or called 911 because they believed the person was suffering from an

That bill doesn't provide immunity for drug dealing or other drug crimes.

Another bill would allow any first responders to administer naloxone if
they are trained.

Known by its brand name of Narcan, naloxone counteracts overdoses from
heroin and other opiates.

Currently, only certain emergency medical technicians are allowed to
administer the drug, and the bill would make it more widely available.

Police officers, firefighters and the family and friends of addicts also
would be able to administer the drug and would receive immunity from
liability for giving it.

Currently, it is illegal for doctors to prescribe the drug for family
members to use on their relatives and for someone with a prescription for
Narcan to use the drug on someone else who is having an overdose.

A third bill would allow communities to create programs to dispose of
prescription and illegal drugs.

A fourth measure would require people to show identification to pick up
prescriptions that are considered to have a high potential for abuse.

Nygren thanked his daughter publicly for allowing her ongoing struggles to
be shared to help others.

He read the names of parents who have lost a son or daughter to overdoses
and said that he would continue to work other pieces of legislation to
address heroin abuse.

"None of these bills are the end-all, be-all," Nygren said. "This is a
beginning, not an end. But it's a significant day."

Democrats stressed that more efforts would be needed to strengthen
treatment efforts for addicts and provide them with access to health care
providers who can help with those interventions.

"We have to do a lot more on preventing the addiction in the first place,"
said Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood).

Contracts. Non-union state workers, representing the overwhelming majority
of the state's 69,000 employees, received a 1% raise under the budget that
took effect in July.

Unionized workers haven't received raises, but would get ones of the same
size if Walker signs the contracts the Legislature approved Tuesday. The
pay raises for the union members would be retroactive to July 1.

The five unions represent the state's education workers, attorneys,
nurses, electricians, research analysts and economists.

After Walker and GOP lawmakers in 2011 eliminated all collective
bargaining for most public employees except over wages, most state
employee unions dropped their state certification.

That means they no longer bargain on behalf of their union members with
their employer, though they do continue to represent their members in
other ways.

BadgerCare Plus. After signing legislation last month to adjust timelines
for changing the BadgerCare Plus health care program, Walker told
lawmakers two weeks ago that the administration needs a second tweak to
those deadlines.

The new bill, approved by both houses Tuesday, would start implementing
Walker's plans for BadgerCare two months earlier and is part of an
agreement between the Walker administration and officials with the federal
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Under the latest proposal, any qualifying Wisconsin parents or caretakers
above the federal poverty line of $11,490 per year for single adults would
be able to receive BadgerCare through March 31 so long as they apply for
the coverage before Feb. 1.

The Senate passed the measure 21-11, with three Democrats joining all
Republicans in support.

The Assembly passed it on a voice vote, and it now goes to Walker.

Starting Feb. 1, the state would begin using new federal guidelines for
computing household income as laid out by the federal health care law.

If those guidelines find that the applicant is above the federal poverty
limit, the applicant will be directed to sign up for care through federal
online insurance marketplaces called exchanges.
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