Rep. John Nygren (R – Marinette), co-chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse, and a leader on Heroin, Opiate, Prevention, and Education (HOPE) Agenda, introduced 11 special session bills on opioid abuse in late February. Companion bills were also introduced in the Senate. Assembly and Senate Committees have begun to hold hearings and votes on the bills. It is reported that the legislature plans to be on the floor the first week of April to take up the HOPE agenda bills.
The Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety heard testimony on March 2 on Special Session Bills 1, 2 and 10. Rep. Nygren and Attorney General Brad Schimel testified in support of all three bills. Support for SSAB 1, which allows school officials to administer an opioid antagonist to a student in case of an overdose, was given by co-author Sen. Leah Vukmir (R – Brookfield), parents of children suffering from addiction and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
On SSAB 2, which expands treatment and diversion grants, lawmakers heard testimony from Sarah Butler, who said drug treatment court helped her stay clean while recovering from addiction. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau) and the Wisconsin Counties Association also spoke in favor of the expanded TAD grants. Drug agents testified in favor of SSAB 10, which would create four new drug agents at the Department of Justice.
In executive session on March 9, the Committee passed Special Session Bills 1, 2 and 10 unanimously. The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Commerce & Local Government will hear testimony on Special Session Bill 2 on March 14. Special Session Bill 10 passed unanimously out of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety on March 2.
The Assembly Committee on Education heard testimony on March 2 on Special Session Bills 6 and 11. Rep. Nygren testified in support of both bills, joined by co-author Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) on SSAB 6. Also in support of SSAB 6, which would create a recovery school for high school students in recovery from dependency, the UW Systems President and UW Office of Educational Opportunity Director. Parents of children suffering from addiction and young people in recovery testified on the benefits of recovery schools and were backed by testimony from researchers who pointed to the success of recovery schools around the country.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction testified in support of SSAB 11, which would require DPI to provide training to educators to address students’ mental health needs. In executive session on March 9, the Committee passed Special Session Bills 6 and 11 unanimously.
The Assembly Committee on Health heard testimony on March 8 on Special Session Bills 4, 7, 8 and 9. Rep. Nygren testified in support of all four of his bills. Pharmacists testified in support of SSAB 4, which would require a prescription for cough syrups and other medications containing the opioid codeine.
Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Jennifer Malcore answered questions on SSAB 7, SSAB 8 and SSAB 9, which give DHS authority to expand graduate medical training in an addiction specialty, create additional opioid treatment programs in rural and/or underserved areas and administer an addiction medicine consultation program. Those who spoke in support of the bills included doctors, counselors and people who have suffered or whose families have suffered from addiction. The Senate Committee on Revenue, Financial Institutions and Rural Issues also held a public hearing on SSSB 8 on March 9.
The Assembly Committee on Judiciary heard testimony on March 8 on Special Session Bills 3 and 5. Rep. Nygren, joined by other supporters, testified on behalf of both bills. The Committee heard from parents of children suffering from addiction, people in recovery and their coaches in support of SSAB 3, which expands the 911 Good Samaritan law that would extend limited immunity from certain criminal prosecutions to a person who overdoses. On SSAB 5, which allows for the involuntary commitment to treatment for a person suffering from drug addiction, the Committee heard testimony from Senate author Sen. Darling and other supporters. The Wisconsin Counties Association offered three potential new amendments to the bill that would assist counties with its implementation.
Committees have heard testimony on all 11 Special Session Assembly bills. Executive sessions and Senate hearings will follow in the next few weeks.