State Assembly lawmakers attempted and failed Wednesday to override Gov. Tony Evers’ veto of a bill that would have decreased state training requirements for nurse aides.
Legislators voted along party lines, 63-36, on the veto override. All Republicans voted in favor of the override; all Democrats voted against. Veto overrides require a two-thirds majority to pass.
Evers vetoed the bill in November. Under the plan, certified nursing assistants would only be required to complete 75 hours of training, the federal minimum, in Wisconsin. Current state law requires 120 hours.
In his veto message, Evers said the plan would hurt the quality of patient care and lead to more turnover in nursing assistant positions. A number of groups, including AARP, Alzheimer’s Association and Disability Rights Wisconsin also opposed the bill.
During Wednesday's Assembly floor debate, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, echoed the governor's concerns about turnover. He said lowering training requirements would contribute to nurse aides feeling less prepared for their jobs, making them more likely to quit.
"What you’re actually doing would exacerbate the problem," Hintz said.
Supporters of the measure, which passed the Assembly with a bipartisan vote of 66-31 in May, argued the opposite: that lowering requirements would help get more trained aides into the Wisconsin workforce.
During debate, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, reiterated that point.
"While this bill might not be a silver bullet, it will adequately insulate us from the silver tsunami that’s on our shores," Nygren said, referencing the state's aging population.
"This is about getting more care for our parents, our grandparents and, eventually, us," Nygren said. "We need more caretakers."
A number of lawmakers in border communities also argued Wisconsin's training requirements make it more difficult for some health care providers to hire certified nursing assistants. Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota only require the federal minimum of training.
"The least we can do as a Legislature is to bring our CNA requirements in line with neighboring states," said Rep. Gae Magnafici, R-Dresser.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, on Monday said Evers "couldn’t see the forest for the trees on this issue."
Steineke accused Evers of "failing to understand that this bipartisan bill would’ve brought much needed relief to so many of our elderly throughout the state."
The bill was supported by groups including Mayo Clinic Health System, Wisconsin Assisted Living Association and Disability Service Provider Network.
Three Democrats joined all Republicans in supporting the bill in May: Rep. Steve Doyle, D-Onalaska; Rep. Beth Meyers, D-Bayfield; and Rep. Don Vruwink, D-Milton. All three changed their vote Wednesday to vote with their party.
The Assembly has previously attempted to override three of the governor’s budget vetoes related to mental health services in Wisconsin. Those override attempts were also unsuccessful.
Several Adoption Proposals Approved
The Assembly also voted on several bills related to adoption in Wisconsin. The measures are the result of a legislative task force on the issue.
One of the plans would eliminate the right to a jury trial in an involuntary termination of parental rights proceeding. Involuntary termination of parental rights can be spurred by several events, including abandonment. The bill would add parental incarceration and drug use by the mother during pregnancy to that list.
During debate, Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, argued against the change.
"A jury trial is a basic right in this country," Billings said.
The proposal would also require the first review of a child’s permanency plan be held in court within six months of the child’s removal from home.
The bill passed 61-37.
Other bills in the package would:
- Allow involuntary termination of parental rights if a child is placed in a foster home, group home, non-secured residential care center for children and youth, or shelter care facility for 15 of the most recent 22 months. The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote.
- Create a state procedure that allows adoptive and birth parents to enter into a so-called "open adoption," where birth parents remain involved in the child’s life. Current law does not recognize open adoptions in Wisconsin. The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote.
- Expand the rights of a foster parent or physical custodian in any hearing on a requested change in a child’s placement. The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote.
- Changes guidelines that children must be placed with relatives "whenever possible" to guidelines that specify those placements should occur only if they’re in the child’s best interest. The bill passed 64-34.
A pair of bills from the Joint Legislative Council's Study Committee on Child Placement and Support would also add a requirement that child custody cases take into account whether equal time with both parents is in the child’s best interest and requires a court to issue "specific finding of fact" to justify why a parent is awarded less than 25 percent of the time with their child. Both bills passed on unanimous voice votes.
None of the adoption proposals have been voted on in the Senate.
Other Bills Under Consideration
Other proposals up for votes Wednesday would:
- Bar local governments from increasing property taxes after taking over a service formerly provided by another local entity. The bill passed the Assembly 64-35; it has yet to be voted on in the Senate.
- Speed up criminal proceedings when a victim or witness is an elder person and preserve the testimony of a crime victim or witness who is an elder person. This measure is part of a package of bills related to elder abuse. The bill passed the Assembly on a unanimous voice vote; it has yet to be voted on in the Senate.
- Require signs informing about Lyme disease in state parks, state trails, state recreational areas and state forests. This bill is part of a package related to Lyme disease prevention. The bill passed 99-0. It already passed the Senate and now moves to Evers’ desk for his signature.
- Make insect repellant available for sale in state parks and state forests. This measure is also part of the Lyme disease package. The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote. It already passed the Senate and now moves to Evers’ desk.
The Assembly is expected to reconvene next week for more action. The current legislative session is expected to end by early spring.