AARP Wisconsin was out in full force during the past legislative session which wrapped up in April. Our volunteer advocates were active over the past 18 months, testifying at Joint Finance Committee hearings, speaking at press conferences, visiting legislators and distributing information on issues important to the 50+.
While we didn’t win on all our issues, we had significant victories along the way and will continue to advocate for these important state issues during the fall election and into the next legislative session.
Here’s a brief recap of our state priority issues and where they currently stand.
FINANCIAL SECURITY IN RETIREMENT
We supported the Wisconsin Private Secure Retirement Act (SB-611), a bill which would lay the groundwork for Wisconsin workers to gain access to a low cost and low risk private pension if one is not offered by their employers. This is one of several ways state government can make it easier for people to work toward a more financially secure retirement. Unfortunately this bill was never scheduled for a hearing and never made it to the floor for a vote.
FAMILY CARE EXPANSION
Family Care is a Wisconsin program that gives frail elderly and people with disabilities the opportunity to receive long-term care services at home rather than in costly institutions. This popular and cost-effective program is currently only available in only 57 Wisconsin counties. The Governor however recently announced that Family Care will be expanded into seven northeast Wisconsin counties. Eventually we would like to see the program available to all 72 counties in Wisconsin.
We are pleased that as of April 1, 2014, all adults without dependent children who are within 100% of the Federal Poverty Level are now eligible for health care through BadgerCare. We had hoped the state would accept federal funding to fully expand Medicaid, but that has not yet happened. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that all Wisconsinites have access to quality, affordable health care.
ACCESS TO TELEPHONE LANDLINES
For many Wisconsinites, especially those in rural areas where cell phone service is unreliable or unavailable, telephone landlines can be their only connection to the outside world. Losing that service would be a health and safety issue. A “Provider of Last Resort” bill (SB-306) was introduced to require all telephone providers to offer landline phone service in all parts of the state. This bill never received a hearing or made it to the floor for a vote.
Governor Walker signed a bill into law that establishes a “Silver Alert” notification system. The law, which we support, enables police throughout Wisconsin to use the Crime Alert Network to promptly send statewide notices when a senior citizen goes missing. Similar to Amber Alerts that help locate missing children, it is designed to help people who have Alzheimer's or other cognitive issues.
Governor Walker signed three bills into law relating to handicapped parking that we support. The changes include increasing the minimum fine for violations of disabled parking, enhancing violation enforcement and increasing the number of van accessible spaces.
We opposed two bills that we believe make it more difficult for people to vote. One bill (SB-324) puts more restrictions on the hours that voters can cast in-person absentee ballots in their communities. Another bill (AB-396) tightens some of the rules relating to absentee voting in residential care facilities. Proponents claim these bills, both of which passed into law, are about trying to be consistent with voting hours across the state. We believe both bills are nothing more than voting roadblocks.