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Citizen input results in state law changes

A Column of Personal Opinion by State Senator Sheila Harsdorf

Since the conclusion of the 2013-14 legislative session earlier this month, the Governor has been reviewing and acting upon legislation passed by the State Legislature this spring. This process was nearly completed this week as the Governor signed 55 bills into law, including eight proposals that I authored in the State Senate. I am pleased that all of these eight bills enacted this week were suggested to me by local residents or have ties to our region.

One of these bills responded to the concerns of school officials and law enforcement regarding the increased availability and growing use of dangerous synthetic drugs and the associated problems that result. Last session, the State Legislature passed legislation that banned the sale of synthetic drugs, which are often times more potent than the drugs they seek to mimic. These synthetic drugs are commonly referred to by their street names such as K2, bath salts, plant food, and spice. This law change updates Wisconsin’s prohibition on synthetic drugs in an effort to keep pace with manufacturers and to help district attorneys as they prosecute offenders.

Several changes that I authored seek to reduce barriers between Wisconsin and Minnesota and were brought to my attention by area residents that were affected by these barriers. Living along the border, we recognize that we operate and work as a region with Minnesota and it is important to align our laws where possible for the convenience of residents. One new law allows Wisconsin border counties and municipalities to contract with Minnesota border counties to house jail inmates to find cost savings and address overcrowding. A number of residents also suggested increasing the length of three-vehicle combinations involving recreational vehicles to match what is allowed in Minnesota and Iowa, which will help promote our state’s important tourism industry. In addition, legislation I authored with Representative Dean Knudson reduces the number of training hours required to become a cosmetologist to match Minnesota’s training requirements.

Another example of reducing barriers is in training requirements for nurse aides, which is an occupation in high demand in our state. This issue was brought to my attention by a nurse that had moved to Wisconsin, but ran into licensing roadblocks when seeking to practice nursing in our state. Since Wisconsin’s nursing licensure law did not allow for reciprocity, under previous law, nurses moving into our state were required to complete their entire training program over again. Under the bill I authored, options are provided to nurses that received their license from other states to become licensed in Wisconsin without burdensome time and cost requirements.

Representative Erik Severson and I also authored legislation to improve the safety of snowmobile field training courses, given the tragic loss of a young girl’s life in Osceola last fall. With the Governor’s signing of the bill this week, snowmobiles used in field training exercises will need to be equipped with a device that limits the snowmobile’s speed to 15 miles per hour in an effort to help prevent future loss of life. The Department of Natural Resources has suspended snowmobile field training courses in response to this accident.

Do you have any suggestions on issues to look at for next session? Please let me know by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or sending me an e-mail at