Friday, November 15, 2019

Poison Pill: Republican Dishonesty on Eau Claire Psychiatric Beds

Poison Pill: Republican Dishonesty on Eau Claire Psychiatric Beds

There’s been a lot in the news lately about emergency detentions and a proposal for new psychiatric care beds in Eau Claire. Sadly, there’s been a lot of partisan politicking and misinformation too.

Let’s put all the cards on the table…

Q: I’ve heard that when police detain someone in a mental health crisis, they get pulled off their regular duties and have to transport the person in crisis long distances because there aren’t enough psychiatric care beds around here. Is that true?

A: Yes. The system is broken, and Democrats are committed to fixing it. We absolutely need more psychiatric beds in northern and western Wisconsin.

We’re glad Republican legislators are finally bringing attention to this important issue, but we regret the way they chose to needlessly politicize it.

(Click here to skip the politics and go straight to the solution. How often do you get that option?)

Q: What exactly was proposed for Eau Claire?

A: When they re-wrote the state budget, Republicans proposed using $15 Million in borrowing authority (state taxpayers pay the mortgage) to pay for building 22 additional psychiatric care beds at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and St. Joseph's in Chippewa Falls.

Sacred Heart Hospital currently has 29 psychiatric beds that can be used for emergency detentions, in a combined adult and juvenile unit. The plan would expand this facility to 33 beds for adults only and build 18 new beds for juveniles in Chippewa Falls. So, that’s a net increase of 22 beds.

Q: Why did Governor Evers veto this?

A: There were 2 big problems with how Republicans wrote this project into the budget...

#1 - The $15 Million was stolen:
Republicans chose to fund the Eau Claire psychiatric beds by stealing $15 Million in borrowing authority from the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center (MJTC) expansion project. Expanding MJTC is part of a much larger, bipartisan plan to shut down and replace the disgracefully unsafe Lincoln Hills juvenile facility.

This was the state budget. Republicans had all kinds of options when it came to finding the money, the easiest of which would have been authorizing $15 Million in new borrowing authority for this new project. By not providing any new funding to back up these proposed beds, Republicans show their budget motion was not a serious proposal.

This is the “poison pill” Republicans claim doesn’t exist: Any vote for the budget or for overriding this veto was a vote to slash $15 Million from the MJTC expansion.

Since some have claimed the opposite of this, we’re happy to walk you through it here.

#2 - Timing & Due Diligence:
On June 21, Wisconsin Health News quoted a Sacred Heart Hospital executive saying: “Sen. Bernier reached out to us a little over a month ago, maybe a month and a half ago, and posed the question to us. And then our team pulled together quickly.”

Let’s call that 6 weeks. Working back from June 21, that means Sen Bernier was just floating this as an idea around May 10th. By June 11th, this project had passed the legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee.

We all want government to be more efficient and responsive, but approving a project of this size about 30 days after it was first imagined is ridiculous. There’s no way that proper due diligence happened in that timeframe. This is why Governor Evers’ veto message says “I object to this project not following the normal enumeration process that has been established by the Building Commission.” That’s where the due diligence normally happens.

Remember Republicans had full control of WI state government for 8 years, from 2011 to 2018. Why didn’t they include these beds in Eau Claire in one of Scott Walker’s budgets? Now that there’s a new governor, they waited until we were 3 months into the budget process and suddenly there was a mad dash to spend this money as fast as humanly possible.

None of this should reflect negatively on HSHS or Sacred Heart. Kudos to them for being willing to step up and design this project on the fly! But before taxpayers shell out $15 Million plus interest, we need a process to explore all our options, and it needs to be more rigorous than one State Senator working the phones for a couple weeks. This is doubly true when, as in this case, we’d be giving that money to a private institution rather than building a facility the state would own and control going forward.

Q: What’s wrong with taking $15 Million from psychiatric beds in Madison and putting it towards psychiatric beds in Eau Claire? We have greater need here!

A: The proposed Eau Claire project is NOT the same kind of facility as Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center (MJTC).

The MJTC expansion is being designed and built specifically for rehabilitating violent juvenile offenders. The beds at MJTC will not be used for any emergency detentions of people in crisis.

And MJTC is actually a unique strength that our state should be building upon, even if it happens to be in Dane County. Take it from Scott Walker:

"MJTC is internationally renowned for its treatment program, which was built from the ground up here in Wisconsin. Data shows significantly improved outcomes for juveniles who participated in treatment at MJTC."

Q: Why would Republicans put such a rushed, flawed proposal in the state budget?

A: We can’t know anybody’s motives for certain, but looking at the full picture, it sure seems like Republicans wanted Governor Evers to veto this project out of the budget.

Legislators on the Joint Finance Committee aren’t dumb. They knew that expanding Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center (MJTC) was the governor's #1 priority building project for the Dept of Health Services, because we need to finish that before we can shut-down Lincoln Hills. So Republicans created a situation where restoring full funding to MJTC would require a veto that wouldn't sound very good here in Northern Wisconsin.

And then --totally spontaneously, we’re sure-- just about every Republican legislator in our area got to unleash a torrent of lies smearing Governor Evers and Democrats as having "turned their backs" on Northern Wisconsin.

Q: Enough political bickering! How do we fix this?

A: Pass a real bill that responsibly funds psychiatric beds in our area. There are 2 on the table right now, and both already have bipartisan support…

AB433 would direct DHS to award 5 grants in 5 different areas of the state for regional crisis centers to take emergency detentions from local police. Right now, this bill appropriates $5 Million for these centers. That funding should be increased, and the bill should be passed.

AB443 would go ahead with this exact project: $15 Million in state borrowing for 22 new beds at HSHS Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls.

AB443 is different from the Republican budget proposal in 3 key ways:
  1. It’s fully-funded without undermining other important projects.
  2. It provides basic financial protections for taxpayers in case HSHS changes their plans or something.
  3. It spells out in state law that HSHS will have to give first priority to admitting emergency detentions from 29 counties in northern and western Wisconsin.
The Republican legislators who co-authored AB443 know darn well why it's a more responsible, serious plan than their budget motion and veto override stunts. Every second spent trying to override the veto or crowing about how terrible Democrats are is a second that should have been spent moving these bills forward.

Q: What happens next?

A: We’re 100% certain that you’re going to get a ton of junk mail in the next year claiming “[Insert Democrat] voted against vital mental health resources in Northern WI” and “Democrats only care about Madison and Milwaukee.”

We are less certain that Republican leadership will allow AB433 or AB443 to come up for a vote. We hope we’re wrong, but their actions so far suggest Republicans are more interested in ginning up regional and partisan resentment than actually getting this done.

Call your legislators (and their leadership!) and ask them to get AB433 and AB443 passed!
“I’m already a co-sponsor” isn't good enough.
Remember the Dark Store Loophole? Lots of co-sponsors, no action.
Get these bills passed.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald - (608) 266-5660
Speaker Robin Vos - (608) 266-9171
Senator Janet Bewley - (608) 266-3510
Rep Romaine Quinn - (608) 266-2519

Not in Barron County? Find your legislators here.

Q: What constructive, level-headed things did my legislator say about this?

A: We’re glad you asked…

Letter co-signed by 14 Republican Legislators:

“Governor Evers turned his back on our local families and law enforcement.” (11/6/19)

Rep Romaine Quinn (R-Barron):

“This was not a tricky vote. There were no poison pills, no unrelated issues, and no complicated sets of priorities to balance.” (11/7/19)

“Funding this center was an opportunity for Governor Evers to show that he could step outside his Madison and Milwaukee bubble, and support the priorities of our part of the state too.” (11/6/19)

"If the Governor wanted more money for the Madison facility (Mendota), he could have put it in his budget*. Instead he took the money we appropriated for up here and sent it south.” (8/13/19)

*Evers did put more money for MJTC in his budget.

“These are priorities Democrats claim repeatedly that they support, and blame Republicans for not funding. But the simple fact is that when given a clear, black-and-white, up-or-down choice, Democrats said ‘No.’” (11/7/19)

“By using his veto power to cut down the budget we sent him, Governor Evers has picked winners and losers. It’s especially unfortunate that he chose to pit rural districts against his base in Milwaukee and Madison.” (7/9/19)

“Vetoing a center in northern Wisconsin in favor of more construction in Madison shows how out of touch the Governor is on rural issues.” (7/9/19)

Rep Jesse James (R-Altoona):

“It just goes to show when people say they care about northern Wisconsin, they don’t mean it because their actions don’t mirror their words.” (11/12/19)

"I heard improper procedure was followed in the budget. Well, being new to the budget process and the introduction of a budget amendment, I can’t tell you if procedure was followed properly or not*. I didn’t think a budget amendment would get approved if proper procedure was followed." (11/7/19)

*That's not how it works, Representative. There's no shame in saying "I don't know." But there sure is in not trying to find out.

“More money for Madison, and northern Wisconsin is forgotten about again. If it isn’t for Madison or Milwaukee, just forget about it.” (10/7/19)

“Today, Assembly Democrats said they were not interested in helping our patients with mental health issues get the care they need closer to home.” (11/7/19)

Rep Gae Magnafici (R-Dresser):

“With such wide support, I simply cannot understand why the Governor and my Democratic colleagues are choosing to stonewall efforts for this facility.” (11/8/19)

Rep Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer):

“The governor has made a grave mistake, by striking this provision from the budget. And sent a clear message to Northern Wisconsin that he does not consider us a priority as compared to his Madison and Milwaukee bubble.” (11/7/19)

“When given the chance today to right their wrongs and override the Governor’s veto, [Democrats] chose again to bury their heads in the sand, stay lockstep with their party’s urban-centric policies, and ignore the mental health of their constituents.” (11/7/19)

“It was almost kind of a punch in the stomach. I was flabbergasted. This is such a need in northwest Wisconsin, and [Evers] turned his back on them.” (11/8/19)

“Today, my Democrat colleagues sent a clear message to Northwestern Wisconsin that they do not share our priorities and values when it comes to access for mental health services. I am appalled by the complete disregard for our area by the Governor and members of his party.” (11/7/19)

Rep Rob Stafsholt (R-New Richmond):

“In our area we have a Senator* that is very, very concerned, she says, with mental health access and treating our mental health patients. [Chuckling] And that Senator voted no against this provision. She voted no on the budget, and this was in there for $15 Million to serve her constituents in northwest Wisconsin.” (11/7/19)

*Rep Stafsholt's low-information cheap shot is directed at at Senator Patty Schachtner, who he seems to be planning to run against. Democratic legislators voted against the Republicans' version of the budget because it sabotaged BadgerCare and preserved no-strings-attached giveaways to millionaires, among other things.

Rep Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls):

“With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Evers' pulled the rug out from underneath mental health professionals and law enforcement in western Wisconsin when he vetoed funding for regional mental health crisis centers…. Gov. Evers has one of the strongest veto pens in the country and he used it to abandon western Wisconsin and send additional funding to Madison.” (7/8/19)

Rep Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma):

“Unfortunately, my Democrat colleagues from Northern Wisconsin were unable to vote for their districts and for their constituents. Because of Governor Evers and the Assembly Democrats, rural Wisconsinites are once again being denied the opportunity to have the mental health services that are not only readily available in Milwaukee and Madison, but are paid for by taxes from all over the state, including the Northwoods.” (11/7/19)

“When I met with Governor Evers at the beginning of this session, I implored him not to forget about rural Wisconsin.... Unfortunately, it seems these vetoes demonstrate where our communities fall on his list of priorities in comparison to Madison and Milwaukee.” (7/3/19)

Sen Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls):

"Needless to say, I was extraordinarily disappointed in our governor who does not understand the needs of western and northern Wisconsin…. It should be a bipartisan initiative. And I am so saddened that [Democrats] have made this a partisan issue probably because they have to cover for a governor who already vetoed it." (8/22/19)

“Bernier was upset at the veto but was even more irritated the money was sent to Mendota. ‘This is the most insulting thing he did, was to divert the funding for a different purpose,’ she said.” (11/8/19, La Crosse Tribune)

Rep Warren Petryk (R-Eleva):

"It is extremely disappointing that local area Democrat legislators voted to abandon Northwestern Wisconsin by standing with the Governor and sending this money to Madison instead of helping people in our area.” (11/7/19)

Rep Treig Pronschinske (R-Mondovi):

“Assembly Democrats followed suit with Governor Evers’ agenda focusing on benefiting Madison and Milwaukee as the Governor redirected 15 million dollars in funding from providing additional psychiatric beds and gave the money to our two biggest cities instead. When Assembly Democrats had the opportunity to put party politics aside and vote yes on a veto override, they decided to turn their back on the rural areas across the Northern and Western regions of our state.” (11/8/19)

Q: How do we know the $15 Million for psychiatric beds in Eau Claire was stolen from Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center (MJTC) in the budget?

A: Simply put, in one budget motion, MJTC lost $15 Million in General Fund-Supported Borrowing and the proposed Eau Claire project gained $15 Million (from zero) in General Fund-Supported Borrowing.

The issue revolves around how Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee modified the State Building Program section of the 2019-21 state budget. They passed all their changes to Governor Evers’ Building Program as Omnibus Motion #147 on June 11, 2019. You can find the relevant supporting documents here. And here is Motion #128, the Joint Finance Democrats’ proposal on this (voted down 4-12).

Look at item 3.b.(2) on page 7 of LFB Paper #180. This document is Governor Evers’ proposed State Building Program. Evers provided $58,994,000 in General Fund-Supported Borrowing for MJTC.
Governor Evers 2019 WI State Building Program: Under  projects  financed  by  GPR-supported  borrowing,  increase  the  amount  for  the

Now, compare that to item 67.a on page 8 of Omnibus Motion #147, which is what Republicans passed in Joint Finance on 6/11. Republicans provide $43,994,000 in General Fund-Supported Borrowing for MJTC. They use the same wording as Evers. It’s just $15 Million short.
WI 2019 Joint Finance Republicans Motion #147: Under projects financed by general fund supported borrowing, increase the amount for the

And back on page 1 of the same Motion #147, we have item 5… exactly $15,000,000 in General Fund-Supported Borrowing that was just freed up for this new project in Eau Claire.
WI 2019 Joint Finance Republicans Motion #147: Building   Commission --Northern   Wisconsin   Regional   Crisis   Center. Provide $15,000,000  of  general  fund  supported  borrowing  and  enumerate  this  project  at  a  total  cost  of $15,000,000. Require the Joint Finance Committee to approve bond issues for this project. Include a finding of public purpose.