Assembly Republicans are spotlighting public assistance and mental health as areas for reform in the upcoming legislative session.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, announced Tuesday the creation of two new committees — Public Benefits Reform and Mental Health Reform — among 32 standing Assembly committees for the 2015-16 session.
“The new committees are a reflection of our priorities this session,” Vos said in a statement. “Assembly Republicans also have a large number of entitlement reforms that we’d like to consider this session. We need to weed out fraud, waste and abuse to ensure that people who really need temporary assistance are getting it.”
In October, Assembly Republicans released an agenda for the upcoming session, which included several entitlement reform ideas. They include drug-testing those receiving public benefits, discontinuing assistance for those who test positive and offering treatment options; having electronic cards with photos for all public benefit transactions and limiting the number of replacement cards; ensuring welfare payments reflect completed work and a portion of food stamps are used on nutritious food; and sending an annual statement of benefits to all public assistance recipients.
Gov. Scott Walker also has proposed drug-testing food stamp and unemployment applicants and beneficiaries. The idea has faced legal challenges in other states and questions about whether the cost justifies the potential savings.
The Mental Health Reform Committee is expected to pick up where a previous Assembly task force left off on making changes to the state’s mental health system. Those changes included the creation of mental health crisis response teams and incentives for doctors and psychiatrists to work in rural areas.
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Six existing standing committees, including those overseeing international trade, urban education and federal relations, are being folded into other committees. The Rural Affairs Committee is being replaced by a Mining and Rural Development Committee.
Vos will appoint leaders and members to the committees in coming weeks.
Also Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, appointed Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, to the Legislature’s budget committee.
Six Assembly Republicans have already been named to the committee. Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans have not yet announced their appointments.