July | August 2017


Wisconsin state Rep. Joan Ballweg serves as the 2016 chair of CSG Midwest. She will host the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting July 17–20 in Milwaukee, Wis. An advocate for early childhood development programs, she believes transforming policies around early childhood development would result in improved outcomes not only for children and families, but for state governments as well.
By CSG Staff

What is the most important issue facing state policymakers in your region in 2016?

“The most important issue facing state lawmakers is dealing with budget constraints. While we are fortunate in Wisconsin to have a biennial budget cycle, the process is difficult with all the demands on our state revenues. Although revenues have increased without raising taxes, appropriations for Medicaid consume much of the new revenue. Like many surrounding states, we’re also faced with large infrastructure needs when it comes to replacing and maintaining our roads and bridges. Finding revenue enhancers for the benefit of our transportation fund is a constant debate.”

What is an issue that you believe your region is “getting right”?
What achievements are being made on the state level?

“One issue that is bringing people together is the fight against heroin and opiate addiction. … In Wisconsin, our effort is called the H.O.P.E. Agenda, led by Rep. John Nygren of Marinette. Last session, Wisconsin legislators unanimously approved seven H.O.P.E. Agenda bills. One law allows for any first responder, who is trained, to administer Narcan in order to reverse a possible heroin overdose. Dozens of lives are being saved. Another law is a Good Samaritan provision, providing legal immunity to anyone who calls 911 for an overdose.”

Partisanship in American governance often makes the headlines. How are leaders in your state and region rising above polarization to achieve the best interests of constituents?

“After one of the most polarizing times in Wisconsin history, in 2013 Assembly leaders took a new approach. New Assembly rules were established and agreed to through a memorandum of understanding with the minority leaders. Debate times were established for each piece of legislation placed on the calendar by a bipartisan leadership agreement to reduce the number of late night and overnight sessions. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos also announced new bipartisan task forces in both the 2013 and 2015 sessions to address specific needs and challenges facing our state outside of the standing committee process. …While these changes haven’t eliminated polarization, they have resulted in more civil dialogue and bipartisan legislation.”

What initially led you to pursue elected office?

“My initial involvement stemmed from being a part of my local chamber of commerce. From the chamber of commerce, I moved into service on the city council in order to encourage investment in our downtown infrastructure project. … After four years, I ran for mayor. After 10 years of city government service, I thought I had fulfilled my civic duty. Six years later, the local state Assembly seat opened up and I was encouraged to run. I realized that was a great opportunity to continue to serve my neighbors, and use my experience at the local level to be their voice in Madison.”

Serving as a state legislator can often be a thankless job. What is it about your role that motivates you to keep moving forward, even on challenging days?

“My favorite parts of this job are the interactions and visits I have with organizations, business and individuals in the 41st Assembly District. You know that sign, ‘I’d rather be fishing’? Well, I’d rather be in the district helping to promote the innovation and success of my constituents. Serving as their advocate, I’m able to help them navigate state agencies or broker needed change. Legislative success, be it large or small, provides a great confidence boost, of course. Knowing that I helped to guide and implement beneficial policy is a reward in itself.”

States are often called the laboratories of democracy and incubators of innovation. How can states continue to demonstrate their leadership as they tackle the issues of 2016?

“States should have the flexibility to tackle the most important issues in our country. One of the best examples comes from former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson who spearheaded groundbreaking welfare reforms in the 1980s, known as Wisconsin Works. … As the (U.S.) Health and Human Services secretary, Thompson was able to implement welfare reform based on the programs developed here in Wisconsin. The more I visit with other Midwestern legislators, the more I see the individual differences between states and the more I recognize the value of sharing those policies on a federal level.”

How can CSG help states in this effort?

“CSG can help by continuing to support and organize conferences like the Midwestern Legislative Conference, or MLC. It’s at meetings like MLC that I’m able to gather information and suggestions from neighboring legislators for possible adoption in Wisconsin. It also serves as an opportunity to compare our process and policy successes or shortfalls.”

Why did you initially become involved in CSG?

“My first contact with CSG was as a BILLD Fellow in 2007. Several years later I was chosen to serve on the BILLD Steering Committee. I’ve attended conferences held by all three national legislative organizations, but have found the most useful information while attending MLC because of the Midwestern focus. The sessions and attendees I meet have the most relevant information regarding the concerns and developments in my own district and state.”

How can state officials get involved in CSG and maximize the opportunities they have through the organization?

“I would encourage legislators to be involved in the MLC committees. MLC agendas are applicable to policy in every Midwestern state. They follow what we are investigating and put us in contact with fellow legislators that are in various stages of implementation. Through The Council of State Governments, CSG Midwest legislators have access to research, publications and webinars with national implications.”

What do you hope to achieve as chair of CSG Midwest in 2016?

“Through the chair’s Policy Initiative, I want to focus on early childhood development and Trauma Informed Care, or TIC. … It’s imperative to broaden the group of legislators who understand the science behind early childhood development. States need to transform policy around early childhood and families not only for the opportunity for children, but the long-term positive fiscal outcomes for our child welfare systems, education, corrections and the courts.”