Tag Archives: latonya johnson

Joel Kleefisch pushes GOP to address abuse at youth prisons

Two lawmakers have launched a bipartisan effort to address child abuse allegations at Wisconsin’s troubled youth prisons after a year of inaction by Republicans in the Legislature.

Republican state Rep. Joel Kleefisch and Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee introduced a bill last week that would require guards to report any incidents of child abuse to child welfare workers or police— or else face fines and jail time.

Wisconsin law protects mandatory reporters from being fired. Workers in nearly 30 professions are considered mandatory reporters under Wisconsin law, including doctors, nurses and teachers.

But not prison guards.

“To me it’s just simple common-sense legislation,” Johnson said Jan. 27.

Word broke in December 2015 that the state Department of Justice had been investigating allegations of widespread abuse at the Irma prison, which houses the Lincoln Hills School for boys and the Copper Lake School for girls. The FBI has since taken over the investigation.

No one has been charged yet. Several state prison officials have resigned or retired.

Still, Scott Walker has yet to visit the prison and the GOP-controlled Legislature has yet to pass any legislation addressing anything at the prison.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, minority Democrats introduced a dozen bills as the legislative session ended last spring, including measures to require more on-the-job training for guards, outlaw solitary confinement for minors and study creating smaller youth prisons around the state. Republican leadership blocked the legislation from moving forwar.

Kleefisch’s support could give the mandatory reporting bill some legs. The Oconomowoc Republican sits on the Assembly’s corrections committee and chairs the natural resources committee.

“I’m more than happy to agree with a good idea whether it comes from Democrats or Republicans,” Kleefisch said. “Children, regardless of who’s taking care of them or watching them, deserve a higher level of care. That includes reporting when they’re abused.”

Spokeswomen for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Walker didn’t immediately return messages to comment on the bill.

Robert Allen, a spokesman for the union that represents prison guards in Wisconsin, had no immediate comment on it.

The measure comes as Walker’s administration prepares to defend itself against a federal lawsuit alleging guards at Irma have subjected inmates to cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Juvenile Law Center, alleges guards needlessly place children in solitary confinement and use pepper spray on them too much.


LaTonya Johnson best choice for 6th Senate District

State Rep. LaTonya Johnson is the best candidate to represent this Milwaukee Northwest Side district, which is currently represented by retiring Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd. First elected in 2012, Johnson has proven herself as an effective progressive legislator.

Johnson, 44, earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and previously owned and operated an in-home child care center for more than 10 years. In 2006, as a volunteer organizer, she helped create Milwaukee’s first union of childcare-providers. High-quality early childhood education is among her priorities, since it “provides a solid foundation for future learning and achievement.” She told WiG, “We need to talk about kids we lose before they enter middle school.”

The representative also believes MPS must be funded appropriately to give all children an opportunity to succeed, rather than increasingly diverting money away from MPS.

Johnson also supports a statewide mandate that charter and voucher schools receiving taxpayer funding must offer the federal free-and-reduced-lunch program. She said this will help ensure that all families can equitably access this crucial anti-poverty resource regardless of what publicly funded school they attend.

Johnson’s other priorities include criminal-justice reform and public safety (including keeping guns out of the hands of criminals), access to quality health care and economic development. She stresses the importance of small businesses and family-supporting jobs, including ones located within urban neighborhoods and accessible to people without cars.

Johnson’s opponents are Milwaukee School Board member Michael Bonds and Thomas Harris. Johnson has the strongest progressive bona fides in addition to experience in state government. Despite being part of the legislative minority, Johnson has coauthored nine bills that passed and became law during her four-year tenure. Her experience as a small-business owner and community activist, as well as her ability to work collaboratively, will also serve her well in the state Senate.

Endorsements include AFSCME Council 32, EMILY’s List, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Wisconsin Working Families Party, Mayor Tom Barrett and state Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd.

See also:

Milwaukee needs DA John Chisholm

Rep. Mandella Barnes for 4th Senate District

Edgar Lin for 16th Assembly District

Endorsement: Marisabel Cabrera is best choice for 9th Assembly District

Vote David Crowley in 17th Assembly primary

David Crowley, 30, has been active in local and statewide politics and community organizing since he became involved with Urban Underground at age 16. He was hired by Sen. Russ Feingold’s campaign as a state field director in 2010. He began working as an aide to Nikiya Harris Dodd in 2011, when she was a county supervisor. He then moved with her when she was elected to the state senate in 2012.

Crowley took from serving as her policy director to compete for the open seat in the Northwest Side district held by LaTonya Johnson, who is running for Wisconsin Senate.

Crowley faces Kim Burns and Marcus Hart. He told WIG he has more political experience than either, including working in Madison and understanding how to get things done. A dedicated progressive, he has been a longtime champion for “causes that matter.” He believes “we’re all in this together and that by helping one another,” including across the aisle and in communities across the state, all of Wisconsin can thrive.

His priority issues are addressing “the jobs crisis, including by raising the minimum wage,” public education, especially funding more high-quality early-childhood education and criminal-justice reform. He said while “we need to hold people accountable we must also give them the ability to re-enter society.” He advocates legislation to “ban the box” that requires job applicants to note if they have been convicted. “It’s a dignity issue,” he says, and is not necessary except for certain jobs.

Crowley has landed a who’s-who list of endorsements from elected officials at all levels government. An Aug. 2 fundraiser at Art Bar in Riverwest was hosted by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, state Sen. Chris Larson and state Reps. David Bowen and Jonathan Brostoff. County Executive Chris Abele, with whom he worked while at the county, has also endorsed him, along with several other state representatives, county supervisors and Milwaukee Common Council members. Other endorsers include Citizen Action Wisconsin, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, AFSCME and SEIU.

Lead poisoning would trigger tap water test under proposal

Two Democratic lawmakers from Madison and Milwaukee are proposing a bill that would require the state to conduct tap water testing when a child is lead poisoned. The measure also would lower the level at which the state would be required to investigate the source of lead in a child’s blood.

Current law requires the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to investigate paint, dust and soil as sources of lead and then only when the blood lead level of a child is 15 or 20 micrograms per deciliter or higher, depending on the testing method, according to the bill draft.

Madison Rep. Chris Taylor and Milwaukee Rep. LaTonya Johnson began circulating a draft of the bill Friday. It would lower the level requiring an investigation to 5 micrograms per deciliter or higher, which is the definition of lead poisoning used by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, nearly 4,000 Wisconsin children registered at those levels.

The measure also calls for an additional $500,000 for lead investigations. One hurdle to passage could be the $20 million limit that Gov. Scott Walker has proposed on additional spending this session.

The public health crisis in Flint, Michigan, has demonstrated the dangers of lead-tainted drinking water. Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that can cause permanent brain damage, including lowered intelligence and criminality in adulthood. A study of Milwaukee schoolchildren tied behavior problems in school to high blood lead levels.

“These levels are in rural, suburban, urban. They’re in Republican communities. They’re in Democratic communities,” Taylor said. “We really need to address this issue all over the state.”

Taylor said her proposal comes in response to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s ongoing Failure at the Faucet series, which found that tap water is rarely investigated as a source of lead poisoning despite the well-known risks of drinking water from plumbing containing lead. The lawmaker said she discovered that Wisconsin’s approach was out of date with federal CDC standards.

“We require three times the poisoning of children before there’s a requirement that the environment be looked at by DHS,” she said. “That’s just way too high. That’s serious, serious lead contamination.

“What our bill does is to try to get it (standard) updated, it but it also says you have to test for lead in the paint and the water.”

Taylor said she is not sure how many investigations are currently conducted by DHS, and agency spokeswoman Stephanie Smiley was out of the office Friday afternoon.

The Center also found that Wisconsin has at least 176,000 lead service lines leading to homes and buildings. In addition, many older homes have internal plumbing containing lead, including faucets, solder and pipe connections.

Milwaukee has about 70,000 lead service lines. Nearly 2,200 children in Milwaukee — or 8.6 percent of those tested — had elevated blood lead levels in 2014, according to the most recent figures available. Statewide, the percentage was 4.5 percent. Madison is thought to be the first major city in the nation to replace all of its lead service lines with copper.

The crisis in Flint was sparked in part by a doubling of the percentage of lead poisoned children to 4.9 percent of those tested, an increase tied to lead that leached from pipes after the city’s new water source was not treated with anti-corrosives.

Last month, Milwaukee informed state agencies that it planned to halt replacement of water mains in portions of that city because such work has been shown to dislodge lead from service lines, causing dangerous spikes in drinking water.

In a statement announcing circulation of the bill, Johnson said she had witnessed the devastation that lead can cause for children under the age of 6 whose developing brains are most susceptible.

“I ran a child care for some of Milwaukee’s poorest families for 10 years, and have seen firsthand the heartbreaking damage that lead wreaks upon a young child,” Johnson said. “Wisconsin needs to take Flint’s crisis as a wake-up call.”

She said unless the state steps in, children will be “poisoned and have their lives forever diminished.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.