Today, Republicans in the state legislature gave a nod to a bill permitting conversion therapy for LGBTQ Wisconsinites.
The practice has been under review by the state’s Department of Safety and Professional Standards, which sets rules for ‘professional conduct’ of therapists and counselors. Under Senate Bill 31, the department would be barred from penalizing those who promote or use treatments that attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity — a practice more commonly known as ‘conversion therapy.’
The Senate legislation, which now heads to committee, would also prevent the DSPS from penalizing those who have sexual relations with former clients and those who discriminate on the basis of gender, gender identity, or ethnicity. An identical bill in the state Assembly is also headed to a committee on state affairs.
Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee), a member of the legislature’s LGBTQ caucus, called the practice of conversion therapy medieval and said that it targets LGBTQ youth.
“No competent psychiatrist or person helping with any type of issue should practice in the state of Wisconsin if they do conversion therapy,” Sen. Carpenter said. “By denying something to come into policy, this state is saying that it’s okay to try and deny someone based on their sexual orientation — which is wrong.”
Sen. Carpenter isn’t alone in his criticism.
Conversion therapy has been widely condemned by modern psychiatrists and civil rights groups. According to the Human Rights Campaign, nearly two dozen U.S. states and territories have banned the practice. It’s also banned in some Wisconsin cities, including Madison and Milwaukee.
According to the Associated Press, the bill is in response to an administrative rule banning the practice that was developed by the DSPS last year. In June, the legislature’s rules committee — which referred today’s bill — objected to that policy.
Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) says ping-ponging the bill further will only prolong the debate — allowing conversion therapy in Wisconsin to continue in the interim.
“By kicking it back to committee, it allows this to continue happening in our state,” Sen. Larson said. “I’ve heard a great wailing by the majority party about how we need to do things for kids, how there’s an increase in depression and suicides. If you give a damn about the increase in depression and suicides in our kids, you’d work with us to ensure that this conversion torture is ended.”
State Republicans could go as far as keeping the legislation in committee for the rest of the session — which would postpone the debate by at least a year, and avoid a likely veto from Governor Tony Evers.
Also on today’s docket for the state senate: legislation to weaken the Department of Natural Resources’ authority to regulate PFAS chemicals. The so-called “forever chemicals” are found in firefighting foams and are now endemic to Wisconsin waterways — particularly here in Madison.
Senate Bill 34, which has been sent to committee, would remove much of the DNR’s authority to draft rules regulating PFAS-containing materials and clean-up standards.
During last year’s legislative session, a bill to ban the use of PFAS firefighting foam received bipartisan support. As part of new policies to regulate PFAS, the DNR’s policy board drafted rules to stipulate clean-up and other regulatory requirements.
Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) argues the department overstepped its legal authority when drafting the rules.
Said Sen. Nass: “We cannot allow various departments — whether it’s the Department of Natural Resources, revenue, any of them — to go outside the boundaries of what we legislators who represent the people have defined in the legislation we passed. [The DNR] went beyond that.”
An identical bill in the assembly is also headed to committee.
Also today — the senate approved holocaust education requirements for Wisconsin’s students. The bill directs the state superintendent to develop curricula for Holocaust education in middle and high school.
Despite bipartisan support, passage of that bill was still up for debate. Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) unsuccessfully attempted to amend the bill to include education about the trans-Atlantic slave trade and African genocide at the hands of white colonizers.
“I share the belief that we should teach about the horrific things that happened, but those things happened to black people in America,” Sen. Taylor told lawmakers.
The legislation, which has the support of dozens of state legislators from both sides of the aisle, already included language which would allow schools to incorporate lessons about “other genocides” into their curriculum — although it offers no further clarification.
The state Assembly also voted today to approve several health care bills.
One is designed to lower prescription drug costs, while another would allow dentists to administer COVID-19 and flu vaccines. Those two now head to Governor Evers.
The Assembly also approved other healthcare bills that are waiting for consideration in Senate committees. One would allow out of state health care providers to practice in Wisconsin during the pandemic, while another would enshrine consumer protections in health insurance into state law.
And finally today, the state senate approved a pair of bills that would establish new rules for tracking and monitoring sexual assault kits. That legislation now heads to the state assembly.
Amidst the legislative flurry, lawmakers also found time to consider a resolution honoring the legacy of late conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.