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Legislatively Speaking

Lena C. Taylor

On Jan. 2, 2020, Jack Sheldon passed away. You may not recognize his name, but you likely would remember his voice. Sitting in front of a television on Saturday mornings, I joined children all over the country in singing: “I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill. And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill. Well, it’s a long, long journey, to the capital city. It’s a long, long wait, While I’m sitting in committee, But I know I’ll be a law someday, At least I hope and pray that I will, but today I am still just a bill.”

A part of Schoolhouse Rock, a series of animated educational short films set to music, “I’m Just A Bill” was one of many songs covering topics like science, grammar, math, and civics. We learned from those songs and they inform our understanding, even as adults. As a legislator, I find myself humming “but I know I’ll be a law someday, at least I hope and pray that I will, but today I am still just a bill” when a piece of legislation gets stalled in committee.

For example, I co-authored a bi-partisan bill, Assembly Bill 30 (AB 30), aimed at creating a procedure for granting certificates of qualification for employment to individuals convicted of a crime. Plain and simple, AB 30 is about breaking down barriers and increasing opportunities. It is a useful tool in the fight to reduce recidivism, while addressing labor needs of Wisconsin employers. Currently, a person who has been convicted of a crime may be ineligible for, or at a disadvantage related to, certain types of employment, occupational licensing or occupational certification.

AB 30 would create the Council on Offender Employment, which could issue certificates of qualification for employment that would grant relief to the residents with a conviction on their record to help in the areas identified above. The bill helps break down barriers to employment and makes re-entry success more likely. Although there are eligibility requirements to obtaining certification, the bill could give employers across Wisconsin the opportunity to evaluate each individual in terms of their ability to do the job rather than their criminal record.

States like Ohio have passed similar bills, already granting 588 certifications and reducing barriers to employment for nearly 500 residents. We could do the same in Wisconsin. AB 30 allows employers to confront workforce demands and provides the state with a way to reduce recidivism. While the bill has made it through an assembly committee, there remains work to do. As we gather support to get the measure to the floor for a vote and hopefully passage, today it’s “still just a bill”. Rest in peace, Jack Sheldon.

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