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Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

Protecting children

Legislation


Few stories have shocked us over the past year as those involving Wisconsin child care scams.

First was the story about rampant fraud in the taxpayer subsidized Wisconsin Shares program. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter toiled over 2,500 records and documents and uncovered, “a trail of phony companies, fake reports and shoddy oversight,” finding a system that could be scammed without difficulty and lacking accountability by parents and child-care providers, “capitalizing on children for public cash.”

With limited access to child care cases, Journal Sentinel reporters still pinpointed $750,000 in suspicious child-care disbursements.

A December 14, 2009, Journal Sentinel article reveals that the same Journal Sentinel reporter, Raquel Rutledge, found that drug dealing and other criminal links with child care providers are common. Raquel Rutledge wrote:

"More than a dozen Wisconsin child-care centers that reaped millions of dollars in state subsidies have had close ties to drug-dealing operations, including big-time crime bosses, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found.

The newspaper identified 16 child-care centers with recent connections to drug operations, and the number is likely much higher. Those 16 alone have collected more than $8.5 million in public subsidies since 2006.

Records show many of those centers have been used to stash and transport drugs, launder dirty cash and provide fake employment for criminals - at taxpayers' expense."

During November, the legislature approved Act 76, which offered some protections to both children and taxpayers by addressing problems in the Wisconsin Shares Child Care program.

Unfortunately, a few key provisions of two bills, authored by Rep. Mark Gundrum, Rep. Mark Honadel, Sen. Alberta Darling and myself were left out of Act 76. These are simple, common sense changes to the law that can only make things better for children, taxpayers, and child care professionals trying to provide a safe needed service.

Therefore, the four of us are introducing two bills that will strengthen safeguards against neglect, abuse, and other criminal activities.

LRB 4061/1 provisions prohibit a person convicted of a drug-related felony from receiving a license to operate a child care center for at least 10 years after that person has completed his or her sentence. If the person has been convicted of a crime in addition to the drug-related felony, the bill provisions permanently prohibit granting the person a child care license.

LRB 4062/1 provisions require state or local government regulators to report child abuse or neglect upon a reasonable cause to believe that a caregiver or someone living at a child care center has abused or neglected a child, or that such abuse or neglect will occur. The bill also requires a government employee to report to his or her immediate supervisor, and the supervisor to report to the sheriff, reasonable suspicion that a caregiver or someone living at the child care center has engaged in a drug-related offense.

It seems unimaginable that these items are not already law.

The Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau spent many hours uncovering rampant problems in this government-run program. The Legislative Audit Committee that I serve as a member will meet again January 27, 2010, for another public hearing about the Audit Bureau's findings.

All of the Bureau's work, the Journal Sentinel work, and the Committee's listening and debate will be worth very little without legislators' agreement to make such basic, simple changes in law to protect both children and taxpayers.

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