The La Follette School’s legislative outreach efforts were going strong right up until Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order on March 24, 2020. By that date, 50 of the 132 Wisconsin legislative offices had participated in at least one event such as the Family Impact Seminar, Office Hours at the Capitol, or La Follette Forum on Health Policy, or engaged in personal meetings.
The 38th Family Impact Seminar, Strategies to Divert Adolescents with Behavioral Health Needs from the Juvenile Justice System, was held January 29 at the State Capitol. Three national experts briefed legislators and other policymakers on adolescent development and evidence-informed programs to keep youth with mental health conditions or substance use disorders off the juvenile justice pathway. The seminar presentations were immediately followed by an intimate discussion session for state agency officials, including Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr.
The Family Impact Seminars’ primary goals are to promote a greater use of research evidence in policy decisions and encourage policymakers to view issues through a family impact lens. Seminar topics are selected by a bipartisan advisory board of 12 legislators and one staff member from the governor’s office. Family Impact Seminar Director Heidi Normandin (MA ’98) and La Follette School Associate Director Steve Kulig (MPA ’14) met with each advisory board member last summer to understand their legislative priorities and solicit their feedback on ways the La Follette School can better meet their needs.
Resources from all 38 seminars conducted since 1993 are available online.
The fall Office Hours at the Capitol on October 31, 2019, also garnered the attention of legislators, legislative aides, legislative service agency staff, and gubernatorial staff. This 90-minute, drop-in event showcased UW–Madison faculty who have expertise on issues of high legislative interest: election administration and voting behavior, water quality and quantity, smoking cessation and electronic cigarettes, and Child Protective Services and prevention of child maltreatment.
Participating faculty included La Follette School affiliate Professor Barry Burden, Political Science Department and Elections Research Center; State Geologist Ken Bradbury, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey; Professor Megan Piper, Department of Medicine and UW Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention; and Professor Kristen Slack, School of Social Work. Participants were able to get their specific questions answered and hear the latest research on pressing policy issues. The La Follette School hosts one Office Hours each semester.
Despite the challenges in connecting with legislative offices for the remainder of the spring, Normandin said, “The La Follette School’s connections with the legislature and state policymakers gets stronger each year. Whether at one of our events or in personal meetings, we are listening to what policymakers need from the School or UW–Madison, and delivering on our promise to inspire evidence-based policymaking and advance the public good. We’re a shining example of how public policy schools can add real value to the policymaking process.”