It's been a long, hard slog through the Wisconsin legislature since we started our advocacy there back in 2018. Truth be told, we may have gotten a little spoiled from passing 3 bills in 3 years (Washington, 2017; Pennsylvania, 2018; Ohio, 2019), following a years-long effort in Minnesota (2015). I’m so appreciative of the work that our CAN advocates in Wisconsin have been doing. They’ve continued making the case for state funding of SCI research with the involvement of the SCI community. I’m also grateful for the work that Rep. Jimmy Anderson has been doing to bring this effort forward.
But I also know that this work is tiring. We all grow weary of trying to impress upon legislators the importance and urgency of funding the science that seeks to ameliorate the lifelong battles with paralysis - battles most legislators know very little about.
It's an easy trap we fall into, assuming that the empathy they express for our community’s struggles will easily translate into a willingness to commit dollars. But the truth is we are just one of hundreds of meetings they have each session with passionate constituents. So, you have to dig deep to not roll away with any renewed cynicism about politics.
As you may recall, earlier this year, Rep. Jimmy Anderson was able to gain the attention of Gov. Tony Evers and get $3 million for SCI Research added to the governor’s budget for 2021-23. Unfortunately, the legislature cut all new expenditures out of that budget, including our research program. So, we’ve been working hard to find a Republican champion (majority party) to bring our Bill forward on its own.
Last week, Jason Stoffer (CAN Manager) and I traveled to the State Capitol in Madison to join our advocates there. Our goal was to press our case and seek that champion. Jake Beckstrom (CAN Manager) had scheduled over 20 meetings for us that week, but our main focus was on getting the attention of Rep. Tittl, who has constituents (Sam Oswald and Kaylin Ellioff - CAN advocates) that had made our case to him in a Zoom meeting a couple of months back. At that time, Tittl expressed an interest in co-authoring the Bill. But then we didn’t hear anything from him.
(pictured above, left-to-right: John Martinson, Jason Stoffer, Samantha Troyer)
In between meetings on Monday, John Martinson and I were sitting outside the chambers in the Capitol deciding who we might drop in on, to maximize our time. A crowd of people passed us and John noticed a familiar face. “I think that’s Rep. Tittl,” he said. We grabbed our stuff and followed the crowd into his office. We entered an outer office with a bunch of folks enjoying some donuts and announced ourselves. We were ushered into Tittl’s office along with his legislative director.
To our surprise, Rep. Tittl handed us a draft copy of the Bill and said he is going to introduce it this session. “I think we can get this done,” he said. He filled us in on his strategy to find supporters in both the Senate and Assembly. This gave us the foot in the door we needed in the nearly 30 subsequent legislators we met with. Having Tittl behind us meant we had majority party support, and opened the ears of lots of legislators.
Now we can see a strong possibility of getting this Bill passed. And in case you were wondering, the structure of the Bill hasn’t changed. It would appropriate $3 million to fund SCI research in Wisconsin, seeking to restore functions for people living with paralysis from Spinal Cord Injury or Disease through biologic, pharmacologic, medical device and rehabilitative methodologies. It would also establish an advisory board made up of scientists, clinicians and members of the SCI community (individuals with SCI, SCI family members and veterans with SCI).
Please contact Rep. Paul Tittl today (608 -266-0315 | Rep.Tittl@legis.wisconsin.gov), thanking him for taking up our cause! Let him know how important this is to you personally. You could say something like this:
I'm calling/writing to thank you for drafting the SCI Research Bill we've been advocating for! I (have an SCI, am family/friend of someone with SCI) and believe this legislation could speed the discovery of meaningful curative therapies for myself/them. We are ready to support your office in getting this important legislation passed - thanks again!
The wheels turn slowly, but sometimes patience and persistence are rewarded. Please help us keep our foot in the door, so we can swing it wide open and pass this much need Bill.