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The longest paragraph in Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mahlon Mitchell’s online biography touts his role passing two niche laws affecting Wisconsin firefighters.
"Recently, Mahlon was instrumental to passing two pieces of legislation that were a huge victory for fire fighters across the state," the biography says, going on to describe the laws on health insurance and infectious diseases.
So Mitchell’s claim is not just that he was involved, but that he was "instrumental" in "recent" legislation. Is he right?
"Recently" claim a stretch
Mitchell, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin union, is part of a large Democratic field seeking to unseat Gov. Scott Walker. He is making his second run for statewide office, having lost a 2012 bid for lieutenant governor to Rebecca Kleefisch.
The laws he references created additional benefits for Wisconsin firefighters or their families in two specific scenarios.
2009 Wisconsin Act 284 established a presumption that firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency responders who are killed or disabled by an infectious disease contracted the disease through their employment, giving them access to related benefits.
2009 Wisconsin Act 285 required municipalities to pay health insurance premiums for the surviving spouses and dependent children of firefighters who die in the line of duty if they were paying premiums for the firefighter.
You’ll notice the year built into the titles of the laws isn’t exactly, well, recent.
The laws both were drafted in 2009 and took effect in May 2010.
Was Mitchell a key force behind laws?
Mitchell’s "instrumental" claim is a bit subjective, but leaning on the dictionary definition we’ll take that to mean Mitchell is claiming a key role in getting the laws passed.
A lot goes into making a bill into a law — cue Schoolhouse Rock — but it seems fair to say a key person would be centrally involved with proposing the law, writing the law or pushing for its passage, through things like lobbying or testifying on behalf of the bill.
Mitchell was a member of the union’s board when the laws were passed, in charge of outreach and public relations, according to his campaign spokeswoman Kirsten Allen. She said Mitchell attended committee hearings and floor debates in support of the bill and arranged for other firefighters to do the same. And he was part of the group that organized the bill signing.
But Mitchell did not testify on behalf of the bills — that was left to other union representatives.
And he did not formally lobby for the bills, either, since he was not a registered lobbyist until February 2011.
As to the how the laws came to be, drafting records for the health insurance bill show it was introduced by state Sen. David Hansen (D-Green Bay) after the widow of former Green Bay firefighter Arnie Wolff wrote to him about her family’s financial struggles. The bill was drafted by the Legislative Reference Bureau at Hansen’s request and modeled after similar legislation in Illinois.
Drafting records for the infectious diseases bill don’t specify the origin of the idea (and Mitchell didn’t claim he proposed it), but show it was drafted by the reference bureau at the request of then-state Sen. Jim Sullivan (D-Wauwatosa) based on a bill in Virginia.
The union president who preceded Mitchell, Mike Woodzicka, said the union worked with legislators on the language of the bills, so Mitchell and other board members would have been part of email exchanges on that topic.
Jay Wadd, a spokesman for Hansen, said he assumes such a step would have been part of the process on their bill, though he doesn’t have specific records of it given the time that has passed.
Mitchell claims he was recently "instrumental to passing two pieces of legislation that were a huge victory for fire fighters across the state."
But it’s a stretch to say the action was recent, and that Mitchell’s role was instrumental.
Mitchell’s union supported the bills, and he was involved with supporting them, but there’s no evidence the bills wouldn’t have become law without his involvement.
We rate Mitchell’s claim Mostly False.
Wisconsin 2009 Act 284, Drafting request by Sen. Jim Sullivan, Legislative Reference Bureau, July 14 2009
Wisconsin 2009 Act 285, Drafting request by Sen. David Hansen, Legislative Reference Bureau, Nov. 17, 2009
Phone interview with Jay Wadd, spokesman for state Sen. David Hansen, April 30, 2018
Phone interview with Mike Woodzicka, past president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, April 13, 2018
Email exchange with Mahlon Mitchell campaign spokeswoman Kirsten Allen, May 10-13, 2018
Mahlon Mitchell biography, MahlonMitchell.com, accessed April 30, 2018
Mahlon Mitchell lobbying history, Wisconsin Ethics Commission, accessed May 1, 2018
Record of Committee Proceedings, Public hearing on 2009 Wisconsin Act 284, March 10, 2010
Record of Committee Proceedings, Public hearing on 2009 Wisconsin Act 285, March 16, 2010
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