Budget-writing committee approves opioid settlement funds

MADISON, Wis. — The Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget writing committee on Thursday approved a new spending plan for the $31 million the state received in 2022 as part of an opioid settlement.

The disbursement of the funds comes weeks after an initial proposal from the state Department of Health Services was anonymously blocked by a Republican on the committee. The committee said it took the extra time to meet with a broader range of stakeholders, including law enforcement.

Republicans on the committee made a handful of changes to the DHS proposal, moving funds out of certain areas like capital projects, addiction prevention curriculum in K-12 schools and zeroing out a portion of the proposal for support centers for family members impacted by the opioid crisis.

Those funds were instead used to create a grant program for law enforcement agencies. They can apply for funds to help treat jail inmates, invest in diversion programs and other initiatives. The changes also include a grant for afterschool programs to prevent opioid addiction — but whichever organization receives the grant would have to work with law enforcement for the program.

“Josh Kaul and Tony Evers continue to turn their back on law enforcement and do not want to work with these key people in public safety in our communities,” Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said of the state’s Democratic attorney general and governor. The AG represented the state in the lawsuit to win the money, and the governor’s DHS drew up the initial spending plan.

The DHS proposal did not include any allocations for law enforcement at the state level. There are additional funds that will be awarded to local governments as part of the suit, which could see additional funding steered toward law enforcement as well as the state.

RELATED: State’s budget-writing committee blocks DHS plans to spend opioid funds

In an August interview with News 3 Now, the DHS’s opioids initiatives director said part of the goal of the DHS plan was to get a framework out first so that municipalities could build their own plans around the state’s.

Despite the GOP criticism that the DHS plan did not include law enforcement, Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett was among the group of Democrats pushing for the funds to be disbursed.

“I’m here to say that we will not arrest our way out of this opioid pandemic and we need help,” Barrett said during an Aug. 24 news conference. “We need a proactive approach and not a continuous reactive approach.”

Despite their frustration at the slow release of the funds, Democrats voted unanimously with Republicans for the changes made to the DHS plan.

“I want to pass this and get the money out the door today,” said Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point. “Just get it to where it needs to be.”