Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Board Will Consider Paid Medical Travel For Employees

Propoal offers a workaround for legal concerns raised over abortion travel fund.

By - Aug 28th, 2023 02:46 pm
Abortion rights protest gathers to march at E. State St. and N. Water St. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Abortion rights protest gathers to march at E. State St. and N. Water St. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Earlier this year the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors considered a proposal to have the county pay travel costs for employees seeking an abortion out of state.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 an 1849 state law outlawing abortion in Wisconsin went into effect. The proposal for an abortion travel fund, sponsored by Supervisors Ryan Clancy and Juan Miguel Martinez was a response to this new legal paradigm.

But the county’s attorneys expressed reservations about the legality of such a fund. Beyond the state’s 19th-century abortion ban, there are state statutes that establish “Prohibitions on funding for abortion-related activities.” Deputy Corporation Counsel Karen Tidwall noted that while the statutes are not a “model of clarity” the proposal could be found in violation of state law by a court.

Clancy said the idea came in part from Dane County, which created an abortion travel fund with its 2023 budget. Tidwall explained to supervisors that just because the Dane County Board legislated something does not make it legal under state law. “No one can determine the legality or illegality of this resolution except the court. I can’t determine that, Supervisor Clancy can’t determine that, that would have to be decided by a court,” she said.

The initial proposal was also entered at a politically precarious time for the county. Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley and Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson were engaged in the final stretch of a lobbying campaign to secure additional funding for county government, which was facing down unprecedented budget deficits in the coming years. Some supervisors had reservations about doing something that would provoke the Republican legislators they were negotiating with.

Clancy was the lead sponsor of the proposal and began circulating it in March for co-sponsorship prior to it being formally entered. At that time, Sup. Shawn Rolland asked the county’s Office of Corporation Counsel for legal advice on the resolution. Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun responded with a memo saying the resolution was “nearly certainly illegal” and, “The OCC begs the sponsor to reconsider proceeding in this fashion.  Other options abound and we would be happy to advise regarding same.”

Now, after the board voted down the initial abortion proposal, Clancy is trying one of those other options.

In May, when the board was considering the resolution, Nicholson asked Daun whether there was a legal way to provide funding for such travel expenses. Daun then went on to explain one of the “other options” that she advised back in March. “I can’t speak to the budgetary wisdom of it, but you would provide out-of-state travel for any medical service, not specifically attendant to abortion services,” Daun said. “I believe that would be far more likely to survive a legal challenge.”

Under Clancy’s new proposal, the county’s Human Resources office would be directed to create a $31,200 medical travel expense fund to reimburse employees up to $1,000 for travel and lodging in 2024. This would likely require inclusion in the department’s operating budget via a budget amendment, or else Human Resources will have to come up with $31,200 elsewhere in their 2024 budget. A memo from the Human Resources Office in May noted that the county already provides travel and lodging assistance for county employees undergoing treatment for cancer, congenital heart disease or transplant surgeries.

While adopting a new approach, Clancy is still making clear that his proposal is aimed at funding travel for abortions, referencing the state’s ban, his past resolution and even saying the new fund would be “similar to the one adopted by Dane County, but instead for any medical healthcare treatment.”

Following the passage of Wisconsin Act 12, which provided the county with the legal authority to institute a new 0.4% sales tax, a proposal such as this will now need 12 votes or a supermajority to pass the board, as opposed to a simple majority.

Read the full text of the new proposal on Urban Milwaukee.

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Categories: Health, MKE County, Politics

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