Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, August 6, 2019

La Follette School bridges gap between campus and policymakers

Nathan Fox, right, discusses the impact of early experiences on brain and behavioral development during the 2019 Family Impact Seminar at the State Capitol. Fox is distinguished university professor of human development and quantitative methodology and director of the Child Development Lab at the University of Maryland. Nathan Fox, right, discusses the impact of early experiences on brain and behavioral development during the 2019 Family Impact Seminar at the State Capitol. Fox is distinguished university professor of human development and quantitative methodology and director of the Child Development Lab at the University of Maryland.

The La Follette School completed another successful Office Hours at the Capitol event in June. Office Hours is a twice-yearly, drop-in event for legislators and staff to connect with UW–Madison faculty and staff who are doing research on timely public policy issues.

This year, issues included water quality and quantity, industrial hemp, insect-borne diseases, and public and private health care. The event is another way the La Follette School is working to forge stronger connections between the world-class research on campus and the policies created by legislators in Wisconsin.

Office Hours provides a unique opportunity for legislators and UW–Madison researchers to connect on timely policy issues,” said Heidi Normandin, director of legislative outreach for the La Follette School. “Legislators and their staff can get their questions answered on the spot, and researchers can share the latest research evidence to help inform policy decisions. I think the reason for our success is that we select topics of high legislative interest and we feature researchers whose research has high policy relevance.”

Following the lead of the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality and Governor Tony Evers’ declaration of the “Year of Clean Water,” legislators and staff were keen to learn more about water quality and quantity. Extension Water Resources Specialist and Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture Chair Ken Genskow and Geography Professor Morgan Robertson offered expertise on nitrate contamination, agricultural impacts on water quality, water quality trading credits, and more.

Bill Barker, associate dean for research for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, offered technical and market insight on industrial hemp. The 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress changed the definition of hemp from a controlled substance to an industrial commodity, presenting new questions and opportunities for Wisconsin growers and processors.

Leading into what has become a hot, humid summer, Susan Paskewitz, professor and chair at the Department of Entomology, gave background on mosquito, tick, and other insect-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and West Nile Virus. Compared to surrounding states, Wisconsin has very few publicly funded control districts for these diseases and little organized surveillance to enable early detection of new problems.

Finally, health care continues to be on the minds of state policymakers. Legislators and staff had access to Donna Friedsam, distinguished researcher and health policy programs director at the Institute for Research on Poverty, and Justin Sydnor, associate professor in the Wisconsin School of Business’s Department of Risk and Insurance. They helped legislators understand existing health care programs as well as the basic economics of insurance, risk, and health care.

“By making it easy for both sides to interact, we’ve seen relationships develop and continue long after each event,” Normandin said.

While Office Hours provides an informal way for legislators to better understand a wide variety of policy challenges, the Wisconsin Family Impact Seminar held on March 19 brought together a panel of presenters focused on a singular topic: Evidence-based approaches to address toxic stress in children.

The seminar brought together experts in social welfare, psychology, and policy to seek an interdisciplinary approach to strengthen Wisconsin families. The presenters shared evidence-based policy options, including home visiting, and state strategies for addressing childhood adversity and toxic stress.

Invited participants explored the answers to questions such as: How does adversity in childhood affect the developing brain and body? What is home visiting, and can it reach more families? What are states doing to address toxic stress in children?

Since 1993, the Wisconsin Family Impact Seminars have provided objective, high-quality research on timely topics identified by state legislators. The seminars promote greater use of research evidence in policy decisions and encourage policymakers to view issues through a family impact lens.

Briefing reports for each Family Impact Seminar, including Building Strong Wisconsin Families: Evidence-Based Approaches to Address Toxic Stress in Children, are online along with audio and video of the seminar presentations.

- written by Jackson Parr