The smiling people in the photo above are happy because they’re watching Governor Walker sign the Seclusion and Restraint bill. If you don’t follow the news closely, you may not know what this is all about. Briefly, the new law carefully regulates the way schools can discipline children by forcing them into solitary confinement in a small room (“seclusion”), and under what circumstances manual manipulation or the use of a mechanical device can be used to restrict freedom of movement (“restraint”).
The picture above was taken by my friend Julie Lund, who now works for Governor Walker’s media team. During her days as a reporter for Channel 27, Julie did a series of hard-hitting stories about the locked seclusion rooms in the Monroe school district.
The distinguished-looking gentleman with the suit and tie standing over Governor Walker’s shoulder is Madison attorney Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, the managing attorney at Disability Rights Wisconsin. DRW fought long and hard to get this bill passed, because children with disabilities are often the victims of cruel and thoughtless seclusion and restraint. I’ve come to know Jeff after having done quite a few news stories about this issue over the past couple years, and I’m happy that his tireless work helped make this new law happen.
This bill-signing yesterday should have been cause for celebration not only by parents of children with disabilities, but for members of both political parties. This bill-signing was the culmination of a lot of hard work, compromise, give-and-take, and cooperation among Democrats and Republicans. That’s something that happens all too infrequently these days: when people who have legitimately different views can set aside their personal opinions, listen to what the other side is saying, and come together to make Wisconsin a better place not just for children with disabilities, but for all of us.
But – shortly after the photos of the bill-signing were released by Governor Walker’s office, the Democrats decided to turn this happy occasion into political fodder, and the head spokesman for the Democrats in Wisconsin, Graeme Zielinski, accused Governor Walker of using the people with disabilities in the photos as “political props” to make him look good. This hateful accusation was accompanied by a rant about how Governor Walker is an enemy of the disabled community.
They couldn’t just leave it alone; they had to attempt to make it a political football, and (as Jeff said on his Facebook page) “insulted people with disabilities, their families, and their advocates”.
Governor Walker signed four bills yesterday, including one banning the “r” word. It was a good day for all Wisconsinites, and a victory for bipartisan effort to make our state better.
But they couldn’t just let it be. Instead of celebrating unity, they had to try to make it an occasion for divisiveness.