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Legislative Update

“Physical activity” mandate on schools barely passes out of committee after lawmaker changes vote

by | Feb 15, 2024 | Legislative Update Blog, State Issue

The end of session is a hectic time. Since time is short and things are rushed, the standard of review and vetting of legislative proposals is often limited. There are exceptions, but often these late session bills aren’t necessarily meant to become law, but rather stake out positions for lawmakers to use in their reelection platforms.

It can also be a strange time and a good example of this was the vote in the Assembly Committee on Health, Aging and Long-Term Care on Assembly Bill 1016. This bill, authored by Rep. William Penterman (R-Columbus, pictured), would mandate that public and private voucher schools offer at least 3 hours of “physical activity” per week to all students during school hours with the argument that this will help combat childhood obesity. The bill had an amendment curiously championed by Rep. Daniel Riemer (D-Milwaukee, pictured) recommended unanimously by the committee that removed the requirement for the “physical activity” to be offered during school hours. Then things got interesting.

The amended bill was voted down by the committee 7-8 with Reps. Brooks (R-Saukville), Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc), Gundrum (R-Slinger), Sapik (R-Lake Nebagamon), Subeck (D-Madison), J. Anderson (D-Fitchburg), Vining (D-Wauwatosa) and Drake (D-Milwaukee) voting No and Reps. Moses (R-Menomonie), Rozar (R-Marshfield), Murphy (R-Greenville), Schutt (R-Clinton), Summerfield (R-Bloomer), VanderMeer (R-Tomah) and Riemer voting Yes. After the vote count was announced, Rep. Brooks asked if he could change his vote so the bill could move forward and the bill was then approved 8-7 by the committee.

The WASB opposes this bill because it is an unfunded mandate and will not accomplish the stated goal of reducing childhood obesity. The three hours per week required to be offered was pulled out of thin air and does not align with Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Physical Education (which were developed by physical education teachers and other experts). The amendment was meant to assuage concerns about limited time during the school day but also raises a host of other questions about how a school would meet the requirement outside of school hours.

In our view, a better approach if the legislature wanted to address childhood obesity would be funding local community recreation departments to ensure access to high quality athletic opportunities for all kids. See: Aspen Institute – State of Play 2022 Report.

This committee vote likely clears the bill to be approved by the state Assembly on February 20. The Senate version (SB 951) has not had a public hearing or committee vote in the Senate Education Committee.

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