- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Wisconsin Assembly panel deadlocked on legislation Tuesday that would require doctors and nurses to report to child protective services when they learn one of their child patients is sexually active, a rare instance of Republicans failing to pass one of their own bills at the last minute.

The Assembly Family Law Committee voted 4-4 on whether to recommend the full Assembly pass the bill, with Rep. Jeffrey Mursau, R-Crivitz, joining with the panel’s three Democrats in voting against the measure. Rep. Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, was out of the state.

The measure now goes to the Assembly’s rules committee. That committee could still schedule a floor vote but faces long odds without the family law panel’s support. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ office didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail inquiring about the bill’s fate.

“We’ll see if we can get it to the floor, and if not, we’ll continue having a conversation,” said Bill Savage, an aide to Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, the bill’s author.

The proposal is designed to increase reporting of child abuse by expanding the list of mandatory reporters to include probation agents, school contractors and higher education employees who work with children. It also tightens reporting requirements on health care providers.

Right now, doctors, nurses and doctors’ assistants only have to report child sexual activity if they believe the child was assaulted by a caregiver, the child didn’t understand what happened, was unconscious during the incident or was exploited. They don’t have to report unforced sex. For example, if a 15-year-old girl told her doctor she had sex willingly with her 15-year-old boyfriend the doctor would not have to report the story.

The bill would mandate those providers report any child sexual activity. The measure has raised concerns that sexually active young people wouldn’t be honest with their doctors or might avoid health care providers completely.

“In my eyes, if … they’re going to know that it’s going to be mandatory reporting, would that person go to that doctor and even have anything done?” Mursau said. “They’re going to steer away from that.”

Mursau joined the committee’s three Democrats in voting against passage. Rep. Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, was absent.

Two dozen groups, including End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, the National Association of Social Workers and the Wisconsin Medical Society, have registered in opposition to the bill. Only the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association has registered in favor.

The bill was originally introduced with bipartisan support but in November, the three Democratic sponsors - Sen. Lena Taylor and Rep. Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee and Rep. Sondy Pope of Cross Plains - withdrew their support over the provision on health care providers.

“I know that this bill has good intentions, but what we don’t want to do is deter those minors who want to do the responsible thing,” said Rep. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee.

Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, emphasized the bill would protect children.

“I think the spirit of this bill is going to be that abuse be reported,” Kleefisch said.

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Follow Bryna Godar on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bgodar

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