Senate committee backs Palm’s appointment to lead DHS

Wisconsin State Capitol

Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm won bipartisan backing from a Senate committee Wednesday despite concerns from Sen. Andre Jacque about “conflicts of interest” within the agency.

Jacque, R-DePere, again said he was concerned about Palm’s decision to hire Nicole Safar, who formerly worked for Planned Parenthood, to fill the agency’s No. 3 slot as assistant deputy secretary. But the committee backed her appointment 4-1.

Jacque charged Safar, who supervised Planned Parenthood’s legal team that challenged state laws limiting access to abortion, could undermine the state’s defense of abortion restrictions currently being challenged in federal court.

Palm told the committee earlier this year Safar would have no role in making legal decisions at the agency, and fellow GOP Sen. Dale Kooyenga, of Brookfield, said it wasn’t reasonable to expect only those who oppose abortion will work in state government.

He argued the focus should be on Palm’s resume to perform the “blocking and tackling” of managing an agency. He said the former Obama administration official checks that box.

“When we look at public policy and management of the health of Wisconsin, a lot of this shouldn’t be partisan issues,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said earlier this summer he planned to meet with members of his caucus ahead of the fall floor period to discussing Gov. Tony Evers’ cabinet picks.

Palm is the eighth of Evers’ cabinet picks voted out of committee, while none has been brought to the Senate floor.

With yesterday’s vote, five members of Gov. Tony Evers’ cabinet are still awaiting a committee vote.

That includes Children and Families Secretary Emilie Amundson, who is scheduled to receive a vote next week.

Of the five, all have received a public hearing other than Insurance Commissioner Mark Afable, who is before the Committee on Insurance, Financial Services, Government Oversight and Courts.

The office of Chair David Craig, R-Big Bend, said it expects to notice by the end of August a public hearing on Afable’s nomination after working with members on their schedules.

Here’s a rundown of Evers’ cabinet picks and their status:

*Amundson, Children and Families secretary; public hearing March 6, executive session Aug. 27;

*Peter Barca, Revenue secretary; public hearing Feb. 19, voted out of committee 9-0 Feb. 22;

*Kathy Blumenfeld, Financial Institutions secretary; public hearing, voted out of committee 9-0 Feb. 22;

*Joel Brennan, Administration secretary; public hearing Feb. 19, voted out of committee 5-0 Feb. 26;

*Kevin Carr, Corrections secretary; public hearing Feb. 20, voted out of committee 4-0 March 20;

*Preston Cole, Natural Resources secretary; public hearing March 7, no executive session currently scheduled;

*Dawn Crim, Safety and Professional Services secretary; public hearing March 13, no executive session currently scheduled;

*Caleb Frostman, Workforce Development secretary; public hearing March 20, no executive session currently scheduled;

*Mary Kolar, Veterans Affairs secretary; public hearing Feb. 20, voted out of committee 4-0 Aug. 9;

*Sarah Meaney, Tourism secretary; public hearing March 20, no executive session currently scheduled;

*Brad Pfaff, DATCP secretary; public hearing Feb. 19, voted out of committee 9-0 Feb. 22;

*Craig Thompson, Transportation secretary; public hearing Feb. 20, voted out of committee 4-0 Aug. 9.

Also, Rebecca Cameron Valcq, Evers’ pick for Public Service Commission chair, had a public hearing March 12 and was voted out of committee 5-0 on March 21.

Meanwhile, Joaquin Altoro, who Evers has tapped to be executive director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, had a public hearing Aug. 13.

Evers will regain the power to appoint the head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. on Sept. 1.

See information on all executive appointments:
https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2019/appointments/executive_appointment

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