Assembly lawmakers hear testimony on anti-choking devices and school strip-search limits

Wisconsin’s Assembly education committee heard testimony on a bill that would require school boards to include an anti-choking device in school first aid kits and another bill that would expand a state ban on  the use of strip searches in schools during a public hearing on Thursday.

AB 163 would require that Wisconsin schools include an anti-choking device in their first aid kits. The measure does not include funding to purchase the devices. 

Co-author Rep. Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City) said he developed the bill after Courtney Bruegmann, a Fennimore resident, contacted his office to share her family’s story of how her nine-month-old son died as a result of choking in 2016. Since then, Bruegmann has been advocating for anti-choking devices to be placed in Wisconsin schools to prevent similar tragedies from happening. 

“What this bill says, essentially, is let’s give these people who might be in this position every possible opportunity to potentially save a life,” Tranel said. “There is a brief period of time for bystander intervention between 911 system engagement and EMS arrival for properly equipped individuals with the last resort anti-choking devices can be life-saving. This bill was written with real world, logistical and workforce challenges in mind in order to increase access to medical tools that can potentially save lives, and reduce the disparity and inequity between rural emergency services and urban areas.” 

Currently, Wisconsin statute requires that every school board and the governing body of every private school provide a standard first aid kit for emergencies. The law doesn’t specify what must be included in the first aid kit. 

The bill would mandate that Wisconsin school boards and governing bodies of private schools include an anti-choking device, which is registered as a Class I or Class II medical device with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in first aid kits. The bill also requires school boards and private schools to provide annual training on how to use the device.

At the hearing, a district administrator from Fennimore Community Schools showed lawmakers one of the plunger-like devices, which is meant to remove something that is blocking a person’s airway. Bruegemann donated the device to the district.

According to the co-sponsorship memo, the devices typically cost less than $100 and are used as a last resort.

Rep. Dave Considine (D-Baraboo) asked Tranel why there was no funding for the device or the training in the bill. Rep. Francesca Hong (D-Madison) pointed out that a version of the bill in 2019 included $500,000 to implement the change. 

Tranel said that including funding was too big an obstacle to passing the bill. 

“Our thought process was that because these are so relatively inexpensive and have such a high potential to do good, it would be better off just to implement the bill even if there was no funding associated with it,” Tranel said. 

Tranel and other supporters of the bill suggested that schools could use new funding that they will receive in the 2023-25 budget or raise money from parents and community members. 

“Hopefully, the schools with the new resources that they are going to have would be able to find $70 to purchase these devices, or quite honestly even ask a parent to purchase them,” Tranel told the committee. 

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Association of School Nurses oppose the legislation. According to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission lobbying registration, a list of other medical and education organizations also oppose to the bill.

“AB 163 creates yet another unfunded mandate for schools, requiring schools to stock and maintain an anti-choking device, in addition they must provide annual training to teachers,” said Kevyn Radcliffe, DPI legislative liaison. “Seventy bucks a pop may not sound like a lot, but unfunded mandate on top of unfunded mandate on top of unfunded mandate adds up for schools and school districts who are in dire straits right now.” 

Louise Wilson, DPI nursing health services consultant, said that Wisconsin’s lack of any law requiring school staff training  in first aid, CPR or the use of a defibrillator should be a higher priority than adding anti-choking devices in schools.

“There is statute requiring students to be trained in CPR and the use of an AED [automated external defibrillator], but not staff,” Wilson said. “The anecdotal stories of parents who have used such anti-choking devices are compelling, but DPI does not support the additional device to a first aid kit knowing that school nurses have struggled for decades to get volunteers to be trained in these lifesaving skills.”

Wilson clarified that DPI is not against the devices themselves, but said they are not an evidence-based approach to addressing choking. She also said that adding the device in schools could delay treatment for a choking victim.

“School nurses believe lay staff may simply wait until the anti-choking device arrives, which could take several minutes in a school, because they do not know what to do without the device,” Wilson said. “Delays in administering care can be tragic. After four minutes without oxygen to the brain, death or permanent brain damage can result if the airway cannot be cleared.” 

Expanding “strip search” definition

The committee also heard testimony from the authors of legislation to expand the definition of “strip search” in state statute. 

AB 108 was introduced in reaction to an incident in 2022 when a Suring School District employee in search of vaping devices allegedly ordered six teenage girls to undress down to their underwear. The students’ parents and law enforcement were not informed or present at the time of the strip search, according to court and law enforcement reports.

“As you can imagine, having six teenage girls being required by someone of authority within a school to stand for visual inspection in their bra and underwear was an incredible concern,” Rep. David Steffen (R-Green Bay) told committee members. Steffen and Sen. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay), the other co-author, were the only witnesses to speak on the bill. 

Wisconsin law currently says that it is a Class B misdemeanor for a school district official or employee to “strip search” a student when their private areas are exposed. That did not apply because the students’ private parts weren’t exposed but remained covered by underwear. The Oconto County District Attorney and law enforcement community could not convict the school official for the strip search offense due to the language of the current law, Steffen said.

The bill would expand the current law to redefine a “strip search” to include when someone is “naked or underwear-clad.” 

Steffen said that the Suring School District has done a good job of adjusting policies in response to the incident, but the bill could ensure that students at all schools in Wisconsin are protected. 

“For the benefit of those six young ladies who have yet to have some form of justice, can we at least adjust the law to protect others?” Steffen said. 

The bill has bipartisan support and DPI is registered in support of the bill.



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F07%2F21%2Fassembly-lawmakers-hear-testimony-on-anti-choking-devices-and-school-strip-search-limits%2F by Baylor Spears

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