State Advocacy

BioForward is Wisconsin’s advocate for biohealth business issues.  We support the development of state policies in Wisconsin that support the health and growth of our member companies, promote our talented workforce and strengthen our already robust Wisconsin research institutions. We work very closely with other Wisconsin stakeholders and collaborate on a daily basis with our partners from across the biohealth industry to unify our economic sector and to illustrate the potentially far-reaching impacts that legislative decisions can have on our industry and medical innovation.

BioForward is one of the founding members of Cures for Tomorrow, a coalition of Wisconsin biohealth partners committed to continuing to educate Wisconsin citizens about the value of research to the state’s economy.

See below for updates on Governor Evers Task Force, 2019-2021 legislative priorities, a 2018 policy recap and a summary of election results and appointments.

Governor Evers Task Force on Reducing Prescription Drug Prices

On August 21, 2019, Governor Evers issued Executive Order #39 creating a Task Force on Reducing Prescription Drug Prices. The Task Force “shall advise and assist the Governor in addressing excessive prescription drug prices and the financial burden that prescription drug prices place on Wisconsin residents.”  The Task Force is directed to issue a written report by December 31, 2020 that summarizes their review and recommends potential actions to reduce the price of prescription drugs in Wisconsin.

The Task Force is chaired by the Commissioner of Insurance and includes the Lt. Gov, Atty General, Secretary of DHS, Secretary of DATCP, Secretary of ETF, four members of the Wisconsin State Legislature (2 from each house) and other individuals appointed by the Governor from a variety of backgrounds including pharmaceutical manufacturers.  The members of the Task Force were announced on October 28, 2019.

The first meeting of the Task Force was held in Madison on November 20, 2019.  Link to the meeting agenda: https://oci.wi.gov/Documents/AboutOCI/20191120MtgNot-PrescriptionDrugTaskForce.pdf.  BioForward attended the Task Force meeting and will continue to monitor and report to members regarding the discussions and actions of this Task Force.

BioForward-UW Health-UW Madison School of Medicine and Public Health-Cancer Action Network

On September 25th, the BioForward-UW Health-UW Madison School of Medicine and Public Health-Cancer Action Network hosted a special event- Research in Your Backyard: Pediatric Cancer Treatments and Emerging Therapies in Wisconsin.

BioForward and our partners recognize the importance of educating our legislators and their staffs on the amazing research and advanced disease treatments we have occurring in Wisconsin. The event highlighted current treatments and emerging pediatric cancer therapies presented by UW physicians and researchers. Developments in pediatric cancer treatments were presented by: Dr. Christian Capitini, Dr. Bill Murphy and Dr. Paul Sondel. Legislators were welcomed by Dr. Alan Kaplan, CEO of UW Health and were given a tour of American Family Children’s Hospital. In addition, Rep. Cindi Duchow, Rep. mark Born, Rep. Shelia Stubbs, Sen. Jon Erpenbach, Sen. Luther Olsen and Sen. Pat Testin presented a citation to honor UW researchers and UW athletes for their ongoing volunteer work to support pediatric cancer patients at American Family Children’s Hospital.

2019—2021 State Biennial Budget and Legislative Priorities

BioForward supports state economic development initiatives that will help our biohealth companies thrive and grow. Wisconsin’s biohealth industry is comprised of companies representing biotech, biopharma, medical device, diagnostics, digital health, as well as healthcare systems, and research institutions.

We work with the state legislature and governor’s office to encourage the development of business incentives that are wise investments of taxpayers’ money that drive the state’s economy and benefit the long term growth of Wisconsin’s biohealth sector.

Our 2019-2021 legislative agenda is focused on economic development based initiatives, workforce development, policies that promote innovation and improve patient access and outcomes, entrepreneurship, and protecting and supporting our exceptional research institutions.

Economic Development Priorities

Support Cluster-based Economic Development Legislation-The WINS Act

Last session, BioForward worked on bipartisan legislation with industries from across Wisconsin business sectors, such as water, food & beverage, energy, to develop legislation that would provide a continuing source of economic development funding. This legislation was known as the Wisconsin Workforce and Innovation Network for Success (WINS) Act, or 2017 SB 525, as amended by SSA 1 Simply stated, this legislation would:

  • Create an evergreen fund by allocating 95% of the withholding taxes within Wisconsin’s industry clusters allocable to each new job created in our clusters annually. The annual contribution is capped at $50 million total and the funding ceases entirely once the fund reaches $500 million.
  • Provide grants to support private sector industry groups across Wisconsin that are looking to help their member companies grow their industry cluster by providing start-up support, rapid prototyping and pilot testing of new products and services, partnering with educational institutions for industry-specific research and skills training, etc.
  • Award challenge grants to companies that are developing new technological solutions to current problems facing the state and nation creating innovative product development through competition
  • Support expanding upon an already successful Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) matching grant program, SBIR Advance, to help further launch exciting new technologies and companies providing them with much-needed early stage financing.
  • Distribute the above grants and payments from the fund only from the fund earnings, thereby preserving an evergreen fund for continued investment.

Data Collection on Job Sector Growth for Wisconsin

During the course of the development of the WINS Legislation listed above, we discovered that the State of Wisconsin does not collect any data on which industry sectors are growing (i.e. which sectors are hiring NEW employees). While we believe that the entire WINS Act would be a valuable economic development budget initiative, at a minimum, including a provision in the 2019 biennial budget that requires the state to collect data on industry sector growth would be essential first step to identifying and capitalizing on those sectors of our state economy that are driving the most economic impact to the state. See DFI data collection mechanism in SSA1 to SB 525-Section 11.

Workforce Development Initiatives

Support New Wisconsin Worker Signing Bonus—Income Tax Exemption

Wisconsin’s biohealth sector is facing significant workforce shortage. As such, our companies are offering various financial incentive packages to motivate workers to move to Wisconsin and support our sector. We believe that an additional, one-time tax break for those workers who do move to Wisconsin would be helpful. We propose that the State of Wisconsin allow a one-time income tax exemption for any signing bonus provided to a new employee who moves to Wisconsin to work in the biohealth sector. This would be limited to the signing bonus only; limited to new hires only; and limited to workers who move into Wisconsin for the position. Importantly, this is a tax benefit to the individual worker—not to the company offering the bonus.

Improving Patient Access and Outcomes

Support Step Therapy Protocols for Prescription Drug Coverage under Health Benefit Plans

Wisconsin Governor, Tony Evers (D), signed 2019 Wisconsin Act 12 (https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2019/related/acts/12.pdf), Wisconsin’s new Step Therapy legislation, on July 9, 2019.  This legislation, which goes into effect on January 1, 2020, not only specifies the development and use of step therapy protocols for prescription drug coverage in Wisconsin, but it also establishes parameters for exceptions to these protocols.  The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance was granted the authority to promulgate administrative rules to further implement this Act.  However, no rulemaking has yet commenced.

Protecting and Supporting Wisconsin’s Research Institutions

Oppose Restrictions on Biomedical Research

Over the past several sessions, BioForward and our partners in the Cures for Tomorrow Coalition have battled against legislative initiatives that would restrict the types of cells and tissues that our researchers can use to conduct life-saving research in the State of Wisconsin. The Cures for Tomorrow member institutions are deeply committed to continuing their decades-long history of conducting research—work that is subject to careful review before it can even begin, to ensure that it adheres to the highest ethical standards. This tradition of responsible research is a cornerstone of each of our institutions and we know how much the citizens of our state value it. As such, we oppose any legislative initiatives in the 2019 biennial budget bill, or elsewhere, that would restrict biomedical research in the State of Wisconsin.

Support Legislation that Stimulates Research, Entrepreneurship and Jobs

The UW-Madison was seeking an amendment to Wisconsin’s restrictive self-dealing law that included an overly cumbersome and lengthy process for allowing research companies to contract with the university when a faculty or staff member had an interest in the company. Even relatively small contracts (any contract exceeding $250,000 over a two-year period) tied to relationships that had been reviewed previously by the university had to receive a 45-day review by the UW Board of Regents. In 2018, AB 758 / SB 671 authored by Rep. Dave Murphy and Senator Dan Feyen, along with Senators Risser and Rep. Berceau, promoted a more workable system within the UW for development of management plans that would identify and manage any potential conflicts of interest. This legislation was signed into effect on November 21, 2019. https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2019/proposals/reg/asm/bill/ab38

Provide Capacity Building to UW-Madison in Support of Developing a Talent Pipeline in Data Science, Nursing, Entrepreneurship and Engineering

College of Letters & Science: Computer and Data Science. Computation and data science skills are critically important for large segments of the Wisconsin and national economies. The Computer Sciences program at UW-Madison sees a job placement rate of nearly 100% for its graduates. The program has been growing sharply and is now the largest major at UW-Madison.  We anticipate similar robust enrollment in our new Data Science major.  We support UW-Madison’s request for $2.5 million/year for additional faculty, staff, advisors, and support services would permit another 800 to 1000 students to major in Computer and Data Sciences in the 2019-21 biennial budget bill.

School of Business. Demand for the WSB Bachelor in Business Administration far outstrips capacity, with many high caliber students being turned away. Seven of the top ten “Hot Jobs” on the Department of Workforce Development website are in the field of business. BioForward supports UW-Madison’s request for $2 million/year for additional faculty, staff, and support services that would grow enrollment by 300 students and expand entrepreneurship courses in the 2019-21 biennial budget bill.

School of Nursing. There will be a projected need for an additional 27,700 nurses by 2040 in the state’s workforce. There are around 3,000 nurses graduated by Wisconsin’s colleges and universities, which cannot meet the demand. The School of Nursing receives 400-450 applicants for its traditional BSN program, but only has 160 seats available. BioForward supports UW-Madison’s request for $1.2 million annually to increase number of faculty and instructional staff, and essential technological replacements to allow the School of Nursing to admit more approx. 40 additional undergraduate students in the 2019-21 biennial budget bill.

College of Engineering. The number of undergraduates pursuing an engineering degree grew by about 1,000 students in 10 years. Demand continues to exist for the engineering programs at UW-Madison, as the college turns away many qualified students each year.  BioForward supports UW-Madison’s request for $3 million/year to focus on workforce development, talent retention, and entrepreneurship and innovation. This would increase capacity at the college by 800 students. This request would be part of a $12 million plan to increase capacity and modernize facilities at the college in the 2019-21 biennial budget bill.

School of Veterinary Medicine. The School of Veterinary Medicine at UW-Madison is a valuable resource for animal health research, cutting-edge human health research and high quality veterinary medical care.  BioForward supports UW-Madison’s 2019-21 biennial budget request for bonding authority to renovate the School of Veterinary Medicine’s.

2018 Wisconsin Election Summary

Wisconsin voters turned out in record numbers for the midterm elections held November 6. The results saw a shift to blue at the top of the ticket, but red majority holding in the local legislative races. Wisconsin is starting the 2019 budget session under a new Democratic administration, Governor Tony Evers. Despite Tony Evers winning the state-wide election, both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature remain Republican majorities for the 2019 session. The Assembly Republicans hold a 63-36 majority and the Senate Republicans gained one seat, further solidifying their majority for the 2019 session at 19-14. For a listing of legislative committees and administration secretaries, please click here

2017-2018 State Policy Recap

Supported Passage of Biosimilars Bill - Cutting Costs for Patients and Boosting Wisconsin’s Biohealth Industry

On March 28, 2018, with bipartisan support, BioForward applauded the passage of the biosimilars authorizing legislation (2017 AB679 / SB575 ). This bill now allows pharmacists to dispense biosimilars, unless the prescribing authority specifically prohibits substitutions, saving patients money through cheaper equivalents.

Biosimilars are biological products are therapeutically equivalent to or otherwise interchangeable with other biological products, approved and regulated by the FDA. Under previous Wisconsin law, pharmacists could not dispense cheaper biosimilars in place of prescribed biological products.  This legislation also included labeling and reporting requirements for biological products.

BioForward and their legislative council, Jordan Lamb of DeWitt LLP worked persistently over the past year for the passage of this bill that will reduce costs of patients while also boosting the prosperity of Wisconsin biohealth companies that produce these cost-friendly alternatives.

Opposed Restrictions on Biomedical Research

Over the past several sessions, BioForward and our partners in the Cures for Tomorrow Coalition battled against legislative initiatives that would restrict the types of cells and tissues that our researchers can use to conduct life-saving research in the State of Wisconsin. The Cures for Tomorrow member institutions are deeply committed to continuing their decades-long history of conducting research—work that is subject to careful review before it can even begin, to ensure that it adheres to the highest ethical standards. This tradition of responsible research is a cornerstone of each of our institutions and we know how much the citizens of our state value it. As such, we opposed any legislative initiatives during the 2017-2018 legislative session or elsewhere, that would have restricted biomedical research in the State of Wisconsin.

Supported Partial Repeal of the Personal Property Tax

Bioforward was part of a large coalition that championed the repeal of the personal property tax.  The Governor and the legislature approved a partial repeals for property assessed as of January 1, 2018, machinery, tools and patterns (Schedule C from Statement of Personal Property) to be exempt from the personal property tax for businesses not specifically classified by DOR as manufacturers. (Wisconsin Law defines “Machinery” as a structure or assemblage of parts that transmits forces, motion or energy from one part to another in a predetermined way by electrical, mechanical or chemical means, but “machinery” does not include a building.) This partial exemption from the personal property tax was adopted in the 2017-19 Budget Bill.