MADISON — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ pick to head the Wisconsin Department of Health Services won approval Wednesday from a Republican-controlled legislative committee, despite objections from one senator about the hiring of a former Planned Parenthood lobbyist as deputy of the agency.
The Senate’s health committee voted 4-1 Wednesday to recommend the confirmation of Andrea Palm to serve as secretary of the state health department. That agency oversees Wisconsin’s Badger Care Plus Medicaid program, SeniorCare and a host of other public benefits programs.
Palm’s nomination now goes to the full Senate which is expected to vote on whether to confirm her in October. Republicans hold a 19-14 majority.
Health committee member Sen. Andre Jacque, a Republican from DePere, voted against recommending confirmation, citing concerns about “conflicts of interest” and Palm’s hiring of former Planned Parenthood vice president Nicole Safar to be her top deputy. Jacque said he also had concerns about Palm’s support for Evers’ proposal to legalize medical marijuana, which the Legislature rejected.
Palm defended the hiring Safar during her confirmation hearing earlier this year, saying she was “absolutely my first choice.”
Jacque has said that Safar may undermine the state’s defense of a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood seeking the repeal of laws that made it more difficult for women to get abortions. Planned Parenthood wants to repeal laws that require only doctors, not qualified advanced practice nurses, to perform abortions, that require women seeking medicine-induced abortions to see the same doctor on two separate visits, and that require doctors to be physically present when dispensing abortion-causing drugs.
Safar, an attorney, supervised Planned Parenthood’s legal team and oversaw two successful lawsuits challenging state laws limiting access to abortions.
Palm told lawmakers that Safar would have no role with legal decisions made at the department.
Both Republican and Democratic senators on Wednesday praised Palm and said she needs to be given the latitude to hire whom she wishes.