Tuesday December 11, 2018

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Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District

Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District

Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now the State Senator from the 31st District of Wisconsin. She was a candidate for Governor in 2014 until an injury forced her out of the race , was one of the courageous Wisconsin 14, and ran for Governor again in 2018.

Speed and Secrecy: The Last Act

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 05 December 2018
in Wisconsin

scott-fitzgeraldThe bills proposed in the Extraordinary Session called by Republican Leaders will create powers for the Legislature that handcuff the new administration and curtail the power of the incoming Governor and Attorney General. Wisconsinites expect a respectful transition of power, not a power grab by one party.


MADISON - If you were a legislative leader in Wisconsin, and had an opportunity to pass new laws before your party’s governor left office, what would you do? What would you fix as your last act in power?

As I face my last Senate votes, I am working hard to understand what laws my Republican colleagues choose to pass before the new Democratic Governor takes office.

Late last Friday night, after Senate staff went home for the weekend, Republican leaders released their last act. Five bills detailing changes to over 400 sections of state law.

I learned late Friday, there would be one public hearing on Monday and the full Legislature will act on Tuesday. By the time many of you read this column, the bills passed both houses and await Governor Walker’s signature into law.

I’ve witnessed a lot of speed and secrecy by legislative leaders. But this final action, to make bills public late Friday and seek final passage the following Tuesday ranks among the worst of the worst. Speed and secrecy seriously threaten democracy. No time to ask questions. No time for constituents to learn. No time for lawmakers to hear and heed the desire of constituents.

walker-signs-budgetBased on concerns expressed by Wisconsinites, you would think the last act of the GOP leaders would be fixing the transportation budget, school funding reform and lowering healthcare premiums.

Not a chance.

Instead, Republican leaders are pushing a series of bills that provide tax loopholes for company owners, and removing caps on the number of large companies that could claim very large cash subsidies. These same bills give control of the troubled Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to the two Republican leaders by creating a majority of GOP legislative leaders’ appointees.

These same bills create harsh rules that must be followed by people facing challenges, like being unemployed, needing supplemental nutrition, health care or facing difficulties in proving citizenship to vote.

Based on my preliminary read of the bills, provisions in the bills limit powers of the incoming Governor and Attorney General and create onerous requirements for the new administration. Agency directors will be coming back to the Legislature for permission to file federal reports over and over again, rather than catching up on backlogs, and providing better service to people of the state.

Innovation should be encouraged in a new administration. Instead, the bills would handcuff agency officials by requiring repeated approval for any different or new use of federal funds from the Legislature’s budget writing committee. For example, I counted at least four repeated approvals needed by the Secretary of Health Services to seek federal money for nursing homes – a high priority because Wisconsin ranks last in reimbursement. These onerous requirements would affect many health programs Wisconsinites love, including Senior Care, FamilyCare, IRIS and BadgerCare.

In many cases, borrowing and cash transfers used by the Walker administration to fill budget holes, show more cash at year’s end, and move money around for pet projects, like Foxconn, would no longer be allowed.

Ironically, a computer project financial disclosure Walker vetoed as onerous, would be required of the incoming governor. Presumably, Governor Walker will sign the bills into law as his last act. Perhaps he will change his mind about what disclosure should and should not be required of the executive branch.

While some provisions in the bill create seemingly meaningless monthly reports and repeated seeking of permission, other provisions alarmingly undermine the critical balance of powers between the three branches of government.

kathleen-vinehoutFor example, provisions of the bills would emasculate the Attorney General. In cases of constitutionality and enforceability of statutes, it would be the Legislature representing the state in court – not the Attorney General. Legislative leaders would accomplish this by appointing outside counsel beholden only to the leaders and paid for by taxpayers.

It appears other changes in the court system are directed at influencing environmental protection enforcement cases.

The final act of the Party in power tells us something about the priorities of that Party – prioritizing tax breaks and corporate cash subsidies and penalizing those needing healthcare, supplemental nutrition, and help finding employment.

The will of the people is not represented in this final act by Republicans and Governor Walker. Wisconsinites elected a new governor with different priorities and their expectation is a respectful transition of power.

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Boards & Commissions: Opportunities to Serve

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 28 November 2018
in Wisconsin

wisc-elections-commThere are many opportunities for Wisconsinites to serve our great state through the various boards, commissions, and councils. Here is how you can apply.


MADISON - “I’m retired and I want to stay that way,” the gentleman told our Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee. “But I am looking for opportunities to give back to our state.”

This gentleman was one of many who crossed my path over the past twelve years. His nomination to a council came before our committee prior to confirmation by the full Senate.

Wisconsin is a state of many opportunities for citizens to serve in appointed boards, councils and commissions. These positions are mostly volunteer, although some offer reimbursement for related expenses. This type of service provides citizens the opportunity to share their experience and expertise in a statewide leadership role.

The gentleman I quoted was nominated by the Governor to serve on the Snowmobile Recreation Council. He and his family had a long history of participating in local snowmobile recreation. He wanted to share not just his wealth of knowledge, but also his incredible passion and dedication to making Wisconsin’s snowmobiling the best in the country.

snowmobilesThe Snowmobiling Recreation Council is just one of over 180 different boards, commissions and councils on which Wisconsinites may serve. Understanding these various service opportunities is an exercise in understanding state government itself.

The 2015-16 State of Wisconsin Blue Book provides a detailed overview of the state government’s structure. The state has 17 departments. Each department, from Administration to Veterans Affairs, is headed by a secretary appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Citizens serve on boards, commissions or councils to provide guidance to many of these departments. For example, eleven people make up the Board of Veterans Affairs.

State government also includes ten independent executive branch agencies. These entities include the University of Wisconsin and the Technical College Systems, the Public Service Commission (which oversees utility regulation) and the Commissioner of Insurance. Most of these agencies are directed by citizen-controlled part-time boards and commissions.

Most boards and commissions have requirements potential candidates must meet, ranging from professional experience to geography. For example, at least five members of the 15-member Snowmobile Recreational Council must be from the state’s northern region.

Licensure and regulation of many occupations is overseen by an associated state board. These board members, from architects to veterinarians, are professionals who give their own time to ensure professional quality, which helps protect Wisconsin citizens. Several professional boards include public members. For example, the Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counselling and Social Work Examining Board includes three public members in its 13-member Board.

Authorities are an odd creation of the State Legislature that are intended to be both financially self-sufficient and an organization of the state. The UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority is perhaps the most well-known example of a state authority. This Authority operates the UW Hospitals and Clinics, including the American Family Children’s Hospital. The authority is composed of a 16-member board, six of whom are citizens appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Another example is the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. It is not a corporation – despite its name – but a state authority. However, WEDC is not at all self-sufficient, instead relying almost entirely on funding from the state budget.

While most Senators take seriously their role of confirming the governor’s appointees, the Senate Majority Leader failed to bring some 150 gubernatorial appointments to the Senate for confirmation this year. The Senate Leader was quoted saying he may bring these appointments forward for a full Senate vote in a possible Extraordinary Session before year’s end. No word yet on when this session may take place or what else may be a part of the calendar.

kathleen-vinehoutOver my tenure in the State Senate, I am often asked, “how will you fix our state’s problems?” No one single person can address the breadth of issues and details needed to resolve the challenges facing Wisconsin. The wisdom we need is found in the genius of the people of our state.

If you are interested in serving the following website provides information about and application for the various boards, commissions and councils: https://walker.wi.gov/apply-to-serve. As we transition to Governor Evers’ Administration, the website will change.

Wise leaders before us created the boards, commissions and councils that play a very integral role in carrying out the people’s business. Consider how you might give back to our great state by sharing your time, talents and wisdom.

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Preserving Our Hunting Heritage

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 21 November 2018
in Wisconsin

deer-huntingSen Kathleen Vinehout writes about deer hunting and rules related to CWD. Hunters are encouraged to have their harvested deer tested for the disease.


ALMA, WI - Opening weekend of gun deer season, conditions were nearly perfect. The weather was cool, but not too cold. The sun came out and warmed us. A light dusting of snow made it easy to see critters’ tracks from the night before.

I saw nine deer opening morning. What an abundance!

By 7:30 a.m., my hunting partner Lisa and I bagged deer. Lisa shot a nice six-point buck and me a tender doe. My husband will be happy with new meat in the freezer. I recalled my husband said we served up the final helpings of last year’s stash of venison.

Time for the sportswoman of the family to deliver. No pressure there.

hunters-deerIn my family, the woman brings home the harvest. The guys package it and eventually fry it up in the pan. Both my husband and son are awesome cooks.

Out on a nearly perfect Monday morning. Deer were again grazing on our organic alfalfa fields. The weather was cloudy and mild. No new snow, but predicted snow fall was showing up on the radar.

“I got out there and it was just beautiful,” Lisa said. “Suddenly, it was like a blanket came over the area. Humid but chilly. Then sleety stuff started falling.” In just a few moments, conditions totally changed.

Change happens. All around us. All the time. A skilled outdoors woman interprets the signs nature provides. Just like being mindful of the signs of nature, there are signs of change in our state Capitol that hunters should heed.

“We have a problem. A big problem. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a sister to BSE or “mad cow” disease, is threatening our deer and elk,” wrote the Alliance for Public Wildlife, over a year ago. “Without immediate action, we are heading for worst case outcomes that include severe population impacts, extinctions, crashing economies, and, although unlikely, potential transfers of CWD to people.”

CWD is spread through animals’ body fluids. The disease can be spread from animal to animal or through a contaminated environment. Wild animals can contract the disease from captive animals kept on deer farms. They could also contract the disease when landowners set up baiting and feeding stations on private lands.

While landowners are restricted to two gallons of bait or feed per 40 acres, too often landowners violate the law. For example, in my neighborhood, rumors swirl about out-of-the-area landowners baiting deer with hundreds of pounds of shelled corn. For years, every deer we harvested on our farm had a belly full of corn even though we don’t grow corn.

In response to the problem of CWD positive deer, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) banned any baiting and feeding in 43 of 72 counties. This summer, the DNR wanted to go further, requiring increased fencing at deer farms and restricting movement of deer carcasses unless the meat was sent for CWD testing, deboned and quartered, or taken to a licensed processor within three days of moving out of the county in which the deer was shot.

kathleenvinehoutThe rules were approved by the DNR board and sent to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. The Committee approved the rule on fencing. However, just weeks before the opening of gun season, the Committee stopped the plan to restrict the movement of harvested deer meat.

Hunters are encouraged to submit their deer for testing. CWD testing collection sites are operating around the state including new sites in Buffalo County.

To fund these sites, and dozens of other programs protecting wildlife, the DNR uses money from fees and licenses. A recent study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum (formerly the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance) reported nearly 9 of every 10 dollars of the fish and wildlife budget comes from fees for licenses and federal excise taxes paid by sporting women and men. Total deer hunting licenses dropped almost 6% over the past 18 years. With a shrinking population of hunters, heavy reliance on fees and deep budget cuts, the DNR eliminated important positions.

Passing the abundance we have on to the coming generations is a desire I share with many folks. To accomplish this goal means paying attention to the health of our wildlife and to the health of the funds that support wildlife management and staff.

Wishing all of you a Happy Thanksgiving and a safe and successful hunt.

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Citizens Vote to Raise Property Taxes to Pay for Schools

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 14 November 2018
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsA historic amount of school referenda passed in last week’s election to meet the challenges school districts face with increasing student needs without adequate state revenue.


MADISON - A little-told story from the recent election is the change happening across Wisconsin as citizens voted to increase their property taxes to pay for local schools.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2018 was another record year for school districts to pass referenda. State law imposes caps on school spending, so voters must approve referenda to exceed their spending limits to fund property tax increases for their local schools.

According to the Department of Public Instruction, citizens approved at least $1.3 billion more for schools across Wisconsin in last Tuesday’s election. These decisions by local voters will result in higher property taxes in the coming years.

school-closedWhy did so many citizens vote to increase their taxes to pay for schools? Programs cut, new fees, fewer opportunities for students and delayed maintenance are all examples of why voters chose to increase property taxes.

Recent numbers from Kids Forward, a nonprofit children’s advocacy organization, explained in stark detail why voters across the state chose to help schools by paying more in the least-favorite type of tax: property tax.

Kids Forward reported between 2012 and 2019, Wisconsin will spend a cumulative $3.5 billion less in state aid to schools than if the state had stayed at the 2011 funding level.

This decline in state spending is the result of a series of decisions over the past eight years, including a dramatic increase in taxpayer subsidies to private schools.

While many schools face less state aid, local costs are going up. Teachers are leaving. Schools have new expenses, like improving student safety and replacing outdated technology. This means budgets today are very different than ten years ago.

Further, changes in student needs are occurring at a rapid pace in our state. Communities have more students in poverty, students with special needs, English-language learners, and students experiencing trauma and suffering from mental illness.

State spending for schools has failed to keep up with increased needs for students facing special challenges. For example, the state funds only 26 cents on the dollar for special education needs. But federal law requires all special education needs be met. As a result, general education money is used for students with special needs. This forces schools to divert money from all students to pay for the increased special education needs.

At a public hearing this past summer for the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, Peter Goff, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the UW-Madison described the situation. “Huge chunks [of general education money] are getting torn off to pay for these special education mandates – that is the state’s responsibility but [the state] is not paying for it.”

kathleen-vinehoutSpecial education is not the only area of growing need where state spending has failed to keep up.

“In 1990, the reimbursement rate for [English-language learners] was 63%,” said Julie Seefeldt, Director of the English-language Learners Program at Green Bay told the Committee. “The current reimbursement rate…is at approximately 7.9%.”

Historically, Wisconsin had one of the best public education systems in the country. Together, Act 10 and the budget cuts had a devastating effect on the quality of public education in Wisconsin. Teachers left the profession. College enrollment in teacher education programs dropped precipitously. School districts are finding it increasingly more difficult to hire qualified teachers to fill vacancies.

In an attempt to fix the problems they created, the Governor and Republican legislators enacted the lowest teaching standards for any state in the country during the 2015 State Budget.

Voters told leaders they want students to thrive. Citizens are even willing to increase their own property taxes.

Reversing the downward spiral of the last eight years will take a concerted, bipartisan effort, but clearly this is the will of many voters. Citizen’s votes reflect their values: high quality schools in all parts of the state. Voters know the future of our children depends on our actions.

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Menominee Nation Honored for Assisting Victims of Peshtigo Fire

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 07 November 2018
in Wisconsin

menominee-nation-nowNovember is National Native American Heritage Month, and we remember the service and sacrifice of the Menominee Nation for their history of helping victims of the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871.


MADISON - On October 8, 1871, an intense firestorm roared through the village of Peshtigo, Wisconsin and the surrounding area. The Great Peshtigo Fire burned parts of northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan on the same night as the Chicago Fire, however there are little similarities between the two fires.

The prolonged drought and extreme summer heat made conditions in the region tinder dry. Combine that with the 50 miles an hour winds that whipped the area, it was perfect conditions for a firestorm.

Flames from the Peshtigo Fire reached a thousand feet into the sky. The intense heat melted the church bell, turned sand into glass, and caused trees to literally explode into flames. The fire burned a total of 2400 square miles, which is larger than the state of Delaware.

Peshtigo FireWhile 250 people lost their lives in the Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire took the lives of an estimated 1,500 people. Some reports note it is possible as many as 2,500 souls perished. The Peshtigo Fire remains the most costly in loss of life in American history.

That fateful autumn, Menominee tribal members knew the forest was too dry. Back in the spring, the Menominee worried they would not have enough food for the winter. Elders warned the settlers large fires were on the way, but few paid attention to the words of the Natives.

One settler, named Abraham Price, defied convention. He married a Menominee women, Elizabeth. They had one son, Henry. He built a trading business in a Menominee village. Even though some of his white neighbors looked down on him, Abraham was considered a “substantial citizen” owning 800 acres of land. The tribe and his family worked closely, with Mr. Price respecting Menominee knowledge.

Mr. Price took great care to heed the Elders’ warnings of possible large fires. He and his extended tribal family prepared for the risk of fire by plowing large circles of land around their home to form a barrier between it and the forest.

As the firestorm approached, Mr. Price and his extended family protected their house by covering the roof with water-soaked burlap bags and blankets. One of the tribal members pumped water steadily for nine hours showing “an endurance possessed by very few white men.”

When the Great Fire receded, only one building was left standing – the home and trading post of Abraham Price and his Menominee extended family.

That lone-standing building became the center of recovery efforts. Mr. Price and the surviving members of the Menominee Nation welcomed other survivors regardless of their race. His home became a field hospital and the tribe provided emergency care for victims. Later, the home became the survivors’ protection for the fast-approaching winter.

The history of the tribe assisting the victims of the Great Peshtigo Fire has largely gone unrecognized. However, in October, the city of Peshtigo recognized the Tribe.

kathleen-vinehoutAt a recent public hearing of the Legislature’s State Tribal Relations Committee, our Chairman, Representative Jeffrey Mursau, presented long-neglected honors to Tribal Lawmaker Representative Gary Beesaw.

In accepting the recognition, former Tribal Chairman Beesaw said, “We are all related… all tribes understand there are the four colors of [peoples] in our prayers – red, yellow, white, and black. We are all related. When we say our prayers and when we have our ceremonies, we pray for all of us because it is important that we do that. The Creator loves all of us, so we do that. Sometimes it seems like we have disagreements politically, and those pale compared to something like this that speaks of what really is important.”

Every November, we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month. We remember and celebrate the achievement and contributions of our Native people. We remember our ancestors who benefited from the kindness and service of our Native Heroes.

We also celebrate the work of Tribal members today. These Native Heroes work tirelessly to create communities of support. We are deeply grateful for our Native Tribal members who teach children Native languages and culture, serve our veterans (who are disproportionately from Native Tribes), care for our Elders and those suffering from addiction and mental illness. And we owe profound gratitude for Tribal members work tirelessly to protect Mother Earth and all its riches.

We are blessed by their service and sacrifice.

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