Thursday October 18, 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 , is one of the courageous Wisconsin 14, and is now running for Governor again in 2018.

Getting Ready to Vote

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, 17 October 2018
in Wisconsin

voteEvery Wisconsin citizen needs to know what steps they must take to vote and their voting location, so Sen. Vinehout writes about the process of voter registrations and voter ID to help people prepare for the November 6th election.


MADISON, WI - “I talked with a group of women in Galesville,” my friend Mary Lee told me. “They were full of questions about the election, like when is it, where do I vote, how do I find out if I’m registered?” Mary is one of many folks helping to make sure people know and when to vote.

She told the women the election is November 6th. She also told them to check their registration and voting location at www.MyVote.wi.gov.

Wisconsin laws regarding elections have changed. For example, changes were made to absentee voting. Our state also has some of the strictest voter identification laws in the country. However, court decisions did require some changes to that law. To make sure you are up to date on requirements, visit the Wisconsin Election Commission at www.elections.wi.gov.

The Wisconsin Election Commission has a wealth of information about voting. If you don’t use the Internet, you can reach the Election Commission by phone at 1-866-Vote-Wis. You can also reach out to your municipal or county clerk.

uw-mdsn-studentsMark Koehler, a student at UW-Madison, is helping new voters register on campus. “The endless questions I’ve been asked about registering show how difficult the process of voting has become in Wisconsin,” he shared with me.

You can register in-person at your municipal clerk’s office up until Friday, November 2nd. You can also register at the polls on Election Day. When registering you must bring a Proof of Residence documentation that includes your current name and current address, such as a lease or electric bill. Wisconsin law requires you to reside at your current address for at least 10 days prior to the election. Temporary absence from your current address does not affect residency as long as you intend to return.

When you vote, you must bring an approved photo ID. Acceptable photo IDs include a driver’s license or state-issued ID card. You can use a driver license or state ID card receipt for those whose license is revoked or suspended. A valid Veterans Affairs ID, U.S. Passport, Military ID, Tribal ID, Certificate of Naturalization are all acceptable.

If you don’t have a photo ID, you can get one for free at a Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. The Elections Commission website outlines what documents you need to bring such as a birth certificate and proof of current residence. Under the ID Petition Process, the DMV will provide a document with your photo which can be used for voting. If the election is soon, the DMV will send your photo ID by overnight delivery.

voter-idStudents can use a student ID for voting, but you must also have enrollment verification. A student ID is only valid for voting if the expiration date is not more than 2 years from the date the card was issued. Different colleges approach ID cards in different ways which makes it difficult for student to know exactly what IDs are acceptable.

I unfortunately hear from some folks who believe their vote doesn’t matter.

Many races in Wisconsin are very close. For example, in 2010, I won my State Senate race by one vote per ward. Without my presence in the State Senate, there would not have been 14 Senators who left Wisconsin to slow down the passage of Act 10. Just a vote per ward in western Wisconsin changed our history.

As a result of Act 10, and the budget that followed, public schools suffered historic cuts. According to a study by the non-partisan Wisconsin Budget Project, legislative leaders still haven’t fully restored state aid to public schools.

Perhaps this is why school referenda are on the rise. According to the recent issue of the Wisconsin Taxpayer, voters will decide on more than one-billion in new taxes to pay for schools in November. If approved, 2018 could be the highest year on record for referenda to increase property taxes.

State and local races have a real impact on our lives. Who becomes our Governor, who has majority control of the Legislature determines what priorities move forward. These decisions affect our local communities.

“Despite these [voting] obstacles,” Mr. Koehler wrote, “it is as important as ever to make sure people use their voice and strongly encourage one another to register, make a plan, and get to the polls on November 6th.

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Protecting Our Great Lakes

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, 10 October 2018
in Wisconsin

lake-michigan-shoreThe collaborative work of eight states and two Canadian provinces, members of the Great Lakes Compact, protects and enhances the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world despite the potential challenge of large water withdrawals by Foxconn and other businesses in Wisconsin.


MADISON - Our Great Lakes hold twenty-one percent of all the world’s fresh surface water. Wisconsin has over 1,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. More than half our population lies within its watershed. The Lakes provide us with many opportunities for recreation, commerce, transportation, and immeasurable occasions to enjoy their immense beauty.

Folks are worried about protecting our Great Lakes. Particularly when the state rushed through, about a year ago, a very large corporate subsidy to a Taiwanese company. David Hon of Eau Claire was one of many who wrote, “The environmental exemptions proposed are unfair to the companies that have had to struggle through permitting for good reason. … [Environmental protections] are there to protect what little is left of natural resources in that part of the state. I’m concerned the Great Lakes Compact would be substantially violated.”

The Great Lakes Compact protects our Great Lakes. This agreement between the states and Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes is enshrined in law.

Wisconsin recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of the signing of this law.

door-countyAcross the world, citizens worry about where their water will come from and how it will be kept clean. Fear that others would look to divert the water from the Great Lakes, inspired leaders to collaborate to protect our region’s incredible water resource. Leaders of areas bordering the Great Lakes formed an agreement between eight states and two Canadian provinces

The anniversary of the Great Lakes Compact is a great opportunity to remember why this arrangement exists and how we all benefit. It also reminds us of the challenges we face while protecting our Great Lakes.

According to Bridge a publication of the Center for Michigan, the Great Lakes Compact was forged over five years. The Compact was approved by all eight states bordering the Great Lakes. The Wisconsin State Senate took up the Compact on May 15, 2008. I recall, as a rookie Senator, reading the 250-page bill. Next to the state budget, the Compact was one the most complex pieces of legislation I voted on. The Compact was signed into law by President Bush on October 3, 2008.

The Great Lakes Compact was not limited to just protecting what we have, but it was also designed to improve the Lakes. This work is accomplished through Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Strategy and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. According to the Great Lakes Commission, more than $330 million was invested for more than 400 protection and restoration projects in Wisconsin.

A new report coordinated by the University of Michigan and a host of economists and others showed that every dollar invested in the Great Lakes Initiative project produced $3.35 of additional economic activity.

milwaukeeThe benefits come back to us in many ways, including recreation, tourism, and commercial navigation. Study authors pointed to an “emergence of a new type of tourism focused on kayaking, kitesurfing and paddle-boarding; improved quality of life, as indicated by a willingness to pay more for housing in coastal areas; and increases in the number of young people who are choosing to stay in or relocate to Great Lakes communities.”

Among many parts of that 250-page bill, the Compact stops new or increased diversions of water from outside of the Great Lakes watershed. One exception is for communities where part of the community is inside the Great Lakes basin. These communities are known to “straddle” the watershed border.

The Foxconn deal challenges this agreement.

Almost ten years to the day of Compact’s passage in Wisconsin, environmental groups filed a formal legal challenge that Wisconsin violated the requirements of the Compact with the Foxconn deal. In addition to this challenge, both New York and Illinois raised questions about the nearly 6 million gallons a day that Foxconn is expected to withdraw from Lake Michigan.

Our Great Lakes Compact is “regarded as one of the most significant public water policy achievements in the world,” author Peter Annin recently told Bridge. “You wouldn’t even be grappling with these questions [of Foxconn] if you didn’t have the Compact.”

Congratulations to all those who worked on the Compact in 2008, including the DNR, advocacy groups, lawmakers, and Governor Doyle. Join me in learning more by reading Mr. Annin’s book, “The Great Water Wars.”

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Legislative Audit Bureau: The Sentinels of State Government

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, 03 October 2018
in Wisconsin

wisc-capitol-domeWe acknowledge the exceptional work of the award-winning Legislative Audit Bureau, which is critical to oversight of state government.


MADISON - “As Governor, I would get rid of the programs that don’t work and fund the ones that do,” said a candidate at a forum last summer. I am sure people thought just how would you know that?

Many folks think someone is paying attention to details of state government, but they don’t really know. The way we can know is to study the work of the state auditors. The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) helps answer questions about the effectiveness and efficiencies of state government.

Recently, the work of the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau was given the highest possible rating by the National State Auditors Association. An independent, external review team, which included auditors from other states and the federal government, traveled to Wisconsin and spent a week reviewing the work of the LAB.

For fifty-three years, the LAB has assisted legislators, agency directors and the people of Wisconsin in answering questions about how money is spent and how programs are managed. The auditors’ work provides answers to questions such as, did the program meet its goals, did the program follow state law, and how was the money spent?

kathleen-vinehoutLong before I became a Senator, I assumed that someone was paying attention to all the different functions of state government. As a Senator and member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, I understand the critical role of the LAB in assisting the Legislature with oversight. With a state government of dozens of agencies, hundreds of funds and thousands of programs, the 86 authorized employees of the Audit Bureau have a massive task.

Audits of state government, conducted by the LAB, are approved by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee which is made up of legislators from both sides of the aisle and both houses. The Co-chairs are always of the Majority Party and they determine which audits come to the committee for approval. Auditors depend on lawmakers to attend the hearings, read the audits ahead of time and ask questions. They also depend on lawmakers to share the findings with the public and involve the public and their colleagues in a discussion about solutions to the findings in the audit. To maintain the integrity of the LAB and its work, state law forbids lawmakers from interfering in the audit process.

The LAB also maintains a state hotline on waste, mismanagement and abuse that has some of the strongest whistle-blower protections in state law. That protection provides confidence for those who come forward to help the LAB know where to find problems that need to be remedied.

Audit findings are always accompanied by recommendations to address the problems found during the audit process. Frequently these findings are related to compliance with state law. It is up to the Joint Audit Committee to make sure the agencies follow the LAB recommendations. This work can be much harder than you might think.

For example, the law requires the state’s economic development organization validate that any company receiving money for creating jobs actually creates the jobs. A series of audits detailed that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) was not following the law. When lawmakers insisted WEDC follow the law, the agency director pompously retorted, “We are not in the business of validating jobs.”

A few years ago, after the release of an economic development audit that detailed continued problems, two lawmakers called for the elimination of the LAB. These lawmakers, who called for the demise of the LAB, showed staggering ignorance in the vital functions auditors perform.

Without the LAB’s work, our state would not be able to conduct business with the federal government due to requirements for a review. Nearly thirty percent of Wisconsin’s $76 billion-dollar budget is federal money. Without the work of the Audit Bureau our state could not borrow money or, in state terms, issue bonds. Our state has about $14 billion dollars in bonds (debt).

The LAB staff are the sentinels of state government. They point the way to problems, offer recommendations to solve those problems, and give the “all-clear” that everything is working well.

The staff at the LAB is doing a very difficult job in a way that absolutely deserves recognition. For their exceptional work, we all offer heart-felt congratulations and appreciation.

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Potato Disease, the UW and the Wisconsin Idea

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, 26 September 2018
in Wisconsin

potato-farmerRecent cuts to the UW have affected it’s role in supporting our potato industry, and to retain world class researchers and crucial grant funds for important initiatives like the Wisconsin Seed Potato Program.


MADISON, WI - Late blight is a devastating potato and tomato disease that spreads quickly in late summer. It can wipe out a crop in just a few days. This disease caused the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s which led to the starvation or relocation of millions of Irish, including my ancestors.

Blight happens when it’s humid and muggy. The disease spreads very fast. Spores can move 40 miles a day. There are 30,000 spores in a patch the size of a dime. Because the devastating disease can “scale up quickly,” state laws exist for its control.

Wisconsin is home to 63,000 acres of potatoes. Our state is ranked third nationwide in potato production. For over one hundred years, the University of Wisconsin has helped potato farmers work with the weather, disease and new varieties of potatoes.

“The work of the University of Wisconsin is incredibly important,” an Antigo grower told the Senate Agriculture Committee last year. They have “the best potato research team in America.”

While explaining the relationship between the UW and the potato growers, one of the growers said, “the UW grows baby potatoes, they test chemicals, they give us advice on the mix we give the co-ops.” The UW potato research team is critical to the success of Wisconsin potato growers. “We pay the UW Inspection Crew to look at our fields.” The team created a “blight forecasting tool” that helps growers predict when plants are most at risk for blight.

Alex Crockford, a former Langlade County Ag Agent explained to the committee how roughly 9,000 acres of seed potatoes come from the Wisconsin seed potato certification program. “They go to the south, they go internationally. We [UW] are recognized as a national leader in quality and research.” The state farm in Rhinelander is the source of most of the seed potatoes in Wisconsin. “Here, we’ve been able to create very clean potatoes.”

Controlling disease begins with clean seed and a clean field. The UW is also one of the biggest seed potato growers in the United States. The program began in 1912.

This was the same year Charles McCarthy, the head of the Legislative Reference Library, wrote a book entitled, The Wisconsin Idea.

UW’s assistance to potato growers is a shining example of the Wisconsin Idea. The Idea’s guiding principle is for Wisconsin’s public universities and state government to serve the people using the best ideas of the entire nation. The knowledge and work of the university should be spread across the entire state for the benefit of its citizens.

The Antigo farmer explained to our committee that the Co-Director of the Seed Potato program recently left Wisconsin. The University of Idaho offered her a $50,000 raise to bring her knowledge and her research to the Potato State.

kathleen-vinehoutThis loss had a devastating effect on potato growers and led some to worry about the state’s commitment to the critical programs.

Unfortunately, the loss of the Director of the Seed Potato Program is not the only loss to the UW.

“We lost some of our best people,” UW Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank told Jon Marcus of The Atlantic last year. “It is our very best faculty that get outside offers. If you’re looking at research dollars, those are the people who are bringing in millions in research funding. And the people you replace them with bring in much less. So those retention issues have a real impact.”

According to Marcus, the UW calculated nearly $8 million in research dollars left the university in just one year, when faculty left and took their research projects with them to other universities.

The exodus of the potato researcher and other key faculty are related to the deep budget cuts, changes in tenure, shared governance and threats to undermine the mission of the UW system.

As soon as other universities got wind of troubles they looked up faculty rosters and started making calls. “We called UW faculty,” my son’s Department Chair told me at his recent department graduation gathering. “We knew they were some of the best.”

The potato growers would agree. Our UW faculty are well worth our collective efforts to keep them here in Wisconsin.

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Tribes and Lawmakers Meet to Resolve Issues

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, 19 September 2018
in Wisconsin

tribal-courtsSen. Kathleen Vinehout explores the issues facing Wisconsin’s eleven sovereign tribes, like Tribal courts, voter ID and educating our children about the importance of State Tribal relations.


MADISON - “Can you fix Syria?” a woman asked me. “No,” I said as I shook my head. “Syria is a bit above my pay-grade. My international work [as State Senator] is limited to work with our Native Tribes.”

Native Tribes are sovereign nations.

Tribes have their own government including legislatures and courts. Many federal laws and treaties govern Wisconsin Tribes. But so do our state laws.

The delicate intersection between Wisconsin Tribes and the State of Wisconsin is the purview of the Special Committee on State-Tribal Relations.

Recently the State Tribal Relations Committee convened in the Capitol. This committee is one of the most unique in all of the Legislature. It consists of leaders of all of Wisconsin’s eleven tribal nations and a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers.

The Tribal Leaders are so much a part of the committee that the Chair in our recent meeting referred to long-time Menominee Tribal Chair and current Tribal Legislator, Mr. Gary Besaw, as “Representative” Besaw.

kathleen-vinehout“I’ve lived here long enough to be part of the Legislature,” smiled Mr. Besaw. The Chair of our committee apologized for an easily-made mistake.

Tribal leaders work directly with lawmakers and Legislative Council attorneys to craft laws that affect the tribe. Like lawmakers, they propose legislation, review bill drafts and ask for research from our attorneys.

The meeting began with an overview of past legislative successes. Last year, lawmakers passed a new law to allow tribal identification cards to be used for various purposes when state law requires an ID card. Most importantly, the cards can be used for proof of residence for voting.

Frequently lawmakers pass laws that may benefit Tribal Nations but forget to include the proper language in the law. One such oversight was remedied by allowing Tribal Nations to seek state grants for alternatives to prison. Many of our local courts started alternatives to prison programs for those suffering from addiction and/or mental illness. These treatment courts are effective at helping folks stay clean and avoid prison.

Another successful law passed in 2017 was Act 352. This law stiffens penalties for individuals who threaten or cause bodily harm to tribal judges, prosecutors and police officers – just as their non-native counterparts in our local courts.

Tribal judges from Oneida and Lac Courte Oreilles, a Menominee attorney and Tribal Representative, Gary Besaw testified asking for an expansion of the law protecting those who work in our tribal courts.

The judges mentioned several stories about court officers threatened or killed by unhappy defendants or family members. The discussion around expanding the protection of court officers provided us “non-native” members a glimpse into how tribal courts are different from “western” courts.

“In traditional tribal courts, we often teach our own traditions,” explained one of the judges. Tribal Elders can provide testimony. There’s a “Counsel of Grandmothers” the court calls on for advice. As non-natives, we think of court as adversarial. But the tribal judges explained that court proceedings can be healing for family members.

Resolving differences between tribal law and Wisconsin law is why the committee exists. But committee work is much broader. At its heart, the committee exists to promote positive relations between our state and the eleven sovereign Tribal Nations.

An act to teach students about these relations came up as a topic before our committee. Known by its legal name, Act 31, the law set requirements for schools. Tribal leaders asked for changes in this nearly thirty-year-old law. Mr. Besaw shared challenges faced by his daughter who felt isolated after a classroom discussion about ancestry and the lack of understanding of the history of Native peoples.

The committee grappled with how to create a 21st century education system so all students are welcome and prepared to live and work in our diverse state.

The issues aren’t quickly resolved, but having a space for the discussion begins the process. As a longtime member of the Committee, and currently it’s Vice Chair, I find this committee’s work most cordial and refreshingly bipartisan.

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