Saturday October 20, 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.

Looking Forward to 2018

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 January 2018
in Wisconsin

new-yearState Senator and possible gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Vinehout writes about the big events happening in 2018 and about the work the Legislature will be doing throughout the course of the year.


ALMA, WI - Snow falls gently on the farm. It’s the light, fluffy snow that comes when it’s very cold.

We’ve seen bitter temperatures to end the year. Like many, the cold caused its share of problems on our farm. I was reminded to appreciate running water when our well pump went out Christmas Eve. When an electric waterer failed, we carried buckets of water to our horses.

farm-snowBitter cold weather and a dwindling supply of propane caused Wisconsin to declare a state of energy emergency related to intermittent propane supplies. For the 250,000 Wisconsinites that depend on propane for heat, a shortage can be a big deal.

After the relative calm of the Holiday Season, I expect the activities of the Legislature to heat up quickly in January. No one quite knows when will be the last day to pass a bill. This uncertainty is causing a great deal of urgency among lawmakers.

What causes the uncertainty is the tension and game playing between the Senate and Assembly Leaders. As usual, both leaders have bantered about when each body will adjourn for the campaign season. The banter somewhat resembles the school yard game of “chicken”.

Members of the Legislature will soon meet the voters. Many lawmakers ponder their promises made but not-yet-kept. They work with staff to put the final touches on bills they hope to pass.

2018 will be the year of many campaigns. Special elections in January, a nonpartisan primary in February, a Supreme Court race, and local nonpartisan elections – including every county board member in the state – in April.

gotv-chippewafallsCandidates who want to run for partisan elected office will begin collecting nomination signatures in mid-April. Fun begins in June when all partisan races will be set. June 1st is the deadline for turning in signatures for all partisan races. August brings us two big partisan primaries: the GOP US Senate race and the Democratic gubernatorial primary. November 6th is the general election date.

Mid-March is likely the time both legislative chambers will have their final days to meet as the full Senate and Assembly. But this does not mean the work of the state is finished.

The Finance and the Audit Committees meet all year, every year. Special “study committees” will be formed with members of the public adding their voices to help lawmakers address complex problems.

We will see new issues arise in the next few months. I expect to see at least some discussion of how to fix big problems. Woefully inadequate broadband, a broken system of school funding and the rising problems related to addiction, especially opioid abuse, are major problems many constituents want addressed.

Many Democrats, including myself, will continue to push for real changes to improve health care access and affordability. A great beginning is to create a state marketplace for health care – a bill I’ve written to give Wisconsin the flexibility we need to fix health care.

wisstatereformatory-allouezAlso, on the agenda in 2018, is taking a good look at what’s happening with our justice system. We have roughly double the number of people in prison compared to Minnesota. Even though we have a similar crime rate and similar population. Late in 2017, GOP leaders pushed through several bills to increase the minimum required penalties on some crimes and changed rules related to probation.

The bills would cost the state more and add to already overcrowded prisons. But leaders did not have any way to pay for the increased costs. Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) recently told the Wheeler Report “we need to figure out, probably, a way to build a new state prison. … I think that is something we will probably do this spring, but probably putting either revenues or bonding into upgrading our prisons.”

Borrowing to build a new prison is going to cause controversy when our neighbor to the west already has a corrections system that costs less and reduces crime.

Looking forward, 2018 will be an exciting year of change.

The New Year is a great time for resolutions. I encourage everyone to resolve to be active in our great democracy, and be involved in the direction of this change.

Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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Looking Back on 2017

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, 27 December 2017
in Wisconsin

foxconnwisconsinSen. Vinehout writes about what legislation received the most attention in 2017. The Foxconn deal, biennial state budget, Prove it First Mining Law and high capacity well permit oversight were the dominate topics on people’s minds throughout the past year.


ALMA, WI - As the year draws to a close, I often look back on my time in the Legislature and think of decisions that have an effect on our families and our neighborhoods.

This year, big companies are unwrapping gifts. The luckiest of really big companies is Foxconn. The $3 billion deal to bring the flat-screen TV and computer monitor manufacturer to Racine County is overwhelmingly unpopular in western Wisconsin. I’ve received over one-hundred calls and letters from folks who asked about the lack of taxpayer and environmental protections. They wonder where the money will come from in an already tight budget.

2017 was the year of a late budget that failed to address many problems lawmakers promised to fix: roads, schools and local government relief. I wrote an alternative budget showing a path to fixing many of these problems.

One new tax was passed to help roads - hybrids and electric car owners will pay more. But the money collected won’t cover a fraction of the long term needs of fixing our roads and bridges.

No changes were made to the way local governments are funded. Flat state spending for local communities means more struggles to provide local services like police, fire and social services.

school-bus-kidsTo address the criticism the Legislature was not fixing the problems with funding our public schools, a new task force called the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding was created and just recently started its work. I’m cautiously optimistic changes will come to provide fairness in school funding. Meanwhile, many families are paying higher property taxes because of school referenda passed last year to keep schools afloat.

Two other bills stand out in 2017 as topics that brought a great deal of contact from constituents: sulfide mining and high capacity wells. Overwhelmingly, people opposed getting rid of our twenty-year-old “Prove it First” law. The old law required a company to first prove metal mining was safe before it was permitted to mine. A few weeks ago, Governor Walker signed into effect a new law. It will allow mining for silver, gold, copper and other minerals without proving it can be done without polluting the environment.

People were opposed to getting rid of DNR oversight of high capacity wells. The new law created permits for these wells to be “in perpetuity,” or forever.

sand-mining-wiWestern Wisconsin is home to more mines than any other part of the state. A big part of sand mining is access to a high capacity well permit. Here, folks know, up close and personal, what happens when a sand mine moves in next door.

A horse named Apples helped tell the story about what happens when mines open shop and neighbors are not protected. Poor Apples died, likely of toxic metals in the water. Later the family found almost ten times the limit of arsenic in their water. The family lives a little over a half mile from a sand mine. The courts will decide what killed Apples, but the family pointed out, when an oil industry down-turn caused production to stop at a nearby mine, the water cleared up.

The state failed to protect folks and their critters in Apples’ neighborhood.

clean-drinking-waterDrinking clean water and enjoying our beautiful outdoors are joys we all share. Which is why protecting the environment has been a long-standing bipartisan effort. It was a bipartisan legislature, including our current Governor when he was a State Assembly Representative, that created the Prove it First mining law.

As we close 2017, I’m grateful for a bipartisan group of lawmakers working together to legalize hemp as a commodity. This is a bill I’ve introduced for several years. I recently spoke with former Senator Sheila Harsdorf. She shared that many farmers around Wisconsin have contacted her to say they want to grow hemp.

I’m grateful for the work of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to write rules so farmers can get hemp seeds in the ground next spring. The Senate lost a strong voice for agriculture in Senator Harsdorf resignation, but we’ve gained a big voice for agriculture in her appointment as the new DATCP Secretary.

Wishing all of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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It’s Time for a Hard Look at How We 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, 20 December 2017
in Wisconsin

school-kidsSenator Vinehout writes about the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, the problems we face with how Wisconsin pays for schools and ideas she’d like the Commission to consider.


MADISON - “It’s important, every so many years, we take a good look at how we fund schools,” said Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). “How do we … make sure our schools have what they need for the next 20 to 50 years.”

Co-chairs Senator Olsen and Representative Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) recently convened a Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. I serve as the only Senate Democrat on the new Commission.

Wisconsin has seen studies to change the way our schools are funded come and go throughout the years. The co-chairs emphasized they did not want the work of the Commission to sit “on a shelf and collect dust.” The impression that the Commission existed only as an election-year “talking point” was clearly on the minds of some members.

As I mentioned in the hearing, I’ve long been an advocate for changing Wisconsin’s approach to funding schools. We pay for schools, largely, with a combination of property tax and state aid. Schools are paid on a per-pupil basis.

Many school funding problems come from demographic changes happening in our state. Shifting patterns in our population affect schools. For example, Wisconsin has more children living in poverty today, than ten years ago. Rural areas have seen a decline in students.

Not all students have the same needs. Different school districts have different costs. These needs are not adequately reflected in the funding formula.

teaching-studentsTo add to problems, the fallout from Act 10 and the criticizing of public school teachers had a profound effect on our schools. Teachers left or retired. Fewer college students are going into education. School districts have trouble filling vacancies. Standards for teachers were lowered. Morale is low. Student opportunities were diminished. Cuts in state aid forced taxpayers to pass referenda and raise property taxes just to keep their schools running.

Of the two major problems with our school funding, the first is the level of state aid.

Despite increases in the recently-passed budget, schools haven’t recovered from the massive cuts to state aid in 2011. In real dollars, public schools will be getting less in the next two years than a decade ago.

The second problem with how we pay for schools, is the state aid formula itself.

At the heart of the problem is the economic disconnect between district revenues and district costs. Revenues assume education is a constant cost activity. In other words, you get so many dollars for every student.

Education, however, is not a constant cost activity. Schools have high fixed costs and low marginal costs. Fixed costs are those bills that are the same regardless of how many students attend the school. For example, keeping the building heated or the lights on are costs that don’t change much even as the number of students change. As time passes, this disconnect between the way the state pays for schools and the way the schools incur costs, causes a lot of problems. Difficulties are particularly acute for districts with declining enrollments.

We need to move toward an “adequacy formula” that takes into account fixed costs, recognizes that some students cost more to educate than others, and recognizes that school districts in different situations face different costs.

We also need to reduce our reliance on the property tax to fund schools. The cornerstone of school funding should be state aid.

We must address today’s school funding problems. But we must also plan for how we educate our children of tomorrow.

For too long, rules, regulations and testing requirements stifled the creativity, excitement and challenge of teaching. Our state spends so much time and money on testing and evaluating, that teachers don’t have the time to teach or the resources and energy to try innovative approaches. We need a different plan to meet the needs of tomorrow.

Our children and our schools are our future. A lost opportunity for a child is often forever lost.

Since the formula was first enacted, our demographics have changed and our economy has changed. Tinkering around edges is not enough.

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Emergency Medical Workers in New Community Role

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 Tuesday, 12 December 2017
in Wisconsin

emtThe new Community Emergency Medical Services (CEMS) Program will allow emergency medical personnel to perform basic health care for people in their homes, reducing costly readmissions to the hospital. Program requires additional training for EMS personnel working under direction of the hospital medical director.


ALMA, WI - “We had a patient who called us at least once a week,” a local Emergency Medical Director told me. “We took him to the hospital, but, what if we could take care of him at home.”

A new law makes it possible for emergency medical personnel to perform basic health care for people in their homes. This new approach to health care delivery may soon be in your neighborhood.

“We’ve seen a big increase in calls,” a Jackson County emergency medical professional said while visiting my Capitol office. He told me the patients they see at home are much sicker than years ago. People need care but want to stay at home. In Jackson County, ambulance personnel are working closely with the homecare workers to help people stay in their homes.

wisc-dairy-farmWe think of emergency medical personnel as helping us with acute problems: an auto accident or farm injury. Increasingly, the problems emergency workers see are related to chronic conditions. Diabetes, breathing problems and heart disease are common complaints.

Legislation recently signed into law created a new type of health professional through the new Community Emergency Medical Services (CEMS) program.

Gundersen Health System spokesperson Michael Richards testified in support of this legislation. He described a change in the way Medicare paid for hospital visits. Beginning in 2012, hospitals are penalized for patients who returned to the hospital if they were admitted less than a month prior. This “30-day readmission rule” encouraged hospitals and doctors to think hard about how to keep people healthier, in their homes, and not back in the hospital.

“To be proactive, Gundersen…diligently research[ed] the community paramedic program. …We envisioned the positive potential a comprehensive community paramedic program could provide to our patients and communities. …We aim to integrate the community paramedic program into the transitional care program as a ‘transition care coach.’”

Mr. Richards explained that a community paramedic would be trained in patient assessment, education and diagnostic testing, such as electrocardiograms (EKGs). The CEMS worker could help with review of medications, appointments and continue “strategies to reinforce compliance to [the] discharge plan of care and/or disease management. All this work will be done under the direction and guidance of the medical director.”

Making sure the patient received the proper care by a quality professional was the goal of the main authors of the new law – Representatives Loudenbeck and Shankland and Senators Moulton and Bewley.

The new law specifically forbids the emergency personnel from performing any services that require a license, certificate or other state credential. This requirement means the community emergency worker could not do the work of nurses or other health professionals. Under the new law, community emergency workers are forbidden from providing any services that are already being provided to a patient.

How will this new law work? Most emergency professionals will act as part of a hospital team. The Wisconsin Department of Health will approve both the ambulance provider’s plan for community care and the training programs. Hospitals will likely offer much of the training. The Department of Health or the medical director must establish care protocols – what the emergency responder does for the patient.

To work as a community emergency services practitioner, an individual must receive approval from the Department of Health, must have two years of experience and must complete required training.

The ambulance provider must have approval by the Department of Health for the type of care the emergency medical services professionals will deliver.

Mr. Richards summed up the new plan stating, “We believe community paramedicine best serves patients and community health. The extension of care beyond our walls is in line with the specific goal of reducing readmissions [and] is in the best interest of the patients and their families.”

This story is a fine example of how federal health policy – the “30-day readmission rule” – spurred innovation leading to a change that is both better for patients and helps lower health costs. And it’s a story of how a bipartisan group of lawmakers stepped up to the challenge to make innovation happen in Wisconsin.

*** Corrected version ***

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Free Tuition for Two-Year and Tech Colleges Means Freedom to Learn

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 Tuesday, 05 December 2017
in Wisconsin

matc-studentsResearch shows the need for people to work in middle skill jobs, the largest share of jobs in Wisconsin. Sen. Vinehout’s proposal will give residents the opportunity to get an education and give Wisconsin a pool of skilled workers.


MADISON - “Every Wisconsinite should have access to education or training past high school… To be pursued at whatever point and pace makes sense for individual workers and industries,” wrote researchers at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) eight years ago.

Long before the current shortage of skilled workers, COWS anticipated the need for additional training. In 2009, the Center teamed up with the Workforce Development Board, Skills2Compete and others to study “Wisconsin’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs.”

Middle skill jobs are those jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree. The study I quoted above, found “Middle skill jobs still represent the largest share of jobs in Wisconsin – some 54 percent – and the largest share of job openings into the next decade.”

Georgetown University just released a study that found similar conclusions. “Across the nation, good jobs have shifted toward Associate Degree holders and away from workers with a high school diploma or less.”

In response to the demonstrated need, I am proposing free tuition for Wisconsin residents at our Technical Colleges and University of Wisconsin two-year campuses.

Expanding our skilled workforce is the surest way to grow our economy and raise wages. Raising wages in Wisconsin should be a top priority. We are ranked 18th worst in the nation in average wages and salaries.

My proposal, Freedom to Learn, allows students to learn at their own pace and choose their own course of study.

Long ago, I worried about how to pay for college. My only option was a two-year campus. I know firsthand what it’s like to not know how to make ends meet and also go to college. Many see tuition as an insurmountable obstacle. I want to eliminate any hesitation someone might have in pursuing his or her opportunities and dreams.

I want to make it possible for someone who is already working or has family obligations, doesn’t have the cash and can’t afford to take time off, to get the education and training they want. Freedom to Learn, in allowing students to attend school part-time, and learn at their own pace, goes further than tuition programs in other states.

In 2014, Tennessee became the national leader in eliminating tuition and fees for incoming full-time students. Since then, several states followed including most recently, California.

Like other states, my proposal uses state tax dollars as the last dollar scholarship. This means students apply for financial aid. Free tuition grants kick in after all other federal and state aid are used. Wisconsin already has a similar last dollar free tuition program for our veterans.

My program is modeled after Tennessee. Republican Governor Bill Haslam showed the nation what works. As Tennessee added dollars for tuition, the number of students applying for student loans dropped by 17%. In addition, the number of students enrolled in two-year and tech colleges increased by 30%.

Under the proposal I recently released, the cost of free tuition at two-year and tech colleges is funded by repealing the manufacturing portion of the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit. This tax credit is one of 43 different tax credits claimed by businesses in the past year. The effect of this specific tax credit is to reduce state taxes owed to near zero.

Corporate profits and corporate cash reserves are at an all-time high, while wages are stagnant. Companies have the money. They don’t have the workers. Trading one manufacturers’ tax break for a pool of skilled workers is a good exchange.

Freedom to Learn is a great opportunity to invest in the potential of our own Wisconsin workers and grow our economy from the inside out. It makes more sense than trying to lure workers from other states or giving billions to one foreign corporation.

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