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Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive

Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive

Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive. Before moving to Green Bay in 2008, he was the Assistant Director of Human Resources for Milwaukee County. A graduate of UWM in 1971, he moved to Madison, where he was Executive Personnel Officer and Technology Manager for the State Department of Employment Relations. He is a former Vice Chair of the Democratic Party of Brown County, Director at the Human Resources Management Association of S.E. Wisconsin (now SHRM), and Technology Commission Chair for the City of Franklin. Bob is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force (1965-1971).

LAB Investigation of State Corrections Needed

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 10 March 2016
in Wisconsin

boy-in-docMedia reports last month revealed state officials at the highest levels have known for years of attacks and sexual assaults at Lincoln Hills School for Boys without either contacting or fully disclosing the details to concerned local officials or even the family members of the victims. This mistreatment of inmates and the underlying issues it reveals in DOC cause twelve legislators to request independent investigation by Legislative Audit Bureau.


MADISON - The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in February that in repeated cases stretching back at least four years, state officials at the highest levels have known of attacks and sexual assaults at Lincoln Hills School for Boys. What's more, they admit no one bothered telling parents and local officials about the assaults on teenagers at a troubled prison.

The pattern of not sharing glaring problems continued for years, according to leaders in two counties, state officials, former Lincoln Hills staff and a parent of a juvenile inmate.

The whole mess was uncovered last December when federal agents raided the school and a massive federal and state investigation at the Northwoods prison and the sister facility on its campus, Copper Lake School for Girls went public.

Gov. Scott Walker's administration initially blamed the problems on front-line staff alone. But soon it became clear it was a larger failure at the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Walker administration that had been covered up. Senate Republican legislators have since shirked their legal responsibility to investigate.

The appalling treatment of juveniles at Lincoln Hills is only the tip of the iceberg. Underlying grave issues of safety, overcrowding, repeat offenders, mental illness among inmates and management issues exist in our corrections system that are costing the state in dollars and safety of residents. It is time to bring these problems into the light of day.

kathleen-vinehoutOn Tuesday, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) was joined by Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and ten other state legislators in a written request to Joint Legislative Audit Committee co-chairs Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Rep. Samantha Kirkland (R-Salem) for a public hearing to approve an audit of DOC by the independent Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB).

“The Department of Corrections is facing severe difficulties that require our immediate response,” said Senator Vinehout Tuesday. “I call upon my fellow members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to approve an audit of DOC. This audit is necessary to address grave issues of safety, overcrowding, repeat offenders, mental illness among inmates and management issues that are costing the state in dollars and safety of residents.”

Vinehout authored a letter requesting the Joint Audit Committee Co-Chairs to schedule a hearing to consider an audit of DOC. The letter was co-signed by over 40 legislators from around the state. The legislators share concern related to a number of issues including staff shortages, forced overtime and the reports of appalling treatment of juveniles at Lincoln Hills.

“The well-respected, nonpartisan, Legislative Audit Bureau has the know-how to understand the systemic problems faced by DOC and help lawmakers craft solutions,” said Vinehout. “A comprehensive program evaluation could identify challenging safety issues before people are hurt; help policy makers target resources to alleviate overcrowding; and spur needed changes in mental health treatment and the reintegration system to address the extraordinarily high number of those returning to prison.”

“Lives are at stake – the lives of staff, children and adult inmates. Enough anecdotal evidence exists to give us stark warning signs – something must be done. A nonpartisan audit could provide direction to move forward from the current crisis,” concluded Vinehout.

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Walker Signs Bill Changing Civil Service in Appleton

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Friday, 12 February 2016
in Wisconsin

walker-signsWalker flees the angry crowd in Madison to sign bill undermining "Merit System" into law at private sector temporary help giant Manpower. Many employees fear Walker wants to take action against "recall signers". Democrats contend the bill will open the door to cronyism.


APPLETON, WI - Gov. Scott Walker plans to sign a Republican-backed bill to overhaul Wisconsin's civil service system in this northeastern Wisconsin city on Friday, far from Madison and the thousands of state workers angered by his action.

Walker's office says the GOP governor is scheduled to sign the bill into law at Manpower Group in Appleton. The location is choice, since Walker made Manpower a favorite source of temporary help to replace civil service employees during his two terms as Milwaukee County Executive.

The bill eliminates job applicant exams, centralizes hiring decisions within the governor's Madison Department of Administration, does away with bumping rights that have given more experienced workers first call on remaining jobs during layoffs and allows agencies to keep new hires on probation for up to two years before they can receive regular employee status. Until now, new employees were in probationary status for six months before their boss had to make the final decision to hire them.

The bill also adds a definition of just cause for termination and lists infractions that would result in immediate firing. These provisions would add nothing new in actual practice, since state employees committing serious infractions have been subject to immediate termination for just cause for many years.

Walker has been outspoken in his support of the proposal, claiming efficiency as his motivation. However, many employees fear Walker wants the power to take action against so-called "recall signers", meaning the thousands of state employees among the nearly 1 million Wisconsinites who signed the petition to recall the governor during his first term.

Democrats contend the bill will open the door to cronyism within state agencies.

peter_barca“By dismantling our state’s civil service system, Governor Walker and legislative Republicans are kicking down the door for cronyism and corruption in Wisconsin," said Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) on Friday. “The civil service system was founded on the idea that state employees should serve the public interest, not partisan political interests. Republicans have made it clear they will stop at nothing to consolidate their own power while rewarding their cronies with taxpayer-funded jobs."

Early in his administration Governor Walker was caught in a couple prominent situations where he placed allies in key positions with thin to no qualifications. Back during his Milwaukee County days, Walker was also known to place key aides into "holding" positions to draw large salaries. This law will make it easier to more broadly do this unencumbered by the rules.

Additionally, Walker used this approach at WEDC, where he eliminated civil service for hiring staff and we saw continuous problems with turnover and ethically questionable conduct with potential pay to play and taxpayer funds at risk.

"Republicans want to make that (the WEDC) the model for our entire state", concludes Barca. "This is truly a dark day for Wisconsin’s proud heritage of clean, open and transparent government.”

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New Poll Shows Walker Still in the Dumps Four Months after President Run

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Friday, 29 January 2016
in Wisconsin

scott-walkerNew Marquette Poll shows support for Gov. Scott Walker is still floundering locally since his failed out of state adventure last fall for the Republican Presidential nomination. Other issues on guns, local schools, the Wisconsin economy and water quality remain important to voters.


MILWAUKEE – A new Marquette University Law School Poll released Thursday shows statewide approval of how Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is handling his job stands at 38 percent with 57 percent disapproving. In November, 38 percent approved and 58 percent disapproved.

Thirty-six percent say they would like Walker to seek a third term as governor, while 61 percent would not like to see him run. In September 2015, 35 percent supported a bid for a third term while 62 percent did not.

Walker's approval rating has remained low ever since he returned to Wisconsin from his failed bid last fall for the Republican Presidential nomination. While his followers in the state legislature have continued to push his pro-capitalist anti-worker agenda in Madison, he has failed to regain the leadership of the party he enjoyed before leaving the state to campaign.

Guns Remain An Issue

In related state issues, guns and gun laws continue to be an issue for Wisconsin residents. In 2012, three Marquette Law School Polls asked whether respondents favored or opposed “legalizing possession of concealed weapons” while such legislation was under debate. Between 46 and 47 percent supported legalizing concealed carry, while between 49 and 51 percent opposed the proposal. Concealed-carry legislation was passed and became law in 2012.

In the current poll, respondents were asked if they favor or oppose the “current law allowing residents to obtain a license to carry concealed handguns.” Sixty-three percent favor the current concealed-carry law, while 31 percent oppose it.

Respondents were also asked about a proposal to allow concealed-carry permit holders to have a gun on school grounds and for local school boards to have the option of allowing permit holders to enter schools with concealed weapons. On this issue, 31 percent favor the proposal while 65 percent are opposed.

Background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows have also been a recent issue in state. Eighty-five percent of registered voters favor background checks for private and gun show sales, while 12 percent oppose them. When last asked in May 2013, 71 percent favored and 26 percent opposed such checks.

Local Schools

Registered voters continue to express concern for education funding in the state. Fifty-seven percent say their local public schools are receiving too little funding from the state, while 30 percent say they receive enough and 7 percent say schools receive more funding than they need.

Asked how they would react “if your local school board proposed a referendum to increase taxes for schools,” 55 percent say they would be inclined to vote for the referendum while 35 percent say they would be inclined to vote against.

Wisconsin's Economy

Voters have become somewhat more negative in their views of the economy since April 2015. Twenty-six percent say the economy has gotten better over the past year while 31 percent say it has gotten worse. In April 2015, opinion was reversed, with 31 percent saying the economy had improved over the past year while 26 percent said it had gotten worse. As for the outlook for the coming year, 27 percent expect the economy to improve while 25 percent say it will get worse. Last April, 31 percent looked for improvement with 18 percent expecting a downturn.

Interest in Water Quality Low

Nine percent of respondents say they have heard reports of contamination of drinking water in their county in the past two years, while 86 percent have not heard of any such reports. Statewide, 27 percent have heard that the City of Waukesha is currently unable to meet state and federal standards for the amount of radium in its drinking water, while 72 percent have not heard.

The City of Waukesha has submitted a proposal to divert water from Lake Michigan for its water supply and return an equal or greater amount of treated waste water to the lake. Thirty-four percent of respondents state-wide favor this proposal while 51 percent say the city should find other solutions.

About the Marquette Law School Poll

The Marquette Law School Poll is the most extensive statewide polling project in Wisconsin history. This poll interviewed 806 registered Wisconsin voters, by both landline and cell phone, January 21-24, 2016. The margin of error is +/- 4.0 percentage points for the full sample. For Republican presidential primary voters, the sample size is 313, with a margin of error of +/-6.5 percentage points. For Democratic presidential primary voters, the sample size is 312, with a margin of error of +/-6.5 percentage points.

The partisan makeup of this sample, including those who lean to a party, is 42 percent Republican, 47 percent Democratic and 10 percent independent. The long-term estimate over the previous 31 statewide Marquette polls, with 26,727 respondents, is 42 percent Republican and 47 percent Democratic, with 9 percent independent. The partisan makeup excluding those who lean to a party is 25 percent Republican, 32 percent Democratic and 40 percent independent, compared to the long-term estimate of 27 percent Republican, 31 percent Democratic and 38 percent independent.

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Governor Walker Fails Student Loan Holders

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 12 January 2016
in Wisconsin

uwgb-studentWith student loan debt in Wisconsin at $19 billion and rising, we need a plan that allows loans to be refinanced at lower interest rates. Gov. Walker's rejection of refinancing leaves hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents at the mercy of Wall Street.


MADISON - With student loan debt in America standing at a record $1.2 trillion and more than a million Wisconsinites currently burdened by student loan debt, Governor Scott Walker announced his student debt proposals during a news conference at the Waukesha County Technical College Monday.

The Governor's plan includes increasing Wisconsin grants for technical college, deducting student loan interest from taxes, and creating grants for students in emergency financial need.

"It`s taking an existing program that`s in place -- and this just adds money, about $1 million more, which will add assistance for about 1,000 more students but it`s on a needs basis. It`s taking a program but expanding," Governor Walker said.

Walker says his new plan will make higher education more affordable and will build on the historic four-year UW System tuition freeze.

Few students, former students, educators or Democrats agree that Walker's plan will be much help.

"It`s not going to do anything to help the hard-working student loan borrowers in the state of Wisconsin who have done the right thing," Scot Ross with One Wisconsin Now said.

A study by the Institute for College Access and Success finds 70% of Wisconsin college graduates have student loan debt. The average exceeds $28,000. Walker’s college affordability initiative fails hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents with student loans because it does not provide needed relief from high interest rates.

What former students say they need is a plan that allows loans to be refinanced at lower interest rates like car and home loans.

Saul Newton is one of those students. "My highest interest rate on one of my loans is 7.5%. If I could refinance that down to 3% or 4%, that would be thousands of dollars a year that I could put back into the economy," Newton said.

Walker said that the most important thing he's done to improve college affordability is push a four-year tuition freeze for the University of Wisconsin System, which began with the 2013-'14 academic year and is to continue through 2016-'17.

dave-hansen-gb“Unfortunately the Governor is not proposing a serious plan to help the over 815,000 Wisconsin residents who have student loans,” said State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) co-author of the Wisconsin Higher Ed/Lower Debt bill.  "This seems to be more of an attempt at a political solution rather than a real effort to fix the problem."

Wisconsin ranks third in the nation for the number of residents with student loan debt. Seventy percent of college graduates now have student loan debt and sixty percent of those with student loan debt are 30 or older.

The amount of total student loan debt in Wisconsin is at $19 billion and rising with the average student loan debt at over $28,000. Research has shown that the high cost of student loans is also hurting Wisconsin’s economy. Over $200 million in annual lost new car sales have been attributed to the student loan crisis as borrowers often settle for used cars rather than buying new.

“If the student loan plan being put forward by the Governor and Senate Republicans was a class project it would get a failing grade," said Hansen. "It amounts to little more than lip service to a growing crisis that is crushing the hopes and dreams of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents and stifling any chance we have of real economic growth.”

Since 2013 Senator Hansen and Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) have been promoting the Higher Ed/Lower Debt bill that would make it possible for Wisconsin residents to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates.

The state of Rhode Island, which has a student loan authority similar to the one proposed by Hansen and Mason, has been offering low cost student loans since 1981 and is currently offering student loan financing at rates as low as 4.24%.

“The only affordable way to address this growing crisis effectively is to offer borrowers the ability to refinance their student loans like home or car loans," concludes Hansen.  "Anything short of that is to leave Wisconsin borrowers at the mercy of Wall Street and the student loan giants.”

Wisconsin's stagnant economy would also benefit. “Wisconsin’s economy would clearly do better if we had a real policy solution to student loan debt and the governor’s plan isn’t it”, added Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha).

***

Legislative Staff writer Jay Wadd contributed to this story.

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President, Critics Connect at CNN's Town Hall on Guns

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Friday, 08 January 2016
in Wisconsin

pres-obama-town-hall-2016President Barack Obama, trying to do something about gun violence, and critics who believe he's determined to confiscate their weapons came face-to-face Thursday in a CNN town hall televised nationally. The President fielded tough questions from gun owners in a rare respectful and reasoned interlude in one of America's most poisoned political debates.


FAIRFAX, VA - President Barack Obama, who has vowed to do something about our nation's blight of gun violence, and critics who believe he's determined to confiscate their weapons came face-to-face here Thursday in a rare respectful and reasoned interlude in one of America's most poisoned political debates.

The President fielded tough questions from gun owners in the CNN town hall moderated by Anderson Cooper and televised nationally. For once, the nation's bitter, polarized politics failed to swamp a conversation on gun violence.

President Obama faced off against critics of his new executive actions, including expanded background checks for gun sales, but both sides listened carefully, referred to shared concerns and avoided histrionics. One absent voice was the National Rifle Association, which declined CNN's invitation to participate.

The event at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, came as Obama rededicates himself to an effort to reduce gun violence following a string of mass shootings and his own failure to get expansive reform efforts through Congress.

Obama fielded questions from supporters of his actions, including a priest, gun violence victims and a Chicago schoolboy who fears being shot, as well as critics ranging from a gun executive to a sheriff, a rape survivor and a murder victim's widow.

The meeting of about 100 people invited by CNN on all sides of the debate was an unusual forum for the President. While Obama has conducted hundreds of town hall events as a candidate and president, it's rare for him to hear so directly from ordinary Americans who oppose his policies.

While the President respectfully conversed with those who questioned him in person, he did not spare his foes in the gun rights debate, accusing them of spouting "imaginary fiction" about his motives and evoking the partisanship that typically encompasses the issues.

"The way it is described is that we are trying to take away everybody's guns," Obama said. "Our position is consistently mischaracterized ... If you listen to the rhetoric, it is so over-the-top, it is so overheated."

He dismissed the notion that he was behind a plot to take away everybody's guns "so we can impose martial law". And he tried to dispel it by pointing out that he lacked the time remaining in office to take away the nation's 350 million firearms.

The President had sought tougher laws after the Newtown massacre that killed 20 small children and 5 teachers, but said he was foiled by the NRA. He has made his changes this time using his lawful executive powers, enraging Republicans who say he has overstepped his authority.

"All of us need to demand leaders brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies," Obama had wrote in column in the New York Times that was published on Thursday.

It is not clear if Obama's efforts this time will cut through the wall of suspicion that has been built up over many years by the gun lobby and their Republican allies in Congress. But it is clear that the President has not given up the fight.

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