Thursday June 27, 2019

Forward with Education & Reason

FacebookTwitterYoutube
Newsletter
Feeds:

Progressive Thinking

Discussion with education and reason.

Blue Ribbon Commission Explores School Funding Inequity

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, 04 April 2018
in Wisconsin

school-kidsAt a recent public hearing in De Pere, the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding heard from school districts in that area, including Green Bay, about the challenges they face, which are exacerbated by funding issues.


DE PERE, WI - Linda Brown recently passed away in Topeka, Kansas. Ms. Brown was the student at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education that struck down school segregation. Ms. Brown’s father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll his nine-year old daughter in the all-white Sumner School.

The day after Ms. Brown’s passing, I joined other members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding to explore inequities in Wisconsin’s public schools at a public hearing in De Pere.

The stories we heard wove a tale of struggle, innovation, inequity and challenge.

Major changes are happening in our state’s public schools. Compared to twenty years ago, we have more minority students, students who are English Language Learners, and students whose families are experiencing poverty.

kathleen-vinehoutIn Brown County, four of 10 students live in poverty. The district has three times as many homeless students as it did in 2003. Children come to school hungry. They carry the burden of family conflict to their seat in the classroom.

Todays’ students have more mental health needs, including depression, anxiety and suicide. “Nearly 50% of girls and 30% of boys report anxiety,” said Christine Gingle, Social Work Coordinator at the Green Bay Area Public School District. “Almost 50% is a staggering number, but not overly surprising given the immense pressures students encounter during their school career… Many have suffered losses…are concerned about safety, or are experiencing grief. Safety concerns have a significant ripple effect on our community.”

Commission Member and UW Professor Julie Underwood asked, “What happens when you don’t have the resources to serve students?” Ms. Gingle answered, “The work falls back on the classroom teacher.”

“Students bring their problems to the classroom,” shared Dr. Michelle Langenfeld, Green Bay Area School Superintendent and a fellow member of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

“Teachers say to me, ‘I can’t do this anymore. When I close my eyes at night, I can’t sleep because I see all the children I cannot serve’,” Dr. Langenfeld continued. “We are blessed to be in a community that does help us. But every superintendent can share the same stories. We are all working the best we can. We also need to care for our caregivers.”

green-bay-schools-washIn the Green Bay Area School District, students speak 31 different languages. Minority students make up the majority of English Language Learners (ELL). The Green Bay Area School District has 600 Somali students who face not only language challenges. Many are orphaned. Some watched as family members were executed. Most have no formal education.

“In 1990, the reimbursement rate for ELL was 63%.” said Julie Seefeldt, Director of the English Learners Program at Green Bay. “The current reimbursement rate…is at approximately 7.9%.”

“This story is not unique to Green Bay,” Dr. Langenfeld told our Commission. “Somali families are grateful for the educational opportunities. They want their children to work hard and become American citizens.” In response to questions about the resulting challenges facing the district and teachers, Dr. Langenfeld replied, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.”

Justin Millfox, a teacher at West High School in Green Bay and President of the Green Bay Education Association, told us about the necessity for invention. “West High School is the home of the Wildcats,” Mr Millfox said. “We have a Cat Closet for school supplies and clothes for kids who do without.” The struggles of students are very hard on teachers as they try, with few resources, to address the significant needs of children with big gaps in their learning.

Many folks testified about problems in the way the state pays for schools. Our Commission heard: Providing EQUAL dollars does not solve the problem because not all student needs are equal.

“Providing equal dollar amounts of per-student increases in funding does not provide the necessary equality to provide our low income and English Learner students the support necessary for success,” noted Brenda Warren, Green Bay School Board President.

The legacy of Linda Brown and her father’s fight for equality continues to challenge us today. Their bravery and courage opened doors for children across our nation. Today, these doors and the schools beyond them are in need of repair. Dr. Langenfeld acknowledged that challenge as the public hearing adjourned stating, “We have no time to lose. It’s Go time!”

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Why I am Voting “No” on Eliminating the State Treasurer

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 March 2018
in Wisconsin

state-treasurer-logoThe referendum question on next Tuesday’s ballot asks voters if they wish to amend Wisconsin’s Constitution to eliminate the Office of the State Treasurer. Sen. Vinehout shares some information about the functions of the office which should be helpful to voters.


MADISON - Spring Elections are here. Voters are going to the polls to elect a new Supreme Court Justice and many local officials, from county board to school board. Voters will also make a decision to change our Wisconsin Constitution. On the ballot will be a referendum question to eliminate the Office of State Treasurer.

From the time Wisconsin became a state, we had a Constitutional Officer to oversee finances – the State Treasurer. The purpose of this office can be summed up in the words of the nonpartisan Council of State Government, “Treasurers act as the watchdog of the people’s money and, in most states, are elected by their own constituents. This check and balance in the executive branch of government provides an effective oversight mechanism and increased transparency.”

Some believe, including the current State Treasurer, the office is outdated and a waste of money. However, far more is behind this vote.

kathleen-vinehoutOver the past twenty years, the Legislature at the request of the Governor, removed the duties of the Treasurer. Many of the duties were taken over by the Department of Administration (DOA). The last budget increased the size of this sprawling agency by nearly fifty percent, or just shy of 1,500 employees. The Governor and his appointee, the Secretary of Administration, control the agency.

Eliminating the Office of the State Treasurer consolidates more power in one agency; the greater the power, the greater the opportunity for corruption, and less transparency for citizens of the state.

Think of the way a civic organization or a company is organized. The person who buys things – procurement – is not the person who writes the checks – the treasurer nor the one who audits the books.

In advising all types of organizations, from local nonprofits to large multinational corporations, auditors tell their clients when it comes to handling money there must be a “segregation of duties.” In other words, the same person (or department in a large company) should not collect the money, deposit the money, spend the money, approve the contracts and keep the books.

The principle of segregation of duties disperses the critical functions of overseeing procurement, contracting, vendor payments, cash management and auditing. Following this principle is a basic building block of risk management and, what auditors call, internal controls. These are the systems that help prevent and identify fraud, mismanagement and errors. Segregation of duties also assures transparency and accountability in state government.

According to the Wisconsin Taxpayer, our State Treasurer is the only treasurer in the nation that does not oversee cash management. We are only one of two states that do not allow the State Treasurer to be responsible for the state’s bank accounts.

Over the years, Wisconsin has marched toward a consolidation of power in DOA. We do not have a separately elected Controller, like many other states. Our Secretary of State, like the Treasurer, has lost many duties. It is no wonder folks nicknamed DOA the “Department of All.”

Our state’s finances could use more oversight, not less. The most recently enacted state budget authorized the state to spend $76 billion over the two-year budget cycle. Misappropriation of just a small amount of this massive sum could involve millions of taxpayer dollars.

Elected officials serve as stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. Our responsibility includes setting up systems that contain the “internal controls” which prevent and expose fraud and mismanagement.

I am voting “no” and I urge you not to eliminate the important function of the State Treasurer. Instead, I suggest we restore the duties of this Constitutional Office. This is why Representative Spreitzer (D-Beloit) and I wrote and introduced a bill to return the financial duties of the State Treasurer. Senate Bill 833 would restore many responsibilities of the State Treasurer including cash management functions that were removed in 2003.

Eliminating the State Treasurer is not a new idea. Over the past 100 years or so, three dozen such proposals were introduced. A constitutional change requires the Legislature to pass a resolution containing the exact same language in two consecutive sessions. The question then goes to voters for the final decision.

When you go to the polls, think of your local club, company or organization. Everyone wants the same or greater accountability and transparency over the massive $76 billion in state monies.

The vote next Tuesday is “no.”

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Homeowners shouldn’t be left footing the bill

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling lives in La Crosse with her husband and two children. She curr
User is currently offline
on Friday, 23 March 2018
in Wisconsin

menards-wiCan you pay lower property taxes by simply saying no one lives in your neighbor’s house? Under Wisconsin’s “Dark Store” loophole, large corporate retailers can.


LA CROSSE, WI - Imagine if you could pay lower property taxes by simply saying no one lives in your neighbor’s house. It sounds ridiculous but the sad reality is that large corporations are increasingly taking advantage of a legal loophole to avoid paying their fair share of local property taxes. As a result of this loophole, their tax burden is shifted onto main street businesses and local homeowners.

All across Wisconsin, large corporate retailers have challenged their property taxes by arguing that the value of their new property is the same as an abandoned, or “dark” property, in a different location. In many cases, the dark property being used to exploit this loophole is property that the corporation recently abandoned to move to a new location.

Wisconsin’s “Dark Store” loophole is becoming a growing problem in municipalities of all sizes across the state. Wealthy corporations have rigged the system and taxpayers are left footing the bill.

In an effort to ensure tax fairness for working families and seniors, Democrats have introduced legislation to close this loophole and prevent corporations from using vacant, abandoned or dark properties as a comparison for determining the value of a fully operational and occupied building.

jen-shillingGiven the overwhelming public support for this proposal, Democrats were hopeful that the legislature would approve this commonsense fix. Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers in Madison sided with special interest groups that have opposed tax fairness for homeowners and local businesses, thus killing the bill. Their failure to lead on this issue will result in homeowners paying millions more in property taxes for years to come.

The opportunity to achieve the American Dream is out of reach for many families in Wisconsin as Republicans continue to rig tax policies in favor of corporations and the wealthy while shifting more of the tax burden onto working families and seniors.

It is disappointing and frustrating that Republicans have adjourned for the session without addressing long-term solutions for tax fairness. Rather than throwing in the towel and calling it quits, we should work together to achieve Wisconsin’s full potential.

Despite these challenges, families know they can trust Democratic leaders to fight for commonsense solutions that promote fairness, expand opportunities and invest in our communities. Closing the “Dark Store” loophole is going to be a top priority for Democrats as we continue fighting to make Wisconsin a place where the next generation wants to live, work and raise a family.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Court Decision Calls For Special Election in NE WI Senate District

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, 23 March 2018
in Wisconsin

kewaunee-harbor-familyJudge in Madison orders Governor to hold special elections to fill seats vacated in December. Sen. Dave Hansen and fellow Democrats had pushed for the elections.


GREEN BAY - For months, Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay has been calling on the Governor to hold special elections to fill seats vacated in December by Republicans Frank Lasee of De Pere in the 1st Senate District and Rep. Keith Ripp, of Lodi. On Thursday, Hansen and fellow Democrats who have pushed for the elections saw their efforts rewarded.

A judge in Madison Thursday ordered Gov. Scott Walker to call special elections to fill both of legislative seats.

Both Lasee and Ripp had resigned to take jobs in Gov. Walker’s administration. The Senate seat, which covers the Door County peninsula northeast of Green Bay, had been under Republican control for nearly 40 years.

eric-holderA national Democratic group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder filed the lawsuit on behalf of voters who argued they were disenfranchised by Walker’s decision not to call elections to fill the vacancies.

dave-hansen“The decision by Judge Reynolds that Governor Walker should immediately call special elections in the 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly District is a victory for anyone who still believe in democracy and that the people deserve to have their concerns represented in the Legislature," said Hansen in a statement released Thursday. “Unfortunately, for the parents of the approximately 26,000 students that go to school in the 1st Senate District, Governor Walker and Senate Republicans successfully denied them their voice in the school safety debate on Tuesday."

“It is clear, now more than ever, that in the case of Governor Walker and the Republican politicians in Madison absolute power corrupts absolutely as they chose to put their own political interests ahead of the concerns of the people in the 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly district," Hansen concluded. “Fortunately, Judge Reynolds, appointed by Governor Walker himself no less, cried foul and ordered that special elections be held.”

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Giving a Voice to People Who Live with Disabilities

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 March 2018
in Wisconsin

disability-studentsThe Senator's proposed Public Assistance Advisory Committee would give those most affected a seat at the table while changes to essential public assistance programs, such as FoodShare and Medicaid, are created and require input from policy experts at the UW.


MADISON - “Many people with disabilities depend on public programs so they can stay healthy and live, work and participate in the community,” Jason Endres wrote to me in favor of a bill I recently introduced.

My bill, Senate Bill 870, would create a Public Assistance Advisory Committee. I drafted this legislation in response to Special Session bills recently passed by the Legislature that modified public assistance programs.

People with disabilities, as well as those living in poverty, rely on key public assistance programs, such as FoodShare, Medicaid and public housing. It is important for those using the programs to have a voice at the table when legislation to change these essential programs is considered.

Jason and his wife Julie Endres traveled to the Capitol to join other citizen lobbyists participating in Disability Advocacy Day. They came to raise awareness about the critical programs designed to help those who live with disabilities.

kathleen-vinehoutIn recent years, upwards of 800 folks, their caregivers, families and friends came to the Capitol in an effort to stop the Governor’s plan to put the IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct) program under the administration of a single large for-profit insurance company. IRIS assists disabled persons in self-directing the services they need. Ultimately, these citizen lobbyists successfully fought to maintain administration of IRIS through a state/non-profit partnership.

People shared their personal stories about how state programs fund critical assistance, such as personal care workers. These people are angels on earth who make a big difference in the lives of our disabled neighbors and their family members. The personal care workers had not received a wage increase since 2008. Even then, they only received a one-and-one-half percent increase. Personal care workers make around nine or ten dollars an hour according to the Wisconsin Personal Services Association.

The package of Special Session bills also makes changes in eligibility for basic assistance, including Medicaid and Foodshare. People could be required to sell their home, small business or their cows to obtain temporary help when they hit hard times. Physically disabled persons would be required to sell their wheel-chair adaptive van if the value is greater than $10,000.

These new rules worried Jason and his wife Julie. “When changes to these programs occur, we need to be at the table as stakeholders to explain how we use the programs and how even small changes often can result in unintended consequences that really impact us,” wrote Jason.

At the public hearing on the Special Session bills, the advocacy group Survival Coalition testified, “there are not consistent exemptions for people with disabilities across the legislative package and no clear public input process.” The Coalition went on to explain that people with disabilities as well as caregivers, have difficulty getting special exemptions under current requirements.

During the hearing, we heard many people testify about how the bills could leave more folks without needed food or health care. The bills could hurt farmers struggling with low commodity prices, young parents who need healthcare, small business owners who hit hard times and those with “invisible disabilities” like autism spectrum disorders.

Many advocates, who work with those facing difficult hurdles, testified that they were not provided any opportunity for input as the Special Session bills were crafted. New administrative red tape for the poor and disabled will mean more people falling through the cracks.

The Special Session bills include provisions that are currently not allowed under federal law. This means the Walker Administration will be required to seek a “waiver” – which is special permission from the federal government to implement the new law.

My bill would bring this waiver writing out of the dark. It would allow those affected by changes to essential public assistance programs to have a seat at the table while new details on the programs are created. Senate Bill 870 would also require input from policy experts at the UW.

Too often research is not a part of the public policy process. The work of the Population Health Institute and the Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty is internationally recognized. We need the expertise of these social scientists at the table when crafting policy related to assistance for those who most need our help.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Listening to Those Who Cannot Hear

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 March 2018
in Wisconsin

sign-interpreter-jack-jason-marlee-matlinImagine you are deaf. You can sign to those who understand but most of the hearing world doesn’t know your language. Current law requires state institutions must provide competent interpretation services, but a Senate Committee Chairman may be trying to change all that.


The issue, a bill (AB 589) to upgrade skill levels and regulation of Sign Language Interpreters had bi-partisan support and those in the Deaf community were pleased with the original bill language. But then the bill was significantly changed when the Senate Chair of the Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations committee, who is ideologically opposed to professionalizing Sign Language Interpreters, advanced other legislation to eliminate certain occupational and professional licensure.

MADISON - “The quality of interpreters is so important. I need someone who has the fluent skills to work with me,” Leah Simmons explained. “Their lack of knowledge reflects negatively on me.”

Professor Simmons uses specific jargon and language. Her colleagues and students judge her by the language she uses. She cannot communicate directly to hearing students.

Professor Simmons is Deaf. She is part of a community of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people working to upgrade skill levels and regulation of Sign Language Interpreters.

At the same time, ideologically conservative groups from outside Wisconsin are working to de-professionalize many occupations. Sign Language Interpreters are on the top of their list.

kathleen-vinehoutI became aware of the effort to eliminate certain occupational and professional licensing as a member of the Senate Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations committee. A few months ago, this committee held a daylong hearing on legislation setting up a process to eliminate some occupational and professional licensing. Professionals from architects to registered nurses came to testify against the bills. Ideologically conservative lobbying groups spoke favorably. Several groups were from out of the state.

Moving in the Assembly was a bill (Assembly Bill 589) to increase the skill level and accountability of sign language interpreters. The bill, authored by Representative Jonathan Brostoff, was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers including myself.

Not a single person testified against AB 589 in the Assembly. However, the Senate Committee Chairman appeared to be ideologically opposed to professionalizing Sign Language Interpreters. He refused to hold a hearing unless the bill was significantly changed.

To accommodate the Senate Chairman, a substitute amendment was passed by the Assembly. This amendment stripped out all the original bill language and replaced it with a much watered-down version. Lost in this process were important provisions to increase skills and oversight, including the creation of a board to oversee quality and accountability and a process for resolving complaints.

For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, having oversight and a complaint mechanism for poorly performing sign language interpreters is essential.

Imagine, you cannot hear. You can sign to those who understand but most of the hearing world doesn’t understand your language. By law, our institutions must provide interpretation services. However, the quality of interpreters can vary dramatically from place to place. You may never know what you aren’t able to hear.

During the Senate committee hearing, we heard testimony from Deaf people. Some shared fears that without proper interpretation service, a person could be unjustly accused and not able to defend himself or herself. With no way to complain about or remove inferior interpreters, this scenario could happen repeatedly.

Massively changing AB 589 at the last minute created innumerable problems.

“This amendment puts the Deaf community in a difficult and awkward position,” wrote a leader in the Deaf community. “We do not like the idea that unproven hearing interpreters can continue interpreting in ANY setting without restrictions. That means a hearing interpreter that recently graduated from college is legally allowed to interpret in a high-risk medical, mental health and legal setting. There are many cases where unproven interpreters are interpreting in high risk setting[s] resulting in medical errors, inappropriate diagnosis, and even unlawful confinement.”

Representative Brostoff summed up the problem facing Senate Committee members who were asked to vote on the amended bill. “On balance, [the bill is] going to do more good than harm by a little bit. But there must be more fixes next session. Doing nothing has a cost, too.” When I asked him about the vote, he said, “I don’t know, it’s a tough one.” Rep. Brostoff is firmly committed to bringing back his original bill next year.

The past few years I have seen a troubling trend: the overt influence of ideological groups, mostly from outside the state, wanting to remake Wisconsin in their own image. The groups demand allegiance. Their ideology is absolute. Some lawmakers are quick to do their bidding even though the bills they push provide no benefit for the people of our state.

Our process of political deliberation exists to encourage public input. The peoples’ elected leaders weigh this input and make careful decisions in resolving difficult challenges. For democracy to truly work, lawmakers must set ideology aside, listen to the words of the people and balance competing interests.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Eric Genrich to Run for Green Bay Mayor

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, 13 March 2018
in Wisconsin

eric-genrich-wbay-announcAnnounces he will not seek a fourth term in the State Assembly to promote the future development of Green Bay and restore civility at City Hall.


GREEN BAY - Local progressive leader and current State Representative Eric Genrich (D - Green Bay) announced in a statement released Monday that he will run to replace Jim Schmitt as City of Green Bay Mayor.

Schmitt announced last fall that he would not seek re-election. He has been mayor since 2003 and has sought to improve and modernize Wisconsin's third largest city, most notably downtown. He has come under fire recently by several aldermen, including Guy Zima, and has said he would consider re-entering the race if he wasn't happy with the candidates.

eric-genrich-family"These last few months I have spent a lot of time talking with family, friends, and community members about the prospect of my run for mayor," Eric said in his statement. "As a result of those encouraging conversations, and because of my continued commitment to public service and my love for this city, I am announcing my candidacy today."

Genrich has served the people of the Green Bay area in the State Assembly for the last six years, having won three straight elections in District 90. He announced Monday that he is stepping down for that post in Madison to come home to take on the challenge here.

"I am simultaneously announcing my decision not to seek reelection to the state Assembly. I make that decision with mixed emotions, recognizing how much work remains to be done," Genrich said. "But I also never intended to make a lifelong career of legislative service. At the end of my term, I will have served the people of Green Bay for six years in the legislature, which has been the honor of my professional life. I am proud of my record of advocacy and bipartisan accomplishment, and I plan to carry forward with that spirit into the future."

Genrich is the first announced candidate to replace Schmitt, but several current aldermen have been rumored to be interested in a run. Prospective candidates for the District 90 seat are also beginning to surface, including Brown County Supervisor Patrick Buckley. Buckley is a retired Green Bay police officer and businessman who franchises Subway restaurants in northeastern Wisconsin.

Schmitt's current term will end in 2019, and Genrich is taking on a year long challenge to replace him.

"As I begin this campaign, I want to make it clear that this race will not be about one person or a collection of candidates," Eric says in his statement. "Instead this effort must be about the people of Green Bay - people in every corner of the city and from all walks of life. During these next twelve months, I will talk to my fellow citizens in every neighborhood, listen to the hopes and dreams they have for our community, and give voice to those ideas as best I can."

"I am a proud son of Green Bay who deeply loves our community’s story," Genrich concludes. "I’m ready to help write the next chapter, and I ask my fellow citizens to join me."

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Don't Let A Few Bad Facilities Lead To Privatization Of The VA

Posted by Rick Staggenborg, MD
Rick Staggenborg, MD
Dr. Rick Staggenborg is a retired VA psychiatrist, former Army member and member
User is currently offline
on Monday, 12 March 2018
in Wisconsin

veterans-for-peace-va-marchOur scandal-obsessed media has distorted our impression of the VA, but don't let politicians use myths of privatization to milk the taxpayers by providing inadequate care to veterans.


ROSEBURG, OR - Recent articles detailing the history of mismanagement at the Roseburg VA paint a sorry picture of our local facility. It’s a story that must be told, but it’s important to put the facts into context. Generalizing from the problems of individual facilities without providing context gives the impression that the system is broken, as some claim. However, we can’t make sweeping conclusions about the VA without comparing outcomes between it and other healthcare systems. When we do, it’s clear that both by objective measurements and patient satisfaction ratings, VA care is superior to that provided by the private sector.

It’s important to recognize that our scandal-obsessed media has distorted our impression of the VA, because some politicians and their deep-pocketed benefactors have taken advantage of the negative coverage to target the VA for privatization. Using such stories to justify diverting funds to the private sector, investors in for-profit healthcare like the Koch brothers can reap enormous profits. Under the guise of increasing veteran “choice,” these privateers and their political lackeys have already outsourced 40 percent of patient visits and are pushing for more.

veteran-olderIt may seem a good idea to give veterans the option of getting help outside the VA, given claims that waiting times are excessive. That is, until you look at the facts. While it is true that at some facilities (including Roseburg) waiting times are longer than in the private sector, nationwide this isn’t the case. Where it does happen, as in Roseburg, the problem is more due to a lack of providers than mismanagement. This is partly because medical care providers at the VA are grossly underpaid relative to their counterparts elsewhere, another result of chronic underfunding of the VA by Congress.

There are currently nearly 50,000 unfilled positions at the VA nationwide. Is it any wonder that there are problems? VA facilities in places like Roseburg are chronically understaffed, as anyone who has been a primary care patient there for any time knows. As much as we love this place, it is just a little too rural for most doctors. Given that, the low pay and the unfairly poor reputation of the VA, it’s hard to staff the facility with providers and administrators who can choose to live almost anywhere. The solution to the problems of the VA isn’t diverting funds, but increasing the proportion spent within the system, including making salaries competitive.

Some people think that you can partially privatize the VA by letting it specialize in orthopedics and mental health, areas where it clearly has capabilities lacking in the private sector. What they don’t realize is that the greatest feature of the VA is that primary care is seamlessly integrated with specialty care. Primary care doctors know how to screen for stress-related conditions, traumatic brain injury, Agent Orange-related problems and other issues specific to vets. They can easily get them help with their specialist colleagues. The VA also has case managers and social workers whose jobs include making sure that these handoffs are as easy and reliable as possible, which is unheard of in for-profit medicine. This is especially critical with the aging VA population, those with head injuries and those who have trouble tracking appointments because of trauma-related problems with memory and concentration.

VA doctors know how to work with vets. In contrast, a recent Rand Corporation study of the ability of private care providers to work with veterans found that only about one in three providers met the study’s “minimum threshold for familiarity with military culture” and only one in five routinely asked if their patients had a military background.

In view of these facts, it’s obvious that privatizing even some of the functions of the VA will damage a well-coordinated system. The money spent on outsourcing beyond that which is necessary to provide good service could be better spent staffing the VA. Not only is the need greater, but the money goes much further. With its drug formulary and ability to negotiate prices, and without the profit incentive and other expenses unique to private care, the VA can deliver comprehensive services that would cost far more in the private sector, if such a system existed.

Fortunately, there is a growing effort to raise awareness of this attempt to milk the taxpayers for providing inadequate care to veterans. Veterans Fighting for Healthcare (www.ffvhc.org) is a growing national coalition whose mission is to organize to oppose privatization of the VA. As one of its most active partners, Veterans for Peace is staging actions around the country to educate the public about this problem. If you agree that veterans have earned the best medical care available in the US, join VFP of Douglas County when we gather at 4 p.m. on March 15 at the front gate of the VA on Garden Valley Road.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Wisconsin Pharmaceutical Price-Gouging Bill Announced

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 07 March 2018
in Wisconsin

news confBill would give Attorney General power to investigate skyrocketing generic drug prices set by big pharmaceutical corporations to lower prices and protect Wisconsinites.


MADISON - At a news conference at the State Capitol today Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Senator Dave Hansen (Green Bay) and Rep. Jimmy Anderson (Fitchburg) announced new legislation that would empower the State Attorney General to block pharmaceutical corporations from price-gouging patients who depend on generic prescription medications.

Skyrocketing generic prices are harming families in Wisconsin and across the nation. A 2016 GAO report found that 1 in 5 generic drugs had an “extraordinary price increase” of at least 100%; 48 generic drugs had price increases by 500%; and 12 generic drugs had price hikes over 1000%. Well known examples are Albuterol (asthma medication) which increased 4,014%; Doxycycline (medication for bacterial infections) which spiked up 8,281%, and Pravastatin (heart conditions) which jumped 573%.

Pharmaceutical corporations have been pocketing the increases as profit, failing to give  legitimate explanations for the shocking price hikes. Under the legislation, the Attorney General can petition the circuit court to enjoin price gouging, or compel a corporation to justify large rate increases.

dave-hansen“It’s time to shine a light on what is becoming a very dark corner of the generic drug market,” said Sen. Dave Hansen, the Senate author of the bill. “People who can least afford it are getting squeezed by corporations and CEOs bent on generating bigger and bigger profits without any regard for the potential harm their greed is costing patients both in terms of dollars and personal health. This should not be an acceptable business practice here in Wisconsin.”

jimmy-anderson“Prescription drug prices are one of the leading out of pocket healthcare expenses for Wisconsin families. The ability of pharmaceutical companies to corner the market and set unreasonable prices hurts consumers, while doing nothing to improve treatment or outcomes,” said Rep. Jimmy Anderson, the Assembly author of the bill. “By enabling the Attorney General to order documents from drug manufacturers, we will better understand how drug prices are being set and how to control prescription drug costs. This legislation is vital in ensuring that our healthcare industry is focused on protecting Wisconsin families rather than simply kowtowing to the whims of massive drug manufacturers. It is imperative that we act now to protect Wisconsinites from exorbitant, unfair costs before this problem grows any larger.”

“As a practicing primary care physician I see first hand the growing financial burdens placed on patients and their families due to rising health care costs,” said Dr. Nike Mourikes at the news conference. “One in five Americans report skipping medication dosing or skipping prescriptions because of cost. This pharmaceutical price-gouging bill has come not a moment too soon, because the well-being and in some cases the lives of our fellow Wisconsinites hang in the balance.” (Dr. Mourikes is a member of Physicians for a National Health Plan and of Citizen Action’s Health Care for All Organizing Co-op)

robert-kraigAt the news conference Courtney Waller, the parent of a child with a complex disease who is literally kept alive by prescription medications, told the story of the vulnerability of her family to prescription drug prices. “This is a story you her time and time again from Wisconsin families who have children with medically complex diseases. And it is an issue which keeps many of us up at night.”

“The only way to protect Wisconsinites who rely on prescription drugs from exploitation at the hands of giant pharmaceutical corporations is to use the full power of our democratic government to even the playing field,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “In recent years the Legislature has abdicated its role as a public watchdog, and that needs to change. Senator Hansen and Rep. Anderson are to be commended for offering common sense legislation empowering the Attorney General to intervene on the public’s behalf when the greed of pharmaceutical corporations threatens the lives and livelihoods of Wisconsinites who depend on vital medications.”

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Sen. Hansen, Rep. Anderson Unveil Plan to Go After Predatory Drug Pricing

Posted by Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 07 March 2018
in Wisconsin

drug-costDrug companies are increasing prices on generics by as much as 500%, and it's time to shine a light on this dark corner of the prescription market says Green Bay senator. Bill would give AG power to investigate.


MADISON - Joined at a press conference today by Dr. Robert Kraig of Citizen Action and people directly impacted by the predatory practices of some generic drug makers, Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) unveiled a plan he is introducing with State Representative Jimmy Anderson (D-Fitchburg) aimed at tackling the growing problem of predatory pricing by makers generic and off-patent drugs.

caw“We are seeing example after example of drug companies increasing prices on much-needed generic drugs by as much as 500%, 4,014% and even 8,281%,” said Hansen. “This can’t be allowed to go on.”

Recent examples of drugs that saw exorbitant price increases include Pravastatin, used to treat heart conditions which jumped 573%. Albuterol, used to control asthma, increased 4,014%.

And Doxycycline which is used for bacterial infections skyrocketed 8,281%.

dave-hansen“While companies that engage in this type of predatory practice make greater profits, those profits come at the expense of many of the people who need those drugs the most, as they are priced out of their ability to obtain them,” said Hansen. “It’s time to shine a light on what is becoming a very dark corner of the generic drug market.”

Many if not most makers and distributors of generic and off-patent drugs do their best to keep them affordable for the people who need them. Some less scrupulous companies, however, look to corner the market on a specific off-patent or generic drug and raise prices simply because they can. And the reason they can is because the drugs are critically important to the health and wellbeing of so many people.

The bill provides the Attorney General with the tools necessary to go after less scrupulous drug makers and distributors who see markets for certain drugs as a path to quick and big profits at the expense of the lives and health of people who need them.

Under the bill the Attorney General would have the power to compel drug companies to provide information justifying the price increase and petition the court to provide remedies ranging from enjoining the drug’s maker form engaging in price gouging, requiring them to return excessive profits to consumers as well as require t drug makers to pay civil forfeitures of up to $10,000 for each instance of price gouging.

“People who can least afford it are getting squeezed by corporations and CEOs bent on generating bigger and bigger profits without any regard for the potential harm their greed is costing patients both in terms of dollars and their personal health. This should not be an acceptable business practice here in Wisconsin,” concludes the Senator.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

One Step Moves Us Forward to More Affordable Healthcare

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, 06 March 2018
in Wisconsin

affordablecareA new law creates Risk Corridors* for Health Care insurance providers in Wisconsin, a technical mechanism to help level the risk for insurers. Minnesota enacted a similar law to achieve a premium reduction, and also created their own health care network and accepted Medicaid expansion dollars, ideas that could benefit Wisconsin.


MADISON - “Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise, I’ll see you Tuesday.” I said as I left the office in Madison.

By the next day, the creek at the base of my farm’s steep driveway had risen over the road. The rushing water cut a channel through the gravel town road, making the road impassable.

My forward-thinking husband kept an eye on the water’s progress and moved vehicles over to the other side before the rushing water completely cut through the road.

This morning twelve bluebirds and a robin hung out by the bird feeders. Spring comes one step at a time: snow melt, more snow, more melting and mud. The old farmers say snow must fall three times on a robin’s tail. Another big snowfall this week is snowfall number one on the robin’s tail.

Back in Madison, at the State Capitol, there is not much evidence of a thaw between the Senate and Assembly or between the majority and the minority parties. However, the Senate did pass a bipartisan bill to help lower health insurance premiums.

“What do you think of Risk Corridors?” an older Barron County farmer recently asked me at a public meeting in Eau Claire. Quite surprised, I asked him “How did you know about “risk corridors?”

“I’m paying attention!” he smiled. “And, I pay too much for health care. I think this plan will help lower my premiums.”

I agreed, “It’s a good idea and I voted for the bill.” The rest of our group looked very puzzled.

Risk corridors is a wonky phase describing an idea to lower premiums under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). I explained the plan like this: Remember when we had Blue Cross Blue Shield as not for profit health insurance. Plans were community rated – meaning everyone paid the same price regardless of age and health. This was an “up-front” leveling or sharing of risk for insurance companies.

Risk corridors are similar in purpose, but a more behind the scenes leveling. Think of risk corridors like a profit and loss sharing mechanism to help insurers balance risk.

The Barron County farmer joins about 200,000 people in Wisconsin who buy insurance on their own through the healthcare.gov marketplace.

Wisconsin saw premiums in the marketplace increase on average 36% from 2017 to 2018. Many families were dropped by their health plans and had to find other insurance. Still others dropped coverage because of price increases.

Minnesota took up the idea of risk corridors and lowered 2018 insurance premiums under Obamacare by 20%, compared to where premiums would have been without risk corridors. This savings was possible in part because Minnesota has its own marketplace – MNsure – and expanded Medicaid (MinnesotaCare). These are two ideas I strongly support and would help Wisconsin get to Minnesota’s 20% premium drop.

Senate Bill 770, the bill to create risk corridors, recently passed the Legislature and was signed into law by the Governor. The bill passed in an interesting bipartisan vote. Some Republicans voted “no” because they thought the bill went too far; some Democrats voted against it because they didn’t think the bill went far enough.

Leaving the event in Eau Claire I reflected on the two persistent questions I heard at the forum: how are you going to fix health care and how are Democrats and Republicans going to work together?

With SB 770, we took a small step forward. Just a small step on the long road toward healthcare for all - but in today’s political climate perhaps only small steps are possible.

Politics often seems to be the art of the possible. I strongly believe whatever steps forward we CAN take, we SHOULD take.

Spring does not arrive all at once. We welcome the first robin, and see the robin as the first sign of the coming of spring. So it is with health care; I welcome any step forward as a sign that we can make our way down the road.

We never get to the end of the road until we travel it.

****

* Risk Corridors can be described as a healthcare exchange re-insurance pool where participating insurers who MADE MONEY in a given year would kick a percentage of their profits into the pool, administered by the Federal Government, from which any insurers who LOST MONEY during that same year could recoup their losses.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

A Wheelchair is Not a Trampoline: Questioning Assumptions about Support

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, 27 February 2018
in Wisconsin

family-worried-billsThe recently passed Special Session bills make it more difficult for people living in poverty to achieve their dream of family supporting jobs and getting off government assistance.


MADISON - “Public assistance should be a trampoline not a hammock,” read the title of Governor Walker’s press release touting work on a package of bills introduced in a Legislative Special Session. The bills made changes to certain programs targeted at helping those living in poverty.

During the recent Senate debate, proponents of the bills declared the best road out of poverty was a job. No one in the Senate disagreed. However, what these bills really do is KEEP people in poverty and make a few companies richer while providing little accountability.

The assumption of the hammock metaphor is that people are lazy and just need a kick to get moving. Another assumption is that fraud is rampant. Both assumptions are false. FoodShare is heavily scrutinized to ensure compliance. Wisconsin has an error rate around one percent.

Most people who use FoodShare or BadgerCare do so short term. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 60% of non-elderly folks who use Medicaid are already working. Another third are in school, ill or caring for someone in need.

According to David Lee of Hunger Task Force in Wisconsin, about two-thirds of those who get FoodShare are seniors, disabled, and children – people who cannot work. Of the remaining third, half are already working. Many others are caregivers – for either the elderly, disabled or children.

Part of the Special Session plan is to make it harder to get FoodShare and BadgerCare. Families may have to sell their home if it’s more than 200% of average state value. Farmers may have to sell livestock, equipment and farm buildings. Disabled folks might lose their accessible van if it’s worth over $10,000.

These rules fly in the face of common sense. If we want a farmer to do better, or a wheelchair bound person to succeed why would we make them sell items essential to their livelihood?

The cornerstone of the Governor’s plan is a program called FoodShare Employment and Training – FSET for short. The program relies on several contractors around the state who screen people and get them into work.

Lawmakers heard stories of FSET companies creating incentives for job counselors to get people into low wage jobs as soon as possible. For example, we heard about a young woman who wanted to get her GED to improve her ability to get work. Instead, the FSET job counselor sent her to a minimum wage fast food job.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) reported that FSET participants, who gained employment in December of 2016, made an average of $12.19 an hour and worked an average of 34 hours a week. The LFB reported that participants with those wages and hours worked would still be eligible for FoodShare.

Further, the LFB reported on a string of problems with FSET. Costs per person per month were more than double the original budget estimate. Federal inspections turned up problems in Milwaukee, including civil rights violations, the lack of individualized services, and restricted education and training opportunities. Corrective actions and recommendations were slow or not completed. Despite three years of problems, the state made only one onsite visit.

Despite such poor performance and lack of evaluation, state officials awarded bonuses. The Department of Health Services gave “pay for performance” bonus money to all but one of the 11 FSET companies for “accuracy” and “timely completion of quarterly reports” – requirements FSET companies should meet at a minimum.

Unbelievably, Special Session Assembly Bill 6 more than quadrupled these “pay for performance” bonuses to the FSET companies.

Every group that works with those struggling to gain economic stability opposed these Special Session bills. Their thoughtful and compelling testimony clearly demonstrated that people want to move out of poverty and off government assistance. All they need are the tools to help them achieve their dream.

A wheelchair is not a hammock, but essential equipment. A warm house, food, health care and education are not a hammock but rather the essential tools to help people get that job that moves them out of poverty.

The measure of a civilized society is how we treat those in need. The Governor’s plan cuts the springs holding up the trampoline just as a person jumps.

For many, life is very difficult. When we reach out helping hands to those in need, we do our part to make not only their lives better, but ours as well.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Senators Have Double-Standard When It Comes to Fraud

Posted by Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 22 February 2018
in Wisconsin

walker-open-for-businessSenate Republicans in Madison go after the little guy while CEOs and wealthy business owners walk free says Hansen. Introduces amendment to hold all to same standard.


MADISON - State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) said Tuesday that when it comes to punishing those who commit fraud against Wisconsin taxpayers Senate Republicans are only interested in going after the little guy.

dave-hansen-gb“Fraud is fraud. It doesn’t matter if the person committing it is rich or poor. Both should be held accountable for their actions. Senate Republicans had a chance tonight to hold CEOs and wealthy business owners who commit fraud applying for taxpayer economic assistance to the same standard as people who commit unemployment fraud but they chose not to,” said Hansen.

Hansen introduced an amendment that would subject business owners and CEOs to the same standard as a person who commits fraud in applying for unemployment benefits but Senate Republicans rejected the amendment on a party-line vote.

“The system is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful in this state. Whether it’s the Trump/Ryan tax bill that gives more of our money to wealthy corporations, Walker’s $4 billion dollar plus giveaway to Chinese-based Foxconn or what we saw here tonight when they voted against punishing rich CEOs and owners who commit corporate welfare fraud, the system is rigged against average folks.”

“Thanks to Governor Walker and Senate Republicans there are two sets of rules: one for the rich and one for everybody else.”

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Republicans Pass Wetlands Destruction Bill

Posted by Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 21 February 2018
in Wisconsin

wetlands-wiThe assault on our quality of life continues with passage of a bill that will lead to more flooding and damage to homes and businesses.


MADISON - On a day that saw flood warnings for parts of Wisconsin, Senate Republicans passed a bill that will lead to more and more flooding and damage to homes and businesses resulting from the destruction of even more wetlands said Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay).

“As we have seen with Hurricane Harvey in Houston, flooding due to the loss of wetlands can be catastrophic. Rather than learn from this tragic lesson, Senate Republicans have chosen to ignore it in the interest of serving their corporate donors,” said Hansen.

hurricane-harveyMuch of the flooding that resulted from Hurricane Harvey was linked to the loss of crucial wetlands in the Houston area. Wetlands play a vital role in controlling flooding. When wetlands are developed, especially in cities and large population areas flooding increases. In addition to loss of life, increased flooding can result in millions of dollars of damage to homes, businesses and schools.

dave-hansen“What the Republicans did here today is extremely short-sighted," said Hansen. "It will destroy critical habitat for wildlife, increase the potential for catastrophic flooding and cost residents of affected areas more in increased insurance costs and premiums.”

Earlier in the day Senate Republicans voted to eliminate a program that monitors air pollution along the Lake Michigan coastline.

“Whether it’s voting to allow industrial acid mining in north and central Wisconsin, refusing to address the threat posed by the Aquila Mine Back Forty Project just across our border, peeling back our laws that protect our clean air and drinking water, or voting yet again to allow the destruction of our wetlands, the common thread in their actions is clear: There is nothing they won’t do to appease their wealthy donors, even if it means destroying the legacy of one of the nation’s strongest conservation movements in our nation’s history and the quality of life that goes along with it.”

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Removing Wetland Protections Needs Serious Deliberation

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, 20 February 2018
in Wisconsin

road-wi-flood-washoutChanging laws regarding wetlands cannot be done swiftly. The impact of eliminating nature’s “natural sponge” can be devastating when severe weather brings heavy rains. Flooding in Huston TX was more severe because much of its wetlands were removed. These critical issues need careful deliberation and engaged citizen discussion.


MADISON - Last Friday afternoon we learned of the 79 bills up for a vote on Tuesday. I spoke with my neighbor shortly after seeing the long list.

“How can they possibly know what they are voting on?” she asked me. I replied there is no time to talk with people and learn the effects of these changes.

Legislation moving quickly through the process makes changes to protections of our wetlands; specifically, wet areas not connected to a navigable body of water.

Wisconsin has more than one million acres of “isolated” wetlands. These areas are our swamps, meadows and marshes. Isolated wetlands are regulated by the state, hence the ability of state lawmakers to remove protections.

Talking to scientists and engineers is key to understanding the importance of wetlands and the implications of removing state protections. However, legislation moving at warp speed with little public notice make it nearly impossible to have these conversations.

Wetlands are key to our ecology. They provide habitat to an immense array of creatures and plants. Wetlands recharge ground water, help control erosion, and store excess water caused by severe weather.

Our farmstead sits 50’ above a large swamp and marsh. The wetlands capture flooding waters from the swollen Buffalo River. In the past several years, we saw several serious floods. The flooding in our wetlands eased possible destruction by the unusually intense storms.

“In the last six years, Wisconsin has seen five 100-year floods and one 1,000-year flood,” wrote Tyler Esh, the Eau Claire Emergency Management Coordinator. “Rains are becoming increasingly severe.”

These severe floods led many people I represent to question current state policies. For example, a town official asked for help with a washed-out road. He wanted to double the size of a culvert that washed out in a severe storm. We could not get adequate state help to pay for the improvements. The following year, the road and culvert washed out again.

Floods know no boundaries. Folks in Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties remember last summer flooding when up to 8 inches of rain fell causing sewers to overflow. Filling in wetlands makes things worse in urban as well as rural areas.

The City of Houston learned a hard lesson this summer. Part of the reason Houston flooded so badly was because they took out wetlands and built on the low land. In one of several similar stories I read, reporters for Quartz Media wrote,

“Even after it became a widely accepted scientific fact that wetlands can soak up large amounts of flood water, the city continued to pave over them… From 1992 to 2010, this area lost more than 70% of its wetlands, according to research by Texas A&M University…The city, the largest in the US with no zoning laws, is a case study in limiting government regulations and favoring growth – often at the expense of the environment. As water swamps many of its neighborhoods, it’s now a cautionary tale of sidelining science and plain common sense.”

Too often speed and secrecy in the legislative process replaces thoughtful, public discussion. Maybe lawmakers should ask homeowners still recovering from the floods if removing wetland protections is in the public’s best interest.

Lawmakers swore an oath to protect the Constitution including to promote the general welfare. In our age of climate change and very unpredictable weather patterns, leaders have a responsibility to protect citizens from the damaging effects of severe weather. Wetlands – nature’s “natural sponge” – are part of the answer to protecting us from flooding.

Instead of removing Wisconsin’s isolated wetlands protections, we should develop new strategies to cope with changing weather patterns that threaten us. Emergency funds and disaster programs should be changed to address the breadth of problems created by floods. Transportation plans should provide for increased water volume.

The legislative process is designed to force deliberation necessary to thoroughly examine any given issue. Careful consideration seems impossible with legislation speeding through the process. For example, at 9:44 a.m. on Monday we received the Assembly Session calendar for Tuesday. This is the first opportunity the public and press have to review the list of 93 bills up for final passage.

Such critical issues as protecting our precious wetlands need a thoughtful, informed and citizen engaged discussion.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Rep. Sargent on Child Tax Rebate and Annual Sales Tax Holiday

Posted by Assembly Democrats, Britt Cudaback
Assembly Democrats, Britt Cudaback
Assembly Democrats, Britt Cudaback has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Friday, 16 February 2018
in Wisconsin

scottwalker-dreamWalker’s plan for a one-time child tax credit and sales tax holiday is an election-year gimmick says legislator.


MADISON – On Wednesday, Assembly Bill (AB) 944, Governor Walker’s plan for a one-time child tax credit and sales tax holiday, was recommended for adoption on a party-line vote by the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means. State Representative Melissa Sargent (D-Madison), ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, released the following statement about the vote:

melissa-sargent“The chickens are coming home to roost for Wisconsin Republicans. Seven years’ worth of their failed policies have finally caught up with them, so their last-ditch effort is to buy votes at $100 apiece. Well, I have news for Governor Walker and Republicans in the Legislature: you can’t buy our votes.

Governor Walker might not be handing these checks out at polling locations in November, but Wisconsinites are smart enough to read between the lines. This is a one-time sales tax holiday and a one-time $100-check to be delivered right before an election—if that doesn’t scream ‘election-year gimmick,’ I don’t know what does.”

###

Melissa Sargent is a State Representative in the Wisconsin Assembly, representing the 48th Assembly District, which covers the east and north sides of the city of Madison and the village of Maple Bluff.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Vinehout, Vruwink Introduce “Moving Broadband Forward” Bills

Posted by Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Beau Stafford
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Beau Stafford
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Beau Stafford has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Friday, 16 February 2018
in Wisconsin

broadband-cablePackage of four bills provide $100 million a year in grants for broadband expansion for the next two years.


MADISON – State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) and State Rep. Don Vruwink (D-Milton) introduced their “Moving Broadband Forward” bills on Wednesday.

The package of four bills provide $100 million a year in grants for broadband expansion for the next two years. The legislation also removes costly and time-consuming roadblocks when municipalities want to start their own broadband utilities.

Under the bill, municipalities and the state Department of Transportation would be allowed to install empty conduit lines for future fiber optics as part of road and sidewalk projects. This eliminates the need to dig trenches a second time. The “dig-once” policy could save up to ninety percent of the cost of installing future fiber optics.

Also, the bills require that for a service to be called or advertised as “Broadband” it must consistently allow users to download at 25 Mbps (megabytes per second) and upload at 3 Mbps.

kathleen-vinehout“Wisconsin has not been serious about expanding broadband,” Vinehout said. “The Governor returned $23 million in federal stimulus broadband money in 2011. Since 2014, Wisconsin has approved only $3.9 million in broadband expansion grants. Minnesota spent $85 million during that same time.”

The Federal Communications Commission recently reported that thirteen percent of Wisconsinites lack access to at least one broadband service provider. In 2016, according to the tech firm Speedtest, Wisconsin ranked 49th in average internet speed.

“Wisconsin is lagging the nation badly in broadband service, especially compared to Minnesota. We have a lot of catching up to do,” Senator Vinehout said. “We won’t be able to Move Broadband Forward without a significant investment and a commitment to fixing the problems with current law.”

don-vruwink“The Legislature so far has dropped only pennies into the bank of our broadband infrastructure,” Vruwink said. “In this day and age, high-speed internet is as essential as electricity. It is vital to the economic success of our small towns, villages and cities. Currently, municipalities that want to become internet service providers face too many bureaucratic obstacles. This bill removes the unnecessary obstacles.”

“Broadband expansion today is the rural electrification of the 1930s and ’40s,” Vruwink said. “I’ve heard from many business owners, farmers, and families around the state who do not have access to broadband internet. That puts them at a competitive disadvantage.”

“We must get serious about Moving Broadband Forward,” Sen. Vinehout said. “Real broadband is an essential service for families, for students, and for businesses. It will do far more to keep and attract young people to Wisconsin than an advertising campaign in Chicago.”

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Citizen Action Endorses Tim Burns for State Supreme Court

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 15 February 2018
in Wisconsin

tim-burnsBurns a breath of fresh air in corrupt Supreme Court election process says statewide progressive social justice group.


MILWAUKEE, WI - Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a statewide progressive social justice group with members across Wisconsin, announced Tuesday its endorsement of Tim Burns for State Supreme Court in the primary election on February 20. The Citizen Action board of directors is making the endorsement after an extensive process that included a candidate forum, intensive candidate interviews, and input from Citizen Action Organizing Co-op leaders throughout Wisconsin. Citizen Action’s Organizing Co-ops are member-owned democratically elected chapters throughout Wisconsin.

What impresses Citizen Action leaders and members about Tim Burns is his willingness to discuss his progressive values with voters instead of perpetuating the charade that a judge’s philosophy does not influence their decisions. Wisconsin needs a Supreme Court Justice who will fight for average people against the big corporate interests that are rigging the Wisconsin judiciary.

Citizen Action members and leaders believe that the traditional nonpartisan model for State Supreme Court campaigns is now badly outdated because dark money campaigns by right wing groups and corporate interests have taken over the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. To tell voters that a judge’s values or their financial benefactors don’t impact their decisions is misleading and undemocratic.

Tim Burns offers the sharpest contrast to the right-wing candidate Michael Screnock, who is running a typical “trojan horse” right-wing judicial campaign. Screnock claims he will be a nonpartisan judge who merely interprets the law, but is the chosen candidate of Scott Walker and the Republican establishment. Screnock, who was arrested at an anti-women’s choice protest for blocking access to care, cut his teeth at a union busting law firm defending two of the most hyper-partisan actions in Wisconsin history: Act 10 and the partisan legislative maps that may be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Screnock is receiving more than half of his campaign resources from the Republican Party. Screnock’s radio ad which is running on right-wing talks shows touts his “conservative” credentials and his appointment by Scott Walker.

Screnock’s assertion that he will neutrally interpret the law is also debunked by his support for the John Doe decision to radically rewrite campaign finance law, protecting Scott Walker from prosecution for coordination with dark money groups that was widely believed to be illegal at the time. In addition, Screnock is setting up to have most of his general election campaign bankrolled by the same right-wing dark money groups which coordinated with Scott Walker’s 2012 campaign and have pumped millions into campaigns in support of right-wing Supreme Court justices.

robert_kraig“It is long overdue for a Supreme Court candidate to run openly as a representative of average people against the big corporate interests which dominate Wisconsin government and the current Supreme Court. That is why Citizen Action is proud to endorse Tim Burns for State Supreme Court,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

“The deceitful playbook of right-wing judges is to claim to be neutral while nullifying laws and radically rewriting our Constitution for the benefit of big corporate interests. For two decades Wisconsin Supreme Court elections have been dominated by a series of big money candidates who have grossly misled the public about their partisan and ideological agendas. In this toxic judicial environment, Tim Burns is a breath of fresh air.”

****

Citizen Action of Wisconsin is Proud to be a Union Employer, OPEIU Local 9, AFL-CIO, citizenactionwi.org

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Moving Broadband Forward for Wisconsin

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, 13 February 2018
in Wisconsin

broadband-map-northwoodsSen. Vinehout  is introducing bills, with Rep. Don Vurwink, focused on moving broadband expansion forward in Wisconsin. The bills would provide $100 million annually for broadband expansion and direct funds to areas of most need and provide accountability.


MADISON, WI - In a recent committee hearing, I argued majority lawmakers were moving broadband expansion forward by press release and little else.

This week Representative Don Vuwink (D-Milton) and I are circulating bills to actually move broadband forward for Wisconsin.

The Senate Revenue, Financial Institutions and Rural Issues committee debated a bill that would allow a local community to pass a resolution saying the community was “Telecommuting Ready.” However, nothing in that bill helped communities gain access to broadband.

In sweeping language, a representative of the telecommunications industry described how this bill, which did not provide a dime to communities for broadband expansion, was “Chapter Three” in the push to help expand broadband. The addition of Chapter 3 to the previous chapters does not make this book a best seller.

Recently the Governor bragged to farmers that the state “invested $41.5 million in expanding broadband access.” This statement is misleading.

“Chapter One” of the Governor’s plan was to turn away $23 million in federal stimulus money for broadband expansion in 2011. The Public Service Commission only awarded $3.9 million between 2014 and 2017. On the other hand, Minnesota spent $85 million on broadband expansion in the same time-period.

In “Chapter Two”, the Governor’s budget allocates only $11 million toward broadband expansion that rural residents might see. Some money was spent in Fiscal Year 2016-17 and some was carried over for the next few years.

Most of the money for which the Governor is taking credit are funds earmarked for schools, juvenile corrections facilities, private and technical colleges, and state-run institutions. The school program, in some form, has been around for many years and uses a mix of federal and state money.

In the bills Representative Vuwink and I are introducing, we worked hard to solve problems with the current grant program to make sure Wisconsin residents are getting the Real Deal when it comes to broadband expansion.

First, our plan appropriates $100 million annually for the next two years. The plan is fully funded using a portion of the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit.

broadband-cableSecond, our plan – “Moving Broadband Forward” – would assure customers actually receive real broadband speed. Under the current program, companies can obtain taxpayer funds for delivering “snail-slow” speeds of 5 Mbps (Megabits per second) download and .6 Mbps upload.

Our bill would require companies using state money to actually deliver speeds of at least the current federal minimum for broadband - 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Further, our bills would create “Truth in Advertising” standards that require companies to deliver the speed they promised to customers.

Our plan actually directs money to areas of most need. The Governor’s plan makes almost every Wisconsin county eligible for broadband grants. Under our “Moving Broadband Forward”, 85% of funds would be sent to counties with a population of less than 65,000 and areas with no broadband internet are prioritized.

Accountability in the use of public funds is sorely missing from the current program. Companies receiving funds are not required to provide broadband in areas they promised to serve; companies are not required to repay state money if they do not deliver what they promised; companies can receive multiple grants at one time, increasing the chance of being paid twice for the same project.

All these problems are eliminated with the accountability provisions in our plan. Additionally, accountability is assured by authorizing the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau to evaluate the new program.

Finally, municipalities – counties, towns or cities – that want to seek state funds for broadband build-out are eligible under the new plan. This means citizens themselves, working through their local government, are empowered to create broadband expansion opportunities.

Broadband is the Twenty-First Century equivalent of electricity. Everyone should have access to the Internet. One day, many of you may travel to or contact someone living in a rural area. All of us will eat something grown by farmers who rely on the Internet for many important aspects of production. Many folks long to live in a rural area but need broadband for telecommuting.

Wisconsin deserves better than broadband expansion by press release. Moving Broadband Forward is the Real Deal for Wisconsin. Please encourage your lawmakers to sign on as cosponsors of these new proposals.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

LWV WI Opposed to January 2018 Special Session Welfare Reform Bills

Posted by League of Women Voters Wisconsin
League of Women Voters Wisconsin
League of Women Voters Wisconsin has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 13 February 2018
in Wisconsin

store-checkoutMADISON - Last week, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin registered in opposition to the Special Session bills that seek to reform welfare in Wisconsin by punishing the poor and creating punitive barriers to needed assistance. Rather, the League suggests the legislature create proposals that meet the needs to move people out of poverty with sustained opportunities. You can read the statement here.

The League also joined with over twenty organizations last week in a coalition letter and joint press conference to call on the Governor to reconsider these bills which you can view here thanks to Wisconsin Eye.

The Welfare Reform bills are currently scheduled to be voted on in the Assembly on Thursday, 2/15. The Legislative Committee continues to track these bills and more. We appreciate their vigilance during this floor session. And we appreciate League members contacting their representatives. You can find yours here.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes
Copyright © 2019. Green Bay Progressive. Designed by Shape5.com