Thursday June 27, 2019

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Wisconsin Elections Commission Needs to be Run by Best Administrators

Posted by League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
Erin Grunze is the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 21 December 2017
in Wisconsin

voterThe WEC was established to be bipartisan. Bringing a partisan dispute to the commission harms it's reputation and the public trust.


MADISON – It is troubling to see the John Doe investigations and fallout back in the news as it has escalated to the point where legislative leaders are calling for Elections Commission Administrator Mike Haas and other officials to resign, despite no accusations of wrongdoing or any recommendation by the DOJ for their resignation.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin trust the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission to be able to evaluate their staff and make decisions about their ability to maintain nonpartisanship of our elections.

Under Haas’ leadership, the Elections Commission has successfully administered the 2016 statewide presidential recount, implemented online voter registration, provided training for clerks across the state on changes in election law, and implemented a new statewide voter database and election administration system. The League has interfaced with Mr. Haas and other WEC staff in our voter service work and always found them to be helpful, nonpartisan, and highly professional.

Heading into an election year our hope would be that lawmakers be concerned with how to support the Wisconsin Elections Commission in running accessible and fair elections. They can do that by restoring the needed staffing which the Governor cut in the state budget. They certainly will not improve elections by stripping the agency of its leadership at a critical time. Bringing a partisan dispute to a bipartisan commission that has been functioning well harms the reputation of the Wisconsin Elections Commission in a time when it is working to address the real challenges with election security, how to implement new and evolving technology, and educating voters so they can understand and comply with the many changes in voting laws.

Our commitment to an adequately funded Wisconsin Elections Commission with strong leadership has only grown stronger in the face of recent challenges. Faith in our election system is a bedrock of democracy. We need to work on strengthening voter confidence in the system, so that citizens feel, as they rightly should, that their vote matters and will be counted. Casting doubt on the process, by unduly trying to dismantle the leadership of the agency responsible for running our elections, is not keeping voters’ interests at heart. It harms the whole system.

Call off the attack on the Elections Commission and Ethics Commission staff who are not implicated in the recent DOJ report and let them do their jobs.

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It’s Time for a Hard Look at How We Pay for Schools

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 20 December 2017
in Wisconsin

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emergency Medical Workers in New Community Role

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 12 December 2017
in Wisconsin

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** Corrected version ***

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Trickle Down Policies

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 08 December 2017
in Wisconsin

trump-ryanA guest column from Senate Jon Erpenbach on how Federal policies affect our lives and the state budget bottom line.


MADISON - For most of us, Washington DC and the politics of President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress seem a million miles away. But the reality is that our lives, and the lives of those we love, are impacted by the Federal government and decisions made in Washington DC every single day. Whether you drive to work on a road that gets Federal funds, receive or are building social security, qualify for Medicare, have a child in school, receive the child tax credit, eat food from a farm that is subsidized, take medication that is regulated; all of this and countless more daily operations of our lives are impacted by the decisions made in Washington DC.

taxes-The Federal tax bill, which will be reconciled soon between the Senate and the House, spends in deficit. That is an inarguable point because the bill enacts tax cuts that are not paid for. Because the bill has deficit spending, it is regulated by another Federal law that prohibits deficit spending. While tax breaks enacted for corporations and wealthy will remain in place, programs that benefit our elderly or low income individuals will be cut. It will be an automatic action unless Congress passes a bill to reverse their “Pay As You Go” 2010 law. The Medicare the cuts, although immediate, are capped yearly but will still be felt deeply simply because of the number of people that qualify for this Federal health care program for the elderly. For other Federal programs the cuts will simply come without regard for need.

According to the Associated Press, “The program that would be most affected by the automatic cuts is Medicare, whose budget would be slashed by more than $25 billion a year. Other programs that would experience deep cuts include vocational training for individuals with disabilities, block grants for foster care and Meals on Wheels and federal funding for historically black colleges and universities.”

jon-erpenbachThere are consequences for decisions made in Washington DC and sometimes they are not so obvious. If you are lucky enough to make an income three times the Wisconsin median income, the tax plan being decided in Washington DC will likely benefit you. But if you are like the rest of us who are the proven fuel in the US economy, those that spend all the income they receive on cost of living, it will be harder to find a benefit. If you are over 65, disabled, a foster child, a farmer, a construction worker, an addict in recovery, a Meals on Wheels recipient, or living on a fixed income, be ready for cuts to your income, health care and services; not only as the primary action of the tax plan but the mandatory secondary action of current Federal law.

Wisconsin will have lots of tough choices in the upcoming budgets because of less revenue from the Federal government and fewer block grants to support our state budget. I stand ready as a member of the Joint Committee on Finance to help navigate Federal cuts and to work to help make the best decisions we can for the people of the State of Wisconsin given this fiscal shortfall.

You can contact my office at 608-266-6670 or toll free 888-549-0027 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 05 December 2017
in Wisconsin

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wis Democracy Campaign "Kochs, WMC Behind Bills"

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Sunday, 03 December 2017
in Wisconsin

koch-brothersMADISON - Over the last couple weeks, the influence of the Koch Brothers and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) has been on display, if you were looking.

And we were looking!

First, we discovered that two senior officials at the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity suddenly resigned to do campaign work for Michael Screnock, the Walker ally who is running for Wisconsin Supreme Court:

Court candidate hires former Koch group executives as campaign advisors

Then we saw that Koch groups were the only ones that registered in favor of another bill that Walker just signed which will deregulate several occupations:

Walker approves Koch bills to loosen licensing

WMC and the Kochs were behind yet another bill Walker just signed that’ll let landowners do just about anything with their property, even if it wasn’t zoned for such a purpose:

Walker signs lax land-use bill backed by big boys

And WMC, along with a veritable polluters’ lobby, is backing a bill to do away with Wisconsin’s regulations that protect our clean air:

WMC behind Republican bill to repeal state air pollution rules

This is why I say that the Koch Brothers and WMC are the folks that really run Wisconsin – not Walker or Fitzgerald or Vos. They’re just the hired help.

You can count on us to keep showing you who the real powers are in Wisconsin – and what effect they are having on all of our lives!

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

P.S. If you appreciate our urgent work, please send us a tax-deductible gift today. It’s simple: Just click here. Or mail it in the old-fashioned way to the address below. Thanks!

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Confusing Health Coverage Dominates Thanksgiving Conversations

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 Monday, 27 November 2017
in Wisconsin

thanksgiving-family-dinnerConversations around the Thanksgiving dinner table reveal people are confused about health care, spending more and unhappy about health insurance coverage. Approaching deadlines are adding a sense of urgency.


ALMA, WI - “My family conversations over Thanksgiving were all about health care,” Mary shared with me. “It’s all so confusing.”

Mary’s family is not alone. From recent conversations, I’m betting that health care dominated talk at many Thanksgiving gatherings.

Premiums are too high. Young people worry about finding money to buy insurance. Older people are trying to figure out Medicare. Many are struggling with unpaid or surprise bills.

Everyone has a health care story.

“My employer pays $3,000 for my HSA [health savings account]. What happens if they decide not to pay?”

“My premium is almost double what it would be if I lived across the river in Minnesota. Why?”

“The insurance company told us the doctor was covered. Then we got a bill for $2,800. Insurance said he was NOT covered. How can this be?”

“Becky turned 26. We can’t keep her on our plan. The company offered to cover her – alone – for another $876 a month. Can you believe it? They are not charging us any less now that Becky’s not on our plan. How can that be?”

“Do I stay on my individual plan or do I move my small business to a ‘small business health options’ Obamacare plan? Can I deduct my insurance as a business expense?”

Great uncertainty this fall about the future of health insurance has fueled confusion. Efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare at the federal level and the Governor’s plan to have the state self-insure state workers, left insurance companies uncertain about the future. Some left the market.

Previously available plans, through the healthcare.gov marketplace, are no longer available.

Six plans previously offered to state employees, no longer cover them. My plan was one of them. I researched options, trying to find a covered doctor within an hour’s drive. I couldn’t find one within two hours’ drive! I called the Human Resources person. He spent several days researching my problem. Eventually, he came to my office.

Both of us worked on different phone lines. While waiting on hold for a long time, we chatted. The HR people were very busy. I learned 20-30 lawmakers lost their coverage and their providers. Many other state workers lost their providers. The information provided on the websites was not accurate. One plan offered a provider on the website but told us the provider was NOT covered on the phone. Another plan told us on the phone they DID offer a provider, but that provider was not listed on their website.

I represent about 172,000 people. I’m worried, if I can’t figure health care out, how can everyone else?

Norman, my brother-in-law, echoed the same concern. After a long discussion of the problems facing our family members, he exclaimed, “I am a doctor turned accountant, who’s now retired. I’ve got the time and the knowledge. And I can’t figure this out. How can anyone else understand it?”

One source of confusion is different deadlines. All of them rapidly approaching.

For those who buy insurance for themselves, the sign-up period is much shorter than prior years. By December 15th, people need to sign up for individual health insurance at healthcare.gov. Sign up is important for everyone who buys insurance on their own. It’s especially important, for adults in their late twenties, who may have previously been able to stay on their parents’ plan.

Small business owners may have a choice to also use the Small Business Health Options Program. This deadline is also December 15th. If you work with an agent, be sure to contact them much sooner. Agents are very busy helping folks talk through decisions.

Medicare recipients have until December 7th to make their choices for the New Year. Others have differing deadlines depending on your employer.

The more insurance companies invent their own rules, the federal government waffles on its commitments and the state fails to provide leadership, the less the public has sympathies for government, insurers or providers.

Confusion over health coverage is driving many I’ve spoken with to throw up their hands and tell me, “I’ve never said this before, but can’t we just have some kind of National Health Insurance?”

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The Zen of Deer Hunting

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, 21 November 2017
in Wisconsin

deer-huntingSen. Vinehout writes about her experience deer hunting on her farm in western Wisconsin, the sights, sounds and beauty of hunting on opening day. She also wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving, and she hopes you enjoy reading her story.


ALMA, WI - Sitting alone in the fog. Blending in with the grass and trees. Don’t move. Just listen. Breathe.

“Caaw, caaw caaw.” Two crows overhead. One higher, hoarser, more nasal. A young one. Looking for food. They are opportunists. Listen.

“Tuk, tuk, tuk tuk, tuk.” A wild turkey to the north.

The soft whoosh of wings overhead. Something flies by. Very still. Don’t move. Wondering. An eagle screeches. A Hairy Woodpecker drums. It’s still early. Dark. Quiet. Watch.

A glimpse of a silhouette on the horizon. Too far. Too dark. Stay still. Watching. Waiting. Listening.

A twig snaps. My heart pounds. Stay still. I silently chuckle as the red squirrel starts to chatter.

The distant sound of gunshots to the west; answered by two shots to the east. The red squirrel again scolds.

The morning turns slowly from night to day. Wisps of fog linger above the hills. Thirty shades of brown and gray. I meditate. The rhythms of nature are so much slower than our hectic lives. The shades of brown and grey so much subtler.

Another silhouette. Not grass. It’s moving. Coming nearer. I watch as it angles away. My heart’s pounding. Be still. Breathe.

More shadows take shape. What I imagined as wild creatures, solidify into small bushes and clumps of dark grasses. Mother Nature playing with my mind.

Listen.

“Tzeet, tsititititit tit!” a small bird hops from branch to branch in a nearby brush pile. Size of a junco. A flash of a salmon colored breast, an eye stripe. What is that bird?

Daylight settles in. The weather turns from a cool, enveloping dampness to a steadier, drier, cold wind with a bite to it. I zip my jacket and pull down my hat. Breathe.

The sound of wind, a whisper I heard before I felt. Whooshing through the tops of the spruce. The rustling of leaves, the fabric of the blind.

Then settle back to blend once again with the trees and the grasses. Listening. Watching. Waiting.

Movement to the left. A slow turn of my head. I see a flock of White Throated Sparrows flitting in the bushes. Feeding.

“Huuurp, Huuurp, Huurrp.” The nasal, honking of the Trumpeter Swans. The pair spent the summer in the backwater of our valley. I don’t see them, but I know their voices.

“Graaak, Graak.” A throaty deep hoarse call, “Kraaaaah.” The ravens are back.

Many crows calling. “Caarr, Caarrr.” Another answer, “Prrrrk, Prrrk.” They come closer.

Two “caaw” together. Very close. I stick my head out of the blind and peak up. Sitting on branches near me two crows eye me. One cocks her head. She seems to say, “how can you find breakfast sitting there, not moving?” I wait. Listen.

The sound of tires on gravel. Someone else is going to find breakfast.

“ToWEE toWee toWeeto, tweet.” The high rapid song of goldfinches near me. Though I can’t see them in the tall grasses, I know they are flitting from seed head to seed head. Feeding for winter. I listen.

Above me, a chorus of Canadian Geese. A slow paced, mellow, “h-ronk, h-ronk, h-ronk, h-ronk.” I feel drowsy. Minutes pass.

The wind picks up. Building like the sound of trains coming from opposite directions. The fabric of the blind flaps. A sustained gust picks up one edge of the blind. Cold fingers, nose and toes.

The crack of a rifle behind me, echoing down the valley. I’m alert. Heart pounding. Breathe. Minutes pass.

A dark shape in a far-off field. Too far to make the heart beat faster, but fun to watch. She grazes. And I wait and watch. Listening.

Tundra swans overhead. They fly low. A gentle “Klooo, kwoo.” I remember how they babble all night long. Like teenagers at a slumber party. I focus on my breath. Listening.

What I miss when I forget about the power of being still. All around me. Every day. I feel a reverence for my place in the world, for my place in the circle of life. I share this story with you. A bit of a Thanksgiving gift. Wishing you peace and gratitude. The power of now.

For those who are wondering, Yes, I did get my deer. Happy Thanksgiving and Safe Hunting!

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“Faces of Addiction and Recovery” Came to the Capitol

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, 14 November 2017
in Wisconsin

opioid-overdoseSen. Vinehout shares a story about her discussion with members of the Ho-Chunk Nation who are working to get the resources necessary to address addiction.


MADISON - The day was busy. Filled with bills voted on by Senators. Bills that, someday, will change people’s lives for better or worse. Senators do not often see the faces of those whose lives changed.

Bev, Bonnie and Jamie are working to put a face on the lives affected by the actions of lawmakers. The women are showing Wisconsin the faces of those suffering from addiction.

With the help of Senator Erpenbach, these strong women brought three panels of a very large quilt to the Capitol. On the quilt were the faces of those suffering from addiction. The background behind the face tells a story. The person may be in recovery (white), in prison (gray), or died (black).

Bev told me stories of children who died. Bev pointed out the quilt square around her beautiful daughter. She also told me about the problems: finding treatment, crisis care, inflexible sentencing. How it’s sometimes impossible to get people into treatment court or alternatives to incarceration because of the way the laws are written.

A necklace and two stories brought Bonnie, Jamie and I closer.

As fate would have it, I wore a necklace that day given to me by a Ho-Chunk woman recovering from addiction. She gave me the necklace during a Blanket Ceremony I participated in this summer at the old Ho-Chunk Pow Wow grounds. Two groups - #StoptheStigma and Natives Against Heroin sponsored the Pow Wow.

I told the story of the necklace. Bonnie told me the story of her son (and Jamie’s nephew) Cody, who had died of addiction four years ago. Through their shared experiences, and through extended family, Bonnie and Bev met. They began work with several groups.

One group is called “HeD Peace” and pronounced Head Peace. The group raises money to help those suffering from addiction by selling headbands. Bonnie has a background in marketing. She thought about how the name had several meanings, for those suffering from addiction and for those who lost loved ones that suffered.

Wearing the headbands, Jamie told me, opened the door to conversations about addiction. “We were stopped by people we didn’t know,” Jamie said. “They would ask us, at the grocery store, at the hospital, ‘what does the headband mean?’”

“It started a huge dialogue,” Bonnie added. The conversations “opened the door for people to let off steam.” Bonnie told me how those who lost loved ones to addiction “Keep the pain and misery bottled up inside… People [who are addicted] are still loved. They still exist in our memories. They [discussion of the headbands] open the door to let the love out, and the grief. It’s an amazing cathartic tool for people who suffer.”

“The quilt lets people see the faces of people who are suffering, when they see the magnitude of people who are suffering…and there are many, many more that are not on the quilt” said Bonnie. “We’re not just losing one generation, we’re losing several generations. No one understands the depth.”

The women came to the Capitol to influence lawmakers by showing the faces of those who suffer from addiction. “It’s shameful we don’t have the services – especially in rural areas,” Bonnie told me.

I was interrupted several times during my conversation with the women as the Senate President called my colleagues and me to the Senate floor to vote. Ironically, the votes were part of a “tough on crime” package of bills. Some of these bills kept children in detention longer, left less flexibility for judges sentencing those with addiction and put people back in prison for being accused (not necessarily convicted) of offenses.

Bonnie later told me that she listened to the Senate debate. “They don’t have someone suffering from addiction in prison, or in Lincoln Hills [juvenile detention]. They don’t care about the people attached to those bills.”

Caring about the people behind the statistics became the life work of these resilient women. They want to make real change happen and make a real difference in the lives of those suffering from addiction.

“It’s not a Democrat or Republican thing,” said Bonnie. “It’s everyone’s. It’s up to all of us to get together. It’s a human problem.”

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A Mom’s Reminder: Still More to do in Opioid Crisis

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Monday, 13 November 2017
in Wisconsin

drugaddicts-youngTwo mothers who lost their children to addiction have taken their experience and turned it into advocacy and education.


MADISON, 11/10/2017 - This week two amazing advocates and grieving mothers, Bonnie and Bev, brought Faces of Addiction and Hope a story quilt to the State Capitol during our last session day of the year. It was a stark reminder we still have more work to do in the opioid crisis. Squares on the quilt showed people who have died, those incarcerated because of their addiction and those that are in recovery. It is a beautiful and tragic symbol. Both mom’s lost their children to addiction and have taken their experience and turned it into advocacy and education.

As I spoke with them about the message they hope to share with the quilt, they shared how they wished our criminal justice system could be a better partner with those addicted to drugs and alcohol and how they hope more than anything that people can see the true reality of the disease of addiction. Treatment and care should be available to everyone because we simply cannot afford to lose so many. In 2015, nearly 900 people in Wisconsin died from overdose. That is a 70% increase since 2009.

Unfortunately, where you live in Wisconsin makes a big difference whether or not you have access to treatment programs and whether you have opportunities for care in the community. Medicaid is the single largest payer of substance use disorder services in the nation and pays for one third of the medication assisted treatment programs. Right here in Sauk County we have a program that has been used as a national model for medication assisted wrap-around treatment. Ensuring that people have access to Medicaid or insurance through the Affordable Care Act plays a huge part in their success story.

Recruiting and keeping professionals that can provide treatment to those with addiction and other mental health disorders is also a barrier in many parts of Wisconsin. Increasing the reimbursement rate paid to substance abuse professionals will help make sure we have access to treatment outside of the major metropolitan areas in Wisconsin.

Accepting the BadgerCare expansion allowed in the ACA and covering more people with low cost health insurance in Wisconsin would make a huge difference to those in need of treatment and recovery. Unfortunately, we have been advocating to accept that federal money to no avail in the Wisconsin Legislature for a few years now. Truly only partisan politics stands in the way for Wisconsin to expand BadgerCare and I am hopeful some day we can move past that prideful political barrier.

As this Legislative session is coming to a close, I am also hopeful that the quilt will grow with white squares to show those in recovery and remain committed to legislation that supports our families and communities struggling with addiction and recovery.

***

For more information on the Faces of Addiction and Hope quilt contact my office at 608-266-6670 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You can see the quilt on my Facebook page.

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Danger

Posted by Mark Miller, State Senator 16th District
Mark Miller, State Senator 16th District
Mark F. Miller (D-Monona) is serving his third term in the Wisconsin Senate. He
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on Wednesday, 08 November 2017
in Wisconsin

mining_wisconsin_senateMADISON, November 7, 2017 - Today’s Senate session had one theme. Danger.

Senate Republicans passed several egregious bills today that do nothing to better the lives of Wisconsinites, but rather put them at risk.

There is no logical reason to make recounts for elections harder, except it consolidates power for those who hold it. There is no fathomable reason to put a gun in the hands of a toddler, except it benefits the gun lobby. There is no sensible reason to call a constitutional convention, except it benefits the billionaires who promote it to skew the playing field. There is no rational reason to allow acid mining in Wisconsin, except a foreign company really wants it. There are no comprehensible reasons for any of these things and yet, here we are.

These are dangerous policies at best. Wisconsin deserves better. In the words of Justice Antonin Scalia: “I certainly would not want a Constitutional Convention. Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it? A Constitutional Convention is a horrible idea.” Those poignant words cover a multitude of sins.”

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Speed and Secrecy Leaves the Public Out in the Cold

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
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on Tuesday, 07 November 2017
in Wisconsin

capitol-nightTuesday’s State Senate calendar contains several bills that need time for proper debate, amendments to address significant concerns raised by the public, and bills that were sold as one thing and ended up being very different.


MADISON - In the past eleven years, I wrote 64 times about the problems of speed and secrecy in the legislative process. However, I never saw a calendar as broad and deep in controversy as the most recent one before the State Senate.

For weeks, we heard that the Senate would vote a hodge-podge of highly controversial bills. “Horrid,” one staffer called the expected Senate Calendar. None of us, including the public, knew what bills would come up for a vote.

The cloak of secrecy raised a bit on Friday when we received the tentative list of bills. But even the day before the vote, we did not have the official bill materials and were scrambling to get details.

Often what happens on the Senate floor is non-controversial. Previous Senate session days, with many bills pending, had perhaps a handful that end up in a partisan vote. The Senate calendar for “horrid” Tuesday detailed opposition by the minority to a full fifty-percent of bills scheduled.

Some of the bills were presented one way to Senators by lobbyists or constituents. However, the actual bill language or amendments added resulted in a very different bill voted out of committee. For this reason, some Democrats voted against bills they originally supported or removed their names as cosponsors.

Additionally, significant negative public testimony in public hearings should result in changes to a bill. Fixing problems with bills is the function of committee work. Many bills on Tuesday’s Senate calendar were not fixed, which leaves Senators scrambling to draft last minute amendments.

Big policy questions are behind many bills up for consideration – questions that deserve a thorough debate.

Should we change laws regarding cooperatives? Should co-ops be allowed to violate the basic cooperative principles of “one member - one vote” or limit members’ access to financial records? Should nonmembers serve on the board of directors? Should voting power be based on patronage, which gives larger farms a bigger voice?

Important questions need to be answered about a series of bills that increase mandatory penalties for crimes, keep youth in prison longer, make it easier to send someone on probation or parole back to prison, and limit the ability of prosecutors to work with minor players in a crime in order to catch the kingpin.

We need to know how much it will cost to change rules related to probation and parole. While no routine fiscal estimate was done, a staffer found a Department of Corrections memo estimating the cost in the first two years at almost $200 million. The cost is not part of the recently passed budget.

Another bill on the calendar that generated significant contact to my office is the question: should Wisconsin take action to call for a Constitutional Convention under Article V of the United States Constitution?

Calling a Constitutional Convention opens up the entire US Constitution to rewriting by the delegates to the convention, despite the fact they may be sent by their state to vote for only a balanced budget amendment. These delegates would have powers superior to the President, the Supreme Court and the Congress.

Such a convention is an extremely risky venture in our fragile democracy. Wisconsin is one of nine states targeted by Koch brothers funded groups. Nationwide, only a handful of state legislatures need to pass laws to reach the threshold where such a convention would be called.

Another controversial bill would open up our state to sulfide mining. Our state has strong protections for the most dangerous type of mining. This bill changes the law to allow nonferrous (non-iron ore) metal mining. Among other concerns, the bill creates a fast permitting process that limits DNR’s ability to collect scientific data.

The bills I mentioned and dozens of others deserve public scrutiny and extensive debate. Citizens need to be aware of the potential serious consequences of the action and weigh in on decision. Lawmakers need time to understand amendments, complex policy and balance competing concerns.

In an environment of speed and secrecy, legislators do not have the details to make good decisions and the public is left out in the cold.

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Constitutional Convention Action Alert!

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Monday, 06 November 2017
in Wisconsin

constitutional-conventionMADISON - I need you – right now! -- to contact your Wis. State Senator about a horrible bill that’s up for a vote TOMORROW, Tuesday! It’s called AJR 21, and it seeks a Constitutional Convention on a balanced budget amendment. And if you are in one of the below listed districts, it is of particular urgency you contact your senator and encourage their "no" vote.

The balanced budget amendment is a horrible idea because it would tie the hands of our government in times of recession.

But there’s an even bigger problem with calling a Constitutional Convention, and that is, once it gets under way, it may go beyond its original mandate and throw everything on the table, including our basic rights.

This Constitutional Convention idea is closer than you think. If Wisconsin and just a few more states sign on, you’re going to wake up one morning to the news that there’s going to be a Constitutional Convention. And then who knows what’s going to happen and what damage can be done?

The bill again is AJR 21, and here are the Republican Senators that are crucial to contact and to urge to vote no:

  • Sen. Rob Cowles (SD2) -- (800) 334-1465
  • Sen. Dan Feyen (SD18) -- (608) 266-5300
  • Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (SD13) -- (608) 266-5660
  • Sen. Devin LeMahieu (SD9) -- (608) 266-2056 (pronounced Lemma-hue)
  • Sen. Terry Moulton (SD23) -- (608) 266-7511
  • Sen. Luther Olsen (SD14) -- (608) 266-0751
  • Sen. Jerry Petrowski (SD29) -- (608) 266-2502
  • Sen. Roger Roth (SD19) -- (608) 266-0718
  • Sen. Van Wangaard (SD21) -- (608) 266-1832

The Wisconsin Assembly has already passed their bills and now the State Senate needs to block them. Read more in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.

Thanks for picking up your phone! Please report back with feedback from your calls.

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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One Step Closer to Tackling Wisconsin’s Lead Crisis

Posted by Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson (D) is the Wisconsin State Senator from the 7th District in Milwauk
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on Thursday, 02 November 2017
in Wisconsin

baby-lead-paintSenator says we need to continue the momentum after the passage of SB 48 relating to lead service line replacements and take immediate action to keep our kids safe from being further poisoned by lead.


MADISON – Each of our neighbors deserve to live in a healthy, safe community. Lead pipes are an avoidable public illness that is quietly devastating Wisconsin neighborhoods. Over the past few decades there has been significant research revealing how devastatingly harmful lead exposure is for both children and adults. We must prioritize addressing and preventing lead poisoning in our children.

Tackling the threat of lead poisoning is a moral and economic imperative. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), our state would save $7 billion if the threat of lead poisoning was eliminated. This includes savings in medical care, special education, and even crime reduction among adults and youth.

Today, the Senate took up a bipartisan bill (Senate Bill 48) that moves our state one small step towards addressing Wisconsin’s lead crisis. During the state budget debate last month, Senate Democrats fought for Wisconsin to take swift action by introducing a Lead Abatement Amendment, which would have committed the necessary funds to provide adequate relief to communities access the state, after Senate Bill 48 was stalled in committee for months.

I urge my Republican colleagues to continue the momentum and take immediate action to keep our kids safe from being further poisoned by lead. Among the available bills are Senate Bill 41, which would protect renters from lead poisoning, Senate Bill 141, which would give schools more flexibility to invest in lead abatement costs, Senate Joint Resolution 67, a bill to declare a Lead Poison Prevention Week in Wisconsin.

So far, despite the lead pipe crisis, none of these bills have even received a public hearing.

***

This statement from Senator Chris Larson (D - Milwaukee) regarding the Senate passage of Senate Bill 48 on October 31, 2017.

Senate Bill 48 was introduced by Senators Cowles, L. Taylor, Bewley, Carpenter, Darling, Feyen, Harsdorf, Johnson, C. Larson, Lasee, Miller, Olsen, Petrowski, Risser, Vinehout, Vukmir, Wanggaard and Hansen; cosponsored by Representatives Thiesfeldt, Krug, Genrich, Crowley, Barca, Bowen, E. Brooks, Brostoff, Fields, Goyke, Horlacher, Jagler, Kitchens, Kolste, Mason, Novak, Ohnstad, Ripp, Schraa, Spreitzer, Spiros, Steffen, Stuck, Subeck, C. Taylor, Tauchen, Tusler, Zamarripa, Zepnick, Anderson and Allen

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WEDC Admits They Are Not Following the Law

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
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on Tuesday, 31 October 2017
in Wisconsin

foxconnwisconsinA recent LAB audit showed WEDC’s failure to comply with the laws to protect taxpayer’s money for job creation efforts in Wisconsin. WEDC’s lack of transparency, their numerous examples of misrepresenting job creation numbers and their frequent disregard for LAB recommendations call into question their ability to oversee a $3 billion contract with Foxconn.


MADISON - “We have not been able to verify the jobs,” said Secretary Mark Hogan at a recent public hearing of the Joint Committee on Audit.

In this statement, the head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) confirmed what several years of audits repeatedly found: our state awarded hundreds of millions in tax credits and cash payments to companies to create jobs without ever checking to see if jobs were actually created.

walker-wedcWEDC is the state agency overseeing economic development efforts. They hand out tax credits and cash payments to corporations to create and retain jobs. WEDC writes contracts for companies to receive state money. When a company abides by the contract, it receives a payment, a certificate for a tax break, or their loan is forgiven.

Secretary Hogan’s statement above was his response to questions from myself and others who asked whether he was going to follow the law. We did not trust WEDC was prepared to follow recommendations of the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) to set up policy and really start following the law.

The law states WEDC must verify the company actually created jobs, not just their word. It’s a bit like your son telling you he cleaned his bedroom. You always walk upstairs and check to make sure.

In the last four years, audit after audit by the nonpartisan LAB found WEDC never verified companies followed through with their contracts.

Numerous times, companies admitted they failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Instead of enforcing the contract, WEDC changed it to reflect what the company did do and gave them the money anyway. Hundreds of millions of tax dollars went to companies without WEDC staff independently verifying the promised jobs.

Even when WEDC knew a company didn’t comply with the terms of their contract, they would sometimes still award tax credits and cash payments. In other cases, WEDC claimed the promised (but not delivered) jobs on the WEDC website even though they knew the numbers weren’t accurate.

For example, auditors found WEDC claimed credit for 485 jobs a company promised to create. The company pulled out of the program and created no jobs but the state website still showed 485 promised jobs. In another case, WEDC claimed credit for keeping 340 jobs despite the company going out of business.

In a third case, WEDC claimed credit for 68 jobs that weren’t created because the company sold its Wisconsin operation. In yet another example, a company informed WEDC they only created 18 jobs of the 226 promised. WEDC still claimed the entire 226 jobs on their website.

In another instance, a company promised 657 jobs. WEDC staff decided the company was only eligible for tax credits for 489 jobs. But WEDC still claimed the additional 168 jobs on their website.

Another example showed a company reported the creation of 742 jobs, but WEDC staff found only 678 were eligible for tax credits. The online data still reflected the larger number.

During the hearing, I found it difficult to determine if WEDC was incompetent or deliberately skirting the law.

I was most disturbed when Secretary Hogan flat-out said “no” to my request to release documents to LAB so auditors could complete their work. The document I wanted released was a study by an independent attorney the state paid $8,600 to answer the question: “Is WEDC complying with statutes?” (are they following the law?)

This question was central to the findings of the audit. If agency leaders didn’t think there was a law they needed to follow, I had no hope they would follow the audit recommendations and adopt verification policies and procedures.

I left the hearing with many unanswered questions. Does Secretary Hogan understand he must follow the law? What is Secretary Hogan hiding in the document he refused to release to auditors? How can lawmakers stop WEDC from rewriting contracts if companies don’t deliver? How can we get an accurate count for how many jobs were created with the millions of taxpayer dollars?

But the most pressing question was; how can we possibly trust WEDC to oversee a $3 billion contract with Foxconn?

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Expand Family Medical Leave

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
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on Monday, 30 October 2017
in Wisconsin

healthcare-familyEnsuring working moms and dads have access to family medical leave is one way we can strengthen families and expand economic opportunities for all.


LA CROSSE, WI - Whether it’s caring for a newborn or tending to a sick parent, at some point in our lives most adults will have to take time off from work to care for a loved one.

As a working mother with two young boys, my husband and I can relate to the daily challenges that families face when raising children and helping care for a relative. Like many others, we value flexibility and believe that reforming outdated workplace policies will strengthen our state and enable businesses to be more competitive.

Unfortunately, only 11% of U.S. employees have access to paid family leave through their jobs, which means millions of workers are forced to choose between family health obligations and the income they need to cover basic expenses.

Wisconsin was one of the first states in the country to adopt a Family and Medical Leave Act to protect the jobs of workers who must miss work to care for a sick loved one or newborn. Sadly, a recent Republican proposal would reduce access to family and medical leave protections and create more obstacles and barriers for working parents. This will take our state in the wrong direction and severely hinder further progress for the residents of Wisconsin.

Democrats are pushing for solutions to elevate Wisconsin families and address the changing work-life balance of modern families. With more dual-income households than ever before, our economy needs to move past the 1950’s-era family structures and implement workplace policies that ensure flexibility and create a healthier workforce.

Democratic leaders Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) and Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Mt. Horeb) recently introduced legislation to create a Family Medical Leave Insurance Program that allows employees to contribute a portion of their paycheck into a trust fund. Employees would be eligible to receive a percentage of their pay during the time they take family or medical leave from work, at no cost to the employer. This innovative new proposal has earned the support of organizations that advocate for Wisconsin workers, including 9to5 Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Alliance for Womens Health.

Expanding family leave not only improves health outcomes and reduces health costs, but is an affordable way for businesses to support and retain workers when unexpected family and medical needs arise. All businesses, from Fortune 500 companies down to local mom and pop stores, benefit from a safe and healthy workplace. And so do working families.

If we want to boost our middle class, we need to focus on policies that will help families succeed. Ensuring working moms and dads have access to family medical leave is one way we can strengthen families and expand economic opportunities. Combined with additional Democratic solutions to expand health care coverage, student loan debt relief and affordable child care, we can modernize our workplace policies to be more efficient, cost-effective and family friendly.

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WEDC’s History Raises Concerns about State’s Ability to Oversee Foxconn Deal

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
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on Tuesday, 24 October 2017
in Wisconsin

foxconn-dealWEDC has the new responsibility of overseeing the $3 billion contract for the Foxconn deal despite a very troublesome history watching over Wisconsin’s economic development efforts while tracking job creation, administering loans and verifying their work.


MADISON - “Can you find out the nuclear flaw in the Foxconn deal?” a woman asked me. She was referring to words leaked out of secret negotiations between the state and a Taiwanese billionaire.

Lawmakers, who recently voted in favor of the Foxconn deal, did so without seeing any contract. They put faith in a state operation known as Wisconsin Economic Development (WEDC).

Despite being paid for entirely with public funds, the $3 billion contract with Foxconn is not public. Nor do lawmakers who approved the plan know what problems exist in the draft contract. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Lawmakers and the public cannot see the details and are asked to trust WEDC negotiating the deal and later overseeing the Foxconn’s compliance.

walker-WEDCBut is WEDC worthy of our trust?

For years, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) reported concerns about WEDC’s administration and oversight of economic development programs.

In 2013, nearly two years after WEDC was created, auditors could not report on state dollars spent by WEDC because their financial and accounting systems were not adequate. Members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee learned spending was tracked largely by credit card statements. To remedy this serious problem, legislators passed a new law that included an independent audit of all WEDC financial statements. Financial statement preparation should be basic for any state agency.

At an October 2013 Audit Committee public hearing, WEDC leaders promised they had complied with all the LAB recommendations. However, a year later, auditors reported many problems related to basic operations and the tracking of money. For example, auditors found some spending not recorded in the accounting system and found past due loans that were missing.

By 2015, auditors discovered a larger than necessary cash balance at WEDC. By the end of June 2015, WEDC had accumulated in excess of $85 million as reported in a 2017 audit.

Losing loans and not properly accounting for internal expenses are problems associated with the operation of a troubled agency. But the problems WEDC could encounter in overseeing a large project like Foxconn are related to the independent evaluation of the company’s promises compared to their actual records.

Four years after WEDC was established auditors finally could report that WEDC made ANY effort to obtain information about jobs were actually created. However, further review by auditors showed the attempts made by WEDC only compared a company’s own promises to report and the reports a company itself filed. WEDC made no effort to verify the information submitted.

In its most recent audit, the LAB reported WEDC paid an outside consultant $24,900 to do the work they were required to do since their existence in 2011. Auditors found concerns including that the contractor’s work was limited and did not include grants.

In the LAB’s own evaluation of completed economic development projects, auditors’ findings included: companies gave money for job creation without any contract requiring such, companies quitting before the end of their contract period without delivering promised jobs, contracts to create jobs were written with no specific number of jobs to be created, WEDC forgave loans even though the company created or retained a lower number of jobs than required, and WEDC counting twice the number of jobs created by a company.

If Wisconsin taxpayers cannot be confident after seven years and the investment of hundreds of millions of state dollars that promised jobs were created, how can we possibly be confident WEDC can negotiate and oversee a $3 billion contract?

No local government would ever agree to spend money without seeing a contract. No banker would agree to loan funds without a contract. No businessperson would ever commit funds without a contract.

Lawmakers bought a pig in a poke – an unknown deal.

WEDC has not earned lawmakers trust, nor that of the public. Lawmakers can and should do more to oversee this project.

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State of the Real Estate Market October 2017 and What to Expect in 2018!

Posted by Bruce Nemovitz, Realty Executives
Bruce Nemovitz, Realty Executives
Bruce Nemovitz is a Senior Real Estate Specialist, as well as Certified Senior A
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on Monday, 23 October 2017
in Wisconsin

bc_houseBruce has over 35 years of experience in helping people make real estate decisions.


BROOKFIELD, WI - Many of you have asked how the real estate market is doing and the market is ever changing.

The first half of this year was fabulous in almost all sectors. Homeowners were receiving multiple offers within hours of putting their homes on the market! This did not happen in all cases, but if the home was priced properly based on condition the result was positive. Overpricing a home is always a bad idea, especially when the market is strong because buyers wonder why a home is sitting on the market for longer than a month.

I expect the market to flourish next year, especially in spring. The best months to sell are late February to the end of May. That is when buyers will pay the highest prices for the year. If you are thinking of buying first, the off months are the best time to buy (November-February). There are less buyers competition and sellers price their homes during the off months realistically due to need type sales (death, divorce, job relocation, health reasons). They are motivated to sell quickly and price homes accordingly. If you buy in the off months, you can then capitalize on selling your home in spring and you will know where you are going to live.

bruce-nemovitzI am often asked what are the best improvements to make to get the ‘best bang for the buck’. Paint, paint, paint! That is the cheapest and best way to get your home ready for market. But the key is to paint with colors that resonate with today’s young buyers. Examples are steel grey in living rooms and hallways, pale green in kitchens and tope in bedrooms. There are many other colors that work and you can always go online to check out what are the most popular colors for today’s savvy buyer.

Make sure all defects are corrected, especially roof, basement and furnace. It is critical that your electrical system is at least 100amp circuit breakers because insurance companies won’t insure a home in most cases with 60-amp service.

If the exterior needs paint, do it now! It is still warm enough. So often I get a call in winter or early spring to sell a home and the exterior trim and siding show poorly. There is nothing you can do about that when temperatures are below 60 degrees in most cases. So, think ahead.

If you have a parent that needs to sell in the coming year or two, start the downsizing process now! We work with professionals who can help. Just give us a call or email and we will send you the information to connect with the professionals we trust. Downsizing can be so easy if you let others help!

Don’t hesitate to call us with any questions you may have. We have over 35 years of experience in helping you make the best real estate decisions for your future!!

Enjoy Halloween and we hope to connect with you in the coming year!

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What Government Does Needs To Be Done For Our Whole Society

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
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on Saturday, 21 October 2017
in Wisconsin

healthcareCandidate for Governor Mike McCabe talks about getting everyone in Wisconsin access to high-quality and affordable medical insurance.


ALTOONA, WI - Applying that common sense rule, Wisconsin’s whole population should be made eligible to get health insurance through the BadgerCare program. BadgerCare should be there for all Badgers who want or need it. BadgerCare provides excellent insurance coverage and is affordable. It should be a public option that anyone in the state could choose in the insurance marketplace.

BadgerCare is Wisconsin’s version of Medicaid but existing state law has restrictive requirements including income limits that make only the poor, elderly and disabled eligible to enroll. Changing a single word in state law would allow BadgerCare to be listed as one of the options on the health insurance exchange that currently only includes private insurance plans.

State law now says “An individual is eligible to purchase coverage...if all of the following apply” and goes on to list the requirements. Changing the word “all” to “any” would open up BadgerCare to the general population. No one would be required to enroll, but anyone could if they choose to.

robert-kraig-announcesAnalysis done by the health care advocacy group Citizen Action of Wisconsin estimates that BadgerCare’s cost is on average 23 percent lower than other policies in the health insurance market. It also covers 100 percent of medical expenses, unlike many plans with sky-high deductibles and co-payments that leave patients paying for much of their care out of pocket.

Getting everyone in Wisconsin access to high-quality and affordable medical insurance not only will make our state healthier but also will stimulate the economy. There are so many people out there with great ideas for a new business who’ve dreamed of starting their own company but can’t leave a job that provides insurance for their families. If they could access BadgerCare, many would go ahead and start that new business.

Wisconsin’s entire population also should be eligible to participate in the state’s retirement system. In keeping with its name, the Wisconsin Retirement System should offer retirement security to all of Wisconsin. Employees and employers in every sector of the economy should be able to buy into the WRS, not only the public sector.

mike-mccabeCurrently, about 600,000 people are eligible to participate in the Wisconsin Retirement System, or only about one-eighth of the adult population of the state. Wisconsin has one of the most financially sound retirement systems in the country. Making participation an option for everyone in Wisconsin would make it even stronger. More people invested in the system means even greater financial stability. It also means more people with a stake in sustaining the retirement fund and defending it against political attacks. Social Security has lasted for more than 80 years because every working American pays for it and everyone stands to benefit.

Employers in the private sector who want to provide a retirement benefit to employees should have the WRS as an option and so should those who are self-employed and want to set aside money for their own retirement. As with BadgerCare, no one should be required to participate, but everyone should be eligible to buy into the system.

The closer we can get to the point where everyone pays and everyone benefits from what government does, the better off we all will be.

****

Mike McCabe is a candidate for governor. He ran the independent watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign for 15 years and later started the grassroots citizen group Blue Jean Nation. His campaign’s website is GovernorBlueJeans.com.

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Sen. Mark Miller: What Happened to Wisconsin?

Posted by Mark Miller, State Senator 16th District
Mark Miller, State Senator 16th District
Mark F. Miller (D-Monona) is serving his third term in the Wisconsin Senate. He
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on Wednesday, 11 October 2017
in Wisconsin

sulfide-mining-runoffNative Americans, originating from the Great Law of the Iroquois, have approached conservation decisions made today as ones that should benefit the people seven generations from now. Today, we seem to be rushing towards a new era, one where promises of the past are cast aside in the name of eliminating obstacles for business.


MADISON - Wisconsin has a rich heritage of conservation. From the Native American Tribes who inhabited this land for generations, to John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Warren Knowles and Gaylord Nelson – Wisconsin has been a national leader in protecting our land, water and air. The public trust doctrine, enshrined in our state constitution, guarantees that the waters of Wisconsin belong to the people of Wisconsin.

There was a time when this was a shared ethic amongst Democrats and Republicans. Our greatest environmental achievements have always been accomplished together, working toward the goal of making a better Wisconsin for our children and grandchildren. But today, I am disturbed by the erosion of that shared commitment. Governor Walker and Legislative Republicans seem to be rushing towards a new era, one where the bipartisan promises of the past are cast aside in the name of eliminating obstacles for business. Three examples from this legislative session alone demonstrate this regression.

In the early 2000s, water bottling giant Perrier had a plan to open a facility in the central sands of Wisconsin. There was great concern for the impact this might have on our groundwater resources. High capacity wells in that area have a direct impact on surface waters. As we can see today, they cause lake levels to decrease and rivers to run dry. The threat of Perrier brought together Republicans, Democrats and Democratic Governor Jim Doyle to pass what was supposed to be the first step in protecting groundwater quantity. 2003 Wisconsin Act 310 was passed nearly unanimously, 99-0 in the Assembly and 31-1 in the Senate and signed into law by Governor Doyle. In the years that followed, bi-partisan study groups continued to look at the issue to determine what those next steps forward might be to ensure everyone has reasonable access to the waters of the state.

The 2010 election resulted in the Republican control of both houses of the Legislature, the Governor’s office and an about face on the approach to environmental protection. Earlier this year, Republicans passed Wisconsin Act 10 on a partisan 62-35 vote in the Assembly and 19-13 vote in the Senate. The law allows for the repair, replacement and transfer of high capacity well permits without DNR approval. Because high capacity well permits are the only environmental permits without an expiration date, the provisions of this bill essentially grants permanent access to groundwater for those permit holders. This is in direct conflict with the Wisconsin state constitution which protects the waters of Wisconsin for the benefit of all users. It guarantees that the current problems with surface waters in the central sands will continue to get worse.

mining-openpit-wiIn the mid-1990s, the threat of a sulfide mine in Crandon, Wisconsin brought Democrats and Republicans together to pass the mining moratorium. This legislation, 1997 Wisconsin Act 171, was passed with overwhelming support, 91-6 in the Assembly and 29-3 in the Senate and signed by Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. Sometimes referred to as the “Prove it First” law, it simply requires that anyone wanting to operate an sulfide mine in the state of Wisconsin needs to demonstrate than another similar mine has been able to operate and close somewhere in the United States without polluting for at least 10 years. Because there has not yet been an example of a mine that can operate without causing pollution, Republicans now want to change the law.

Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) have introduced Senate Bill 395 and Assembly Bill 499 which repeal the current Prove it First law. The bill appears to have widespread support on the Republican side. It passed the Senate Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry Committee on a partisan 3-2 vote and is rumored to be scheduled before the full Senate later this fall. It is widely opposed by Native American Tribes, conservationists, and government watchdog organizations. But that is virtually meaningless against strong Republican backers like Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Americans for Prosperity.

The most recent attack was unleashed at the end of September. A new bill is being circulated by Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton) and Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) that will end protection for isolated wetlands in Wisconsin. There are two kinds of wetlands and they are regulated differently. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, through the Clean Water Act, has jurisdiction over wetlands that are connected to navigable waters. Other wetlands, those that are geographically isolated, are protected by Wisconsin, thanks to a dedicated group of bi-partisan lawmakers.

In 2001, a U.S. Supreme Court decision, SWANCC vs. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, left all geographically isolated wetlands unprotected. In the wake of that decision, legislators in Wisconsin sprang into action. A concerted effort over a 5 month period led to Republican Governor Scott McCallum calling a Special Session to pass a bill which put in place state-level protection for isolated wetlands. 2001 Wisconsin Act 6 was passed unanimously by both houses of the Legislature. Since 2011, a number of proposals have chipped away at the 2001 law, but the latest, LRB 4115/1, proposes eliminating state protection for isolated wetlands.

What has happened to Wisconsin? Not that long ago, when faced with an environmental crisis, Democrats and Republicans worked hand-in-hand to come up with common sense solutions. I worked diligently with my colleagues on both the wetlands and groundwater laws during my tenure in the State Assembly and was proud to have voted for both. Now I see a new generation of Republican lawmakers, very different from the last, who fail to see the forest for the trees.

Native Americans, originating from the Great Law of the Iroquois, have approached conservation with the concept of the seventh generation. Decisions made today should be ones that benefit seven generations from now. While I know we have fallen short at times, the core of that philosophy has been at the heart of Wisconsin’s past environmental law. It’s what brought us together to ban sulfide mining, protect groundwater and isolated wetlands in an overwhelming, unified voice.

Today, there is not thought given to seven generations. Rather, the next generation will be saddled with the damage inflicted today. I hope that they are able to rise to the challenge and repair what has been broken.

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