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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
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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.

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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
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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.”

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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.

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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
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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.”

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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.,
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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.”

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

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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.

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