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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.


“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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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
User is currently offline
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
User is currently offline
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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