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Looking Back on 2017

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, 27 December 2017
in Wisconsin

foxconnwisconsinSen. Vinehout writes about what legislation received the most attention in 2017. The Foxconn deal, biennial state budget, Prove it First Mining Law and high capacity well permit oversight were the dominate topics on people’s minds throughout the past year.


ALMA, WI - As the year draws to a close, I often look back on my time in the Legislature and think of decisions that have an effect on our families and our neighborhoods.

This year, big companies are unwrapping gifts. The luckiest of really big companies is Foxconn. The $3 billion deal to bring the flat-screen TV and computer monitor manufacturer to Racine County is overwhelmingly unpopular in western Wisconsin. I’ve received over one-hundred calls and letters from folks who asked about the lack of taxpayer and environmental protections. They wonder where the money will come from in an already tight budget.

2017 was the year of a late budget that failed to address many problems lawmakers promised to fix: roads, schools and local government relief. I wrote an alternative budget showing a path to fixing many of these problems.

One new tax was passed to help roads - hybrids and electric car owners will pay more. But the money collected won’t cover a fraction of the long term needs of fixing our roads and bridges.

No changes were made to the way local governments are funded. Flat state spending for local communities means more struggles to provide local services like police, fire and social services.

school-bus-kidsTo address the criticism the Legislature was not fixing the problems with funding our public schools, a new task force called the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding was created and just recently started its work. I’m cautiously optimistic changes will come to provide fairness in school funding. Meanwhile, many families are paying higher property taxes because of school referenda passed last year to keep schools afloat.

Two other bills stand out in 2017 as topics that brought a great deal of contact from constituents: sulfide mining and high capacity wells. Overwhelmingly, people opposed getting rid of our twenty-year-old “Prove it First” law. The old law required a company to first prove metal mining was safe before it was permitted to mine. A few weeks ago, Governor Walker signed into effect a new law. It will allow mining for silver, gold, copper and other minerals without proving it can be done without polluting the environment.

People were opposed to getting rid of DNR oversight of high capacity wells. The new law created permits for these wells to be “in perpetuity,” or forever.

sand-mining-wiWestern Wisconsin is home to more mines than any other part of the state. A big part of sand mining is access to a high capacity well permit. Here, folks know, up close and personal, what happens when a sand mine moves in next door.

A horse named Apples helped tell the story about what happens when mines open shop and neighbors are not protected. Poor Apples died, likely of toxic metals in the water. Later the family found almost ten times the limit of arsenic in their water. The family lives a little over a half mile from a sand mine. The courts will decide what killed Apples, but the family pointed out, when an oil industry down-turn caused production to stop at a nearby mine, the water cleared up.

The state failed to protect folks and their critters in Apples’ neighborhood.

clean-drinking-waterDrinking clean water and enjoying our beautiful outdoors are joys we all share. Which is why protecting the environment has been a long-standing bipartisan effort. It was a bipartisan legislature, including our current Governor when he was a State Assembly Representative, that created the Prove it First mining law.

As we close 2017, I’m grateful for a bipartisan group of lawmakers working together to legalize hemp as a commodity. This is a bill I’ve introduced for several years. I recently spoke with former Senator Sheila Harsdorf. She shared that many farmers around Wisconsin have contacted her to say they want to grow hemp.

I’m grateful for the work of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to write rules so farmers can get hemp seeds in the ground next spring. The Senate lost a strong voice for agriculture in Senator Harsdorf resignation, but we’ve gained a big voice for agriculture in her appointment as the new DATCP Secretary.

Wishing all of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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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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