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Do You Feel Safe at Home?

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, 31 March 2014
in Wisconsin

domesticviolenceThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about legislative changes meant to help and protect victims of domestic violence.  The Bills (SB 160, AB 464, and AB 176) help domestic violence victims who can't answer “Yes” and passed both houses of the Legislature with strong bi-partisan support. The bills await the governor’s signature.


MADISON - “Do you feel safe at home?” the nurse asked the woman. The nurse was helping to identify and protect those who may be at risk for domestic violence.

One in three women will, at some time in her life, experience domestic violence.

Recent World Health Organization research confirms what earlier studies found: worldwide one in three women are physically or sexually assaulted by a current or former partner. Experts advocate for screening questions, like the one above, and training to recognize domestic violence for health workers and law enforcement officers.

Wisconsin law enforcement officials are trained to recognize and respond to domestic violence. Many officers tell me domestic violence situations remain their most common call and are difficult to resolve.

Lawmakers recently passed several bills aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence, standardizing the actions of law enforcement and the courts and bringing perpetrators to justice. One change for law enforcement is a requirement to refer domestic violence victims to shelters and make sure the victim knows about and can get help from a victim advocate.

In many domestic violence situations both adults and children are victims. Testimony by advocates during an Assembly hearing reminded lawmakers “about half of men who abuse their female partner will also abuse their children.” Changes were needed to protect victims, including children.

Protecting children includes protecting their privacy. Legislative changes will close the courtroom during restraining order hearings for children, and keep child victim records off CCAP - the court’s public Internet record - and other measures to protect victim confidentiality, including children. The legislation also protects the non-offending parent from the legal expenses of the court appointed child advocate known as the guardian ad litem.

This new legislation also makes it clear that restraining orders stop all contact between the abuser and the victim, including stalking behavior.

Sometimes the law or court processes actually put victims at risk. These parts of the law were changed: victims no longer are required to notify the abuser if a restraining order is extended – the court will now do this. Also privacy is protected for those who must change their name.

Sometimes when the perpetrator requests a new judge the restraining order protecting the victim became invalid. The new legislation will make sure this does not happen.

Nearly 20 years ago Wisconsin passed laws protecting victims of domestic violence by requiring the abuser to surrender firearms. But advocates tell me many courts never checked up on whether or not perpetrators actually surrendered firearms.

New legislation sets out a process by which individuals subject to a restraining order must surrender firearms. The legislation came about because of domestic crimes committed by those who illegally possessed a firearm. Work began on this proposal in 2008 when the Governor’s Council on Domestic Abuse discovered that while state and federal law required action only 12 Wisconsin counties had policies in place to actively ensure that abusers followed the law.

The legislation followed the procedures developed through a pilot project in four Wisconsin counties. This successful project showed lawmakers common sense procedures could be developed that were effective and inexpensive. The state’s chief judges endorsed the bill as a best practice approach to resolving the problem.

These bills, SB 160, AB 464 and AB 176, passed both houses with strong bipartisan support and now await the governor’s signature.

We can work to change our culture and end domestic abuse. We can treat each other with respect and teach respect and nonviolent conflict resolution to our children. We can also tell those at risk about available resources. Wisconsin invested in a statewide system of shelters and advocates helping when abuse happens.

Reach out to those who need help and let them know shelters and advocates are available throughout Wisconsin. In the Eau Claire, Buffalo and Jackson County call Boulton Refuge House at 1-855-526-5866; In La Crosse and Trempealeau call New Horizons at 608-791-2600. In Dunn and Pepin call Bridge to Hope at 715-235-9074. For other locations around the state call End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin at (608) 255-0539 or visit their website at http://www.wcadv.org/gethelp.

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New Republican Absentee Voting Law Another Round in “Voter Games”

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Friday, 28 March 2014
in Our View

votersGREEN BAY - If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That seems to be the Republican motto when it comes to keeping those pesky Democratic voters from voting.

A few years back, they invented the great “voter fraud” epidemic, with no real evidence that it ever existed, to justify a voter ID law in Wisconsin. Since many more poor people, especially those in the inner city who tended to vote heavily Democratic, don’t have drivers licences and such, why not run them through a few extra hoops the Republican heads reasoned. Maybe some would just give up rather than vote.

After a few scares, the courts finally put a hold on that idea. Seems there was something in the Constitution that doesn’t allow you to inhibit the people’s right to vote.

So on Thursday, Gov. Scott Walker quietly signed into law a Republican bill that limits in-person absentee voting to no later than 7 p.m. during the week and no weekend hours. The new law is a dagger to the heart of the Democratic Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) effort of recent years.

It seems those same poor people, and other hourly working people who tend to vote for Democrats, have jobs and find it hard to get to the polls on election day before the six o’clock rush. There is, of course, a law that says your employer has to give you time off to vote, but it doesn’t say they have to pay you for it and you know how that goes.

Republican supporters, for the most part, who do work tend to be more likely managers or other salaried employees who can just take off for an hour or two during the day. Or, as you know if you ever voted in Cedarburg, polling places in the suburbs tend to have about three voting machines for every voter.

So the Democrats reasoned they could raise their voters turnout if they pushed early in-person absentee voting among their people to avoid the rush. It actually came down as a strategy from the national Obama for America people and it worked well for them. It became one of the biggest pieces of the Democratic GOTV effort and had begun to show signs of success.

Of course, the Democrats know what the Republicans are up to with their new law and will challenge it in court. And the courts, in their wisdom, will probably find sooner or later that the Constitution doesn’t allow you to pass laws that inhibit the people’s right to vote. But by then, the Republicans reason, Scott Walker and the Republican majority in the Wisconsin Legislature will be re-elected and it won’t matter.

And while all these Madison political strategists continue to concentrate on the voter games, Wisconsin will continue to drift into mediocrity and drop down the latter among in states in job creation. Will anyone ask what ever happened to those 250,000 new jobs Scott Walker promised to deliver in the last election?

We think not.

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Window Closing for Health Insurance: Sign Up Now!

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, 24 March 2014
in Wisconsin

affordable-care-actThis week Senator Vinehout writes about the fast approaching deadline to sign-up for health insurance through the Marketplace.


EAU CLAIRE - “I was getting the run-around,” the Eau Claire woman told me. She tried to get health insurance through the federal healthcare.gov website and was told she was eligible for Medicaid coverage in her state. When she went to sign-up for BadgerCare, she was then told she was NOT eligible.

I explained Governor Walker and legislative Republicans refused to take the new federal Medicaid money and made it harder for folks to get on BadgerCare.

“I thought that’s what happened,” the woman told me. She was a personal care worker for a disabled man. They and their friends visited me as part of a disability advocacy day at the Capitol.

The health insurance premium was one more thing the woman had to pay for on her meager salary. She could only afford a policy with a $12,000 deductible.

I’ve heard many complaints about high premiums, high deductibles, and people paying a lot less for the same insurance in Minnesota. The Land of 10,000 Lakes decided to start its own exchange, to use state review to lower rates and to accept federal money for new Medicaid eligible people.

This has a lot of folks in western Wisconsin asking if they’re paying too much for poor coverage. They wonder if they should even sign up for insurance.

March 31st is the last day to sign up for Marketplace insurance coverage in 2014. If you don’t sign up now, you won’t be able to buy private health insurance for 2014 – even if you need insurance.

Folks ask me, “If I go to the hospital, can I sign up for coverage then?”

The answer is ‘no’. Without a deadline, most folks would have little incentive to sign up until they got sick.

Getting insurance is important even if you don’t think you will use it. Only under a few circumstances – like losing your job with insurance – can you sign up after the March 31st window closes.

When you sign up and pay your first month’s premium, the coverage typically takes effect at the beginning of the next month. The insurance is not retroactive – meaning it will not cover costs you had prior to paying your premium.

But, the Affordable Care Act does guarantee an insurance company must cover people with pre-existing health conditions. It makes it illegal for an insurance company to cancel your policy if you get sick and ends the lifetime and yearly dollar limits on coverage of essential health benefits.

Across the US people are being urged to sign up for health insurance before the deadline. The more people who sign up, the lower the premiums will be going forward for those who enroll. Assuming, of course, states are doing everything possible to keep consumers costs low.

Not taking the federal money to expand BadgerCare hurts all those buying insurance in Wisconsin as poorer people who often have more health problems are entering the Marketplace instead of receiving care through BadgerCare. Higher numbers of uninsured also raises the cost for those with insurance.

Kaiser Family Foundation tracks states’ progress on enrolling those eligible for Marketplace health insurance. As of the beginning of March, Wisconsin had enrolled almost 15% of those eligible – right at the US average. But this still leaves over 400,000 people without insurance.

It may be months before we fully understand the effect on people’s cost and coverage of Wisconsin’s decision to not take federal money, not use state rate review and not create a statewide exchange. But if you’re going to protect yourself and your family, you’ve got to decide to sign up now.

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Restrictive Republican Voting Bills Give Lobbyists and Corporations 2, Voters 0

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, 19 March 2014
in Wisconsin

votersThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about restrictive Republican voting bills recently passed by the state Senate that impact our elections. The bills would limit early voting hours, make it easier for lobbyists to make campaign contributions, and for corporations to shakedown employees for campaign contributions.

The early voting limitations will have a negative effect on both rural and urban voters. They make it easier for lobbyists to contribute to campaigns and for corporations to push their employees to contribute to candidates and take power from the people.


MADISON - Should it be easier for lobbyists to contribute to campaigns? Should corporations spend more money to ask their employees to make campaign contributions? Should Wisconsin limit early voting?

Is there any lawmaker who has citizens clamoring for any of the above?

Recently the Senate spent two days debating bills that open the window for lobbyists to contribute to campaigns and closes the window for voters to cast early ballots.

If the bills become law, lobbyists can contribute as early as April 15th [in the year preceding an election] and voters will be limited to just 10 weekdays of early voting.

This is the second attempt in recent years to limit early voting. In 2011, majority party members voted to limit early voting from three weeks with three weekends to two weeks with just one weekend.

In the new bill, early voting would be limited to the hours between 8:00 am and 7:00 pm. But clerks would be limited to only 45 weekday hours during this time period. Many cities, like Eau Claire, would be required by state law to cut back on the hours they now offer to voters.

Proponents of the bill blamed rural areas for the cut back in city hours. Senator Fitzgerald told the Senate his constituents complained because they saw Milwaukee citizens voting during a time “not available to people in rural areas.”

What he failed to mention, and I pointed out to all Senators, is the bill he touted as making things more equivalent for rural and urban voters now bans the often-used rural practice of voting by appointment on a weekend.

Some of my neighbors work in Winona, Minnesota. Some drive a truck for a living. Some work two jobs in Eau Claire – an hour away. Others work in Minneapolis – a full two hours away. I work in Madison far from my home in beautiful Buffalo County. Many of my neighbors and I vote on the weekend or in the evening at our town clerk’s kitchen table.

To say voters cannot make weekend arrangements with rural clerks – who also may work many miles from home – is to make voting very difficult for rural folks who work away from home.

And working long hours away from home isn’t limited to rural voters.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorialized about the argument that this bill just leveled the playing field between urban and rural voters:

[T]hat’s a thin veneer covering the real intent: what this bill really is all about is suppressing the Democratic vote in Milwaukee and Madison, where many of the state’s people of color live. It’s a highly partisan bill that harkens back to an earlier era when voting for certain groups of people was made much harder by strict poll laws. On that basis alone, Gov. Scott Walker should veto the bill.

While a majority of Senators were voting to limit both rural and urban voters, they were also making it easier for corporations to shake down their employees for campaign contributions.

In a bill now headed to the Assembly, a majority of senators voted to increase by 40 times the legal amount a corporation can spend to entice employees to contribute to a candidate. Candidate contributions by corporations are banned in Wisconsin. But chief executives get around the ban by asking spouses and employees to contribute. Under the bill, corporations will be able to spend up to $20,000 to encourage employees to contribute to campaigns.

The basic problem with this practice is the power imbalance between an employee and the employer. Just like it’s hard to say ‘stop it’ to a sexually aggressive boss, it’s hard to say ‘no’ when the boss says, “Where’s your contribution? Everyone else has given.” Laws protect employees from sexual harassment by a boss. But asking employees to contribute to candidates is perfectly legal. Spending $20,000 to do the asking may soon also be legal.

Limiting early voting, expanding corporations’ power in soliciting campaign donations and, making it easier for lobbyists to contribute have nothing to do with the Governor’s “focus like a laser on jobs”.

And finally on the topic of elections, remember to vote – early while you still can - in the spring election on April 1st.

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How a State Law Obstructed Reward for Teen's Hard Work and Good Grades

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, 11 March 2014
in Wisconsin

edSenator Vinehout writes about the Academic Excellence Higher Education Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded to the valedictorian of each high school in Wisconsin. But, for high schools with total pupil count below 80, the valedictorians are thrown into a pool from which only 10 scholarships are awarded. Since 90 high schools fall into this category, a small school valedictorian may qualify one year and not the next. The law discriminates against small high schools that are often in rural areas.


ALMA - Joel knew from the 8th grade he wanted to be valedictorian of his high school class. His cousin just graduated at the top of his class. Because of this achievement, the cousin received a scholarship.

Joel (not his real name) talked to his cousin and learned more about the scholarship. I’m going to uphold the family tradition, Joel told himself. I’m going to win this scholarship.

The Academic Excellence Higher Education Scholarship is Wisconsin’s way of saying, “Well done” to a graduating valedictorian. The scholarship amounts to $2,250 a year to be used for tuition at a Wisconsin college or university. Depending on the total number of students enrolled in a high school, additional scholarships may be awarded to the top graduating seniors.

Joel got to work. He took every class seriously- even physical education and cooking. He studied hard and got nearly perfect grades. He was nominated to the National Honor Society since his sophomore year.

Joel competed against other students who might have been smarter, might have had better test scores and might have had some other advantage. But Joel worked harder. And not just in the classroom.

He was on Student Council for three years and now serves as an officer. He played in Jazz Band all four years of high school. He was nominated for and played in three regional honors bands. He took his alto saxophone to state solo ensemble competition for two years and hopes to compete at state again this spring.

Although Joel is not particularly outgoing, he polished his public speaking skills through forensics; making it to state competition all three years of high school. He hopes to again make it to the state forensics tournament this spring.

Joel’s talents and hard work continued in his community service. He volunteers at church. He loves Scouts and served as Senior Patrol Leader for two years. He cleans up a local park as part of his Eagle Scout community service project. Joel showed livestock, did wood-working and served two years as president of his 4H club. He helped at the county fair Lions Club food booth when he wasn’t keeping his 4H hogs well-behaved and clean.

If that isn’t enough Joel, who also served as FFA president for three years, helps his dad around the farm. He took tractor safety and hunter safety and worked on the summer maintenance crew in his hometown.

Joel’s already taken three college courses – which he aced – spent three years on the golf team and played a leading role in the school play – three years in a row.

To say Joel is well-deserving is an understatement.

So Joel – recently named valedictorian of his graduating class - and his parents were surprised to be informed the scholarship he so deserved was not forthcoming.

Last year’s senior class valedictorian was awarded the scholarship, and valedictorians going back several years, and maybe again next year, but not this year. Why?

Because the number of students in Joel’s high school dipped below 80 this year.

After hearing this story, I took a look at the law.

High schools with a total pupil count below 80 are not automatically awarded a scholarship. Instead the names of valedictorians from these high schools are put into a pool from which only ten scholarships are awarded. This year about 90 small schools fall into this category. Many of these schools are charter or private schools. But as enrollment drops in rural areas whole public school districts are being caught up in the 80-student rule – at least five more this year.

The superintendent of a local high school at 81 students wrote to me: a student should not be penalized for the size of the high school they attend. The current law would seem to be discriminatory to students who live in rural Wisconsin.

Seems to be? The superintendent was too kind. The law is discriminatory – and needs to be changed. I call on my colleagues to reward the hard work of all Wisconsin valedictorians – regardless of where they live.

Let’s change this law! And let’s get it done right now.

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