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Walker Says Wisconsin Workers are Like ISIS at CPAC

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, 27 February 2015
in Wisconsin

scott-walker-cpac15"If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," he said. Walker has been trying to exaggerate the 2011 peaceful protests and subsequent recall election into some kind of noble stand against "union thugs" for years.

WASHINGTON - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is trying to give himself some chops in foreign affairs at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington this week. Speaking on Thursday, Walker criticized President Barack Obama's handling of the threat of "radical Islamic terrorism", but gave little substance on how he'd address the challenge himself.

But then, the Presidential hopeful Walker got carried away with himself.

"We need a president, a leader, who will stand up and say, we will take the fight to them and not wait until they bring the fight to America's soil, to our children and our grandchildren," Walker said.

Later, when asked by an audience member about how he'd deal with the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Walker responded that he gets FBI threat briefings from his adjutant general and that "without divulging confidential information," he's been concerned about the group for years.

But he didn't offer a specific answer to how he'd take on the group, instead pivoting back to his experience in Wisconsin.

"If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," he said.

It was a reference to Walker's attack on labor unions in Wisconsin, where his move to strip public employees' collective bargaining rights caused months of protests in 2011, and turned him into a rock star on the right. His Republican supporters in the state legislature are continuing his agenda with a so-called "right-to-work" bill this week.

Reporters were quick to jump on the Wisconsin Governor with no foreign policy experience. Did he really mean having some protesters with picket signs outside his office was similar to an attack by terrorists? Walker is still trying to clarify his statement.

Walker has been trying to exaggerate the 2011 peaceful protests and subsequent recall election into some kind of noble stand against "union thugs" for years. But, ISIS?

Will the national press and conservative voters let this one stand? Only time will tell.

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Republican "Right to Work" Public Hearing Turns into Mockery

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 Wednesday, 25 February 2015
in Wisconsin

rtw-walkoutThe three Republican members showed little interest and asked few questions. The public hearing turned into a complete mockery when chairman Nass said he was cutting off the meeting because of what he called a "credible threat" that turned out to be a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report saying union demonstrators were planning to peacefully disrupt the committee vote.

MADISON - Nothing usually gets decided at public hearings. They are mostly an exercise to make the public feel heard. But the GOP majority failed Tuesday to even do that at the Senate Labor Committee public hearing they had hurriedly staged for the so-called “Right to Work” Bill.

About 2,000 demonstrators showed up outside the Capitol earlier in the day to keep the politicians honest and the “hearing” had proceeded peacefully for about six hours. Committee chairman Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater)introduced several witnesses from Bradley Foundation and Koch Brothers funded Republican think tanks to support the legislation and a long parade of small businessmen and labor union representatives, mostly from the Building Trades, to oppose it. Other private citizens, almost all opposed, then gave their testimony.

The three Republican members on the committee showed little interest and asked few questions, leaving that work up to the Democratic Senators Bob Wirch of Kenosha and Chris Larson of Milwaukee.

The public hearing turned into a complete mockery shortly before 6:30 p.m. when committee chairman Nass said he was cutting off the meeting abruptly because of what he called a "credible threat". What Nass called a "credible threat" turned out to be a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report that said union demonstrators were planning to peacefully disrupt the committee vote by raising their voices if Republicans didn't let everyone from the public testify.

Nass called for a quick vote on the measure and the fearful Republicans exited the room. The vote was 3-1, with all three Republicans voting for the bill to prohibit requiring workers to pay union dues and one Democrat, Sen. Wirch, voting against. The other Democrat on the committee, Sen. Chris Larson, did not cast a vote as he and people in the room argued unsuccessfully for Republicans not to take the vote at that moment.

Afterwards, hundreds of business owners, union members, veterans, and just plain concerned citizens sat in stunned silence in the room waiting to speak. Many have been waiting since eight in the morning.

"There was no threat," Bruce Colburn of the Service Employees International Union state council said. "We wanted to ensure that people had a right to speak."

"They used it as a straw man to get out of a very uncomfortable position," AFSCME Council 48 Executive Director Boyd McCamish added. "It's an act of political cowardice."

The so-called “Right to Work” Bill now moves on the Republican controlled Senate and Assembly where quick passage is expected.

The bill has also spotlighted Governor Scott Walker's stance on the measure. In May 2012, the governor said he would do "everything in my power" to keep the legislation from getting to his desk. But Walker, who is now eyeing a run for the presidency, has said in recent days he would sign the bill.

dave_hansenIn a statement released earlier today, Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) commented on the events in Madison saying:

“Senate Republicans once again have shown their disdain for those who disagree with them by shutting down the public hearing this evening on legislation that will cost Wisconsin families over $5,000 a year in lost wages, increase child poverty and create more dangerous working conditions.

“As Wisconsin business owners, workers and veterans waited to testify Senate Republicans chose to shut the hearing down early rather than continue listening to the overwhelming testimony against the bill.

“Senate Republicans talk about less government intrusion but the fact is Senate Bill 44 is one of the most intrusive bills of all because it denies Wisconsin employers the right and freedom to run their businesses as they see fit.

“It is unfortunate that at a time when our state needs to work together to move our economy forward governor Walker and Senate Republicans have chosen to continue their attempts to “divide and conquer” Wisconsin families.”

peter_barcaAssembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) released the following statement after Republicans shut down a committee public hearing on their so-called "Right to Work" bill:

"I am deeply disappointed that Senator Nass and Republicans did not at least live up to their promise of holding the public hearing until 7:00 tonight. Slamming the door on public testimony and silencing the hundreds of people who have come all day to testify is just another abuse of power by Republicans and an affront to our Wisconsin values of open, honest and transparent government.”

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Elderly and Disabled Respond to Privatizing Family Care & IRIS

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, 23 February 2015
in Wisconsin

elderly-crowdSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about drastic changes to Family Care and IRIS included in the Governor’s budget. If these changes become law, many frail elderly and disabled persons would be put at risk of losing the services that help them stay in their community and out of expensive institutions.

MADISON - “You have got to be kidding!” a Chippewa Valley advocate responded when I told her about a plan to potentially turn Family Care over to a for-profit insurance company.

Family Care and its fee-for-service sister, IRIS, provide thousands of Medicaid-eligible frail elderly and disabled people the help they need to remain in their homes. Services could include help getting places; keeping a job; managing money; preparing meals; keeping healthy; bathing and dressing.

People who benefit from Family Care or IRIS might easily end up in an expensive institution. Personal care and other workers help them stay in their own home – and many times – stay gainfully employed.

If the current version of the governor’s budget becomes law, it will mean big changes to care for frail elderly and disabled people of modest means. For the rest of us, it could mean many more of our neighbors and family members end up in expensive institutions. Worse yet, folks could be stranded at home without the services they need to independently live and work.

Buried in the mammoth state budget is the elimination of IRIS as we know it. IRIS serves more than 11,000 people statewide. The philosophy of the program is in its name: Include, Respect, I Self-direct. People hire their own workers who perform many tasks including meal preparation, bathing, and getting people to work.

As Jason Endres of Eau Claire told me, “Without these services, the way IRIS provides, it would prevent us from being part of our community.”

Also eliminated are local centers to assist elderly and disabled people find services. Known as Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs), these publically run centers would close and their citizen oversight boards disband. They could be reopened by a private company but with no requirement to be conveniently located or to tell people about all the services for which they may qualify. For example, the woman I wrote about in last week’s column who is served by SeniorCare, said without the help of local ADRC staff she would not have known about SeniorCare.

Family Care is a managed care program serving over 40,000 elderly, physically disabled, and developmentally disabled folks. A large number of developmentally disabled people use Family Care in the Chippewa Valley because of the closure of Northern Center. Services such as residential homes, mental health services and job coaches help folks stay in the community. Local providers work with non-profit Managed Care Organizations that oversee service delivery.

Services are tailored to the needs of the individual as determined by an independently completed functional assessment. This way services are based on the needs of the individual and not on what the provider has available.

Changes in the budget would eliminate most of the Managed Care Organizations. Their job could be taken over by a very large for-profit insurance company. Budget language gives the state Department of Health (DHS) authority to hire the insurance company in a no-bid contract and removes any legislative oversight of the contract between DHS and the insurance company.

This new insurance company could become the gatekeeper for all medical, rehabilitative, personal living and employment services for over 50,000 people (DHS enrollment numbers from 2014).

In essence, every service needed by the disabled or frail elderly person of modest means would need approval by potentially one for-profit insurance company.

“This takes the personal choice right out of it,” an Eau Claire woman told me.

It also makes it more likely people will not receive the care they need. Insurance companies are very good at denying care and shifting the cost of care to patients and families.

Jason said to me, “One for-profit, national insurance company in a no-bid contract? It makes me very sad. It’s no longer about local choices. It’s about big business making decisions about very personal things.”

Advocates are working hard to save these important programs. People can learn more at www.saveiris.org. Jason reminded me to thank Amber and Nancy for this awesome website. Check it out. You’ll see Amber, Jason and read many more amazing stories.

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State GOP Rush to Pass “Right to Work” Legislation Distracts from Bad Budget

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, 20 February 2015
in Wisconsin

scott-walkerMADISON - Today Republican leaders in the state legislature announced plans for an extraordinary session of the legislature next week to pass so-called "Right to Work"  legislation.

Is this rushed discussion of such a controversial subject necessary? Many in the Assembly and Senate, especially Democrats, do not appear to think so. The move is seen as a distraction by many in Madison, an attempt to talk about anything but Scott Walker’s proposed budget.

Walker’s Budget has stirred up a hornet’s nest all over Wisconsin. As we get into the budget’s details, we have learned it mean a tough road ahead for local schools, the UW and our children who will inherit increased state debt.

"Right to Work"  legislation will do little to solve any of these problems. It does not even have anything to do with the right to work. It is merely a political argument between Republicans and the unions over the collection of union dues.

Scott Walker’s first term has left Wisconsin with a lagging economy and a $2.2 billion deficit. His administration has drained needed funds from public education and state agencies and given it to the wealthy few in the form of a huge tax cut. And now, with Scott Walker a part time governor gone much of the week to campaign for President, the bill to pay for all of this has fallen on the legislature.

Is it any surprise the Republicans would rather talk about “Right to Work” ?

peter_barcaWhen asked for his response on the Extraordinary Session, Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said in a prepared statement:

"Governor Walker has called so-called `Right to Work' legislation a distraction and apparently that's exactly what he wants. By rushing to pass Right to Work in less than a week, clearly the governor and Republican legislators want to distract from how destructive their budget is for Wisconsin's workers, students and middle-class families.

"Wisconsin is already lagging behind most of the nation in jobs and wage growth and `Right to Work' would only make things worse. In fact, the average worker in Right to Work states makes between $5,000 and $6,000 less than the average worker in other states. And calling an extraordinary session will make the budget disaster Republicans have created worse since we're already scheduled to be in session the following week anyway. What's the emergency?

"There is broad agreement among workers, businesses and everyday citizens that Right to Work is wrong for Wisconsin. Yet the governor and Republican lawmakers have proven they will do anything to change the subject from their mismanagement of Wisconsin's economy, including driving down wages for our workers and further dividing our state."

dave-hansen-gbOur local Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) went on to say:

"How unpopular is the Governor's budget? Apparently so unpopular that Republican leaders feel the need to hide their members behind RTW to help them avoid having to answer to the voters about their $2.2 billion deficit, their plan to eliminate SeniorCare and assistance for the elderly and disabled, their continued cuts to our public schools and their attack on our UW campuses.

"This is bait and switch politics at its worst that will cost the average Wisconsin family $5,000 - $6,000 per year in lost wages and that will limit the freedom of employers to run their businesses as they see fit.

"Rather than owning up to their failed policies, they are desperately trying to change the subject rather than defend what is proving to be an indefensible budget that puts the Governor's presidential ambitions before the people of Wisconsin."

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Save SeniorCare, Again!

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, 16 February 2015
in Wisconsin

elderlyThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about Governor Walker’s proposed changes to SeniorCare. She is hearing from people who are very concerned about the proposed changes which may cause seniors to pay huge increases in the cost of their prescription drugs.

MADISON - “Please do what you can to keep SeniorCare as is. It is critical to those of us on it.” wrote a rural Buffalo County woman.

“I will be 70 years old in a couple of months and not on any prescription medicines. SeniorCare is perfect for me as I very seldom require a prescription for illness or injury, usually going for a year or more without needing one. I should not have to pay the outrageous high cost of Medicare Part D which I would very seldom use and it would cause a terrible financial burden for me that I could not handle on my fixed income.”

The rural woman I’ll call ‘Dawn’ signed her letter, “Thank you from a very satisfied SeniorCare participant.”

Slipped into the Governor’s state budget is a requirement that seniors sign up for Medicare Part D before they sign up for SeniorCare. The program is a substitute for Part D.

To justify his action, the Governor told the Wisconsin State Journal “It’s not about changing benefits; it’s ultimately about changing who pays for it.”

According to Dawn that is the problem.

She figures under the Governor’s new plan she’d pay $60 a month. Now she pays $30 a year. “I shouldn’t have to pay an outrageous bill for something I won’t use,” she said in a recent phone conversation.

SeniorCare is truly a Wisconsin invention. It is the only state-based alternative to the complicated maze of plans comprising Medicare Part D – the drug benefit for seniors.

To participate in SeniorCare, people must be Wisconsin residents, over age 65, and meet an income requirement. The program has a simple one-page enrollment form and requires a $30 annual fee. Folks pay a deductible and small co-payment of $15 for brand name and $5 for generic prescriptions.

Seniors love the program, as do health care workers, pharmacists, nursing homes and elder advocates. Not only is the program simple, it is also less expensive. In 2011, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) estimated that SeniorCare saves the federal government $85.8 million a year.

SeniorCare is a state-run program while Medicare Part D involves the sale of private insurance policies under federal government rules. Part D plans differ quite a bit with different formulas for coverage, different deductibles, different coinsurance and different lists of drugs covered. In addition, plans offer different levels of coverage in the “doughnut hole” — gap in coverage.

Part D plans require seniors to pay a monthly premium, in addition to the per-prescription copayment and the deductible. Seniors tell me the Part D premium alone could easily be 24 times the annual $30 cost of SeniorCare.

SeniorCare depends partly on federal Medicaid funds. To continue to get federal funds, Wisconsin must periodically prove to the feds through a waiver request that they are saving taxpayers’ money. Unlike Part D Medicare, one way that SeniorCare saves money is to negotiate with drug companies.

This is the second time the governor proposed doing away with SeniorCare as we know it. In 2011, a statewide petition drive saved the program.

Spearheading the petition drive was Representative Andy Jorgenson. He was recently quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "What is wrong with Governor Walker? Did he not get the message the first time, or doesn't he care? … Governor Walker is pushing a plan that will hurt seniors financially."

In 2011 people collected over 15,000 signatures. Moments after the signatures were delivered to lawmakers, Republicans pledged their support for SeniorCare.

Dawn knew about the success of the first petition drive and was already at work.

“I spent all day Saturday and Sunday sending emails,” she told me. “Most [lawmakers] sent a letter back saying they were not accepting emails. It was frustrating. Don’t you think if they represent Wisconsin they should accept my email?”

When I complemented Dawn on her persistence she said, “What scares me is that $60 a month,” she paused and nearly whispered, “I’m not going to be able to buy groceries.”

You can get a copy of the SeniorCare petition by calling my office toll free (877-763-6636) or sign the SeniorCare petition at my Senate website.

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