Tuesday September 17, 2019

Forward with Education & Reason

FacebookTwitterYoutube
Newsletter
Feeds:

Progressive Thinking

Discussion with education and reason.

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 the State Senator from the 31st District of Wisconsin. She was a candidate for Governor in 2014 until an injury forced her out of the race , was one of the courageous Wisconsin 14, and ran for Governor again in 2018.

Sen. Vinehout "Saying Goodbye"

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, 26 December 2018
in Wisconsin

kathleen-vinehoutKathleen Vinehout looks back at her twelve years of service as the State Senator for the 31st District as she reflects on the 624 columns she personally wrote, the countless heartfelt constituent cases she worked on, and the breadth of legislation she drafted.


MADISON - “Good Bye,” I said to my friend. “I remember the first time I met you,” she said in reply. “It was at the ‘New Legislator Training’ …I was going through my spiel. You kept asking questions about auditing and program evaluation. I was impressed way back then.”

Twelve years – to that day – my Senate career is history. My, how time flies.

Cleaning out my desk, I found notes I took on my orientation day. I set my goals as part of the training. Here’s what rookie Senator Vinehout promised herself: vote my conscience; match my votes to my district; be honest; respond to constituents; show respect to everyone in the Capitol; be the ‘servant leader’ – humble and listening; be the professor and folksy farmer.

I’d say, I did pretty darn good.

capitol-dome-mdsnAs a rookie, I wanted to solve every problem. I naively thought getting the policy correct meant a bill would become law. My first big project was to draft a healthcare bill that covered everyone and saved a billion dollars – my colleagues and I called it Healthy Wisconsin.

I quickly learned just coming up with a plan was a long way from changing the law. The plan failed. Later, I was able to pass less ambitious, but important health bills. For example, keeping your adult children on your health plan until they turn 27 – years before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed.

Today, Wisconsin still grapples with high health care costs. Recent court decisions to overturn the ACA make state health protections even more critical.

School funding, like health, was a perennial concern. In the new legislator orientation, my notes tell me, we learned “What’s wrong with the existing system.”

I recently attended my last hearing in the Capitol – The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding Reform. Twelve years later, I’m still listening to experts, including school superintendents, about what’s best to help kids. I joined with other commissioners to propose nearly 20 solutions for fixing our school funding problems.

I was encouraged the Commission found so much agreement. I’m hopeful the recommended solutions will be adopted in the upcoming state budget.

I carry the stories of people and their problems with me, in my mind and heart. Sometimes I helped. Sometimes I couldn’t. People called me when they faced impossible conundrums. Like the truck driver who needed his CDL renewed. The federal law called Real ID, requires birth certificates for driver licenses. The man was born in Mexico. As an adopted infant, his American parents never finished the naturalization process. He needed a birth certificate that didn’t exist. His adopted parents passed away. The adoption agency closed. I could find no solution.

This kind of situation tears at my heart.

Along the way, I’ve learned that just having a Senator listen can be a powerful act. I spent a lot of time listening. I slowly learned that, by itself, listening can heal.

I’ve heard so many stories. Many were shared in my weekly column. You are reading the 624th column I’ve written. And, yes, I personally wrote every single one.

There’s a lot to a lawmaker’s job. One metric for measuring success is the bills one introduced. Over 12 years, I introduced 364 bills. Forty-three became law. Working in a Republican Legislature for the past 8 years, I’ve had to work with my Republican colleagues as 2nd author to get my bills passed.

Of course, merely counting bills doesn’t address the breadth or quality of the proposals. Like Healthy Wisconsin, I’ve grappled with transformational issues. Topics like free college tuition, universal broadband, and, of course, universal healthcare.

I’ve always thought of my job as a team effort. Yes, my name is on the door. But that role cannot be accomplished by one person. Doug, my loving husband, is my rock and political guru. My son Nathan is my greatest joy.

I was blessed with amazing staff: Jacob Wipperfurth, Beau Stafford and my retiring, fabulous, Chief of Staff, Linda Kleinschmidt. I was also blessed with incredible constituents. Thank you to all of you. I’m a better Senator because of your help.

Keep Sowing Seeds for Peace on Earth and Good Will to All!

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Conversations with Constituents

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 December 2018
in Wisconsin

kvinehout_tvannounceSen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about her contacts with constituents while in the state Senate, from the many who had problems that required her help to how she benefited from all the times they shared their stories and knowledge with her.


MADISON - “You all lie, steal and cheat,” the Sparta woman told me. I did not know her, and when I disagreed, she said “Well, you will.”

Then she smiled and handed me a piece of the chocolate bar she was eating.

The year was 2006. I was a rookie candidate passing out literature at the Butterfest parade. I don’t think I will ever forget that woman.

Just the act of having a brief conversation caused something to soften in her. Listening to constituents is a powerful act. By itself, listening can heal.

As my twelve years in the Senate comes to a close, I reviewed conversations with constituents over the years. My Senate records show that we logged 70,662 contacts with constituents.

These people came forward with their problems, opinions, knowledge and good wishes. They taught me much about people’s lives and what people care enough about to contact my office. Many more people shared stories, concerns and feelings with me as I traveled.

kc-workersPeople care about their family and their neighborhood. They want a great place to live, work and raise a family. They want healthcare for their family, a great education for their kids and grandkids, and safe communities.

People want to cross the railroad tracks to go ice fishing. They want the roads and bridges fixed. They want to know they can rely on SeniorCare for help with prescription drug costs. People are concerned about the rising cost of health insurance. They want to know why Minnesota residents get the same health insurance coverage for less money. People don’t like legislation that took away local powers.

Over the years, I saw patterns in the types of contact we received. Agriculture, healthcare, better funded schools, money for universities and technical colleges, programs for children and families were all reoccurring themes in my conversations with constituents.

As I examined the contacts I received over 12 years, I was a bit surprised to learn the number one issue was natural resources. Almost 15,000 people contacted me about our environment. There were many sides of the issue including, hunting and fishing, water and air quality, sand, sulfide and iron ore mining, and high capacity wells.

We live in a place of breath-taking beauty. People want to protect our part of the world. They are willing to take time from their busy schedule, move outside their comfort zone, and contact their senator, for which I’ve been grateful.

Folks commonly contacted us in the spring and summer of odd-numbered years which is state budget time. About one-third of all contacts I received over 12 years was related to the massive state budget.

The most common way people contacted my office was through email, although we still received many phone calls, in-person visitors and snail-mail letters.

People call or write all times of year when they face really difficult and complex problems.

From help with health care, polluted wells, or regulation and licensing, these problems are as diverse as the people themselves.

kathleen-vinehoutOver the years, I averaged two new complex constituent cases every day – 365 days a year. Walking people through the labyrinth of state bureaucracy is an important part of public service. I would say social work made up at least half of my job.

These numbers don’t reflect the intensity of the cases. Like the Eau Claire parents who wanted to adopt an African orphan who was HIV positive. This work took months and months of effort by state, federal and private agencies who all joined with our office to bring the boy home to his new family.

Many times, people call with an immediate work crisis: a bill written in a way that would close their business, a librarian without the proper credentials, a Minnesota-trained dental hygienist who needed a Wisconsin license.

Over 12 years, I met many amazing people. Like the phenomenal Eau Claire woman who served as foster parent for severely disabled children. My staff and I helped her navigate the state’s bureaucracy to get care the children needed. She shared the devastating effects of proposed budget cuts on the vulnerable children under her care. Her compassionate nature is a true blessing for the children she cared for and our entire state.

Conversations with constituents really does matter. Attitudes change. Laws change. Bad ideas are stopped. Thank you to each one of you for the stories, concerns and knowledge you shared. You made a difference.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

A Tribute to the Dean of the Senate

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, 12 December 2018
in Wisconsin

fred-risser-senatorSen. Vinehout writes about fellow Senator Fred Risser, the longest serving State Legislator in the nation. He has served over 60 years in the Legislature seeking bipartisanship and ensuring the public is involved and shows no signs of slowing down.


MADISON - If I had a mentor in the State Senate, it would be my colleague from Madison, State Senator Fred Risser. He and I share a head for details, a dedication to the legislative process and a love of western Wisconsin. He often traveled to his grandparents’ farm near Fountain City. “I like that country. I would climb the bluffs and look out for rattle snakes.”

Senator Risser is the longest serving Legislator in the United States. He was born in 1927 and first elected to office in 1956 and elected to the state Senate in 1962.

At 91, Senator Risser has one of the sharpest minds in the Senate. He understands aspects of bills only a lawyer with vast legislative experience would know. I frequently turn to him to understand the breadth and background of bills. He often finds details hidden in the bills that I overlooked.

kathleen-vinehoutDuring our recent 21-hour long Extraordinary Session floor debate, I asked Senator Risser why no bills were officially before us and no one provided any material regarding what we were voting on. He reached in his desk and pulled out his copy of the Senate rules. He flipped through a few pages and said, “Look at the rules they [Republicans] made up. They don’t even have to give us a Senate Calendar.”

Senator Risser is an energetic and passionate man. Only last week, as the current Senate President expelled all observers from the Senate gallery, Senator Risser was the first lawmaker to jump out of his seat and plead with the current president to allow citizens to stay and watch.

wisconsinSenator Risser believes the Legislature’s business belongs in the public eye. “As President of the Senate and head of [the Committee on] Senate Organization, I insisted that everything be done in public. One time, [former Senator] Tiny Krueger was in the hospital and we took the Committee there.”

Over the years, Senator Risser watched as public hearings became less and less about the public. All too often, adequate public notice is not given and voting happens without the public watching. Senators will vote using a process of “paper ballots” filled out in the privacy of their offices. This was the process used by Senate Republican Leaders to approve last week’s extraordinary session. The business of the Senate has certainly changed.

Politics is in Fred’s blood. “From the day I was born, I knew I was going into political office,” he told me. “Politics was a matter of supper time conversation.” He reminisced about hitchhiking to Chicago to catch President Franklin D. Roosevelt at a rally in Wrigley Field. “I’ve met them [US Presidents] all since,” he told me. “But I have not met Trump.”

Senator Risser shared with me a photo showing four generations of his family in the Wisconsin Legislature. “Four different political parties,” he explained. “My father was the last member of the Progressive Party,” he said “That’s because he held office two years after the party disbanded. … My great grandfather served in the Civil War. He shattered his arm and had it amputated on the battlefield. He was later elected as a Unionist.”

One thing Senator Risser and I share is a bit of a rebellious streak, especially when it comes to leaders who want to twist arms. I asked Fred how he dealt with finding common ground among Senators.

“When I was Minority Leader I created a Committee on Committees,” Senator Risser described. “We had three senior Senators who would make decisions with a consensus. Members accepted this. We had different senior members after every election. This worked out well. Members would contact the committee if they wanted a chairmanship. It wasn’t a one-man ballgame.”

He became Senate Minority leader because “no one else wanted the job.” Working with the consensus of his colleagues, he noted that “we were able to function well.” Among Senator Risser’s numerous achievements is the creation of the role of Senate President – the presiding officer of the State Senate. He led the effort to amend the state Constitution with the help of rural newspapers.

I had my share of injuries and illness during my Senate career. But Senator Risser bragged to me that he never missed a Senate roll call vote, “except maybe when we went to Illinois. I think they expunged those records.”

Part of his secret to a long and healthy life is exercise. He takes the stairs every day to his Capitol office. “I’ve never taken an elevator as Senator. That includes when I once was on crutches,” he said. “Walking up and down steps is good for you.” Senator Risser is also an enthusiastic bicyclist and rode a total of 2,825 miles this year. He has a tradition of biking for his birthday. He rides one mile of every year of the age he celebrates, which was 91 miles this year, and he shows no sign of slowing down.

Thank you, Fred, for your service to our state, your help and inspiration. Even after twelve years, next to you, I’ll always be a rookie.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Speed and Secrecy: The Last Act

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, 05 December 2018
in Wisconsin

scott-fitzgeraldThe bills proposed in the Extraordinary Session called by Republican Leaders will create powers for the Legislature that handcuff the new administration and curtail the power of the incoming Governor and Attorney General. Wisconsinites expect a respectful transition of power, not a power grab by one party.


MADISON - If you were a legislative leader in Wisconsin, and had an opportunity to pass new laws before your party’s governor left office, what would you do? What would you fix as your last act in power?

As I face my last Senate votes, I am working hard to understand what laws my Republican colleagues choose to pass before the new Democratic Governor takes office.

Late last Friday night, after Senate staff went home for the weekend, Republican leaders released their last act. Five bills detailing changes to over 400 sections of state law.

I learned late Friday, there would be one public hearing on Monday and the full Legislature will act on Tuesday. By the time many of you read this column, the bills passed both houses and await Governor Walker’s signature into law.

I’ve witnessed a lot of speed and secrecy by legislative leaders. But this final action, to make bills public late Friday and seek final passage the following Tuesday ranks among the worst of the worst. Speed and secrecy seriously threaten democracy. No time to ask questions. No time for constituents to learn. No time for lawmakers to hear and heed the desire of constituents.

walker-signs-budgetBased on concerns expressed by Wisconsinites, you would think the last act of the GOP leaders would be fixing the transportation budget, school funding reform and lowering healthcare premiums.

Not a chance.

Instead, Republican leaders are pushing a series of bills that provide tax loopholes for company owners, and removing caps on the number of large companies that could claim very large cash subsidies. These same bills give control of the troubled Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to the two Republican leaders by creating a majority of GOP legislative leaders’ appointees.

These same bills create harsh rules that must be followed by people facing challenges, like being unemployed, needing supplemental nutrition, health care or facing difficulties in proving citizenship to vote.

Based on my preliminary read of the bills, provisions in the bills limit powers of the incoming Governor and Attorney General and create onerous requirements for the new administration. Agency directors will be coming back to the Legislature for permission to file federal reports over and over again, rather than catching up on backlogs, and providing better service to people of the state.

Innovation should be encouraged in a new administration. Instead, the bills would handcuff agency officials by requiring repeated approval for any different or new use of federal funds from the Legislature’s budget writing committee. For example, I counted at least four repeated approvals needed by the Secretary of Health Services to seek federal money for nursing homes – a high priority because Wisconsin ranks last in reimbursement. These onerous requirements would affect many health programs Wisconsinites love, including Senior Care, FamilyCare, IRIS and BadgerCare.

In many cases, borrowing and cash transfers used by the Walker administration to fill budget holes, show more cash at year’s end, and move money around for pet projects, like Foxconn, would no longer be allowed.

Ironically, a computer project financial disclosure Walker vetoed as onerous, would be required of the incoming governor. Presumably, Governor Walker will sign the bills into law as his last act. Perhaps he will change his mind about what disclosure should and should not be required of the executive branch.

While some provisions in the bill create seemingly meaningless monthly reports and repeated seeking of permission, other provisions alarmingly undermine the critical balance of powers between the three branches of government.

kathleen-vinehoutFor example, provisions of the bills would emasculate the Attorney General. In cases of constitutionality and enforceability of statutes, it would be the Legislature representing the state in court – not the Attorney General. Legislative leaders would accomplish this by appointing outside counsel beholden only to the leaders and paid for by taxpayers.

It appears other changes in the court system are directed at influencing environmental protection enforcement cases.

The final act of the Party in power tells us something about the priorities of that Party – prioritizing tax breaks and corporate cash subsidies and penalizing those needing healthcare, supplemental nutrition, and help finding employment.

The will of the people is not represented in this final act by Republicans and Governor Walker. Wisconsinites elected a new governor with different priorities and their expectation is a respectful transition of power.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry

Boards & Commissions: Opportunities to Serve

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, 28 November 2018
in Wisconsin

wisc-elections-commThere are many opportunities for Wisconsinites to serve our great state through the various boards, commissions, and councils. Here is how you can apply.


MADISON - “I’m retired and I want to stay that way,” the gentleman told our Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee. “But I am looking for opportunities to give back to our state.”

This gentleman was one of many who crossed my path over the past twelve years. His nomination to a council came before our committee prior to confirmation by the full Senate.

Wisconsin is a state of many opportunities for citizens to serve in appointed boards, councils and commissions. These positions are mostly volunteer, although some offer reimbursement for related expenses. This type of service provides citizens the opportunity to share their experience and expertise in a statewide leadership role.

The gentleman I quoted was nominated by the Governor to serve on the Snowmobile Recreation Council. He and his family had a long history of participating in local snowmobile recreation. He wanted to share not just his wealth of knowledge, but also his incredible passion and dedication to making Wisconsin’s snowmobiling the best in the country.

snowmobilesThe Snowmobiling Recreation Council is just one of over 180 different boards, commissions and councils on which Wisconsinites may serve. Understanding these various service opportunities is an exercise in understanding state government itself.

The 2015-16 State of Wisconsin Blue Book provides a detailed overview of the state government’s structure. The state has 17 departments. Each department, from Administration to Veterans Affairs, is headed by a secretary appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Citizens serve on boards, commissions or councils to provide guidance to many of these departments. For example, eleven people make up the Board of Veterans Affairs.

State government also includes ten independent executive branch agencies. These entities include the University of Wisconsin and the Technical College Systems, the Public Service Commission (which oversees utility regulation) and the Commissioner of Insurance. Most of these agencies are directed by citizen-controlled part-time boards and commissions.

Most boards and commissions have requirements potential candidates must meet, ranging from professional experience to geography. For example, at least five members of the 15-member Snowmobile Recreational Council must be from the state’s northern region.

Licensure and regulation of many occupations is overseen by an associated state board. These board members, from architects to veterinarians, are professionals who give their own time to ensure professional quality, which helps protect Wisconsin citizens. Several professional boards include public members. For example, the Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counselling and Social Work Examining Board includes three public members in its 13-member Board.

Authorities are an odd creation of the State Legislature that are intended to be both financially self-sufficient and an organization of the state. The UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority is perhaps the most well-known example of a state authority. This Authority operates the UW Hospitals and Clinics, including the American Family Children’s Hospital. The authority is composed of a 16-member board, six of whom are citizens appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Another example is the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. It is not a corporation – despite its name – but a state authority. However, WEDC is not at all self-sufficient, instead relying almost entirely on funding from the state budget.

While most Senators take seriously their role of confirming the governor’s appointees, the Senate Majority Leader failed to bring some 150 gubernatorial appointments to the Senate for confirmation this year. The Senate Leader was quoted saying he may bring these appointments forward for a full Senate vote in a possible Extraordinary Session before year’s end. No word yet on when this session may take place or what else may be a part of the calendar.

kathleen-vinehoutOver my tenure in the State Senate, I am often asked, “how will you fix our state’s problems?” No one single person can address the breadth of issues and details needed to resolve the challenges facing Wisconsin. The wisdom we need is found in the genius of the people of our state.

If you are interested in serving the following website provides information about and application for the various boards, commissions and councils: https://walker.wi.gov/apply-to-serve. As we transition to Governor Evers’ Administration, the website will change.

Wise leaders before us created the boards, commissions and councils that play a very integral role in carrying out the people’s business. Consider how you might give back to our great state by sharing your time, talents and wisdom.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Featured Events

Who's Online

We have 176 guests online

Follow on Twitter

Copyright © 2019. Green Bay Progressive. Designed by Shape5.com