Monday October 22, 2018

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What Can We Do to Protect Our Water?

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, 18 April 2018
in Wisconsin

clean-drinking-waterMany Wisconsinites are concerned about our natural resources and particularly water, and a recent audit that focused on DNR enforcement of water quality found we are not doing enough.


MADISON - “What can we do to protect our water?” This is a question I am often asked. Many Wisconsin residents are concerned about protecting our precious natural resources, and much of the concern is focused on water quality.

This week we celebrate Earth Day. Forty-eight years ago, Wisconsin’s own Gaylord Nelson first gathered with 20 million Americans in support of environmental issues. Celebrating the earth means being mindful stewards of all its natural resources, including water. Over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. Less than 3% of this water is fresh; most fresh water is tied up in ice. Scientists estimate somewhere between a half and three-quarters percent of all water on earth is liquid fresh water.

In Wisconsin, we are blessed with many lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers. The Public Trust Doctrine contained in Wisconsin’s Constitution designates these waters as belonging to all of us. Our state and federal governments are charged with protecting waters.

At the heart of the state’s water quality program is a permitting and inspection system that allows water discharge into our lakes, streams and rivers. Inspections, reporting and enforcement actions impose the laws.

Two years ago, the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) found that 94% of the time the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) failed to take necessary action against industries and municipalities, which violates its own enforcement policies.

Auditors found ample evidence of inconsistencies, overlooked reports, and incomplete or missing inspections. For example, less than half of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) were inspected twice in five years. In a two-year period, only two out of ten industries were inspected as required.

dairy-cow-eatingCAFOs are required to send in annual reports that include any manure spills and required testing. Auditors found almost 98% of the required reports were not electronically recorded as being received. This lack of oversight meant DNR had no way of knowing or tracking problems. Staff said they were too busy to review reports.

While the former DNR Secretary acknowledged staffing was a problem, she made no promises to correct the situation. The most recent budget eliminated the Bureau of Science Services and eliminated 49 fulltime positions.

Wisconsin must invest in DNR staff and scientists to oversee water quality. We must hire back the scientists and inspectors, let them do their work, and allow them to speak freely about their findings.

kewaunee-countyKewaunee County provides a lesson to everyone on the effects of poorly regulated CAFOs. Private well testing showed a majority of Kewaunee wells sampled as contaminated with bacteria found in human and bovine waste. However, problems in water quality and quantity exist across the state. For example, animals died from exposure to toxic substances, likely from sand mine activity; lakes are drying up because of excess irrigation; surface water experienced dangerous algal bloom because of excess nutrients.

A recent study by the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association provides direction on how to move forward. The study suggests many smart actions including increasing groundwater monitoring, protecting the public’s right to groundwater, providing assistance for well owners affected by contaminated water, and action to address acute problems with water contamination.

Improving water quality from agriculture contamination includes conservation easements, state support of diverse agriculture, better nutrient management and erosion control. These improvements work best if farmers have cost-share incentives. Right now, Wisconsin’s farmers, especially dairy farmers, are experiencing serious financial hardship. Now is a time when help must come from many sources.

kathleen-vinehoutCounty conservation officers provide our frontline for water protection. Unfortunately, these hard-working men and women must beg lawmakers to preserve their meager budgets. Too often, officials blame tight budgets for a lack of resources to protect our environment. There are many ways to rearrange budget priorities, and, if necessary, raise new revenue.

For example, ten years ago Minnesota passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to their state constitution. Money from the sales tax increase is used in part to protect and enhance natural resources through projects as watershed restoration, on-farm pilot programs, farmer watershed certificate programs, water monitoring and pollution reduction.

It is this type of legacy former Senator Gaylord Nelson hoped for when he founded Earth Day. He said, “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”

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Serious State Tech Problems Need Public Scrutiny

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, 11 April 2018
in Wisconsin

identity-theftIs the State IT system at risk? A recent audit had several recurring findings related to IT security, which showed agencies had not implemented past recommendations to fix them.


MADISON - Is the state of Wisconsin at risk for a cyber-attack? A new audit from the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) shed light on what may be vulnerabilities in the state’s Information Technology (IT) system that could affect every business, taxpayer, student or recipient of state services.

In some cases, problems are so serious that LAB auditors could not reveal details in fear of creating additional vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit.

The audit described problems related to a lack of protection in computer security, a lack of adequate security policies, procedures and standards, which increased the risk of fraud.

Disturbingly, many of these weaknesses are recurring. In several cases, past audits found similar problems.

cyberattacks-internetFor example, to protect student data, and keep accurate financial records, auditors recommended remedial actions at the University of Wisconsin System. University officials took some action, but auditors reported they had not taken significant steps to cover critical areas, which increases the risk of unauthorized or erroneous changes in payroll, accounting and student information.

Similarly, auditors reported on weaknesses in security at the Department of Administration (DOA). Officials did not do a comprehensive risk assessment to identify security concerns and vulnerabilities since 2012. Because regular “penetration tests” were not completed, the state could not find and evaluate the risk of vulnerabilities and did not know how safe or unsafe all servers and systems were in the state’s network.

When reporting on what caused some of these problems, auditors wrote that “agency management is resistant to the development of IT policies and standards.” It is unclear why agency management is resistant.

Similar to the UW, auditors found some recurring IT security problems at DOA. In one finding, auditors wrote DOA did not take any of the additional steps outlined in its own corrective action plan.

Another finding related to a lack of control over IT security could result in unauthorized changes related to vendor payments or payroll. These problems were too serious to publically detail but might result in undetected financial misstatements, fraud or theft.

As a side note, auditors also found evidence of mistakes in the state’s financial statements, which were not related to IT security. The audit described problems in cash management. In auditing the state’s financial records, auditors traced errors back to mistakes in monthly reports, in bank reconciliations and in payroll.

Because of these errors, the state showed a net amount of $21 million more than the actual cash. When trying to understand the cause of errors, auditors wrote staff “did not always understand the effect of the errors on financial reporting and did not take steps to communicate them to the appropriate agencies.”

Audit findings showed many mistakes in the financial report of the state’s capital transportation assets. Problems related to how DOT used different types of computer records. Multiple factors contributed to the errors, including poor planning and inadequate written documentation.

Evidence of other errors was found in the state infrastructure reports. For example, the Department of Transportation erroneously classified $27.2 million as bridges that should have been classified as roads.

Five years ago, Wisconsin embarked on a large IT purchase and system conversion. There was no dispute the new system was needed; however, the costs were massive, estimated at $139 million.

kathleen-vinehoutI serve on the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology. In one of the very few public hearings held on the IT investment, DOA officials repeatedly told lawmakers the project was “on time and within its budget”.

While questioning DOA officials, we also learned the system involved thousands of staff hours not recorded nor budgeted. Hundreds of employees were moved from various agencies, in which they worked to DOA, which increased that agency’s staff by nearly fifty percent. We learned about delays in the project implementation and delayed payments to vendors, which resulted in late fees that cost the state five times more than late fees charged in the previous year.

For years, my Democratic colleagues and I called on GOP leaders to exercise their legislative oversight of the state’s IT system. Both the Audit committee and the Information Policy committee must get to the bottom of IT security problems and insist, under threat of budget reductions, that things are fixed.

The audits are a “wake-up” call for state IT officials. The best way to protect is to prevent risk.

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Walker and Republicans Have Failed Wisconsin Women

Posted by Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 11 April 2018
in Wisconsin

working-poorSince Gov. Walker and the Republicans repealed Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act in 2011, the gender gap remains at 78 cents on the dollar. Our families and our economy continue to suffer.


GREEN BAY - State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) released the following statement Tuesday as we commemorate Equal Pay Day and discuss the state of gender pay equity in Wisconsin.

“Sadly, since Governor Walker and the Republicans took control of state government and repealed Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act no progress has been made closing the gap in pay between women and men which remains at 78 cents on the dollar. In Wisconsin that amounts to a gap in pay of nearly $11,000 per year or nearly $8 billion for our state economy.

working-woman“When it comes to choosing between the interests of their wealthy friends and the rights of women to earn the same pay as men Governor Walker and the Republicans will always choose their wealthy friends.

“They have done so for years when Republicans voted against the historic Equal Pay Enforcement Act in 2009 and when they and Governor Walker chose to repeal it in 2011.

“Make no mistake, their actions have had huge consequences for Wisconsin women and their families. For example, if the pay gap were closed in Wisconsin thousands of families could afford nearly 14 more months of child care, 74 more weeks of food and nearly seven more months of mortgage and utility payments.*

dave-hansen“Wisconsin cannot truly succeed if Wisconsin women are not allowed the freedom to pursue their jobs and careers and be fairly compensated for their efforts the same as men. Unfortunately, the Governor and too many politicians either do not understand the issue or do not care to do anything about it.

“Time and time again those who are working the hardest and struggling the most have seen their interests take a backseat to those of corporate interests including being forced to make billions in cash payments to Chinese conglomerate Foxconn without ever seeing any benefit for themselves or their families, Whether it’s equal pay for women, giving billionaires millions in tax cuts at the expense of our veterans or failing to enact any meaningful gun safety measures to protect our children, Republicans have consistently chosen to side with the wealthy and corporations over women, working families and the middle class.

“And our families and our economy continue to suffer as a result.”

******

* From the National Partnership for Women and Families

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Disappointing Failure on Rural Economic Development Money

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
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 07 April 2018
in Wisconsin

farm-familyNo one has been hurt more and slower to recover after the 2008 economic crisis than our rural communities, and a bipartisan bill that granted $50 million a year to help dies in the state Senate.


MADISON - The only silver lining for rural Wisconsin to the Foxconn 4.5 billion in tax dollars was the introduction of a bill that granted $50 million a year to rural Wisconsin communities for economic development. While $50 million seems dwarfed by the billions Foxconn will get, at least it was something.

Somehow after passing the Joint Committee on Finance, which I am a member of, and the State Assembly this bill died in the Senate. Clearly the votes were there. It passed out of the Joint Committee on Finance unanimously and passed out of the Assembly 95 to 0.

jon-erpenbachThe disappointment here is great because the bill planned to allocate a strong amount of flexible funds to rural Wisconsin to improve economic development outcomes. I voted for this bill because I could envision transportation and infrastructure needs, redevelopment of downtowns that have been so hurt by Governor Walker’s opposition to the Historic Tax Credit and creative partnerships to support growing smaller businesses in every corner of the 27th Senate District. I am not sure who supported killing this bill that was authored by Republican Representative Tranel at the request of Governor Walker, but I am sure curious.

No one has been hurt more in this state and been slower to recover after the 2008 economic crisis than our rural communities. Places like Milwaukee have been more successful in their recovery because there is easy access to the high tech and infrastructure needs that businesses need to grow in an emerging market. Communities that are more rural are pounding the pavement every day just trying to get a broadband provider interested in wiring their whole community.  Ten miles out of the Madison metropolitan area are communities without functioning broadband working to rebuild and redevelop just to survive.

I have heard that the Rural Economic Development program may come back next session but with less money. I hope it does come back, but with more money. We need to support our rural communities. Local governments just do not have the means to help with crippling caps on spending from the state. If we can afford $4.5 billion for Foxconn, we can afford $50 million a year for our rural communities.

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For more information on the failure of AB 912 to pass contact my office at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 608-266-6670 or 888-549-0027.

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Blue Ribbon Commission Explores School Funding Inequity

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, 04 April 2018
in Wisconsin

school-kidsAt a recent public hearing in De Pere, the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding heard from school districts in that area, including Green Bay, about the challenges they face, which are exacerbated by funding issues.


DE PERE, WI - Linda Brown recently passed away in Topeka, Kansas. Ms. Brown was the student at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education that struck down school segregation. Ms. Brown’s father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll his nine-year old daughter in the all-white Sumner School.

The day after Ms. Brown’s passing, I joined other members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding to explore inequities in Wisconsin’s public schools at a public hearing in De Pere.

The stories we heard wove a tale of struggle, innovation, inequity and challenge.

Major changes are happening in our state’s public schools. Compared to twenty years ago, we have more minority students, students who are English Language Learners, and students whose families are experiencing poverty.

kathleen-vinehoutIn Brown County, four of 10 students live in poverty. The district has three times as many homeless students as it did in 2003. Children come to school hungry. They carry the burden of family conflict to their seat in the classroom.

Todays’ students have more mental health needs, including depression, anxiety and suicide. “Nearly 50% of girls and 30% of boys report anxiety,” said Christine Gingle, Social Work Coordinator at the Green Bay Area Public School District. “Almost 50% is a staggering number, but not overly surprising given the immense pressures students encounter during their school career… Many have suffered losses…are concerned about safety, or are experiencing grief. Safety concerns have a significant ripple effect on our community.”

Commission Member and UW Professor Julie Underwood asked, “What happens when you don’t have the resources to serve students?” Ms. Gingle answered, “The work falls back on the classroom teacher.”

“Students bring their problems to the classroom,” shared Dr. Michelle Langenfeld, Green Bay Area School Superintendent and a fellow member of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

“Teachers say to me, ‘I can’t do this anymore. When I close my eyes at night, I can’t sleep because I see all the children I cannot serve’,” Dr. Langenfeld continued. “We are blessed to be in a community that does help us. But every superintendent can share the same stories. We are all working the best we can. We also need to care for our caregivers.”

green-bay-schools-washIn the Green Bay Area School District, students speak 31 different languages. Minority students make up the majority of English Language Learners (ELL). The Green Bay Area School District has 600 Somali students who face not only language challenges. Many are orphaned. Some watched as family members were executed. Most have no formal education.

“In 1990, the reimbursement rate for ELL was 63%.” said Julie Seefeldt, Director of the English Learners Program at Green Bay. “The current reimbursement rate…is at approximately 7.9%.”

“This story is not unique to Green Bay,” Dr. Langenfeld told our Commission. “Somali families are grateful for the educational opportunities. They want their children to work hard and become American citizens.” In response to questions about the resulting challenges facing the district and teachers, Dr. Langenfeld replied, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.”

Justin Millfox, a teacher at West High School in Green Bay and President of the Green Bay Education Association, told us about the necessity for invention. “West High School is the home of the Wildcats,” Mr Millfox said. “We have a Cat Closet for school supplies and clothes for kids who do without.” The struggles of students are very hard on teachers as they try, with few resources, to address the significant needs of children with big gaps in their learning.

Many folks testified about problems in the way the state pays for schools. Our Commission heard: Providing EQUAL dollars does not solve the problem because not all student needs are equal.

“Providing equal dollar amounts of per-student increases in funding does not provide the necessary equality to provide our low income and English Learner students the support necessary for success,” noted Brenda Warren, Green Bay School Board President.

The legacy of Linda Brown and her father’s fight for equality continues to challenge us today. Their bravery and courage opened doors for children across our nation. Today, these doors and the schools beyond them are in need of repair. Dr. Langenfeld acknowledged that challenge as the public hearing adjourned stating, “We have no time to lose. It’s Go time!”

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