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Time to Work Smarter As We Fight Veteran Suicide

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Saturday, 06 January 2018
in Wisconsin

veterans_army_medicIn Wisconsin we say we value military service and our veterans, but some of our financially failing services will not survive unless we make smart decisions.


MADISON, WI - Everyone knows the statistic, 22 veterans are victims of suicide each day in our country. The reality that those who have served us risking life and limb are struggling to point of taking their own lives is a failure of our nation. While many policies that address veterans issues, like health care and duty disability are Federal policies, there are many programs and policies administered by the State of Wisconsin that affect veterans. Our goal as we seek to address the crisis of veteran suicide should be meeting the needs of those veterans in crisis in a nimble and effective way.

Spreading the word about existing programs and making sure veterans are receiving all of the support they deserve is our most important first action. After attacks on our County Veterans Service Officers in the recent past, most Legislators now understanding the true value of a face to face connection point in every county of the state. Having an officer at the County Veterans Service Office is invaluable. No one knows more about how to connect veterans to services they need and deserve than a CVSO. Make sure the veterans in your life know they can make connection points, not just for earned service, but also for local organizations and groups that support veterans at their local CVSO.

Protection of programs that are only in Wisconsin that are meeting needs where Federal programs fall short is another essential goal. The Wisconsin GI bill has stronger college support for veterans and their children than the Federal GI. Our universities have worked to understand and support our veteran community better and it shows. The Needy Veterans Program is another Wisconsin specific support that is very valuable to our veteran families in need of medical equipment or emergency financial support. My hope is to expand the Needy Veteran Program to support emergency mental health services for veterans and their families.

Once again this year, I have introduced(with Representative Gordon Hintz) Senate Bill 631 that would expand the use of the Needy Veteran Program to include mental health and substance abuse services. Using an existing program and spending money already set aside to help veterans make this a bill that can be seamlessly adopted now. The bill requires action on the veterans request in 48 hours to meet needs quickly. We know that the average wait time for an initial mental health appointment at the VA is 26 days. Being able to get substance abuse treatment and mental health services as veterans wait for treatment from the VA is the kind of nimble smart support we should be exploring in Wisconsin. I am also drafting a bill to pilot a text message veteran’s crisis line so we can offer an option for counsel and support without having to talk, using texting technology.

Finally, I will continue to work to support the Department of Veterans Affairs with general purpose tax dollars just like most other state agencies. Our financially failing Veterans Fund will not survive unless we make some smart decisions. The people of Wisconsin want to support our veterans and most people think they already do. In Wisconsin we value military service and our veterans.

For more information on proposals affecting veteran’s in Wisconsin contact my office at 608-266-6670 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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The Wisconsin Way Forward in 2018

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling lives in La Crosse with her husband and two children. She curr
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on Wednesday, 03 January 2018
in Wisconsin

kewaunee-harbor-familyWisconsin families are working harder than ever but can’t seem to get ahead, while Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans are draining resources from our schools, roads and local communities to fund the huge taxpayer giveaway to Foxconn. We need to work together to move ahead.


LA CROSSE, WI - As I look back at the political battles of 2017, I’m reminded that our state does better when we all work together for the shared values of stronger communities, opportunity and fairness for all. In short, Wisconsin does better when we all do better.

Despite other states rebounding from the Great Recession, Republican policies have shrunk Wisconsin’s middle class, shifted more costs onto working families and created an 111,000 jobs deficit.

Seven years of failed Republican budgets are felt every time we drive over a pothole or cast a ballot for a school referendum. We feel it in our pocketbooks as our wages remain stagnant, while 47 millionaires receive a new tax break.

walker-terry-gou-foxconn-flagWisconsin families are working harder than ever but can’t get ahead because Republicans continue to favor the wealthy and foreign corporations. Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans are draining resources from our schools, roads and local communities in order to fund the largest taxpayer giveaway to a foreign corporation in U.S. history.

Instead of pitting families against one another and favoring out-of-state corporations at the expense of home-grown businesses, we should work to level the playing field and make sure everyone who works hard has an opportunity to succeed.

In 2018 Democrats remain united in our values to create a more fair economy, expand opportunities and strengthen communities.

Democrats have offered dozens of forward-looking solutions to expand access to affordable health care, invest in infrastructure and improve workplace flexibility for hardworking Wisconsin families. We’ve introduced bills to address the sky-rocketing costs of childcare, expand the family medical leave act, provide student loan debt relief, and invest in our local schools.

These are the issues that impact families across Wisconsin and these are the issues that families want fixed. By focusing on policies that encourage growth and drive innovation, we can expand economic opportunities and move Wisconsin forward.

I know we can do better. If we want to grow our middle class and help our next generation succeed in a competitive global economy, we need to invest in our state and retain the best and the brightest. We will continue to fight for common-sense solutions to lower student loan debt, expand access to child care, raise family wages and increase retirement security.

Onward, upward and forward to 2018.

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Looking Forward to 2018

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
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on Wednesday, 03 January 2018
in Wisconsin

new-yearState Senator and possible gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Vinehout writes about the big events happening in 2018 and about the work the Legislature will be doing throughout the course of the year.


ALMA, WI - Snow falls gently on the farm. It’s the light, fluffy snow that comes when it’s very cold.

We’ve seen bitter temperatures to end the year. Like many, the cold caused its share of problems on our farm. I was reminded to appreciate running water when our well pump went out Christmas Eve. When an electric waterer failed, we carried buckets of water to our horses.

farm-snowBitter cold weather and a dwindling supply of propane caused Wisconsin to declare a state of energy emergency related to intermittent propane supplies. For the 250,000 Wisconsinites that depend on propane for heat, a shortage can be a big deal.

After the relative calm of the Holiday Season, I expect the activities of the Legislature to heat up quickly in January. No one quite knows when will be the last day to pass a bill. This uncertainty is causing a great deal of urgency among lawmakers.

What causes the uncertainty is the tension and game playing between the Senate and Assembly Leaders. As usual, both leaders have bantered about when each body will adjourn for the campaign season. The banter somewhat resembles the school yard game of “chicken”.

Members of the Legislature will soon meet the voters. Many lawmakers ponder their promises made but not-yet-kept. They work with staff to put the final touches on bills they hope to pass.

2018 will be the year of many campaigns. Special elections in January, a nonpartisan primary in February, a Supreme Court race, and local nonpartisan elections – including every county board member in the state – in April.

gotv-chippewafallsCandidates who want to run for partisan elected office will begin collecting nomination signatures in mid-April. Fun begins in June when all partisan races will be set. June 1st is the deadline for turning in signatures for all partisan races. August brings us two big partisan primaries: the GOP US Senate race and the Democratic gubernatorial primary. November 6th is the general election date.

Mid-March is likely the time both legislative chambers will have their final days to meet as the full Senate and Assembly. But this does not mean the work of the state is finished.

The Finance and the Audit Committees meet all year, every year. Special “study committees” will be formed with members of the public adding their voices to help lawmakers address complex problems.

We will see new issues arise in the next few months. I expect to see at least some discussion of how to fix big problems. Woefully inadequate broadband, a broken system of school funding and the rising problems related to addiction, especially opioid abuse, are major problems many constituents want addressed.

Many Democrats, including myself, will continue to push for real changes to improve health care access and affordability. A great beginning is to create a state marketplace for health care – a bill I’ve written to give Wisconsin the flexibility we need to fix health care.

wisstatereformatory-allouezAlso, on the agenda in 2018, is taking a good look at what’s happening with our justice system. We have roughly double the number of people in prison compared to Minnesota. Even though we have a similar crime rate and similar population. Late in 2017, GOP leaders pushed through several bills to increase the minimum required penalties on some crimes and changed rules related to probation.

The bills would cost the state more and add to already overcrowded prisons. But leaders did not have any way to pay for the increased costs. Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) recently told the Wheeler Report “we need to figure out, probably, a way to build a new state prison. … I think that is something we will probably do this spring, but probably putting either revenues or bonding into upgrading our prisons.”

Borrowing to build a new prison is going to cause controversy when our neighbor to the west already has a corrections system that costs less and reduces crime.

Looking forward, 2018 will be an exciting year of change.

The New Year is a great time for resolutions. I encourage everyone to resolve to be active in our great democracy, and be involved in the direction of this change.

Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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Looking Back on 2017

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Wednesday, 27 December 2017
in Wisconsin

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing all of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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Wisconsin Elections Commission Needs to be Run by Best Administrators

Posted by League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
Erin Grunze is the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
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on Thursday, 21 December 2017
in Wisconsin

voterThe WEC was established to be bipartisan. Bringing a partisan dispute to the commission harms it's reputation and the public trust.


MADISON – It is troubling to see the John Doe investigations and fallout back in the news as it has escalated to the point where legislative leaders are calling for Elections Commission Administrator Mike Haas and other officials to resign, despite no accusations of wrongdoing or any recommendation by the DOJ for their resignation.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin trust the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission to be able to evaluate their staff and make decisions about their ability to maintain nonpartisanship of our elections.

Under Haas’ leadership, the Elections Commission has successfully administered the 2016 statewide presidential recount, implemented online voter registration, provided training for clerks across the state on changes in election law, and implemented a new statewide voter database and election administration system. The League has interfaced with Mr. Haas and other WEC staff in our voter service work and always found them to be helpful, nonpartisan, and highly professional.

Heading into an election year our hope would be that lawmakers be concerned with how to support the Wisconsin Elections Commission in running accessible and fair elections. They can do that by restoring the needed staffing which the Governor cut in the state budget. They certainly will not improve elections by stripping the agency of its leadership at a critical time. Bringing a partisan dispute to a bipartisan commission that has been functioning well harms the reputation of the Wisconsin Elections Commission in a time when it is working to address the real challenges with election security, how to implement new and evolving technology, and educating voters so they can understand and comply with the many changes in voting laws.

Our commitment to an adequately funded Wisconsin Elections Commission with strong leadership has only grown stronger in the face of recent challenges. Faith in our election system is a bedrock of democracy. We need to work on strengthening voter confidence in the system, so that citizens feel, as they rightly should, that their vote matters and will be counted. Casting doubt on the process, by unduly trying to dismantle the leadership of the agency responsible for running our elections, is not keeping voters’ interests at heart. It harms the whole system.

Call off the attack on the Elections Commission and Ethics Commission staff who are not implicated in the recent DOJ report and let them do their jobs.

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