Friday April 28, 2017

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Voters Deserve Say On Voucher Spending

Posted by Janet Bewley, State Senator Dist 25
Janet Bewley, State Senator Dist 25
Janet Bewley, State Senator Dist 25 was elected to the Senate in the fall of 201
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on Tuesday, 18 April 2017
in Wisconsin

kids-milwBill proposes same oversight voters have over public school revenue.

MADISON - The recent spring ballot gave Wisconsin voters sixty-five opportunities to cast votes on public school funding requests ranging from new facilities to basic operations. In Northern Wisconsin communities voters were able to approve an increase for classroom education and deferred maintenance in one district and decide against spending on a new facility in another.

Unfortunately -- when it comes to state-mandated spending on voucher schools -- voters didn’t have the same chance. State law mandates payouts to the statewide voucher program, which are significantly higher than the average state aid per student to public schools. And a change in the 2015 GOP state budget takes that higher payment directly out of public schools, leaving property taxpayers to make up the difference if it’s made up at all.

That’s why I worked with three of my colleagues to draft a bill that will give school district voters the same oversight of voucher spending that they currently have over public school revenue limits. Our legislation is simple and straightforward: No funds can be taken from a school district to pay voucher schools unless voters in that district approve in a referendum.

This legislation would not end taxpayer-funded voucher schools. It would simply give voucher school operators and their lobbyists the responsibility to make the case for the quality and value of their schools directly to the hard-working taxpayers and local voters who pay for them under current law.

Wisconsin’s public schools have long been national leaders and are the cornerstones of our communities, especially in rural and northern Wisconsin. These public schools have gone to referendum 334 times for operating costs and another 324 times for debt or new facilities since 2011. Even including modest increases the Governor proposed in his budget, state aid that supports public schools and reduces property taxes will not even keep pace with inflation over that period.

At the same time, and with no taxpayer oversight or control, spending on voucher programs in Wisconsin has more than doubled since the first Republican budget in 2011. Untold amounts are funneled from taxpayer-financed voucher schools to organizations that pay lobbyists to demand ever more from taxpayers. And local property taxpayers lose more to the voucher program than state aid would have brought in.

Voucher lobbyists themselves said recently that property taxpayers make up the difference, and then some, between state aid to public schools and state payments to voucher schools that are $1000-$1700 higher per student in the Governor’s budget. (Imagine how much lower your property taxes could be if the state’s commitment to public school students matched the amount my Republican colleagues pay out per student to voucher schools.)

It’s time for taxpayers to have a say in whether they want their dollars taken out of the schools that have served generations of Wisconsinites very well to fund the voucher industry. As long as voucher schools are being paid for by local taxpayers and districts are forced to face the voters to keep the lights on, local voters should have the same say on voucher spending they have on public schools.

And as long as voucher schools are being paid for by state tax dollars at all, students in public schools should be treated at least as well by their state government. It’s time for the state to step up to the plate the way voters have 441 times for our public schools since 2011. It’s time for the state to stop returning fewer of your state tax dollars per student to your public schools than we pay voucher schools.

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Blue Jean Nation 'Treasure in sport, rarity in politics'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
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on Monday, 17 April 2017
in Wisconsin

dick-bennettWisconsin's remarkable success in Basketball is based upon Dick Bennett's five pillars: Humility. Passion. Unity. Servanthood. Thankfulness. Qualities in short supply elsewhere in the Capitol these days.

ALTOONA, WI - Any idea which college has won the most NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament games in the past four years?

If you’re guessing North Carolina, guess again. If you think it’s Duke, you’re thinking wrong. Kentucky? Incorrect. Kansas? Wrong again. Villanova? Louisville? UCLA? Gonzaga? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The answer is the University of Wisconsin, with 13 tourney wins and four trips to the regional semifinals known as the Sweet Sixteen, two Final Four appearances and one run all the way to the national championship game.

The Badgers have made it to the national tournament the last 19 years straight. That streak started under coach Dick Bennett. The program’s remarkable success is built on a foundation of Bennett’s five pillars: HumilityPassionUnityServanthoodThankfulness. In fact, those five words to live by are literally cemented in the foundation of the arena the Badgers call home.

These pillars are nowhere to be seen at the State Capitol. They are conspicuously missing in the behavior of state lawmakers. Three of the secrets to the Badgers’ sustained success on the hardwood are most noticeably absent in the marble corridors of power — humility, unity and servanthood.

Authentic leadership requires humility. Good leaders give credit and take blame. Today’s politicians routinely do the exact opposite.

Unity is indispensable in any team endeavor. If you picture Wisconsin government as a team, then it currently looks like a dysfunctional one. The team’s captains don’t seek unity, they consciously sow seeds of division instead.

Perhaps the ingredient of success that is most scarce in politics nowadays is servanthood. A true public service ethic has withered away. The aims of those who govern mirror the greed and self-centeredness that dominate American life. Those who hold office are supposed to be servants but act like masters. They rule, they don’t serve.

At least they don’t serve the masses. They scratch the backs of a wealthy and privileged few and get their backs scratched in return. They let a few use as much water as they want, to the point of drying up lakes and streams. And they get rewarded for it. They let others pollute as much as they want, to the point of poisoning countless neighbors. They get rewarded for that too. A thousand other transactions just like those are completed and rewards reaped.

When all is said and done, the qualities that have made the Wisconsin men’s basketball program a powerhouse are in terribly short supply in Wisconsin politics. What makes a successful team also makes a successful state. And it’s nowhere to be found in the Capitol these days. Coaches are fired for managing teams the way our state is being managed. Right there is one way life really should imitate sport.

— Mike McCabe

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Expand Economic Opportunities With Child Care Tax Credits

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 Tuesday, 11 April 2017
in Wisconsin

teacher2_childcarePaying for quality daycare has become a major burden for working families, and a targeted tax credit can ease that burden and help our economy.

LA CROSSE, WI - “It’s like we paid off our mortgage.” That’s how one parent described the feeling when their child grew out of daycare and the family was able to pocket more of their paycheck. The extra cash saved each month was a windfall for these working parents who struggled to afford the cost of child care on top of their home payments, student loans, groceries and monthly bills.

For many families in Wisconsin, the high cost of quality child care is a major burden. While we have some of the highest quality child care providers in the nation, the average cost for infant care is over $1,000 a month. That’s more than tuition at UW Madison.

As Democrats push solutions to help working families, access to quality and affordable child care has become a key focus. With more dual-income households, modern families need workplace policies that will ensure flexibility and enable businesses to be more competitive.

Recently, Democratic leaders including Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) introduced legislation to create a child care income tax credit for working families. As a co-author of this bill, I support the effort to target more relief to working families rather than wealthy special interests and out-of-state corporations.

This issue is particularly important because we know how critical early learning is for a child’s development. Child care providers are highly dedicated and skilled professionals who provide an invaluable service to working families. They’re passionate about their work and often don’t get the credit they deserve.

Parents who work full-time want their children to receive quality care in a safe and loving environment. We should reward quality care providers and find new ways to expand access for working families. By helping families afford the cost of care through a targeted tax credit, we can ease the burden on working families and help businesses retain skilled workers. It’s a win-win proposal for workers, children and employers.

If we want families to succeed, we need to focus on policies that will boost our middle class. Ensuring working moms and dads have access to high quality, affordable child care is one way we can strengthen families and expand economic opportunities. Combined with additional Democratic solutions to expand health care coverage, student loan debt relief and paid sick leave, we can modernize our workplace policies to be more cost-effective and worker-friendly.

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Meth A Growing Epidemic in our Neighborhood

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 Tuesday, 11 April 2017
in Wisconsin

meth-useSen. Vinehout met with county officials and staff who shared stories about the growing problems of meth use and addiction in western Wisconsin. Counties face a financial burden caring for those addicted and their children and she asks her colleagues to include meth as they consider bills on opioid abuse.

ALMA, WI - “We are up to our gills in meth,” the county worker told me. “Four years ago one quarter of our child-protection cases were related to meth. Now, 92% of these cases are related to meth.”

“Our system just isn’t equipped to deal with the meth problem,” said another social worker.

Recently, more than 400 county supervisors and Health and Human Services staff came to the Capitol. I had visitors from every county in our Senate District. These officials brought me one clear message: Help us deal with the meth problem.

The statistics the county employees shared were staggering. Trempealeau County experienced more than a four-fold increase in child-protection cases in less than two years. Most of these children were living with a meth-addicted parent.

Dunn County officials told me about the increase in people entering treatment. Last September, 35% of those entering treatment were meth addicts and this number steadily grew. By February, 60% of those entering treatment were addicted to meth.

The county staff shared many stories about the impact of meth addiction on children. These children are exposed to the drug because addicts smoke the substance. The drug pollutes the air and surfaces of the home. All workers test children of meth addicts for exposure to meth

“We tested a four-year-old and a one-year-old,” said a social worker. “The two children tested higher than the average meth users.”

The social workers said they are struggling to fill the needs of so many youngsters ravaged by the addiction of their parents. Counties assess the child’s needs but as the county staff explained, it is difficult to tease out what is happening with a child.

Is a child suffering withdrawal symptoms because of second-hand drug exposure or suffering developmentally because of poor nutrition. Has the child experienced emotional or physical trauma? Certainly, the vast majority of children of meth-addicted parents suffer neglect.

A social worker told me that she visited a mom in jail who decided to voluntarily give up her child. The sorrowful mom told the social worker she wished she never did meth, because “it makes you forget you ever had children.”

Helping the large number of suffering children has stretched county budgets thin. The cases are hard. Social workers are difficult to find and often not trained to assist children from drug-troubled homes. Staff turnover is high.

For the addicts themselves, treatment programs are limited. Insurance only pays for a few days of inpatient treatment. To be effective, a meth addict must stay inpatient for at least a month. In my own research, I learned the brain takes at least a year to recover from some damage done by meth. Relapses are common, as is depression and other forms of mental illness.

A few months ago, I first began hearing about meth from law enforcement. Sheriffs told me the combination of mental illness and meth resulted in violence. Community and officer safety was at risk. Treatment options were very limited. Often officers must drive four to six hours one-way to deliver the addict to treatment at one of two state-operated mental health institutions.

Local sheriffs explained how their entire annual budget for transporting the arrested mentally ill person was gone in the first few months of this year because of so many new cases of mental illness and meth-induced violence.

“Opioid users go to the emergency room,” a human services manager told me. “Meth addicts go to jail.”

Lawmakers recently paid much attention to problems associated with heroin and opioid-related drugs. However, the epidemic in western Wisconsin is meth.

Counties need resources to help children who need safe homes. Our region needs treatment and emergency crisis centers. Long-term inpatient treatment is expensive but can be effective. Further, we must help those suffering from mental illness and keep them from turning to addiction instead of mental health treatment.

Lawmakers will soon take up a series of bills to combat heroin. I ask my colleagues to expand their awareness and consider the impacts of meth: on our children, our county budgets, the safety of our communities and the lives of the addicts.

In the spirit of rebirth, Easter and spring, I ask families affected by mental illness or drug addiction to get help. It is not easy. But there is hope.

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Passage of SB 76 ‘Death By 1,000 Straws’ Illustrates Pay-For-Play Legislation in Madison

Posted by Criste Greening
Criste Greening
Small business owner, public school teacher, and now citizens water activist. A
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on Monday, 10 April 2017
in Wisconsin

hicap-longlakeWisconsin State Senators, in a party-line vote, passed SB 76 on April 4th. Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network (SRWN) believes that the passage of SB 76 illustrates the power of the Industrial Agriculture’s lobbying dollars over the Public Trust Doctrine and citizen’s rights to Wisconsin’s water resources.

Undue industry influence drove the fast-tracking and passage of SB 76. According to lobbying reports from the last two legislative sessions, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers, Wisconsin Pork Association, Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, and Wisconsin Cranberry Growers spent $244,282 in lobbying efforts for high-capacity well legislation (data for the current legislative session is not available until June 2017). Mary Dougherty, president of SRWN, calls the influence of Big Ag’s lobbying dollars and passage of SB 76 “an outright threat to citizens’ right to have certainty that when we turn our faucet, we have water flowing from the tap; that our property values will not be harmed by our wells drying up; and the lakes, rivers and streams we love are not sucked dry by industrial agriculture.”

SB 76 is a solution in search of a problem. Bill supporters frequently cite the need for ‘regulatory certainty’ for high capacity wells (HCW) that need to be replaced, maintained, repaired, or transferred yet DNR records do not support these claims. Adam Freihoefer, DNR Water Use Section Chief, offered the following data about high capacity wells:

  • Since 2011, the department approved an average of approximately six replacement wells per year.

  • In 2016, the department processed approximately 65 property transfers.  On average, we estimate that there are approximately 50 to 100 property transfers per year.

  • High capacity well reconstruction is relatively rare and we are only notified of a few per year.

Freihoefer went on to state, “A replacement high capacity well would constitute an emergency under certain circumstances (e.g. well failure after crop has been planted, cattle need water, etc.). If the applicant can verify that an emergency condition exists and they provide the DNR with the necessary application materials, the Department has typically provided an answer regarding approval within 1-2 days.” Given the 13,000 HCW permits in Wisconsin, the actual transfers, repairs and replacement of HCW are negligible (between .0005 to .008 percent of all HCW) and do not warrant sweeping legislative change.

The progression of SB 76 through the Senate calls Wisconsin’s proud heritage of transparent and honest democratic governance into question. Despite objections from two members of the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform, SB 76 was voted out of committee by paper ballot, a process that does not allow for discussion or introduction of amendments prior to voting among committee members. In addition, Senator Ringhand’s (D-15) two amendments, which were submitted to Senator Nass (R-11) in good order and on time, were not voted on or discussed by committee members because of Nass’ decision to use paper ballots. Finally on April 4th, when Senator Testin (R-24) was asked what environmental groups he consulted with about his amendment, he stated, “There are several organizations...George Kraft, Ken Bradbury and then some of the environmental Friends of the Central Sands.” However, both George Kraft and Bob Clarke, President of Central Sands, stated that they had never spoken to nor been contacted by Senator Testin.

SRWN asks the Assembly Committee on Agriculture to take the time to properly consider the ramifications of SB 76’s accompanying bill, AB 105, and make appropriate amendments in an executive session. Forest Jahnke, Vice-President of SRWN, wants the Assembly “to make every effort to ensure that Wisconsin citizens are given the opportunity to engage in the democratic process and any discussion and/or voting be done with full transparency.”

AB105 amendments should include:

  • Periodic review of existing high capacity wells.

  • The ability and authority to enable the DNR to adjust reviewed permits to meet current conditions and water balance issues.

  • An expanded study area that will include the entire Central Sands.

  • No Section 4(3)g, which takes away a citizen’s right to contest a DNR decision.

Wisconsin residents deserve fair representation and legislation that ensures surface and groundwater will be here for generations to come. Elected officials are sworn to uphold the Wisconsin state constitution and any legislation, like SB 76, that endangers the Public Trust Doctrine is in direct violation of their oath of office. SRWN expects our representatives in Madison to protect citizen interests over big industry donors who are attempting to buy preferential legislation.

Media Contact

Mary Dougherty | President, Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network
p: 651.253.9352 | e: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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