Saturday December 15, 2018

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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.

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Lame Duck GOP Proposals an Assault on Democracy

Posted by Calab Frostman, State Senator District 1
Calab Frostman, State Senator District 1
Calab Frostman, State Senator District 1 has not set their biography yet
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on Tuesday, 04 December 2018
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_senatePeaceful Transition of Power and Will of the People Thwarted says Sen. Frostman.


MADISON - I’ve seen this letter many times before, but with the recent passing of George H.W. Bush fresh in our collective conscience, its words and its sentiment hold additional significance. This note symbolizes many of its author’s most admirable qualities – humility, deference, the capacity for self-reflection, and the full embrace and understanding that the will of the people is what advances our political agenda and thus our collective success. His note also demonstrates one of the most unique and precious traditions of the United States: the peaceful transfer of power, which was a novel concept when our country was founded.

bush-letterBy this time, I am guessing that you have heard of five bills proposed by legislative Republicans meant to rig the system for their failed agenda in the aftermath of their election losses, as well as suppress future votes, even while acknowledging that their past voter suppression efforts have been ruled unconstitutional. All of their proposals are abhorrent abuses of power, but the most egregious of which include stripping the Attorney General of many of the office’s current powers, giving Republican legislators, not the incoming Governor, the authority to appoint a cabinet secretary, and moving a presidential primary (against the professional advice of more than half the state’s county clerks, Democrat and Republican, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $7 million) to enhance the chances of a Walker appointee getting elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Unlike the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power, and unlike President Bush’s humble words of encouragement to incoming President Clinton, the bills proposed by Speaker Vos and Leader Fitzgerald are hostile to democracy, display the petulance of children denied their third piece of birthday cake, and reek of supreme arrogance.

As Democrats and Republicans, we often differ on how to best distribute the tax burden, invest in our economy, our education system, and our environment. However, hastily changing the rules of the game in a lame duck session after a resounding defeat simply because you can and want to is neither a Democratic issue, nor a Republican issue; it is an issue of morality and integrity, and their proposals, if successful, harm our democracy by essentially canceling last month’s election results in which millions of Wisconsinites let their will be known.

If this unprecedented power grab has sickened and angered you, please call your Assembly representative, as well as Assembly Speaker Vos, Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald, and Governor Walker’s offices to let them know that this aggression will not stand. Their contact information is below. For the sake of our democracy, I implore you to be vocal and persistent. If you are able, I would also encourage you to visit their offices in the Capitol today (Monday) and up until the final votes are cast.

Joel Kitchens, 1st Assembly District – 608-266-5350
Andre Jacque, 2nd Assembly District – 608-266-9870
Ron Tusler, 3rd Assembly District – 608-266-5831
Robin Vos, Assembly Speaker – 608-266-9171
Scott Fitzgerald, Senate Majority Leader – 608-266-5660
Scott Walker, Governor – 608-266-1212

There is a public hearing portion of the Joint Finance Committee slated to start at 12:30 p.m. today. Please let your voice be heard there, as well. If you are unable to join in person, hearings will be televised on www.wiseye.org.

If your Representatives do not vote against these measures and, just as importantly, speak out against this brazen attempt to cancel statewide election results, they are not worthy of serving as your legislators. Demand they vote these measures down. Thank you for your vigilance in protecting democracy in Wisconsin.

Forward,

Senator Caleb Frostman

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Lawmakers need to listen to the will of the people

Posted by Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert lives in Howard and is a Partner in the Green Bay Progressive. Mem
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on Saturday, 01 December 2018
in Wisconsin

CannabisHOWARD - On Nov. 6, voters in 16 Wisconsin counties held advisory referendums on marijuana asking voters if they supported some sort of legalization. The majority of voters — 3 out of 4 — expressed overwhelming support, leaving many wondering what’s going to happen now the issue is in the hands of our state representatives.

Unfortunately, in many races voters failed to elect representatives who shared their support, which leads to the question, how often do legislators vote in accordance with constituent opinion?

laura-kiefertA number of scholars have suggested that most Americans have little to no effect over what the government does. In May 2017, John G. Matsusaka of the University of Southern California determined that legislators actually adhered to the will of their constituents only 65 percent of the time.

Furthermore, when the preference of a politician differs from that of his constituency, politicians tend to follow their own interests, beliefs, and ideologies over those of the people they represent.

While 65% is better than the 50% rate of simply flipping a coin when voting, it’s still less than voters deserve.

Whether or not to change marijuana laws is not a partisan thing. Most everyone knows somebody dealing with cancer, chronic pain, glaucoma, PTSD, or other conditions who has used, or wants to use, marijuana as part of their overall treatment.

We must demand state representatives listen to will of the people, refuse to allow this issue to be reduced to a debate over conflicting moral opinions, and change the law.

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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.

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Preserving Our Hunting Heritage

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, 21 November 2018
in Wisconsin

deer-huntingSen Kathleen Vinehout writes about deer hunting and rules related to CWD. Hunters are encouraged to have their harvested deer tested for the disease.


ALMA, WI - Opening weekend of gun deer season, conditions were nearly perfect. The weather was cool, but not too cold. The sun came out and warmed us. A light dusting of snow made it easy to see critters’ tracks from the night before.

I saw nine deer opening morning. What an abundance!

By 7:30 a.m., my hunting partner Lisa and I bagged deer. Lisa shot a nice six-point buck and me a tender doe. My husband will be happy with new meat in the freezer. I recalled my husband said we served up the final helpings of last year’s stash of venison.

Time for the sportswoman of the family to deliver. No pressure there.

hunters-deerIn my family, the woman brings home the harvest. The guys package it and eventually fry it up in the pan. Both my husband and son are awesome cooks.

Out on a nearly perfect Monday morning. Deer were again grazing on our organic alfalfa fields. The weather was cloudy and mild. No new snow, but predicted snow fall was showing up on the radar.

“I got out there and it was just beautiful,” Lisa said. “Suddenly, it was like a blanket came over the area. Humid but chilly. Then sleety stuff started falling.” In just a few moments, conditions totally changed.

Change happens. All around us. All the time. A skilled outdoors woman interprets the signs nature provides. Just like being mindful of the signs of nature, there are signs of change in our state Capitol that hunters should heed.

“We have a problem. A big problem. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a sister to BSE or “mad cow” disease, is threatening our deer and elk,” wrote the Alliance for Public Wildlife, over a year ago. “Without immediate action, we are heading for worst case outcomes that include severe population impacts, extinctions, crashing economies, and, although unlikely, potential transfers of CWD to people.”

CWD is spread through animals’ body fluids. The disease can be spread from animal to animal or through a contaminated environment. Wild animals can contract the disease from captive animals kept on deer farms. They could also contract the disease when landowners set up baiting and feeding stations on private lands.

While landowners are restricted to two gallons of bait or feed per 40 acres, too often landowners violate the law. For example, in my neighborhood, rumors swirl about out-of-the-area landowners baiting deer with hundreds of pounds of shelled corn. For years, every deer we harvested on our farm had a belly full of corn even though we don’t grow corn.

In response to the problem of CWD positive deer, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) banned any baiting and feeding in 43 of 72 counties. This summer, the DNR wanted to go further, requiring increased fencing at deer farms and restricting movement of deer carcasses unless the meat was sent for CWD testing, deboned and quartered, or taken to a licensed processor within three days of moving out of the county in which the deer was shot.

kathleenvinehoutThe rules were approved by the DNR board and sent to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. The Committee approved the rule on fencing. However, just weeks before the opening of gun season, the Committee stopped the plan to restrict the movement of harvested deer meat.

Hunters are encouraged to submit their deer for testing. CWD testing collection sites are operating around the state including new sites in Buffalo County.

To fund these sites, and dozens of other programs protecting wildlife, the DNR uses money from fees and licenses. A recent study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum (formerly the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance) reported nearly 9 of every 10 dollars of the fish and wildlife budget comes from fees for licenses and federal excise taxes paid by sporting women and men. Total deer hunting licenses dropped almost 6% over the past 18 years. With a shrinking population of hunters, heavy reliance on fees and deep budget cuts, the DNR eliminated important positions.

Passing the abundance we have on to the coming generations is a desire I share with many folks. To accomplish this goal means paying attention to the health of our wildlife and to the health of the funds that support wildlife management and staff.

Wishing all of you a Happy Thanksgiving and a safe and successful hunt.

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