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Health Advocates Inform and Challenge Lawmakers

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 Monday, 21 April 2014
in Wisconsin

healthcare-family-drThis week Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about the recent advocacy day related to health care providers and hospitals. Nearly 65 western Wisconsin health care advocates travelled to Madison to share their concerns and views with area legislators.


MADISON - "YOU are the reason why we were so successful…” Eric Borgerding of the Wisconsin Hospital Association told the health advocates. "You are extremely effective in communicating with and educating your legislators on local health care issues."

Recently over 800 health advocates traveled to Madison. Some 65 western Wisconsin advocates met with Senator Moulton, staff and I to discuss the challenges facing hospitals. And they shared their passion for caregiving and healing.

Health leaders face new challenges with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Leaders from Durand, Black River Falls, and Whitehall shared a frustration with the new health law. “There’s not a good model for rural hospitals,” one administrator told me. “We need a rural model where we all work together - schools, nursing homes, the county, Western Dairyland.”

“We need to get back to primary care: education, nutrition, parenting – including health care of children. We must really get on that side of it.” There’s a real need – and real cost savings - in preventing health problems.

“Think about the mom whose child has an ear infection coming to the Emergency Department at 2:00 am. By law, the hospital must treat the patient. The doctor must do a health assessment. But this isn’t the best place for the mom or the child. She really needs parent education to help her with common childhood illnesses. She may not get that in the ED. For everyone – including those on Medicaid – this is a very expensive way to care for the child.”

“Hospitals are still getting paid for crisis care and a single event,” another administrator said. “Yet we are trying to provide the patient with the right care, at the right time and the right place. The system doesn’t always pay for this.”

Sometimes the hospital finds such value in a different way of providing care, they invest in a new program without reimbursement. An example is the Transitional Nurse Program, which employs a full time nurse who travels to patients’ homes and helps people adjust to living with a chronic condition.

Little things like grocery shopping can be a real challenge for a newly diagnosed diabetic. Getting expensive antibiotics right away to a man just discharged with pneumonia can mean the difference between getting well and another hospital stay.

Ending up back in the hospital is something hospital leaders very much want to avoid. And for good reason: patient readmission within 30 days is often considered a preventable failure. To encourage hospitals to prevent readmissions the ACA set new federal rules. In most circumstances, hospitals will no longer be paid by Medicare for readmission of a patient who was admitted less than 30 days prior.

A Chippewa Valley finance director told me, “There is an important connection between the hospital and the nursing home. If the nursing home doesn’t do its job, the hospital is penalized.” This is the case when a patient is readmitted from a nursing home.

During our vigorous discussion of challenges facing nursing homes, I shared some of the conversation I recently had with several area nursing home administrators. The administrators said homes experienced a 14% cut in Medicare rates. They talked about how the state pays hospitals and nursing homes well below their cost to care for patients. Facilities cost shift by covering Medicaid patient costs with money from other patients. Federal Medicare cuts now make this much more difficult.

The hospital leaders called the underfunding ‘the hidden health care tax’ because private insurance patients pay higher premiums to cover these losses. The advocates challenged lawmakers to better fund Medicaid. This is a big ask of lawmakers who know health care is the largest and fastest growing part of the state budget.

Health leaders were eager to engage lawmakers in new ideas and outside the box solutions. This engagement is vital, especially because few lawmakers can keep up with the complex, fast changing world of health care.

Thank you to all those hospital volunteers, trustees, leaders, doctors, nurses and other professionals for your work. Your continued advocacy is critical as the state struggles to balance budget realities with preserving high quality health care and improving access.

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Our Children’s Future: School Visit and Community Forum Raise Questions

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 Monday, 14 April 2014
in Wisconsin

kidsSen. Vinehout writes about the future of our children in a time when public schools face a serious financial squeeze.  Children are eager to learn but their schools struggle with staff shortages and out-of-date equipment. State aid to public schools has declined as costs rise and more dollars are being siphoned off for private schools. Are we doing the best we can for the future of our children?


ALMA - “Your future awaits,” the Student Council President said as he handed students the schedule for Career Day. He then led me to the computer lab where my first class waited.

I spent the morning sharing my life as state Senator with many intelligent, interested young adults. They were as eager to learn about public service as I was to share. Many of them never thought about a career as an elected official.

More than a few left the classroom wondering why any adult would choose not to vote. In part, this was due to the recent local election of one of their teachers – by one vote.

As I watched students respond, I understood the magic that happens in the classroom. Bringing community members from all of walks of life into the school opened a window for students into a career many had never considered.

I spoke with mostly middle school students: an age I dearly love.

The world of a young person expands every day. I watched students making connections and forming opinions as we shared. My world touched theirs.

And, if for no other reason than their own teacher’s experience of winning by one vote, I experienced how youth embraced their own role as citizens. By embracing the expanding world of knowledge and the youngsters’ role within our world, I saw the foundation of democracy emerge: an educated citizenry.

I saw the magic of opening minds in the bright eyes and eager questions of the students. And looking around the classroom, I saw the possibilities and the challenges.

The computer lab was filled with old cathode ray computer monitors. The best machines were discards from a college in Minnesota. After my three classes concluded, I took the opportunity to speak with several staff members. I learned about the aging school buses - one of which was 36 years old. In the last 12 years, the district cut a 1/3 of its staff. State aid was only a third of what it had been 13 years ago.

One remaining staff member told me, “We have tremendous community support. Volunteers do all sorts of jobs to keep things looking nice…but there are some things they just can’t do” - like buying a badly needed new furnace.

The evening before Career Day I was in Eau Claire participating as a panelist for the forum: Our Schools, Our Community: the state of education in Wisconsin. I joined school experts, the local school board president, an education professor, and private and public school superintendents.

I heard much about the funding problems facing public schools. Eau Claire lost $5 million in state aid just since 2011. Eau Claire is running the same operation in 2014 as in 2006 – with the same amount of money. But we all know costs went up. Special education used to be reimbursed at 72% state funds. Now schools receive 26%. Some districts spend $21,000 a year to educate students with a mil rate of under 3 million; other schools spend $9,000 with a mil rate of about 9.

There was much discussion about the use of public education dollars for private schools. Many participants were surprised to learn for 30 years Eau Claire sent state aid to Milwaukee for private schools. This year the state required cost will be almost $1 million.

Panelists spent time discussing differences between publically funded private schools and public schools. Audience members asked questions about unequal standards and testing. Some were concerned about too much emphasis on testing.

“What country leads the world in innovation and patents?” the superintendent asked the crowd. A woman from the audience shouted back, “the United States”.

He then asked, “What happens when our future leaders only know how to take multiple choices tests?”

Professor Julie Mead summed up the evening’s conversation when she said, “There is a state constitutional right to public education. Its overriding purpose is an educated citizenry. We all benefit from having an educated citizenry.”

I thought of this as I watched the bright, intelligent eyes of the young people in my classroom-for-the-day.

Your future awaits. What have we done today to make your best possible tomorrow?

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Legislative Committees play Key Oversight Role, Regardless of Season

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 Monday, 07 April 2014
in Wisconsin

assemblyThis week Sen. Vinehout writes about the ongoing work of legislative committees. Serving on committees provides legislators a key role in overseeing the activities of state government. Kathleen serves as several committees that meet even after the Legislature adjourns for the summer.


ALMA - “Will you be in Madison? I heard the Legislature went home,” the Buffalo County man asked. “I hope you are still watching over what’s happening down there.”

People want their elected officials to oversee state government. Lawmakers play a key state oversight role through their work on committees. There are several committees, upon which I serve, that oversee state activities. The work of these committees continues regardless of the season.

The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) oversees all the functions of state government. Recently the LAB released its annual examination of the use of federal funds received by the state. As a member of the Joint Audit Committee, I’ll be meeting with auditors to discuss these findings.

The Audit Committee is also anticipating the second of three audits of the state’s economic development programs. Auditors are working to track money in grants, loans and tax credits given to businesses and communities to create jobs. I expect this audit to be released soon and the full committee to schedule a public hearing to examine the findings.

The Audit Committee looks back over the actions of state government and assesses whether or not programs met their purpose and money was properly spent. The Joint Administrative Rules Committee looks over new laws and assesses whether or not the agency writing the rules stayed true to the purpose of the law.

After a bill is signed into law, the agency responsible for the new law gets to work writing the administrative rules to implement the new law. A complex process of proposals, public hearings and approvals take place before the rules – which have the weight of law – go into effect.

Lawmakers who sit on the Administrative Rules Committee oversee that process for the people of the state. My colleagues and I meet regularly to hear about agencies’ progress writing the rules. We approve or send rules back for revision.

Rules for hunting and trapping in state parks, grants for training workers, unemployed workers and GED – high school completion – are currently up for consideration in this committee.

Citizens’ use of the Capitol as a public space is also under consideration. Capitol police arrested individuals for singing without a permit in the Capitol Rotunda. Singers appealed the arrests which made their way through the courts.

A judge temporarily stopped the state from enforcing the rule. The judge wrote “the Capitol rotunda is closer to an out-of-doors, traditional public forum…pre-permitting schemes which limit speech in public places must serve more than just scheduling and administrative functions.” Several federal courts struck down requirements that small groups obtain permits. Wisconsin’s restrictions were so severe in the past few years that, at one time, groups larger than 4 needed to have a permit.

State officials rewrote rules about the use of the Capitol. But free speech advocates said the state’s actions chilled free speech.

Now the Administrative Rules Committee must sort things out.

Some committees provide oversight on special functions of state government. An example is the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology. Over the years Wisconsin wasted millions in poorly planned computer systems. The Audit Committee documented many of these mistakes but it is up to the Information Policy and Technology Committee to provide prospective oversight – going forward – of work on new computer systems.

Other committees play a key role in the functioning of state government. One example is the committee addressing the relationship between the state and our 11 tribal nations.

Tribes are sovereign nations and each tribe has its own constitution and government. The relationship between the tribes and the state is complex and rests on treaties, federal and state laws and court rulings. For years I’ve served on the State Tribal Relations Committee and currently serve as Vice Chair. This committee, like all I’ve mentioned, meets throughout the year to work on resolving tribal concerns.

So, this summer you will see me at parades, chicken dinners, fairs and festivals. But I will also be in Madison for committee work. Lawmakers must not forget their role as overseers of state activities.

People want to know elected leaders are watching over what’s happening in state government, regardless of the season.

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Do You Feel Safe at Home?

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 Monday, 31 March 2014
in Wisconsin

domesticviolenceThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about legislative changes meant to help and protect victims of domestic violence.  The Bills (SB 160, AB 464, and AB 176) help domestic violence victims who can't answer “Yes” and passed both houses of the Legislature with strong bi-partisan support. The bills await the governor’s signature.


MADISON - “Do you feel safe at home?” the nurse asked the woman. The nurse was helping to identify and protect those who may be at risk for domestic violence.

One in three women will, at some time in her life, experience domestic violence.

Recent World Health Organization research confirms what earlier studies found: worldwide one in three women are physically or sexually assaulted by a current or former partner. Experts advocate for screening questions, like the one above, and training to recognize domestic violence for health workers and law enforcement officers.

Wisconsin law enforcement officials are trained to recognize and respond to domestic violence. Many officers tell me domestic violence situations remain their most common call and are difficult to resolve.

Lawmakers recently passed several bills aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence, standardizing the actions of law enforcement and the courts and bringing perpetrators to justice. One change for law enforcement is a requirement to refer domestic violence victims to shelters and make sure the victim knows about and can get help from a victim advocate.

In many domestic violence situations both adults and children are victims. Testimony by advocates during an Assembly hearing reminded lawmakers “about half of men who abuse their female partner will also abuse their children.” Changes were needed to protect victims, including children.

Protecting children includes protecting their privacy. Legislative changes will close the courtroom during restraining order hearings for children, and keep child victim records off CCAP - the court’s public Internet record - and other measures to protect victim confidentiality, including children. The legislation also protects the non-offending parent from the legal expenses of the court appointed child advocate known as the guardian ad litem.

This new legislation also makes it clear that restraining orders stop all contact between the abuser and the victim, including stalking behavior.

Sometimes the law or court processes actually put victims at risk. These parts of the law were changed: victims no longer are required to notify the abuser if a restraining order is extended – the court will now do this. Also privacy is protected for those who must change their name.

Sometimes when the perpetrator requests a new judge the restraining order protecting the victim became invalid. The new legislation will make sure this does not happen.

Nearly 20 years ago Wisconsin passed laws protecting victims of domestic violence by requiring the abuser to surrender firearms. But advocates tell me many courts never checked up on whether or not perpetrators actually surrendered firearms.

New legislation sets out a process by which individuals subject to a restraining order must surrender firearms. The legislation came about because of domestic crimes committed by those who illegally possessed a firearm. Work began on this proposal in 2008 when the Governor’s Council on Domestic Abuse discovered that while state and federal law required action only 12 Wisconsin counties had policies in place to actively ensure that abusers followed the law.

The legislation followed the procedures developed through a pilot project in four Wisconsin counties. This successful project showed lawmakers common sense procedures could be developed that were effective and inexpensive. The state’s chief judges endorsed the bill as a best practice approach to resolving the problem.

These bills, SB 160, AB 464 and AB 176, passed both houses with strong bipartisan support and now await the governor’s signature.

We can work to change our culture and end domestic abuse. We can treat each other with respect and teach respect and nonviolent conflict resolution to our children. We can also tell those at risk about available resources. Wisconsin invested in a statewide system of shelters and advocates helping when abuse happens.

Reach out to those who need help and let them know shelters and advocates are available throughout Wisconsin. In the Eau Claire, Buffalo and Jackson County call Boulton Refuge House at 1-855-526-5866; In La Crosse and Trempealeau call New Horizons at 608-791-2600. In Dunn and Pepin call Bridge to Hope at 715-235-9074. For other locations around the state call End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin at (608) 255-0539 or visit their website at http://www.wcadv.org/gethelp.

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New Republican Absentee Voting Law Another Round in “Voter Games”

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is a Founding Partner and Publisher of the N.E. Wisconsin - Green Ba
User is currently offline
on Friday, 28 March 2014
in Our View

votersGREEN BAY - If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That seems to be the Republican motto when it comes to keeping those pesky Democratic voters from voting.

A few years back, they invented the great “voter fraud” epidemic, with no real evidence that it ever existed, to justify a voter ID law in Wisconsin. Since many more poor people, especially those in the inner city who tended to vote heavily Democratic, don’t have drivers licences and such, why not run them through a few extra hoops the Republican heads reasoned. Maybe some would just give up rather than vote.

After a few scares, the courts finally put a hold on that idea. Seems there was something in the Constitution that doesn’t allow you to inhibit the people’s right to vote.

So on Thursday, Gov. Scott Walker quietly signed into law a Republican bill that limits in-person absentee voting to no later than 7 p.m. during the week and no weekend hours. The new law is a dagger to the heart of the Democratic Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) effort of recent years.

It seems those same poor people, and other hourly working people who tend to vote for Democrats, have jobs and find it hard to get to the polls on election day before the six o’clock rush. There is, of course, a law that says your employer has to give you time off to vote, but it doesn’t say they have to pay you for it and you know how that goes.

Republican supporters, for the most part, who do work tend to be more likely managers or other salaried employees who can just take off for an hour or two during the day. Or, as you know if you ever voted in Cedarburg, polling places in the suburbs tend to have about three voting machines for every voter.

So the Democrats reasoned they could raise their voters turnout if they pushed early in-person absentee voting among their people to avoid the rush. It actually came down as a strategy from the national Obama for America people and it worked well for them. It became one of the biggest pieces of the Democratic GOTV effort and had begun to show signs of success.

Of course, the Democrats know what the Republicans are up to with their new law and will challenge it in court. And the courts, in their wisdom, will probably find sooner or later that the Constitution doesn’t allow you to pass laws that inhibit the people’s right to vote. But by then, the Republicans reason, Scott Walker and the Republican majority in the Wisconsin Legislature will be re-elected and it won’t matter.

And while all these Madison political strategists continue to concentrate on the voter games, Wisconsin will continue to drift into mediocrity and drop down the latter among in states in job creation. Will anyone ask what ever happened to those 250,000 new jobs Scott Walker promised to deliver in the last election?

We think not.

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