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Court Case Challenges Policy Penalizing People for Being Poor

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, 20 June 2018
in Wisconsin

grocery-store-checkoutThe Trump administration invited states to create new policies with more strict work requirements and barriers for people to qualify for Medicaid and FoodShare. A new court case challenges the harmful effect of these new policies.


MADISON - Do new strict requirements for Medicaid adopted by states violate the law? A federal court is set to decide after recent arguments presented by policy experts who said the requirements do violate law.

The case arose from Kentucky’s decision to create strict work requirements for getting healthcare through Medicaid. In January, the Trump administration invited states to submit “demonstration proposals” that make it much harder for people to qualify for or remain on Medicaid.

Experts say the Kentucky case could have implications for Wisconsin and six other states that have pending application for the restrictive Medicaid policy changes.

Wisconsin acted quickly to take advantage of the change. Governor Walker touted the changes stating, “public assistance should be a trampoline not a hammock.” In just a few weeks, GOP leaders passed nine bills as part of the new policy initiative. The bills added work requirements and other strict limitations to our state’s version of Medicaid known as BadgerCare.

I dubbed the effort, kicking people when they are down. The bills created strict work requirements for people with children, created insurmountable barriers for some trying to get help and restricted coverage. At risk were poor families, hungry children, and the disabled.

farm-familyFor example, one bill had the effect of forcing the wheelchair bound to sell their wheelchair accessible van, if it was valued at more than $10,000, in order to keep their BadgerCare and FoodShare (the modern version of the old Food Stamps program). The same bill had the effect of forcing dairy farm families to sell their cows before obtaining BadgerCare.

The federal court will decide if similar Kentucky requirements violate federal law and, according to Kaiser Health News, could determine “how far the Trump administration can go in changing Medicaid without Congressional action.”

In the same article, published in Governing Magazine, Kaiser reported that most legal experts say the administration’s approach is “backward because enrollees need health coverage so they are healthy enough to work.” Many scholars agreed and supported the Medicaid enrollees.

Forty policy scholars submitted in an amicus brief supporting the Kentucky lawsuit. They found no evidence to support “depriving people of Medicaid will lead to greater levels of employer insurance.” Work requirements do not make people healthy. Work requirements have no long-term effects on employment or income. However, Medicaid does improve health, and healthy people are more able to work.

The scholars wrote in their brief the new federal policy goes against the “core mandate” of Medicaid to provide medical assistance to all eligible individuals.

The scholars noted that under the Trump administration policy, “States are thus encouraged to pile on new eligibility conditions and coverage requirements, erect barriers and push people out of the program, all in the name of making people healthy.” Experts estimate over 100,000 people in Kentucky will lose healthcare over the next five years.

kathleen-vinehoutPart of Wisconsin’s initiative is to increase premiums. The scholars wrote there is “extensive research showing the adverse impact of unaffordable premiums on low-income persons with little or no disposable income.” Not being able to pay premiums leads to fewer people with health coverage.

Wisconsin, and some other states, already has work requirements in place for FoodShare. The forty scholars reported studies of these requirements show as many as fifty percent to eighty-five percent of folks now receiving benefits could lose them. Parents, of course, face additional obstacles including a lack of affordable childcare.

Wisconsin’s policies are crafted in a completely backwards way. If we want a farmer to do better or a wheelchair bound person to succeed why would the state make them sell items essential to their livelihood?

All these requirements add up to a fundamental question we face; do we have public programs to give a hand-up to those facing hard times or do the policies exist to punish the poor?

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The Way Wisconsin Funds Schools Must Change

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, 13 June 2018
in Wisconsin

school-kidsWe heard expert testimony at a recent hearing of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding Reform that Wisconsin’s formula is an outlier in the US. and failure to change it leaves children vulnerable, taxpayers paying more in property tax and the state open to lawsuits.


MADISON - The way Wisconsin pays for schools is unfair, inequitable and antiquated.

Over the past few months, I heard parents, community members, business leaders, teachers, students, and school officials speak about the flawed school funding formula. I serve on the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding Reform.

We took public testimony across the state. Recently, these criticisms were validated by national experts who testified at the last scheduled public hearing of the Commission.

Our state is changing. These changes are reflected in student needs. Compared to years ago, we have more students in poverty, with special needs, English learners, students suffering from mental illness and experiencing trauma. These students facing challenging situations cost us more to educate.

The state has failed to keep up with changing student needs. As a consequence, the schools with those of greater need are forced to divert funds from all other students to pay for these needs.

For example, the state funds only 26 cents on the dollar for special education needs. But federal law requires all special education needs be met. As a result, general education money is used for students with special needs.

Peter Goff, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin, Madison described the situation. “Huge chunks [of general education money] are getting torn off to pay for these special education mandates – that is the state’s responsibility but [the state] is not paying for it.”

kathleen-vinehout“Wisconsin’s school funding system is inflexible, unpredictable, and not well designed to respond to changes in educational conditions,” said Zahava Stadler, Policy and Research Director for EdBuild, a nonprofit dedicated to school funding reform.

Commission members heard testimony about how Wisconsin’s approach to paying for public schools is unique in the US – and not in a positive way. Experts said Wisconsin’s method of paying for schools makes students more vulnerable. Using “categories” of aid makes these programs more vulnerable to budget cuts because of political winds and economic downturns.

Emily Parker, a Policy Analyst for the Education Commission of the States, tracks school legislation. Ms. Parker described the evolution of school funding across America. At first, schools were funded in a flat dollar amount. Then schools were paid based on community wealth as measured by property value. This is how Wisconsin’s main formula works.

Over the years, states added student need (Wisconsin includes only in limited grant-like categories), then states made funding flexible and, recently, more states are basing resources for schools on student needs.

The effect of our obsolete formula is harmful to all students, as schools are forced to take money from general aid to pay for the increasing needs of some students.

Dr. Goff, testified about the effects of Act 10, revenue limits and budget cuts.

“Without a doubt, there has been a net loss to school districts over time,” said Dr. Goff. At the same time, the costs school districts face increased over time. “Every year there isn’t a revenue limit adjustment, it is essentially a cut to schools’ spending.”

“Local districts are taking on more, asking for more, going to referenda more often and passing more… this is not a sustainable model for school funding. At the end of the day, education is a state right. When you can’t give more of local effort, that is when the state opens up to potential lawsuits as well as ethical issues of underfunding schools. … At some point, local districts will exhaust [resources] and that puts the state at risk,” said Dr. Goff.

“There is a glaring omission that the state that has the largest achievement gap in the nation has a funding system … [that] does not mention student disadvantage at all. Or ethnicity at all.”

We must fundamentally change the way we pay for schools. We should throw out the antiquated formula based on property wealth. Instead, schools need a flexible, consistent commitment from the state to pay districts based on student needs and the costs of educating the students of today.

At risk, are our children. At stake, is our future. It’s time for the Blue Ribbon Commission to earn its blue ribbon.

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An Honest Discussion about Transportation Needs

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, 06 June 2018
in Wisconsin

highwayAs roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, former DOT Sec. Gottlieb presented a comprehensive long-term transportation funding solution that was rejected by Governor Walker. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout takes it to build an alternative state budget that provides solutions, not continued borrowing.


MADISON - Farmers in western Wisconsin are worried new bridge weight limits will add time and cost to their already stressful lives.

“This is a very serious concern for us,” Farm Bureau spokesman Rob Richard told Chris Hubbuch of the La Crosse Tribune. “We want to make sure farmers can get to and from their fields. If they can’t make the quickest, most efficient route they’re just adding wear and tear to other roads.”

The Department of Transportation recently lowered the weight limit on 184 bridges, mostly in western Wisconsin. This action met a 2018 federal deadline requiring a state evaluation of bridges.

Engineers looked at what is known as short-haul vehicles. These are vehicles defined by the feds as “closely spaced, multi-axle, single unit” trucks like dump trucks, milk trucks and manure hauling tankers. The vehicles have closely spaced axles that “concentrate weight in a much smaller footprint”, which can put more stress on, and possible damage to, the bridges.

leo-frigo-bridge-gbLocal bridges were low on the Governor’s spending priority list. In his first budget, the Governor cut money to local bridges by over 8% compared to the prior (Recession) budget, then provided no increase in the next four years. This year, his election year budget did provide new bridge funds.

Perhaps budget cuts are partly to blame for the results of a recent study by the American Society of Civil Engineers that reported Wisconsin has over 1,200 structurally deficit bridges.

The same study reported 27% of roads in Wisconsin are in poor condition. Motorists pay an average of $637 per year on vehicle repairs due to roads in need of repair.

“Our roads are all junk,” farmer Clint Sampson was quoted in the La Crosse Tribune story. “These county roads are worn out. The roads haven’t been touched for 30 years. Some of them are beyond patching up.”

Perhaps this is why county officials tell me they have turned asphalt roads into gravel for years.

The underfunding of roads comes in spite of several studies showing a decline in road conditions and a shortfall in state resources, just to maintain current conditions. For example, the 2014 Commission on Transportation Finance and Policy found, without additional highway funding, 42% of Wisconsin roads will be in poor or worse condition by 2023. The 2016, the study No Easy Answers found rural roads are twice as deadly as other roads in Wisconsin and more than twice as deadly as the national average.

I learned a great deal by reading the budgets of former Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Mark Gottlieb. Many of the ideas I used in my Alternative Budgets came from these documents, especially his 2015-17 budget request submitted in November of 2014. In this document, Mr. Gottlieb included 24 issue papers discussing solutions to the crisis facing DOT.

Reporter Katelyn Ferral of the Capitol Times recently interviewed the former Secretary. In the interview, former Secretary Gottlieb talked about how the Governor signaled that in 2016, Gottlieb should not submit another budget that “contained a comprehensive solution.”

kathleen-vinehout“I think it was done because they didn’t want a repeat of what was done in 2014. They didn’t want the department to submit a budget that seriously dealt with this issue.” Instead, the administration wanted a budget that “pretended if we just went along like we were going along, everything would be fine. … That is not the budget I would have submitted based on my judgement of what was needed.”

“We got to the place where the facts were being ignored in favor of political spin”, former Secretary Gottlieb continued. “It is easy enough to evaluate statements about how much the state is investing or not investing by looking at historical budget data. We are not investing.”

Looking at state transportation budgets, one can see that Walker chose borrowing more money over developing a long-term transportation funding solution.

Potholes are real. Deteriorating bridges are real. Wrecked axles and other unexpected repairs are real. I agree with former Secretary Gottlieb, it’s time we have an honest conversation about how to fix transportation.

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Conservation Voter's Ads Spotlight Drinking Water Pollution In Kewaunee County

Posted by Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Ryan Billingham
Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Ryan Billingham
Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Ryan Billingham has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 30 May 2018
in Wisconsin

clean-drinking-waterNonpartisan League of Conservation Voters launches Ad campaign in Northeastern WI Senate District 1 race with Manure is ‘In Our Shower and Our Faucets’.


MADISON – A new ad campaign focused on the special election in Senate District 1 features a Kewaunee County resident whose faucets ran brown with liquid manure and spotlights the anti-conservation record of Rep. Andre Jacque.

The television ads tell the story of a Kewaunee County resident who lives the reality of the drinking water crisis and the risk it poses to her family and thousands of others in the district – and beyond.

kewaunee-countyIt provides graphic footage of pure liquid manure running from a shower and a sink faucet – explicit proof of the horrifying pollution pouring from Kewaunee County faucets – and points to Andre Jacque’s numerous votes against clean water protections.

Over the course of his legislative career, Andre Jacque has voted against clean water protections in the most high profile environmental legislation. Even more telling, Andre Jacque provided no leadership on the biggest threats to drinking water in his district. He was one of the only local legislators to not co-sponsor legislation to help families’ whose wells have been contaminated by manure (2017 Act 69).

The radio campaign further details the family’s story and introduces candidate Caleb Frostman, a conservation champion dedicated to protecting clean drinking water and the state’s water resources.

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters PAC paid for the campaign.

Watch the television ad here.

Listen to the manure pollution ad here.

Listen to the ad introducing Caleb Frostman here.

Click here for the ad campaign’s justifications.

# # #

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to electing conservation leaders, holding decision makers accountable, and encouraging lawmakers to champion conservation policies that effectively protect Wisconsin's public health and natural resources.

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Sand Mine Spill Exposes the Consequences of Poor Regulation

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, 30 May 2018
in Wisconsin

sand-mining-wiThe recent Hi-Crush Mine spill highlights how the poorly regulated sand mining industry has consequences on local communities. Wisconsin can do better to protect the public and the environment.


WHITEHALL, WI - “A really unfortunate series of circumstances,” was how Kevin Lien described a recent spill of ten million gallons of orange sludge from a sand mine processing facility.

A bulldozer and its operator slid into a deep settling basin at the Hi-Crush mine and sand processing plant in Whitehall, Wisconsin. Mine workers, working with emergency responders, dug through an earthen berm and intentionally released the thick, orange sludge.

frac-sand-spill-wiscThe sludge ran into Poker Coulee, making its way downstream into the Trempealeau River. Eventually the material made its way to the Mississippi River.

Mr. Lien is the Director of Land Management for Trempealeau County. He spent nearly the past decade at the epicenter of sand mining in Wisconsin. Using the regulatory powers of the county, he worked with county board members to develop protections for the environment, communities and public health. The county continues to monitor many mines.

But the mine that discharged the orange sludge is out of his jurisdiction.

“The county has no jurisdiction,” Mr. Lien told me. “And, the city is unregulated.” The county has no jurisdiction because the mine is in both the cities of Independence and Whitehall. Several years ago, the mine sought and received approval to annex into the two cities – some five miles apart – to avoid county regulation.

Annexation was approved in late 2013 by the Whitehall and Independence City Councils.

A lack of regulation allowed the mine to avoid expensive but necessary protections.

“We would have required safety measures,” said Mr. Lien. “There should be fail-safe protections downstream.” For example, a check dam downstream would contain any spills. The settling basin contains a large amount of sludge—water, mixed with sand and chemicals.

“But the discharge is in the county, and that’s my jurisdiction.” After the spill, the county sent the sludge out for testing but won’t receive the results for several days. “Now, its Memorial Day weekend. Families are headed to the beaches along the Mississippi River. We have no idea how hazardous [the sludge is].”

Sand companies use the chemicals – a proprietary mix including polyacrylamides – to treat sand destined for use in hydraulic fracturing. The sand acts as a proppant to allow oil and natural gas to flow from the well.

For years, I’ve worked with Mr. Lien and many other constituents on “balloon on a string” shaped annexations that allow cities to avoid county regulations.

kathleen-vinehoutThe bills I wrote relating to mine operations and annexations never received a hearing. Since 2010, the state made it easier for companies to avoid penalties through the “Green Tier” program.

In the summer of 2017, Hi-Crush applied for exemptions from some state regulations through the “Green Tier” Program. In November, the state approved the application promising “protection from any civil penalties that the DNR might otherwise impose.”

Hi-Crush has a history of violations that resulted in penalties. For example, in 2014 the company was fined $52,500 for operating two high capacity wells without required permits according to WKOW. In 2017, the Whitehall site reported 8 worker injuries. According to Chris Hubbach, of the La Crosse Tribune this rate is more than 10 times the national average. The company received 18 fines related to worker safety since 2014.

Hi-Crush Proppants operated facilities in Trempealeau, Jackson, Eau Claire and Monroe Counties. The “Green Tier” regulatory exemptions apply to all of its Wisconsin mines.

“I don’t have faith in the system,” Kevin Lien concluded. Neither do citizens. And, they are concerned about the consequences. As one woman wrote to me from Eau Claire:

I watched in horror as the events of the recent Hi-Crush breach. It is prime nesting season for waterfowl. …Once the sediment settles and covers the vegetation on the bottom of the River and backwaters, that vegetation will die. The mallards and other bottom-feeding ducks and Canada geese will lose their food supply… fish… will cease as a food source for diving ducks such as mergansers, loons, canvasback, ring-necks, and scaup. Frogs and other crustaceans will suffocate and no longer be a food source for the already declining herons and egrets.

Who truly pays for a poorly regulated industry? The simple answer is: we all do.

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Attorney General Causes Scare for Local Hemp Farmer

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, 23 May 2018
in Wisconsin

hemp-farmer-wiscWhen a AG memo muddies the waters on the possession and distribution of CBD oil, local Ag officials, hemp growers and farm groups move to clarify the issue. Wisconsin used to be a leader in hemp production and many farmers are hoping to make us a leader again.


RIVER FALLS, WI - Abbie Testaberg is a soon-to-be Wisconsin hemp farmer. She and her husband will be planting, growing, harvesting and processing hemp this year at the Kinni Hemp Company near River Falls. They are among the many farmers who received a license to grow hemp this year.

Two children with chronic conditions led Abbie to learn more about hemp and the oil extracted from the hemp plant called cannabidiol or CBD oil.

CBD oil is used for many purposes. There is evidence the oil helps those with autism, Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. A few years ago, parents of children suffering from severe seizures lobbied lawmakers to eliminate the legal gray area so they could use CBD oil to help control seizures.

Farmers recognize the value of hemp and are eager to expand their farming practices.

Last fall, in a bill that unanimously passed through the Legislature, Wisconsin created the Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), the state received 368 applications for hemp growing or processing licenses. This is the first growing season for hemp. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, 38 states allow farmers to grow hemp.

Just as farmers were gearing up for planting, the Wisconsin Attorney General (AG) issued a memo saying the possession and distribution of CBD oil was illegal.

“Scared us beyond belief,” Abbie confided. The family already invested in a 4-acre outdoor field and created a separate building for an indoor hydroponic system.

“[We are using the farm] as a showcase facility for our system,” she told me. Abbie’s husband Jody created a proprietary technology to grow plants indoors. The couple intended the indoor/outdoor plots as a research project to highlight the differences between the two growing systems. The family is working with a local farmer and collaborating with two University of Wisconsin-River Falls professors on hemp research.

Abbie’s long-term goal is to manufacture the trays used for indoor growing out of hemp. She told me only four or five companies in the world produce the type of plastic from hemp she needs for the growing trays.

Short term, Abbie and her husband plan to grow and harvest hemp plants for CBD oil. Processing the oil from the plant is a time-consuming, detailed process but provides a high-value product much in demand. Not being able to process the plant and extract CBD oil would have thrown a huge monkey wrench in their plans.

Abbie’s reaction to the AG’s opinion? “That’s a bunch of bananas. I spent a long week after the DOJ announcement, reading and re-reading the bill, the CBD bill, the farm bill, the hemp bill. There was a clear mechanism [for processing CBD oil].”

Abbie’s research along with the efforts of the lead Republican authors, Agriculture officials and members of the Farm Bureau, caused AG Brad Schimel to change his original position. He announced that farmers who process CBD oil would not be prosecuted.

The Wisconsin hemp law, Act 100, clearly states processing hemp is legal. But those who buy CBD oil seem to still be in a legal gray area.

“I’m confident this is legal but the [administrative] rules don’t fully articulate the bill language,” Abbie said. “The local co-ops will be worried.”

kathleen-vinehoutWisconsinites can buy CBD oil without going to a doctor for a certificate, as it should be. CBD oil is a supplement, like ginseng.

Wisconsin farmers are hurting. Dairy prices are well below the cost of production and other commodity prices seem locked in the basement. A late planting season as a result of late April snow and May rains has farmers worried.

The USDA forecasts this year’s net farm income in real dollars will drop over 8% from 2017. If realized, this forecast would be the lowest real-dollar level since 2002.

Hemp is a bright spot in a gloomy agriculture economy. For many years, Wisconsin was a leader in hemp production. With our climate, farm support system and ingenious farmers we can again rise to become a leader.

It’s time for the state to get out of the way and let farmers grow and process hemp. If you want to help make Wisconsin hemp history, you can volunteer to help Abbie plant the first hemp crop May 31 through June 2. Learn more at the Kinni Hemp Company Facebook page.

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Watching My Son Cross the Stage

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, 16 May 2018
in Wisconsin

ed-grad-daySen. Vinehout writes about attending her son’s graduation ceremony. She describes the lessons learned by commencement speakers and how our graduates can use their education to play roles in the communities they serve.


ST. PAUL, MN - “Can’t you be a toddler again, just for a day?” the mom asked her son. I stood with other moms drinking tea. The moms shared stories about children growing up.

Children grow up so fast. When my son Nathan was a toddler, I thought the stage would never end. Now, I watch Nathan, the toddler-become-man, walk across the stage in his cap and gown.

We were in the field house at Macalester College in St. Paul. Several thousand people from all over the world were packed into the cavernous space. Despite the cold, rainy weather, the room was quite warm. The bagpipes played as five hundred students processed into the hall.

The energy was palpable. It rolled off the black-clothed young men and women in waves, infecting everyone. Folks held their cell phones high, trying to catch an image of the procession. Young ones climbed on chairs looking for a familiar face in the sea of black robes. The bagpipes lent an air of solemnity.

Mom wiped away a tear.

The Senior Speaker, Myhana Kerr, took the stage. She was both beautiful and articulate. And, clearly loved by her classmates.

She spoke of community and its obligations. “Community requires a constant effort for its construction and maintenance.”

How often do we think of the constant effort people around us make to build community? Be thankful for those who pay attention to roads and bridges, parks and art, schools and hospitals. Everyone has a role to play in building community.

Ms. Kerr talked about how we create, discover and maintain different communities. Intentionally contribute to these communities, she told the graduates. Embrace them. Delight in their value.

kathleen-vinehoutI looked around the diverse crowd, and thought, clearly this college community created something much greater than “job ready” graduates. As if to reinforce my thought, a handsome African man took the stage.

“A living embodiment of the hashtag #dohardthings, you are a champion of resisting and reimagining the way things have always been done,” said the college President, as he introduced the keynote speaker, Fred Swaniker.

The man from Ghana devoted his life to answering the question, what will it take to make Africa prosper? Among many accomplishments, he created the African Leadership Academy. Through higher education, the Academy sought “nothing less than to develop 3 million ethical and entrepreneurial African leaders by 2060, and create a more prosperous and peaceful Africa.”

Approaching college with a fresh vision, the Academy focused students’ attentions on challenges facing Africa. Taking down the barriers between disciplines, students chose a mission of service. They asked big questions. They worked to tackle big problems like poverty, clean water, and economic development.

Students responded to the speech. They nodded, cheered and laughed. They empathized as he spoke of assumptions about Africa made by rich guys in Silicon Valley.

“A passion for service infected me,” Mr. Swaniker told the crowd. As you go into the world, bring with you a sense of mission, a higher purpose, a global perspective. Carry curiosity, humility, fairness and justice.

“Play the long game. Look out at the horizon.” Paraphrasing Bill Gates, Mr. Swaniker said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Look forward to what might be done in ten years.

I watched my son cross the stage with a grateful heart. I treasure so many benefits of a liberal arts education. How college ignites our curiosities. How learning invites us to ask questions and more questions. How we now see in ways we hadn’t imagined. How we love knowledge and the search for wisdom for its own sake. How we learn more skillful ways of interacting as humans.

The ceremony ended with a prayer, spoken in five languages. I share the prayer for all of us to send with our graduates as they head out into the world.

As we depart along our separate roads, may we be nourished by our years of friendship and learning. And may we draw upon them to create a more just and peaceful world, a world filled with fellowship and kinship, with respect and kindness for one another and with the hope of a better tomorrow.

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Audit Reveals Serious Management Issues at State Fair Park

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, 02 May 2018
in Wisconsin

wisc-state-fairThe non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau found deficiencies in the management of State Fair Park and made recommendations to address them. Park officials must report back to the Audit Committee by June 1st on their progress.


MADISON - “The State Fair is greatly loved by people all over the state,” Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said at a recent Audit Committee hearing. “But the back-office operations need to be improved.”

Most certainly, improvement must be made to resolve problems revealed by an audit conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB).

The Joint Legislative Committee on Audit recently held a public hearing on the operations of the agency that oversees the Wisconsin State Fair and the operations of the Park. Like all of state government, State Fair Park is subject to state laws, standards and transparency. However, auditors found laws were not always followed and accurate records were not kept.

Members learned of disturbing trends in the management of the state’s resources: expenses growing faster than revenue, contracts not tracked, procurement laws not followed, environmental laws violated and needed planning not conducted.

Auditors reported that, over a five-year period, expenses grew by 20%, while revenue grew at a slower rate of 17.8%. If the fair is not able to balance its books, state dollars might be diverted from other programs. Already, state taxpayers make payments on the fair’s debt. In Fiscal Year 2017, taxpayers paid $3.4 million in debt payments.

Both revenue and expenses involve contracts. For example, State Fair Park earns much of its revenue from commissions on food, beverage and midway vendors. In addition, vendors pay State Fair Park for leased space. Each vendor has a contract with the state governed by state law.

Auditors reported examples of improper or poorly managed procurement (state purchasing). For example, contracts were signed or amended before gaining board approval, as required under the board’s bylaws. The LAB made several recommendations on remedying these problems.

Despite months of effort by auditors, State Fair Park officials were unable to provide accurate and complete information regarding contracts. Further, officials provided different contract information to the Department of Administration than it provided to auditors. These findings deeply disturbed lawmakers.

“How can the agency accurately do budgeting when they cannot account for either revenue or spending contracts?” I asked agency officials.

Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) asked, “How could this happen? How could the train have come off the rails so badly? How could we not have a list of all the contracts?”

He then asked if anyone lost their job. Executive Director Kathleen O’Leary answered that one person was fired and several financial and business positions are now filled. “We knew we needed to work closer with DOA (Department of Administration),” said Ms. O’Leary. Officials explained the agency is now in constant contact with Administration officials.

Auditors also reported on untreated manure and human waste getting into the sewer system and a nearby creek. “We concreted the barns, put in new sewer inlets and formed teams to clean out the barns,” State Fair Park board member Susan Crane told us. She also reported the fair has an antiquated sewer system that will need to be replaced.

State Fair Park officials have not conducted a comprehensive review of grounds and facilities since 2000. In addition, no major racing events were held at the state-owned Milwaukee Mile since 2015 and none is planned for the future.

Further, several state-owned facilities at State Fair Park could be better used year-round to raise money for the operations of the Park. For example, consumer and trade shows accounted for more than 70% of the revenue of the leased facilities, but represented just a little over a quarter of all the leased events.

kathleen-vinehoutAudit committee members were united in their interest to obtain answers from those who now administer State Fair Park. Thankfully, officials were very cooperative and appeared interested in working collaboratively with Audit Committee members to remedy problems identified by auditors.

State Fair Park officials are required to report back to the Audit Committee by June 1st on the status of the many recommendations and findings delineated by auditors.

Following the audit hearing, I spoke with leaders of State Fair Park. I was impressed by the urgency they felt in correcting the problems identified. I share their enthusiasm for the fair. I want the fair to succeed long into our future. Careful planning and record keeping is something every exhibitor at the fair knows well. We need to take this careful approach to the management of the fair so future exhibitors can enjoy the same amazing experiences.

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Rural Leaders Report Schools in Wisconsin are Unequal

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, 25 April 2018
in Wisconsin

school-kidsAt a recent public hearing of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, the message coming through loud and clear was that rural schools are struggling and the current funding formula exacerbates the problem. This situation must be changed.


MADISON - “Where kids live should not determine their education,” rural school administrators told members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding Reform.

Recently the Commission traveled to Southwestern Wisconsin. We heard from representatives of 20 rural school districts. Administrators, board members, teachers, parents and community members all testified about the struggles rural schools face and the need for change in the way Wisconsin pays for schools.

For decades state policies created hardships for rural schools. Superintendent Nancy Hendrickson of Highland School District explained that spending caps in the 1980s locked in low spending districts. A need for new buildings led to borrowing and increased property taxes in the ‘90s. In 1993, revenue caps locked schools into unequal spending. With school aid tied to the number of students and, with a declining rural population, aid is dropping faster than the cost to educate children.

Administrator Jill Underly of Pecatonica School District affirmed that school segregation still exists. “It may not be based on race necessarily, but it is still to an extent based on income inequality… Public schools, a cornerstone of our democracy, were supposed to equalize opportunity. It shouldn’t matter where you go to school, but in Wisconsin, let’s be honest, it DOES matter.”

Superintendent Doug Olsen of Kickapoo Area School District explained some of the challenges. “We are a consolidated school district of three communities in one building. … Our district consistently serves an economically disadvantaged population that comprises over half of the student body.”

Olsen noted that with poverty come needs. “… only 48% of poor students are ready for school at age 5, compared to 75% of students from moderate to high income families. From vocabulary and pre-literacy skills, to numeracy, emotional regulation, and trauma, kids in poverty are more at risk to come to school less prepared.”

In addition to increases in student poverty, there are more students with Special Education needs, English Language Learners, and students grappling with mental health challenges. All these students need help – provided by staff that must take on many other tasks.

school-meeting-crowd“Cut, cut, cut,” said Superintendent Hendrickson. “We had to cut so many things.”

Rural schools did not recover from deep cuts made in Governor Walker’s first budgets. Across the state, school funding, in real dollars, for this school year is less than a decade ago.

Without resources, buildings and systems maintenance is deferred. School districts see fewer applicants for vacant teaching jobs, a shortage of substitute teachers and problems with a flattening pay scale for teachers making it hard to keep veteran teachers.

Because rural schools struggle with fewer teachers, administrators and support staff, everyone is forced to do multiple jobs. Jamie Nutter of Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 3 said much sharing of services already exists across districts. “We share hearing, vision, school nursing, curriculum, education development all through the CESA.” Cost for basic services, i.e. transportation, utilities, electricity are increasing.

New costs are added including technology, school safety, testing.

Legislative leaders decided if schools need more funding, voters should decide through referendum.

Administrator Olsen pointed out that rural Wisconsin has many farmers who are struggling financially. “As you have heard, Western Wisconsin leads the nation in lost farms due to bankruptcy and farmer suicide. In which community does a referendum to override the revenue limit have a better chance of passing?”

kathleen-vinehoutHow does the current funding system keep things unequal? To summarize Superintendent Olsen’s testimony: money for schools comes primarily from the state and property tax. State aid is supposed to make things more equal, but the current school funding formula uses real estate (including land values) as a measure of wealth. Thus, the formula often overestimates a rural community’s ability to pay. The situation is made worse when GOP leaders bypassed the funding formula and gave wealthy suburban districts the same money as cash-strapped rural and urban districts.

“Add to this,” said Administrator Olsen, “the rural crisis going on in our farming communities. … Should we be enacting policies that exacerbate inequality?”

“If we value rural people, you will find a way to fund rural schools.” challenged community member Kriss Marion.

Our schools are unequal and this must change. The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding travels next to the Fox Valley and north central Wisconsin. I encourage folks to come and share their stories.

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Trump Should Have Consulted Congress Before Bombing Syria

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 Tuesday, 24 April 2018
in Wisconsin

donald-trump-goldenAssad’s actions were despicable, but we have a Constitution for a reason. Allowing the president to usurp the power of Congress defies the founders’ plan.


HOWARD, WI - The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was enacted by Congress in response to the terrorist attack on 9/11. Intended as a national security measure, the AUMF broadly permits a president to use military force against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

army-syria-2018However, it does not grant the president the power to use military action for any other reason, such as President Donald Trump bombing Syria for President Bashar al-Assad’s presumed use of chemical weapons against his own people.

Although Assad’s actions were despicable and one might argue that bombing Syria was justified, they were clearly not a terrorist attack against the United States by organizations or persons associated with 9/11. Therefore, I believe Trump should have presented the facts to Congress before taking military action that could very well be considered an act of war.

laura-kiefertThe Constitution grants Congress, not the executive branch, the authority to declare war. If Congress continues renewing the AUMF, they are failing to hold the executive branch accountable. This check and balance was written in our Constitution to ensure that one branch of government does not have too much authority.

Allowing the president to usurp the power of Congress not only defies the founders’ mission by granting dictatorial authority to one person, but by allowing him to make this kind of vital decision without the consent of the legislative branch, is not only dangerous but could leave our country and its citizens vulnerable.

Laura Kiefert

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Protect Wisconsin’s Conservation Legacy

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 Saturday, 21 April 2018
in Wisconsin

clean-airSunday is Earth Day. For our children and grandchildren to enjoy the same opportunities we have, we need to safeguard access to clean water, land and air and prevent special interests from taking unfair advantage of our environment on every day.


LA CROSSE, WI - It is hard not to celebrate Earth Day without a sense of pride. It was, after all, founded by former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson. Created as a day for Americans to recognize environmental issues and promote conservation, the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970.

Nelson paved the way for some of the most important environmental protections in Wisconsin and ushered in a new era of progressive stewardship. At a time when few would listen, he knew that our environment was something to be treasured and not taken for granted.

After seeing public frustration over dilapidated state parks, the exploitation of public resources by private industry, and the unchecked pollution of waterways, Nelson took decisive action. As Governor, he created the Department of Natural Resources, established a Youth Conservation Corps, and funded the Outdoor Recreation Action Program to preserve land for public parks and wilderness areas.

gaylord-nelsonA visionary of his time, Nelson knew that economic prosperity didn’t have to come at the expense of our clean air, land and water. Unfortunately, a recent report revealed that Wisconsin has dropped as a leader in conservation and many fear our proud history of environmental stewardship is in jeopardy.

Years of Republican policies that roll back environmental protections are having a detrimental impact on our communities and creating an unfair balance between the rights of the public and special interests. Republicans have tipped the scale for corporations at the expense of local residents and communities. Nowhere is this imbalance more obvious than the Republican giveaway to Foxconn, which exempts the corporation from state environmental protections, increases air pollution, and diverts up to 7 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan.

Republicans also eliminated vital wetlands protections, increased flooding risks, and compromised water quality. After back-to-back summers of severe flooding across the state, communities need wetlands more than ever to absorb excess flood waters and protect public safety.

jennifer-shillingWith warmer temperatures and summer just around the corner, people from all over will travel to our state parks and beaches to enjoy the scenic outdoors. From hunting and fishing to tourism and recreation, Wisconsin’s unique natural beauty is a major driving force behind the success of local communities and sustainable economic opportunities for families. Simply put, clean water, land and air are essential to our way of life.

For our children and grandchildren to enjoy the same opportunities we have, we need to safeguard access to clean water, land and air and prevent special interests from taking unfair advantage of our environment. This Earth Day, Democrats want to continue Gaylord Nelson’s legacy. Together, we can protect our quality of life, stop the degradation of our environment and advance policies that ensure a better future for everyone.

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Republicans Bring Divisiveness, Democrats Need Unity

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, 21 April 2018
in Wisconsin

dems-react-2016Democrats can win in 2018 and 2020, but only if we’re willing to take a hard look in the mirror, listen to everyone, and organize conversations that bring people together.


GREEN BAY, WI - Recent election victories may very well indicate the tides are turning, but if there is one lesson Democrats should have learned from 2016, it is that opposition to Trump, Walker and the Republican majority is not by itself enough to win elections. In order to successfully become the Republican Party’s worst nightmare in 2018, every person who values equality, fairness, and respect must come together to defeat them. But unity takes work and we must understand we are stronger when we fight together.

donald-trumpThe fight today cannot be about restoring the status quo before Trump and the GOP took over. We must find a way to convince voters Democrats are the voice of all Americans, that we have concrete plans for the future, and that we care about every worker and worker’s family from coast to coast.

Democrats must be for something visionary to capture and harness the extraordinary outpouring of energy we are witnessing across the country in the form of protests and aggressive resistance.

We should boldly embrace, by stating without fear or shame, that weapons of war should be taken away, that the environment is too precious to destroy, that a woman has an inalienable right to choose, that immigrants are welcome, that the wealthy and corporations should pay their share of taxes, that universal health care is a fundamental right, that all workers deserve a livable wage, and every student is entitled to a high-quality education.

Democrats must be the party that fights to make sure that taxpayer dollars are spent on public good, not private gain and demand an ethical, accountable, and transparent government at all levels. We must stand up against insider deals and the politicians who push them. When government makes sweetheart deals with big corporations, or wastes taxpayer money on programs that don’t work, Democrats must be the ones to say, “Enough!”

The party must propose an ambitious yet concrete economic plan because this is the way to restore the promise of the American Dream. The plan must deliver major reforms to our financial services industry, massive infrastructure projects for schools, roads and transit, historic investments in job training and education, major commitments to science, space exploration, and technology, and a complete overhaul of our health care system.

The serious problems our country faces won’t be fixed by sentiment, no matter how appealing the rhetoric. At a time when voters are so understandably angry, Democratic leaders must be much more visibly indignant, must speak plainly about what needs to be done, and then must act decisively.

laura-kiefertWe can win in 2018 and 2020, but only if we’re willing to take this hard look in the mirror. It may be hard to see right now, but if we put working families first, we can be powerful and effective enough to stand against the excesses of these troubling times. We can, in the most inspiring and change-making way, articulate a clear and credible vision of our future that is better, fairer, and stronger by far.

What we need is a Democratic Party that is willing to listen to everyone and organize conversations that bring people together. Because at the end of the day, we’re a team.

So when Republicans bring divisiveness, we have to bring unity.

It’s who we are. And it’s how we take our country back.

- Laura Kiefert

*****

Laura Kiefert lives in Howard and is a Partner in the Green Bay Progressive. Members of FaceBook can follow her at My Truth and Anti-Alternative Facts , @mytruthandantialternativefacts.

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

******

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
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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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Why I am Voting “No” on Eliminating the State Treasurer

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, 28 March 2018
in Wisconsin

state-treasurer-logoThe referendum question on next Tuesday’s ballot asks voters if they wish to amend Wisconsin’s Constitution to eliminate the Office of the State Treasurer. Sen. Vinehout shares some information about the functions of the office which should be helpful to voters.


MADISON - Spring Elections are here. Voters are going to the polls to elect a new Supreme Court Justice and many local officials, from county board to school board. Voters will also make a decision to change our Wisconsin Constitution. On the ballot will be a referendum question to eliminate the Office of State Treasurer.

From the time Wisconsin became a state, we had a Constitutional Officer to oversee finances – the State Treasurer. The purpose of this office can be summed up in the words of the nonpartisan Council of State Government, “Treasurers act as the watchdog of the people’s money and, in most states, are elected by their own constituents. This check and balance in the executive branch of government provides an effective oversight mechanism and increased transparency.”

Some believe, including the current State Treasurer, the office is outdated and a waste of money. However, far more is behind this vote.

kathleen-vinehoutOver the past twenty years, the Legislature at the request of the Governor, removed the duties of the Treasurer. Many of the duties were taken over by the Department of Administration (DOA). The last budget increased the size of this sprawling agency by nearly fifty percent, or just shy of 1,500 employees. The Governor and his appointee, the Secretary of Administration, control the agency.

Eliminating the Office of the State Treasurer consolidates more power in one agency; the greater the power, the greater the opportunity for corruption, and less transparency for citizens of the state.

Think of the way a civic organization or a company is organized. The person who buys things – procurement – is not the person who writes the checks – the treasurer nor the one who audits the books.

In advising all types of organizations, from local nonprofits to large multinational corporations, auditors tell their clients when it comes to handling money there must be a “segregation of duties.” In other words, the same person (or department in a large company) should not collect the money, deposit the money, spend the money, approve the contracts and keep the books.

The principle of segregation of duties disperses the critical functions of overseeing procurement, contracting, vendor payments, cash management and auditing. Following this principle is a basic building block of risk management and, what auditors call, internal controls. These are the systems that help prevent and identify fraud, mismanagement and errors. Segregation of duties also assures transparency and accountability in state government.

According to the Wisconsin Taxpayer, our State Treasurer is the only treasurer in the nation that does not oversee cash management. We are only one of two states that do not allow the State Treasurer to be responsible for the state’s bank accounts.

Over the years, Wisconsin has marched toward a consolidation of power in DOA. We do not have a separately elected Controller, like many other states. Our Secretary of State, like the Treasurer, has lost many duties. It is no wonder folks nicknamed DOA the “Department of All.”

Our state’s finances could use more oversight, not less. The most recently enacted state budget authorized the state to spend $76 billion over the two-year budget cycle. Misappropriation of just a small amount of this massive sum could involve millions of taxpayer dollars.

Elected officials serve as stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. Our responsibility includes setting up systems that contain the “internal controls” which prevent and expose fraud and mismanagement.

I am voting “no” and I urge you not to eliminate the important function of the State Treasurer. Instead, I suggest we restore the duties of this Constitutional Office. This is why Representative Spreitzer (D-Beloit) and I wrote and introduced a bill to return the financial duties of the State Treasurer. Senate Bill 833 would restore many responsibilities of the State Treasurer including cash management functions that were removed in 2003.

Eliminating the State Treasurer is not a new idea. Over the past 100 years or so, three dozen such proposals were introduced. A constitutional change requires the Legislature to pass a resolution containing the exact same language in two consecutive sessions. The question then goes to voters for the final decision.

When you go to the polls, think of your local club, company or organization. Everyone wants the same or greater accountability and transparency over the massive $76 billion in state monies.

The vote next Tuesday is “no.”

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Homeowners shouldn’t be left footing the bill

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 Friday, 23 March 2018
in Wisconsin

menards-wiCan you pay lower property taxes by simply saying no one lives in your neighbor’s house? Under Wisconsin’s “Dark Store” loophole, large corporate retailers can.


LA CROSSE, WI - Imagine if you could pay lower property taxes by simply saying no one lives in your neighbor’s house. It sounds ridiculous but the sad reality is that large corporations are increasingly taking advantage of a legal loophole to avoid paying their fair share of local property taxes. As a result of this loophole, their tax burden is shifted onto main street businesses and local homeowners.

All across Wisconsin, large corporate retailers have challenged their property taxes by arguing that the value of their new property is the same as an abandoned, or “dark” property, in a different location. In many cases, the dark property being used to exploit this loophole is property that the corporation recently abandoned to move to a new location.

Wisconsin’s “Dark Store” loophole is becoming a growing problem in municipalities of all sizes across the state. Wealthy corporations have rigged the system and taxpayers are left footing the bill.

In an effort to ensure tax fairness for working families and seniors, Democrats have introduced legislation to close this loophole and prevent corporations from using vacant, abandoned or dark properties as a comparison for determining the value of a fully operational and occupied building.

jen-shillingGiven the overwhelming public support for this proposal, Democrats were hopeful that the legislature would approve this commonsense fix. Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers in Madison sided with special interest groups that have opposed tax fairness for homeowners and local businesses, thus killing the bill. Their failure to lead on this issue will result in homeowners paying millions more in property taxes for years to come.

The opportunity to achieve the American Dream is out of reach for many families in Wisconsin as Republicans continue to rig tax policies in favor of corporations and the wealthy while shifting more of the tax burden onto working families and seniors.

It is disappointing and frustrating that Republicans have adjourned for the session without addressing long-term solutions for tax fairness. Rather than throwing in the towel and calling it quits, we should work together to achieve Wisconsin’s full potential.

Despite these challenges, families know they can trust Democratic leaders to fight for commonsense solutions that promote fairness, expand opportunities and invest in our communities. Closing the “Dark Store” loophole is going to be a top priority for Democrats as we continue fighting to make Wisconsin a place where the next generation wants to live, work and raise a family.

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Court Decision Calls For Special Election in NE WI Senate District

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Friday, 23 March 2018
in Wisconsin

kewaunee-harbor-familyJudge in Madison orders Governor to hold special elections to fill seats vacated in December. Sen. Dave Hansen and fellow Democrats had pushed for the elections.


GREEN BAY - For months, Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay has been calling on the Governor to hold special elections to fill seats vacated in December by Republicans Frank Lasee of De Pere in the 1st Senate District and Rep. Keith Ripp, of Lodi. On Thursday, Hansen and fellow Democrats who have pushed for the elections saw their efforts rewarded.

A judge in Madison Thursday ordered Gov. Scott Walker to call special elections to fill both of legislative seats.

Both Lasee and Ripp had resigned to take jobs in Gov. Walker’s administration. The Senate seat, which covers the Door County peninsula northeast of Green Bay, had been under Republican control for nearly 40 years.

eric-holderA national Democratic group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder filed the lawsuit on behalf of voters who argued they were disenfranchised by Walker’s decision not to call elections to fill the vacancies.

dave-hansen“The decision by Judge Reynolds that Governor Walker should immediately call special elections in the 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly District is a victory for anyone who still believe in democracy and that the people deserve to have their concerns represented in the Legislature," said Hansen in a statement released Thursday. “Unfortunately, for the parents of the approximately 26,000 students that go to school in the 1st Senate District, Governor Walker and Senate Republicans successfully denied them their voice in the school safety debate on Tuesday."

“It is clear, now more than ever, that in the case of Governor Walker and the Republican politicians in Madison absolute power corrupts absolutely as they chose to put their own political interests ahead of the concerns of the people in the 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly district," Hansen concluded. “Fortunately, Judge Reynolds, appointed by Governor Walker himself no less, cried foul and ordered that special elections be held.”

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