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Identity Theft: New Scam Targets Unemployment Insurance

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 July 2014
in Wisconsin

identity-theftThis week Sen. Vinehout writes about a local woman who was a victim of identity theft when thieves used her personal information to file a fraudulent Unemployment Insurance claim. In what appears to be a multi-state problem, she notes the Joint Legislative Audit committee recently approved an audit of the UI claims process, shares information about what to do if you are a victim and how to protect your identity from being stolen.

EAU CLAIRE - A woman was the victim of an unemployment insurance scam. “What are you going to do to help me?” she challenged legislators and candidates at a recent forum in Eau Claire. “What are you going to do to prevent this from happening again?”

The scam she described was new to incumbent and want-to-be lawmakers.

A thief stole her identity and falsely filed an unemployment insurance claim. The scam happened the beginning of July, perhaps over the 4th of July holiday weekend. The scam may be part of a nationwide swindle targeting consumers, employers and state unemployment insurance programs.

The thief collected money from the state before the woman or her employer knew a false claim was filed. How the thief got her personal information is not yet known. However, the woman’s identity was a part of the personal information compromised through Target stores.

She filed a police report and a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). She contacted her banks and the state agency responsible for unemployment insurance. But this was not nearly enough to stop the scam from happening again.

On her behalf I contacted the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and the state auditor. DATCP officials actively pursue fraud investigations and work on identity theft through the Office of Privacy Protection.

I learned DATCP officials were already working with the unemployment insurance agency’s Program Integrity unit to investigate the scam. The federal government was also involved in the investigation. Many similar cases have been reported in Wisconsin and the Eau Claire case was part of a multi-state investigation.

Early this year the Legislative Audit Committee, on which I serve as ranking minority member, approved an investigation of unemployment insurance claims processing. The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau already began investigating delayed and improper unemployment insurance claims and was ardent to consider the new scam in their scrutiny of the state agencies’ activities.

Using someone’s personal information is not only unemployment insurance fraud it is considered identity theft.

Identify theft is the fastest growing crime in America. The Office of Privacy Protection’s website states more than 11 million people are victims of identity theft. CNN reports that every two seconds another American becomes the victim of identity fraud.

The National Institute of Justice warns few persons are aware of the complexities of the many issues involved with this crime, which is really a large set of fraudulent activities ranging in size from minor swindles to major crimes using stolen identities.

I learned people might not even be aware they are victims of identity theft. Some telltale signs, compiled by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), include bills that don’t arrive on time, collection notices for services you never received, email or mail about accounts in your child’s name, mistakes on your bank, credit card or medical insurance statements.

Officials at the Office of Privacy Protection told my office the current unemployment insurance scam is limited to false unemployment insurance claims but thieves could expand their fraudulent activity using the stolen information. People should learn what to do if they are victims of identity theft and protect themselves from having their identity stolen.

How to protect yourself and your family? Order a free credit report once a year. You can do this at Read your bank, credit card and medical insurance statements. Investigate any mistakes. Protect your identity online. Don’t give out personal information over the phone and shred personal information before taking out the trash.

A victim of identity theft should file an identity theft report- this includes a report to the FTC, the local police and the Office of Privacy Protection. Victims should notify one of the credit reporting companies and ask for a fraud alert. Identity theft victims should also order and review a credit report from each credit reporting company.

Find out more about how to protect your identity from the Federal Trade Commission at or the Federal Bureau of Investigation at

To file a complaint with the Office of Privacy Protection contact their hotline 1-800-422-7128 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . To file a complaint with the Legislative Audit Bureau’s Waste Fraud and Mismanagement Hotline contact 1-877-FRAUD-17 (1-877-372-8317) or

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Why Art?

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 Tuesday, 15 July 2014
in Wisconsin

This week Sen. Vinehout writes about the importance of art and art tourism to the state’s economy. Wisconsin's investment in the arts has dropped significantly in recent years, while Minnesota ranks #1 in state spending for the arts.  This impacts not only the artists but businesses that benefit from tourism dollars.

MADISON - “Art has the power to fill spaces in our souls that nothing else can,” said Alan Nugent, owner of Abode Art Gallery in Stockholm. I recently had an opportunity to learn about art and its impact on Wisconsin.

“Art has the power to transport, transform, to call and excite. I see this every day when people come in my gallery. People talk about being revived and rejuvenated. They feel things they haven’t felt in a while,” Alan said. “The other day an 80-year-old farm woman came in and viewed a painting of the countryside. The painting took her back to memories decades old.”

Alan loves art. His passion is palpable. His drive is the matching of art created by someone he knows with a new owner moved by the creation.

“Artists put into their work their passion for the natural world,” he explained. “How often do we get to do something that creates an emotional response?”

Stockholm, a small community along the Mississippi River, is one of many communities that experienced an art renaissance in recent years. New businesses and tourists flock to the picturesque community nestled below the bluffs. The center of Stockholm is the Wide Spot Performing Arts Theater, named for the wide spot in the Big River.  Alan and his partner renovated this historic opera hall.

“We have a visual art gallery,” he said. “But writing is the most powerful form of art and the hardest to understand. At Wide Spot the most interesting performances have been spoken words; poetry and readings.”

Through the Arts Board, Wisconsin supported the work of Wide Spot with a small grant to assist in the first season of “Going Coastal” a podcast radio show. “A tiny bit of seed money creates a community,” Alan noted. The seed blossomed into many profitable tourist businesses.

“Arts and tourism are utterly intertwined. They cannot exist without each other,” Alan stated.

Across the nation, states are vying with each other to snag more of the tourists’ dollars. Arts tourism has become the new buzz word. Communities are looking to attract those who spend money as tourists; they are more likely to be over 50 and looking for good food and culture.

Fortunately, western Wisconsin has become a destination for many tourists. They are drawn to its natural beauty like the Great River Road which was voted the “Prettiest Drive: Ultimate Summer Road Trip in the United States”. Tourists are also drawn to communities all around western Wisconsin for the emerging cultural scene.

Wisconsin makes small investments in developing art and tourism through the work of the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Department of Tourism. Alan is a member of the Board of Directors of Arts Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization promoting state funding for the arts.

“We advocate for the arts as a way to build communities and economies,” Alan explained. “This funding allows people to create, to think outside the box; to build something they would never be able to do otherwise. The funding tends to show exceptional return on the state’s investment.”

Wisconsin historically ranked in the middle of the pack in state spending for the arts. But this commitment has waned, especially in recent years. A study just released by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies ranks Wisconsin arts funding 48th in the U.S. with only fourteen cents per person spent on the arts.

Minnesota ranked #1 with $6.31 per person invested in the arts.

This huge disparity is a drag on Wisconsin’s economy as hundreds of thousands of dollars go from Wisconsin to Minnesota. “They have it and we don’t,” Alan said. “We are trying to reverse it by people coming here [to Stockholm] but we are a grain of sand.” The lack of funding means many projects never get off the drawing board.

“This shows how important it is for each individual to step forward and support the arts. Otherwise we won’t survive,” Alan emphasized.

What can you do to support the arts? Come to the Stockholm Art Fair Saturday, July 19thfrom 10am to 5pm.

Find other art fairs at You can also learn about the work of the Wisconsin Arts Board at and Arts Wisconsin

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Wisconsin Leading the Way in State Cuts to Schools?

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 July 2014
in Wisconsin

wisc-school-fundingSen. Kathleen Vinehout’s column focuses on cuts to state aid to school districts. She refers to a recent study that shows Wisconsin is second only to Alabama in cuts in state per pupil aid. She shares information about the impact of the cuts on school districts in the 31st Senate District.

PEPIN, WI - “Hard to believe we are in competition for last place!” said Pepin Superintendent Bruce Quinton. This is hard to believe indeed.

A recently released study of state budget cuts to local schools has Wisconsin ranked second only to Alabama in cuts per pupil.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looked at state dollars spent per student. Wisconsin students receive $1,038 less per pupil in the 2013-14 school year than when the recession hit in 2008. North Dakota, which topped the list in new dollars per child, posted a $1,116 increase since 2008. Changes in spending were adjusted for inflation.

Wisconsin’s ranking isn’t so hard to believe if you’ve lived through the last four years working in one of our local schools.

“Less funding, more mandates, higher expectations. No successful business or organization runs according to these concepts. If the goal is truly to improve education, then our lawmakers should stand up for adequate funding for our children’s education,” wrote Mr. Quinton.

Standing up for higher funding means voting against deep cuts that did not have to happen. In my 2011 alternative budget I showed how schools could be adequately funded. Again in 2013, I showed how to pay for a new school funding formula to correct the unfairness suffered by Pepin, Alma and other rural schools.

Instead, a majority of lawmakers voted to cut school funding. With less state aid, superintendents were forced to cut staff, cut teachers and send the remaining teachers back to school to cover more subjects.

In order to survive school administrators cover multiple roles including teaching. School districts share sports and many other services. One school counselor I spoke with this summer resigned after spending several years serving three rural schools. “It’s just too much,” she told me.

One effect of deep cuts in state school funds is an increase in property taxes.

Earlier this year the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that dozens of cash-strapped rural schools had placed “high-stakes tax hikes to voters” to keep rural schools operating.

“The controversial Act 10 legislation signed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 decreased state aid,” reported the Sentinel in March, “but restricted districts from raising property taxes to make up for the budget shortfall. Instead, the legislation allowed districts more flexibility to get savings from employees, such as by changing health care plans or adjusting salaries.”

“We’re told ‘you’ve got the tools’ [to cut costs] but what does that mean?” Mr. Quinton told me. “Please explain to me again how to use the ‘tools’ to destroy the morale of the very people I count on to educate children.”

Personnel costs make up most of a school district’s expenses. People have already seen deep cuts in salaries. Schools already require employees to pay a larger percentage of health care costs. Health care benefits have already been deeply trimmed.

To make matters worse, the Department of Public Instruction recently released estimated general state aid for schools for the coming school year showing deep cuts in aid for Pepin.

Both Pepin and Alma will receive the deepest cuts allowed by state law – over 15%. Blair-Taylor will see over a 10% cut in state aid. The Eau Claire Area School District received the largest cut in dollar amount- dropping by $2.3 million. These aid estimates do not include categorical aid targeted for specific programs.

Overall, schools in the 31st Senate District saw a paltry average increase of less than .04%. Statewide, the average increase was about 2%.

In a follow-up conversation with the Pepin Superintendent, I learned that the Pepin district taxpayers next year will pick up 88% of the cost of educating a student.

And the same state budget that sends Pepin taxpayers only $1,667 of general state aid per student, will send private schools $7,856 per high school student and $7,210 for K-8 students.

These are the direct effects of budget decisions made by a majority of lawmakers.

I can’t think of anyone who really wants Wisconsin to fight Alabama for the distinction of having made the largest cuts in per pupil state aid to schools.

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Money in Politics: What Can a Person Do?

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 Tuesday, 01 July 2014
in Wisconsin

money-behind-politicsThis week, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about amending the US constitution to overturn Citizens’ United. Polls show that almost universally people are opposed to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens’ United. She discusses how the constitution could be amended and what actions people can take to reduce the influence of money in politics.

ALMA - “What can I do to stop corporate money from taking over our country?” Betty from Buffalo County asked me. She joined about 20 local people in viewing the film Koch Exposed that focused on the power of a few to manipulate elections.

Money in politics is almost universally hated. In poll after poll Americans say money is not free speech and corporations are not people. This is one issue upon which people of all political stripes can agree.

Immediately following the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United an ABC News Washington Post poll of over 1,000 adults found 8 in 10 opposed the court ruling and 72% favored legislative action to reverse the court’s decision. Among those who agree with the Tea Party’s views 73% disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling.

On April 1st, 13 Wisconsin communities overwhelmingly approved referenda supporting a national constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Even in the Republican community of Waukesha 69% of voters supported the constitutional amendment.

The advisory referenda in Wisconsin communities were placed on the ballot by local people who agreed with work of a grassroots group known as Move to Amend.

The ballot question asked voters if they agreed with a constitutional amendment to assure that only natural persons (not corporations) have constitutional rights and that money is not free speech.

According to the Move to Amend website ( over three-dozen local citizen led or ballot initiatives passed in the U.S. While 274 units of local government passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment.

A resolution calling for a constitutional amendment passed at least one house of the Legislature in over a dozen states including Minnesota; but not Wisconsin.

A bipartisan group of Senators, including myself, and 27 Democratic Assembly members introduced a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. The resolution failed to garner enough support for a vote in either house.

The constitutional amendment process is an arduous one. Article Five of the United States Constitution describes two different processes by which the Constitution may be amended. The first is through a two-thirds vote of members present in each House of the U.S. Congress. Second is by a two-thirds vote of a Constitutional Convention called by Congress. The first method is the only one that has been used. The Constitutional amendment is then sent to the states for ratification. Three fourths of state Legislatures must ratify the amendment. Congress sets a time limit by which states must act and how states must ratify the amendment.

States can pressure Congress by passing their own resolutions. This is what happened in Minnesota and is why some of my colleagues and I sponsored the resolution in Wisconsin. Local people can pressure the state. This is why thirteen resolutions were added to the April ballots around Wisconsin.

Changing the Constitution can take a long time. The first national efforts to pass the 19th Amendment – giving women the right to vote - happened in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. The Amendment was finally ratified by the last needed state in 1920 (Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment).

The result of the over-70 year struggle is something we now take for granted. But it wouldn’t have happened without the early efforts of women in Seneca Falls.

We must work to amend the Constitution to limit money in politics. While we move toward this goal there are other actions you can and should take to limit the influence of money in politics.

First, vote. Encourage all you know to vote.

Before you vote, do your homework. Read up on the positions of candidates. Talk with candidates. Take note of which candidates won’t appear at a public forum or community gathering. Don’t be swayed by negative advertising. Negative ads are designed to influence you to vote against a candidate or not vote at all.

Pay attention to who is paying for ads and mailers – much of the money in politics comes through outside groups with a vested interest in the outcome of the election.

You can lessen the effect of money in politics by refusing to let money buy your vote.

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Can a Company Have Religious Beliefs?

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Monday, 30 June 2014
in Wisconsin

supreme_corporate_courtGREEN BAY - The Supreme Court ruled today that private corporations can deny contraception to workers, in violation of the insurance requirements under Obamacare. (Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius). The owners at Hobby Lobby argued that their religious beliefs trump the rights of their 13,000 employees and the ruling opens a pandora’s box that employers may use to discriminate against individuals in one way or another.

One wonders, by what legal gymnastics, did the conservative justices on the court convince themselves that one individual or group gets to impose their personal prejudices on another and still stay within the intent of our constitution?

Are all of us equal or are some of us more equal than others, as the phase from Animal Farm goes?

If you work in some else’s household do you have to attend the church of the masters? If you live in a town where the majority of the city council is Christian, do you have to be the same? What exactly is the difference?

The Supreme Court conservatives tried to hedge around the issue by saying only “closely held” corporations get to discriminate. But what exactly does that mean? You can be sure that the lawyers at thousands of companies are checking out ways right now to use this ruling for their own benefit.

And finally, where exactly does the constitution say that a company can have religious beliefs? And if so, whose beliefs are they? The one or five owners? The majority of the workers in the company? The people in the central office? It goes on and on.

Unless you accept the logic, as the Supreme Court conservatives apparently did, that the owners get to impose their beliefs on everyone within their domain, perhaps under the divine right of kings.

Wasn’t that what we fought a revolution and wrote a constitution to end?

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