Senator Kathleen Vinehout's blog

Mississippi River is One of America’s Greatest Treasures

Kathleen Vinehout
Mississippi River is One of America’s Greatest Treasures
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“A single drop of water falling into the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota would travel the river for 90 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico.” Gayle Harper, author/photographer, read this detail on the National Park Service website.
 
“Every cell in my body felt the impact of that and came to full attention. It felt as if someone had hit the ‘pause’ button on the world.”
 
She was captivated. How would it be to voyage the entire length of America’s Greatest River for 90 days with an imaginary raindrop?

Will Broadband Show Up in Rural Neighborhoods?

Kathleen Vinehout
Will Broadband Show Up in Rural Neighborhoods?
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“I don’t want to promise you fiber where fiber is not going to come,” Kent Disch, AT&T Wisconsin External Affairs Director, told Ellsworth community leaders.
 
Pierce County business leaders and elected officials gathered with telecommunication company representatives and local cooperatives to push for resolution to Internet problems.
 
Business leaders asked companies why they would not or could not bring services to businesses that were more than willing to pay. A concrete company owner noted his company is growing but lack of good broadband “is a bottleneck.”  Broadband is needed to prosper.
 
One after another, the business leaders, county board members, and a former mayor shared community problems. People could not join mandatory webinars or attend virtual conference meetings. Locals frequently experienced dropped Internet connections. The Internet would not work at certain times of the day.

Referenda Sustain Schools During Time of Decreasing State Support

Kathleen Vinehout
Referenda Sustain Schools During Time of Decreasing State Support
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“School districts these days more or less live and die by these referendums in terms of their ability to sustain programs and staff,” Dan Rossmiller of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) recently said as reported by the Isthmus.
 
So far in 2016, voters approved more than three-quarters of the 85 ballot referenda to raise property taxes to send more local dollars to schools. The nearly 77% pass rate is much higher than a few years ago.
 
People are voting to raise property taxes to keep their schools alive.
 
Recently I met with officials from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to understand school funding trends.  I learned there was a big shift in the success of referenda. Prior to 2011 (and the deep school cuts that year) about half of school referenda passed. In the past five years about two-thirds passed.
 
Historically, communities voted to raise school property taxes to build buildings. Prior to 2011, nearly two-thirds of referenda votes were for the purpose of raising debt for building projects.

Locals Raise Questions about Railroad Police

Kathleen Vinehout
Locals Raise Questions about Railroad Police
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
It was no wonder the Legislative committee chairperson did not want to hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 734, a bill that would return railroad trespassing law to pre-2006, which allowed crossing.
 
Madison lobbyists lined up against the bill to allow people to cross railroad tracks. The lobbyists represented seven different law enforcement groups, three labor groups, six different railroad groups, the oil industry and the state’s largest business lobby – Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Speed and Secrecy versus Deliberative Democracy

Kathleen Vinehout
Speed and Secrecy versus Deliberative Democracy
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“All your work has made a real difference,” Linda, my staffer, told Mrs. Gifford. She and her husband traveled to Madison to personally deliver letters to every Senator.
 
“Well, aren’t you nice,” Mrs. Gifford responded. “You just made my day!”
 
Twenty-eight minutes before the vote on a bill that would make significant changes in high capacity well rules, the Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism committee clerk came to my office and said that bill was removed from the list to be voted out of committee.
 
As he left our office, he passed Barbara Gifford and her husband Jim who came to ask me to vote against the bill. For the moment, it looked like the Giffords were successful.
 
Senate Bill 239 is one of three bills that would alter the way Wisconsin grants permits to drill a high capacity well – a well that pumps 70 or more gallons per minute of groundwater.  The bill prevents the DNR from reviewing existing high-cap well permits making them approved forever.

Budget Cuts to Education Cost All of Us

Kathleen Vinehout
 
Budget Cuts to Education Cost All of Us
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“We hired a great inorganic chemistry professor last year,” Mike, a UW-River Falls chemistry professor, told me. “Unfortunately she’s leaving in May for St. Olaf.” I visited St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota. They have a great chemistry department.
 
Mike told me his department used to have 15 professors. They now have 11 – soon to be 10. They plan to replace the person leaving but it’s getting harder to recruit and retain faculty.
 
The consequences of deep budget cuts to education are disparate but all around us.
 
Deep budget cuts to the UW system results in fewer course offerings and programs, larger classes and less staff. UW Extension is proposing to remove extension agents from many rural counties. The UW Madison Ag program announced the loss of the only dairy sheep program in the country. Faculty are moving on to greener pastures.
 
There is a similar story in K-12 education.

People Make a Difference Despite Haste at Capitol (Citizens stop action on water privatization bill)

Kathleen Vinehout
February 24, 2016
 
People Make a Difference Despite Haste at Capitol
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“What can we, as ordinary citizens, do to keep the legislature and the governor from passing/signing house bill 554? It scares the heck out of me,” wrote Claudia from Eau Claire.
 
“I know that Kathleen will vote against this terrible bill, but no doubt against the odds,” Sarah wrote from Eau Claire.
 
The “terrible” bill was AB 554, a bill that would allow out-of-state private corporations to buy public water and sewer utilities. The bill would eliminate a required public referendum to approve the sale.
 
There is good news for all the folks who wrote asking me to oppose the bill.

“This Land is Our Land” Or it used to be…

Kathleen Vinehout
 
“This Land is Our Land” Or it used to be…
Mississippi backwaters cut off to locals by railroad “police”
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
One of the best spots to ice fish is south of Alma just down the dugway from Carrol Iberg’s rural home.
 
Down there “ice fishing is really good,” Mr. Iberg told me. He fished five days a week and caught mostly pan fish, and a few northern and bass.
 
To get to one of the most accessible ice fishing areas around, just south of the power plant, you have to cross the railroad tracks.
 
The rail is owned by BNSF. The company is exerting its authority to enforce a trespassing law by hiring railroad “police” to guard the track.

Speed and Secrecy Kill Democracy

Kathleen Vinehout

Speed and Secrecy Kill Democracy

by

Senator Kathleen Vinehout

“How can we digest all your work in this short amount of time?” Senator Bewley asked the Chair of the housing committee and author of the bill before her. An amendment replacing the bill was released just before the hearing on that bill.

“How can we have a thoughtful and intelligent discussion...we just got this stinking thing a few hours ago.”

The bill, SB 464 (which has an Assembly companion - AB 582) was complex. The bill’s author said he wanted to avoid “moving the goal post” on a development project. Among other things, the bill froze in place laws on an industrial development once a minor approval (like a driveway permit) was granted even if the project would not be completed for years.

The Towns Association called the legislation, “One of the most damaging bills to local control in recent memory.”

Whose Property Rights Are Most Important?

Kathleen Vinehout
 
Whose Property Rights Are Most Important?
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“My neighbor likes to expand his lot,” Kelly told me. “First he put up a stone fence on our property and then he built a jungle gym for his kids on his other neighbor’s property.” The fence stayed but the jungle gym came down.
 
Laws and fences help make good neighbors.
 
Often these “laws” are ordinances passed by local communities. We decide collectively what works for our neighborhood, and what works in some areas will not work in other areas. You can’t have roosters in most cities. But in some cities, you can keep a few hens.

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