Senator Kathleen Vinehout's blog

Saying “Good Bye” to Benjamin

Kathleen Vinehout
Saying “Good Bye” to Benjamin
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“I make the promises and my staff keeps them,” said former state Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center). I don’t know if Senator Schultz was the first to say this but his statement certainly describes the important role of Capitol staff.
 

UWEC and Local Business: A Flourishing Relationship Worthy of Investment

Kathleen Vinehout

UWEC and Local Business: A Flourishing Relationship Worthy of Investment

By

Senator Kathleen Vinehout

“One hundred years ago the Chamber rented a rail car to go down to Madison,” President Bob McCoy of the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce told the gathering of business leaders. A century ago, Chamber members traveled to Madison to advocate for a new UW campus in Eau Claire.

Government Accountability Died the End of June

Kathleen Vinehout
Government Accountability Died the End of June
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
Government Accountability passed in a quiet death the last day of June.
 
There was no fanfare, no long speeches – just hard working employees packing up personal items.
 
I imagined the nonpartisan judges of the Government Accountability Board (GAB) breathed a deep sigh as they left their service on the GAB and ended the rough and tumble ordeal as broad members.
 
All the fanfare, public speeches and hyper-partisan rhetoric happened last winter in what GAB board member, Judge Thomas Barland, called a “public lynching”.
 
Judge Barland is a former Circuit Court Judge for Eau Claire and Trempealeau counties. As a GAB board member, he oversaw government accountability in Wisconsin. Earlier this year he retired from the GAB.
 
For over thirty years, he served as a nonpartisan judge. Ironically, given the partisan focus of destroying the GAB, Judge Barland served as a Republican State Representative from 1961 to 1967.
 
Following an interview with Judge Barland, Chippewa Valley Herald Associate Editor David Gordon wrote, Barland said his ‘public lynching’ comment referred both to the recurrent attacks on the GAB by members of the Republican majority in the Legislature, and to the actual destruction of the Board.”

Delight in the Sun!

Kathleen Vinehout
Delight in the Sun!
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Don’t you want to sit in the shade?” my sister-in-law asked. “No” I replied. I love the sun. I understand why ancient civilizations worshiped the sun.
 
Somehow, I think my in-laws, Cindy and Norm, love the sun too.
 
They just returned from the Midwest Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin. The Energy Fair, sponsored by the nonprofit Midwest Renewable Energy Association celebrated its 27th anniversary in June.
 
With over 200 workshops and roughly 15,000 folks attending, the fair serves as a catalyst for clean energy projects all over Wisconsin.

Birth, Life and Death of a Bad Idea

Kathleen Vinehout
15, 2016
Birth, Life and Death of a Bad Idea
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“No one had any inkling this was happening,” Michael Blumenfeld told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We are just scratching our heads. Why would you do this?” Mr. Blumenfeld spoke for the Wisconsin Family Care Association in early spring of 2015.
 
The frail elderly, disabled, and their families learned the governor sought to privatize the successful Family Care and IRIS programs, handing them over to a few large insurance companies.
 
The birth of this idea happened in secret.
 
The Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary – charged with shepherding the plan through the legislative process – acknowledged to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “she learned of the proposal only when the governor’s budget was released.” Evidently her staff also knew nothing of the plan.
 
“None of them knew anything about this,” said Barbara Beckert of Disability Rights Wisconsin. “They are in a state of shock.”
 
In December 2014, the governor’s office invited advocacy groups to a meeting to discuss what they would like to see happen with the programs. Jason Endres and his spouse Julie of Eau Claire attended that meeting.
 
“We were never listened to,” Jason said. “The governor did a complete 180 when the budget came out.”

Audit Raises Questions About Clean Water Protection

Kathleen Vinehout
 
Audit Raises Questions About Clean Water Protection
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
We all drink water. We expect the water to be clean when it comes out of the facet. We also expect that someone is looking over the safety of our water.
 
Residents in Kewaunee County wonder more than most if the water they drink is really safe. Well water tested in a random sample last November found a third of Kewaunee wells were contaminated with bacteria or unsafe levels of nitrates.
 
The likely culprits of well contamination are large livestock farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Kewaunee County has more CAFOs permitted by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) than any other county except Brown.
 
The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Committee (LAB) recently reviewed the DNR’s work related to our state’s pollution discharge elimination system. The DNR staff is charged with watching over about 1,250 industrial and municipality-owned wastewater treatment plants and the discharge of over 250 large farms – mostly large dairies.

How to make heads or tails out of Wisconsin's finances

Kathleen Vinehout
How to Make Heads or Tails of Wisconsin’s Finances
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Is there any news on how the state is positioned for revenue growth?” Mr. Olsen inquired in his letter.
 
“How do our finances compare to other states?” Mrs. Adams asked.
 
People want to know about the health of Wisconsin’s finances. As I began my research, I spoke with the State Auditor and the chief financial analyst, both of whom work for nonpartisan legislative support agencies.
 
Wisconsin is midway through its two-year budget. The state’s fiscal year ends June 30th. By mid-August we should know how closely actual spending and revenue tracked with budgeted numbers.
 
Preparations are underway for the 2017-19 state budget. State agencies are putting together their budget requests. In November, Wisconsin’s Department of Revenue (DOR) is required to release estimates on money coming into the state to help inform decisions about the budget.

School Funding Hits Home

Kathleen Vinehout
School Funding Hits Home
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
What’s wrong with school funding? Explaining this to voters is difficult. Try explaining it to a ninth grader who is losing a favorite teacher. The teacher is not retiring. At 53 and after teaching for 29 years, he lost his job.
 
Recently I spent a day teaching high school students about school funding and the state budget. Later that day I presented similar material to staff and school board members. I learned much more than the students did during my day as teacher.
 
Prescott considers itself a suburb of Saint Paul. Only 20 minutes away, folks go to church, shop, and read the newspaper from the Twin Cities. Few hear news from Madison.
 
However, Wisconsin’s convoluted school funding formula is now the topic of conversation.
 
Prescott school district lost a referendum in February. Voters will soon decide another – the 27th referenda in just 15 years!

Playing Nice in the Sandbox and the River

Kathleen Vinehout
Playing Nice in the Sandbox and the River
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“People are being driven off the river,” Sue told Black River area residents. “My kids can’t dive off the dock with the big boats. … It didn’t used to be this way. We could all get along - kayakers, canoers, and boaters. I wouldn’t dream of letting my kids kayak now.”
 
Friends of the Black River gathered to talk with boat owners about river use. Some felt big boats had taken over the river.
 
Playing nice in the sandbox means respecting others play. The six-year-old bully who throws sand and drives other children away does not ‘play nice.’
 
The public meeting I attended with Sue and about seventy others had at its heart the request to ‘play nice’ on the river.
 

Recovery Court Celebrates Ten Years of Changing Lives

Kathleen Vinehout
Recovery Court Celebrates Ten Years of Changing Lives
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
Addiction may begin in a very private way. But, healing from addiction can take a village and can be very public.
 
“This is a big challenge,” Taavi McMahon, the Trempealeau County District Attorney told me. “People get up in front of everyone in open court and spill the beans about their whole life.”
 
Recovery Court in Trempealeau County recently celebrated 10 years of helping addicts return to a healthy life and avoid prison. I was blessed to be a part of the anniversary celebration held in Whitehall.
 
“All of the Black Tar China Girls raise your hands,” said Kim Walker to the crowd of community members and graduates of the Recovery Court. Folks raised their hands. These were heroin or other opiate drug addicts who changed their lives.
 
Kim Walker worked with addicts through intensive outpatient counseling. Her smile and sparkling enthusiasm for life was infectious. Those recovering crowded around her and took “selfies” to mark the anniversary of the program that brought them from the brink of death to a full life in a supportive community.

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