Sen. K. Vinehout's blog

“You have got to be kidding!”

“You have got to be kidding!”
Advocates Respond to Privatizing Family Care & IRIS
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
“You have got to be kidding!” a Chippewa Valley advocate responded when I told her about a plan to potentially turn Family Care over to a for-profit insurance company.
Family Care and its fee-for-service sister, IRIS, provide thousands of Medicaid-eligible frail elderly and disabled people the help they need to remain in their homes. Services could include help getting places; keeping a job; managing money; preparing meals; keeping healthy; bathing and dressing.
People who benefit from Family Care or IRIS might easily end up in an expensive institution. Personal care and other workers help them stay in their own home – and many times – stay gainfully employed.
If the current version of the governor’s budget becomes law, it will mean big changes to care for frail elderly and disabled people of modest means. For the rest of us, it could mean many more of our neighbors and family members end up in expensive institutions. Worse yet, folks could be stranded at home without the services they need to independently live and work.

Save SeniorCare, Again!

Save SeniorCare, Again!
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
“Please do what you can to keep SeniorCare as is. It is critical to those of us on it.” wrote a rural Buffalo County woman.
“I will be 70 years old in a couple of months and not on any prescription medicines. SeniorCare is perfect for me as I very seldom require a prescription for illness or injury, usually going for a year or more without needing one. I should not have to pay the outrageous high cost of Medicare Part D which I would very seldom use and it would cause a terrible financial burden for me that I could not handle on my fixed income.”
The rural woman I’ll call ‘Dawn’ signed her letter, “Thank you from a very satisfied SeniorCare participant.”
Slipped into the Governor’s state budget is a requirement that seniors sign up for Medicare Part D before they sign up for SeniorCare. The program is a substitute for Part D.
To justify his action, the Governor told the Wisconsin State Journal “It’s not about changing benefits; it’s ultimately about changing who pays for it.”

State Budget: Take Time to Learn and Express Yourself

“What people need to understand is that we are seeing this budget for the first time,” the Republican staff member told me. “There are a lot of things that need to change.”
Recently the Governor made public his proposal for the state’s two-year budget. The day following his speech a Senate page brought around a hand-truck load of budget documents.
When I visited my Republican Senate colleague, the staff had budget papers spread out over a desk and were trying to make sense of it – even as phone calls and emails from constituents were coming in.
As we scramble to find buried details, some constituents already were expressing themselves to lawmakers. The back-and-forth between constituents and legislators is a vital aspect of the political process, and input from citizens is never more important than during the two-year budget process.
We all know the headlines: $300 million cut to the UW; cutting the UW  loose from state government; lower funding for K-12 schools; statewide subsidy for private schools; state money to make a small dent in rising property taxes.
But it will take months to identify all the specifics.
That’s where you come in. It’s one thing to see a number on a page. It is quite another to understand the effect of a budget action across the state.

Let’s Not Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water

Let’s Not Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water”

GAB Audit Hearing shows path to improved operation


Senator Kathleen Vinehout

“I’m not a clerk. I’m just a citizen who observed several recounts and recalls,” Bill Wasser of Reedsburg told the Audit Committee. “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let’s make some changes and make it work.”

Mr. Wasser responded to some lawmakers who threatened to dismantle the Government Accountability Board (GAB). The state agency oversees elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics.

One of the lawmakers intent on dismantling the nonpartisan agency is Assembly Speaker Robin Vos who told reporters the GAB “will not exist in its current form much longer.”

At the recent public hearing many local elected officials from across the state testified in support of the GAB. The work of the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) confirmed what clerks were saying: GAB staff members were consistent and inventive in training and supporting clerks during a tumultuous time in Wisconsin’s history.

“I Don’t Have A Clue” - School Play Mirrors Confusion in Assembly Education Committee

January 21, 2015
“I Don’t Have A Clue”
School Play Mirrors Confusion in Assembly Education Committee
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
“Edgar: All right, everybody; back to the scene of the crime.
“Ella: New clues?
“Carol: What clues?
“Bob: What’s the next clue?
“Carol: I don’t have a clue.
“Norman: (At the window box, dramatically.) Guys, the body’s gone!”
So goes the hilarious comedy written by Craig Sodaro and performed by Alma students. The play begins as a murder mystery dinner invitation and ends wrapped up in an international smuggling ring.
Students spent the last three and a half months practicing lines and preparing costumes. Play Director Tom Brakke coordinated a cast of roughly a quarter of Alma’s Middle and High Schoolers with precious few resources. He even directed students to buy up half-priced dresses and police uniforms at After-Halloween-Sales.
The work shows. The fast-paced comedy pulled in record crowds at the rural high school. Teens of all ages delivered their lines flawlessly and kept everyone entertained.
I took in the show on a brief break. I couldn’t help but see parallels between the confusion of the dinner guests and the lines delivered at a recent Assembly Education Committee hearing.

LAB Fraud Hotline: Working to Stop Waste, Abuse and Mismanagement

LAB Fraud Hotline: Working to Stop Waste, Abuse and Mismanagement
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
“We waited and the ride never came,” said one disabled man. “I was so cold” another woman said. “They said the heater in the van didn’t work.”
The disabled folks from Black River Falls who called me were on to something. They described problems (like waiting for a van that never came) with state contractors who were supposed to transport Medicaid patients to a doctor or therapy appointment. The problems they described were happening in many parts of the state.
The complaints led to a public hearing. Last spring lawmakers directed the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) to conduct an investigation into contactors hired by the state to provide non-emergency medical transportation. Auditors were to investigate the complaints raised about substandard service. 
But some people were afraid to complain. For a kidney dialysis patient, life depends on the ride to the dialysis center.

Pay Attention - There’s a New Legislature in Session

“Raise your right hand and repeat after me,” the Supreme Court Justice directs newly elected and re-elected lawmakers.
So begins the new 2-year Legislative Session.
On the first working day of 2015 a new group of freshman legislators began their work. Ordinary folks from ordinary lives receive a crash course in state services, agencies, budgeting and parliamentary procedure.
Soon an onslaught of proposed bills will appear in the email in-boxes of lawmakers.
Over 1,500 bills will be introduced before the 2-year legislative session adjourns. These bills will flow through 16 Senate and 33 Assembly committees. Certain proposals will also be reviewed by 10 joint committees.

Looking forward to the challenges of 2015

Looking Forward to the Challenges of 2015
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
There’s something about the New Year that brings freshness and hope. Pain and loss are eased as the calendar turns to 2015. Opportunity and change await.
Farming taught me the importance of new beginnings. While the ground lies fallow, plans begin. The farmer sees the snow covered field. But in the mind’s eye, the field is lush green. The weeds are few; the crop bountiful; the balance sheet in the black.
So begins the work of the people in 2015. Every bill is new (although many are recycled). Each bill begins the laborious process of committees and public hearings. Many legislators are new; returning lawmakers have new offices and some new staff.
Acrimonious campaigning is put aside. Even long-time opponents sound similar as they compete to deliver the best bipartisan speech.
Farming taught me the importance of having a plan; so in this spirit of fresh beginnings this week and next I’ll offer my hopes and plans for the coming year.
The new session begins with the Governor’s proposal for the two-year state budget. The most important work of the Legislature will be the passage of this bill by midyear. The largest state-funded part of the budget will be K-12 education. What happens to schools will affect every community in Wisconsin.

Looking Back on 2014

December 24, 2014
Looking Back on 2014
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
The close of the year is a good time to reflect on what passed and look forward to what lies ahead. This week I offer my annual review of the opinions and needs of the folks I’m honored to represent.
Communication with constituents is a big part of a Senator’s job. This year I had over 6,500 contacts with more than 4,500 people in the 31st district on dozens of issues. Most people chose to send an email but 44 hard-working, old-fashioned souls took the time to send a handwritten letter or postcard.
Almost 300 people made the long trip to Madison to meet with me. Many came to celebrate a special occasion – like the 100th anniversary of 4-H in Wisconsin. Others came to testify or attend a public hearing.

Don’t Let Government Accountability “Reform” Mean Return to Corruption

“I promise you that two years from now, when we are sitting here, the GAB will not be in the current format,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told a crowd at a Madison luncheon as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal
The Government Accountability Board (GAB) was created seven years ago to prevent corrupt practices in state government. The agency had its beginnings when the existing ethics and election board failed to stop lawmakers from using public resources for campaign purposes in the 2002 “caucus scandal”.
A recently released Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) audit of the GAB provides insight to the activities of the GAB. The audit also spurred a partisan attack on the agency crippled by underfunding and unprecedented challenges.
Auditors confirmed that GAB officials complied with many legal duties but, among other findings, did not promulgate required administrative rules, adequately track late reports or consistently assess penalties.
Local government administers elections with oversight from the GAB. Many actions of the agency are working well. Municipal clerks are trained using a variety of methods to allow on-line attendance.


Subscribe to RSS - Sen. K. Vinehout's blog