Looking Back, Looking Forward

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As we say good-bye to 2012, it’s good to reflect on the old year and the opportunities and challenges in the New Year.

Looking back, 2012 was the Year of the Mine.

The overwhelming reason constituents contacted me was to express thoughts about mining. Almost half of all contacts I received were related to mining.

Concerns were split evenly between sand mining and metallic mining.

People expressed strong opinions about metallic mining. Three quarters of those who contacted me opposed legislation to rewrite the metallic mining law. Folks were concerned about the environment, protecting the interests of the tribes and the effect of mining on tourism. One quarter of people who wrote supporting changes in the mining law were mainly concerned about jobs.

Of those who wrote to express an opinion about sand mines, 97% were opposed to sand mines. For every person who wrote expressing an opinion, almost three people wrote requesting specific assistance with a mine in their neighborhood.

My office assisted many with concerns about some aspect of sand mines; including community residents, county board members, town officials, school board members and sand mine owners. Road access, traffic, proximity of mines to a school, DNR permits, air and noise pollution, and water table testing were some of the concerns we addressed.

Many people call my office for assistance with problems related to government. The most common reason people call is related to Social Security. On problems with federal programs, my staff and I work closely with Congressman Ron Kind and his staff. They are quick to help me navigate the federal bureaucracy in the service of local people.

Other issues people call to request assistance include child custody, child support, energy assistance, unemployment insurance and Food Share. Often people call about health issues. People need help with BadgerCare, Family Care and the state’s high risk insurance known as HIRSP.

Access to affordable health care, especially for small business and people who buy insurance on their own remains at the top of the list for many in the 31st district. I will re-introduce my bill to establish a state-run health exchange to bring real relief to businesses and those facing rising health insurance costs.

Protecting BadgerCare and solving the problems in Family Care and Medicaid are concerns of your neighbors because so many depend on these programs.

Business owners and managers call with needs related to expansion and new business development. I assisted with economic development grants and helped resolve problems with the state DNR and DOT offices. As a result of this work, we have a new radio station in Durand and many new infrastructure projects throughout the district.

The financial health of our schools is on minds of many constituents. Nearly everyone who contacted me about education is concerned about money for local schools and opposed to an expansion of the charter and voucher programs, especially the expansion of vouchers to special education students.

The special education voucher program and the independent charter school expansion will likely reappear before the Education Committee of which I am a member. The Governor may also add an expansion of the voucher program in the state budget.

Soon, I will meet with representatives from the Governor’s office and continue to meet with other Legislators as we work to find some common ground on school finance reform.

As I work to change the school funding formula to better assist our schools, I will also play defense to stop new proposals that syphon off dollars that should go to our already struggling schools.

In addition to schools, rumors in the Capitol are that mining will take front and center early next year as some push the Assembly version of the iron ore mining bill. I will work on several bills to assist residents and local officials as they seek to find harmony between sand mines and their neighbors.

All this effort would not be possible without the dedicated work of my staff: Benjamin Larson, Joel Nilsestuen and Linda Kleinschmidt. The 31st district is also blessed with the help of two talented interns: Rachel Lerman and Laura MacCallum.

Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous New Year.