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.”

Rep. Wachs Statement on Comments by Rep. Brandtjen

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                       Contact: Representative Dana Wachs
June 7, 2016                                                                                                                          608-266-7461
 
        Rep. Wachs Statement on Comments by Rep. Brandtjen
 
 
MADISON-On Tuesday, June 7, Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), issued a press release calling for “funding cuts to Milwaukee until policies change.” Rep. Brandtjen claimed that this was necessary because of crime spilling over from the city of Milwaukee into its suburbs. In her comments, Brandtjen called out Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, saying “Mayor Barrett may not care about the safety of his family but I certainly do care about mine.” Rep. Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire) issued the following statement in response to the comments made by Rep. Brandtjen:
 
“I am appalled but not all that surprised by the offensive comments made by Rep. Brandtjen. Instead of investing in our flagship city, she and her Republican colleagues continue to ignore it and make disparaging comments about it without recognizing its importance and true potential. Instead of directing comments at Mayor Barrett, including tasteless comments about his family, perhaps she should look at how her colleagues in the Legislature and Governor Walker have treated Milwaukee. While we all recognize the value and importance of public safety, we also need to understand that Republican policies regarding education and economic development have not helped our flagship city.
 
“In Eau Claire we have a unique perspective on how a state should invest in its key Metropolitan areas. We only have to look an hour or so west to see how Minnesota has invested in the Twin Cities. Once again, I think that my colleagues like Rep. Brandtjen should follow the example of Minnesota instead of using scare tactics and threats. We need to invest in Milwaukee and its infrastructure as that city is critical.”
 

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.

Lies, Damn Lies, and the Wisconsin Idea

Walker Lied?

One of the more alarming trends in our society seems to be that we've completely given up on politicians. Not only do they receive very little respect, but we've reached the point where nobody is surprised when they lie. Over and over and over.

One of our current leading presidential candidates seems not to be able to say anything that is not either an outright lie or completely misleading. And when caught on his lies either says the never said it, or he threatens to sue.

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!

The legislature taketh and perhaps the courts giveth back

We're in another one of those interesting moments in Wisconsin where some of the more egregious acts of our state legislature are again in court. Despite our governor's assertion that Voter ID is working "fine" in the state, the current lawsuit in Wisconsin Western District court seems to be arguing otherwise. Walker is unwilling to admit that there's a problem here, yet he seems willing to write administrative rules to "fix" it. Well, only a little bit. 

Voter ID has been a painful issue right down then line, attempting to save us from the dire consequences of impersonation fraud at the polls. Fraud for which nobody seems ever to find evidence. The current case argues, I think convincingly, that the whole Voter ID law is a bare-faced attempt to disenfranchise voters who are likely to vote Democratic. Let's hope that the court sees the point here and is willing to act on it.

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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