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Snowmobile Safety Courses Now Online

All Wisconsin residents born after 1985 are required to take a snowmobile safety course before operating a snowmobile on land not owned by the operator. The Department of Natural Resources sponsors safety classes throughout the state and now also provides safety training via an online class for interested operators ages 16 and over. The goals of the snowmobile safety course are: to reduce the potential for snowmobile accidents, injuries and fatalities; to reduce the potential for conflict between snowmobilers, landowners, and other resource users; and to promote safe, responsible, and ethical use of the environment and our resources.

Wisconsin Joins Invasive Species Compact

Recently, Wisconsin became the newest member of the Interstate Pest Control Compact (IPCC). Membership enables Wisconsin to receive financial support to combat outbreaks and infestations of plant diseases that threaten agricultural or natural resources. IPCC works like an insurance fund, with member states paying an annual contribution, similar to an insurance premium. In existence since 1968, IPCC members include 38 states and Puerto Rico and has provided over $1 million in assistance. Wisconsin was previously precluded from joining since our enrollment was contingent on all neighboring states joining the Compact. 2009 Wisconsin Act 42 changed state law and allowed Wisconsin to join even though Iowa has not become part of the Compact.

Senate Bill 382 Would Require Headlights Use During Rainy Weather

Current law requires drivers to have their headlights on during hours of darkness. Failure to follow the current headlight law results in a fine between $10 and $200. Senate Bill 382 / Assembly Bill 581 would also require drivers to use headlights when climatic conditions, such as rain or fog, limit visibility to less than 500 feet for objects on a highway. Non-compliance would result in the same fine schedule as under the current darkness headlight law. Both the Senate and Assembly bills were introduced in November; neither bill has had a public hearing or committee vote.

Absolute Sobriety for Underage Individuals on School Grounds

Under current law, alcohol possession or consumption on school grounds is prohibited except in limited circumstances requiring an administrator’s written permission. Penalties for violating this law include forfeitures of up to $200. However, a recent court case dismissed a citation for an intoxicated student that attended a school dance because the student’s parents provided him with alcohol off school grounds. Under Senate Bill 421, an underage person with detectable alcohol concentration in his/her breath or blood would be subject to a fine of up to $200. Senate Bill 421 was introduced earlier this month and has not yet received a public hearing or committee vote.

Department of Health Services Lifts H1N1 Vaccine Restrictions

Local health care providers and public health departments are now allowed to vaccinate requesting members of the general public with the H1N1 vaccine. Previously, the Department of Health Services limited H1N1 vaccinations to certain groups at high-risk, including those with chronic health concerns, young children, pregnant women, and those that work with young children. If you are interested in receiving the H1N1 vaccination, you can find a clinic online at or call 2-1-1 for a flu shot clinic locator.

Nominations Open for Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board Seat

Farmers who grow and sell soybeans in Pierce County are able to nominate others or themselves by December 30 as a candidate for the District 2 Seat on the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board. Interested parties can contact the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) at 608-224-5140 to request a nomination form. DATCP will announce the final slate of candidates in early January with the District 2 election held between January 18-30. In addition to Pierce County, District 2 also includes Buffalo, Clark, Eau Claire, Jackson, La Crosse, Pepin, Trempealeau, and Wood Counties.

Government Accountability Board Recommends Against Early Voting

After last November’s election, the Government Accountability Board (GAB) assigned staff to research early voting as a potential remedy to the administrative delays that in-person absentee balloting creates. After researching other states’ experience with early voting and holding listening sessions throughout the state, GAB’s report recommends against instituting early voting in Wisconsin. Instead, the report recommends streamlining existing in-person absentee balloting protocols, including: a 20 instead of 30 day window for absentee voting; allowing clerks to conduct in-person absentee voting in multiple locations; and simplifying application and ballot envelope signature requirements. The Board will consider these recommendations at a future meeting.

Drunken Driving Extraordinary Session

On December 16, both houses of the Legislature will convene for the purpose of voting on drunken driving reform legislation. In recent months, both houses have passed similar, but differing bills seeking to combat drunken driving. The authors in both houses have now agreed on a unified piece of legislation. Among the changes the bill would make to current law include:

-Makes fourth offense OWI a felony if the offender has an OWI conviction in the previous five-year period.

-Criminalizes first-time OWI offenses if a child under age 16 is present in the vehicle.

-Expands the pilot Winnebago County Safe Streets Program statewide, which directs certain offenders to probation and treatment programs in exchange for a reduced sentence.

-Requires Ignition Interlock Devices for all repeat offenders and first-time offenders with a Blood Alcohol Content of .15 or above. This device works by requiring the operator of a vehicle to blow into a breathalyzer-like sensor that is integrated into a vehicle’s ignition system. If the motorist has consumed alcohol, the vehicle will not start.

-Increases the court fees paid by convicted offenders from $20 to $163 and raises the license reinstatement fee from $50 to $200 for those whose licenses are suspended or revoked for a drunken driving-related offense. These fee increases are projected to raise $15 million a year to pay for the various aspects of the bill.

The proposal to increase the liquor tax, which at one time was part of the Senate version of this bill, is no longer part of the legislation.

Governor Vetoes Board of Regents Bill

As expected, Governor Doyle vetoed Senate Bill 223, which would have required a governor to appoint at least one member for each of the seven regions of the state to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. The current Board of Regents’ membership includes 10 of its 14 citizen members from either Dane or Milwaukee Counties. No citizen Regent currently resides near the River Falls, Stout, Superior, or Eau Claire campuses.

Legislation Seeks to Ban BPA in Kids' Products

Bisphenol-A, otherwise known as BPA, is a chemical compound used to harden plastics in things like water bottles and plastic cups. BPA leeches from plastics due to use and washing over time, and individuals absorb BPA as a result. Some scientists and BPA critics argue that BPA acts as a synthetic estrogen once in the human body, causing disruption in the endocrine system and creating a diverse range of health issues from diabetes to reproductive problems. Other scientists, including the federal Food and Drug Administration, do not believe that absorbed BPA causes health problems when absorbed in humans. Senate Bill 271 and Assembly Bill 405 seek to ban plastics containing BPA in baby bottles and children's spill-proof cups. Minnesota, Connecticut, and Canada have similar bans to what SB 271 / AB 405 propose. Both bills are currently in committee and Legislators have not yet voted on them.

Blood Donation, a Great Gift

Holiday giving often reminds us of shopping, standing in line, and wrapping presents. This year, consider blood donation as part of your holiday giving. The gift of blood is more precious than any mall find and its need is truly great. The American Red Cross is sponsoring local blood drives with several community organizations in the moth of December. Below is a partial listing of community blood drives in our area. To schedule an appointment, call 1-800-GIVE LIFE (800-448-3543).

December 14: New Richmond – 1:00 P.M. - 6:00 P.M. 1310New Richmond American Legion Post 1260 Wall St.

December 15: Hudson – 1:00 P.M. – 6:00 P.M. 1310Bethel Lutheran Church 920 3rd St.

December 17: New Richmond – 8:00 A.M – 7:00 P.M.1310National Guard Armory 1425 Wall St.

December 22: River Falls – 9:00 A.M – 2:00 P.M.1310St. Bridget’s Catholic Church

December 28: Prescott – 1:00 P.M. – 7:00 P.M.1310Prescott EMS 1603 Pine St.

December 30: Hudson – 10:00 A.M. – 3:00 P.M.1310Hudson Hospital and Clinics 405 Stageline Rd.

December 31: River Falls – 10:00 A.M. – 3:00 P.M.1310National Guard Armory 815 W. Division St.

Badger License Plate is Top Vote Getter

The DNR asked state residents in October to weigh in on a new design for the new Endangered Resources License Plate. Survey voters overwhelmingly selected the design featuring the badger with 68% or 16,167 out of approximately 23,000 votes. The Departments of Natural Resources and Transportation will use the survey results to help make a final decision on the new design. The plate will be available to Wisconsin motorists in 2010 in addition to the grey wolf, featured on the Endangered Resources plate since 1995.

Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education Hearing This Week

NOTE: This hearing has been rescheduled for January 7th.

On Thursday, December 10, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education will hold a public hearing on a number of gubernatorial appointments and bills. Among the bills that the Committee will hear testimony on are:

1310Assembly Bill 229: would create an exemption for a food processing license for a seller of canned goods earning less than $5,000 in sales.

Assembly Bill 418: would require the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection to designate an employee of the Department to serve as county fair coordinator. This bill previously passed the full Assembly by a unanimous vote in October.

Senate Bill 268: would give local control in decisions about location of rendering plants, which is a power currently held by the State.

Senate Bill 419: would create standards for labeling products as Wisconsin certified honey.

511 Winter Driving Information

As we continue to experience wintry weather, knowing the road conditions gains importance in our travel planning. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation maintains the 511 hotline, which provides information on road conditions, accidents, and travel times throughout the state. This information is updated regularly throughout the day and is available both by phone at 511 and online at the link above.

2010 Spring Turkey and Black Bear License Application Deadline Nears

Hunters have until the close of business on Thursday, December 10 to apply for available spring turkey and black bear permits. Applications are for permit drawings for each of these respective seasons and cost $3. Interested hunters can apply at a local authorized license agent or call the DNR, toll free at 1-877-LICENSE (877-945-4236). For a list of local authorized license agents, click the above link.

Preliminary Deer Hunting Numbers Released

The DNR has announced a preliminary count of 195,647 deer harvested during the recently completed gun deer season. This number does not include deer taken during the archery or other gun deer hunting seasons.

This number represents a nearly 30% decline from 2008’s preliminary count of 276,895 deer. DNR officials cited weather conditions and lower fawn production for the decrease in the harvest.

In other news, the DNR announced that nearly 10,000 mentored hunting licenses were purchased by 10- and 11-year old hunters, along with 638,000 regular gun licenses. The 2009 gun deer hunting season was the fourth safest season ever.

Hearing Today on DNA Saves

DNA Saves, legislation that I have drafted with Rep. Ann Hraychuck calling for the collection of DNA samples from offenders at the time of felony arrest, will be held for a public hearing today before the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform, and Housing.

Jayann Sepich, a victim’s advocate that is leading the national effort to enact such legislation in every state, will be testifying at the hearing. Currently, 21 states and the federal government have enacted legislation requiring the collection of DNA samples from offenders at felony arrest.

No Call List Deadline is November 30

The next deadline for signing up for Wisconsin’s No Call List is November 30. Telephone numbers registered on the No Call List by this date will go into effect on January 1. The next effective date for registering on the No Call List is April 1.

The No Call List is updated four times a year, to allow new numbers to be listed and to provide the opportunity for numbers that are expiring from the No Call List to be renewed. Telephone numbers remain on the No Call List for two years and can be renewed without limit.

To register your telephone number, visit the website linked above or call 866-966-2255.

Governor Signs Several New Laws

The Legislature wrapped up its regular floor period for the year earlier this month and passed several bills through both houses. As a result, Governor Doyle has signed several new laws in the past few weeks. Among the recently enacted laws were the following:13102009 Wisconsin Act 55 strengthens protections against invasive species traveling from one waterway to another by prohibiting vehicles, watercraft, sea planes, or other objects from changing waterways if an invasive animal or plant is attached. These strengthened prohibitions do not apply if only traveling within a single navigable water system.13102009 Wisconsin Act 62 eliminates a loophole in the State’s hit-and-run law that prevented prosecution of hit-and-run offenses on private parking areas. This law is in response to the tragic case of Frances Suitor, who died in 2005 while sleeping in her Oregon, WI home when a drunken driver crashed through her house and killed her. 13102009 Wisconsin Act 64 requires all approved driver education courses to 34acquaint each student with the hazards posed by railroad highway grade crossings and provide at least 30 minutes of instruction in safely dealing with these hazards.3413102009 Wisconsin Act 72 allows law enforcement to collect a fee from a convicted person that law enforcement must transport via ferry to jail after the time of an arrest. This situation arises in island communities in the state where the county jail may not be accessible from the point of arrest via a normal roadway or bridge13102009 Wisconsin Act 76 restricts those convicted of serious criminal offenses from obtaining certification to become a child care provider. Convictions that permanently bar a person from becoming a licensed child care provider include: a felony against a child, felony battery, first or second degree murder or reckless homicide, felony sexual assault, armed burglary or robbery, felony depiction of nudity; and closely related offenses.

Grantsburg Girls are State Champions

The Grantsburg girls took home the WIAA Division III State Volleyball Championship earlier this month after winning the state tournament in Green Bay. Grantsburg defeated Laconia High School (Rosendale) in the semifinals in straight sets before downing Cuba City High School 3-0 in the final. Congratulations!

Capitol Christmas Tree from River Falls

The 2009 State Capitol Christmas Tree will be leaving Mr. Snowman’s Christmas Tree Farm in River Falls on Tuesday, November 24, en route to Madison. Owner Charles MacDonald has donated the tree. The Capitol Christmas Tree stands in the rotunda throughout the season and is the centerpiece of the Capitol’s holiday decorations. Per tradition, school children throughout the state create ornaments for display on the tree.

Public Hearing Held on Campaign Finance Bill

The Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections held a public hearing on November 17 on Assembly Bill 104 (AB 104), which I authored with Rep. Dick Spanbauer (R-Oshkosh). AB 104 would require the same information on campaign finance reports for out-of-state registrants as in-state registrants. Under current law, if a political action group or other registrant does not maintain an office or street address in Wisconsin, that registrant has reduced reporting requirements. AB 104 would bring greater disclosure and heightened uniform standards to out-of-state groups involved in Wisconsin elections.

Phosphorus Limited Further in Dish Soap

Governor Doyle signed into law 2009 Wisconsin Act 63 on November 12, which further limits the amount of phosphorus contained in dishwashing products. The former allowable limit for dish soap was 8.7% of phosphorus by weight, and Act 63 reduces that amount to 0.5% of phosphorus by weight. Eliminating unnecessary phosphorus waste is critical in controlling algae blooms, which have threatened lakes throughout the state.

Positive News on Income Tax Reciprocity

After weeks of collaboration and cooperation from lawmakers of both parties and both states, there is renewed hope in restoring income tax reciprocity as evidenced by Wisconsin lawmakers and Minnesota administrative officials working toward a new line of negotiations.

While there is a long ways to go to restore income tax reciprocity, the issue is not yet dead. I am encouraged by key Wisconsin legislative leaders, State Senator Mark Miller and Majority Leader Russ Decker, taking the initiative to jump-start dialogue between both states on this imporant issue.

Alice in Dairyland 2010 Applicants Wanted

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection is seeking applicants for the 63rd Alice in Dairyland. This position serves a spokesperson for the state’s agricultural industries, including food, fiber, and biofuels. Alice travels over 40,000 miles during the year; conducts more than 100 media interviews; and visits with thousands of students throughout the state. Interested individuals can find more information and application materials at the link above. Applications are due by 4:30 on Friday, January 15, 2010.

Diggers Hotline, 8-1-1

Most residents know that a 34Diggers Hotline34 exists, but not everyone is aware of the ease to reach this service. Dialing 8-1-1 from any phone will direct your call to your local one-call center. This free and easy call will alert pipelines, cable providers, and utilities of your planned excavation. The underground facility companies will come to identify areas of excavation and flag the underground facilities. This easy call improves safety and helps protect the environment and avoids unnecessary mistakes.

The Apprentice: Dunn County

Taking a cue from the hit reality television series, Visioning Dunn County has created a new program that links student-led teams with the business world to provide plausible solutions to real world challenges. Juniors and seniors from Dunn County high schools and freshmen at UW-Stout and Chippewa Valley Technical College comprise the student-led teams. Participating businesses present the teams with current project goals that are in need of effective proposals for completion. The student teams will work from December through April to develop proposals. A culminating ceremony will occur on April 29, at which time businesses will 34hire34 the winning team idea. The Apprentice: Dunn County is a great example of the private sector linking with educational institutions to provide real world experience for students while benefitting from the creativity of young people.

Board of Regents Bill Heads to the Governor

On November 5, both the Senate and Assembly approved Senate Bill 223, which would require that at least one member from each of Wisconsin’s seven regions would serve on the 14-member University of Wisconsin System’s Board of Regents. Senate Bill 223 is now before the Governor for consideration.

Legislature Honors Harvey Stower

This past legislative floor period, both houses of the Legislature paused to honor the late Mayor Harvey Stower of Amery, who passed away in October. Legislators from both parities spoke fondly of the service and life of Harvey Stower. In addition to serving as the Mayor of Amery for the past 14 years, he served as State Representative from the 28th Assembly District. His devoted service to Northwest Wisconsin is appreciated and will be greatly missed.

Veterans Day

I had the opportunity to pay tribute to Veterans at Veterans Day events in Clear Lake and New Richmond this year. While our country remains at war, it is important for Americans to remember and honor those that have served and those that continue to serve.

Prominent bills pass in state Senate

November 5th marked the last day of Floorperiod for 2009 in the State Senate. While committees will continue to meet and hold committee votes, the Legislature will not convene until January unless the Governor calls a special session. 1310A number of prominent bills moved through the State Senate, including:1310Assembly Bill 138, which would change the appointment process of the secretary of Natural Resources from a gubernatorial one to one appointed by the Natural Resources Board, was passed by a 21-11 vote. The bill is now before the Governor, having been concurred in as amended by the Senate to require the consent of the State Senate.1310Assembly Bill 258, which prohibits disposal of oil filters and oil absorbents into landfills. Having already passed the State Assembly, the bill is now before the Governor for his signature. As the lead Senate author of this bill, I am pleased that we are taking additional steps to prevent oil from entering our landfills and ultimately getting into our water supply. I have worked on this legislation for years, and believe new technologies make recycling oil filters and absorbents easier and more convenient.1310Senate Bill 244, which requires geographic representation on the University Of Wisconsin Board of Regents. Currently, 10 of the 14 appointed citizen regents reside in either Dane or Milwaukee County. This legislation would break the state up into 7 geographical regions, and require that at least one member of the 14 members reside in each region of the state by 2015. As a co-sponsor of this legislation, I believe geographical representation is important on the Board of Regents. The bill is now before the Governor, as it already passed the State Assembly 59-34.1310A number of bills intended to make Wisconsin eligible for the Presidents 34Race to The Top34 education funding were passed in the Senate as well. You can learn more about the bills from this session here: Assembly Bill 138 Senate Bill 244 Assembly Bill 258 Senate Bill 370 Senate Bill 371 Senate Bill 372 Senate Bill 373

Prominent bills pass in state Senate

November 5th marked the last day of Floorperiod for 2009 in the State Senate. While committees will continue to meet and hold committee votes, the Legislature will not convene until January unless the Governor calls a special session. 1310A number of prominent bills moved through the State Senate, including:1310Assembly Bill 138, which would change the appointment process of the secretary of Natural Resources from a gubernatorial one to one appointed by the Natural Resources Board, was passed by a 21-11 vote. The bill is now before the Governor, having been concurred in as amended by the Senate to require the consent of the State Senate.1310Assembly Bill 258, which prohibits disposal of oil filters and oil absorbents into landfills. Having already passed the State Assembly, the bill is now before the Governor for his signature. As the lead Senate author of this bill, I am pleased that we are taking additional steps to prevent oil from entering our landfills and ultimately getting into our water supply. I have worked on this legislation for years, and believe new technologies make recycling oil filters and absorbents easier and more convenient.1310Senate Bill 244, which requires geographic representation on the University Of Wisconsin Board of Regents. Currently, 10 of the 14 appointed citizen regents reside in either Dane or Milwaukee County. This legislation would break the state up into 7 geographical regions, and require that at least one member of the 14 members reside in each region of the state by 2015. As a co-sponsor of this legislation, I believe geographical representation is important on the Board of Regents. The bill is now before the Governor, as it already passed the State Assembly 59-34.1310A number of bills intended to make Wisconsin eligible for the Presidents 34Race to The Top34 education funding were passed in the Senate as well. You can learn more about the bills from this session here: Assembly Bill 138 Senate Bill 244 Assembly Bill 258 Senate Bill 370 Senate Bill 371 Senate Bill 372 Senate Bill 373

Osceola Area Airport Technology Upgrade

Governor Doyle has designated three state airports, including the L.O. Simenstad Municipal Airport near Osceola, to receive funding to develop localizer precision with vertical guidance technology (LPV), . LPV technology increases safety at airports by providing guidance information to allow planes to fly closer to the airport before deciding if it is safe to land. The project is scheduled for completion by September 2010.

Senate Scholar Program Now Taking Applications

High school juniors and seniors are encouraged to apply to participate in the Wisconsin Senate Scholars program, which will take place in February and March. This week-long, intensive program at the State Capitol introduces students to the many facets of the legislative process. They meet with legislative support agencies, legislative staff, the Governor’s staff, a Supreme Court Justice, the media, lobbyists, and University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty members to learn more about state government. The week’s events culminate in a Senate Scholar Committee hearing on a bill that the students draft.

High schools throughout the state will soon have information and application materials available, or you can visit now for more information and how to apply.

Regional Tourism Website Launched

The St. Croix Area Promotional Committee, which is a multi-county tourism and promotions collaboration for Barron, Burnett, and Polk Counties, has recently unveiled an updated tourism website for our region. The website provides information on a variety of interests including lodging, recreational activities, shopping, and events. This is a great way to promote small businesses and tourism in our region. Check out the new website above and share it with your friends!

Medical Malpractice Bill Delayed

Senate Bill 203, legislation that would expand medical malpractice awards in Wisconsin for the loss of companionship involving the deaths of adult children or parents, was scheduled to be taken up by the State Senate Tuesday. However, the Senate Democratic Leadership pulled the bill from the calendar on Monday.

Expanding medical malpractice costs on health care professionals increases health care costs and compounds the challenges in improving access and affordability.

Tele-town Hall Tonight

On Tuesday night (October 27) from 7:30 p.m until 8:30 p.m., I will hold my second tele-town hall, which provides a forum to answer questions and receive feedback from thousands of residents of the 10th Senate District. Tele-town halls are particularly useful in creating an opportunity for individuals that may not be able to attend a traditional town hall to have their input heard.

You can take part in the tele-town hall by calling 877-229-8493 and enter the code number 13620. If you are unable to take part in the tele-town hall, but have a comment, question, or concern, please feel free to contact me through my 34Ask Sheila34 contact form that is linked above.

New Hudson Biotech Businesses Recognized

Governor Doyle recognized three new biotechnology businesses that have relocated from Minnesota to Wisconsin recently: Rapid Diagnostek, VitalMedix, and RJA Dispersions, LLC. Rapid Diagnostek is developing technology to quickly diagnose disease by analyzing bodily fluids. VitalMedix is working on creating a drug to treat hemorrhagic shock, which occurs in injuries like car accidents. RJA Dispersions custom manufactures nano-particle and pigment dispersion technologies for clients making ultraviolet curable ink jets. I was pleased to join the Governor and a number of community leaders last week in welcoming these new businesses to our area.

Senate to Vote on Labor Education Mandate

Next Tuesday, the full Senate will vote on Assembly Bill 172, which would require public schools to teach the history of organized labor in America and the collective bargaining process. This bill passed the full Assembly in April by a 61-38 vote.

DNR Seeks Input on Deer Season Changes

The DNR is holding hearings throughout the state on proposed changes to the 2010 deer hunting season, including alternatives to Earn-a-Buck and extending the gun season. The closest public hearings for our area are:

October 26 - Eau Claire - Chippewa Valley Technical College auditorium, Room M103, 620 W. Clairemont Ave. 1310October 28 - Spooner - Spooner High School Auditorium, 801 County A.

Public hearings begin at 7:00 P.M. You can also submit your comments to the DNR online any time before November 3 by clicking the link above.

Text Messaging Ban Passes

The State Senate passed Senate Bill 103 on Tuesday, which would ban text messaging by drivers in Wisconsin. Studies have shown that text messaging while driving significantly impairs a driver’s response time and attentiveness, creating a safety hazard. I supported and co-sponsored this proposal. The bill will now be sent to the State Assembly for consideration.

DNA Saves Introduced

Legislation that I have authored with Rep. Ann Hraychuck calling for the collection of DNA samples from individuals arrested on felony charges has been introduced in the State Senate as Senate Bill 336. The introduction of this proposal was announced at a press conference on Monday at the State Capitol. Senate Bill 336 seeks to streamline the collection of DNA samples from criminals and to provide additional tools to law enforcement in removing dangerous criminals from the streets.

Jayann Sepich, the leading advocate for the national effort to enact such proposals in every state, spoke at the press conference to discuss Senate Bill 336 and the successes other states have found in enacting similar laws. Jayann is the mother of Katie Sepich, who was brutally murdered by an offender who was ultimately convicted through the use of DNA evidence.

Also in attendance at the press conference to support Senate Bill 336 were Jean and Kevin Zimmerman, parents of UW-Madison student Brittany who was murdered in 2008, and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.

New Area Code Requirement Takes Effect

Starting on Saturday, October 17, 2009, residents in the 715 area code should begin dialing the full 10-digit telephone number for all calls. Available numbers in the 715 area code are running out, which means that new numbers in our area will have a 534 area code. What is a local call now will remain a local call, regardless of the number of digits dialed.

Calls that do not include the area code will still go through until July 2010, when 10-digit dialing becomes mandatory. At that time, local numbers will include those with both the 715 and new 534 area codes.

Agricultural Census Data Now Available

Agricultural Census data is now available, sorted by legislative district, courtesy of a joint effort by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection and the National Agricultural Statistics Service. It is interesting to note that turkeys are the top livestock inventory item and corn is the top crop item sold by farmers in the 10th Senate District.

DNR Proposing New License Plate Designs

Next year, Wisconsinites seeking to purchase the optional Endangered Resources License Plate will have a choice between the traditional 34wolf plate34 and one of four new proposed designs. The new license plate will feature endangered wildlife, and DNR is welcoming public input on which design to select. Those that choose an Endangered Resource License Plate contribute $25 to support the DNR’s fund that seeks to identify, protect, and manage endangered native plants, animals and natural communities.

Frederic and Webster Schools Honored

Frederic Elementary, Webster Elementary, and Webster Middle School have been announced as honorees for the Wisconsin Promise Schools of Recognition Program. To earn this honor, schools must have higher numbers of economically disadvantaged students and outperform the state averages for similar schools on standardized reading and mathematics tests. This is the third consecutive year achieving this honor for both Frederic Elementary School and Webster Middle School. The Department of Public Instruction will honor all statewide winners during a ceremony in the State Capitol on October 20.

Oil Filter Legislation Advances

The Senate Committee on Environment passed Assembly Bill 258, which would require the recycling of oil filters and oil absorbent materials, by a 5-0 vote on October 7, 2009. This legislation will help save resources and keep contaminants out of our ground water. The bill passed the full Assembly in June, and the final legislative step is full Senate approval before going to the Governor.

Many State Offices Closed on Monday, October 12

In response to the budget provision that requires state employees to take unpaid furloughs, many state offices will be closed on Monday, October 12. Closures scheduled for October 12 include the Unemployment Insurance call center, DMV service counters, and the Department of Health Services’ Vital Records Office, among others. In many cases, automated phone or online services will still be available on that day.

BadgerCare Plus Core Plan Enrollment Suspended

The BadgerCare Plus Core Plan, which opened enrollment to provide health insurance for adults without children meeting certain income and residency requirements, has received nearly 60,000 applications for the plan since beginning on June 15, 2009. The federal government approved this plan with the condition that it be cost neutral and enrollment not exceed the budgeted amount of 54,000 participants. Starting at noon on October 9, enrollment will be suspended; however, individuals may still apply but will be put on a waitlist.

Littering Fines would Double under Bill

Assembly Bill 139 (AB 139), which proposes to double the maximum fine for littering from $500 to $1000 is working its way through the Legislature. The Senate Committee on Environment will vote on this bill on October 6. AB 139 previously passed the full Assembly 81-15 on June 23.

Income Tax Reciprocity

Working with my Minnesota counterpart across the river, Minnesota State Senator Kathy Saltzman (D), we have scheduled a meeting for border state legislators on October 12th to discuss the income tax reciprocity issue. The goal is to develop a strategy to reinstate the income tax reciprocity agreement.

Income tax reciprocity is a long-standing agreement that benefits tens-of-thousands of taxpayers in both states. While I am deeply disappointed that Minnesota has decided to end this agreement, I am hopeful that a bipartisan effort will yield an effective plan to restore income tax reciprocity.

Effort to Increase Wisconsin Exports Announced

The Wisconsin Department of Commerce announced a collaboration with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) last week that will seek to assist Wisconsin-based companies in marketing their products in other countries.

In 2008, Wisconsin exports amounted to $20.6 billion, which was the 18th largest total among the United States. Despite that number, 60 percent of Wisconsin’s manufacturers reported little or no progress on exporting their products.

The agreement between the Department of Commerce and WMEP will allow them to combine resources and knowledge to assist manufacturing firms to assess and develop their export potential. Competing in the global economy is essential to creating jobs and growing our state’s economy.

Felons Could Vote under Bill

Under current law, those convicted of a felony cannot legally vote if they are incarcerated or on related probation or parole. Upon completion of their sentence, a person is again able to vote. Senate Bill 240 and Assembly Bill 353 would allow those on probation, parole, or extended supervision to resume voting immediately upon release of incarceration, even if the sentence is not complete. Assembly Bill 353 advanced out of the Assembly Committee on Corrections and Court on a 6-5 vote earlier this month.

Bill would remove Zip Code Effect from Auto Insurance Rates

Milwaukee legislators have introduced Senate Bill 289, which would prohibit auto insurance companies from using zip codes to determine premium rates. Generally, residents of urban areas pay higher premiums due to the increased risks of theft and heavier traffic congestion. Passage of this bill would spread the higher insurance premium costs from big cities on to residents of the rest of the state.

Board of Regents Bill Advances

This week, the State Senate Agriculture and Higher Education Committee passed Senate Bill 223, which would require the Board of Regents to have at least one representative from each of seven geographical areas in the state. Northwest Wisconsin would comprise one of these geographical areas. Currently, the Board of Regents has a heavy concentration of members from the Madison and Milwaukee areas.

Board of Regents Bill Advances

This week, the State Senate Agriculture and Higher Education Committee passed Senate Bill 223, which would require the Board of Regents to have at least one representative from each of seven geographical areas in the state. Northwest Wisconsin would comprise one of these geographical areas. Currently, the Board of Regents has a heavy concentration of members from the Madison and Milwaukee areas.

Senate votes to require Mandatory Kindergarten for 5-Year-Olds

This week the State Senate passed Assembly Bill 119 on a 17-15 party-line vote that requires five-year-olds complete kindergarten in order to enroll in first grade. Current law requires compulsory school attendance for children 6 to 18 years of age. Having passed the State Assembly on September 16, the bill is now before the Governor for his approval.

Minnesota Ends Income Tax Reciprocity

Minnesota acted late last week to end the income tax reciprocity agreement between our states effective at the end of this year. This action now means that beginning in 2011 the 80,000 taxpayers that live in one state but work in the other will be required to file an income tax return to both states. Wisconsin residents will be credited for the taxes they pay in Minnesota on their Wisconsin tax returns.

I am disappointed that Minnesota has chosen to take this action that will inconvenience many taxpayers. Earlier this year, I circulated a letter among state legislators to request Governor Doyle’s attention to preserving the income tax reciprocity agreement. The letter can be read through the above link.

Prescription Drug Affordability Program

The Badger RX Gold program is a joint venture between the State of Wisconsin and Navitus Health Solutions to help the uninsured and underinsured afford prescription drugs. This program is not a discount drug card. Instead, Wisconsin residents can enroll in this program for a yearly fee ($25 for individuals and $75 for families) and realize the State’s savings derived from network discounts negotiated with community pharmacies, as well as rebates from the pharmaceutical manufacturers. Average savings on covered drugs is 35% with savings up to 95% on certain medications. No age requirements or pre-existing condition restrictions apply. For more information on covered medications, participating pharmacists, and how to enroll, see the link above.

Senate to Vote on Continuity of Government Amendment

On September 22, the State Senate will give first consideration to a proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 39, which would require state and local governments to provide for prompt and temporary succession of powers in case of disaster. Wisconsin's Constituion currently calls for this succession in cases of enemy attacks, and this proposed amendment would change the definition to include severe or prolonged, natural or human-caused, occurrence that threatens life, health, or the security of the state. This proposed constitutional amendment would need to pass both houses of the Legislature this session and next session before going to the voters on a statewide ballot.

Legislation to Strengthen No-Call List Passes Senate

On September 15, the State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 218 (SB 218), which increases fines for telemarketers that violate the 34No-Call34 list. SB 218 increases fines for violators from a minimum of $100 to a minimum of $1000 and allows a person who suffers damage to seek injunctive relief of $500 per incident. SB 218 now moves to the State Assembly for consideration.

In this month’s constituent survey, I appreciated those who took time to share their views on the 34No-Call34 list. To participate in the survey, click the link on top.

Assembly Takes Up Drunk Driving Bill

The State Assembly will be voting on Assembly Bill 283 (AB 283) tomorrow, which makes several changes to Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws. AB 283 would make the use of ignition interlock devices mandatory for repeat drunk drivers and for drunk drivers with high alcohol concentration. The bill also makes a fourth drunk driving offense, when committed within five years of a prior offense, a Class H felony.

In addition to those and other increases in penalties, AB 283 increases the requirement for alcohol and other drug assessments to include more drunk drivers and expands a pilot program for repeat drunk drivers that incorporates alcohol treatment.

WisconsinEye Holds Panel Discussion on Health Coops

WisconsinEye recently held a panel discussion on health care cooperatives. Health care cooperatives are being considered by the U.S. Congress as part of federal health care reform. In Wisconsin, I authored legislation in 2003 to allow the formation of health care cooperatives in our state. Health care cooperatives have been proven effective at lowering premiums and expanding access.

Extending Veto Limits to Counties

The State Senate will vote on Senate Joint Resolution 11 (SJR 11) tomorrow. SJR 11 is a constitutional amendment that imposes the same restrictions relating to veto authority on county executives as are currently in place for Wisconsin governors. I support this reform and am a co-sponsor of SJR 11.

I have long supported measures to end abuses by partial vetoes by governors. I supported banning the 34Vanna White Veto,34 a constitutional amendment that prohibited governors from creating new words by vetoing individual letters. In 2005, I lead the effort to put an end to the 34Frankenstein Veto34 that would prohibit governors from combining words from more than one sentence to create new sentences.

SJR 11 would place these same restrictions on county executives. Currently, county executives have the authority to veto resolutions or ordinances in whole or in part.

Constitutional amendments such as SJR 11 must be passed twice by the State Legislature in consecutive legislative sessions, followed by approval by the electorate in a statewide referendum.

Leadership Wisconsin

As a graduate of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program, I wanted to highlight this great program and encourage interested individuals to consider applying. While the program's mission remains the same, its name has been changed to 34Leadership Wisconsin.34

Leadership Wisconsin seeks to develop local leaders through a two-year program of seminars, real-world learning experiences, and classroom activities. Leadership Wisconsin continues the 25 year tradition of WRLP of preparing Wisconsin residents to participate in and meet the challenges in their communities.

Bills Moving Forward

Two bills that I have authored will see committee action today. The Assembly Committee on Transportation will be voting on Senate Bill 137, which would enable the use of low-speed electric bicycles in Wisconsin. Currently, regulatory barriers prevent the use of this transportation option. SB 137 was previously passed by the State Senate.

In addition, the Senate Committee on Environment will hold a public hearing on Assembly Bill 258, which would require the recycling of oil filters and oil absorbent material. This legislation builds off of Wisconsin’s ban on dumping oil in state landfills by requiring oil filters and absorbent material to be recycled. This legislation is the result of recommendations made by a study committee that I helped create on oil recylcing. With technological advancements in recycling, this legislation will save resources and keep contaminants out of our landfills and groundwater.

DNR Secretary Appointment Bill Advances

The bill changing the appointment process for the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources was approved by Assembly and Senate committees this week.

The Senate Committee on Transportation, Tourism, Forestry, and Natural Resources passed the bill on a 5-2 vote today, while the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources passed the bill on a 10-4 vote yesterday.

The bill would shift the authority for appointing the DNR Secretary from the Governor to the Natural Resources Board.

State Agency Furloughs Scheduled

Given the historic budget deficit facing the state, Governor Doyle is utilizing furloughs as a cost saving measure. The Governor directed state agencies to develop a plan to furlough state employees for 16 days over the two-year budget period. Many state agencies are choosing to close down completely for certain days to comply with this requirement. I would encourage individuals that need to work with state agencies to utilize the calendar linked above to ensure that the state agency is open.

New Phone Tax Takes Affect

The new 75-cent per month tax on landlines and cell phones takes affect today. The new tax was initially approved by the legislature’s budget writing committee to fund 911 call center technology upgrades and was originally scheduled to be phased out. However, it gained new life when Democratic Leadership needed more revenues to balance the budget. The funds will now go into the general fund rather than for 911 call center upgrades.

DNA Crime Lab Cracking Cold Cases

Wisconsin’s DNA crime laboratory is yielding results in catching criminals. Seven murders dating back to 1976 have been solved using DNA evidence processed by the crime laboratories this year. Locally, the Polk County Sheriff’s Department was aided by the DNA crime laboratory this year in solving an ongoing theft investigation of thousands of dollars worth of property.

I supported increasing staffing and funding for the crime laboratories, particularly as they sought to address the backlog in DNA evidence that required analyzing. The State Legislature acted last session to provide additional positions and funds that Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen requested for this purpose. The crime laboratory is successfully dealing with the backlog and producing new evidence that is helping investigators and law enforcement solve crimes.

Law enforcement agencies have cited the value of the DNA crime laboratory in their efforts to identify criminals. DNA evidence can assist law enforcement by providing a direct link between evidence and a suspect, which can save local law enforcement time and money that can be utilized on other investigations.

Stillwater Bridge Funding Before Budget Committee

The State Legislature’s budget committee will be considering a request by the Department of Transportation today to spend $4.6 million over the next two years for planning and engineering work related to the new Stillwater Bridge.

A provision was included in the state budget bill that created a new funding mechanism for paying for major interstate bridge projects, which was inserted specifically to target the new Stillwater Bridge. Due to this provision, the DOT must request funds for planned project design costs from the budget committee prior to spending them. I have urged committee members to support the appropriation in order to keep moving forward on this project.

DNR Seeks Data on Wildlife

The DNR is requesting the input of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts in documenting wildlife in Wisconsin. The effort is primarily targeted at deer hunters, who will be spending many hours in the woods this fall, as a means to obtain information on the types and numbers of animals seen.

To take part in the wildlife survey, the DNR requests that individuals record the date, hours, location, weather conditions and the animals seen during deer season. Click on the link above for more information on how to participate.

Hudson Hospital Wins Arts Award

Hudson Hospital and Clinics has been awarded the 2009 Governor’s Award in Support of the Arts in the Corporate/Business category. Hudson Hospital is being recognized for it’s Healing Arts program. Through this program, the Hospital has entered into a unique collaboration with the Phipps Center for the Arts to promote regional artists and provide art to patients as an aid to healing and wellness. Hudson Hospital and the Phipps Center acquire, exhibit, and commission work by local and regional artists to bring creative and visual arts to patients, families, visitors, and staff.

This program not only benefits the patients and staff at the hospital, but helps to facilitate art in the community. Art is on display in waiting areas, conference rooms, patient and staff corridors, procedure rooms, and patient rooms. The hospital, which also allows the use of its conference rooms for community meetings, provides opportunities for artists to showcase their works while utilizing the art to assist in the healing and wellness of patients and staff.

A ceremony will be held on October 22nd at the Governor’s Residence in Madison to present the 2009 Governor’s Awards. I congratulate the Hospital on being recognized for its support of the arts!

SeniorCare Extended Through 2012

Governor Doyle announced earlier this week that the federal government has approved Wisconsin’s application to extend the waiver allowing SeniorCare to continue through 2012.

Wisconsin’s successful senior prescription drug program was passed in 2002. Since the passage of the federal government’s Medicare Part D, I have supported efforts to ensure SeniorCare is continued by obtaining waivers from the federal government. I am pleased that the federal government has again recognized the cost savings and efficiency of the SeniorCare program compared to Medicare Part D and allowed the program to continue.

No-Call List To Be Updated August 31

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection will be updating Wisconsin’s No-Call List and is encouraging consumers to sign up by August 31st. The state’s No-Call List allows individuals to register their phone numbers on the list for two years. The List is updated every three months.

If you are on the No-Call List it is important to remember you must renew every two years in order to stay on. To renew or sign up for the No-Call List, you may call 1-866-9NO-CALL (1-866-966-2255) or go online at the website above.

You may now also register your cell phone number on the No-Call List. The State Legislature expanded the No-Call List to include cell phone numbers last session. Cell phone numbers now account for nearly 40% of the numbers on the List.

4th Land Use Leadership Tour Announced

In an effort to study successful efforts in preserving farmland, the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection and the University of Wisconsin-Extension, in cooperation with Agricultural Preserve Boards of Michigan, have organized a number of trips to eastern states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania. These Land Use Leadership Tours include visits to communities and farms that have balanced the preservation of farmland with development pressures from urban areas. I, along with a number of other individuals from western Wisconsin, have taken part in these Land Use Leadership Tours. It was a great opportunity to see firsthand how farmland within hours of some of our largest cities has been preserved.

I'm excited that another tour has been planned for this year. It will take place from October 14-18 and the registration deadline is this Friday, August 21. The cost of the Tour is $1200, but scholarships may be available to offset the cost. For more information on the Tour, call 517-484-4928.

Frankenstein Veto Erased

In signing the state budget bill earlier this summer, Governor Doyle violated the constitutional ban approved by voters last year, which prohibited “Frankenstein Vetos” that are created by combining words and numbers from two or more sentences into one sentence.

Last week, the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization voted to have the budget republished, erasing the Governor’s unconstitutional veto. While Governor Doyle acknowledged that his veto was in error and stated that he would abide by the language passed by the State Legislature, I am pleased that the Committee took action to ensure that the official record is correct.

Shoreland Zoning Rule Changes Scheduled for Public Hearing

Individuals will have an opportunity to comment on proposed changes to NR 115, which sets forth guidelines for county shoreland zoning ordinances, at a public hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment on September 10th. The Department of Natural Resources has been reviewing and revising these regulations that affect properties along lakes and streams since 2005.

In response to concerns I heard from a number of residents in the 10th Senate District, I had urged the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment to hold a hearing on these changes. The proposed rule will have far-reaching effects on private property and holding a public hearing will enable those affected to share with Committee members how the rule will personally impact them. For more information on the hearing or how to submit testimony, please contact my office.

Governor Doyle Declares Drought Emergency

Governor Doyle signed an executive order yesterday declaring a drought emergency in Wisconsin. The executive order includes 41 counties, including Burnett, Dunn, Polk, Pierce, and St. Croix Counties.

Declaring a drought emergency allows the DNR to expedite temporary irrigation permits, which allow farmers to divert water from streams and lakes for crops. A USDA report issued earlier this week indicated that more than half of the state is experiencing short or very short soil moisture. Governor Doyle cited the economic impact of agriculture in Wisconsin that accounts for $59 billion in economic activity and over 350,000 jobs in announcing the executive order.

Natural Resources Board Considers Longer Deer Season

The Natural Resources Board (NRB), which has the statutory authority to establish policy for the DNR, will be meeting today in Hayward. Among the items on the Board’s agenda is a study on alternatives to Earn-A-Buck regulations to control the state’s deer herd.

A study committee was appointed by the NRB to develop potential herd control regulations. The committee included representatives of hunters’ groups and other associations with an interest in deer herd population. One of the study committee’s recommendations is to extend the current nine day deer hunting season to sixteen days. This alternative to extend the hunting season was put forth to replace mandatory incentives to control deer population, such as Earn-A-Buck. Options under consideration for the longer deer season include one that would begin a week earlier than the current nine-day season and one that would begin on the traditional date and extend through the week after Thanksgiving.

GAB Approves Election Plan

The Government Accountability Board (GAB) approved a five year plan this week on conducting state elections. GAB is the state agency responsible for administering election and ethics laws in Wisconsin.

The State Election Administration Plan approved by GAB seeks to improve election administration, voter participation, administrative efficiency, and protect voting integrity. The Plan is designed to ensure Wisconsin’s compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requirements. Also included in the Plan is a proposal to study the use of the Internet in voting and early voting rather than the current absentee ballot system.

Senate Committee to Consider Regents Bill

The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education will be holding a public hearing Tuesday on legislation seeking to ensure geographical representation on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. Currently, 12 of the 18 Regents are from the Madison or Milwaukee areas. Senate Bill 223 would divide the state into seven areas that must have at least one Regent reside within each of those areas. I am a co-sponsor of this legislation and have authored similar legislation in past sessions to establish regional representation on the Board of Regents.

As a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education, I look forward to the opportunity to hear testimony on the bill. I am hopeful that there will be support for moving the bill forward.

On Tuesday, the Committee will also hold a public hearing on two of Governor Doyle's appointments to the Board of Regents and legislation relating to the state’s food safety programs, the use of pesticides by veterinarians, and a proposal to establish a program to enable public school students interested in certain careers with the opportunity to speak with individuals that work in those fields.

Protecting Kids Against Online Predators

The Wisconsin Department of Justice offers a number of helpful tips for parents to protect children from online predators. These tips include:

Ensuring open communication between parents and children1310Place computers in common areas1310Sign an Internet safety pledge with your children1310Create and post Internet rules1310Know your children’s passwords, screen names, and account information1310Be aware of the websites your children are visiting

To learn more, visit DOJ’s website on Internet Crimes Against Children at the link above.

Legislature’s Budget Committee Approves Train Purchase

The Legislature’s budget committee approved Governor Doyle’s proposal to spend $47.5 million to purchase new passenger trains from the Spanish firm Talgo on Tuesday. The trains are expected to be built in Wisconsin, creating up to 80 jobs.

Concerns were raised by both Democrat and Republican members of the budget committee on the purchase. Information on the purchase was only provided to the Legislature by Governor Doyle two weeks ago, and the process used by the Governor’s administration did not include a competitive bidding process. The proposal was ultimately approved on a party-line 11-4 vote, with the four Republicans on the committee voting no.

Burnett County Arts Festival

This weekend, I visited the Burnett County Arts Festival in Siren held at the Lakeview Event Center. The all day open house featured Mr. Jens Rasmussen, a talented painter and gifted writer. I felt fortunate to know Jens personally and always enjoyed receiving his handwritten letters.

The Festival had many types of art works for admirers, tourists, and connoisseurs. It was a great time.

Art in our communities has widespread cultural and economic benefits. Community efforts are growing in Northwestern Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Arts Board plays an active role in fostering these economic and cultural benefits statewide.

New Study Shows Impact of Ag in Wisconsin

A new study on the value of agriculture to Wisconsin’s economy was recently released by the University of Wisconsin-Extension. According to the study, agriculture generated over $59 billion in economic activity and provided jobs for nearly 354,000 Wisconsin workers.

25th Anniversary Memorial Ride in New Richmond

The Highland Hero’s Tribute Ride traveled through Western Wisconsin this past weekend. I had the opportunity to visit with some of the riders as they made a stop in New Richmond, and stops were also made in Clear Lake and Menomonie.

Mr. Tom Kingsbury has volunteered to re-create a ride that Mr. Tom Miller first made back in 1985. That first ride covered 1,244 miles - one mile for each person from Wisconsin that died in Vietnam. In that same tradition, the 25th Annual Memorial Ride will cover 1,244 miles plus 1 mile for each person that has died in action from Wisconsin since Vietnam. Starting from the Highground on July 31, 2009, Tom Kingsbury will peddle around the state - touching each border and many communities in between. It is a remarkable endeavor for a great cause.

Taxes on Tourists Prove Damaging

As state and local governments look for ways to address budget deficits, one area that is being commonly looked at is taxes on visitors and tourists. Raising funds through car rental fees, hotel room taxes, and tourism-related sales taxes have the potential to bring in additional revenue, but also carry the danger of damaging the tourism economy.

In Wisconsin, the recently passed state budget bill includes a significant tax increase on car rental fees in Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Racine Counties to provide funding for light rail transit. While such taxes might not directly impact local residents, they discourage visitor sales that provide positive economic effects to local businesses and our state. What they buy and where they go is impacted by the level of taxation, and recent new 34visitor34 taxes in other states have already been shown to depress tourism expenditures. The Legislature’s focus should be on helping our tourism industry and avoiding excessive taxes on visitors that spend money in our state.

Prevailing Wage Changes Described in LFB Memo

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has released it’s analysis of the prevailing wage provisions passed by the Majority Legislative Democrats and signed into law by Governor Doyle. These provisions will impact local governments by increasing the cost to perform public works projects, which will be passed onto local property taxpayers.

Shoreland Zoning Changes

A proposed rule put forth by the DNR is seeking to change minimum standards for county shoreland zoning ordinances. This proposed rule will have far-reaching effects on private property and increases DNR authority to regulate shorelands.

I have heard from a number of residents of the 10th Senate District expressing concerns with this rule in its current form. Given these concerns, I recently wrote the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment to request a public hearing on the rule. I believe that holding a public hearing would enable those affected to explain how the rule will personally impact them and provide an opportunity for modifying the rule.

Farm Technology Days Coming to Pierce County

It was great to have the opportunity to attend this year’s Farm Technology Days this week that was held at the Crave Brothers Farm in Dodge County. The Crave Brothers Farm is an impressive operation that milks a herd of 950 cows, operates a 20,000 square foot cheesemaking facility, and employs 145 workers. Crave Brothers Farm has won several awards for their quality cheeses.

It’s exciting that Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, the largest agricultural exposition in the state, will be coming to Pierce County in 2010 and will be hosted by the Roger and Bev Peterson Family farm. The annual three-day event showcases the latest technology in agriculture and is a collaborative effort by Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, UW-Extension, and the host county.

More than 1,000 commercial exhibitors were featured at this year’s exhibition, with an estimated 80,000 attendees. There is a lot of excitement in our area for next year’s Farm Technology Days, as it will provide an opportunity to showcase agriculture in our area and will bring in many visitors and exhibitioners to Pierce County and the region.

Campaign Fundraising in Budget Season

I have long been an author of legislation seeking to prohibit campaign fundraising by legislators and other state elected officials while the state budget is being considered. The bill I have authored this session on this issue is Senate Bill 23.

While the State Assembly enacted a rule this year to restricts its membership from fundraising during the state budget, banning fundraising piecemeal will not work to meet its intended effect - to restore public confidence in the budgeting process. Specifically, the ban implemented by the State Assembly contained loopholes to allow fundraising by leadership committees. It also does not cover the Senate and Governor. A bill needs to be enacted to address all members and political entities.

Spring Valley School Board Visit

Last night I had the opportunity to address the Spring Valley school board on education issues, particularly in relation to education provisions included in the state budget bill. The budget as passed by the Majority Legislative Democrats and signed into law by Governor Doyle reduces state aid to school districts by $294 million.

In addition to the funding reductions, several policy items were included in the budget that negatively impact the ability of school districts to address costs. At a time when tax revenues are falling, the State Legislature should not be enacting measures that make it more difficult for school boards to balance their budgets and provide quality education.

WisconsinEye Turns Two

This summer marks the second anniversary of the launch of WisconsinEye. WisconsinEye is the organization that broadcasts floor sessions, committee hearings, and other events involving Wisconsin state government. WisconsinEye provides coverage of the State Legislature similar to that provided by C-SPAN of the United States Congress.

Please visit WisconsinEye’s website to learn more and to watch hearings and floor sessions of the State Legislature.

Biotech Company Moving To St. Croix County

Encouraging news was reported last week when VitalMedix Inc. announced its move from Minnesota to St. Croix County. The company is working on a drug that seeks to aid first responders in keeping trauma victims alive.

VitalMedix was attracted to Wisconsin due to our state’s favorable environment for angel investments. Angel investments are when an individual or group provides significant capital investment in a business start-up. Legislation that I supported created an angel investment tax credit in Wisconsin in 2003, which provides tax incentives for angel investors. Wisconsin now has 22 angel investment groups, whereby individuals pool their investment funds to provide angel investments to businesses.

Minnesota currently does not have such tax incentives, although legislators there are considering enacting such laws due to the success of Wisconsin’s programs.

This news follows the move of Rapid Diagnostek last year to Hudson from Minnesota, which was also the beneficiary of Wisconsin investments due to our tax incentives for angel investments and early stage seed investments. It is encouraging to see this pro-growth legislation helping to attract jobs and businesses to Wisconsin. Expanding on these successes and recognizing the impact of tax structures on business growth should be priorities of the Wisconsin Legislature.

Legislation Seeks to Reinstate Stewardship Provisions

Included in the nearly 100 policy items inserted into the recently enacted state budget bill were changes made to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, which was reauthorized last session.

These changes include repealing the requirements that the DNR create and provide a directory of all publicly accessible Stewardship lands and that the DNR create a list of all properties purchased with Stewardship funds where public access has been restricted or prohibited. A third provision revises the necessary number of votes to approve a Stewardship purchase by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

I have signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation seeking to restore these provisions. I was disappointed that the Majority Democrats and Governor Doyle made these changes after last session’s agreement with conservation and sportsmen's groups on reauthorizing the Stewardship program. I support the Stewardship Program and believe that information on land purchased using these taxpayer dollars should be available to citizens.

Bear Study Indicates Larger Population

A study completed by wildlife ecologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimated that Wisconsin’s bear population to be over 33,000 bears. This estimate is 2.5 times larger than previous DNR estimates. The DNR agreed that their prior estimates had been too low.

The primary method that is used to control the bear population is public hunting. In response to the updated bear population numbers, the DNR will be increasing the number of bear permits available during the 2009 bear hunting season by 56%. The bear hunting season begins on September 9th.

School Aid Estimates Released

The Department of Pubic Instruction (DPI) has released its estimates for state aid to school districts for the upcoming 2009-10 school year.

This estimate was based on the $4.65 billion budgeted by the state in the recently enacted state budget for school aids. This figure is a decrease of 3.1% or $147 million from the amounts budgeted for school aids in 2008-09.

State school aids are distributed to school districts using a formula that takes into account factors such as number of pupils, the average cost per pupil, and the property value of the school district.

According to the estimates developed by DPI, 90 of the state’s 426 districts will receive increases in their state aid for 2009-10.

LFB Releases Memo on Tax and Fee Increases

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has released its compilation of tax and fee increases in the state budget. The total increase in taxes and fees, combined with enhanced tax collection measures, is calculated to be over $2 billion.

Benefits Available for Wisconsin Veterans

In addition to federal veterans benefits and programs, Wisconsin also provides assistance to our state’s veterans. Education programs, loans, grants, job training, and tax and fee reductions are all available to our veterans. Please visit the above link to learn more about available programs or contact the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-WIS-VETS (1-800-947-8387).

Budget Update: Property Tax Estimates

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has released its estimate of average property tax increases, given the impact of the recently enacted state budget.

According to LFB’s estimates, property taxes on a median-valued home will increase by $93 for tax bills due next year and another $123 for tax bills due in 2011. These increases represent 3.3% and 4.2% increases, respectively.

Wisconsin Crime Rates Drop

Wisconsin’s Office of Justice Assistance (OJA) has released its preliminary report on 2008 crimes and arrests. Already one of the safest states in the nation, violent crimes in Wisconsin dropped by nearly 5% in 2008. There was also a slight reduction in property crimes.

Have a Safe and Happy Fourth of July!

The Fourth of July is upon us and there will be a number of celebrations and festivals in the area to commemorate our Independence Day. I will be taking part in the Fourth of July parades in Siren and Webster on Saturday and will be participating in the Balsam Lake Freedom Festival parade on Sunday. Prior to the Balsam Lake parade, I will be speaking at the ceremony for the Deaver Addition to the Polk County Historical Museum.

Other area events include:

Parades in Wanderoos, Clam Falls, and Hudson

Fireworks in Amery, Hudson, Spring Valley, Menomonie, and Siren

Please contact local chambers of commerce or visit county tourism websites for more information on local events!

Wisconsin Ranked Number 1 in Health Care Quality

Wisconsin has been ranked as the top state for health care quality, according to a report by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Additionally, according to the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, the cost for Wisconsin Medicare coverage is $1300 less than the national average.

Maintaining the quality of Wisconsin health care while lowering costs continues to be a priority. I am pleased by the continued growth in health care cooperatives, which help realize cost savings and improve access by allowing small businesses, self-employed, and local governments to band together to negotiate health care rates and benefits. I was the author of legislation that enabled health care cooperatives in Wisconsin. This approach is now being considered by the U.S. Senate as they consider health care legislation.

UW System’s Growth Agenda Targets Efficiency and Value

The University of Wisconsin System has set accountability standards for their Growth Agenda in an effort to increase efficiency and improve quality.

A report completed by the UW System found that recent UW graduates are earning their degrees with fewer excess credits than their counterparts in the past. Total graduates system-wide has increased. Additionally, the percentage of students graduating within six years of initial enrollment has also improved by approximately five percent.

These goals have been accomplished as the UW System continues to work to control costs. The report indicates that the UW System’s administrative costs are over thirty percent less than our neighboring states’ systems. The UW System has also decreased energy consumption to reduce costs.

The UW System has also identified the need to continue expanding formal and informal partnerships with Wisconsin businesses, non-profits, local chambers of commerce, and governmental agencies. Partnerships are a critical link between relevant classroom learning and the needs of the changing workforce. A better trained workforce creates a stronger economy for Wisconsin.

Gov. Doyle Can't Break Old Habits

The Frankenstein Veto was given life when Governor Doyle combined sentences to spend $427 million the Legislature never authorized. Thankfully, such egregious vetoes are not evident in this budget bill, due to the people's ratification of the ban of the Frankenstein Veto last spring. I am, however, greatly disappointed that Governor Doyle still managed to violate the ban in one part of the budget bill with his partial vetoes, in direct contradiction to our state's Consititution.

Budget Passed by Legislature, Signed by Governor Today

The State Assembly approved the state budget bill on Friday night on a 51-46 vote, following action by the Senate on Thursday. Governor Doyle signed the bill this morning in a ceremony at the Governor’s Residence.

Stillwater Bridge Saga

The saga continues with our region’s efforts to construct a much needed, new Stillwater Bridge. Budget provisions inserted by Madison Democrats originally sought to limit build options for this specific bridge project. Under public pressure, legislative Democrats backed down and put together an altogether different provision. It does not limit build options, and thankfully provides for the long-term financing of a new bridge. However, it does require at least a $75 million contribution from the federal government specifically for this bridge project in order for Wisconsin to fund its share of the total cost split with Minnesota. So, with the Governor approving this provision today, a couple of things were established: we have capacity to fund the project and it is imperative that the federal government play a direct and active role in its financing.

Democrats Again Refuse to Remove Pork and Policy from the Budget

Thursday night, Republican members of the conference committee again attempted to remove policy and pork projects from the budget. Again Democrats voted in lockstep to keep their policy and pet projects alive. The final budget bill passed the Senate with nearly $50 million in earmarks scattered in certain legislative districts.

The budget bill now goes to the State Assembly where they are expected to act quickly. It will then go to the Governor who can exercise his partial veto to make further changes. I will be urging the Governor to use his partial veto to remove the policy and earmarks.

Democrats’ Budget May Force UW Staff Unionization

A budget provision added by Democrats, could force UW academic staff to be unionized without a vote. Governor Doyle’s budget contained a provision that would allow UW faculty and academic staff to form unions and collectively bargain. However, a vote would be required, as is typical in forming unions, before any UW faculty or staff would be made members of a union. The provision added by Legislative Democrats would allow the state’s Employment Relations Commission to consider petitions by existing unions that UW staff should be members of their union given their job duties. This provision could require UW staff to be members of unions without their input or even a vote.

I opposed the inclusion of non-fiscal policy items such as this in the budget. Regardless of one’s position on whether UW faculty and staff should be allowed to unionize, the rights of academic staff to vote on joining a union, rather than being forced to join through a bureaucratic process, should be a minimum requirement. Now, UW staff could be forced into unions with subsequent paycheck deductions.

Use Value Provision Struck

Sweeping changes to use value assessment by Senate Democrats were removed from the final budget package approved by the conference committee. The proposal would have eliminated use value assessment for farmland zoned residential, commercial or industrial.

Capital Gains Exclusion Changed in Final Budget Bill

The Conference Committee changed the exclusion amount in the final budget bill. The capital gains exclusion will now go from 60% to 30%, except for gains on certain assets used in farming. Previously, the Senate Democratic budget bill sought to remove this exclusion entirely. This change from 60 to 30 percent will result in an estimated increase in taxes collected by over $115 million in 2009-10 and $127 million in 2010-11.

Legislative Conference Committee Meets on Budget

A Conference Committee, comprised of three members from each the Senate and Assembly, met yesterday to agree to a final budget package. After beginning the meeting at 5:30, the Committee spent much of the evening reviewing the differences between the budgets approved by the Senate and Assembly. It is expected that the Committee will meet again today to take action on those differences. The State Senate is scheduled to be in session later on Thursday.

Harsdorf Urges Removal of Stillwater Bridge Provision

I joined with Representative Ann Hraychuck on Monday to request the leadership of the State Senate and State Assembly to remove the provision in the state budget that would delay construction of a new Stillwater Bridge.

During the budget process, a provision was slipped into the budget that would place limitations on the construction of a new bridge. This provision was removed by the State Assembly, but was reinserted by the Majority Senate Democrats.

DATCP and DNR Boards Meeting in New Richmond

The citizen boards that have oversight of the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will hold public meetings in New Richmond on June 24th. Both Boards will meet at the WITC campus in New Richmond. The DATCP Board will meet in Room St. Croix 101 at 8:30 AM. The Natural Resources Board will meet at 9:00 AM, for information regarding their meeting room please ask at the WITC visitors’ desk.

Impact of Capital Gains Tax Increase

The Majority Senate Democrats’ plan to eliminate the state tax exclusion on capital gains would cost Wisconsin taxpayers $315 million over the next two-years. Governor Doyle had proposed reducing the exclusion from 60% of gains to 40% in the budget he presented to the Legislature in February. When the Governor’s proposed change is added to the Senate Democrats’ proposal, $485 million in additional taxes would be taken from Wisconsin investors. If enacted, this change would be retroactive to January 1, 2009.

Punishing Wisconsin investors during an economic downturn is exactly the wrong prescription to balancing our state's budget. As an increasing number of taxpayers utilize their retirement investments in response to decreased income during the current economic slowdown, we should not be raising the taxes on capital gains. Small businesses - the lifeblood of our economy - would also be hit especially hard with such a tax increase.

WI-MN Income Tax Reciprocity At Risk

I have joined with our area representatives to write a letter to Governor Doyle requesting his attention to preserving the Wisconsin-Minnesota income tax reciprocity agreement. This agreement enables individuals that live in one state and work in the other to file one income tax form, reducing their costs and simplyifing filing.

Governor Pawlenty has threatened to pull Minnesota out of the agreement if Wisconsin does not agree to making an earlier payment. He plans to use the earlier payment to help Minnesota's budget shortfall.

I have joined with Representatives Kitty Rhoades and Ann Hraychuck to circulate a letter among state legislators to request Governor Doyle’s attention to this matter. We should not unravel reciprocity agreements that in this case benefit nearly 80,000 taxpayers of both states.

Assembly and Senate Democrats Address Budget Differences

Due to differences in the budget bills as passed by the State Assembly and Senate, leadership of both houses will be meeting this week to negotiate the final budget package. The biggest area of disagreement between the two houses is whether to enact a new gas tax or to make all capital gains taxable. Senate Democrats voted to tax all capital gains, which are currently only taxed at 40% of gains, as part of the budget passed last week. Assembly Democrats and Governor Doyle support a new gas tax.

It is not clear yet whether the Democratic leadership will resolve the differences through a conference committee or behind closed doors.

New Stillwater Bridge Has Roadblocks in Senate Budget

After Assembly Democrats removed a provision to limit build options on a new Stillwater Bridge, Senate Democrats added a slightly revised version back into their budget bill. I offered an amendment to repeal this “bridge”-blocking provision, but it was turned back by the majority party. Now our efforts will focus on working to remove the provision in conference committee where differences between the Assembly and Senate budget bills will be addressed.

Senate Democratic Budget Passes 17-16

The Senate Budget bill passed, with all Republicans and one Democrat voting against. It included another $40 million in new taxes.

Reckless budget bill did get better in some parts

After much public pressure, non-fiscal policy changes that would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain a drivers license, reversed important tort reform measures enacted in the 1990’s, and eliminated guarantees of access to public lands purchased through the Stewardship Program for hunting were all eliminated.

What’s New in the Senate Democratic Budget?

A huge new tax increase on capital gains was added by Senate Democrats. Wisconsin investors will now pay $485 million more in capital gains taxes under their budget bill. Capital gains for retirees, small businesses, and other investors would now be fully taxed under the Senate budget proposal.

Amendment to eliminate $40 million in earmarks blocked

An amendment I authored to strip the budget bill of all earmarks failed on a party line vote in the State Senate, with all Republicans trying to delete the earmarks.

Assembly Committee Passes Campaign Finance Reform Measure

Yesterday, the Assembly Committee on Elections and Campaign Reform voted to impose reporting requirements on all political ads, as are currently required of candidates. I have supported making the funding sources for all political ads accessible to Wisconsin citizens so that voters can make informed decisions. Shadowy special interest groups should not be exempt from being accountable for the influence they exert in our political process. Last campaign cycle, we had groups like “Building a Stronger Wisconsin” purchase huge amounts of air time to launch negative attacks, yet they did not have to report funding sources as required of candidates and other political action committees.

We see the influence of special interests in the current budget bill. One provision I am fighting is the provision that would restrict building options for a new Stillwater Bridge. It is clear powerful Madison special interests are playing a role in this issue, using the budget bill as a vehicle to enact non-fiscal policy changes. Transparency in campaigns and government can be an effective tool to giving “the people” more power.

Don't Forget About the Taxes!

Attention has turned to the many non-fiscal policy items in the budget bill that would drive up costs to businesses and families. However, the current budget proposal also includes new taxes on phone bills, investments, and gasoline. Altogether, there are nearly $2.1 billion in tax and fee increases in the current budget proposal. Just a few months ago, new taxes were imposted on job providers and patients in hospitals. Even with all this taxing and an influx of federal stimulus dollars, the structural deficit of this budget is $2.3 billion dollars.

Senate Deliberates on Budget

The budget bill is now before the State Senate. Senate Democrats and Republicans have been meeting in caucus today to discuss changes to the state budget bill. Press reports indicate that there is opposition from some members of the majority Senate Democrats relating to the tax on oil and reversing common-sense tort reforms. Senate Republicans await word on the Democratic proposal. The Senate is scheduled to be in session to vote on the budget bill Wednesday.

State Assembly Passes Budget Bill

After an all night session, the State Assembly passed the state budget bill on a 50-48 vote on Saturday morning. All Republicans and two Democrats voted against the budget bill, while 49 Democrats and State Representative Jeff Wood (I - Chippewa Falls), voted for it.

The Assembly improved a few of the alarming non-fiscal policy items in the budget bill, including removing provisions relating to joint and several liability and restrictions on funding the Stillwater Bridge. However, the budget will raise taxes by $2.1 billion and includes millions in earmarks and non-fiscal policy items that will drive up the cost of living and doing business in Wisconsin. The bill now moves to the State Senate, where action is expected this week. I am working with my colleagues to build support for removing all earmarks and non-fiscal policy items in the budget bill.

Health Care Cooperatives Gain National Attention

Discussions in the U.S. Congress on health care reform have recently turned to health care cooperatives as a component of pending legislation. U.S. Senators of both parties are considering the use of health care cooperatives in their deliberations on federal health care legislation.

Health care cooperatives are proving successful here in Wisconsin. I authored the state legislation passed in 2003 allowing this option to allow individuals, small businesses, self-employed, and local governments to join together to obtain health care coverage. A statewide cooperative for farmers and agri-business has proven to provide better coverage and lower premiums for its members. A cooperative for small businesses in the Green Bay area has also seen results in delivering health care to its members. In our area, Cooperative Health Choices of Western Wisconsin is planning on providing health coverage beginning this fall. For more information on CHC, contact William Rubin at the St. Croix EDC at 715-381-4383.

Assembly Severs Costly Civil Liability Changes in Budget

I am pleased that the Assembly Democrats recognized the impact of reversing tort reform laws enacted in the 1990's by removing changes to civil liability in their budget bill. Such changes to civil liability laws as proposed would lead to dramatic increases in insurance premiums for health care consumers, businesses, and local governments. Eliminating these controversial changes is a step in the right direction, and I hope Senate Democrats follow suit. With one-party domination in the State Legislature, it is critical to draw attention and mobilize opposition to provisions that may benefit some political special interests, but raise the cost of living to Wisconsin citizens.

Assembly Removes Stillwater Bridge Provision

The State Assembly is poised to adopt an amendment to the state budget that would remove the restriction on the new Stillwater Bridge. This is welcome news and a credit to the bipartisan effort to move this critical regional infrastructure project forward.

State Represenative Ann Hraychuck successfully offered the amendment in her caucus. Now we need to ensure that a provision is not added back in by the Senate.

Oil Company Assessment Now Gas Tax Increase

Changes are being proposed to Governor Doyle’s budget provision to raise $260 million by imposing a tax on oil companies' revenue. Recognizing the legal issues with preventing companies and cooperatives from passing the cost of this tax onto consumers, the State Assembly will be amending this provision to allow the tax to be added onto the price of gasoline.

For years, political rhetoric has taken aim at “big oil” with politicians offering a new tax on companies’ revenues. Of course, this tax inevitably gets shifted down to consumers in the form of higher gas prices at the pump. Yet, while such a tax shift was publicly denied, it was too politically tempting to draw a connection between those that opposed such a tax as being captive to big oil.

The Assembly Democrats are now preparing to pass an oil tax that would explicitly allow the pass through to consumers, acknowledging that earlier rhetoric was not legally sound. This would mean another 4 cents per gallon tax increase on gas in Wisconsin at a time when the state’s economy is suffering and gas prices are spiking.

New Area Code to Begin October 17

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) has acted to create a new area code within the current boundaries of the 715 area code. Called an “overlay,” this action will require individuals within the current 715 area code to begin dialing the appropriate area code for every call made, including local calls. This action was taken to provide additional telephone numbers in our region.

It is recommended that callers in the 715 area code begin using the ten digit number (area code and 7-digit number) beginning October 17th. However, if you forget and only dial the 7-digit local number, your calls will continue to be connected until July 17, 2010. Numbers for the new area code (534) will begin to be assigned on August 14th, 2010. Your current telephone number will remain the same and calling areas and rates will not change.

Proposed Budget Raises Taxes, Fails to Address Structural Deficit

According to figures released yesterday by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), the budget bill as passed by the Democratic-controlled budget writing committee will increase taxes and fees by $2.1 billion. An additional $132 million is expected to be collected by the state using “enhanced collection measures.”

Another document released by LFB projects the state to have a structural deficit of nearly $2.3 billion heading into the next two-year budget cycle in 2011-13.

Provision Seeks to Impede New Stillwater Bridge

The wording and placement of the Stillwater Bridge provision in the budget bill is highly suspect. It appears that special interests have found someone to do their bidding in Madison. This amendment would simply remove options for our two states as they face the challenge of building a new Stillwater Bridge.

Ongoing delays, fueled by lawsuits filed by the Sierra Club, are costing taxpayers literally hundreds of millions of dollars. It's time to stop putting up roadblocks.

It is ridiculous to suggest taxpayers are served by limiting options for construction. It is clear that some Madison lawmakers do not fully understand how imperative a new bridge is for western Wisconsin.

Proposed Budget Raises Taxes, Fails to Address Structural Deficit

According to figures released yesterday by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), the budget bill as passed by the Democratic-controlled budget writing committee will increase taxes and fees by $2.1 billion. An additional $132 million is expected to be collected by the state using “enhanced collection measures.”

Another document released by LFB projects the state to have a structural deficit of nearly $2.3 billion heading into the next two-year budget cycle in 2011-13.

Auto Insurance Coverage Requirements to Rise

Governor Doyle’s budget provision calling for an increase in minimum coverage amounts for motor vehicle insurance has been adopted by the Legislature’s budget writing committee, with a few modifications.

The Governor's proposal would increase liability coverage from $10,000 to $25,000 for property damages, from $25,000 to $100,000 for bodily injury coverage, and from $50,000 to $300,000 for bodily injury of two or more people. The Governor also called for raising uninsured and underinsured coverage amounts to $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident.

These changes were adopted by the Legislature’s budget writing committee, with one change that phases in the liability coverage requirements of $25,000/$100,000/$300,000 over three years. The Wisconsin Insurance Alliance estimates that this provision would raise premiums between $96 and $309.

While this provision is expected to increase auto insurance premiums, which are currently some of the lowest in the country, there is no reason to include such non-fiscal policy items in the budget. It should come out and be debated on its own merits.

Guaranteed Public Access to Stewardship Lands Lost in Budget Bill

Actions taken by the Democratic-controlled budget writing committee would repeal guaranteed public access to certain lands purchased with funds from the state’s Stewardship Program. This budget provision would make a significant change to the agreement made last session when the State Legislature reauthorized the Stewardship Program.

As a long-time supporter of the Stewardship Program, I recognize that one of the reasons the program has broad public support is that land purchases ensure public access to hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational opportunities. Given that it is the public’s tax dollars that are used in the land purchases, it only makes sense that the public be assured access to the land. I support public access on lands purchased through the Stewardship Fund and will support removing these provisions adopted by the budget committee.

State Legislature Expected to Vote on Budget

The State Assembly is expected to be in session on Wednesday and Thursday of this week to take up the state budget. After the budget is approved by the Assembly, it will move to the State Senate, which is expected to take up the bill next week.

Once the Assembly and Senate approve the budget bill and any changes between the two houses are agreed to, the budget bill will go to Governor Doyle to sign and modify through the use of his partial-veto authority. The state’s fiscal year ends on June 30th.

Assembly Democrat Proposed Budget Amendments

Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, a Democratic member of the State Assembly, has identified a number of policy items included by Governor Doyle and approved by the Democratic members of the budget writing committee that he is seeking to have removed.

Rep. Ziegelbauer issued a memo to all members of the State Assembly asking for their support for budget amendments that would remove the changes to arbitration laws for school districts, eliminate the increases in the motor vehicle insurance mandated coverage levels, and delete the changes in civil liability laws. I share Rep. Ziegelbauers concerns with these policy items, as they will increase costs on working families and small businesses. Additionally, the arbitration changes will significantly restrict the ability of school districts to contain costs.

In addition, Rep. Ziegelbauer is seeking sunsets on the new income tax bracket and the increase in capital gains taxes.

Cooperative Health Choices of Western Wisconsin Extends Deadline

Cooperative Health Choices of Western Wisconsin (CHC), the state’s second regional health care cooperative for small businesses, self-employed, and local governments, has extended their deadline for returning health care questionnaires to June 19th. CHC is urging those who are interested in possibly seeking health insurance through CHC to fill out a questionnaire. CHC is on track to provide coverage to Cooperative members over a 17 county area in Western and Northwest Wisconsin beginning in October. For more information on CHC, contact William Rubin at the St. Croix EDC at 715-381-4383.

Budget Escalates Costs

The civil liability changes proposed by Governor Doyle and modified by the Democratic Majority in the Legislature will increase insurance costs for everyone.

In his budget proposal, the Governor proposed changes to Wisconsin liability laws to reverse tort reforms passed in the 1990’s. These changes would allow individuals with as little as 1% fault in a lawsuit to have to pay 100% of the damages. While the Democratic-controlled budget writing committee raised this level to 20% of responsibility from 1%, the committee also made changes that would allow lawyers to pick and choose who would be included in calculating fault.

By undoing important tort reform measures put in place in the 1990's, liability insurance premiums will escalate. This is especially harmful in efforts to control health care costs. Putting such a policy provision in the budget bill during the midst of an economic downturn is a bad idea that will simply increase the cost of living and doing business in our state.

'Wisconsin Jobs Now Report' Released

The Wisconsin Jobs Now Report was released on Tuesday, which is a compilation of suggestions and ideas provided by small business owners and employers throughout Wisconsin. A Wisconsin Jobs Now task force held a roundtable discussion in Eau Claire on March 30, which was attended by employers throughout the 10th Senate District and Western Wisconsin. I was pleased to take part in that discussion and assisting in organizing the roundtable.

The Wisconsin Jobs Now Report includes such recommendations as streamlining state permitting processes, increasing the use of the Internet in working with the state, improving collaboration between business and higher education, greater utilization of the technical college system, and addressing health insurance costs.

Public Hearing on Oil Filter Recycling

Legislation that I have authored will have a public hearing today before the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources. This legislation, Assembly Bill 258, would require oil filters and oil absorbent materials to be recycled in Wisconsin. It is estimated that oil filters and oil absorbent materials release millions of gallons of oil and toxic substances each year into our landfills, creating a hazard to our groundwater.

Elmwood Legislation to Receive Committee Vote

The Assembly Committee on Urban Affairs today voted unanimously for passage of Assembly Bill 173, legislation I authored with Representative John Murtha. This legislation would allow the Village of Elmwood to move forward on a tax incremental district that has been delayed due to unique circumstances involving the calculation of telecommunications property within the Village. AB 173 is now available to be scheduled for a vote before the State Assembly.

Wisconsin Free Fishing Weekend!

The first weekend in June is Free Fishing Weekend in Wisconsin. This year, the weekend falls on June 6-7. On these dates, residents and non-residents of any age can fish without a fishing license or stamps. Other regulations relating to fish length and bag limits still apply.

For more information, contact a regional DNR office or visit the DNR’s website at

Budget Writing Committee Cuts Education and Local Aids

The Legislature’s budget writing committee acted this morning to approve Governor Doyle’s proposal to address the state budget deficit. The committee cut state aid to schools by $314 million, increased reductions to local government aids to $30 million, and expanded the recently adopted tax on hospital patients by over $200 million.

The committee also approved state spending reductions, including repealing scheduled 2% pay raises for state employees and approving state employee furloughs, while also restructuring debt.

The committee's actions to cut state aid for schools, while also repealing cost controls on salaries and wages, will be particularly devastating for schools. The committee passed the Governor's proposal to repeal the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO). Repealing the QEO in 2010 will reduce school boards' ability to negotiate teacher contracts. To further make salary deliberations difficult for school boards, the committee passed a measure to remove consideration of local economic conditions by arbitrators when making contract decisions between schools and unions.

Unfortunately, the Democratic-controlled budget writing committee was reckless in ignoring the harmful effect that the reduction in state aid along with removing the economic factors from arbitration would have on school districts. As government revenues diminish, we need to take steps that help local governments deal with difficult budget realities, not place additional hardships on them.

Clean Sweep Program Restored

The legislature’s budget writing committee acted to restore the Clean Sweep program in a motion made on May 22. This reversed the elimination of the program and restored $750,000 in funding. Governor Doyle had proposed eliminating the program, which is funded through the state’s recycling fund.

The Clean Sweep program has been effective in providing a safe alternative for the disposal of hazardous chemicals. It is particularly valuable in rural areas, where proper disposal sites may not be available. In such cases, hazardous chemicals have been illegally dumped, causing a health and safety hazard.

Renew Your Number on No-Call List

If your phone number is on the Wisconsin’s No-Call List, you may want to renew your number by June 1st. The No-Call List keeps phone numbers for two years, after which the number must be re-registered with the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP). You can renew your number for another two years on the No-Call List by visiting DATCP’s website at or by calling 866-966-2255 (toll-free).

Budget Writing Committee Expected to Finish This Week

Rep. Mark Pocan, one of the co-chairs of the legislature’s budget writing committee, stated that he hopes to finish the committee’s work on the budget bill by the end of the week. Major budget areas including education, shared revenue, and transportation remain to be considered.

Honoring our Fallen Soldiers

I had the honor of taking part in the Memorial Day ceremony at Clear Lake Veterans’ Memorial on Monday. It is a privilege to participate in Memorial Day ceremonies that serve to remember and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. Let us remember each and every day, all those who continue to serve our great country in order to protect our freedoms.

Governor Doyle Announces Budget Plan

On Thursday, Governor Doyle announced his proposal to address the growing budget deficit, now standing at $6.6 billion. This proposal includes a $670 million reduction in state spending, including a $290 million reduction in K-12 school aids. Governor Doyle is also proposing to expand the hospital tax, use the monthly 75 cent phone surcharge for aid to local governments, and refinancing state debt. In addition, a scheduled 2% raise for state employees would be eliminated and state employees would be required to take eight days off without pay in each of the next two years.

Citizen Input Increases as Budget Moves Forward

As the Legislature’s budget writing committee moves forward on its work on the state budget, there has been an increasing number of citizen contacts to my office. In the last 30 days, I have received over 1100 contacts from residents of the 10th Senate District. Over 500 e-mails have been sent on issues before the State Legislature.

I appreciate and value the input from citizens on the issues facing our state. Please feel free to contact me at or at 800-862-1092.

Harsdorf Committee Update: Joint Legislative Council

After the legislative session concludes in May of even-numbered years, special legislative study committees are appointed to review broad issues that may be coming before the State Legislature. These study committees are a valuable resource to the Legislature, as they utilize citizens with expertise in the subject matter and have time to consider an issue in-depth.

The results of four of these study committees will be coming before the Joint Legislative Council for consideration on May 20. As a member of the Joint Legislative Council, we review the committee’s report and determine if the committee’s work should be introduced as a bill in the Legislature. The four reports before the Council include the study committees on Domestic Biofuels, Building Wisconsin’s Workforce, Emergency Management and Continuity of Government, and Justice Reinvestment Initiative Oversight.

More information on the work of these committees can be found at

Governor Doyle Expected to Unveil Deficit Plan

Governor Doyle stated that he hopes to present his plan to address the state’s growing budget deficit this week. The Governor has announced that he is looking at reductions to aid to local governments, K-12 education, and lay-offs of state employees. Governor Doyle is also considering additional borrowing to address the budget deficit, which has risen to $6.6 billion.

Low-speed Electric Bicycle Bill passes State Senate

Legislation that I authored to enable the use of Low-speed Electric Bicycles has been approved by the State Senate. This legislation, Senate Bill 137, was brought to my attention by citizens of the 10th Senate District. The bill was taken up on May 13 and passed by the Senate on a voice vote. The bill has now been referred to the Assembly Committee on Transportation for consideration.

Harsdorf Committee Update: Commerce, Utilities, Energy and Rail

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Utilities, Energy and Rail, which I serve on, has scheduled a hearing this week on the issue of siting windmills. As wind energy becomes more prevalent, challenges arise in where to construct wind energy systems. Utilities often build large windmills in clusters, which can create conflict with adjoining property owners and local governments. Legislation to establish a statewide process for siting wind farms will be held for a public hearing on May 12 at 11:00 am in the State Capitol. Contact my office if you would like more information on this legislation or the public hearing.

State Finances Continue to Worsen

The state’s already challenging $5.7 billion budget deficit is expected to grow by as much as $1 billion, according to indications from the Department of Revenue and Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Governor Doyle had cautioned earlier this week that revenue collections continue to come in at a lower rate than expected, due to the national economic downturn. Given this information, Republican members of the legislature’s budget writing committee called for stopping the committee’s work on the state budget until actual numbers will be released later this week or early next week.

Senate InSession: Green Tier Program Reauthorized

Wisconsin’s ground-breaking Green Tier program received a vote of approval by the State Senate last week. The State Senate took action on Senate Bill 126 (SB 126), which would reauthorize and extend the Green Tier program. I am a co-sponsor of this legislation.

Green Tier is an innovative program that takes a collaborative approach to environmental protection. Green Tier participants in western Wisconsin include 3M Company – Menomonie, Federal Foam Technologies, and Phillips Plastics. Green Tier is a voluntary program that involves annual audits of environmental management systems and encourages self-reporting of violations.

Check out my News page to see my recent press release on Green Tier.

Hot Topic: DNR Service Centers to Close

The legislature’s budget writing committee acted this week to approve Governor Doyle’s proposal to close the 24 DNR Service Centers around the state. The decision is expected to reduce expenditures by $3.3 million over the two-year budget. In our area, the affected Service Centers include the DNR field offices in Baldwin, Cumberland, Hayward, and Superior. Walk-in customer services would still be available at the six regional DNR offices.

Hot Topic: Swine Flu (H1N1) in Wisconsin

Swine Flu is receiving a great deal of attention as it spreads into our local communities. Important information on Swine Flu can be found at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Pandemic Flu Resource website at This website will provide you with the latest updates, frequently asked questions, preventative and planning resources, and information on what to do if you contract this virus.

Harsdorf Bill Moves Forward

Senate Bill 137 (SB 137), legislation that I authored, received a 7-0 vote last week in the Senate Committee on Transportation. This legislation would enable the greater use of low-speed electric bicycles, which have proven to be a convenient and emissions-free mode of local transportation. This issue was brought to my attention by constituents that have utilized these bicycles, but experienced difficulty in using them given state regulations.

SB 137 would reduce bureaucratic roadblocks to using low-speed electric bicycles. The bill is now ready to be voted upon in the State Senate.