The federal government has chosen to take back funding awarded to Wisconsin for the development of a high speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison. Funding for improving and building high speed passenger rail was included in the stimulus bill passed by the U.S. Congress in 2009. The U.S. Department of Transportation allocated $810 million to Wisconsin to establish a high speed passenger rail line from Milwaukee to Madison.
Governor-elect Scott Walker expressed his opposition to this project during the recent gubernatorial campaign, citing the potential for ongoing costs to state taxpayers to maintain the rail line. Governor Jim Doyle stopped further action on this project following the November election. It is expected that this funding will now be redistributed to other states.
The Department of Health Services (DHS) is reminding the public, especially those using portable heaters during hunting and ice fishing, to take precautions to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Because carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, exposure to this suffocating gas can be fatal if warning devices do not alert those in harm’s way. While home owners can install more permanent carbon monoxide detectors, similar to smoke detectors, portable battery-operated detectors are available for hunters and ice fishers to use in their temporary shelters. DHS also recommends using portable heaters that have an oxygen depletion sensor, which turn off the heater automatically if oxygen levels drop significantly. DHS recommends anybody experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning – dizziness, confusion, throbbing headache, nausea, and shortness of breath, to get fresh air immediately and call 911 from a neighbor’s home or outside via cell phone. For more information about preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, click the link above.
The Government Accountability Board (GAB), which oversees the state’s elections and ethics laws, is seeking input from the public regarding GAB’s current rules covering election observers. Among other requirements, the current rules require election observers to meet with the chief election inspector, sign in, and wear distinguishing name tags to avoid voter confusion between election observers and poll workers. GAB is seeking to make the current rules permanent and is asking for members of the public, especially those working as election officials and observers, regarding their experiences with the current rules. Members of the public have until December 12 to submit their comments electronically via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org . To view the current rules, click the link above.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) will be holding a public information meeting to discuss the replacement of the I-94 bridges (eastbound and westbound) in Menomonie (Dunn County). The meeting will be held on Tuesday, November 30 from 3:00 P.M. – 7:00 P.M. at the Dunn County Government Center, 800 Wilson Avenue in Menomonie. The DOT seeks to maintain four lanes of traffic during construction by replacing the bridges in two separate contracts slated for 2013 and 2014, respectively. The meeting is open house style, and DOT staff will be available to answer questions and discuss the project with members of the public on an individual basis. Those unable to attend the meeting are encouraged to submit comments or request project information about the proposed bridge replacement from Mr. Tou Yang at email@example.com. More information about the meeting is available at the link above.
Entering its eleventh year in 2010, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is again coordinating a deer donation program with regional partners for hunters to drop off harvested deer to be processed for individuals in need. The regional partner for our area is the Wisconsin Venison Donation Program. Hunters can donate any legally harvested deer taken outside the Chronic Wasting Disease Zone at participating processing centers until January 10, 2011. After field dressing and registering the deer at a Wisconsin DNR registration station, participating hunters should call a nearby processing center to verify that the center has space to accept the deer. The venison will then be distributed to charitable organizations. Several processors are again participating in our area. To find an updated statewide list of drop-off locations, click the link above.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) encourages interested women with a passion for the state’s agriculture industry and at least 21-years-old to apply to become the 64th Alice in Dairyland. The winning candidate serves as a spokesperson for the state’s food, fiber, and biofuel industries. “Alice” travels throughout the state to visit thousands of students, provide numerous media interviews, and speak at hundreds of events. Interested applicants have until 4:30 P.M. on January 11, 2011 to turn in their application materials, which can be downloaded online at the link above. Questions about the program may be submitted to Ms. Nicole Breunig via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Governor Doyle recently proclaimed November as Adoption Month in recognition of adoptive families and to promote awareness of the importance of children being able to live in a safe and loving permanent home. In addition to events held in the State Capitol, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is sharing adoption stories from families throughout the state and promoting adoption resources available to those interested in adopting a child of any age. For more information on Adoption Month and becoming an adoptive family, click on the link above.
With the gun deer hunting season beginning on November 20, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking deer hunters to participate in the DNR’s online Wildlife Survey. Since hunters see many other animals while in the woods, the DNR is asking deer hunters to report observations about and sightings of bobcats, badgers, elk, turkeys, raccoons, and a host of other woodland animals. This is the third year of the Wildlife Survey, which provides the DNR with information about trends in wildlife abundance and distribution. Hunters are also encouraged to submit trail-cam photos of less common species to the Survey. For more information and to participate, click on the link above.
All veterans and family members are invited to attend the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) Town Hall Meeting / Listening Session held on Saturday, November 13, 2010 on the UW-River Falls Campus. Secretary Ken Black will be joined by other officials from DVA to learn from veterans about their experience working with the Department and how the DVA can better serve veterans in our area. The meeting will be held from 10:00 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. at the University Center, 3rd Floor in the Kinney Theater located at 410 South Third Street in River Falls. For more information, call 1-800-WIS-VETS (947-8387).
Remember to pause and thank a veteran for his or her service to our country as we commemorate Veterans Day tomorrow, November 11th. Thank you to all those who have sacrificed and fought for our country so that we have the freedoms we enjoy. I encourage you to take time and attend an area Veterans Day ceremony. For more information on ceremonies taking place in our area and throughout the state, click on the link above.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has scheduled public hearings on proposed rules to implement the “pickle bill,” which will exempt small-scale canners from state licensing requirements.
These new rules would apply to home canners of foods that are naturally acidic or made acidic by processing with annual sales less than $5,000. Examples of such products include pickles, salsas, jams, and jellies that are sold only at farmers’ markets or community events. The rules would also apply to maple syrup producers.
In our part of the state, the closest hearings will be held at the following locations:
Altoona on November 15 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m at the Eau Claire County University of Wisconsin Extension (227 First St. W.)
Spooner on November 16 from 9 a.m until noon at the Spooner Agricultural Research Station (W6646 Hwy. 70)
A copy of the proposed rule can be found online on DATCP’s website at the link above. You can also receive a copy by calling DATCP at 608-224-4707 or e-mailing Kathy Roach at email@example.com. Written comments can also be directed to Ms. Roach’s e-mail address and are due by 4:30 p.m. on November 30.
This past summer, the Department of Health Services began the BadgerCare Plus Basic plan to provide health insurance coverage for those on the waiting list for the BadgerCare Plus Core plan. The “Basic” plan is designed as a minimal-coverage plan, fully funded by premium payments of participants and no state funding. People remain on the “Basic” plan until a slot opens up with the “Core” plan. The “Core” plan is state-sponsored health insurance for childless adults earning less than 200% of the federal poverty level. The federal poverty level for an individual is $10,830 in 2010.
Over 3,500 Wisconsinites on the waiting list for the “Core” plan have enrolled in the BadgerCare Plus Basic plan since it started over 4 months ago. From July 1 to September 15, 2010, participants submitted $893,957 in claims and paid premiums totaling $1,614,460. For more information about the BadgerCare Plus Basic Audit, click on the link above.
Farmers seeking to preserve their farmland are able to apply to become one of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s (DATCP) 2011 Agricultural Enterprise Area (AEA) designees under the Working Lands Initiative. An AEA is comprised of contiguous farmland whose owners agree to keep in agriculture for at least 15 years in exchange for tax credits. Landowners work together with local town and county governments to petition DATCP to become an AEA.
DATCP’s goal for 2011 is to designate 250,000 acres as AEAs and will prioritize designating parcels between 1,000 and 30,000 acres. DATCP is currently finalizing the initial 12 AEAs from 2010. For more information about DATCP's Working Lands Initiative and applying to become an AEA, click the link above.
After several months of campaign ads, telephone calls, and door-to-door canvassing, Election Day has arrived. There are many races at the local, state, and federal level to be decided by you, the voters. Polling sites will be open from 7 am to 8 pm on Tuesday, November 2nd. You can find your polling site and a sample ballot at the Government Accountability Board’s website at http://gab.wi.gov/.
At the federal level, Wisconsin will elect a U.S. Senator and eight U.S. Congressmen. The choices for U.S. Senator are Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson, while voters in St. Croix, Pierce, and Dunn Counties will decide between Ron Kind and Dan Kapanke for Congress in the 3rd District. Polk and Burnett Counties are part of the 7th Congressional District and will choose between Sean Duffy and Julie Lassa.
Most of Wisconsin’s state Constitutional officers will be up for election, including Governor and Attorney General. Scott Walker and Tom Barrett are candidates for Governor. J.B. Van Hollen and Scott Hassett are running for Attorney General.
All seats in the Wisconsin State Assembly will be elected, while seventeen of the State Senate’s 33 seats will be chosen. Local Assembly candidates include Dean Knudson and Matt Borup in the 30th Assembly District, John Murtha and Liz Jones in the 29th District, and Erik Severson and Ann Hraychuck in the 28th District.
Many county offices will also be filled by elections on Tuesday, along with referendums in certain areas. I encourage you to visit candidate, media, and government websites for more information on these races and the issues being debated and to exercise your right to vote on Tuesday.
This past March, the public was able to participate in surveys to help determine the direction of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Rail Plan 2030. The DOT has now released the draft of Rail Plan 2030 and is seeking the public’s input again. Rail Plan 2030 covers freight, intercity passenger, and commuter rail and seeks to establish a comprehensive vision of Wisconsin’s railroad maintenance and planning for the next 20 years. Wisconsin residents can comment on the Plan any time before November 15 via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view the draft Rail Plan 2030, click the link above.
The Department of Public Instruction recently announced that schools in the Frederic, Webster, and Siren School District will receive Wisconsin School of Recognition awards. To earn this honor, schools must be in the top 25% of the state for student participation in free/reduced lunch and have above average student achievement in state reading and mathematics scores among their peers. This designation earns schools $2,000 to be used for school-related purposes and the chance to compete for a $250,000 Wisconsin Schools of Recognition grant. Congratulations to the following schools in our area for earning this designation:
Frederic Elementary School1310Frederic 7-12 School1310Webster Elementary School1310Webster Middle School1310Webster high School1310Siren High School
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has selected the state’s headlight law as October’s “Law of the Month.” The DOT reminds motorists that state law requires headlight use during the hours of darkness, which the law defines as the period of time from thirty minutes after sunset to thirty minutes before sunrise and other times when natural light is not sufficient to clearly see other vehicles or pedestrians at a distance of 500 feet. Headlight laws vary from state to state, and motorists are expected to follow the laws of whatever state they are in while driving. An easy way to generally ensure abidance of the laws’ variations is to have your headlights on any time that the windshield wipers are operating. To read more about the DOT’s guidelines for headlight use, click the link above.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has announced their planned 2010-2011 oral argument schedule. Oral arguments are open to the public and are streamed live via the Internet courtesy of Wisconsin Eye (www.wiseye.org). Unlike their lifetime-appointed counterparts on the United States Supreme Court, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Justices are elected by popular vote to serve 10-year terms. Viewing oral arguments gives the public an insider’s view as to how the court functions and about what issues the court is considering. For the complete 2010-2011 schedule, click on the link above.
The Natural Resources Board approved a new plan at their September meeting to combat the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) among Wisconsin’s deer herd. Key features of the plan approved according to the DNR are:
-Continued surveillance and testing statewide and in the CWD-Management Zone.1310-Focused sharpshooting along the periphery of the disease.1310-Stable hunting season structure if deer numbers are moving toward the established population goal at a sufficient rate.
CWD is a fatal prion disease caused by an infecting protein which affects the nervous system of deer, moose, and elk and is present in both wild and captive deer in the upper Great Lakes and plains region of the country. For more information about CWD and the adopted plan, click the link above.
The Wisconsin ChalleNGe Academy, run by the National Guard (the NG in ChalleNGe) located in Fort McCoy, is accepting applications for at-risk teens to enroll for the next class of cadets entering on January 13, 2011. The ChalleNGe Academy is a no-cost alternative program for struggling teens who have dropped out of school; been expelled; or have become at least a year behind in credits. ChalleNGe Academy cadets who would otherwise not likely graduate from high school are able to earn a High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) while learning valuable life and career skills. For more information and to apply, call (866) 968-8422 or visit their website at the link above.
Wisconsin’s Homeland Security Council was created in 2002 to prevent and respond to threats to the state’s residents from a wide array of natural and man-made threats from cyber attacks on critical information technology infrastructure to pandemic influenza to terrorism threats. The Council’s membership is made up of representatives from law enforcement, state agencies, and the National Guard. The Homeland Security Council recently released their 2010 report summarizing their activities, use of federal and state dollars, and progress on initiatives. The report is available online at the link above.
In response to several crashes including eight serious in the last fifteen years, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Village of Star Prairie have announced changes to the intersection of Highway 65 at Jerdee Avenue and Jewel Street on the north side of town. In early October, Jewell Street will turn into a one-way northbound street only. The DOT stated that the cause of many of the crashes is traffic heading southbound on Highway 65 proceeding straight without yielding to traffic entering from Jerdee Avenue. For more information on these changes, click on the link above.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of the State is part of a group who reached a settlement with Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals regarding their off-label marketing of its anticonvulsant medication, Topamax. Off-label marketing occurs when a company promotes a drug for use as treatment for which it is not approved by the FDA. Topamax is approved for treatment of seizures and migraines, but its maker had promoted its use for a variety of mental illnesses and substance abuse. The federal government and participating states will receive a proportionate amount of the $50 million settlement that reflects the costs to their Medicaid programs, which will result in approximately $526,000 for Wisconsin’s share. More details about this and other DOJ court actions are available online on the DOJ’s website linked above.
The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) and the federal Department of Justice (DOJ), representing the Department of Defense, have reached a compromise to ensure military members serving overseas will have their ballots counted in the November 2 election. Last month, the Department of Defense refused Wisconsin’s request for a waiver of the 45-day time period for military ballots to be returned to local clerks. The agreement reached by GAB and DOJ allows for all military and overseas ballots that are mailed by Election Day to be counted if received by November 19, instead of previous deadline of arrival by November 12. Additionally, GAB must communicate with military members overseas to inform them of the new deadline and provide reports to the federal government certifying that military absentee ballots were mailed by October 1. For more information about military voting procedures and the GAB/DOJ compromise, click the link above.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is updating the rules covering agricultural and vegetable seeds and will be holding a public hearing in Madison on October 13 on the proposed revisions. DATCP has announced that the revised seed rules will cover: 1) creation of new seed labeling rules, 2) updated standards for inspection, sampling, testing, and seed germination, 3) prohibition and restriction of noxious weed seeds, and 4) incorporates new fees for seed labeler licenses. The public hearing in Madison will take place at DATCP’s headquarters located at 2811 Agricultural Drive in Madison from 9-11:00 A.M. The public can also submit comments online before October 27 by e-mailing Mr. Greg Helmbrecht at email@example.com . To view the proposed changes, click the link above and search for “ATCP 20.”
The Autumnal Equinox was September 22 at 11:09 P.M., but the trees are not waiting for the official start of the season to show their fall colors. TravelWisconsin.com, the official website of Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism, has activated its Fall Color Report page. Travelers can view an interactive map to see where colors are their most vibrant with regular updates provided from every county in the state. To view the Fall Color Report, click on the link above.
Fresh with additions from the August 31 sign-up deadline, the No Call List has set a new record with 2.28 million phone numbers taking part according to the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), which administers the No Call List. Since its founding in 2003, the No Call List has more than doubled in size. Cell phones continue to gain a bigger portion of numbers on the list and now account for 48% of the total. The next deadline to sign up for the No Call List is November 30 for the List that takes effect January 1, 2011. For more information about how to sign up for the List and to read DATCP’s related press, click the link above.
The Northwest Region of the Department of Transportation (DOT) is hosting a public information meeting on Tuesday, September 21 from 5:00 P.M.-7:00 P.M. at the River Falls Public Library, 140 Union Street, to discuss the construction of the Radio Road Interchange at the existing intersection with Highway 35 in St. Croix County. As part of this project, the DOT is planning to extend Paulson Road to connect with Radio Road and build a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 35 and Radio Road. Maps and information about the project will be available, and DOT staff will be on hand to discuss the project on an individual basis as well. Residents unable to attend the meeting may submit comments and ask questions by calling Ms. Wendy Maves at (715) 836-3902.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) is currently in the middle of a four-year project in planning energy efficiency and renewable energy goals and funding. As part of this project, the PSC seeks the public’s input on what the goals and support should be for existing and future statewide energy efficiency and renewable programs. The public has until September 15 to provide input and can submit comments online by clicking on the link above.
Wisconsin’s Primary Election is rapidly approaching on Tuesday, September 14, and voters are encouraged to utilize the Government Accountability Board’s Voter Public Access Program. Voters can check their registration status, view sample ballots, and get polling place information by utilizing the Voter Public Access Program. Voters can also review their registration data and voting history to help ensure accuracy and prevent fraud. Click the link above to learn more.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has announced five public hearings throughout the state on its proposed dog seller licensure rules. These rules are a result of 2009 Wisconsin Act 90, which requires licensure and inspection of anyone who breeds or sells at least 25 dogs per year. These licensure rules set minimum standards of humane care for breeding dogs and puppies. The meeting for our region will be held at The Plaza Hotel and Suites, 1202 W. Clairemont Avenue in Eau Claire on Monday, September 27 from 6-8 P.M. Those unable to attend a public hearing can submit their comments online by Friday, October 8 by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org . To view more information about the proposed rules, click the link above.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently provided a $1 million grant to the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) to review health insurance rate changes. OCI’s rate review process is part of the federal health care reform bill that passed earlier this year. OCI plans to use information gleaned from rate reviews to make recommendations on whether a health plan should participate in the upcoming health insurance exchange, which the federal health care bill also created. Additionally, OCI has announced plans to use the grant money to make its reviews available to the public. To read more about the grant and OCI’s plans, click the link above.
The next deadline for signing up for Wisconsin’s No Call List is Tuesday, August 31. Telephone numbers registered on the No Call List by this date will be on the list that takes effect on October 1. The next effective date for registering on the No Call List is January 1, 2011.
The No Call List is updated four times a year to allow new numbers to be added 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.
The Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs is seeking nominations to honor a resident of northwest Wisconsin as this year’s Veteran Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Individuals and organizations are encouraged to submit nominations to the Board to recognize veterans who have compiled, “a record of exemplary service as a military service member, a veteran, and as a citizen during the veteran’s lifetime.” Nominations must be postmarked by September 15th and mailed to: Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs Lifetime Achievement Award, 30 W. Mifflin St., P.O. Box 7843, Madison, WI 53707-7843. For more information and for nomination forms, click the link above or call toll-free 1-800-WIS-VETS (947-8387).
U.S. News and World Report issued their annual rankings of colleges and universities this week, and both four year institutions in the 10th Senate District ranked in the top tier of universities in the Midwest Region, which stretches from North Dakota to Kansas to Ohio. UW-Stout ranked 66 and UW-River Falls ranked 72. Criteria used to determine national rankings include graduation rates, student achievement, and peer reviews from other institutions. To read UW-Stout’s press release describing their ranking, click the link above.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) unveiled the new interactive LinkWISCONSIN map this week, which details broadband Internet access and providers throughout the state. The interactive map is intended to help identify gaps and underserved areas of the state with the ultimate goal of developing regional broadband investment plans to increase availability of broadband services. The interactive map is a “beta” version and is still undergoing development. However, the PSC chose to make the “beta” version available to the public in order to give Wisconsin residents an opportunity to provide feedback about usefulness and accuracy of the map. For more information about the LinkWISCONSIN initiative and to view the interactive map, click the link above.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court last week on a 4-3 ruling issued an injunction on the Government Accountability Board’s (GAB) new issue ad disclosure rules, which came on the heels of GAB’s tentative lawsuit settlement that had much of the same effect as the injunction. On July 31, 2010, GAB finalized new rules that would have made individuals and groups transmitting communications about candidates’ personal qualities, positions, or public records to file reports under campaign finance requirements, even if the communication did not expressly encourage others to vote for or against a candidate. Current campaign finance law, which remains in effect despite the Supreme Court’s injunction, subjects individuals and groups to campaign finance laws if they sponsor communications that specifically advocate voting for or against candidates. To read the Supreme Court ruling, click on the link above.
The Chinese Mystery Snail and Mile-A-Minute Vine are among the dozens of non-native animal and plant species threatening Wisconsin’s ecosystem. While invasive species have been an ongoing problem, eradication and identification of new populations are critical in helping to minimize the negative impact and growth of these threats to native plant and animal life. For tips on how to combat and avoid spreading invasive species, click the link above. To report a discovery of a new invasive species, visit http://dnr.wi.gov/invasives/aquatic/whattodo/.
Wisconsin consumers who believe that they have experienced deceptive or unfair business practices have an ally in the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP). The Consumer Protection Hotline is a convenient and free service where consumers can report concerns to DATCP. In order to help DATCP investigate complaints, consumers are encouraged to save and send copies of sales receipts, repair orders, warranties, and canceled checks to accompany complaints. Consumers can file a complaint via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 1-800-422-7128. Alternatively, to file a complaint via online form or to learn more about the Consumer Protection Hotline, click the link above.
Those affected by the current recession, entering the workforce, or looking to change careers have access to free employment search resources. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) runs the free Job Center of Wisconsin online search tool, which provides job listings for private and public employers throughout the state. Job seekers can search for careers via location, qualifications, shift, and several other categories. To use the online search tool, visit their website at https://jobcenterofwisconsin.com/presentation/JobSeekers/JobSearch.aspx. Additionally, DWD runs Job Centers in 57 communities throughout the state. To find the office closest to you, click on the link above.
The Wisconsin Office of Employee Relations runs WiscJobs.net, which provides job listings for those looking for employment in state or local government or at a university campus. Users can customize work searches and sign-up for e-mail notifications for jobs meeting their interest areas online at http://wisc.jobs/public/index.asp.
The Department of Health Services (DHS) and Department of Public Instruction recently released their joint 2010 Wisconsin Youth Tobacco Survey, which examines youth tobacco use in the state every two years. The smoking rate for high school students dropped from 20.7% in 2008 to 17.7% in 2010, while the middle school rate declined from 4.3% to 3.9%. These results continue to show a downward trend in teen tobacco use considering that the high school smoking rate was 33% in the survey’s 2000 report. DHS notes that nearly 80% of smokers start before the age of 18 and that tobacco use costs the state $4.5 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity. To view the full high school and middle school reports, click on the link above.
Low savings account interest rates and weakened stock portfolios have led to individual investors becoming more susceptible to investment scams according to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI). Schemes involving current events like the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and foreign exchange promotions that often are Ponzi schemes in disguise are two of the Top Ten Investor Traps of 2010 released by DFI. Financial deals that seem to use valid practices that deliver too-good-to-be-true results are often hallmarks of the latest trend in investor traps. For the complete Top Ten list and more information, click the link above.
Beginning August 1, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking for the public’s help in estimating the state’s deer herd as part of Operation Deer Watch. The public is encouraged to report to the DNR all deer observed until September 30 via the online Operation Deer Watch reporting program. The public’s reporting is one of the factors that contributes to the DNR’s wildlife biologists’ population estimates. Hunters throughout the state have expressed concerns that the DNR’s deer management and population estimates have been inaccurate for the past several hunting seasons. By participating in Operation Deer Watch, the public has the opportunity to take an active part in improving the accuracy of the deer herd count. For more information about Operation Deer Watch, click on the link above.
For the second time this year, the US Department of Education did not select Wisconsin as a finalist for the “Race to the Top” program, which provides competitive grants totaling $4.35 billion to states to enhance and reform education standards. Wisconsin sought $250 million in its application to improve student testing, teacher quality development, and education performance benchmarks. 18 States and the District of Columbia were selected as finalists out of the 35 states that applied. Wisconsin’s application grade and analysis will be released after winners are selected in September. The Department of Education selected Tennessee and Delaware as Round 1 winners earlier this year. For more information, click on the link above.
Parents looking for quality daycare are now able to use the YoungStar website to identify accredited childcare providers in their area. YoungStar is a ratings system and website created by the Department of Children and Families, which will rate child care providers on a 5-star level on the basis of educational qualifications of staff; learning environment and curriculum; health and well being of children; and professional business practices. Ratings and detailed explanations will be posted on the YoungStar website. While the ratings process is ongoing, YoungStar already lists high-quality childcare providers as demonstrated by outside accreditations. To learn more about the YoungStar rating system and website, click on the link above.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection is hosting public hearings to discuss the approval of the State’s first Agricultural Enterprise Areas (AEA). The meeting for our region will be held at the Town of Washington Town Hall, 5750 Old Town Hall Rd., Eau Claire on Thursday, August 12 from 2:00-6:00 P.M. Groups of farmers with the support of local government form an AEA to preserve agricultural land for farming. Once an area is designated as an AEA, landowners receive tax credits in exchange for keeping their land for agricultural usage for at least fifteen years. Those unable to attend a public hearing regarding the approval of an AEA may submit their comments online at: DATCPWorkingLands@wisconsin.gov.
The Wisconsin State Patrol released its annual survey results of seatbelt usage in the state and found that 79% of Wisconsinites are buckling up, which is the highest total on record and represents an increase of 6% from 2009 survey of 73%. Survey results show that southeast Wisconsin had the fewest drivers wearing a seat-belt at only 71%, while the rest of the state averaged between 76-86%. Those between the ages of 16 and 25 were the least likely to buckle up and accounted for 26% of traffic fatalities, even though that same group only accounts for 15% of the state’s drivers. For more information about Wisconsin’s seatbelt usage, click on the link above.
The nationwide Honor & Remember Flag tour visited the State Capitol and High Ground Memorial Park in Neillsville on July 20. The tour is part of a campaign to create, establish, and promote a nationally recognized flag that serves as a tribute to military members who lose their lives not only in action but also in service. For more information about the Honor & Remember Flag or to get involved in this effort, visit their website.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently estimated that the state’s elk heard produced 38 calves this year. With losses from the winter and new calves born this year, the DNR currently estimates an elk herd population of 164. The DNR notes that spring weather significantly affects the success of the calving season. This year’s early spring allowed for an earlier “green-up” by way of faster melting snow and growth of new plants. The DNR’s research suggests that the timing of the “green-up” in spring is essential for the health of the elk cow and calf during the final trimester of development. Elk are native to 50 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, but over-hunting and loss of habitat eliminated the state’s population by 1886. The State reintroduced 25 elk in 1995, and the current herd is a result of that reintroduction. More information about the state’s elk herd is available at the link above.
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have teamed up as part of the national “We’re for Water” conservation campaign. “We’re for Water” promotes water practices and products that efficiently use water resources. The “WaterSense” label, similar to the EnergyStar label, helps consumers identify products that meet the EPA’s water efficiency standards. “We’re for Water” also helps consumers identify inefficient water usage both inside and outside their homes. Water-saving tips and more information about the “We’re for Water” campaign are available online at the link above.
The Northwest Region of the Department of Transportation (DOT) is hosting a public information meeting at the Burnett County Government Center from 5:00-6:30 P.M. on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 to discuss the proposed conversion of the intersection of Highways 35 and 70 into a single lane roundabout. DOT staff will give a brief project overview at 5:30 P.M. Members of the public are encouraged to attend to ask questions and provide input regarding the project scheduled to commence in 2013. Maps and information about the project will be available, and DOT staff will be on hand to discuss the project on an individual basis as well. The Burnett County Government Center is located approximately 3 miles north of Siren off Highway 35. Residents unable to attend the meeting may submit comments and ask questions by e-mailing Ms. Jane Olson at Jane.Olson@dot.wi.gov.
The Department of Natural Resources is reminding those who are interested in hunting for the first time this fall that this summer is the best time to register and take hunter education certificate courses. Instructors are oftentimes hunters themselves, and therefore, very few courses are offered during the fall hunting season. Anyone born after January 1, 1973 is required to complete a hunter education course in order to obtain a hunting license. Also, hunter education students must have a Wisconsin DNR Customer ID Number before the completion of any hunter education course. To obtain a Customer ID Number and register for an upcoming class in your area, visit the link above.
This week the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Governor Doyle’s and the Legislature’s 2007 raid of $200 million from the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund (IPFCF) was unconstitutional because the raid took property without just compensation. The IPFCF provides compensation for medical malpractice claims that exceed providers’ medical malpractice insurance. Over 13,000 doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers are required by state law to pay into this fund. As part of the 5-2 ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the State to repay the $200 million plus lost earnings and interest. The timing and installment amounts of this reimbursement will be determined by the Dane County Circuit Court in which this case originated. To read the full court ruling, click on the link above.
The Joint Legislative Audit Committee has recently approved an audit of the Family Care Program, which provides long-term care services to individuals with physical and developmental disabilities and the elderly in 55 of the state’s 72 counties. Family Care has a budget of nearly $1 billion with funding provided by a mix of federal and state tax dollars. The scope of the audit is wide-ranging and covers topics including participation levels, administrative costs, care quality, and cost comparison with alternative care delivery methods. For more information regarding the Family Care audit, click on the link above.
The Department of Public Instruction recently announced anticipated school sparsity aid to be distributed among 123 school districts throughout the state. School districts eligible for this additional state funding must have fewer than 10 students per square mile; have 20% or more of its students qualified for free or reduced-price school meals; and enroll fewer than 725 students in the district. Qualifying school districts will receive this additional funding on September 20. To see a list of schools receiving sparsity aid and amounts, click on the link above.
Every other year, during non-budget summers, the Legislature convenes Legislative Council Study Committees, which are comprised of Legislators and Wisconsin residents to study issues and opportunities before the state. These committees draft legislation in response to their extended study of their assigned topic areas to be introduced when the new session begins in January. This year, I will be serving on the Special Committee on Nanotechnology. The two main purposes of this committee are to: 1) develop strategies to facilitate the development of nanotechnology to create and retain jobs in Wisconsin, and 2) examine health and environmental concerns related to the manufacture, use, and disposal of nanomaterials and develop legislation to address these concerns. For a complete listing of Study Committees and membership, click on the link above.
At their recent meeting, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved a plan that seeks to reduce textbook costs for students. Each of the campuses within the UW System will now be required to implement this plan at the campus level. Among the key provisions called for in the plan are the following: 1310Develop a textbook calendar and “early adoption” program to enable students more time to shop for the best prices; 1310Publish the retail price of required course materials with course schedules; 1310Explore economically viable textbook rental programs for selected courses; 1310Encourage “unbundled” versions of textbook and course materials; 1310Use textbook editions for as long as possible, moving on to newer editions only when the educational content has substantially changed; 1310Allow e-textbook purchases; and 1310Encourage student-managed initiatives, such as textbook swaps. 1310The Board of Regents notes that the average annual nationwide cost for college textbooks and supplies was between $1,098 and $1,222 for the 2009-2010 academic year. At the 11 UW campuses already offering textbook rental programs, students paid between $133 and $180 during the 2009-2010 academic year. For more information on the Board of Regents’ plan, click on the link above.
Road construction season continues, and drivers are reminded that fines for traffic violations are doubled when in construction zones. Driving through construction zones presents challenges to motorists, and increased speeds and unsafe driving habits put both road construction workers and motorists in danger. In fact, the Wisconsin State Patrol notes that three out of four people killed in work zone crashes are drivers and their passengers. Fines are double whether or not workers are present in a marked work zone. For a list of state road construction projects in our area, click on the link above.
Individuals, organizations, and businesses who work to increase the purchase of food grown and produced in Wisconsin can now apply for competitive grants from the State’s Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin initiative. The grant program provides up to $50,000 per project and requires at least a 33% cash or in-kind match from the applicant. Last year’s grant recipients ranged from an abandoned apple orchard rehabilitation program to promotion of artisan meats production and sales in Wisconsin. Grant applications and more information about Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin are available online at the link above.
Pet owners, hunters, and others interested in wolf activity can now sign up for automatic e-mail alerts sent to their computers or electronic devices from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Wolf pups begin to venture out of their dens this time of year, which causes adult wolves to become increasingly defensive and territorial. Unfortunately, pets and hunting dogs have a higher incidence of encountering wolves and can be injured or killed as a result. The DNR’s alerts provide timely information and maps of wolf depredation events to help owners avoid areas where conflicts arise. The DNR estimates the current wolf population in Wisconsin to be between 690 and 733. Attempts by the DNR to delist wolves as an endangered species in the Great Lakes region have so far been unsuccessful. To sign up for alerts, click on the word “Subscribe” at the top of the web page linked above.
Campers and nature lovers can now plan their outdoor excursions online via the “Pick a Park” website and interactive map hosted by the Department of Natural Resources. Online users can view parks and forests throughout the state by their geographical location on a map or by alphabetical listing. When users select a park, they can view information about the park’s offerings, hours of operation, contact information, and directions. Links to the campsite reservation system, where applicable, are also available. For more information, call 1-888-WI PARKS (888-947-2757) or click on the link above.
On July 1, most of the drunken driving reform provisions passsed by Legislature in 2009 will take effect. Among the reforms that those convicted of OWI will now face is the ignition interlock device requirement for repeat offenders and for first-time offenders with a blood alcohol concentration of .15% or greater. An ignition interlock device requires a driver to blow into a mechanism that detects alcohol in a person’s breath. If alcohol is present, the vehicle will not start. Other changes taking effect in July include an increase in fines and maximum jail terms for repeat drunken drivers. For more details on OWI changes going into effect on July 1, click on the link above.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) will be hosting a Supermarket of Veterans Benefits on Thursday, July 29 from noon until 7:00 P.M. and on Friday, July 30 from 8:30 A.M. until noon at the Rice Lake National Guard Armory, located at 307 East Barker Street. DVA Supermarkets serve as a “one-stop-shop” for veterans and family members of those currently deployed to find out about and apply for state and federal benefits. DVA staff will be on hand to assist veterans in a wide array of benefit areas, including health care, loans, education, job training, and several other programs. For more information, call DVA at 1-800-WIS-VETS (1-800-947-8387) or visit their website at the link above.
Beginning on Saturday, July 17, 2010, all local calls originating from the 715 area code will require 10-digit dialing. In response to available phone numbers running out, the Public Service Commission has created an “overlay” in the 715 region, which means that soon both the current 715 and new 534 area codes will serve our area. Current phone numbers will not change as a result of the “overlay,” and all local calls will remain local calls. Similarly, 911 and 211 services are not affected. For more information, click on the link above.
This weekend, June 25-27, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and law enforcement agencies will be participating in “Operation Dry Water,” which is a nationwide enforcement effort against boaters who drive while intoxicated. In 2009, according to the DNR, 38% of boating fatalities in Wisconsin involved alcohol. In those accidents, the impaired boaters’ blood alcohol content averaged 0.227%, well over the legal limit of .08%.
Fishing season is in full swing, and already 7 state fishing records have fallen since 2010 began. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) compiles official records and recognizes anglers with remarkable catches. If you catch a fish that may be a state record, the DNR advises the following steps:1310Don't clean the fish 1310Freeze the fish if possible or keep it cool, preferably on ice 1310Get the fish weighed as soon as possible on a certified scale (usually found in grocery, hardware stores, etc.) and witnessed by an observer 1310Contact a fisheries biologist at the nearest DNR Service Center to get the fish species positively identified and to find out whether the fish is actually a state record. 1310Obtain and complete a record fish application, downloadable from the DNR website or available from a DNR service center. 1310If possible, take a photo of you holding your prize catch and e-mail it to [Karl.Scheidegger@wisconsin.gov] or send a print to his attention at the DNR Bureau of Fisheries Management, Box 7921, Madison, WI, 53707.
Wisconsin residents concerned about identity theft are able to place a security freeze on their credit reports. Placing a freeze prohibits the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) from releasing consumers’ credit information without express authorization from the consumer. A security freeze helps to prevent identity thieves from applying for a loan or new credit card in a victim’s name. A $10 fee applies to consumers seeking to place a security freeze unless the consumer is a victim of identity theft, in which case the fee is waived. Consumers should be aware that using a security freeze may also delay approval for new, legitimate financial transactions by the consumer. For more information about the program and to place a security freeze, click on the link above.
The Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence has a wealth of statistics and other information available online, which detail the sources and trends of energy use in the state. Among the findings, coal continues to be the top source of energy, followed by petroleum and natural gas. Renewable fuel usage increased by 8.2% in 2008, the most recent year with data available; however, renewable energy represents only 4.5% of total energy consumed in Wisconsin. Among renewable fuel usage, wood and other biomass continues to represent the largest portion (60.5%) with ethanol (23.3%) and biogas (8.4%) following. Wind-generated electricity was responsible for only 1.1% of renewable energy production. For more information and to view the entire report online, click on the link above.
The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has released its annual review of public school progress, as required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. DPI assesses progress for individual schools and districts by measuring Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which is determined by standardized tests that students take each fall. As part of this review, the Department notifies schools that fall short of AYP standards. If a school does not meet AYP standards for two consecutive years, the school is identified as requiring improvement and could face sanctions once under that designation. For more information about AYP and to view how individual schools performed, click on the link above.
Summer offers a host of seasonal tourism options both in our area and throughout the state. The Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s website, www.TravelWisconsin.com, is a convenient one-stop portal that allows visitors to discover a wide variety of things to do and see this summer. TravelWisconsin.com has tools to search vacation options by geographic area, activity, or date. Additionally, users can create their own “travel planner” to map out an itinerary or view others created by fellow website visitors. For vacation ideas and to learn more, click on the link above.
Fans of the Milwaukee Brewers, supporters of Marquette University, and those seeking to protect and preserve native wildlife have new license plate options available. The Milwaukee Brewers license plate offers two designs, featuring the classic “ball and glove” logo or the current “M” logo. The Marquette University plate is open to any Wisconsin motorist; not just Marquette alumni. Finally, the new Endangered Resources Fund plate design, selected earlier this year by a popular vote online, features a badger and meadowlark on a Wisconsin savanna. Motorists who choose a specialty plate agree to pay a specified donation in addition to the annual registration fee. Each plate can be personalized for an additional fee and are available for automobiles, trucks, and certain motor homes. To learn more and view plate designs, visit one of the websites listed below:
Milwaukee Brewers License Plate: http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/drivers/vehicles/personal/special/milwaukee.htm
Marquette University License Plate: http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/drivers/vehicles/personal/special/marquette.htm
Endangered Resources License Plate: http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/drivers/vehicles/personal/special/endanger.htm
Several area schools were honored recently at the Governor’s School Health Awards. The Department of Public Instruction and Governor’s Office recognize schools that have implemented programs and policies that support and promote healthy eating, physical activity, substance-free lifestyles, and parental and community involvement. Out of the 42 schools recognized statewide eight were from our area, including:
Gold Level1310Starr Elementary, New Richmond1310Hillside Elementary, New Richmond1310Paperjack Elementary, New Richmond1310New Richmond Middle School1310New Richmond High School1310Somerset Elementary School1310Somerset High School
Silver Level1310Osceola Middle School
Congratulations to these schools for their commitment to healthy students and communities!
Beginning this week, businesses that have expanded or modernized food processing plants or food warehouses in Wisconsin can apply for the first round of tax credits through the Department of Commerce’s Food Processing Plant and Food Warehouse Investment Credit Program. Businesses have until June 18 to apply before the second round of applications in February, 2011. This program has a lifetime cap of $200,000 for businesses and provides up to 10% of eligible expenses spent in the taxable year for modernizing and expanding food processing plants and warehouses. For more information and to apply, click on the link above.
Beginning on June 1, those on the waiting list for the BadgerCare Plus Core plan, which provides health insurance to low-income adults, are eligible to enroll in the BadgerCare Plus Basic plan. Premium payments by individuals and co-pays for services are the only funding provided for this program. The Department of Health Services will report quarterly to the Joint Finance Committee regarding the solvency of Badgercare Plus Basic. The Basic plan is designed as a temporary program to provide coverage for those on the waiting list for the Core plan and will terminate on January 1, 2014. For more information about the BadgerCare Plus Basic plan, click on the link above.
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) recently announced savings of $45 million in the Wisconsin Shares Program, which provide childcare assistance to low-income families. In 2009, several fraudulent and questionable activities within the Shares program came to light as a result of newspaper reports and findings by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. As a result, DCF has begun to crack down on fraud and realized savings as a result of work to recover funds from fraudulent providers, stopping payments to those suspected of fraud, and the deterrent effect caused by DCF’s investigation. If you know or suspect fraudulent activity occurring in state programs, you can report your concerns to the State’s Fraud, Waste, and Mismanagement Hotline at 877-FRAUD-17 (877-372-8317) or online at the link above.
The Northwest Region of the Department of Transportation (DOT) is hosting a public information meeting at the Garfield Town Hall from 4:30-6:30 P.M. on Tuesday, June 8, 2010 to discuss the proposed reconstruction of Highway 65 in Polk County near the intersection with County K. Department of Transportation (DOT) staff will give a short presentation beginning at 5:00 P.M. Members of the public are encouraged to attend to ask questions and provide input regarding the project scheduled to commence in 2011. Maps and information about the project will be available, and DOT staff will be on hand to discuss the project on an individual basis as well. The Garfield Town Hall is located at 690 Minneapolis St., Amery. Residents unable to attend the meeting may submit comments and ask questions by writing to Jane Olson, WisDOT, 1701 N. 4th Street, Superior, WI 54880-1068.
This Monday we pause to recognize those who have sacrificed and fought to protect our country and preserve our freedom. The price of freedom is not free, and Memorial Day serves as a reminder and opportunity for Americans to honor the men and women whose service has enabled our liberty. I encourage you to take time to attend a Memorial Day service in your area. Have a safe holiday!
The next deadline for signing up for Wisconsin’s No Call List is Sunday, May 31. Telephone numbers registered on the No Call List by this date will go into effect on July 1. The next effective date for registering on the No Call List is October 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.
Residents who observe dead birds without any obvious injuries are encouraged to call the Department of Health Services’ toll-free Dead Bird Reporting Hotline at 1-800-433-1610. Dead birds are warning signs for the spread of West Nile Virus, which is transmitted from infected birds to humans via mosquito bites. Although only one in five people infected with West Nile Virus display symptoms, certain individuals can become seriously ill. Symptoms include swollen lymph glands, abdominal rash, fever and headache, with more severe symptoms including tremors and disorientation. People who become ill and suspect infection by the West Nile Virus should contact their health care provider for treatment advice.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection has released first quarter agricultural trade statistics for 2010, which show 18% growth from the same period in 2009. Among the biggest growth drivers were increases in beef exports to South Korea, which increased 148%, and the export category including dairy, eggs, and honey, which increased by 51%. The top five international destinations importing Wisconsin agricultural products, in order, are Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, and the Netherlands. Wisconsin exports agricultural products to over 100 countries around the world.
The Governor recently concluded action on the dozens of bills passed by the Legislature last month. The vast majority of bills were signed into law; however, the Governor chose to veto in entirety Senate Bill 434 (SB 434), which would have created a limited trial period to sell raw or unpasteurized milk in Wisconsin. SB 434's authors have indicated that they plan to re-introduce the legislation next session. The Governor also partially vetoed legislation that regulates the payday loan industry. The new law will limit payday loans to $1,500 or 35% of monthly income, whichever is less, and only allows borrowers to renew their loans once. The Governor's partial veto will in effect prohibit vehicle title loans in Wisconsin. The expanded payday lending legislation has become law as 2009 Wisconsin Act 405.
The State Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Advisory Council on Rural Schools, Libraries, and Communities held their quarterly meeting recently in Turtle Lake. As a member of this Council, this is an opportunity to not only discuss some of the challenges facing rural schools and communities but also share information and success stories. Meeting highlights included:
Webster School District: Leaders in Community Partnership Career Training
Webster Superintendent Jim Erickson, teacher Roy Ward, student Cody Drier, and community member Chris Engler presented regarding Tiger Manufacturing, the partnership forged between the Webster School District and Nexen Group, Inc. The career training partnership involved the purchase of a wood cabinet-making machine, which allows students at Webster High School to gain experience making cabinets and use the proceeds from the sales to pay for the equipment. Partnerships like these are critical to provide students with real-world job training.
Technology Vital for Rural Educational Opportunities
Over 30,000 Wisconsin students attend over 1,500 events via video learning networks in a typical year. Technology enables Wisconsin students to extend their education to classes and events located virtually anywhere in the world. The top reason that students participate in online courses is because the course is not otherwise offered at their school. Access to technology continues to be a vital tool for rural schools as a vehicle to expand learning beyond the classroom. Free online resources are available for schools, including Badgerlink.net, Ideas.Wisconsin.edu, and Thinkfinity.org.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has recently again confirmed what area residents and hunters have known for several years: cougars are back in Wisconsin. Cougars, also known as pumas or mountain lions, are one of three wild cats native to Wisconsin. Cougars left the state around 1910 but have been making brief appearances in Wisconsin since the 1940s. However, recent sightings in many parts of the state, including those in Dunn, St. Croix, and Burnett Counties, indicate that cougars may be back to stay. The DNR is seeking the public’s help in order to assess the current cougar population in Wisconsin. If individuals spot a cougar in person or on camera, they are encouraged to complete the DNR’s online form: http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/er/forms/rare_mammal.asp
Although attacks on humans are rare, the DNR advises that if a cougar approaches or does not immediately flee, individuals should stand tall, wave their arms, throw stones or other objects and yell. Individuals should not run but instead slowly back away, keeping their eyes on the cougar.
The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands released $32 million to school districts across the state for the purchase of library materials from the Common School Fund. The $32 million averages $25.85 per student. The Common School Fund receives money from civil and criminal fines and forfeitures, timber revenue from public trust lands, and revenues from the state’s Unclaimed Property Program. For a detailed listing of the amount that each school district receives, click on the link above.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) is seeking the public’s input on proposed wind siting rules, which will create uniform standards across the state for wind farm development. PSC staff considers public comments when drafting rules. Individuals can comment on the proposed rules during public hearings scheduled throughout the state or via online form. The closest public hearing to our area will be held on June 29, 2010 in Tomah at the Holiday Inn located at 1017 E. McCoy Blvd. beginning at 3:00 P.M. Individuals can also submit comments any time before July 7 via web form at the link above. The draft rules are available at http://psc.wi.gov/apps/erf_share/view/viewdoc.aspx?docid=129951.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection this week announced local grant recipients for the 2010 Clean Sweep Program. Residents can bring unused pharmaceutical products, household waste, and agricultural waste to Clean Sweep sites, which will properly dispose of the waste. Proper disposal of these waste products helps prevent environmental contamination, including groundwater pollution. Grant recipients for Clean Sweep in our area include Siren, Hudson, New Richmond, Menomonie, and Boyceville. For a map of statewide participants, hours, and contact information, click on the link above.
In recognition of the importance and appreciation of the over 4,000 foster families in Wisconsin, Governor Doyle has declared May as Foster Care Month. Over 6,500 children are living in out-of-home care in Wisconsin. As part of Foster Care Month, outstanding foster parents will receive recognition at an event in the Capitol on May 18, and the Department of Children and Families is launching a website campaign called “Fostering our Future” to increase awareness of foster families. For more information on helping children in need by becoming a foster family, click on the link above.
This week I had the opportunity to take a tour of Straight Lake State Park and Wildlife Area with Department of Natural Resources staff. The Straight Lake property, located northeast of Luck in Polk County, was purchased using funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund in 2005. The nearly 3,000 acre property provides a valuable resource for citizens to enjoy the outdoors in a quiet and pristine setting. Camping sites and trails are being planned for the park to expand recreational opportunities. Thanks to Americorps workers and volunteers from across the country, a portion of the Ice Age Trail is also currently being constructed on the property.
The Government Accountability Board (GAB), which oversees the state’s election process, ruled 6-0 on May 10 that voters may not require municipal clerks to check their identification to vote. The ruling came in response to a group of voters in southeastern Wisconsin who sought to have election workers check their identification as a means to prevent fraudulent voting. GAB’s ruling indicated that a voluntary voter identification system could only result from the creation of such a system by the Legislature. Companion bills that would have created voluntary voter identification, Senate Bill 350 & Assembly Bill 814, both failed to pass during the recent legislative session.
Now that warmer weather is here, risks for acquiring tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, have increased. The Department of Health Services advises that limiting exposure by using repellants, dressing appropriately, and doing “tick-checks” after leaving wooded areas are important preventative practices. If a tick is discovered on the skin, immediate removal of the tick helps limit the chances for contracting tick-borne illnesses. Prevention and treatment information is available on the Department of Health Services’ website by clicking the link above.
Wisconsin became the 25th state to ban text messaging on cell phones or other devices while driving now that the Governor signed 2009 Wisconsin Act 220 into law. The law takes effect on December 1, 2010 and carries penalties from $20 to $400 per offense, which mirrors current law for inattentive driving. Additional court fees will also apply.
The 7th Annual Posters in the Rotunda event took place on May 5 and featured undergraduate research projects conducted by students throughout the University of Wisconsin System. The event held in the Capitol Rotunda consisted of students displaying posters describing their research projects and presenting their findings to the public. Among the presenters were students from UW-River Falls and UW-Stout, whose research projects covered a wide array of disciplines from studying the optimal method of recycling collection in Dunn County to neutrino research in Antarctica. Neutrinos are elementary particles that are difficult to detect. Congratulations to the student presenters for their hard work and worthwhile presentations.
Earlier this month, the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) began putting up thousands of purple sticky traps designed to capture the invasive Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) beetle. Once the beetle lands in the trap, the adhesive captures the insect. DATCP checks the traps throughout the summer to monitor the presence of these damaging beetles. A native of eastern Asia, the EAB has destroyed millions of trees in the twelve states where they have invaded since 2002. Wisconsin counties began experiencing infestations last summer, and the beetle’s spread in the state has generally gone from the southeastern corner to other areas. For more information on efforts to identify and combat the EAB, click the link above.
The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents’ next meeting will be broadcast live over the Internet on May 6 from 9:30 A.M. until noon and again from 12:30 until 4:30 P.M. Among the items that the Board of Regents will consider are an accountability report on the UW System’s Growth Agenda and capital planning at various UW campuses throughout the state. The meeting’s webcast and full agenda are available at the link above.
Legislation enacted last year requires the recycling of electronic devices to keep hazardous materials out of Wisconsin landfills. The DNR has compiled a list of collection sites for electronics on their website which is linked above. More information on the electronic recycling law can also be found on the DNR website at http://dnr.wi.gov/org/aw/wm/ewaste/index.html.
A provision included in the state budget bill that was passed last summer relating to mandatory auto insurance will take effect on June 1st. Beginning on that date, drivers and owners of motor vehicles are required to show proof of insurance at traffic stops and accidents if requested by law enforcement. A fine up to $500 may be levied for operating a vehicle without insurance. Failure to show proof of insurance at a traffic stop or accident may result in a fine of $10. Additional court fees will also apply. More information on this change can be found on the Department of Transportation website linked above.
The State Senate passed Assembly Bill 713 (AB 713) on April 20th, which seeks to allow tribal law enforcement agencies to respond to requests for assistance from other law enforcement agencies.
State law currently allows law enforcement agencies to respond to a request for assistance from another law enforcement agency. Due to an attorney general ruling, this law was deemed to not apply to tribal agencies. As a result, tribal law enforcement agencies have not been allowed to respond to mutual assistance requests under this law. I have appreciated hearing from area law enforcement who have been actively involved in supporting this legislation as a means to improve public safety and provide support for officers as they respond to calls.
As a co-sponsor of AB 713, I am pleased that the bill, having already passed the State Assembly, will now go to the Governor for his signature.
This week marks the final days of the State Legislature’s legislative session when bills may be taken up. While the Legislature does have a limited floorperiod scheduled in May, any legislation that has already been introduced needs to pass both the State Senate and Assembly this week to be enacted this session.
Given the limited time remaining, both the Senate and Assembly are expected to have long sessions this week. You can follow the actions taken at the State Legislature’s website linked above and then clicking on Senate Session or Assembly Session.
Local Clean Sweep programs are a valuable resource for the proper disposal of household chemicals and other waste. However, many household items, such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), batteries, and electronics, might not be routinely collected during all Clean Sweep efforts.
There are other options for individuals seeking to dispose of solid and hazardous waste. Local recycling centers operated by counties and municipalities may be available in your area. The University of Wisconsin Extension operates a Wisconsin Recycling Markets Directory on its website, which is linked above. Additionally, the Focus on Energy program provides a list of retailers that will collect used CFLs for recycling. You can search for CFL recycling options at http://www.focusonenergy.com/Resources/.
Spring Valley recently received a $250,000 grant from the Department of Commerce Community Development Block Grant-Public Facilities program. This grant will be used to help reconstruct the Village’s wastewater treatment plant. The total cost of the reconstruction is estimated to be $3.6 million.
For more information on the Community Development Block Grant-Public Facilities program, including application forms, visit the Department of Commerce website at the link above.
The federal government is currently conducting the 2010 United States Census. If you have not yet returned your Census form, the deadline for completing the form and mailing it back is Friday, April 16. Wisconsin currently leads the nation in responding to the Census, with a 77% participation rate. Nationally, 66% of Americans have responded to the Census. More information can be found at the United States Census website at the link above.
The regular inland fishing season opens on May 1, and the 2010 Wisconsin Fishing Report is now available to help anglers plan their fishing trips for the upcoming season. The report contains information from local fish biologists and technicians about forecasts and prospects for fishing in our many lakes, streams and rivers across Wisconsin. Anglers can use the report to find the waters most likely to host the biggest catches or confirm the types of fish found in their favorite spot. The full report is available online at the link above on the Department of Natural Resources website.
The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) recently completed its review of the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, which provides compensation for medical malpractice claims that exceed providers’ medical malpractice insurance. Over 13,000 doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers are required by state law to pay into this fund. In 2007, the fund reported $94.4 million in assets and now shows a deficit of $109.0 million. In addition to normal claims payments, LAB identified two significant causes that created the deficit in the fund: (1) a 2005 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that had the effect of raising the malpractice claims cap from $350,000 in 2005 to $750,000 by 2006, and (2) the Legislature’s raid for $200 million from the Fund as part of the 2007-2009 biennial budget.
On Thursday, April 1, the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform, and Housing will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 574, which I authored. Senate Bill 574 would create a garnishment exemption for family farms that are organized as a limited liability company or other legal entity.
Current state law provides a 75% exemption from garnishment of an individual’s net income. In addition, 75% of the income from the sale of agricultural products is also exempt from garnishment. However, this exemption is not extended to farms structured as a legal entity. SB 574 would provide the same protections to family farms organized as a legal entity as current law provides to farms operated as sole proprietors. This issue was brought to my attention by area residents.
Governor Doyle signed several bills, which previously passed both houses of the Legislature, into law earlier this month. Among the bills signed recently into law are:
Act 148: specifies that a mother may breast-feed her child in any public or private place where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be. Act 148 also prohibits anybody from interfering with a breastfeeding mother or directing a breastfeeding mother to an alternative location.
Act 149: creates the Physical Therapy Examining Board. Previously, the Physical Therapy Affiliated Credentialing Board oversaw the standards of those practicing as physical therapists and was a division of the Medical Examining Board. Act 149 removes the association with the Medical Examining Board but does not change duties and responsibilities related to physical therapy oversight.
Act 150: prohibits companies from soliciting the purchase of goods or services by sending unsolicited checks or money orders. In other words, companies may not send out an unrequested document, like a check, whereby a person endorsing the check is now bound to purchase goods or services from the company as a condition of endorsement.
Act 157: allows for highway usage for agricultural purposes of Lightweight Utility Vehicles (LUVs), those weighing between 700 and 1,999 pounds. Registration is not required for LUVs, but a slow moving vehicle emblem and nighttime lighting requirements apply.
Act 170: I worked with Representative John Murtha (R-Baldwin) and Village of Elmwood officials on this law, which corrects a technical error in the Village’s TIF District 4.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is seeking public input to help determine recommendations for the Wisconsin Rail Plan 2030, which encompasses passenger, freight, and commuter rail. Wisconsinites can share their views about their railroad by participating in the online questionnaire linked above or by e-mailing RailPlan2030@dot.wi.gov . For more information about the DOT’s rail plan, click here: www.wisconsinrailplan.gov.
Those suffering from cancer and chronic diseases may change prescription drug regimens throughout the course of their treatment. As a result, prescription drugs that are already purchased by these individuals are no longer of use. The Wisconsin Cancer and Chronic Disease Drug Repository accepts unexpired and unopened prescription drugs and provides that medicine to patients with limited or without prescription drug insurance. Individuals interested in participating in this program should contact a participating pharmacy. For more information, frequently asked questions, and a list of participating pharmacies, click on the link above.
“Kitty Rhoades is an accomplished leader who I will miss as an ally in the State Legislature. Kitty was a great coalition builder and enormously effective lawmaker who fought to hold the line on taxes and for the interests of western Wisconsin. I wish her the best and continued success in her future endeavors.”
Small and mid-sized farmers seeking technical assistance have until April 19 to apply to participate in Producers First, a new grant program from the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Producers First awards grants up to $3,000 to pay for consulting assistance in the areas of financial organization, whole farm planning, market and product development, and similar areas. Production concerns, such as pest control and soil management, are not eligible for assistance under this program. To apply, go to http://www.datcp.state.wi.us/mktg/business/marketing/val-add/directmktg/pdf/ApplicationTemplate.doc.
The Wisconsin ChalleNGe Academy, run by the National Guard (the NG is ChalleNGe) is accepting applications for at-risk teens to enroll for the next class of cadets entering on July 22, 2010. The ChalleNGe Academy is a no-cost alternative program for teens who have dropped out of school; been expelled; or have become at least a year behind in credits. The Academy, located in Ft. McCoy, provides students at risk of not graduating the opportunity to earn a High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) while learning valuable life and career skills. For more information and to apply, call (608) 269-4605 or visit online at: http://www.ngycp.org/site/state/wi/ .
Retirees, low-income households, and disabled individuals may qualify for free tax preparation assistance. The federal Internal Revenue Service and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue train volunteers throughout the state to prepare tax statements for the previously mentioned groups through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA). Over 200 VITA sites operate in Wisconsin. To find the nearest VITA site near you, call 211 and an operator will be able to assist you.1310The Department of Revenue directly sponsors a regional assistance location at Indianhead Credit Union, 104 E. Maple St., in Spooner. Appointments are available on Wednesdays from 10:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. and on Saturdays from 8:00 A.M. until noon. Interested individuals can set up an appointment at (715) 635-8273.
April 15 may be more than a month away, but getting a jumpstart on filing income taxes is the best way to speed your refund and avoid last minute uncertainty.1310The Department of Revenue (DOR) is providing taxpayer assistance at several public library branches throughout the state, including Hudson and Superior in our area. Staff will be on hand to answer questions about state income tax returns and the homestead tax credit program, but staff will not be preparing individual returns. No appointment is necessary.1310The Hudson Library (911 4th St.) and Superior Library (710 N. 8th St.) will both host DOR staff from 9:00 A.M. to 2:30 P.M. on the following days:1310Monday 3/15/2010 1310Monday 3/29/2010 1310Monday 4/5/2010 1310Thursday 4/15/2010 1310DOR is also available to answer questions via phone at (608) 266-2486 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This past weekend, the River Falls High School Wildcats Girls Gymnastic Team qualified for the State Championships competition, which will be held March 5-6 in Wisconsin Rapids. This is the 20th time that the team has qualified for the State Championship Competition since the WIAA began sponsoring the event in 1977. The Wildcats will be going for their 5th state title.
The Fusion Girls Hockey Team, with students from River Falls, Baldwin-Woodville, Elmwood, Glenwood City, St. Croix Central, and Spring Valley High Schools will face off against the Mosinee Hockey Cooperative in the state semifinals on Friday, March 5, in Madison.
The Ellsworth Panthers Boys Wrestling Team will be making their fifth consecutive and ninth appearance in school history at the State Tournament in Madison on March 6. The Panthers are looking to add their fifth championship, after winning previous titles in 1985, 2000, 2007, and 2009.
Congratulations and good luck to these student athletes!
The Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Workforce Development, and the American Legion have teamed up to host a series of 18 job fairs and benefits information sessions for veterans throughout the state. In addition to employment opportunities, assistance will be available for veterans looking to improve interview skills and updating resumes. The sessions in our region will be held on March 25 in Chippewa Falls and October 15 in Superior. For a complete listing of job fairs and contact information, click on the link above.
March 25, Thursday (9:00-5:00 pm): Chippewa Falls 1310 Army National Guard Armory, 2811 East Park Avenue 1310 Contact: Tim Moore, (715) 836-2909 or Dave Tesch, (715) 836-3299
October 15, Friday (9:00-2:00 pm): Superior 1310 Army National Guard Armory, 32 North 21st Street 1310 Contact: Tim Moore, (715) 836-2909 or (715) 456-5790
Hunters, trappers, and anglers can purchase their annual licenses beginning on March 10. Licenses last from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011. Licenses are available online at the link above or by calling toll-free 1-877-WI LICENSE (1-877-945-4236). In addition, outdoorsmen and women can purchase licenses from a participating retailer. To find the authorized retailer closest to you, visit this website: http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/caer/cs/licenseagents/
Senate Session Floor Period Continues
The Senate continued its winter floor period on Tuesday, March 2nd and passed several pieces of legislation. Among the bills the Senate passed are:
Senate Bill 418: would require health care providers to publicly post good-faith median cost and out-of-pocket expense estimates for the top 25 most common procedures. Hospitals would be required to provide a copy of this information to consumers upon request at no cost.
Senate Bill 431: individuals or institions that knowingly create or use fake academic credentials that use terms “college” or “university” would be subject to penalties under this legislation.
Senate Bill 458: local municipalities, the University of Wisconsin System, and professional sports teams could establish ticket re-sale zones under Senate Bill 458. This legislation is in response to aggressive ticket scalpers who have pulled patrons out of normal ticket lines and sold unsuspecting sports fans phony tickets.
Assembly Bill 230: would allow law enforcement officials to view driver’s license photos through their computer system in cases of traffic stops and for criminal justice administration. Public dissemination of the photos or use as part of a photo lineup would continue to be prohibited.
Assembly Bill 579: fans and alumni of Marquette University could purchase a specialty license plate for their vehicles under this bill. Motorists are already able to purchase specialty plates promoting UW System institutions, including River Falls and Stout.
1310Senate Bills 418, 431, and 458 now head to the Assembly for consideration. Assembly Bills 230 and 579 have now passed both houses of the Legislature and go to the Governor.
The Wisconsin Lottery announced on February 23 that an unclaimed Powerball ticket sold in Racine County on August 26 has gone unclaimed and now expired. Since the 180-day prize claim period has ended, those winnings now go to the Wisconsin Lottery and Gaming Credit Program. Home owners in Wisconsin whose primary residence is in Wisconsin can participate in this program. For more information on the Wisconsin Lottery and Gaming Credit Program, click on the link above.
After legislative business has concluded for the day, Senators are allowed the privilege of adjourning the body in honor of an individual or noteworthy event. On February 23, I adjourned the Senate in honor of Siren native, Molly Engstrom, a forward on the United States Olympic Women’s Hockey Team. Molly has scored three goals and has four assists already in the Olympic Tournament and will be playing for the gold medal with her teammates against Canada on February 25. Good luck to Molly and the rest of Team USA!
Lewis Taylor, Tribal Chairman of the St. Croix Chippewa Indians and local resident, presented this year’s State of the Tribes Address before a joint session of the Legislature this week. 2010 marks the sixth year of this address, which has become an annual tradition. The State of the Tribes Address provides an opportunity for Tribal Leaders to present issues of importance to the entire Legislature and constitutional officers.
_Sheila's Town Halls
Monday, March 15
--Siren13102:30-3:30 PM1310Burnett County Courthouse1310Room 1651310--Balsam Lake13105:00-6:00 PM1310Polk County Justice Center Community Room
Tuesday, March 16
--Ellsworth1310Noon-1:00 PM1310Pierce County Courthouse1310County Board Room1310--Hudson13105:00-6:00 PM1310St. Croix County Courthouse1310Community Room
Wednesday, March 17
--Menomonie13105:00-6:00 PM1310Dunn County Judicial Center1310Multi-Purpose Room
Earlier this month, members of the Coalition of Independent Living Centers of Western Wisconsin (CILWW) traveled to the State Capitol to get together as statewide Independent Living Centers and visit with us as area legislators. CILWW assists people with disabilities and helps them to live independent and active lives, thereby helping the disabled become more self-sufficient and less dependent on long-term governmental support. One of the services that CILWW offers is transportation to disabled individuals in most the ten counties they serve including Dunn, Pierce, and St. Croix Counties. CILWW is looking for volunteer drivers to help people with disabilities; mileage is reimbursed. If you are interested in serving as a volunteer driver or would like to learn more about WCILC services, contact 1-800-228-3287.
The 2009-2011 biennial budget directed the Department of Health Services (DHS) to indentify over $300 million in General Purpose Revenue savings over the next two years. DHS is seeking public input on ideas for achievable savings to help reduce Medicaid costs to the state. The deadline for submitting ideas is February 26. If you are interested in sharing your input, click the link above to participate.
Earlier this week, the full Assembly passed campaign finance reform legislation, 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 now heads to the Senate for committee consideration.
Governor Doyle signed legislation this week that will enable the use of low-speed electric bicycles in Wisconsin. I authored this legislation, Senate Bill 137 (SB 137), which brings Wisconsin statutes into line with federal law relating to low-speed electric bicycles. SB 137 allows for the use of these emissions-free vehicles by licensed Wisconsin drivers. This legislation received broad, bi-partisan support in the State Legislature.
The advantages of enabling the use of environmentally-friendly transportation through low-speed electric bicycles were recently highlighted in a USA Today article. For consumers, low-speed electric bicycles offer an affordable option for local transportation, particularly given high gas prices. These vehicles also provide environmental benefits by reducing the use of cars for short trips and traffic congestion through the use of rechargeable battery-operated motors. Additionally, since these vehicles can operate on human power as well as the electric motor, they provide a valuable option for seniors and others that would like to get more exercise, but are unable to pedal up hills or steep inclines.
In response to feedback from town hall meetings across the state, the Department of Revenue (DOR) announced that they are no longer pursuing legislation to re-assign assessment authority from municipalities to counties. Instead, DOR indicated that they will pursue legislation that will allow towns to create consortiums to consolidate assessment services. The Department has not yet released a specific bill draft detailing this alternative proposal.
Returning service members who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan during the 2009 deer hunting season will have the opportunity to hunt using agricultural deer damage shooting permits. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has reached out to farmers who hold these tags to share them with returning veterans. The National Guard is working in conjunction with the DNR to inform service members of this new voluntary program. Farmers interested in sharing permits and returning soldiers interested in participating can contact the DNR by phone at 888-936-7463 or by sending an e-mail to: email@example.com . The DNR will match interested hunters and sharing farmers up for hunts starting this month.
The winter floor period continued last month and the Senate passed several bills on January 26 and 28. Some of the bills passed include:
Senate Bill 415
This bill would require the owners of multi-family dwellings to install a carbon monoxide detector in the basement and on each floor level of the dwelling.
Assembly Bill 47
Certain felons convicted of violent crimes, crimes against children, felony drug offenses, and registered sex offenders would be prohibited from providing martial arts instruction to children under Assembly Bill 47.
Assembly Bill 236
Current law requires that high school students must have at least two credits of science to earn a high school diploma. Assembly Bill 236 would require a school board to consider courses in agriculture as a science credit as long as they meet established criteria by the Department of Public Instruction.
Senate Bill 271
Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical compound used to harden plastics, would be banned for use in baby bottles and children’s spill-proof cups. Wisconsin would join Minnesota and Connecticut in banning BPA from children’s products. Similar federal action may be forthcoming, as the federal Food and Drug Administration recently expressed concerns about this compound’s health effects when leeched from plastics and ingested by children.
Senate Bill 415 and Assembly Bills 47 and 236 have now passed both houses of the Legislature and await the Governor’s signature before becoming law. Senate Bill 271 is now before the Assembly for consideration.
Under open-enrollment, parents have the ability to send their children to any public school district in the state, space permitting. The February 1-19 enrollment application period is the only tuition-free time of the year for parents to apply to send their children to a school district other than where they live. An online application is available until 4:00 P.M. on February 19. Paper applications are available at local schools or from the Department of Public Instruction and MUST be received by 4:00 P.M. on February 19. For more information, call DPI at (888) 245-2732 (toll-free) or visit http://dpi.wi.gov/sms/psctoc.html for more information and to apply.
On February 3, farmers from throughout the state will come to Madison to gather for their annual Legislative Day. Ag Day at the Capitol is the largest gathering of farmers in Wisconsin each year. After morning seminars discussing state issues and listening to guest speakers, farmers will visit the Capitol in the afternoon to meet with their Legislators. I look forward to meeting with fellow farmers from our area to discuss ways to work together to preserve and grow agriculture in our state.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is holding public listening sessions throughout the state on the Department’s current livestock siting rule. Enacted in 2006, the livestock siting rule established standards for local governments to follow when issuing licenses for new or expanded livestock operations. Now that the rule has been in place for four years, DATCP is seeking public input to determine the effectiveness of the current standards. The listening session for our region will be at the Town of Washington Hall, 5750 Old Town Hall Road, Eau Claire on Tuesday, February 23, from 3:30-7:00 P.M. The public can also submit written comments any time via mail by writing: DATCP, Attn: Mike Murray, P.O. Box 8911, Madison, WI 53708-8911 or via e-mail to: Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org .
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas this is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Five to ten percent of Wisconsin homes have radon levels above the acceptable guidelines of the Environmental Protection Agency. The only way to know of the presence of this odorless gas is to measure it with a kit available from most hardware stores or local health agencies. The Department of Health Services has designated 16 local health departments as Regional Radon Information Centers, which provide access to radon test kits and consultation with certified radon experts. To find the Regional Radon Information Center nearest you, call 1-888-LOW-RADON (888-569-7236) or find it online at the link above.
The State Assembly on January 20 passed on a voice vote Senate Bill 137, which allows the use of low-speed electric bicycles. This legislation, which I introduced at the request of constituents, is intended to clarify the ability of licensed drivers to utilize low-speed electric bicycles as a mode of transportation. SB 137 previously passed the State Senate on May 13 and now must be signed by the Governor before becoming law.
In response to concerns about income tax withholding that was brought to my attention by taxpayers that were having income taxes withheld for both Wisconsin and Minnesota, I contacted the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) for assistance on withholding issues.
A summary sheet from DOR which outlines how the Department recently called for a special withholding arrangement for Wisconsin residents that work in Minnesota is available in the link above. It authorizes that withholding for Wisconsin is not required under such a circumstance.
The State Senate resumed session on Tuesday, January 20, and passed several bills as the winter floor period got underway. Bills passed and now pending action in the State Assembly included:
Senate Bill 43
This bill would require independent groups that produce issue ads within 60 days of an election to submit campaign finance registration and reporting.
Senate Bill 203
Medical malpractice liability would increase under this bill, which allows an adult child or the parent of an adult child to sue for the loss of society and companionship.
Senate Bill 274
Victims of domestic abuse could require that their landlords change or permit the tenant to change their locks if they provide the landlord with a qualifying court order that indicates that the tenant is a victim of domestic abuse.
Senate Bill 308
Employers would be required to permit volunteers serving as firefighters, EMTs, and first responders to be late or absent from work without pay if the lateness or absence is due to serving as a voluntary emergency worker prior to their shift beginning. This bill ensures that a volunteer emergency worker does not have to weigh whether to complete his/her assistance in an emergency or suffer adverse work consequences.
The Senate also confirmed nominees to serve on the Wisconsin Technical College System Board, Wisconsin Aerospace Authority, Credit Union Review Board, and other panels.
A bill is currently circulating in the Legislature that would allow a Bed and Breakfast establishment to serve meals other than breakfast to guests. Current law exempts Bed and Breakfasts from having a restaurant license to prepare and serve only breakfasts to their guests. This bill would remove this meal restriction and allow a Bed and Breakfast to serve any meal to their guests. This proposal is expected to be introduced shortly.
This past November, the Legislature passed and Governor signed 2009 Wisconsin Act 90, which creates standards of care for dogs raised by commercial breeders. The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), which is in charge of implementing this law, is seeking members for an advisory committee that will recommend rules to carry out Act 90. Committee members will include retail dog sellers, breeders, sporting groups, humane societies, and animal control groups. Groups that work with dogs can nominate members for this committee; DATCP will not consider self-nominated members. Groups interested in nominating members have until February 10 to call 608-224-4872 or e-mail DATCPanimals@wi.gov with nominations.
The Northwest Region of the Department of Transportation (DOT) is hosting a public information meeting on Thursday, January 21, from 5:30-7:30 P.M. at the Village of Roberts Community Park Building to discuss the proposed reconstruction for the I-94 / WIS 65 interchange in St. Croix County. Members of the public are encouraged to attend and provide input and ask questions regarding this proposed project. DOT staff will be available to discuss the project, and maps of the proposed alternatives will be on display. The Roberts Community Park Building is located at 312 Park Street in Roberts.
This week, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Utilities, Energy, and Rail voted in favor of Senate Bill 267 (SB 267), which will update the State’s plumbing code. These standards were largely written in 1913. Since then, advancements in water treatment and plumbing needs have expanded and changed. SB 267 updates definitions to meet these changing needs. One reason that supporters sought this update is the growing trend to reuse non-drinkable water for other household purposes; for example, using water from a shower to flush a toilet. The next step for SB 267 is consideration by the full Senate.
The Department of Revenue (DOR) recently released a draft of legislation that would consolidate the property tax assessment process by shifting the responsibility from the state’s municipalities to the counties. DOR considers the proposal a work in progress and will be holding upcoming hearings throughout the state for public input. A schedule of these hearings is forthcoming.
25 spots remain for dairy producers to participate in the Dairy Farm Management Team program, which is a collaboration of several state agencies and institutions to provide expert advice and analysis with the goal of improving dairy farming. The pilot program brings dairy farmers together with teams consisting of lenders, agronomists, nutritionists, and other experts to provide individualized, farm-specific support and advice. The pilot program is a cost-share that covers up to $2,000 of various non-capital costs, including milk quality, veterinary testing, consultant fees, and other related activities. Participating farmers contribute 10% of the cost.