5/24: Find the Latest on JFC Budget Actions Here
5/22: Safe Boating Information
5/20: St. Croix Crossing Bridge Project Public Open Houses
5/16: Three-vehicle Combination Bill Moves Forward
5/15: Watch St. Croix River Crossing Progress Online
5/10: Safe Spring Cleaning with Clean Sweep Events
5/9: Stay Updated for Summer Travel
5/8: Act 10 Reforms Reduce Overtime Costs
5/7: New Council on Workforce Investment
Last week, Governor Walker announced new membership for his Council on Workforce Investment, comprised of state business leaders, elected officials and education representatives. Members of the Council serve as an advisory panel that helps guide the plan to prepare Wisconsin workers to find family-supporting careers in the modern workforce. The Council will provide valuable input as the Governor and Legislature continue to work to address the skills gap and fill employers’ current and future labor market needs.
5/6: Wisconsin Tourism Industry Makes an Impact
5/3: DNR Green Tier Program is Growing
5/1: May is National Mental Health Awareness Month
4/30: County Veterans Service Officers are a Local Resource
4/17: Wear Blue in Honor of Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month
4/15: Work-share Program Approved
4/12: Seeking Student Representative for the WI Technical College System Board
4/8: Beware of Scams Targeting Babysitters
4/5: Avoid Tax Preparation Fraud
4/1: Subscribe to DNR Outdoor Report
3/22: Joint Finance Committee to Hold Public Hearings on State Budget
3/15: OpenBook Wisconsin to be Launched
3/14: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Approval of Permit Moves St. River Crossing Forward
3/11: Openings for the Profitable Sustainability Initiative
3/8: Deer Trustee Report Meeting Webcast on Saturday
The Department of Natural Resources is hosting a public meeting to kick off the implementation of the Deer Trustee Report this Saturday, March 9 in Stevens Point. However, for those who are unable to attend the meeting in-person, a live webcast of the meeting will be available online.
3/6: Wisconsin Ag Exports at Record High
3/5: New fishing, hunting licenses go on sale March 6
Wisconsin hunting, fishing, trapping and other licenses for the 2013-14 seasons go on sale Wednesday, March 6. Annual licenses are valid from April 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014. Hunting and fishing licenses for the 2012-13 license year expire March 31, 2013.
3/1: Opportunity to Create a Farm to School Site
2/22: Referendum to Protect Transportation Fund Coming to Voters
2/21: Clean Water Legislation Advances
2/20: Governor’s Budget Address to be Live-Streamed Tonight
2/15: Applicants Sought for Student Representative on the UW Board of Regents
2/14: Governor announces 'DNA at Arrest' to be included in budget
2/8: DOT Schedules Public Meeting for Improvements to WIS 35 and WIS 70 Intersection in Burnett County
2/6: Hudson Offers Free Fishing Clinic for Kids
2/5: Capitol Phone Outage
2/1: Wisconsin Department of Revenue Now Accepting E-file Returns
1/31: WisDOT Public Meeting
1/24: Senate Scholar Program Applications Available
1/16: DOT Schedules Public Meeting on I-94 Study
1/15: State of the State Address Tonight
1/9: Watch Out for Red Flags When Purchasing Football Tickets
12/28: SeniorCare Waiver Extended
12/21: Be Careful of Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams
12/14: Governor’s Business Plan Contest Open for Entries
12/11: 2013 Wisconsin State Park Stickers Now Available
12/5: State Snow Condition Reports Now Available
12/3: Executive Residence to Hold Holiday Tours
11/30: Successful 161st Deer Hunt Comes to an End
11/28: Wisconsin Ranks 13th in Site Selection List of Top U.S. Business Climates
11/26: DNR Extends Hours for Call Center
11/21: Happy Thanksgiving
11/19: 1.1 Million Private Acres Open to the Public
11/14: Help Decorate the Capitol Christmas Tree
11/12: Remembering Veterans Day
11/8: Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30x20 Initiative
10/30: Governor Small Business Summit
10/25: UW-Stout receives Educational Diversity Award
10/22: First Wolf Hunt in Wisconsin
10/22: Information Sessions on Managed Care Organization Transition
10/19: $108.7 Million Added to the State's Rainy Day Fund
10/18: Wisconsin SeniorCare Application Moves Forward
10/11: Construction of the St. Croix River Crossing to Begin Spring of 2013
10/10: Raising Awareness about Rabies Prevention
10/8: Applications for Organic Cost Share Program due October 31st
10/3: St. Croix Falls Named one of Five Towns Terrific for Fall
10/1: October-National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
9/27: DNR Announces Changes to ATV and UTV Requirements
9/25: Encouraging Citizen Involvement in State Government
9/24: New Law Expands Use of Crossbow for Hunting Season
9/14: 2012-2013 Wisconsin School Recognition Awards Announced
9/13: Wisconsin Fall Color Report App Launched
9/12: Wisconsin Submits Request to Extend Waiver for SeniorCare
9/6: UW-River Falls named a Best in the Midwest College
9/4: 2012 Housing Grant Awards Announced
8/28: Wisconsin Office of State Treasurer assists Wisconsin Residents at Wisconsin State Fair
8/27: State School Superintendent Enacts Changes to Teacher Licensure
8/24: Help Decorate Wisconsin's National Christmas Tree Display
8/23: October 1st No Call List Sign Up
8/22: Wisconsin Exports Increase in First Half of the Year
8/15: Governor Awards Financial Literacy Grants to Local Schools
8/14: St. Croix Crossing Webcam
8/6: Local Resident Crowned Miss Wheelchair USA
8/2: St. Croix River Crossing Load Tests Move Forward
7/31: 2012 Wolf Hunt Rules Approved by Natural Resources Board
7/25: Wisconsin Personal Income Up in 2011, Forecasted to Improve
7/24: Drought Emergency Expands to Entire State of Wisconsin
7/13: Wisconsin Ranks 17th in CNBC’s “Top States for Business”
7/10: Area Child Learning Centers Receive 5 Star Rating
7/5: Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s Tips to Beat the Heat and Save Energy
With above average temperatures this summer the PSC recently released some helpful tips for keeping utility bills low, some of which are listed below. For more information about conserving energy, I encourage you to visit www.psc.wi.gov.
7/3: Keeping Your Pets Safe in the Summer Heat
7/3: Have a Safe and Happy Independence Day!
7/2: Department of Natural Resources Launches New Activities Database
6/29: Harsdorf Receives Arts in the Community Award
6/28: Save a Life - Donate Blood!
6/25: Work Begins on St. Croix River Crossing!
6/22: DNR To Hold Open House on Draft Master Plan for Governor Knowles State Forest
6/21: Governor and UW System Announce Plans for UW Flexible Degree
6/14: Flag Day to be Celebrated on June 14th
1. The flag should be folded in its customary manner. 2. It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning of the flag.3. Place the flag on the fire.4. The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.5. After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished and the ashes buried.6. Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances
6/13: Wisconsin Arts - Good for Our Quality of Life….Good for the Economy
6/1: Celebrate June is Dairy Month
5/30: DNR Announces June 2-3 as Free Fishing Weekend
5/29: Wisconsin Consumers Receive Refunds for Third-Party Charges
5/25: Memorial Day - A Day to Remember Those Who Have Made the Ultimate Sacrifice
5/24: Burning Restrictions Lifted for Northwest Wisconsin
5/22: State Employees Collect Cell Phones for Soldiers
5/21: May 20-26 is Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week
5/14: DNR Appoints Small Business Ombudsman
5/10: Tourism Revenues Up in Wisconsin
5/9: DHS Warns Against Tick-borne Diseases
5/7: DNR Launches Searchable Fishing Regulations Tool on Website
5/4: DOR Secretary Chandler to Address St. Croix EDC Board
5/3: Boaters and Anglers Encouraged to Avoid Spreading Aquatic Invasive Species
5/1: May is Stroke Awareness Month
4/30: DNR Surpasses Certification of More Than One Million Students in Hunter Safety Program Since its Inception
4/17: Governor Signs Livestock Registration Legislation
4/16: Wisconsin Observes Tornado Awareness Week
4/16: Wisconsin Deer Trustee to Hold Town Hall Meetings Across State
4/6: Emergency Burning Restriction for Northwest Wisconsin to Take Effect Today
4/6: April 8th-14th is National Library Week
4/6: Cell Phones for Soldiers
4/4: St. Croix County Healthiest County in Wisconsin
4/4: DNR Alert - Deer Tests Positive for Chronic Wasting Disease
3/30: State Treasurer seeks to return unclaimed property
3/29: Legislation to improve workforce training signed by the Governor
3/23: Funding Approved for Continuation of Livestock Premises Registration Program
3/23: Floating Toilet Facilities OK’d on St. Croix River
3/22: DNR urges caution with the return of wildfire season
3/14: Harsdorf Bills on Domestic Violence Move Forward
3/14: President Obama Signs St. Croix River Crossing Bill!
3/9: Pier protection and wolf hunting legislation approved
3/8: Looking for love - Look out for online dating scams.
3/7: Congratulations to Hudson Middle School!
2/10: Top Businesses of 2011 Named by St. Croix EDC
2/9: Preco, Inc Opens New Facility in Hudson
2/24: Over $4 million returned in unclaimed property
2/6: DNR Learn to Hunt events
2/2: Local businesswoman receives 2012 Trailblazer Award
2/1: DHS requests input on drafted reforms to Family Care
1/31: Wisconsin Heroes Awards
1/27: St. Croix Bridge overcomes another hurdle
1/26: Statewide property taxes held in check
1/20: DOT reminds drivers to use safety zone
1/19: Drug Task Forces to receive $1 million in grants
1/17: Wisconsin specialty food processors now able to sell products across state lines
1/13: Commission on Waste, Fraud, and Abuse report finds millions in savings
1/12: Change in DMV driver license and ID card issuance
1/10: DNR directed to implement state’s wolf management plan
12/30: DOR- website available for property tax information
12/29: Executive Order expands child abuse reporting requirements
12/28: Funding for sexual assault victims protected
12/23: DATCP - tips on making donations
12/22: Give the gift that saves lives
12/20: Deadline coming up for Alice in Dairyland Applications
12/19: New law increases penalties for unlicensed drivers who badly injure or kill
12/15: DHS seeks extension of federal waiver in effort to maintain SeniorCare
12/14: DNR ice fishing site
12/13: Assistance Fraud and Abuse Hotline now available
12/9: Governor requests federal disaster assistance for soybean cop losses
12/8: Governor signed SB 28 into law
12/6: PSC winter energy saving tips
12/2: Beware of health care scam targeting seniors
12/1: December 1st Listening Sessions to be Rescheduled
12/1: Capital Christmas Tree Ceremonies Announced
11/30: Online DOR services
11/28: Executive Residence holiday tour schedule released
11/22: Wisconsin to be represented in the White House
11/21: More DMV services available online
11/18: Environmental study approved for St. Croix County highway by the Transportation Projects Commission
11/17: Don’t forget about DNR Customer Service this hunting season
11/16: Hunters - Be aware of trespassing laws
11/14: Legislation signed in time for deer season
11/8: Emergency Alert System test to take place on November 9th
11/7: Wisconsin Army National Guard completes their portion of storm cleanup
11/4: DNR seeking small business ideas
11/2: DOT warns drivers to watch out for winter weather
10/27: Website highlights reforms and their results
10/26: Concealed carry website
10/25: Legislation promotes manufacturing skills training
10/21: Openings on state boards, commissions and councils
10/19: “Warden Wire” answers your DNR questions
10/18: Operation Safe Driver program aims to avoid large-truck accidents
10/17: TB test no longer required to import Minnesota cattle
10/14: Judges needed for ‘Wisconsin YES!’ contest
10/13: Efforts underway to reduce fraud within public assistance programs
10/10: Deer Trustee appointed to study Wisconsin's deer policies
10/7: DHS outlines proposed cost savings
10/7: St. Croix River Crossing bill moves forward in Congress
9/30: State Veterinarian announces expansion of Eastern equine encephalitis
9/29: Thousands of job listings on Wisconsin’s Jobs Center website
9/28: “Back to Work Wisconsin” special session announced
9/27: Harsdorf bill to require regional representation on the UW Board of Regents moving forward
9/12: US Highway 8 public information meeting September 28th
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation Northwest Regional Office announced that a public hearing has been scheduled to discuss the US Highway 8 study. The purpose of this study is to identify the preferred route for a future four-lane US Highway 8 from 15th Street to the Hay River in Polk and Barron Counties.
This public information meeting will be held September 28th at Turtle Lake High School from 5-7 pm. At 5:30, there will be a brief presentation. Members of the public are encouraged to attend this meeting to provide input and ask questions about the study.
For those who are unable to attend this meeting, they can call 715-838-8391 for more information. More public information meetings will be held as the project progresses.
9/10: America Remembers September 11th
9/8: Rules not yet finalized regarding concealed carry training programs
Senate Bill 93, which allows for the concealed carry of firearms by law-abiding citizens, was passed and signed into law in July as 2011 Wisconsin Act 35. Act 35 requires that a person be trained and receive a permit in order to carry a concealed weapon in Wisconsin. However, the law does not go into effect until November 1st and the Department of Justice (DOJ), the state agency in charge of the rule-making process for this bill, has not finalized what the acceptable training requirements will be.
With this in mind, Wisconsin citizens interested in carrying concealed weapons are encouraged to avoid spending money on training courses until the DOJ finalizes the training requirements. The DOJ has provided a useful website with answers to many frequently asked questions and concerns regarding concealed carry. To access this, click here.
9/7: September is National Library Card Sign-up Month
This month is dedicated to reminding families about the many valuable resources your local library provides. Since September is National Library Card Sign-up month, the American Library Association is taking this opportunity to encourage everyone to visit their local library and sign their family up for library cards.
Library cards are your key to unlocking all the possibilities and resources that lie within a public library. Not only is your local library a resource for interesting books and magazines, but it also provides computers, researching tools and the opportunity to attend events and speakers on a variety of issues and topics. There are also book clubs, testing centers and e-book rentals.
There are endless opportunities for children as well. Local libraries host reading programs, story time, and events of interest for children of all ages while also offering online interactive books, programs and learning games. Many libraries also provide daycare, study rooms, homework assistance, homeschooling resources and services for special needs children.
Celebrate National Library Card Sign-up Month with your family. To find your local library and explore what programs it offers, please visit http://www.atyourlibrary.org/ and enter your zip code in the upper right hand corner.
8/26: Wisconsin Department of Tourism announces new grant program to help convention and meeting sector of tourism industry
The Wisconsin Department of Tourism announced a new grant program that will assist hotel and convention centers while they bid for national or Midwest regional meetings and conventions. The goal is to generate increased visitor spending through these events and encourage greater hotel occupancy, meeting space rental and food and beverage expenditures.
The funds will be awarded through the Meetings Mean Business grant program. This program also aims to provide more stability for the state’s hospitality industry through potential growth opportunities and developments in meetings and convention infrastructures across the state. In 2010, traveler spending from meetings and conventions accounted for 11 percent of the state’s $12.3 billion in traveler expenditures.
The first deadline to apply for this program is December 1, 2011. More information about this program is available online at travelwisconsin.com.
8/26: John Scocos reappointed as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs
Governor Walker announced Thursday that he is reappointing John Scocos as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). Scocos previously served as the Secretary for the DVA from 2003 to 2009 under the Doyle administration. Scocos is a U.S. Army Reserve colonel and has served two of tours of duty in Iraq. Scocos’ appointment requires confirmation by the State Senate. Scocos indicated he is looking forward to serving veterans and addressing important issues such as unemployment among veterans, financial issues at state veterans homes, and the solvency of the state veterans trust fund.
8/24: Patients Compensation Fund Restored
Earlier this week, the state finally paid back the illegal $200 million raid on the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund made in the last two-year budget bill under the Doyle administration. A court ruling found that this raid was illegal and required the state to pay back the $200 million with interest and penalties.
This payment was made possible by the passage of Assembly Bill 148, also known as the “Bill to Pay the Bills”, which authorizes the state to pay $235 million to cover the cost of repaying the raid as well as any interest and penalty payments owed by the state. The State Budget Office estimates that this legislation could save taxpayers up to $70 million by repaying the fund now instead of allowing interest payments to add up.
States without a reliable Patients Compensation Fund have seen their number of doctors practicing in their state dwindle due to less protection against lawsuits, and rural communities lose the most when they are unable to keep doctors. I am pleased that this payment was made and that the Patients Compensation Fund has been restored.
7/11: Coming Together to Help Others
There are many great things that individuals and organizations do to reach out and help others. Recently I learned of one unique opportunity that is happening in our own backyard this upcoming Friday and Saturday where 100 people are expected to come together for an event called Build a Vet a Guitar. George Vondriska, with the Wild Earth School in rural Hudson, hatched the Build a Vet a Guitar event as part of the Guitars for Vets organization.
This is the second annual event where they anticipate completing 20 acoustic guitar kits in two days. These guitars will be donated to Guitars For Vets, which provides injured military veterans with guitars and music instruction. The power of music has been shown to be a powerful tool in healing and rehabilitating veterans who suffer the effects of war, especially the lingering symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Guitars For Vets is a nationwide organization that was started in 2007. They have 4 chapters in Wisconsin located in Green Bay, Tomah, Madison and Milwaukee. If you are interested in getting involved in this weekend’s event, you can contact George Vondriska at 715-749-9011. If you are unable to pitch in this weekend but would like to be involved in future Guitars For Vets events, visit http://guitars4vets.org.
I am always touched and inspired when I learn of events like this one where communities and citizens come together for the benefit of others.
7/8: Schools Across the State Using Budget Repair Bill Reforms to Save Money
School districts are already saving money as a result of the reforms included in 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, the budget repair bill. The Kaukauna School District in the Fox River Valley reported that they were facing a deficit of $400,000 before Act 10 went into effect. Now, the district has announced that they are looking at a $1.5 million surplus thanks to the reforms enacted by the State Legislature.
The district stated that they were able to negotiate with WEA Trust, a health insurance provider run by WEAC, the state’s largest teacher’s union, to reduce health insurance premiums. Additionally, $1.2 million of the school district’s savings came from the increased contributions by employees into their health insurance and pension.
The Kaukauna School District also reported that they anticipate smaller class sizes, from 31 to 26 students in high school and 26 to 23 students in elementary school, as well as the possibility of more one on one time with teachers.
Other school districts are using these cost-saving tools to save taxpayer money and be more efficient as well. The Menomonee Falls School Board recently announced that they approved new contracts last month that saved $2.4 million by switching to a new health insurance provider. The Hartland-Lakeside district also reported that they switched their health insurance provider from WEA Trust to United Healthcare, saving their district $690,000.
7/5: Celebrating America
Thank you to everyone who took time this weekend to celebrate our country's Independence Day and the many freedoms we enjoy in America. As I attended a number of community celebrations around the district, it was wonderful to see so many out celebrating with their family and friends. We are fortunate for the amazing country we live in, for the courage our forefathers showed in providing us the many freedoms we enjoy and for the generations of brave men and women who have fought for and continue to protect those freedoms.
I hope you and your family had a happy and safe 4th of July!
7/1: Minnesota Government Shutdown
While Wisconsin successfully passed its budget on time, political strife has led to an unfortunate government shutdown across the river. Minnesota state government officially shut down on July 1 due to a bitter impasse between Democratic Governor Dayton and the Republican Legislature.
The government shutdown means only critical functions will be funded until a compromise can be reached. Over 20,000 non-essential Minnesota state employees will be laid off for an unknown length of time. While it is Minnesota state government that is shut down, the impact will be felt by Wisconsinites as well. Wisconsin residents working for the State of Minnesota or using Minnesota services may be affected. Fortunately, due to a court ruling, the Stillwater Bridge will remain open. Earlier, the Minnesota Department of Transportation had indicated that the bridge would remain in the lift position to allow for boat passage, requiring motorists to travel down to the Hudson Bridge to cross the river.
The Minnesota DOT has a notice on their website that most of their state government services will be closed to the public and all but two of the state's rest stops will be shut down as well. State parks and camp grounds will also be closed. Unfortunately, this interruption in services and programs will inconvenience Wisconsin citizens who work across the river or had plans to visit a Minnesota state park or campground.
Below are some websites that provide information about what services are closed or still available during the shutdown.
6/27: Ban on Synthetic Marijuana Signed into Law
In response to concerns raised by law enforcement in Western Wisconsin, legislation to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana and other potent stimulants in our state was introduced. These chemicals mimic the effect of marijuana and cocaine when ingested and currently can be purchased across the counter by consumers of any age. Often times, the chemicals are much more potent than the drugs they imitate and are produced without any regard to safety. The sale and use of synthetic marijuana has led to numerous cases of teens and young adults being hospitalized.
Current law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, delivery, or possession of substances included in the schedule of controlled substances. These substances are categorized into 5 different schedules depending on the nature of the substance. Schedule I substances are those that have a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use, and are not accepted as safe for use in treatment under medical supervision. Senate Bill 54 identifies several non-narcotic, hallucinogenic substances known as synthetic cannabinoids and stimulants, such as synthetic marijuana and bath salts, and classifies them as Schedule I controlled substances.
A first offense for possession of a synthetic cannabinoid may a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to 6 months, or both. A second offense constitutes a Class I felony, increasing the penalty to up to $10,000 and up to 3.5 years in prison. A person guilty of manufacturing, distributing, or delivering a synthetic cannabinoid commits a Class H felony and is subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment up to 6 years.
I am pleased to have authored SB 54 which helps create a safer environment for consumers of all ages by outlawing the sale and use of dangerous synthetic substances, removing them from the market, and providing law enforcement with the tools to address their growing use. The bill was signed into law today by the Governor.
5/6: Supporting Crex Meadows Wildlife Area
Crex Meadows Wildlife Area is a beautiful and unique natural area that attracts area residents as well as visitors from across the country and around the world. Known for its bird watching, it’s estimated that more than a 100,000 people visit Crex every year.
Crex Meadows is generously supported by a 700 member strong organization known as the Friends of Crex. Friends of Crex were instrumental in building a visitors' center and have been staffing the center with a part-time natural resources educator who is on hand to provide insight and information to the thousands of visitors. In order to address a high turnover of individuals they have had in this position and create more stability, the Friends of Crex are interested in funding a full-time position.
I am pleased that the Joint Committee on Finance approved a motion that I brought forward at the request of the Friends of Crex that will enable them to fund a full-time position.
This provision will be part of the two year budget bill which the Joint Finance Committee is expected to complete their work on by the end of May. The budget bill will then be acted on by both the State Assembly and State Senate before heading to the Governor for final approval.
3/25: Efforts underway to repeal law that limits schools ability to treat common ailments
On March 1st, changes in the law governing how medicine is given to children at school went into effect. These changes make it more difficult for parents and school districts to make sure kids have access to non-prescription medications during the school day, for simply things for such things as a stomachache, headache, or a sore throat. Under the new law, all non-prescription medication given to children at school must now be provided by the parent/guardian and be in the original packaging. These include ordinary over-the-counter items like ibuprofen, Tylenol, Benadryl, and cough drops.
The practical effect of these new regulations means that each child’s parent or guardian needs to supply their own bottle of over-the-counter medication to the school. This leads to schools storing and organizing hundreds of bottles or containers of the same medicine. Some have chosen not to do this because it is an administrative nightmare. This means kids may have no access to simple medications for common ailments during the school day.
I am co-sponsoring legislation that would repeal these regulations and return to previous policies for how schools administer non-prescription medication to students. To ensure proper administration of medicine, safeguards would continue to be in place requiring written consent by the parent or guardian as well as documentation of the administration of each dose.
Please let me know what you think about this legislation or other topics of concern you have by visiting HarsdorfSenate.com, or by visiting my facebook page at facebook.com/harsdorf.sheila.
2/9: Be Wary of Instant Tax Refund Services
Getting an instant tax refund can sound like a good opportunity, but the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is warning that these services are often actually very expensive loans. These loans generally carry annual percentage interest rates ranging anywhere from 70% to over 700%, which is a high price to pay to borrow money that belongs to you.
If you do decide to use one of these services, you should ask the following questions:
1. What is the interest rate?
2. What fees are you being charged?13103. What happens if your tax refund is less than you thought it would be?
To get more information, click on the link provided.
2/7: Report Government Waste with New Web Site
As we work to pass a fiscally responsible 2011-2013 state budget in the face of a $3 billion budget deficit, it is imperative that we do everything we can to cut wasteful government spending. Governor Walker has asked for help from citizens in identifying and reporting instances of government waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars.
Some common instances of fraud include:
• Dishonest or inaccurate unemployment insurance claims
• Falsified child care logs submitted for compensation under the Wisconsin Shares child care program
• False overtime wage claims by State employees
If you witness instances or waste, fraud, or abuse, or have suggestions on how a government program can be run in a more fiscally responsible manner, I encourage you to provide feedback through the Governor's Web site by clicking here.
2/4: 3M Celebrates Milestone in Menomonie
I am excited to be on hand today Friday, February 4th as 3M celebrates laying the 1,000th mile of their new high-voltage overhead electricity conductor. The cable, which has been recognized by R&D Magazine with an R&D 100 Award as a technologically significant product, is manufactured at 3M’s facility in Menomonie. The plant employs over 640 workers.
The new cable enables the upgrade of lines in areas with environmental or aesthetic barriers, including lines over bodies of water, on public lands, and in heavily populated urban areas. The new lines have up to two or more times the current-carrying capacity than standard conductors.
The innovation being celebrated by this local business is a great example of what fuels our state’s economy, and keeps Wisconsin working.
1/1: Tax Credits for Job Creators Signed into Law
Companies relocating to Wisconsin will be exempt from paying income or franchise taxes for the first two years they do business in Wisconsin after the Governor signed new legislation into law this week. Additionally in other legislation signed into law, the amount available for economic development tax credits, which are directly tied to job creation, employee training, or capital investment, was increased by $25 million.
The bills were passed as part of the legislature’s special session focused on spurring job growth. By providing incentives for companies to bring jobs to Wisconsin and rewarding businesses for job creation we take an important step towards encouraging economic recovery and putting people back to work.
1/27: Traveling Smithsonian Exhibit Comes to River Falls
“Key Ingredients,” a traveling exhibition on the history and culture of food in America, will open Friday, January 28th at the River Falls Public Library. I am looking forward to joining community members in welcoming the exhibit to our area at a kick-off celebration at the library on Friday at 1:00pm.
Visitors will have the opportunity to experience the evolution of food production and consumption throughout the history of America and also discover how food has impacted our culture right here in Western Wisconsin. Special events will include cooking demonstrations, film screenings for adults and children, etiquette classes, and off-site activities including fitness level assessments, food samplings, and a brewery tour. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, visitors will be encouraged to participate in a recipe exchange by submitting a favorite family or local recipe and taking home a new favorite.
The exhibit is being brought to Wisconsin by “Museum on Main Street,” a partnership of the Smithsonian Institution and state humanities councils. River Falls will host the exhibit January 28 - March 11, 2011 before it travels to Westfield, WI.
1/26: Public Meeting Scheduled to Discuss Section of WIS 35 in Somerset
Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials will hold a public information meeting to discuss the proposed controlled access project on WIS 35 in the Town of Somerset in St. Croix County.
The project would designate the segment of WIS 35 between 200th Avenue in Somerset and the north county line as a “Controlled Access Highway.” This would give the Department of Transportation the authority to exercise special controls over traffic on the highway. The Department would also have authority to execute any construction projects on the highway they deem necessary to ensure public safety.
The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011, from 5-7 p.m. at the Somerset Town Hall, 748 Highway 35, Somerset.
1/25: Public Meeting Scheduled to Discuss Proposed Roundabout in Siren
Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials plan to hold a public meeting to discuss the proposed change to the intersection of WIS 35 and WIS 70 in Burnett County. The project would include building a roundabout at the intersection of WIS 35 and WIS 70 to address safety problems and improve traffic flow. Construction is currently scheduled to start in 2013.
Citizens are encouraged to attend the meeting, learn more about the proposed project, and provide input. The meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011 from 5- 6:30 p.m. in room 165 of the Burnett County Government Center, 7410 County Road K, Siren. Officials will provide a brief project overview presentation starting at 5:30 p.m.
1/24: Health Savings Account Deduction will be Signed into Law
Governor Walker will sign a bill into law today creating a state income tax deduction for contributions to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). The bill was passed by the Legislature as part of the special session on economic recovery.
HSA contributions are already exempt from federal taxation. Wisconsin has been one of only a handful of states to still tax contributions.
HSAs are savings accounts owned by an individual that can be used for minor medical expenses, such as office visits and regular preventative care. A growing number of employers choose to make HSAs available to employees, and they are also popular among the self-employed. A high-deductible health insurance plan is used in conjunction with an HSA to cover major medical expenses.
HSAs allow individuals to take control of their medical decisions. Using the money from their HSA, an individual health care consumer can pay for the medical treatments they deem necessary, with the provider they prefer, without having a gatekeeper tell them what care they can or cannot receive and what doctor they must see. Unlike health insurance offered by an employer, HSAs are portable, remaining with an individual from job to job or if they leave the workforce.
1/20: “Move Over Law” Protects our Officers
During our snowy season, it is especially important that we ensure the safety of law enforcement, emergency and maintenance vehicles on our roads. Wisconsin’s “Move Over” law requires drivers to shift lanes or slow down in order to provide a 34safety zone34 for a squad car, ambulance, fire truck, tow truck or highway maintenance vehicle that is stopped on the side of a road. Although not required by law, it is also advised that drivers also move over for any other stopped vehicle that may be experiencing mechanical difficulties.1310Drivers have two options for creating a safety zone:
1. If the road has more than one directional lane, like the Interstate, and it is possible to switch lanes safely, you must move over to the lane farthest from the stopped vehicle.
2 . If the road has a single directional lane or you can't safely move over, you must significantly reduce your speed and maintain extra vigilance.
Moving over and slowing down are easy ways to keep our officers and other public servants safe while they’re in the line of duty.
1/19: Carbon Monoxide Detectors Mandatory Beginning February 1
All Wisconsin homes will be required to have carbon monoxide (CO) detectors starting February 1, 2011. The requirement was passed last year based on findings by the American Medical Association that CO poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning in the United States.
While new homes built after the rule goes into effect will require more sophisticated systems, existing homes may use battery-powered, stand-alone alarms. The alarms may be purchased at most home-improvement or hardware stores and can be found online. The units must be installed in the basement and on each floor level except the attic or garage. The law applies to all dwellings that contain CO sources, which includes most Wisconsin homes. Examples of CO sources include heaters, fireplaces, furnaces, appliances, vehicles left running in enclosed spaces, or cooking sources using coal, wood, or petroleum products.
Click on the link above to see the full rules.
1/18: Governor Walker Visits Hudson Today
Governor Walker will be in Hudson today, unveiling a new border sign reinforcing his message that “Wisconsin is Open for Business.” The sign is one of several that will go up at border crossings throughout the state in an effort to encourage businesses to bring jobs to Wisconsin.
The signs are going up after the Governors of Illinois and Minnesota proposed to balance budget deficits with significant tax increases. In contrast, Governor Walker called a special session on job creation on his first day in office. He has introduced several proposals currently being considered by the Legislature that are aimed at making Wisconsin more job-friendly, saying “in these challenging economic times while [other states are] raising taxes, we are lowering them.”
Today’s sign unveiling will begin at 1:45pm at the Hudson Welcome Center, 2221 Service Road. Members of the public are welcome.
1/13: Special Legislative Session Aims to Spur Job Creation
Last week, Governor Walker called a special legislative session to promote job growth in Wisconsin. This week, the Legislature is actively considering several proposals put forward by the Governor in an effort to change the way our state government approaches job creation. Below is a snapshot of each proposal and how it relates to creating and retaining jobs for Wisconsin workers. Legislative committees are currently holding public hearings, considering amendments and voting on these proposals.
Re-Organization the Department of Commerce: This proposal would turn our current Department of Commerce into a public/private partnership called the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation or WEDC. The WEDC’s exclusive purpose would be to help create jobs for Wisconsin workers. This proposal intends to encourage companies to bring jobs to Wisconsin by promoting a positive relationship between the state and businesses.
Tax Credits for Health Savings Accounts: Under this proposal, individuals would receive a state tax credit for contributions made to a Health Savings Account (HSA). By encouraging the use of HSAs, the proposal aims to assist businesses in providing affordable health care to their employees.
Regulatory Reform: This proposal would create a tighter system of checks and balances on the agency rule-making process and would require the Governor to approve all new agency rules. This proposal is an effort to ensure that elected representatives have appropriate oversight over the rules that affect job creation in this state.
Creating a More Job-Friendly Legal Environment: Commonly referred to as “tort reform,” this proposal creates a balance between protecting consumers and protecting the businesses that employ Wisconsin workers.
Tax Relief for Small Businesses: The Governor proposed that small businesses with gross annual receipts of $500,000 or less per year would receive a tax credit. The Legislature is considering modifications that would instead provide a tax credit based on actual jobs created.
Tax Relief for Businesses Relocating to Wisconsin: This proposal would create a tax credit for businesses that relocate to Wisconsin in an effort to persuade companies to bring jobs to our state.
Increasing the Amount Available for Economic Development Tax Credits: This proposal would increase the amount of tax credits available to companies creating jobs in Wisconsin by $25 million.
More Accountability for Increasing Taxes: This proposal would require a two-thirds vote by the Legislature in order to increase taxes in an effort to ensure that the potential impact of a tax increase on job creation is taken into full consideration.
1/11: State Reaches Settlement with DirecTV
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced recently that Wisconsin has reached settlement with DirecTV regarding allegations that the company engaged in deceptive advertising. As part of the settlement, DirecTV has agreed to provide restitution for injured Wisconsin customers; pay the state $185,000 in penalties; and change its marketing practices. Wisconsinites affected since January 1, 2007 who have been enrolled or reenrolled in programming packages without their consent; did not receive promised cash-back incentives; or were not adequately informed about the availability of pricing promotions are among those eligible for restitution under the settlement. Affected customers should try to resolve disputes with DirecTV first, which is required to resolve consumer complaints under the settlement, and if unsuccessful, can file a complaint by June 9, 2011 with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection by calling 1-800-422-7128. For more information about the settlement and those eligible for restitution, click the link above.
1/10: Highway 35 Freeway Conversion Meeting (St. Croix County)
The Department of Transportation has announced a public hearing on the location, design, and environmental aspects for local roads for the planned conversion of Highway 35 to a freeway between Radio Road and Coulee Trail in St. Croix County. The proposed freeway conversion includes the construction of on and off ramps and interchange reconstructions at several points. The meeting will be held on Thursday, January 20, 2011 from 5:30 P.M. – 8:30 P.M. at the Troy Town Hall located at 654 Glover Road. The public is invited to attend the hearing and to present written and oral testimony concerning the planned freeway conversion. The DOT will present a summary of the project at 6:00 P.M. Environmental Assessment information is available prior to the meeting at the River Falls and Hudson Public Libraries and the Troy Town Hall.
1/6: Lions Foundation License Plates Now Available
Members and non-members of Lions and Lioness Clubs alike are now able to support the work of the Wisconsin Lions Foundation (WLF), Inc. by purchasing a specialty license plate. WLF annually runs a free one-week summer camp for children and adults with disabilities; collects and distributes used eyeglasses and hearing aids to those in need; and promotes diabetes awareness, among other activities. The specialty plate requires an annual $25 donation to support the WLF and an initial $15 fee in addition to the regular annual registration fee. For more information on the WLF plate and other specialty plate programs, click the link above.
1/6: 511 Road Conditions
Now that the snowy season is upon us, motorists are reminded that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s 511 service is available to provide information on road conditions throughout the state. Dialing 511 provides automated real-time road conditions information for free. Callers to 511’s phone service can find traffic conditions by highway, municipality name, or county. Additionally, 511 provides a website, linked above, which allows users to visually see road conditions across the state.
1/4: Oil Filter and Absorbent Recycling Took Effect January 1, 2011
2009 Wisconsin Act 86 took effect on New Year’s Day and created a recycling requirement for used oil filters and oil absorbents. Those who change their own oil or clean up after a non-routine spill are exempt from this requirement. Recycling oil filters and absorbents increases protection of groundwater and reduces the need for crude oil. The DNR released the following facts that the recycling of oil filters and absorbents will affect:
• Each year, Wisconsinites throw away an estimated 187,000 gallons of oil in used oil filters and 1.6 million gallons of oil in oil absorbents.
• Recycling the approximately 9 million oil filters that now go to Wisconsin landfills would return over 4.5 million pounds of steel to the marketplace annually.
• It takes 42 gallons of crude oil, but only one gallon of used oil to produce 2.5 quarts of new, high-quality lubricating oil.
• A single gallon of used oil, if improperly managed, has the potential to contaminate up to one million gallons of drinking water.
For more information about the new recycling requirement, click the link provided.
9/28: Wisconsin Department of Justice is Part of $50 Million Settlement
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.
9/27: Military Ballot Deadline Compromise Reached
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.
9/24: Seed Rule Revisions Seek Public Comment
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.”
9/23: Fall Color Report
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.
9/17: No Call List Membership at All-Time High
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.
9/15: Radio Road / Highway 35 Interchange (St. Croix County) Meeting September 21
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.
9/10: Energy Efficiency Programs Feedback Sought by September 15
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.
9/3: Voter Information Available Online
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.
9/2: Dog Breeder Rules Public Comment Period Opens
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.
9/1: Federal Health Care Bill Continues Implementation in Wisconsin
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.
8/30: Time Sensitive! August 31--Deadline for No Call List
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.
8/25: Nominate a Veteran for Lifetime Achievement Award
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).
8/24: UW-Stout and UW-River Falls in Top Tier of Midwest Universities
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.
8/23: LinkWISCONSIN Broadband Access
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.
8/20: Supreme Court Injunction on Issue Ad Regulations
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.
8/17: Invasive Species in Wisconsin
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/.
8/16: Consumer Protection Hotline
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.
8/13: Employment Search Resources
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.
8/11: Teen Smoking Rates Decline
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.
8/10: DFI Unveils Top Ten Investor Traps of 2010
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.
8/6: Operation Deer Watch
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.
8/5: Wisconsin Again Misses Race to the Top Funding
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.
8/4: YoungStar Childcare Quality Website
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.
8/3: Public Hearings Set for Initial Ag Enterprise Areas
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.
8/2: Statewide Seatbelt Usage Sets Record
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.
7/30: Honor & Remember Flag Tour Visits Wisconsin
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.
7/29: Elk Herd Has Successful Calving Season
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.
7/28: Public Information Meeting on Highway 35/70 Roundabout in Siren
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.
7/28: “We’re for Water” Conservation Campaign
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.
7/27: Summer is Opportune Time for Hunter Safety Courses
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.
7/23: Raid on Patients Compensation Fund Ruled Unconstitutional
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.
7/21: Family Care Audit Approved
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.
7/20: School Sparsity Aid Amounts Announced
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.
7/15: Legislative Council Study Committees Set
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.
7/14: Board of Regents Adopts Textbook Affordability Plan
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.
7/13: Reminder: Fines Double in Work Zones
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.
7/7: Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin Grant Period Opens
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.
7/6: Wolf Activity Alert System
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.
7/2: State Park and Forest Information
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.
7/1: Drunken Driving Reforms Take Effect July 1
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.
6/28: Supermarket of Veterans Benefits Coming to Rice Lake
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.
6/24: Mandatory 10-Digit Dialing Coming Soon
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.
6/23: Officials on the Lookout for Impaired Boaters
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%.
6/22: Caught the Big One? Tips for Reporting Record-Breaking Fish
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.
6/21: Wisconsin Law Allows Consumers to Freeze Credit Reports
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.
6/16: Wisconsin’s Energy Statistics
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.
6/11: Public School Progress Reports Now Available
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.
6/9: New License Plate Designs Available
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
6/8: New Richmond, Somerset, and Osceola Schools Honored
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!
6/7: Commerce Announces Tax Credits for Food Processing Plants
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.
6/4: BadgerCare Plus Basic Enrollment Begins
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.
6/3: Wisconsin Shares Fraud Crackdown Saves $45 Million
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.
6/2: Highway 65 / County K (Polk County) Meeting on June 8
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.
5/28: Memorial Day 2010
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!
5/28: No Call List Deadline is May 31
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.
5/27: West Nile Virus / Dead Bird Reporting Hotline Opens
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.
5/26: Agricultural Exports Show Increase in First Quarter
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.
5/25: Governor Vetoes Raw Milk, Expands Payday Loan Law
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.
5/24: Superintendent’s Advisory Council on Rural Schools, Libraries, and Communities
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.
5/21: Cougars Calling Wisconsin Home Once Again
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.
5/20: Common School Fund Aid Payments Released
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.
5/19: Wind Siting Public Comment Period Opens
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.
5/18: 2010 Clean Sweep Locations Announced
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.
5/17: May is Foster Care Month
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.
5/14: Straight Lake Park Tour
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.
5/13: Government Accountability Board Nixes Voluntary Voter ID
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.
5/11: Tick-Borne Illness Prevention
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.
5/10: Texting while Driving Ban Signed Into Law
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.
5/7: Posters in the Rotunda
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.
5/6: DATCP Resumes Battle Against Emerald Ash Borer
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.
5/5: Board of Regents Webcast May 6
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.
5/4: Recycling Locations for Electronic Devices
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.
5/3: Mandatory Auto Insurance To Take Effect
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.
4/21: Law Enforcement Mutual Assistance Bill Approved
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.
4/20: Last Week for Legislation to Move Forward
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.
4/16: Hazardous Waste Recycling and Disposal Options
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/.
4/15: Spring Valley Receives Grant
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.
4/14: U.S. Census Continues
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.
4/5: 2010 Wisconsin Fishing Report Released
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.
4/2: Patients Compensation Fund Shows Negative Balance
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.
4/1: Farm Garnishment Bill Public Hearing
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.
3/29: Governor Signs Several Bills into Law
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.
3/25: Long-Range Rail Plan Input Sought
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.
3/22: Wisconsin Cancer and Chronic Disease Drug Repository
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.
3/19: Harsdorf Statement on Rhoades Retirement
“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.”
3/16: Producers First Program Seeks Participants
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.
3/12: Wisconsin ChalleNGe Academy Now Accepting Applications
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/ .
3/11: Tax Preparation Assistance
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.
3/9: State Income Tax Questions?
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.
3/5: River Falls Gymnastics, Fusion Ice Hockey, and Ellsworth Wrestling Head to State
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!
3/5: Veterans Job Fair & Benefits Information Schedule Set
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
3/4: Fishing, Hunting, and Trapping Licenses on Sale March 10
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/
3/3: Senate Session Floor Period Continues
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.
2/26: Surprise $1 Million Credit to Property Tax Relief Program
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.
2/25: Senate Adjourns Session in Honor of Siren Native, Molly Engstrom
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!
2/24: State of the Tribes Address
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.
2/23: Sheila's Town Halls
_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
2/19: Wisconsin Coalition of Independent Living Centers
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.
2/18: DHS Seeking Input on Medicaid Savings
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.
2/17: Assembly Passes Campaign Finance Reform Bill
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.
2/12: Governor Doyle Signs Electric Bicycle Bill
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.
2/10: Revenue Scraps County Assessing Proposal
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.
2/9: Special Deer Hunting Option for Returning Veterans
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.
2/5: Senate Passes Several Bills during Final Week of January
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.
2/4: School Open Enrollment Period is February 1-19
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.
2/3: Ag Day at the Capitol is February 3
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.
12/9: Federal Government Removes High Speed Rail Funding
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.
11/30: DHS Reminds Public of Carbon Monoxide Dangers
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.
11/29: Election Observer Input Sought
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.
11/24: DOT Holding I-94 Bridge Replacement Meeting in Dunn County
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.
11/23: Deer Donation 2010 Drop-Off Locations
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.
11/17: Alice in Dairyland Applicants Sought
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.
11/16: Governor Proclaims November as Adoption Month
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.
11/15: DNR Wildlife Survey Seeks Deer Hunters
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.
11/12: Veterans Town Hall Meeting this Saturday in River Falls
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).
11/10: Veterans Day--November 11
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.
11/9: Pickle Bill Hearings Set
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.
11/5: BadgerCare Plus Basic’s Initial Audit Completed
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.
11/4: 2011 Agricultural Enterprise Area Materials Available
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.
11/1: Election Day has arrived!
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.
10/28: Long-Range Rail Plan Seeks Public Comments
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.
10/15: Frederic, Webster, and Siren Schools Honored
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
10/12: DOT’s Law of the Month: Headlight Usage
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.
10/8: Supreme Court Announces 2010-2011 Oral Argument Schedule
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.
10/7: Chronic Wasting Disease Plan Approved
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.
10/6: Academy for At-Risk Teens Accepting Applications
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.
10/5: 2010 Wisconsin Homeland Security Report Released
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.
10/4: DOT Announces Changes to Dangerous Star Prairie Intersection
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.
1/27: Public Comments Wanted on Livestock Siting Rule
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.email@example.com .
1/26: January is Radon Action Month
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.
1/22: Electric Bicycles Legislation Passes Assembly
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.
1/21: DOR Makes Ruling on Double-Withholding
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.
1/21: Senate Bills Passed on January 20, 2010
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.
1/19: Bed and Breakfasts Could Serve Lunch under Proposed Legislation
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.
1/15: Committee Seeks Public Members for Dog Breeding Standards
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.
1/14: I-94 / WIS 65 Interchange Improvement Meeting on January 21
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.
1/13: Senate Committee Votes to Update Plumbing Standards
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.
1/5: Proposal would Shift Tax Assessment to Counties
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.
1/4: Dairy Management Pilot Program Applicants Wanted
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.
9/30: Littering Fines would Double under Bill
Assembly Bill 139 (AB 139), which proposes to double the maximum fine for littering from $500 to $1000 is working its way through the Legislature. The Senate Committee on Environment will vote on this bill on October 6. AB 139 previously passed the full Assembly 81-15 on June 23.
9/29: Income Tax Reciprocity
Working with my Minnesota counterpart across the river, Minnesota State Senator Kathy Saltzman (D), we have scheduled a meeting for border state legislators on October 12th to discuss the income tax reciprocity issue. The goal is to develop a strategy to reinstate the income tax reciprocity agreement.
Income tax reciprocity is a long-standing agreement that benefits tens-of-thousands of taxpayers in both states. While I am deeply disappointed that Minnesota has decided to end this agreement, I am hopeful that a bipartisan effort will yield an effective plan to restore income tax reciprocity.
9/28: Effort to Increase Wisconsin Exports Announced
The Wisconsin Department of Commerce announced a collaboration with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) last week that will seek to assist Wisconsin-based companies in marketing their products in other countries.
In 2008, Wisconsin exports amounted to $20.6 billion, which was the 18th largest total among the United States. Despite that number, 60 percent of Wisconsin’s manufacturers reported little or no progress on exporting their products.
The agreement between the Department of Commerce and WMEP will allow them to combine resources and knowledge to assist manufacturing firms to assess and develop their export potential. Competing in the global economy is essential to creating jobs and growing our state’s economy.
9/24: Felons Could Vote under Bill
Under current law, those convicted of a felony cannot legally vote if they are incarcerated or on related probation or parole. Upon completion of their sentence, a person is again able to vote. Senate Bill 240 and Assembly Bill 353 would allow those on probation, parole, or extended supervision to resume voting immediately upon release of incarceration, even if the sentence is not complete. Assembly Bill 353 advanced out of the Assembly Committee on Corrections and Court on a 6-5 vote earlier this month.
9/24: Bill would remove Zip Code Effect from Auto Insurance Rates
Milwaukee legislators have introduced Senate Bill 289, which would prohibit auto insurance companies from using zip codes to determine premium rates. Generally, residents of urban areas pay higher premiums due to the increased risks of theft and heavier traffic congestion. Passage of this bill would spread the higher insurance premium costs from big cities on to residents of the rest of the state.
9/24: Board of Regents Bill Advances
This week, the State Senate Agriculture and Higher Education Committee passed Senate Bill 223, which would require the Board of Regents to have at least one representative from each of seven geographical areas in the state. Northwest Wisconsin would comprise one of these geographical areas. Currently, the Board of Regents has a heavy concentration of members from the Madison and Milwaukee areas.
9/23: Senate votes to require Mandatory Kindergarten for 5-Year-Olds
This week the State Senate passed Assembly Bill 119 on a 17-15 party-line vote that requires five-year-olds complete kindergarten in order to enroll in first grade. Current law requires compulsory school attendance for children 6 to 18 years of age. Having passed the State Assembly on September 16, the bill is now before the Governor for his approval.
9/21: Prescription Drug Affordability Program
The Badger RX Gold program is a joint venture between the State of Wisconsin and Navitus Health Solutions to help the uninsured and underinsured afford prescription drugs. This program is not a discount drug card. Instead, Wisconsin residents can enroll in this program for a yearly fee ($25 for individuals and $75 for families) and realize the State’s savings derived from network discounts negotiated with community pharmacies, as well as rebates from the pharmaceutical manufacturers. Average savings on covered drugs is 35% with savings up to 95% on certain medications. No age requirements or pre-existing condition restrictions apply. For more information on covered medications, participating pharmacists, and how to enroll, see the link above.
9/21: Minnesota Ends Income Tax Reciprocity
Minnesota acted late last week to end the income tax reciprocity agreement between our states effective at the end of this year. This action now means that beginning in 2011 the 80,000 taxpayers that live in one state but work in the other will be required to file an income tax return to both states. Wisconsin residents will be credited for the taxes they pay in Minnesota on their Wisconsin tax returns.
I am disappointed that Minnesota has chosen to take this action that will inconvenience many taxpayers. Earlier this year, I circulated a letter among state legislators to request Governor Doyle’s attention to preserving the income tax reciprocity agreement. The letter can be read through the above link.
9/18: Senate to Vote on Continuity of Government Amendment
On September 22, the State Senate will give first consideration to a proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 39, which would require state and local governments to provide for prompt and temporary succession of powers in case of disaster. Wisconsin's Constituion currently calls for this succession in cases of enemy attacks, and this proposed amendment would change the definition to include severe or prolonged, natural or human-caused, occurrence that threatens life, health, or the security of the state. This proposed constitutional amendment would need to pass both houses of the Legislature this session and next session before going to the voters on a statewide ballot.
9/17: Legislation to Strengthen No-Call List Passes Senate
On September 15, the State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 218 (SB 218), which increases fines for telemarketers that violate the 34No-Call34 list. SB 218 increases fines for violators from a minimum of $100 to a minimum of $1000 and allows a person who suffers damage to seek injunctive relief of $500 per incident. SB 218 now moves to the State Assembly for consideration.
In this month’s constituent survey, I appreciated those who took time to share their views on the 34No-Call34 list. To participate in the survey, click the link on top.
9/16: Assembly Takes Up Drunk Driving Bill
The State Assembly will be voting on Assembly Bill 283 (AB 283) tomorrow, which makes several changes to Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws. AB 283 would make the use of ignition interlock devices mandatory for repeat drunk drivers and for drunk drivers with high alcohol concentration. The bill also makes a fourth drunk driving offense, when committed within five years of a prior offense, a Class H felony.
In addition to those and other increases in penalties, AB 283 increases the requirement for alcohol and other drug assessments to include more drunk drivers and expands a pilot program for repeat drunk drivers that incorporates alcohol treatment.
9/15: WisconsinEye Holds Panel Discussion on Health Coops
WisconsinEye recently held a panel discussion on health care cooperatives. Health care cooperatives are being considered by the U.S. Congress as part of federal health care reform. In Wisconsin, I authored legislation in 2003 to allow the formation of health care cooperatives in our state. Health care cooperatives have been proven effective at lowering premiums and expanding access.
9/14: Extending Veto Limits to Counties
The State Senate will vote on Senate Joint Resolution 11 (SJR 11) tomorrow. SJR 11 is a constitutional amendment that imposes the same restrictions relating to veto authority on county executives as are currently in place for Wisconsin governors. I support this reform and am a co-sponsor of SJR 11.
I have long supported measures to end abuses by partial vetoes by governors. I supported banning the 34Vanna White Veto,34 a constitutional amendment that prohibited governors from creating new words by vetoing individual letters. In 2005, I lead the effort to put an end to the 34Frankenstein Veto34 that would prohibit governors from combining words from more than one sentence to create new sentences.
SJR 11 would place these same restrictions on county executives. Currently, county executives have the authority to veto resolutions or ordinances in whole or in part.
Constitutional amendments such as SJR 11 must be passed twice by the State Legislature in consecutive legislative sessions, followed by approval by the electorate in a statewide referendum.
9/11: Leadership Wisconsin
As a graduate of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program, I wanted to highlight this great program and encourage interested individuals to consider applying. While the program's mission remains the same, its name has been changed to 34Leadership Wisconsin.34
Leadership Wisconsin seeks to develop local leaders through a two-year program of seminars, real-world learning experiences, and classroom activities. Leadership Wisconsin continues the 25 year tradition of WRLP of preparing Wisconsin residents to participate in and meet the challenges in their communities.
9/10: Bills Moving Forward
Two bills that I have authored will see committee action today. The Assembly Committee on Transportation will be voting on Senate Bill 137, which would enable the use of low-speed electric bicycles in Wisconsin. Currently, regulatory barriers prevent the use of this transportation option. SB 137 was previously passed by the State Senate.
In addition, the Senate Committee on Environment will hold a public hearing on Assembly Bill 258, which would require the recycling of oil filters and oil absorbent material. This legislation builds off of Wisconsin’s ban on dumping oil in state landfills by requiring oil filters and absorbent material to be recycled. This legislation is the result of recommendations made by a study committee that I helped create on oil recylcing. With technological advancements in recycling, this legislation will save resources and keep contaminants out of our landfills and groundwater.
9/3: DNR Secretary Appointment Bill Advances
The bill changing the appointment process for the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources was approved by Assembly and Senate committees this week.
The Senate Committee on Transportation, Tourism, Forestry, and Natural Resources passed the bill on a 5-2 vote today, while the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources passed the bill on a 10-4 vote yesterday.
The bill would shift the authority for appointing the DNR Secretary from the Governor to the Natural Resources Board.
9/2: State Agency Furloughs Scheduled
Given the historic budget deficit facing the state, Governor Doyle is utilizing furloughs as a cost saving measure. The Governor directed state agencies to develop a plan to furlough state employees for 16 days over the two-year budget period. Many state agencies are choosing to close down completely for certain days to comply with this requirement. I would encourage individuals that need to work with state agencies to utilize the calendar linked above to ensure that the state agency is open.
9/1: New Phone Tax Takes Affect
The new 75-cent per month tax on landlines and cell phones takes affect today. The new tax was initially approved by the legislature’s budget writing committee to fund 911 call center technology upgrades and was originally scheduled to be phased out. However, it gained new life when Democratic Leadership needed more revenues to balance the budget. The funds will now go into the general fund rather than for 911 call center upgrades.
8/31: DNA Crime Lab Cracking Cold Cases
Wisconsin’s DNA crime laboratory is yielding results in catching criminals. Seven murders dating back to 1976 have been solved using DNA evidence processed by the crime laboratories this year. Locally, the Polk County Sheriff’s Department was aided by the DNA crime laboratory this year in solving an ongoing theft investigation of thousands of dollars worth of property.
I supported increasing staffing and funding for the crime laboratories, particularly as they sought to address the backlog in DNA evidence that required analyzing. The State Legislature acted last session to provide additional positions and funds that Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen requested for this purpose. The crime laboratory is successfully dealing with the backlog and producing new evidence that is helping investigators and law enforcement solve crimes.
Law enforcement agencies have cited the value of the DNA crime laboratory in their efforts to identify criminals. DNA evidence can assist law enforcement by providing a direct link between evidence and a suspect, which can save local law enforcement time and money that can be utilized on other investigations.
8/27: Stillwater Bridge Funding Before Budget Committee
The State Legislature’s budget committee will be considering a request by the Department of Transportation today to spend $4.6 million over the next two years for planning and engineering work related to the new Stillwater Bridge.
A provision was included in the state budget bill that created a new funding mechanism for paying for major interstate bridge projects, which was inserted specifically to target the new Stillwater Bridge. Due to this provision, the DOT must request funds for planned project design costs from the budget committee prior to spending them. I have urged committee members to support the appropriation in order to keep moving forward on this project.
8/26: DNR Seeks Data on Wildlife
The DNR is requesting the input of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts in documenting wildlife in Wisconsin. The effort is primarily targeted at deer hunters, who will be spending many hours in the woods this fall, as a means to obtain information on the types and numbers of animals seen.
To take part in the wildlife survey, the DNR requests that individuals record the date, hours, location, weather conditions and the animals seen during deer season. Click on the link above for more information on how to participate.
8/25: Hudson Hospital Wins Arts Award
Hudson Hospital and Clinics has been awarded the 2009 Governor’s Award in Support of the Arts in the Corporate/Business category. Hudson Hospital is being recognized for it’s Healing Arts program. Through this program, the Hospital has entered into a unique collaboration with the Phipps Center for the Arts to promote regional artists and provide art to patients as an aid to healing and wellness. Hudson Hospital and the Phipps Center acquire, exhibit, and commission work by local and regional artists to bring creative and visual arts to patients, families, visitors, and staff.
This program not only benefits the patients and staff at the hospital, but helps to facilitate art in the community. Art is on display in waiting areas, conference rooms, patient and staff corridors, procedure rooms, and patient rooms. The hospital, which also allows the use of its conference rooms for community meetings, provides opportunities for artists to showcase their works while utilizing the art to assist in the healing and wellness of patients and staff.
A ceremony will be held on October 22nd at the Governor’s Residence in Madison to present the 2009 Governor’s Awards. I congratulate the Hospital on being recognized for its support of the arts!
8/21: SeniorCare Extended Through 2012
Governor Doyle announced earlier this week that the federal government has approved Wisconsin’s application to extend the waiver allowing SeniorCare to continue through 2012.
Wisconsin’s successful senior prescription drug program was passed in 2002. Since the passage of the federal government’s Medicare Part D, I have supported efforts to ensure SeniorCare is continued by obtaining waivers from the federal government. I am pleased that the federal government has again recognized the cost savings and efficiency of the SeniorCare program compared to Medicare Part D and allowed the program to continue.
8/20: No-Call List To Be Updated August 31
The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection will be updating Wisconsin’s No-Call List and is encouraging consumers to sign up by August 31st. The state’s No-Call List allows individuals to register their phone numbers on the list for two years. The List is updated every three months.
If you are on the No-Call List it is important to remember you must renew every two years in order to stay on. To renew or sign up for the No-Call List, you may call 1-866-9NO-CALL (1-866-966-2255) or go online at the website above.
You may now also register your cell phone number on the No-Call List. The State Legislature expanded the No-Call List to include cell phone numbers last session. Cell phone numbers now account for nearly 40% of the numbers on the List.
8/19: 4th Land Use Leadership Tour Announced
In an effort to study successful efforts in preserving farmland, the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection and the University of Wisconsin-Extension, in cooperation with Agricultural Preserve Boards of Michigan, have organized a number of trips to eastern states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania. These Land Use Leadership Tours include visits to communities and farms that have balanced the preservation of farmland with development pressures from urban areas. I, along with a number of other individuals from western Wisconsin, have taken part in these Land Use Leadership Tours. It was a great opportunity to see firsthand how farmland within hours of some of our largest cities has been preserved.
I'm excited that another tour has been planned for this year. It will take place from October 14-18 and the registration deadline is this Friday, August 21. The cost of the Tour is $1200, but scholarships may be available to offset the cost. For more information on the Tour, call 517-484-4928.
8/18: Frankenstein Veto Erased
In signing the state budget bill earlier this summer, Governor Doyle violated the constitutional ban approved by voters last year, which prohibited “Frankenstein Vetos” that are created by combining words and numbers from two or more sentences into one sentence.
Last week, the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization voted to have the budget republished, erasing the Governor’s unconstitutional veto. While Governor Doyle acknowledged that his veto was in error and stated that he would abide by the language passed by the State Legislature, I am pleased that the Committee took action to ensure that the official record is correct.
8/14: Shoreland Zoning Rule Changes Scheduled for Public Hearing
Individuals will have an opportunity to comment on proposed changes to NR 115, which sets forth guidelines for county shoreland zoning ordinances, at a public hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment on September 10th. The Department of Natural Resources has been reviewing and revising these regulations that affect properties along lakes and streams since 2005.
In response to concerns I heard from a number of residents in the 10th Senate District, I had urged the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment to hold a hearing on these changes. The proposed rule will have far-reaching effects on private property and holding a public hearing will enable those affected to share with Committee members how the rule will personally impact them. For more information on the hearing or how to submit testimony, please contact my office.
8/13: Governor Doyle Declares Drought Emergency
Governor Doyle signed an executive order yesterday declaring a drought emergency in Wisconsin. The executive order includes 41 counties, including Burnett, Dunn, Polk, Pierce, and St. Croix Counties.
Declaring a drought emergency allows the DNR to expedite temporary irrigation permits, which allow farmers to divert water from streams and lakes for crops. A USDA report issued earlier this week indicated that more than half of the state is experiencing short or very short soil moisture. Governor Doyle cited the economic impact of agriculture in Wisconsin that accounts for $59 billion in economic activity and over 350,000 jobs in announcing the executive order.
8/12: Natural Resources Board Considers Longer Deer Season
The Natural Resources Board (NRB), which has the statutory authority to establish policy for the DNR, will be meeting today in Hayward. Among the items on the Board’s agenda is a study on alternatives to Earn-A-Buck regulations to control the state’s deer herd.
A study committee was appointed by the NRB to develop potential herd control regulations. The committee included representatives of hunters’ groups and other associations with an interest in deer herd population. One of the study committee’s recommendations is to extend the current nine day deer hunting season to sixteen days. This alternative to extend the hunting season was put forth to replace mandatory incentives to control deer population, such as Earn-A-Buck. Options under consideration for the longer deer season include one that would begin a week earlier than the current nine-day season and one that would begin on the traditional date and extend through the week after Thanksgiving.
8/11: GAB Approves Election Plan
The Government Accountability Board (GAB) approved a five year plan this week on conducting state elections. GAB is the state agency responsible for administering election and ethics laws in Wisconsin.
The State Election Administration Plan approved by GAB seeks to improve election administration, voter participation, administrative efficiency, and protect voting integrity. The Plan is designed to ensure Wisconsin’s compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requirements. Also included in the Plan is a proposal to study the use of the Internet in voting and early voting rather than the current absentee ballot system.
8/10: Senate Committee to Consider Regents Bill
The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education will be holding a public hearing Tuesday on legislation seeking to ensure geographical representation on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. Currently, 12 of the 18 Regents are from the Madison or Milwaukee areas. Senate Bill 223 would divide the state into seven areas that must have at least one Regent reside within each of those areas. I am a co-sponsor of this legislation and have authored similar legislation in past sessions to establish regional representation on the Board of Regents.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education, I look forward to the opportunity to hear testimony on the bill. I am hopeful that there will be support for moving the bill forward.
On Tuesday, the Committee will also hold a public hearing on two of Governor Doyle's appointments to the Board of Regents and legislation relating to the state’s food safety programs, the use of pesticides by veterinarians, and a proposal to establish a program to enable public school students interested in certain careers with the opportunity to speak with individuals that work in those fields.
8/6: Protecting Kids Against Online Predators
The Wisconsin Department of Justice offers a number of helpful tips for parents to protect children from online predators. These tips include:
Ensuring open communication between parents and children1310Place computers in common areas1310Sign an Internet safety pledge with your children1310Create and post Internet rules1310Know your children’s passwords, screen names, and account information1310Be aware of the websites your children are visiting
To learn more, visit DOJ’s website on Internet Crimes Against Children at the link above.
8/5: Legislature’s Budget Committee Approves Train Purchase
The Legislature’s budget committee approved Governor Doyle’s proposal to spend $47.5 million to purchase new passenger trains from the Spanish firm Talgo on Tuesday. The trains are expected to be built in Wisconsin, creating up to 80 jobs.
Concerns were raised by both Democrat and Republican members of the budget committee on the purchase. Information on the purchase was only provided to the Legislature by Governor Doyle two weeks ago, and the process used by the Governor’s administration did not include a competitive bidding process. The proposal was ultimately approved on a party-line 11-4 vote, with the four Republicans on the committee voting no.
8/3: 25th Anniversary Memorial Ride in New Richmond
The Highland Hero’s Tribute Ride traveled through Western Wisconsin this past weekend. I had the opportunity to visit with some of the riders as they made a stop in New Richmond, and stops were also made in Clear Lake and Menomonie.
Mr. Tom Kingsbury has volunteered to re-create a ride that Mr. Tom Miller first made back in 1985. That first ride covered 1,244 miles - one mile for each person from Wisconsin that died in Vietnam. In that same tradition, the 25th Annual Memorial Ride will cover 1,244 miles plus 1 mile for each person that has died in action from Wisconsin since Vietnam. Starting from the Highground on July 31, 2009, Tom Kingsbury will peddle around the state - touching each border and many communities in between. It is a remarkable endeavor for a great cause.
8/3: Burnett County Arts Festival
This weekend, I visited the Burnett County Arts Festival in Siren held at the Lakeview Event Center. The all day open house featured Mr. Jens Rasmussen, a talented painter and gifted writer. I felt fortunate to know Jens personally and always enjoyed receiving his handwritten letters.
The Festival had many types of art works for admirers, tourists, and connoisseurs. It was a great time.
Art in our communities has widespread cultural and economic benefits. Community efforts are growing in Northwestern Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Arts Board plays an active role in fostering these economic and cultural benefits statewide.
8/3: New Study Shows Impact of Ag in Wisconsin
A new study on the value of agriculture to Wisconsin’s economy was recently released by the University of Wisconsin-Extension. According to the study, agriculture generated over $59 billion in economic activity and provided jobs for nearly 354,000 Wisconsin workers.
7/31: Prevailing Wage Changes Described in LFB Memo
The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has released it’s analysis of the prevailing wage provisions passed by the Majority Legislative Democrats and signed into law by Governor Doyle. These provisions will impact local governments by increasing the cost to perform public works projects, which will be passed onto local property taxpayers.
7/31: Taxes on Tourists Prove Damaging
As state and local governments look for ways to address budget deficits, one area that is being commonly looked at is taxes on visitors and tourists. Raising funds through car rental fees, hotel room taxes, and tourism-related sales taxes have the potential to bring in additional revenue, but also carry the danger of damaging the tourism economy.
In Wisconsin, the recently passed state budget bill includes a significant tax increase on car rental fees in Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Racine Counties to provide funding for light rail transit. While such taxes might not directly impact local residents, they discourage visitor sales that provide positive economic effects to local businesses and our state. What they buy and where they go is impacted by the level of taxation, and recent new 34visitor34 taxes in other states have already been shown to depress tourism expenditures. The Legislature’s focus should be on helping our tourism industry and avoiding excessive taxes on visitors that spend money in our state.
7/29: Shoreland Zoning Changes
A proposed rule put forth by the DNR is seeking to change minimum standards for county shoreland zoning ordinances. This proposed rule will have far-reaching effects on private property and increases DNR authority to regulate shorelands.
I have heard from a number of residents of the 10th Senate District expressing concerns with this rule in its current form. Given these concerns, I recently wrote the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment to request a public hearing on the rule. I believe that holding a public hearing would enable those affected to explain how the rule will personally impact them and provide an opportunity for modifying the rule.
7/24: Farm Technology Days Coming to Pierce County
It was great to have the opportunity to attend this year’s Farm Technology Days this week that was held at the Crave Brothers Farm in Dodge County. The Crave Brothers Farm is an impressive operation that milks a herd of 950 cows, operates a 20,000 square foot cheesemaking facility, and employs 145 workers. Crave Brothers Farm has won several awards for their quality cheeses.
It’s exciting that Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, the largest agricultural exposition in the state, will be coming to Pierce County in 2010 and will be hosted by the Roger and Bev Peterson Family farm. The annual three-day event showcases the latest technology in agriculture and is a collaborative effort by Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, UW-Extension, and the host county.
More than 1,000 commercial exhibitors were featured at this year’s exhibition, with an estimated 80,000 attendees. There is a lot of excitement in our area for next year’s Farm Technology Days, as it will provide an opportunity to showcase agriculture in our area and will bring in many visitors and exhibitioners to Pierce County and the region.
7/23: Campaign Fundraising in Budget Season
I have long been an author of legislation seeking to prohibit campaign fundraising by legislators and other state elected officials while the state budget is being considered. The bill I have authored this session on this issue is Senate Bill 23.
While the State Assembly enacted a rule this year to restricts its membership from fundraising during the state budget, banning fundraising piecemeal will not work to meet its intended effect - to restore public confidence in the budgeting process. Specifically, the ban implemented by the State Assembly contained loopholes to allow fundraising by leadership committees. It also does not cover the Senate and Governor. A bill needs to be enacted to address all members and political entities.
7/21: Spring Valley School Board Visit
Last night I had the opportunity to address the Spring Valley school board on education issues, particularly in relation to education provisions included in the state budget bill. The budget as passed by the Majority Legislative Democrats and signed into law by Governor Doyle reduces state aid to school districts by $294 million.
In addition to the funding reductions, several policy items were included in the budget that negatively impact the ability of school districts to address costs. At a time when tax revenues are falling, the State Legislature should not be enacting measures that make it more difficult for school boards to balance their budgets and provide quality education.
7/20: WisconsinEye Turns Two
This summer marks the second anniversary of the launch of WisconsinEye. WisconsinEye is the organization that broadcasts floor sessions, committee hearings, and other events involving Wisconsin state government. WisconsinEye provides coverage of the State Legislature similar to that provided by C-SPAN of the United States Congress.
Please visit WisconsinEye’s website to learn more and to watch hearings and floor sessions of the State Legislature.
7/16: Biotech Company Moving To St. Croix County
Encouraging news was reported last week when VitalMedix Inc. announced its move from Minnesota to St. Croix County. The company is working on a drug that seeks to aid first responders in keeping trauma victims alive.
VitalMedix was attracted to Wisconsin due to our state’s favorable environment for angel investments. Angel investments are when an individual or group provides significant capital investment in a business start-up. Legislation that I supported created an angel investment tax credit in Wisconsin in 2003, which provides tax incentives for angel investors. Wisconsin now has 22 angel investment groups, whereby individuals pool their investment funds to provide angel investments to businesses.
Minnesota currently does not have such tax incentives, although legislators there are considering enacting such laws due to the success of Wisconsin’s programs.
This news follows the move of Rapid Diagnostek last year to Hudson from Minnesota, which was also the beneficiary of Wisconsin investments due to our tax incentives for angel investments and early stage seed investments. It is encouraging to see this pro-growth legislation helping to attract jobs and businesses to Wisconsin. Expanding on these successes and recognizing the impact of tax structures on business growth should be priorities of the Wisconsin Legislature.
7/15: Legislation Seeks to Reinstate Stewardship Provisions
Included in the nearly 100 policy items inserted into the recently enacted state budget bill were changes made to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, which was reauthorized last session.
These changes include repealing the requirements that the DNR create and provide a directory of all publicly accessible Stewardship lands and that the DNR create a list of all properties purchased with Stewardship funds where public access has been restricted or prohibited. A third provision revises the necessary number of votes to approve a Stewardship purchase by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.
I have signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation seeking to restore these provisions. I was disappointed that the Majority Democrats and Governor Doyle made these changes after last session’s agreement with conservation and sportsmen's groups on reauthorizing the Stewardship program. I support the Stewardship Program and believe that information on land purchased using these taxpayer dollars should be available to citizens.
7/14: Bear Study Indicates Larger Population
A study completed by wildlife ecologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimated that Wisconsin’s bear population to be over 33,000 bears. This estimate is 2.5 times larger than previous DNR estimates. The DNR agreed that their prior estimates had been too low.
The primary method that is used to control the bear population is public hunting. In response to the updated bear population numbers, the DNR will be increasing the number of bear permits available during the 2009 bear hunting season by 56%. The bear hunting season begins on September 9th.
7/13: School Aid Estimates Released
The Department of Pubic Instruction (DPI) has released its estimates for state aid to school districts for the upcoming 2009-10 school year.
This estimate was based on the $4.65 billion budgeted by the state in the recently enacted state budget for school aids. This figure is a decrease of 3.1% or $147 million from the amounts budgeted for school aids in 2008-09.
State school aids are distributed to school districts using a formula that takes into account factors such as number of pupils, the average cost per pupil, and the property value of the school district.
According to the estimates developed by DPI, 90 of the state’s 426 districts will receive increases in their state aid for 2009-10.
7/9: LFB Releases Memo on Tax and Fee Increases
The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has released its compilation of tax and fee increases in the state budget. The total increase in taxes and fees, combined with enhanced tax collection measures, is calculated to be over $2 billion.
7/8: Benefits Available for Wisconsin Veterans
In addition to federal veterans benefits and programs, Wisconsin also provides assistance to our state’s veterans. Education programs, loans, grants, job training, and tax and fee reductions are all available to our veterans. Please visit the above link to learn more about available programs or contact the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-WIS-VETS (1-800-947-8387).
7/7: Budget Update: Property Tax Estimates
The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has released its estimate of average property tax increases, given the impact of the recently enacted state budget.
According to LFB’s estimates, property taxes on a median-valued home will increase by $93 for tax bills due next year and another $123 for tax bills due in 2011. These increases represent 3.3% and 4.2% increases, respectively.
7/6: Wisconsin Crime Rates Drop
Wisconsin’s Office of Justice Assistance (OJA) has released its preliminary report on 2008 crimes and arrests. Already one of the safest states in the nation, violent crimes in Wisconsin dropped by nearly 5% in 2008. There was also a slight reduction in property crimes.
7/3: Have a Safe and Happy Fourth of July!
The Fourth of July is upon us and there will be a number of celebrations and festivals in the area to commemorate our Independence Day. I will be taking part in the Fourth of July parades in Siren and Webster on Saturday and will be participating in the Balsam Lake Freedom Festival parade on Sunday. Prior to the Balsam Lake parade, I will be speaking at the ceremony for the Deaver Addition to the Polk County Historical Museum.
Other area events include:
Parades in Wanderoos, Clam Falls, and Hudson
Fireworks in Amery, Hudson, Spring Valley, Menomonie, and Siren
Please contact local chambers of commerce or visit county tourism websites for more information on local events!
7/1: Wisconsin Ranked Number 1 in Health Care Quality
Wisconsin has been ranked as the top state for health care quality, according to a report by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Additionally, according to the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, the cost for Wisconsin Medicare coverage is $1300 less than the national average.
Maintaining the quality of Wisconsin health care while lowering costs continues to be a priority. I am pleased by the continued growth in health care cooperatives, which help realize cost savings and improve access by allowing small businesses, self-employed, and local governments to band together to negotiate health care rates and benefits. I was the author of legislation that enabled health care cooperatives in Wisconsin. This approach is now being considered by the U.S. Senate as they consider health care legislation.
7/1: UW System’s Growth Agenda Targets Efficiency and Value
The University of Wisconsin System has set accountability standards for their Growth Agenda in an effort to increase efficiency and improve quality.
A report completed by the UW System found that recent UW graduates are earning their degrees with fewer excess credits than their counterparts in the past. Total graduates system-wide has increased. Additionally, the percentage of students graduating within six years of initial enrollment has also improved by approximately five percent.
These goals have been accomplished as the UW System continues to work to control costs. The report indicates that the UW System’s administrative costs are over thirty percent less than our neighboring states’ systems. The UW System has also decreased energy consumption to reduce costs.
The UW System has also identified the need to continue expanding formal and informal partnerships with Wisconsin businesses, non-profits, local chambers of commerce, and governmental agencies. Partnerships are a critical link between relevant classroom learning and the needs of the changing workforce. A better trained workforce creates a stronger economy for Wisconsin.
7/1: Governor Doyle’s Veto Message
6/30: Gov. Doyle Can't Break Old Habits
The Frankenstein Veto was given life when Governor Doyle combined sentences to spend $427 million the Legislature never authorized. Thankfully, such egregious vetoes are not evident in this budget bill, due to the people's ratification of the ban of the Frankenstein Veto last spring. I am, however, greatly disappointed that Governor Doyle still managed to violate the ban in one part of the budget bill with his partial vetoes, in direct contradiction to our state's Consititution.
6/29: Stillwater Bridge Saga
The saga continues with our region’s efforts to construct a much needed, new Stillwater Bridge. Budget provisions inserted by Madison Democrats originally sought to limit build options for this specific bridge project. Under public pressure, legislative Democrats backed down and put together an altogether different provision. It does not limit build options, and thankfully provides for the long-term financing of a new bridge. However, it does require at least a $75 million contribution from the federal government specifically for this bridge project in order for Wisconsin to fund its share of the total cost split with Minnesota. So, with the Governor approving this provision today, a couple of things were established: we have capacity to fund the project and it is imperative that the federal government play a direct and active role in its financing.
6/29: Budget Passed by Legislature, Signed by Governor Today
The State Assembly approved the state budget bill on Friday night on a 51-46 vote, following action by the Senate on Thursday. Governor Doyle signed the bill this morning in a ceremony at the Governor’s Residence.
6/26: Democrats Again Refuse to Remove Pork and Policy from the Budget
Thursday night, Republican members of the conference committee again attempted to remove policy and pork projects from the budget. Again Democrats voted in lockstep to keep their policy and pet projects alive. The final budget bill passed the Senate with nearly $50 million in earmarks scattered in certain legislative districts.
The budget bill now goes to the State Assembly where they are expected to act quickly. It will then go to the Governor who can exercise his partial veto to make further changes. I will be urging the Governor to use his partial veto to remove the policy and earmarks.
6/26: Democrats’ Budget May Force UW Staff Unionization
A budget provision added by Democrats, could force UW academic staff to be unionized without a vote. Governor Doyle’s budget contained a provision that would allow UW faculty and academic staff to form unions and collectively bargain. However, a vote would be required, as is typical in forming unions, before any UW faculty or staff would be made members of a union. The provision added by Legislative Democrats would allow the state’s Employment Relations Commission to consider petitions by existing unions that UW staff should be members of their union given their job duties. This provision could require UW staff to be members of unions without their input or even a vote.
I opposed the inclusion of non-fiscal policy items such as this in the budget. Regardless of one’s position on whether UW faculty and staff should be allowed to unionize, the rights of academic staff to vote on joining a union, rather than being forced to join through a bureaucratic process, should be a minimum requirement. Now, UW staff could be forced into unions with subsequent paycheck deductions.
6/26: Use Value Provision Struck
Sweeping changes to use value assessment by Senate Democrats were removed from the final budget package approved by the conference committee. The proposal would have eliminated use value assessment for farmland zoned residential, commercial or industrial.
6/26: Capital Gains Exclusion Changed in Final Budget Bill
The Conference Committee changed the exclusion amount in the final budget bill. The capital gains exclusion will now go from 60% to 30%, except for gains on certain assets used in farming. Previously, the Senate Democratic budget bill sought to remove this exclusion entirely. This change from 60 to 30 percent will result in an estimated increase in taxes collected by over $115 million in 2009-10 and $127 million in 2010-11.
6/25: Legislative Conference Committee Meets on Budget
A Conference Committee, comprised of three members from each the Senate and Assembly, met yesterday to agree to a final budget package. After beginning the meeting at 5:30, the Committee spent much of the evening reviewing the differences between the budgets approved by the Senate and Assembly. It is expected that the Committee will meet again today to take action on those differences. The State Senate is scheduled to be in session later on Thursday.
6/24: Harsdorf Urges Removal of Stillwater Bridge Provision
I joined with Representative Ann Hraychuck on Monday to request the leadership of the State Senate and State Assembly to remove the provision in the state budget that would delay construction of a new Stillwater Bridge.
During the budget process, a provision was slipped into the budget that would place limitations on the construction of a new bridge. This provision was removed by the State Assembly, but was reinserted by the Majority Senate Democrats.
6/23: DATCP and DNR Boards Meeting in New Richmond
The citizen boards that have oversight of the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will hold public meetings in New Richmond on June 24th. Both Boards will meet at the WITC campus in New Richmond. The DATCP Board will meet in Room St. Croix 101 at 8:30 AM. The Natural Resources Board will meet at 9:00 AM, for information regarding their meeting room please ask at the WITC visitors’ desk.
6/23: Impact of Capital Gains Tax Increase
The Majority Senate Democrats’ plan to eliminate the state tax exclusion on capital gains would cost Wisconsin taxpayers $315 million over the next two-years. Governor Doyle had proposed reducing the exclusion from 60% of gains to 40% in the budget he presented to the Legislature in February. When the Governor’s proposed change is added to the Senate Democrats’ proposal, $485 million in additional taxes would be taken from Wisconsin investors. If enacted, this change would be retroactive to January 1, 2009.
Punishing Wisconsin investors during an economic downturn is exactly the wrong prescription to balancing our state's budget. As an increasing number of taxpayers utilize their retirement investments in response to decreased income during the current economic slowdown, we should not be raising the taxes on capital gains. Small businesses - the lifeblood of our economy - would also be hit especially hard with such a tax increase.
6/23: WI-MN Income Tax Reciprocity At Risk
I have joined with our area representatives to write a letter to Governor Doyle requesting his attention to preserving the Wisconsin-Minnesota income tax reciprocity agreement. This agreement enables individuals that live in one state and work in the other to file one income tax form, reducing their costs and simplyifing filing.
Governor Pawlenty has threatened to pull Minnesota out of the agreement if Wisconsin does not agree to making an earlier payment. He plans to use the earlier payment to help Minnesota's budget shortfall.
I have joined with Representatives Kitty Rhoades and Ann Hraychuck to circulate a letter among state legislators to request Governor Doyle’s attention to this matter. We should not unravel reciprocity agreements that in this case benefit nearly 80,000 taxpayers of both states.
6/22: Assembly and Senate Democrats Address Budget Differences
Due to differences in the budget bills as passed by the State Assembly and Senate, leadership of both houses will be meeting this week to negotiate the final budget package. The biggest area of disagreement between the two houses is whether to enact a new gas tax or to make all capital gains taxable. Senate Democrats voted to tax all capital gains, which are currently only taxed at 40% of gains, as part of the budget passed last week. Assembly Democrats and Governor Doyle support a new gas tax.
It is not clear yet whether the Democratic leadership will resolve the differences through a conference committee or behind closed doors.
6/19: Earmarks in the State Budget – Senate
6/19: Earmarks in the State Budget – Assembly
6/18: New Stillwater Bridge Has Roadblocks in Senate Budget
After Assembly Democrats removed a provision to limit build options on a new Stillwater Bridge, Senate Democrats added a slightly revised version back into their budget bill. I offered an amendment to repeal this “bridge”-blocking provision, but it was turned back by the majority party. Now our efforts will focus on working to remove the provision in conference committee where differences between the Assembly and Senate budget bills will be addressed.
6/18: Senate Democratic Budget Passes 17-16
The Senate Budget bill passed, with all Republicans and one Democrat voting against. It included another $40 million in new taxes.
6/18: Amendment to eliminate $40 million in earmarks blocked
An amendment I authored to strip the budget bill of all earmarks failed on a party line vote in the State Senate, with all Republicans trying to delete the earmarks.
6/18: Reckless budget bill did get better in some parts
After much public pressure, non-fiscal policy changes that would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain a drivers license, reversed important tort reform measures enacted in the 1990’s, and eliminated guarantees of access to public lands purchased through the Stewardship Program for hunting were all eliminated.
6/18: What’s New in the Senate Democratic Budget?
A huge new tax increase on capital gains was added by Senate Democrats. Wisconsin investors will now pay $485 million more in capital gains taxes under their budget bill. Capital gains for retirees, small businesses, and other investors would now be fully taxed under the Senate budget proposal.
6/17: Assembly Committee Passes Campaign Finance Reform Measure
Yesterday, the Assembly Committee on Elections and Campaign Reform voted to impose reporting requirements on all political ads, as are currently required of candidates. I have supported making the funding sources for all political ads accessible to Wisconsin citizens so that voters can make informed decisions. Shadowy special interest groups should not be exempt from being accountable for the influence they exert in our political process. Last campaign cycle, we had groups like “Building a Stronger Wisconsin” purchase huge amounts of air time to launch negative attacks, yet they did not have to report funding sources as required of candidates and other political action committees.
We see the influence of special interests in the current budget bill. One provision I am fighting is the provision that would restrict building options for a new Stillwater Bridge. It is clear powerful Madison special interests are playing a role in this issue, using the budget bill as a vehicle to enact non-fiscal policy changes. Transparency in campaigns and government can be an effective tool to giving “the people” more power.
6/16: Don't Forget About the Taxes!
Attention has turned to the many non-fiscal policy items in the budget bill that would drive up costs to businesses and families. However, the current budget proposal also includes new taxes on phone bills, investments, and gasoline. Altogether, there are nearly $2.1 billion in tax and fee increases in the current budget proposal. Just a few months ago, new taxes were imposted on job providers and patients in hospitals. Even with all this taxing and an influx of federal stimulus dollars, the structural deficit of this budget is $2.3 billion dollars.
6/16: Senate Deliberates on Budget
The budget bill is now before the State Senate. Senate Democrats and Republicans have been meeting in caucus today to discuss changes to the state budget bill. Press reports indicate that there is opposition from some members of the majority Senate Democrats relating to the tax on oil and reversing common-sense tort reforms. Senate Republicans await word on the Democratic proposal. The Senate is scheduled to be in session to vote on the budget bill Wednesday.
6/15: State Assembly Passes Budget Bill
After an all night session, the State Assembly passed the state budget bill on a 50-48 vote on Saturday morning. All Republicans and two Democrats voted against the budget bill, while 49 Democrats and State Representative Jeff Wood (I - Chippewa Falls), voted for it.
The Assembly improved a few of the alarming non-fiscal policy items in the budget bill, including removing provisions relating to joint and several liability and restrictions on funding the Stillwater Bridge. However, the budget will raise taxes by $2.1 billion and includes millions in earmarks and non-fiscal policy items that will drive up the cost of living and doing business in Wisconsin. The bill now moves to the State Senate, where action is expected this week. I am working with my colleagues to build support for removing all earmarks and non-fiscal policy items in the budget bill.
6/12: Health Care Cooperatives Gain National Attention
Discussions in the U.S. Congress on health care reform have recently turned to health care cooperatives as a component of pending legislation. U.S. Senators of both parties are considering the use of health care cooperatives in their deliberations on federal health care legislation.
Health care cooperatives are proving successful here in Wisconsin. I authored the state legislation passed in 2003 allowing this option to allow individuals, small businesses, self-employed, and local governments to join together to obtain health care coverage. A statewide cooperative for farmers and agri-business has proven to provide better coverage and lower premiums for its members. A cooperative for small businesses in the Green Bay area has also seen results in delivering health care to its members. In our area, Cooperative Health Choices of Western Wisconsin is planning on providing health coverage beginning this fall. For more information on CHC, contact William Rubin at the St. Croix EDC at 715-381-4383.
6/11: Assembly Severs Costly Civil Liability Changes in Budget
I am pleased that the Assembly Democrats recognized the impact of reversing tort reform laws enacted in the 1990's by removing changes to civil liability in their budget bill. Such changes to civil liability laws as proposed would lead to dramatic increases in insurance premiums for health care consumers, businesses, and local governments. Eliminating these controversial changes is a step in the right direction, and I hope Senate Democrats follow suit. With one-party domination in the State Legislature, it is critical to draw attention and mobilize opposition to provisions that may benefit some political special interests, but raise the cost of living to Wisconsin citizens.
6/11: Assembly Removes Stillwater Bridge Provision
The State Assembly is poised to adopt an amendment to the state budget that would remove the restriction on the new Stillwater Bridge. This is welcome news and a credit to the bipartisan effort to move this critical regional infrastructure project forward.
State Represenative Ann Hraychuck successfully offered the amendment in her caucus. Now we need to ensure that a provision is not added back in by the Senate.
6/11: Oil Company Assessment Now Gas Tax Increase
Changes are being proposed to Governor Doyle’s budget provision to raise $260 million by imposing a tax on oil companies' revenue. Recognizing the legal issues with preventing companies and cooperatives from passing the cost of this tax onto consumers, the State Assembly will be amending this provision to allow the tax to be added onto the price of gasoline.
For years, political rhetoric has taken aim at “big oil” with politicians offering a new tax on companies’ revenues. Of course, this tax inevitably gets shifted down to consumers in the form of higher gas prices at the pump. Yet, while such a tax shift was publicly denied, it was too politically tempting to draw a connection between those that opposed such a tax as being captive to big oil.
The Assembly Democrats are now preparing to pass an oil tax that would explicitly allow the pass through to consumers, acknowledging that earlier rhetoric was not legally sound. This would mean another 4 cents per gallon tax increase on gas in Wisconsin at a time when the state’s economy is suffering and gas prices are spiking.
6/10: New Area Code to Begin October 17
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) has acted to create a new area code within the current boundaries of the 715 area code. Called an “overlay,” this action will require individuals within the current 715 area code to begin dialing the appropriate area code for every call made, including local calls. This action was taken to provide additional telephone numbers in our region.
It is recommended that callers in the 715 area code begin using the ten digit number (area code and 7-digit number) beginning October 17th. However, if you forget and only dial the 7-digit local number, your calls will continue to be connected until July 17, 2010. Numbers for the new area code (534) will begin to be assigned on August 14th, 2010. Your current telephone number will remain the same and calling areas and rates will not change.
6/10: Proposed Budget Raises Taxes, Fails to Address Structural Deficit
According to figures released yesterday by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), the budget bill as passed by the Democratic-controlled budget writing committee will increase taxes and fees by $2.1 billion. An additional $132 million is expected to be collected by the state using “enhanced collection measures.”
Another document released by LFB projects the state to have a structural deficit of nearly $2.3 billion heading into the next two-year budget cycle in 2011-13.
6/10: Provision Seeks to Impede New Stillwater Bridge
The wording and placement of the Stillwater Bridge provision in the budget bill is highly suspect. It appears that special interests have found someone to do their bidding in Madison. This amendment would simply remove options for our two states as they face the challenge of building a new Stillwater Bridge.
Ongoing delays, fueled by lawsuits filed by the Sierra Club, are costing taxpayers literally hundreds of millions of dollars. It's time to stop putting up roadblocks.
It is ridiculous to suggest taxpayers are served by limiting options for construction. It is clear that some Madison lawmakers do not fully understand how imperative a new bridge is for western Wisconsin.
6/9: Auto Insurance Coverage Requirements to Rise
Governor Doyle’s budget provision calling for an increase in minimum coverage amounts for motor vehicle insurance has been adopted by the Legislature’s budget writing committee, with a few modifications.
The Governor's proposal would increase liability coverage from $10,000 to $25,000 for property damages, from $25,000 to $100,000 for bodily injury coverage, and from $50,000 to $300,000 for bodily injury of two or more people. The Governor also called for raising uninsured and underinsured coverage amounts to $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident.
These changes were adopted by the Legislature’s budget writing committee, with one change that phases in the liability coverage requirements of $25,000/$100,000/$300,000 over three years. The Wisconsin Insurance Alliance estimates that this provision would raise premiums between $96 and $309.
While this provision is expected to increase auto insurance premiums, which are currently some of the lowest in the country, there is no reason to include such non-fiscal policy items in the budget. It should come out and be debated on its own merits.
6/8: Guaranteed Public Access to Stewardship Lands Lost in Budget Bill
Actions taken by the Democratic-controlled budget writing committee would repeal guaranteed public access to certain lands purchased with funds from the state’s Stewardship Program. This budget provision would make a significant change to the agreement made last session when the State Legislature reauthorized the Stewardship Program.
As a long-time supporter of the Stewardship Program, I recognize that one of the reasons the program has broad public support is that land purchases ensure public access to hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational opportunities. Given that it is the public’s tax dollars that are used in the land purchases, it only makes sense that the public be assured access to the land. I support public access on lands purchased through the Stewardship Fund and will support removing these provisions adopted by the budget committee.
6/8: State Legislature Expected to Vote on Budget
The State Assembly is expected to be in session on Wednesday and Thursday of this week to take up the state budget. After the budget is approved by the Assembly, it will move to the State Senate, which is expected to take up the bill next week.
Once the Assembly and Senate approve the budget bill and any changes between the two houses are agreed to, the budget bill will go to Governor Doyle to sign and modify through the use of his partial-veto authority. The state’s fiscal year ends on June 30th.
6/5: Assembly Democrat Proposed Budget Amendments
Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, a Democratic member of the State Assembly, has identified a number of policy items included by Governor Doyle and approved by the Democratic members of the budget writing committee that he is seeking to have removed.
Rep. Ziegelbauer issued a memo to all members of the State Assembly asking for their support for budget amendments that would remove the changes to arbitration laws for school districts, eliminate the increases in the motor vehicle insurance mandated coverage levels, and delete the changes in civil liability laws. I share Rep. Ziegelbauers concerns with these policy items, as they will increase costs on working families and small businesses. Additionally, the arbitration changes will significantly restrict the ability of school districts to contain costs.
In addition, Rep. Ziegelbauer is seeking sunsets on the new income tax bracket and the increase in capital gains taxes.
6/4: Cooperative Health Choices of Western Wisconsin Extends Deadline
Cooperative Health Choices of Western Wisconsin (CHC), the state’s second regional health care cooperative for small businesses, self-employed, and local governments, has extended their deadline for returning health care questionnaires to June 19th. CHC is urging those who are interested in possibly seeking health insurance through CHC to fill out a questionnaire. CHC is on track to provide coverage to Cooperative members over a 17 county area in Western and Northwest Wisconsin beginning in October. For more information on CHC, contact William Rubin at the St. Croix EDC at 715-381-4383.
6/4: Budget Escalates Costs
The civil liability changes proposed by Governor Doyle and modified by the Democratic Majority in the Legislature will increase insurance costs for everyone.
In his budget proposal, the Governor proposed changes to Wisconsin liability laws to reverse tort reforms passed in the 1990’s. These changes would allow individuals with as little as 1% fault in a lawsuit to have to pay 100% of the damages. While the Democratic-controlled budget writing committee raised this level to 20% of responsibility from 1%, the committee also made changes that would allow lawyers to pick and choose who would be included in calculating fault.
By undoing important tort reform measures put in place in the 1990's, liability insurance premiums will escalate. This is especially harmful in efforts to control health care costs. Putting such a policy provision in the budget bill during the midst of an economic downturn is a bad idea that will simply increase the cost of living and doing business in our state.
6/3: 'Wisconsin Jobs Now Report' Released
The Wisconsin Jobs Now Report was released on Tuesday, which is a compilation of suggestions and ideas provided by small business owners and employers throughout Wisconsin. A Wisconsin Jobs Now task force held a roundtable discussion in Eau Claire on March 30, which was attended by employers throughout the 10th Senate District and Western Wisconsin. I was pleased to take part in that discussion and assisting in organizing the roundtable.
The Wisconsin Jobs Now Report includes such recommendations as streamlining state permitting processes, increasing the use of the Internet in working with the state, improving collaboration between business and higher education, greater utilization of the technical college system, and addressing health insurance costs.
6/3: Public Hearing on Oil Filter Recycling
Legislation that I have authored will have a public hearing today before the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources. This legislation, Assembly Bill 258, would require oil filters and oil absorbent materials to be recycled in Wisconsin. It is estimated that oil filters and oil absorbent materials release millions of gallons of oil and toxic substances each year into our landfills, creating a hazard to our groundwater.
6/2: Elmwood Legislation to Receive Committee Vote
The Assembly Committee on Urban Affairs today voted unanimously for passage of Assembly Bill 173, legislation I authored with Representative John Murtha. This legislation would allow the Village of Elmwood to move forward on a tax incremental district that has been delayed due to unique circumstances involving the calculation of telecommunications property within the Village. AB 173 is now available to be scheduled for a vote before the State Assembly.
6/1: Wisconsin Free Fishing Weekend!
The first weekend in June is Free Fishing Weekend in Wisconsin. This year, the weekend falls on June 6-7. On these dates, residents and non-residents of any age can fish without a fishing license or stamps. Other regulations relating to fish length and bag limits still apply.
For more information, contact a regional DNR office or visit the DNR’s website at dnr.wi.gov/fish/kidsparents/freefishingweekend.html.
5/29: Budget Writing Committee Cuts Education and Local Aids
The Legislature’s budget writing committee acted this morning to approve Governor Doyle’s proposal to address the state budget deficit. The committee cut state aid to schools by $314 million, increased reductions to local government aids to $30 million, and expanded the recently adopted tax on hospital patients by over $200 million.
The committee also approved state spending reductions, including repealing scheduled 2% pay raises for state employees and approving state employee furloughs, while also restructuring debt.
The committee's actions to cut state aid for schools, while also repealing cost controls on salaries and wages, will be particularly devastating for schools. The committee passed the Governor's proposal to repeal the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO). Repealing the QEO in 2010 will reduce school boards' ability to negotiate teacher contracts. To further make salary deliberations difficult for school boards, the committee passed a measure to remove consideration of local economic conditions by arbitrators when making contract decisions between schools and unions.
Unfortunately, the Democratic-controlled budget writing committee was reckless in ignoring the harmful effect that the reduction in state aid along with removing the economic factors from arbitration would have on school districts. As government revenues diminish, we need to take steps that help local governments deal with difficult budget realities, not place additional hardships on them.
5/28: Clean Sweep Program Restored
The legislature’s budget writing committee acted to restore the Clean Sweep program in a motion made on May 22. This reversed the elimination of the program and restored $750,000 in funding. Governor Doyle had proposed eliminating the program, which is funded through the state’s recycling fund.
The Clean Sweep program has been effective in providing a safe alternative for the disposal of hazardous chemicals. It is particularly valuable in rural areas, where proper disposal sites may not be available. In such cases, hazardous chemicals have been illegally dumped, causing a health and safety hazard.
5/28: Renew Your Number on No-Call List
If your phone number is on the Wisconsin’s No-Call List, you may want to renew your number by June 1st. The No-Call List keeps phone numbers for two years, after which the number must be re-registered with the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP). You can renew your number for another two years on the No-Call List by visiting DATCP’s website at www.nocall.wisconsin.gov or by calling 866-966-2255 (toll-free).
5/27: Budget Writing Committee Expected to Finish This Week
Rep. Mark Pocan, one of the co-chairs of the legislature’s budget writing committee, stated that he hopes to finish the committee’s work on the budget bill by the end of the week. Major budget areas including education, shared revenue, and transportation remain to be considered.
5/26: Honoring our Fallen Soldiers
I had the honor of taking part in the Memorial Day ceremony at Clear Lake Veterans’ Memorial on Monday. It is a privilege to participate in Memorial Day ceremonies that serve to remember and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. Let us remember each and every day, all those who continue to serve our great country in order to protect our freedoms.
5/26: Governor Doyle Announces Budget Plan
On Thursday, Governor Doyle announced his proposal to address the growing budget deficit, now standing at $6.6 billion. This proposal includes a $670 million reduction in state spending, including a $290 million reduction in K-12 school aids. Governor Doyle is also proposing to expand the hospital tax, use the monthly 75 cent phone surcharge for aid to local governments, and refinancing state debt. In addition, a scheduled 2% raise for state employees would be eliminated and state employees would be required to take eight days off without pay in each of the next two years.
5/20: Citizen Input Increases as Budget Moves Forward
As the Legislature’s budget writing committee moves forward on its work on the state budget, there has been an increasing number of citizen contacts to my office. In the last 30 days, I have received over 1100 contacts from residents of the 10th Senate District. Over 500 e-mails have been sent on issues before the State Legislature.
I appreciate and value the input from citizens on the issues facing our state. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 800-862-1092.
5/19: Harsdorf Committee Update: Joint Legislative Council
After the legislative session concludes in May of even-numbered years, special legislative study committees are appointed to review broad issues that may be coming before the State Legislature. These study committees are a valuable resource to the Legislature, as they utilize citizens with expertise in the subject matter and have time to consider an issue in-depth.
The results of four of these study committees will be coming before the Joint Legislative Council for consideration on May 20. As a member of the Joint Legislative Council, we review the committee’s report and determine if the committee’s work should be introduced as a bill in the Legislature. The four reports before the Council include the study committees on Domestic Biofuels, Building Wisconsin’s Workforce, Emergency Management and Continuity of Government, and Justice Reinvestment Initiative Oversight.
More information on the work of these committees can be found at http://www.legis.wisconsin.gov/lc/committees/jointcouncil/index.htm
5/18: Governor Doyle Expected to Unveil Deficit Plan
Governor Doyle stated that he hopes to present his plan to address the state’s growing budget deficit this week. The Governor has announced that he is looking at reductions to aid to local governments, K-12 education, and lay-offs of state employees. Governor Doyle is also considering additional borrowing to address the budget deficit, which has risen to $6.6 billion.
5/15: Low-speed Electric Bicycle Bill passes State Senate
Legislation that I authored to enable the use of Low-speed Electric Bicycles has been approved by the State Senate. This legislation, Senate Bill 137, was brought to my attention by citizens of the 10th Senate District. The bill was taken up on May 13 and passed by the Senate on a voice vote. The bill has now been referred to the Assembly Committee on Transportation for consideration.
5/11: Harsdorf Committee Update: Commerce, Utilities, Energy and Rail
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Utilities, Energy and Rail, which I serve on, has scheduled a hearing this week on the issue of siting windmills. As wind energy becomes more prevalent, challenges arise in where to construct wind energy systems. Utilities often build large windmills in clusters, which can create conflict with adjoining property owners and local governments. Legislation to establish a statewide process for siting wind farms will be held for a public hearing on May 12 at 11:00 am in the State Capitol. Contact my office if you would like more information on this legislation or the public hearing.
5/8: State Finances Continue to Worsen
The state’s already challenging $5.7 billion budget deficit is expected to grow by as much as $1 billion, according to indications from the Department of Revenue and Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Governor Doyle had cautioned earlier this week that revenue collections continue to come in at a lower rate than expected, due to the national economic downturn. Given this information, Republican members of the legislature’s budget writing committee called for stopping the committee’s work on the state budget until actual numbers will be released later this week or early next week.
5/6: Senate InSession: Green Tier Program Reauthorized
Wisconsin’s ground-breaking Green Tier program received a vote of approval by the State Senate last week. The State Senate took action on Senate Bill 126 (SB 126), which would reauthorize and extend the Green Tier program. I am a co-sponsor of this legislation.
Green Tier is an innovative program that takes a collaborative approach to environmental protection. Green Tier participants in western Wisconsin include 3M Company – Menomonie, Federal Foam Technologies, and Phillips Plastics. Green Tier is a voluntary program that involves annual audits of environmental management systems and encourages self-reporting of violations.
Check out my News page to see my recent press release on Green Tier.
5/5: Hot Topic: DNR Service Centers to Close
The legislature’s budget writing committee acted this week to approve Governor Doyle’s proposal to close the 24 DNR Service Centers around the state. The decision is expected to reduce expenditures by $3.3 million over the two-year budget. In our area, the affected Service Centers include the DNR field offices in Baldwin, Cumberland, Hayward, and Superior. Walk-in customer services would still be available at the six regional DNR offices.
5/4: Hot Topic: Swine Flu (H1N1) in Wisconsin
Swine Flu is receiving a great deal of attention as it spreads into our local communities. Important information on Swine Flu can be found at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Pandemic Flu Resource website at http://pandemic.wisconsin.gov/. This website will provide you with the latest updates, frequently asked questions, preventative and planning resources, and information on what to do if you contract this virus.
5/1: Harsdorf Bill Moves Forward
Senate Bill 137 (SB 137), legislation that I authored, received a 7-0 vote last week in the Senate Committee on Transportation. This legislation would enable the greater use of low-speed electric bicycles, which have proven to be a convenient and emissions-free mode of local transportation. This issue was brought to my attention by constituents that have utilized these bicycles, but experienced difficulty in using them given state regulations.
SB 137 would reduce bureaucratic roadblocks to using low-speed electric bicycles. The bill is now ready to be voted upon in the State Senate.
12/29: Snowmobile Safety Courses Now Online
All Wisconsin residents born after 1985 are required to take a snowmobile safety course before operating a snowmobile on land not owned by the operator. The Department of Natural Resources sponsors safety classes throughout the state and now also provides safety training via an online class for interested operators ages 16 and over. The goals of the snowmobile safety course are: to reduce the potential for snowmobile accidents, injuries and fatalities; to reduce the potential for conflict between snowmobilers, landowners, and other resource users; and to promote safe, responsible, and ethical use of the environment and our resources.
12/28: Wisconsin Joins Invasive Species Compact
Recently, Wisconsin became the newest member of the Interstate Pest Control Compact (IPCC). Membership enables Wisconsin to receive financial support to combat outbreaks and infestations of plant diseases that threaten agricultural or natural resources. IPCC works like an insurance fund, with member states paying an annual contribution, similar to an insurance premium. In existence since 1968, IPCC members include 38 states and Puerto Rico and has provided over $1 million in assistance. Wisconsin was previously precluded from joining since our enrollment was contingent on all neighboring states joining the Compact. 2009 Wisconsin Act 42 changed state law and allowed Wisconsin to join even though Iowa has not become part of the Compact.
12/23: Senate Bill 382 Would Require Headlights Use During Rainy Weather
Current law requires drivers to have their headlights on during hours of darkness. Failure to follow the current headlight law results in a fine between $10 and $200. Senate Bill 382 / Assembly Bill 581 would also require drivers to use headlights when climatic conditions, such as rain or fog, limit visibility to less than 500 feet for objects on a highway. Non-compliance would result in the same fine schedule as under the current darkness headlight law. Both the Senate and Assembly bills were introduced in November; neither bill has had a public hearing or committee vote.
12/22: Absolute Sobriety for Underage Individuals on School Grounds
Under current law, alcohol possession or consumption on school grounds is prohibited except in limited circumstances requiring an administrator’s written permission. Penalties for violating this law include forfeitures of up to $200. However, a recent court case dismissed a citation for an intoxicated student that attended a school dance because the student’s parents provided him with alcohol off school grounds. Under Senate Bill 421, an underage person with detectable alcohol concentration in his/her breath or blood would be subject to a fine of up to $200. Senate Bill 421 was introduced earlier this month and has not yet received a public hearing or committee vote.
12/21: Department of Health Services Lifts H1N1 Vaccine Restrictions
Local health care providers and public health departments are now allowed to vaccinate requesting members of the general public with the H1N1 vaccine. Previously, the Department of Health Services limited H1N1 vaccinations to certain groups at high-risk, including those with chronic health concerns, young children, pregnant women, and those that work with young children. If you are interested in receiving the H1N1 vaccination, you can find a clinic online at http://pandemic.wisconsin.gov/ or call 2-1-1 for a flu shot clinic locator.
12/17: Nominations Open for Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board Seat
Farmers who grow and sell soybeans in Pierce County are able to nominate others or themselves by December 30 as a candidate for the District 2 Seat on the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board. Interested parties can contact the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) at 608-224-5140 to request a nomination form. DATCP will announce the final slate of candidates in early January with the District 2 election held between January 18-30. In addition to Pierce County, District 2 also includes Buffalo, Clark, Eau Claire, Jackson, La Crosse, Pepin, Trempealeau, and Wood Counties.
12/16: Government Accountability Board Recommends Against Early Voting
After last November’s election, the Government Accountability Board (GAB) assigned staff to research early voting as a potential remedy to the administrative delays that in-person absentee balloting creates. After researching other states’ experience with early voting and holding listening sessions throughout the state, GAB’s report recommends against instituting early voting in Wisconsin. Instead, the report recommends streamlining existing in-person absentee balloting protocols, including: a 20 instead of 30 day window for absentee voting; allowing clerks to conduct in-person absentee voting in multiple locations; and simplifying application and ballot envelope signature requirements. The Board will consider these recommendations at a future meeting.
12/15: Drunken Driving Extraordinary Session
On December 16, both houses of the Legislature will convene for the purpose of voting on drunken driving reform legislation. In recent months, both houses have passed similar, but differing bills seeking to combat drunken driving. The authors in both houses have now agreed on a unified piece of legislation. Among the changes the bill would make to current law include:
-Makes fourth offense OWI a felony if the offender has an OWI conviction in the previous five-year period.
-Criminalizes first-time OWI offenses if a child under age 16 is present in the vehicle.
-Expands the pilot Winnebago County Safe Streets Program statewide, which directs certain offenders to probation and treatment programs in exchange for a reduced sentence.
-Requires Ignition Interlock Devices for all repeat offenders and first-time offenders with a Blood Alcohol Content of .15 or above. This device works by requiring the operator of a vehicle to blow into a breathalyzer-like sensor that is integrated into a vehicle’s ignition system. If the motorist has consumed alcohol, the vehicle will not start.
-Increases the court fees paid by convicted offenders from $20 to $163 and raises the license reinstatement fee from $50 to $200 for those whose licenses are suspended or revoked for a drunken driving-related offense. These fee increases are projected to raise $15 million a year to pay for the various aspects of the bill.
The proposal to increase the liquor tax, which at one time was part of the Senate version of this bill, is no longer part of the legislation.
12/14: Governor Vetoes Board of Regents Bill
As expected, Governor Doyle vetoed Senate Bill 223, which would have required a governor to appoint at least one member for each of the seven regions of the state to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. The current Board of Regents’ membership includes 10 of its 14 citizen members from either Dane or Milwaukee Counties. No citizen Regent currently resides near the River Falls, Stout, Superior, or Eau Claire campuses.
12/14: Legislation Seeks to Ban BPA in Kids' Products
Bisphenol-A, otherwise known as BPA, is a chemical compound used to harden plastics in things like water bottles and plastic cups. BPA leeches from plastics due to use and washing over time, and individuals absorb BPA as a result. Some scientists and BPA critics argue that BPA acts as a synthetic estrogen once in the human body, causing disruption in the endocrine system and creating a diverse range of health issues from diabetes to reproductive problems. Other scientists, including the federal Food and Drug Administration, do not believe that absorbed BPA causes health problems when absorbed in humans. Senate Bill 271 and Assembly Bill 405 seek to ban plastics containing BPA in baby bottles and children's spill-proof cups. Minnesota, Connecticut, and Canada have similar bans to what SB 271 / AB 405 propose. Both bills are currently in committee and Legislators have not yet voted on them.
12/11: Blood Donation, a Great Gift
Holiday giving often reminds us of shopping, standing in line, and wrapping presents. This year, consider blood donation as part of your holiday giving. The gift of blood is more precious than any mall find and its need is truly great. The American Red Cross is sponsoring local blood drives with several community organizations in the moth of December. Below is a partial listing of community blood drives in our area. To schedule an appointment, call 1-800-GIVE LIFE (800-448-3543).
December 14: New Richmond – 1:00 P.M. - 6:00 P.M. 1310New Richmond American Legion Post 1260 Wall St.
December 15: Hudson – 1:00 P.M. – 6:00 P.M. 1310Bethel Lutheran Church 920 3rd St.
December 17: New Richmond – 8:00 A.M – 7:00 P.M.1310National Guard Armory 1425 Wall St.
December 22: River Falls – 9:00 A.M – 2:00 P.M.1310St. Bridget’s Catholic Church
December 28: Prescott – 1:00 P.M. – 7:00 P.M.1310Prescott EMS 1603 Pine St.
December 30: Hudson – 10:00 A.M. – 3:00 P.M.1310Hudson Hospital and Clinics 405 Stageline Rd.
December 31: River Falls – 10:00 A.M. – 3:00 P.M.1310National Guard Armory 815 W. Division St.
12/10: Badger License Plate is Top Vote Getter
The DNR asked state residents in October to weigh in on a new design for the new Endangered Resources License Plate. Survey voters overwhelmingly selected the design featuring the badger with 68% or 16,167 out of approximately 23,000 votes. The Departments of Natural Resources and Transportation will use the survey results to help make a final decision on the new design. The plate will be available to Wisconsin motorists in 2010 in addition to the grey wolf, featured on the Endangered Resources plate since 1995.
12/9: Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education Hearing This Week
NOTE: This hearing has been rescheduled for January 7th.
On Thursday, December 10, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education will hold a public hearing on a number of gubernatorial appointments and bills. Among the bills that the Committee will hear testimony on are:
1310Assembly Bill 229: would create an exemption for a food processing license for a seller of canned goods earning less than $5,000 in sales.
Assembly Bill 418: would require the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection to designate an employee of the Department to serve as county fair coordinator. This bill previously passed the full Assembly by a unanimous vote in October.
Senate Bill 268: would give local control in decisions about location of rendering plants, which is a power currently held by the State.
Senate Bill 419: would create standards for labeling products as Wisconsin certified honey.
12/8: 511 Winter Driving Information
As we continue to experience wintry weather, knowing the road conditions gains importance in our travel planning. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation maintains the 511 hotline, which provides information on road conditions, accidents, and travel times throughout the state. This information is updated regularly throughout the day and is available both by phone at 511 and online at the link above.
12/7: 2010 Spring Turkey and Black Bear License Application Deadline Nears
Hunters have until the close of business on Thursday, December 10 to apply for available spring turkey and black bear permits. Applications are for permit drawings for each of these respective seasons and cost $3. Interested hunters can apply at a local authorized license agent or call the DNR, toll free at 1-877-LICENSE (877-945-4236). For a list of local authorized license agents, click the above link.
12/4: Preliminary Deer Hunting Numbers Released
The DNR has announced a preliminary count of 195,647 deer harvested during the recently completed gun deer season. This number does not include deer taken during the archery or other gun deer hunting seasons.
This number represents a nearly 30% decline from 2008’s preliminary count of 276,895 deer. DNR officials cited weather conditions and lower fawn production for the decrease in the harvest.
In other news, the DNR announced that nearly 10,000 mentored hunting licenses were purchased by 10- and 11-year old hunters, along with 638,000 regular gun licenses. The 2009 gun deer hunting season was the fourth safest season ever.
12/1: Hearing Today on DNA Saves
DNA Saves, legislation that I have drafted with Rep. Ann Hraychuck calling for the collection of DNA samples from offenders at the time of felony arrest, will be held for a public hearing today before the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform, and Housing.
Jayann Sepich, a victim’s advocate that is leading the national effort to enact such legislation in every state, will be testifying at the hearing. Currently, 21 states and the federal government have enacted legislation requiring the collection of DNA samples from offenders at felony arrest.
11/25: No Call List Deadline is November 30
The next deadline for signing up for Wisconsin’s No Call List is November 30. Telephone numbers registered on the No Call List by this date will go into effect on January 1. The next effective date for registering on the No Call List is April 1.
The No Call List is updated four times a year, to allow new numbers to be listed and to provide the opportunity for numbers that are expiring from the No Call List to be renewed. Telephone numbers remain on the No Call List for two years and can be renewed without limit.
11/24: Governor Signs Several New Laws
The Legislature wrapped up its regular floor period for the year earlier this month and passed several bills through both houses. As a result, Governor Doyle has signed several new laws in the past few weeks. Among the recently enacted laws were the following:13102009 Wisconsin Act 55 strengthens protections against invasive species traveling from one waterway to another by prohibiting vehicles, watercraft, sea planes, or other objects from changing waterways if an invasive animal or plant is attached. These strengthened prohibitions do not apply if only traveling within a single navigable water system.13102009 Wisconsin Act 62 eliminates a loophole in the State’s hit-and-run law that prevented prosecution of hit-and-run offenses on private parking areas. This law is in response to the tragic case of Frances Suitor, who died in 2005 while sleeping in her Oregon, WI home when a drunken driver crashed through her house and killed her. 13102009 Wisconsin Act 64 requires all approved driver education courses to 34acquaint each student with the hazards posed by railroad highway grade crossings and provide at least 30 minutes of instruction in safely dealing with these hazards.3413102009 Wisconsin Act 72 allows law enforcement to collect a fee from a convicted person that law enforcement must transport via ferry to jail after the time of an arrest. This situation arises in island communities in the state where the county jail may not be accessible from the point of arrest via a normal roadway or bridge13102009 Wisconsin Act 76 restricts those convicted of serious criminal offenses from obtaining certification to become a child care provider. Convictions that permanently bar a person from becoming a licensed child care provider include: a felony against a child, felony battery, first or second degree murder or reckless homicide, felony sexual assault, armed burglary or robbery, felony depiction of nudity; and closely related offenses.
11/24: Grantsburg Girls are State Champions
The Grantsburg girls took home the WIAA Division III State Volleyball Championship earlier this month after winning the state tournament in Green Bay. Grantsburg defeated Laconia High School (Rosendale) in the semifinals in straight sets before downing Cuba City High School 3-0 in the final. Congratulations!
11/24: Capitol Christmas Tree from River Falls
The 2009 State Capitol Christmas Tree will be leaving Mr. Snowman’s Christmas Tree Farm in River Falls on Tuesday, November 24, en route to Madison. Owner Charles MacDonald has donated the tree. The Capitol Christmas Tree stands in the rotunda throughout the season and is the centerpiece of the Capitol’s holiday decorations. Per tradition, school children throughout the state create ornaments for display on the tree.
11/23: Public Hearing Held on Campaign Finance Bill
The Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections held a public hearing on November 17 on Assembly Bill 104 (AB 104), which I authored with Rep. Dick Spanbauer (R-Oshkosh). AB 104 would require the same information on campaign finance reports for out-of-state registrants as in-state registrants. Under current law, if a political action group or other registrant does not maintain an office or street address in Wisconsin, that registrant has reduced reporting requirements. AB 104 would bring greater disclosure and heightened uniform standards to out-of-state groups involved in Wisconsin elections.
11/20: Phosphorus Limited Further in Dish Soap
Governor Doyle signed into law 2009 Wisconsin Act 63 on November 12, which further limits the amount of phosphorus contained in dishwashing products. The former allowable limit for dish soap was 8.7% of phosphorus by weight, and Act 63 reduces that amount to 0.5% of phosphorus by weight. Eliminating unnecessary phosphorus waste is critical in controlling algae blooms, which have threatened lakes throughout the state.
11/19: Positive News on Income Tax Reciprocity
After weeks of collaboration and cooperation from lawmakers of both parties and both states, there is renewed hope in restoring income tax reciprocity as evidenced by Wisconsin lawmakers and Minnesota administrative officials working toward a new line of negotiations.
While there is a long ways to go to restore income tax reciprocity, the issue is not yet dead. I am encouraged by key Wisconsin legislative leaders, State Senator Mark Miller and Majority Leader Russ Decker, taking the initiative to jump-start dialogue between both states on this imporant issue.
11/18: Alice in Dairyland 2010 Applicants Wanted
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection is seeking applicants for the 63rd Alice in Dairyland. This position serves a spokesperson for the state’s agricultural industries, including food, fiber, and biofuels. Alice travels over 40,000 miles during the year; conducts more than 100 media interviews; and visits with thousands of students throughout the state. Interested individuals can find more information and application materials at the link above. Applications are due by 4:30 on Friday, January 15, 2010.
11/17: Diggers Hotline, 8-1-1
Most residents know that a 34Diggers Hotline34 exists, but not everyone is aware of the ease to reach this service. Dialing 8-1-1 from any phone will direct your call to your local one-call center. This free and easy call will alert pipelines, cable providers, and utilities of your planned excavation. The underground facility companies will come to identify areas of excavation and flag the underground facilities. This easy call improves safety and helps protect the environment and avoids unnecessary mistakes.
11/16: The Apprentice: Dunn County
Taking a cue from the hit reality television series, Visioning Dunn County has created a new program that links student-led teams with the business world to provide plausible solutions to real world challenges. Juniors and seniors from Dunn County high schools and freshmen at UW-Stout and Chippewa Valley Technical College comprise the student-led teams. Participating businesses present the teams with current project goals that are in need of effective proposals for completion. The student teams will work from December through April to develop proposals. A culminating ceremony will occur on April 29, at which time businesses will 34hire34 the winning team idea. The Apprentice: Dunn County is a great example of the private sector linking with educational institutions to provide real world experience for students while benefitting from the creativity of young people.
11/13: Board of Regents Bill Heads to the Governor
On November 5, both the Senate and Assembly approved Senate Bill 223, which would require that at least one member from each of Wisconsin’s seven regions would serve on the 14-member University of Wisconsin System’s Board of Regents. Senate Bill 223 is now before the Governor for consideration.
11/12: Legislature Honors Harvey Stower
This past legislative floor period, both houses of the Legislature paused to honor the late Mayor Harvey Stower of Amery, who passed away in October. Legislators from both parities spoke fondly of the service and life of Harvey Stower. In addition to serving as the Mayor of Amery for the past 14 years, he served as State Representative from the 28th Assembly District. His devoted service to Northwest Wisconsin is appreciated and will be greatly missed.
11/11: Veterans Day
I had the opportunity to pay tribute to Veterans at Veterans Day events in Clear Lake and New Richmond this year. While our country remains at war, it is important for Americans to remember and honor those that have served and those that continue to serve.
11/5: Prominent bills pass in state Senate
November 5th marked the last day of Floorperiod for 2009 in the State Senate. While committees will continue to meet and hold committee votes, the Legislature will not convene until January unless the Governor calls a special session. 1310A number of prominent bills moved through the State Senate, including:1310Assembly Bill 138, which would change the appointment process of the secretary of Natural Resources from a gubernatorial one to one appointed by the Natural Resources Board, was passed by a 21-11 vote. The bill is now before the Governor, having been concurred in as amended by the Senate to require the consent of the State Senate.1310Assembly Bill 258, which prohibits disposal of oil filters and oil absorbents into landfills. Having already passed the State Assembly, the bill is now before the Governor for his signature. As the lead Senate author of this bill, I am pleased that we are taking additional steps to prevent oil from entering our landfills and ultimately getting into our water supply. I have worked on this legislation for years, and believe new technologies make recycling oil filters and absorbents easier and more convenient.1310Senate Bill 244, which requires geographic representation on the University Of Wisconsin Board of Regents. Currently, 10 of the 14 appointed citizen regents reside in either Dane or Milwaukee County. This legislation would break the state up into 7 geographical regions, and require that at least one member of the 14 members reside in each region of the state by 2015. As a co-sponsor of this legislation, I believe geographical representation is important on the Board of Regents. The bill is now before the Governor, as it already passed the State Assembly 59-34.1310A number of bills intended to make Wisconsin eligible for the Presidents 34Race to The Top34 education funding were passed in the Senate as well. You can learn more about the bills from this session here:
http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/AB138hst.html Assembly Bill 138
http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/SB244hst.html Senate Bill 244
http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/AB258hst.html Assembly Bill 258
http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/SB370hst.html Senate Bill 370
http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/SB371hst.html Senate Bill 371
http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/sb372hst.html Senate Bill 372
http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/sb373hst.html Senate Bill 373
10/30: Osceola Area Airport Technology Upgrade
Governor Doyle has designated three state airports, including the L.O. Simenstad Municipal Airport near Osceola, to receive funding to develop localizer precision with vertical guidance technology (LPV), . LPV technology increases safety at airports by providing guidance information to allow planes to fly closer to the airport before deciding if it is safe to land. The project is scheduled for completion by September 2010.
10/30: Senate Scholar Program Now Taking Applications
High school juniors and seniors are encouraged to apply to participate in the Wisconsin Senate Scholars program, which will take place in February and March. This week-long, intensive program at the State Capitol introduces students to the many facets of the legislative process. They meet with legislative support agencies, legislative staff, the Governor’s staff, a Supreme Court Justice, the media, lobbyists, and University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty members to learn more about state government. The week’s events culminate in a Senate Scholar Committee hearing on a bill that the students draft.
High schools throughout the state will soon have information and application materials available, or you can visit www.senatescholar.com now for more information and how to apply.
10/30: Regional Tourism Website Launched
The St. Croix Area Promotional Committee, which is a multi-county tourism and promotions collaboration for Barron, Burnett, and Polk Counties, has recently unveiled an updated tourism website for our region. The website provides information on a variety of interests including lodging, recreational activities, shopping, and events. This is a great way to promote small businesses and tourism in our region. Check out the new website above and share it with your friends!
10/28: Medical Malpractice Bill Delayed
Senate Bill 203, legislation that would expand medical malpractice awards in Wisconsin for the loss of companionship involving the deaths of adult children or parents, was scheduled to be taken up by the State Senate Tuesday. However, the Senate Democratic Leadership pulled the bill from the calendar on Monday.
Expanding medical malpractice costs on health care professionals increases health care costs and compounds the challenges in improving access and affordability.
10/27: Tele-town Hall Tonight
On Tuesday night (October 27) from 7:30 p.m until 8:30 p.m., I will hold my second tele-town hall, which provides a forum to answer questions and receive feedback from thousands of residents of the 10th Senate District. Tele-town halls are particularly useful in creating an opportunity for individuals that may not be able to attend a traditional town hall to have their input heard.
You can take part in the tele-town hall by calling 877-229-8493 and enter the code number 13620. If you are unable to take part in the tele-town hall, but have a comment, question, or concern, please feel free to contact me through my 34Ask Sheila34 contact form that is linked above.
10/26: New Hudson Biotech Businesses Recognized
Governor Doyle recognized three new biotechnology businesses that have relocated from Minnesota to Wisconsin recently: Rapid Diagnostek, VitalMedix, and RJA Dispersions, LLC. Rapid Diagnostek is developing technology to quickly diagnose disease by analyzing bodily fluids. VitalMedix is working on creating a drug to treat hemorrhagic shock, which occurs in injuries like car accidents. RJA Dispersions custom manufactures nano-particle and pigment dispersion technologies for clients making ultraviolet curable ink jets. I was pleased to join the Governor and a number of community leaders last week in welcoming these new businesses to our area.
10/23: Senate to Vote on Labor Education Mandate
Next Tuesday, the full Senate will vote on Assembly Bill 172, which would require public schools to teach the history of organized labor in America and the collective bargaining process. This bill passed the full Assembly in April by a 61-38 vote.
10/23: DNR Seeks Input on Deer Season Changes
The DNR is holding hearings throughout the state on proposed changes to the 2010 deer hunting season, including alternatives to Earn-a-Buck and extending the gun season. The closest public hearings for our area are:
October 26 - Eau Claire - Chippewa Valley Technical College auditorium, Room M103, 620 W. Clairemont Ave. 1310October 28 - Spooner - Spooner High School Auditorium, 801 County A.
Public hearings begin at 7:00 P.M. You can also submit your comments to the DNR online any time before November 3 by clicking the link above.
10/21: Text Messaging Ban Passes
The State Senate passed Senate Bill 103 on Tuesday, which would ban text messaging by drivers in Wisconsin. Studies have shown that text messaging while driving significantly impairs a driver’s response time and attentiveness, creating a safety hazard. I supported and co-sponsored this proposal. The bill will now be sent to the State Assembly for consideration.
10/20: DNA Saves Introduced
Legislation that I have authored with Rep. Ann Hraychuck calling for the collection of DNA samples from individuals arrested on felony charges has been introduced in the State Senate as Senate Bill 336. The introduction of this proposal was announced at a press conference on Monday at the State Capitol. Senate Bill 336 seeks to streamline the collection of DNA samples from criminals and to provide additional tools to law enforcement in removing dangerous criminals from the streets.
Jayann Sepich, the leading advocate for the national effort to enact such proposals in every state, spoke at the press conference to discuss Senate Bill 336 and the successes other states have found in enacting similar laws. Jayann is the mother of Katie Sepich, who was brutally murdered by an offender who was ultimately convicted through the use of DNA evidence.
Also in attendance at the press conference to support Senate Bill 336 were Jean and Kevin Zimmerman, parents of UW-Madison student Brittany who was murdered in 2008, and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
10/15: New Area Code Requirement Takes Effect
Starting on Saturday, October 17, 2009, residents in the 715 area code should begin dialing the full 10-digit telephone number for all calls. Available numbers in the 715 area code are running out, which means that new numbers in our area will have a 534 area code. What is a local call now will remain a local call, regardless of the number of digits dialed.
Calls that do not include the area code will still go through until July 2010, when 10-digit dialing becomes mandatory. At that time, local numbers will include those with both the 715 and new 534 area codes.
10/15: Agricultural Census Data Now Available
Agricultural Census data is now available, sorted by legislative district, courtesy of a joint effort by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection and the National Agricultural Statistics Service. It is interesting to note that turkeys are the top livestock inventory item and corn is the top crop item sold by farmers in the 10th Senate District.
10/14: DNR Proposing New License Plate Designs
Next year, Wisconsinites seeking to purchase the optional Endangered Resources License Plate will have a choice between the traditional 34wolf plate34 and one of four new proposed designs. The new license plate will feature endangered wildlife, and DNR is welcoming public input on which design to select. Those that choose an Endangered Resource License Plate contribute $25 to support the DNR’s fund that seeks to identify, protect, and manage endangered native plants, animals and natural communities.
10/13: Frederic and Webster Schools Honored
Frederic Elementary, Webster Elementary, and Webster Middle School have been announced as honorees for the Wisconsin Promise Schools of Recognition Program. To earn this honor, schools must have higher numbers of economically disadvantaged students and outperform the state averages for similar schools on standardized reading and mathematics tests. This is the third consecutive year achieving this honor for both Frederic Elementary School and Webster Middle School. The Department of Public Instruction will honor all statewide winners during a ceremony in the State Capitol on October 20.
10/12: Oil Filter Legislation Advances
The Senate Committee on Environment passed Assembly Bill 258, which would require the recycling of oil filters and oil absorbent materials, by a 5-0 vote on October 7, 2009. This legislation will help save resources and keep contaminants out of our ground water. The bill passed the full Assembly in June, and the final legislative step is full Senate approval before going to the Governor.
10/7: Many State Offices Closed on Monday, October 12
In response to the budget provision that requires state employees to take unpaid furloughs, many state offices will be closed on Monday, October 12. Closures scheduled for October 12 include the Unemployment Insurance call center, DMV service counters, and the Department of Health Services’ Vital Records Office, among others. In many cases, automated phone or online services will still be available on that day.
10/6: BadgerCare Plus Core Plan Enrollment Suspended
The BadgerCare Plus Core Plan, which opened enrollment to provide health insurance for adults without children meeting certain income and residency requirements, has received nearly 60,000 applications for the plan since beginning on June 15, 2009. The federal government approved this plan with the condition that it be cost neutral and enrollment not exceed the budgeted amount of 54,000 participants. Starting at noon on October 9, enrollment will be suspended; however, individuals may still apply but will be put on a waitlist.