February 16, 2012
Supporting our neighbors and being involved in our community is of the utmost importance. Some community events that might be of interest to you and your family are listed below.
Museum After Dark: Mardi Gras
CLICK HERE for more information.
Milwaukee Art Museum (MAP)
700 N. Art Museum
Drive Milwaukee, WI 53202
Food and Froth Fest
Chill on the Hill Call for Bands
Now through February 18
If you compose
your own music, are family-friendly, and have a Bay View connection,
then submit your band info to the Bay View Neighborhood Association by
Saturday, February 18. Chill on the Hill is a local summer music concert
series held outdoors on Tuesday nights at Humboldt Park. This year's
dates are June 5 through August 28. Opening acts start at 6 p.m. with
main acts running from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Chill on the Hill was
named Best Outdoor Concert Series by the Milwaukee Magazine in 2010, and
is frequently noted by bands to be their favorite venue in which to
play. Crowds can reach up to 3,000 people on popular nights. If you
would like to play at Chill on the Hill, you must adhere to the list of
requirements found by
CLICKING HERE and submit your information to Carol Voss via email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at BVNA, P.O.
Box 070184, Milwaukee, WI 53207.
Bay View Winter Blast
February 19 from Noon to 4 p.m.
Join me at this
community festival featuring musical entertainment, family activities,
and community group stands. Winter Blast also hosts Bay View' s only
chili cook-off between multiple neighborhood restaurants.
This week you will find information on recent developments related to rehabilitating our communities and assisting victims of foreclosure. An update on important legislation from this week is also provided.
As usual, please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or opinions you may have about our community or our state.
Foreclosure Funds Raided, Victims Overlooked
week, we examined the positive affects that funds from the National
Mortgage Settlement could have on Milwaukee’s housing market and those
that fell victim to foreclosure as a result of fraudulent business
practices. However, in a decision announced last Thursday, Governor
Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen once again continued
the shocking trend of mismanaging federal money. Instead of distributing
the foreclosure funds, they raided most of the $31.6 million in
discretionary funds allocated by the federal government to help the
victims of unfair mortgage practices.
The National Mortgage Settlement is a
historic $25 billion, joint federal-state agreement with the nation’s
five largest mortgage lenders aimed at bringing relief to borrowers
harmed by dishonest mortgage practices. $140 million was allocated to
Wisconsin, of which $31.6 million is discretionary. This money was
intended to help fund consumer protection and state foreclosure
protection efforts, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and
However, rather than assist the
victims of foreclosure, Governor Walker is choosing to keep $25.6
million of the state’s allocated discretionary funds to fill the budget
whole he created by providing tax breaks to big corporations. Homeowners
and those who lost their houses in the most recent financial crisis are
still in distress and are desperate for help. This money should be
directed to programs that concretely and immediately provide help for
those that were preyed upon by our country's largest mortgage providers.
This issue is of the utmost importance
in our community as Milwaukee and its residents have been
disproportionately harmed by the crisis as six of the hardest-hit zip
codes are in Milwaukee. Additionally, the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Milwaukee is home to over 4,800
abandoned properties. These discretionary funds could have been put to
good use rehabilitating or demolishing foreclosed homes, as well as
increasing programs to help individuals avoid future foreclosure.
It is disappointing that Governor Walker continues to turn a blind eye to the needs of those in Wisconsin. The National Mortgage Settlement was a positive step forward in helping the housing market recover. Unfortunately, Milwaukee residents will not see the full benefits of its effect.
Rebuilding Our Housing Markets
The American dream of homeownership has been prevalent in our society since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. We share a belief that everybody should be able to own a little piece of America and have a place to call home. The prospect of owning a home is an essential part of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Unfortunately, for many this dream has been shattered since the housing market crash that began in 2007 as a result of fraudulent lending practices. Banks encouraged lax lending standards and the liberal use of adjustable rate mortgages to put debt obligations in the hands of people unable to repay such loans. As a result, most of us have family, friends, or neighbors who were led to believe they could manage the debt and now have been left financially strapped, in a spiral of homeownership debt, or facing the loss of their home through foreclosure.
Our community has been disproportionately affected compared to the rest of Wisconsin. Since 2008, 20,000 Milwaukee residents were notified that foreclosure action had been started on their homes. As a result of these housing foreclosures, costs have been shifted to Milwaukee taxpayers. Our neighbors cannot afford to have this happen again, therefore it is crucial that we work together to prevent similar housing market crashes.
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama introduced a new proposal to get our depressed housing markets headed in the right direction and provide those that were taken advantage of by dishonest mortgage lenders with much-needed assistance. Below, we will examine the main pieces of this proposal that address: refinancing, repurposing vacant homes, rehabbing neighborhoods and reducing foreclosure, and introducing a Homeowner's Bill of Rights.
Refinancing for Responsible Borrowers
Under current law, neighbors who have
a loan backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the Federal Housing
Administration can refinance their mortgage. However, if the cost of the
loan exceeds the value of the home, the Federal Housing Administration
is unable to support such a move. This proposal aims to provide all
responsible borrowers who have been current on their mortgage for the
past six months the opportunity to refinance, even if they have private
loans or loans that exceed the value of their single-family home. It is
estimated that this provision could save the average homeowner up to
Rehabbing Neighborhoods and Reducing Foreclosures
Another provision in President Obama's
proposal seeks to further rehabilitate our afflicted communities and
reduce the number or foreclosures. The provision seeks to do this by
expanding eligibility for the Home Affordability Modification Program,
which can help homeowners lower their monthly mortgage payment by up to
31%. Another positive change that would help to rehab our neighborhoods
and reduce foreclosures is increasing incentives for lenders to work
with borrowers to help them rebuild their equity.
To prevent something similar from happening in the future, this new proposal will also establish a Homeowner's Bill of Rights. Below are some items that would be written into this Bill of Rights:
Passing national legislation to implement these common reforms would be a positive step forward in assisting those that were knocked down by the devastating housing market crash and will help get our local housing markets and economies moving in the right direction.
Common Sense Changes to Wetlands Bill Rejected
a party-line vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 368 this past Tuesday.
This legislation significantly diminishes environmental protections that
keeps our water safe for drinking and recreation, protects our valuable
wetland resources, and reduces flooding.
My first amendment, the Sportsman's Amendment, offered a constructive and reasonable alternative to support economic development and ensure our wetlands remain available to Wisconsin's hunters, bird watchers, and anglers by:
My second amendment, the Flooding Prevention Amendment, would have ensured that the profits of special interests would not be placed above the needs of our homeowners, renters, and landowners. This amendment required the DNR to make sure that filling in a wetland would have minimal impact on flood prevention and habitat loss within the watershed that a project is planned.
Tragically, both of these common sense
improvements were rejected in a cynically partisan effort to rush
through legislation before the current legislative session ends next
Mining Bill Introduced
This past Wednesday, Senate Republicans decided to eliminate the Senate Select Committee on Mining created to serve as an open forum to debate legislation related to allowing additional mining in Wisconsin. Almost simultaneously Senator Galloway introduced a Senate bill identical to Assembly Bill 426, which was immediately forwarded to the Joint Committee on Finance.
The decision to abruptly disband this committee, aimed at ensuring a transparent process, signals that some Senate Republicans may not be open to changing the existing bill. It is my hope that we can craft a bill that strikes a balance between job creation and environmental protections by establishing a mining regulatory process that is fair, flexible, and streamlines the bureaucratic process, while avoiding the weakening of environmental standards.
Despite these recent changes, I remain
hopeful that we can reach a bipartisan compromise that can secure
economic opportunity while safeguarding environmental quality.
Lead Acid Battery Bill Receives Public Hearing
past week, Representative Mark Honadel and I had the opportunity to
testify on Assembly Bill 266, bipartisan legislation we authored that
updates Wisconsin law regarding battery deposits.
Assembly Still Refuses to Keep Voucher Loophole Promise
This past Monday, a bipartisan letter that I authored and 25 other senators and representatives signed on in support of was submitted to Republican leaders encouraging them to uphold their promise to close the voucher loophole. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Assembly met this week for session, they have yet to take up this corrective legislation.
Health Literacy Act Introduced
past Monday, Representative Sandy Pasch and I introduced the Health
Literacy Act, legislation that will help our neighbors fully understand their health care policies by making the
language more readable. If passed, this legislation will also help our
neighbors protect themselves against unnecessary health care costs.
Currently in Wisconsin, a significant amount of health consumers struggle to understand and actively use information they need to make important health care decisions. This is often due to the fact that language used in health insurance policies is frequently unclear and overly complex. According to the Institute of Medicine, nearly 90 million Americans, or almost half of the population of the United States, have difficulty understanding and properly utilizing health information. This statistic is especially concerning given that numerous studies have shown that individuals with low health literacy rates are subject to higher rates of illness and mortality.
Health literacy – known as the degree
to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and
understand basic information and services needed to make appropriate
decisions regarding their health – plays an extremely important role in
empowering health consumers, improving quality of health care, and
reducing costs associated with unnecessary or untreated care.
The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance was on the path to facilitating the creation of easy-to-read insurance policies in late 2010, when they promulgated a rule that stemmed from well-thought recommendations of their nonpartisan advisory council charged with developing standards for readability of consumer insurance policies. Generally speaking, the rule would ensure that most insurance policies would be understood by someone with only some high school education. The rule was created by a wide variety of stakeholders across the state, including: consumers, advocates, business leaders, and insurance industry stakeholders.
Unfortunately, under new leadership in February 2011, the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance repealed this important rule, which is why we have introduced Senate Bill 469. We are hoping that this legislation will once again receive endorsement on a bipartisan level, and look forward to our family, friends, and neighbors having the opportunity to become more proactive with their health.
Update on Airport Fuel Spill
last month, there was a jet fuel leak at Mitchell International Airport,
which has been an issue of concern for area residents. The spill,
estimated to have begun on January 25, was first detected on January 30.
Shell Oil, the owner of the damaged pipe, shut off the flow of fuel to
the leaking pipeline on January 31 and began excavation procedures to
remove 300 feet of pipe from under the airport last week.
The U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are continuing
to monitor the cleanup process.
February is Black History Month
Take a moment this month to remember
the struggle and achievements of African Americans in our state and nation’s
history as we celebrate Black History Month.
Black History Month grew out of Negro History Week, founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1926 as a way to honor the achievements and struggles of African Americans in United States history. Woodson choose a week in February in honor of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two men that played a crucial role in African American history. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the celebration to the whole month of February, and Black History Month began. Since then each American president has recognized this month as Black History Month. The theme of this year’s Black History Month is "Black Women in America: Culture and History."
There are several events around our
community and in the State Capital to help you celebrate. Information on these events
are listed below.
1st Floor Rotunda
Sixth Annual African American Film
Student Union Building (MAP)
Wisconsin Band Wins Grammys
Congratulations to Eau Claire native Justin Vernon and his band Bon Iver for their well-deserved victory at this year's Grammys on February 12, where they took home awards for best new artist and best alternative album.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Justin Vernon in 2009 at the annual AIDS Walk Wisconsin at the Summerfest Grounds in Milwaukee. It is always great to see a fellow Wisconsinite succeed.
Submit Your Application Today
If you have ever wanted the chance to become a part of state government, the Office of the Governor is now accepting applications for appointment to a number of boards, commissions, and councils. This is the perfect opportunity to collaborate with other citizens across the state to develop innovative and positive solutions that will be provided to lawmakers on issues that affect our communities.
See You in the Neighborhood
I created a survey that I
am distributing to neighbors asking about various issues that are
important to them, our community and our state. I have been
distributing the survey door-to-door throughout our community and will
continue doing so throughout the current legislative session. To return the survey, simply
fold it, tape it, and affix a stamp.
I look forward to hearing your views on these important issues. Hope to see you in the neighborhood soon!
Know Your Voting Rights
Scott Walker and Republican legislators recently enacted some of the most restrictive ID requirements for voters in the country. While they have been working to silence Wisconsin's voters, I have been working hard to keep Wisconsin's voters informed of their rights. I have created a simple handout answering some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding Wisconsin's new voter restrictions.
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