The gentlemen pictured above traveled all the way from Sheboygan County to Madison yesterday morning to testify with me before the Senate Committee on Elections and Local Government. Senator Devin LeMahieu and I are working on legislation to help local cemetery authorities (such as the boards these men serve on) remain financially solvent. Pictured with me are Mr. Herb Inselman, Mr. Bob Vercouteren and Mr. Craig Droppers; also in attendance from the district was Mr. Glenn Lemmenes. They did an outstanding job explaining to the Senate committee why this legislation is necessary, and I am very appreciative of their service to our communities. Thank you!
There have been recent developments on many issues since I last updated you; below are a few highlights.
Prevailing wage. I am a coauthor of Assembly Bill 32, the bill to fully repeal Wisconsin's archaic prevailing wage law. Although prevailing wage protection might have made sense in the 1930s (during the height of the Depression), today it serves only to artificially inflate workers' wages and make practically all state and local construction projects much more expensive than they ought to be. That isn't fair to Wisconsin taxpayers, and my support for a full repeal has not changed. The Assembly Labor Committee held a public hearing on AB 32 this week and passed the measure; the bill is now available to be scheduled for a vote by the entire Assembly. I was pleased to hear Governor Scott Walker promise to sign a full repeal when it reaches his desk.
SeniorCare. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) voted last week to continue full funding for Wisconsin's unique SeniorCare prescription drug program. Furthermore, the state budget will not include changes proposed by the Governor that would have required participants to purchase a Medicare Part D plan. Program enrollment fees and co-pays were also frozen at current levels.
Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) funding. The JFC not only approved the Governor's request to continue funding that helps stabilize Medicaid but also made the program an ongoing, annual appropriation. Because health care providers are under-reimbursed by the government for providing Medicaid services, they are forced to shift costs (i.e., a "hidden health care tax") to commercial payers and employers. Wisconsin's DSH program helps offset the $960 million Medicaid shortfall that our state's hospitals endure every year and reduce the impact of the hidden tax.
Long-term care. Republicans rejected the Governor's proposed changes to Family Care and IRIS and instead presented a new plan. Our plan requires public and stakeholder input; protects a strong self-directed care option with budget authority; preserves IRIS and ADRC services; requires JFC approval throughout the reform process; and integrates long-term and medical care. The plan is going to ensure better care (for patients, customers and doctors) at a better value for Wisconsin taxpayers.
As always, I encourage you to follow my updates on social media or contact my office directly with your questions. Best wishes on your weekend!
State Highway 23 Update
After working hard to communicate with my legislative colleagues how important the Highway 23 expansion project is to Sheboygan County, I was deeply disappointed and frustrated to learn late last week that the project has been delayed yet again, this time by a federal court ruling on a lawsuit filed by an environmental special interest group.
Work had been set to begin this past Tuesday. In fact, you may have seen the same road construction signs and road cones that I saw over the Memorial Day weekend in preparation for the contractor to begin grading for the new lanes in the seven-mile stretch from Plymouth to the county line. Just four days prior to Tuesday's scheduled start date, Federal Judge Lynn Adelman (the same judge who delayed implementation of Wisconsin's new voter ID law) effectively voided the federal approval that Wisconsin had previously obtained. Without this approval, the WI Department of Transportation (DOT) has been forced to delay construction indefinitely.
When this project was first proposed in 1999, the total cost estimate for the entire project (from Sheboygan to Fond du Lac) was approximately $42 million. Today that estimate is $145 million (345 percent of the original total), and this latest delay will only cause that figure to increase further. But I am confident that federal approval will be restored soon, and I will keep fighting to ensure that state funding continues to be available for DOT to proceed with construction as soon as the legal battle is resolved.
Thanks for Having Us!
Senator LeMahieu and I had a great time touring Random Lake Elementary School recently. We appreciate your invitation and look forward to seeing you all again soon. Keep up your hard work until summer vacation!