May 21, 2021

  

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Wisconsin's Tech Caucus Update

This week, the members of the Wisconsin Tech Caucus met for the first time. This caucus was created in 2020, and I'm proud to be one of the legislators serving in this group, which aims to work along bipartisan lines to bring ideas and information on technological innovation to the attention of the legislature.

On the agenda was a discussion of the proposed $100 million "Fund of Funds" for Wisconsin. This is something that has been discussed over the years to build on the successful “Badger Funds of Funds” program started under the Walker administration after Wisconsin was ranked 50th in business startup activity. In essence, it would be a large public-private funding pool to attract venture capital for Wisconsin's tech industry. We were pleased to hear from the WEDC and folks around the state on this issue and hear about the success stories already in the making! We also had some great conversations about the Tech Council's 2021 White Papers. I look forward to upcoming discussions in this caucus as we look for ways to help promote our tech community.

Length of Service Award
Budget Motion Update

As we work on the budget in the legislature, representatives are able to put forward budget motions, which is our way of proposing additions to the budget. I've been working on a number of budget motions, and one that was passed by the Joint Finance Committee is my Length of Service Award Budget Motion. 

The Length of Service Award was created in 1999 and is available to fire fighters, first responders and emergency medical technicians. The program provides a tax-deferred benefit at the time of their retirement. The program is funded through matching efforts, where the state is required to match $2 for every $1 a municipality contributes to the award program. It's a helpful tool for municipalities in both attracting and maintaining folks in these positions.

Because of changes to the program in the 2017-19 state budget to incentivize recruitment, there has been greater participation in the program over the years. Unfortunately, there is a statutory cap on how much money can be deposited into the account which leaves some volunteers in jeopardy of not receiving the full compensation that is owed to them and instead they would receive a pro-rated amount. My budget motion removes the cap and allows the state to make good on its commitment to these volunteers by fully matching the funds contributed by the municipalities. I am pleased to share that this week, the Joint Finance Committee voted to include this motion in their budget. I hope to see it included in the final budget the governor signs into law. 

Question of the Week: 
UW System Tuition & Fee Freeze

As we all know, college is a big expense for students, and tuition and fees can be major factors for our kids as they consider their future options. Currently, Wisconsin has an in-state undergraduate tuition freeze in place, but it is not written in statutes and instead is a part of the budget act. This means if the freeze isn't renewed in each budget, the UW System's Board of Regents can increase tuition as it sees fit. 

Resident undergraduate tuition at all 13 UW institutions has been frozen since 2012. In the past, after single year tuition freezes in 1967 and 1999, tuition increased by 56% and 60% respectively over the subsequent four year period. This rate of increase for tuition exceeded the rate of inflation for those years. 

A new bill has been introduced that would put it in statutes that tuition and fees for in-state Wisconsin undergraduates could not increase faster than the rate of inflation. Under the bill, if the non-statutory freeze expires, the Board of Regents would only be allowed to increase tuition and fees for resident undergraduates at the rate of inflation.

Supporters of the bill say that it would help make college more affordable and ensure that resident undergraduate students would not have to face skyrocketing tuition. Opponents of the bill are concerned that it would limit the control that the Board of Regents has over tuition and would impact the amount of funding the UW System has to work with. 

Affordable college education is a big issue for our state, so I'd like to hear your thoughts on this proposed bill. Please take a moment to answer my question of the week:

Click here for my Question of the Week

Last Week's Results:
Mandatory Poll Work for State Elected Officials

I heard from many around the 36th Assembly District on last week's question of the week. The below chart represents the responses from constituents to the question that I received as of yesterday afternoon.

Budget Survey Available Online

As I mentioned in my last e-update, the paper version of my budget survey is heading to mailboxes soon. I've heard from a number of folks already, and if you would like to fill out the survey early you can find it online on my webpage:

36th Assembly District Online Budget Survey

Request Unemployment Inquiry

With the high number of unemployment claims being filed in Wisconsin and nationwide in recent months, delays in determinations and payments have been a too common occurrence. As a legislator, I'm able to reach out to DWD and make an inquiry on your behalf if you are experiencing issues or delays with your unemployment claim.

Click here to request an Unemployment Claim Inquiry

Rural Digital Opportunity Grants in
36th Assembly District

With the importance of broadband expansion to our neck of the woods, I'm pleased to share that Rural Digital Opportunity Funds have been awarded around Wisconsin. Areas around the 36th Assembly District are receiving sizeable grant awards going towards broadband expansion. 

To check out specifically where the funds have been awarded, visit the interactive map here or by clicking the above image. Looking at the map, all the light green shaded areas will be built out by Charter Communications. Timelines are still being worked out under the program, but 40% of the build must be completed by 2024 and all of it must be completed six years from now. 

Free Fun Weekend: June 5-6

The DNR's annual Free Fun Weekend is coming up soon on June 5-6. During the free fun weekend, park admission fees, fishing licenses and trail passes will be waived for Wisconsinites. This is a great opportunity to find your new outdoor adventure plans for the summer! Before heading out, here's some helpful things to know about the upcoming free fun weekend:

State Parks

  • Admission stickers will not be required.
  • All state parks will be open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Drive-up windows, playgrounds, bathrooms and observation towers are open.
  • Stand-alone concession facilities are open to the public at 50% capacity.
  • Office buildings, visitor centers, enclosed shelters and nature centers remain closed until further notice.
  • Adaptive rental equipment at state park properties is unavailable until further notice.

Trails

  • Trail passes will not be required for both residents and non-residents.
  • All linear/rail trails will be open to the public, including ATV trails and horseback riding trails.

Fishing

Boat Launches

  • All DNR boat launches are open.
  • Boats must be registered, which can be done either online or via mail.
  • Minimize the spread of aquatic invasive species by removing plants and animals from boats before and after launching, draining all water from compartments, and never move live fish from any waterbody.
Tourism Grants Awarded in Northeast WI 

With the pristine outdoor areas and great communities, Northern Wisconsin has a great deal to attract tourists to the area. Unfortunately, tourism has been down due to COVID-19 recently but the Wisconsin Department of Tourism has awarded grants around Wisconsin to help our communities promote and support area events. These grants are available to non-profit organizations to help promote Wisconsin tourism, events and destinations. 

Recently, the Department of Tourism awarded grants around the area to promote five different events or tourism campaigns:

  • Northern Wisconsin ATV/UTV Traveler Development Project: $38,000 (Project is a collaboration of the Langlade, Forest, Lincoln & Oneida Counties Chambers of Commerce)
  • Rhinelander Area Destination Branding Campaign: $39,550 (Grant awarded to the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce)
  • Northwoods of WI COVID-19 Regional Marketing Campaign: $39,550 (Project is a collaboration of the Langlade, Forest, Iron, Lincoln, Oneida and Price Counties Chambers of Commerce)
  • Crandon Rocks Labor Day Weekend: $39,550 (Grant awarded to Forest County Chamber of Commerce)
  • Dirt City Duel in Lena: $6,500 (Grant awarded to the Oconto County Economic Development Corporation)
COVID-19 Quick Links

Below are some quick links to essential COVID-19 resources and information:

Follow the Legislative Action

In order to stay up to date on any legislation, proposals, or your legislator, a free notification service is available through the Wisconsin State Legislature's website. You can sign up for nightly personalized email notifications based on our state's legislative activity. This is a wonderful way to stay informed about state politics and proposals that you are interested in.