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(608)266-5780 | State Capitol, Room 307 West, P.O. Box 8953, Madison, WI 53708 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Rotary Lights Display
Saturday, December 5 through Thursday, December 31
Home for the Holidays at the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra
Saturday, December 19 at 7:00 p.m.
Viterbo University Fine Arts Center
Gift of the Magi Performance
Saturday, December 19 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, December 20 at 2:00 p.m.
Weber Center for the Performing Arts
Pump House New Year's Celebration
Thursday, December 31 at 8:00 p.m. - Friday, January 1 at 12:00 a.m.
Pump House Regional Art Center
Friends and Neighbors,
It's officially holiday season in La Crosse -- with the downtown all lit up, holiday decorations around the neighborhood, and festive music all around, it's hard not to get in the celebrating spirit! This newsletter features a roundup of the most important state news, as well as information on exciting community holiday celebrations.
2015: Year End Wrap-Up
2015 was a busy year in the state legislative houses. This year we faced a biennial budget, a number of divisive bills, and the challenge of improving our state and local economies. Here are a few of the top issues of the year:
1. Campaign Finance, G.A.B. and John Doe law changes
This issue came before our state very recently, and dealt us a number of changes that reduce transparency in government. The John Doe bill was signed into law in November, with the Campaign Finance and G.A.B bills being signed by the Governor just last week.
The Campaign finance bill allowed for essentially unlimited corporate money in elections, and anonymous spending of up to $5,000 in any race. The bill also doubled contribution limits. This bill was particularly noteworthy because it would allow corporations to donate anonymously to campaigns - allowing for more corporate influence on politiciansí actions in our state.
The G.A.B bill acted as a complement to the campaign finance bill by dismantling the nonpartisan oversight agency for elections and ethics and replacing it with two politically-appointed commissions. By dismantling the G.A.B, it is highly unlikely that corrupt politicians can be brought to court for misusing their offices.
And to further establish immunity from political corruption investigations, Gov. Walker signed into law the John Doe bill. This bill stopped the Department of Justice from conducting secret John Doe probes into legislators' activities. As you may recall, Governor Walker was the subject of a John Doe investigation for his activities as a County Executive.
Changing these laws will not benefit the public, they will benefit corrupt politicians. I and my fellow Democrats stood firmly against these laws, and will continue to stand for open, transparent and honest government to serve our constituents.
This week, the G.A.B was officially shut down, and the process to convert it into two commissions started. Further details for the composition of the two commissions, or which duties of the G.A.B they will tackle, are not yet available.
2. Democrats' Economic Opportunity Agenda
3. 2015-2017 Budget: Education, Energy and Long-Term Care
The 2015-2017 budget, which was signed into law in July, saw many cuts to our state's most important programs, including public and university education, environmental conservation and effective healthcare options for our elderly and disabled. Some described this budget as "the worst in Wisconsin history." For my part, it was surely the worst I've seen in my legislative career. Here are a few of the changes that came to our state through the budget:
UW System Cuts
Initially, a $300 million cut was proposed to the university system. Over five months of debate, the cut was reduced to $250 million. In La Crosse alone, cuts to the UW System are expected to create cuts of over $1 million jobs. Some opponents to these cuts noted that Republican legislators seemed eager to give $250 million to a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks, but couldnít do the same for the stateís largest job-creator, the UW System.
As a strong supporter of Wisconsin universities, I stood firmly against each of these proposals. I ultimately voted against the budget because I refuse to stand behind the same budgeting decisions that have pushed our state so far behind.
Changes to K-12 education that remained in the budget included a zero-sum increase in general aid funding to public schools, a potential $800 million subsidy for unaccountable voucher schools and significantly decreased standards for public school teaching licenses.
Wisconsinís post-budget levels of K-12 funding put our state below federal funding levels for the first time in history.
Much like changes to the UW System, I stood opposed to funding cuts to public education. I believe our state needs a strong educational system to ensure future growth, and that starts in our public schools.
Significant changes were made to DNR operations and environmental grants that could greatly impact Wisconsinís ability to effectively carry out environmental conservation efforts.
Cut to Recycling Grants -- Republicans on Joint Finance Committee rubber stamped the Governor's proposed a $4 million cut to municipal and county recycling grants.
Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Grants -- The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program was created to allow our state to preserve valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation. Each year, investments from the Stewardship program provided jobs across the state, along with billions in revenue. La Crosse was the first recipient of a Stewardship grant, and continued to use grants for environmental conservation.
Cuts to Transportation Alternative Programs -- Alternative transportation grants in our state incentivized eco-friendly commuting, by emphasizing community designs that incorporate bicycling and pedestrians. The most harmful repeal in this category was to the Complete Streets program. The Complete Streets program mandated that all roadways be designed with consideration for all possible users including bicyclists, pedestrians, public transportation, and motorists. The Complete Streets program was repealed as part of the final budget.
While the budget was being debated I traveled around the 95th district and held public hearings to listen to your thoughts. One of the most concerning issues to residents of the 95th was the change to Long-Term Care programs.
Under Gov. Walker's proposals, the Department of Health Services would be able to cease operation of other long-term care programs, including IRIS (Include, Respect I Self-Direct) and ADRCs (Aging and Disability Resource Centers). The IRIS program served more than 11,000 Wisconsinites. Under the program, those with disabilities were allowed the latitude to choose their own caregivers and use funds in ways to best fit their lifestyles.
After the budget passed, I called for the Department of Health Services to hold a listening session explaining to residents of La Crosse how changes to long-term care programs would affect them. Thankfully, DHS held a hearing in La Crosse, and allayed some of the concerns long-term care participants had about their health coverage.
Early this year, states were given the option to receive federal subsidies for Medicaid programs such as BadgerCare. Many states enrolled in the program, noting that it provided a large economic benefit as well as providing affordable care to low-income citizens. Unfortunately, Wisconsin did not accept federal funds.
A bill introduced this year prompted the Governor to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion, giving Wisconsinites approximately $345 million in funding for our statewide BadgerCare program. Several neighboring states, including Indiana and Iowa, accepted similar funding packages. Accepting federal funding would provide coverage to over 80,000 Wisconsinites.
Recent findings from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau indicate that, if Wisconsin were to accept federal funding for BadgerCare it would experience an additional $1 billion in revenue. To read more about this, click here.
Access to affordable health care is a vital step on the path to economic stability and a key factor for the security of Wisconsin's middle-class families, and I urge Republican legislative leaders to reconsider accepting federal funding.
5. Safe Harbor
I have been working on the issue of human trafficking in Wisconsin since 2013, after joining the efforts of La Crosseís Taskforce to Eradicate Human Slavery. Since starting work on this issue, I've heard countless heartbreaking stories from victims, and shocking information on Wisconsinís lack of protections.
Women and children are being trafficked and exploited right here in Wisconsin, with the state having the 3rd highest number of underage trafficking victims reported during a recent FBI sting.
To help victims of trafficking, I proposed Wisconsin's "Safe Harbor" bill. The Safe Harbor bill would help child victims of sex trafficking by changing the notion Ė that is currently defined in our state statutes -- that there is such a thing as a child prostitute. This legislation would change our state statutes to recognize that children are coerced into sex trafficking as victims -- not criminals -- and provide them necessary intervention and protection services. For child victims of sexual exploitation, our state should be focused on ensuring their safety instead of putting them behind bars or worse, back on the streets.
Representative LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) and I have been working hard to pass this legislation, and were able to get the Safe Harbor bill to a public hearing in October.
I will continue to fight for a full Safe Harbor law in Wisconsin, and advocate a vote on this legislation in the near future.
6. Rail Safety
I have been working on the issue of Rail Safety in Wisconsin for several months, and following last month's train derailments in Alma and Watertown, I felt increased an urgency to introduce legislation now to improve Wisconsinís Rail Safety.
The Rail Safety bill has gained bipartisan support and the attention of local news sources. You can read more about the Rail Safety bill in the following article.
Rail Safety Column
As you may know, I recently introduced the Rail Safety and Protection Act before the legislature. This bill would increase oversight into railroad activities in our state, and keep our communities safe. This week, I released a column explaining the state of railroads in Wisconsin, and why we need rail safety legislation. The original text of the column is below:
Without proper and frequent track inspections,
faulty rail tracks and associated accidents can continue to increase.
Check Out the Wisconsin Snow Conditions Report
Even though snow is a little late this year, avid winter sports Wisconsinites are hoping for a blanket of snow soon!
For skiers, snowmobilers and more, Travel Wisconsin has put together a "Winter Snow Conditions" report, so that you can see what the conditions are around the state.
Make sure to check the report before heading out to your favorite trail or ski hill: http://www.travelwisconsin.com/snowreport/downhill
Rep. Billings Around the State!
Thank you to the community theater for inviting me on stage to read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" at intermission - I had a great time reading, and a great time at the show!
I'm so lucky to have such a beautiful district! I got a chance to sneak in a bluff-top lunch hour last week!
My staff and I by the beautiful Capitol Christmas tree!
Bo Ryan's last game was my first game! Here I am pictured with fellow Representatives Mark Spreitzer, Dave Considine, and Katrina Shankland. On Wisconsin!
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