Updates from the State Senate - September 5, 2018


The banner photo above was taken in Seymour. Known as the Home of the Hamburger, this community celebrates their 150th Anniversary this year.



Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District








Quick Fact


The first hydroelectric plant in the United States was built at Fox River in 1882.


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STEM Center Passes Major Milestone


On Wednesday, August 8th, the State Building Commission met at State Fair Park in the Milwaukee area to approve a number of infrastructure projects. Included on the agenda was the Brown County STEM Innovation Center, a three-story, multi-tenant office and laboratory building to be constructed on the UW-Green Bay campus.


Northeast Wisconsin has increasingly become a hub at the center of Wisconsinís economy, and UWGB has been an essential part of preparing the regionís workforce for over 50 years. Working to adapt and evolve with the needs of the region, the addition of an engineering program, stationed in the STEM Center, will help generate 50 more years of workforce leaders and innovators.


With this project passing a major milestone, the Brown County STEM Innovation Center joins other recent announcements, such as the new partnership at Microsoftís TitletownTech and the opening of the state-of-the-art Great Lakes Energy Education Center, which position Northeast Wisconsin to produce more graduates with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills that can keep the regionís economy moving forward.


The projectís total cost is $15 million with a $5 million state investment and the remainder split evenly between Brown County and the UWGB Foundation. I want to extend my appreciation to Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach and UWGB Chancellor Gary Miller for their partnership that brought this Center from an idea to nearly shovel ready.


Recent Passing of Senator Mike Ellis


In July, my good friend and former colleague Mike Ellis passed away. There was no one quite like Mike. He was a decisive, honest, and dedicated legislator. Mike was a larger than life figure during his time in the Capitol, yet he remained committed to his family and his community before anything else. In early August, I attended a service celebrating his life in Neenah where family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues of his all got together not to mourn, but to celebrate his life and share stories just as I believe Mike would have wanted. I personally will greatly miss Mike, and his humor and wit will be greatly missed by all who knew him in the Capitol and throughout the Fox Valley.


Finishing Water Quality Month Strong


As I mentioned at the start of the last Updates from the State Senate e-newsletter, August is Water Quality Month. In addition to the initiatives I outlined in the last e-newsletter, Iíve listed several more updates about actions to improve and preserve water quality below:


Supporting the Reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund: On August 23rd, I sent a letter with twenty of my Republican colleagues to urge Wisconsinís Federal Delegation to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund before it expires on September 30th. Funded though offshore oil and gas leases and not taxpayer dollars, $215 million has been invested in Wisconsin over the Fundís history to help establish properties and projects including the Wild and Scenic Wolf River, Ice Age Trail, Devilís Lake State Park, and Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Learn more about the program and read the joint letter by visiting my Twitter page.


Following-Up on the WPDES Audit: Following a critical 2016 audit, the DNR has made improvements in their Wastewater Pollution Discharge Elimination System. By utilizing more staff hours, they were able to reduce the backlog, keep inspection numbers well above EPA requirements, and provide proper enforcement oversight. The DNR appears to be moving in the right direction, but this is an ongoing analysis and I will continue to look at the program to ensure it continues moving in the right direction. Learn more about this audit and my request for a follow-up by visiting WPRís website.


First Leading on Lead Act Program Approved: On August 16th, the Public Service Commission approved the City of Kenoshaís application to be the first water utility to take advantage of the Leading on Lead Act and remove their lead water service lines. Iím pleased that not only has Kenosha taken prompt steps to use this new program which I authored with Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) to tackle this public health concern, but that utility customers will see no rate increase as this aging and harmful infrastructure will be removed and new service lines are installed. Read my full statement on this approval on my website.


Celebrating Water Quality Month in Print and On Air: I also wrote a column in August that outlined many of the different initiatives to improve and preserve water quality that have been in the forefront of my agenda and the agenda of many of my colleagues. This column was published in the The Press and the Wisconsin State Journal. Check out the column by clicking on the read more button below. Additionally, I gave the Weekly Republican Radio Address on August 16th in recognition of water quality month. You can listen to the address or read the transcript of the address on my website.



Petition to Close GBCI Receives Over 1,000 Signatures


In early August, I attended a press conference at Allouez Village Hall to recognize the collection of over 1,000 signatures in support of the closure of the Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI). Maintenance and upkeep at GBCI is costing millions of dollars, and with the facility being over-capacity, ensuring guard and inmate safety isnít cheap or easy. GBCI has served the state exceptionally well for over 100 years, but itís now time to move on.


As Co-Chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Iíve advocated for an audit of corrections costs which was approved in a unanimous vote last month. Iím anticipating that this report will be available by early next year and that this audit will complement the findings from a separate report soon to be released by the Department of Corrections on current and future infrastructure needs.


I believe findings from this audit along with the petition from the citizens of Brown County and other corrections reports will prove that GBCIís closure should be a priority in the next budget. Read my full statement about this petition by clicking below.



Audits of the Forestry Program and SWIB Released


On August 22nd, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) released its audit of the Forestry Account which is administered by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In Fiscal Year 2016-17, LAB determined that an estimated $65.1 million (53.5%) of expenditures were for activities directly related to forestry, an estimated $49.2 million (40.5%) of expenditures were for activities that supported forestry in addition to other programs, and an estimated $7.3 million (6.0%) of expenditures were for activities that were not directly related to forestry.


This audit is a great basis to look at the various programs that maintain state forests, prevent and fight forest fires, service debt on Stewardship holdings, and elevate the health and economic productivity of public and private woodlands. I look forward to digging deeper into the different programs funded from the account at a hearing to discuss efficiencies and recommendations in the audit. Learn more about this audit by visiting my website.


LAB also released their evaluation of the pension program managed by the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) for the year of 2017. Both Funds in the Wisconsin Retirement System had significant gains in net position and very strong one-year investment returns. This Report demonstrates that SWIB maintained prudent financial management of the pensions for half of a million Wisconsinites. While other states have suffered from mismanagement resulting in significant pension liabilities, Wisconsin stands apart with a fully-funded pension program. Learn more about this audit by visiting my website.


Recent Events Attended 


I have the opportunity to attend a number of community events each week. These events are central in my role as an elected official, as they allow me to stay up-to-date on the latest news from businesses, non-profits, and local governments. These events also give me a chance to meet great people and recognize the contributions that so many people make to our communities. Here is just a sampling of some of the events Iíve recently attended:

  1. At the beginning of August, I attended a presentation by Focus on Energy honoring the Green Bay Packers commitment to energy conservation with stadium upgrades including a new boiler and more energy efficient lighting. With these improvements, the team will save $122,154 a year from their total projected energy savings of 1,526,925 kWh (enough to power over 100 homes for the entire year)!

  2. It was an exciting day in Northeast Wisconsin last Wednesday as I joined Green Bay Packaging for the groundbreaking of their new $500 million facility. During the event, we heard from company leaders about their commitment to sustainability in the facilityís design and construction, including increased energy efficiency, reduced air emissions, and an elimination of wastewater discharges into the Fox River. Read the full statement I released after attending this event by visiting my website.

  3. I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the new training facility for WEC Energy Group (parent company of Wisconsin Public Service and We Energies) in Green Bay. In an effort to get more highly skilled employees in their company, this 31,000 square-foot Training Center is the first of its kind for these companies and will not only allow for better service, but it will help to ensure employee safety.

  4. Last week, I joined community members and Representative Jim Steineke in Seymour at Music in the Park to present city leaders with a legislative citation honoring the 150th Anniversary of the community.

  5. On Friday, August 24th, I attended the ribbon cutting and opening of the new Aldo Santaga Stadium in the Kress Outdoor Recreation Complex at UW-Green Bay. It was a pleasure to be in attendance for the start of a new chapter in NCAA competitions in Northeast Wisconsin.

  6. I had a fun time on a walk in Shawano recently with members of the community, leaders at the Shawano Chamber of Commerce, and First Lady Tonette Walker for the Walk with Walker event.

  7. Two weeks ago, I joined community leaders from throughout Northeast Wisconsin in Shawano for the League of Wisconsin Municipalities City Talk event. It was great to learn more from these leaders about the successes and challenges their local governments face.


In Other News...


Here are some other stories I wanted to share with you:

  • Having your financial information compromised can leaving you feeling helpless. Thanks to the work of dedicated law enforcement officers, thieves in Northeast Wisconsin prying on your financial information by attaching credit card skimmers to gas pumps and ATMs are being brought to justice. To help stop these criminals, I passed legislation last session with Representative Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer) to give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to protect your financial information.

  • Thanks to a $10.4 million federal grant, a new aviation firefighting training center will be built at Appleton International Airport. Itís great to see even more educational opportunities being established in Northeast Wisconsin. Iím proud to have supported this project to bring current and future firefighters from all over the region to Appleton to expand their skill set. Learn more on WLUKís website.

  • I recently sent a letter to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation in support of a grant application by Ashwaubenon to revitalize a brownfield site into a multi-purpose stadium and events venue. The grant would be used to help this public/private partnership take the blighted and vacant property and create a venue that will generate additional economic development and provide many opportunities for affordable family entertainment for years to come. Read the letter I sent by visiting my Facebook page.


Thanks for Reading!


Feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have, and be sure to

visit my website and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Senator Robert Cowles




Mailing Address: P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 | Office: 118 South, State Capitol

Office: (
608) 266-0484 | District: (920) 448-5092 | Sen.Cowles@legis.wisconsin.gov




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