Updates from the State Senate - August 29, 2017



Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District







Banner Photo


The banner photo on the top of this E-Newsletter was taken at 1000 Island Environmental Center in Kaukauna.


Quick Fact


According to a recent study by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Wisconsin leads the nation in overall healthcare performance.


Helpful Links









Audit Assesses the Veterans Home at King


On Friday, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) released the second phase of its evaluation (Report 17‑14) of the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, which is operated by the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2016, King provided skilled nursing care to an average of 685 veterans and their spouses each day.


Overall, LAB found that the care needs of residents at King increased from 2007 through 2016 based on several measures. Although King was authorized more than 80 additional nursing positions in 2013, LAB found King has not been able to keep many of the additional positions filled, and in fiscal year (FY) 2015-16, Kingís use of overtime for nursing staff exceeded the amount it used prior to the creation of the additional positions. The number of overtime hours worked by nursing staff increased from 36,800 in FY 2013-14 to 65,100 in FY 2015-16, an increase of 76.9%.


From 2012 through 2016, LAB found that, on average, the Department of Health Services issued King fewer citations for violations of federal nursing facility regulations than it issued to other skilled nursing facilities in Wisconsin. Similarly, based on a federal five-star rating system, LAB found that the combined overall rating for King's four residence facilities exceeded the average ratings for other skilled nursing facilities in Wisconsin.


I am encouraged that the audit generally found the Veterans Home at King is running well, however, I think the findings in this audit raise an important issue about the healthcare workforce shortage in Wisconsin. It is my hope that future work regarding this audit will contribute valuable information about the long-term health needs of our veterans and necessary staffing levels to provide them quality healthcare.


To learn more about this bill, click on the link to the report above or click on the link below to watch a story from WFRV.


Read More →


Economic Indicators Continue Improving


It's no secret that Wisconsin's economy has been improving over the past few years, but recent headlines and data points have been released to support that. While we still have work to do, signs are looking up for Wisconsin's economy.


A great economic indicator is the real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth for the first quarter of 2017. The national average of real GDP growth was 1.2%, and Wisconsin, with a growth of 2.1%, came in 5th overall. Wisconsin's GDP grew the most amongst the Midwestern states.


Our employment rates have also been improving over recent years, leading our state to the highest employment levels since 1999. On Wisconsin's boarder counties, our unemployment rates are lower or equal to the out-of-state counterpart county. Nationwide, we're tied with Iowa for 9th lowest unemployment rate with a rate of 3.2%. And if those points aren't enough, below is a map comparing the unemployment rates of 2010 and 2017. This is not the entire picture surrounding gainful employment, but it is a good measure of progress.



The 9th Annual Wisconsin Poverty Report, authored by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, gives a good outlook in Wisconsin's battle to reduce poverty. While there is work to be done, poverty indicators have been improving since the recession, and in most cases are less than or equal to the levels before the recession. Another positive finding from the report showed that both Brown and Outagamie Counties has significantly lower poverty rates than the state average.


Finally, earlier this month, Moody's Investors Service upgraded the state's general obligation, or bond, rating to Aa1, from Aa2. This is the first time since 1973 our state's bond rating has been updated, and the upgrade now places Wisconsin's bond rating at the second-highest offered by the investor service firm. Moody's, in their report, noted that the state's fully funded pension system, as well as the increased reserve and general fund balances contributed to the upgrade. For comparison, Illinois is nearing a bond status below investment grade (junk status).


State Agency Update


Here are some recent headlines from our state agencies that I wanted to share with you:


  1. The Wisconsin Department of Administration recently received a great honor from the Government Finance Officers Association of the US and Canada. The organization awarded Wisconsin with the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. This is a great example of government accountability in action.

  2. Department of Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett was recently recognized as one of the Top Women in Travel by Women in Travel and Tourism International. Under the direction of Secretary Klett, our tourism industry has seen sustained growth since 2010, and exceeded $20 billion in 2016!

  3. Speaking of tourism, the Department of Tourism recently awarded the Shawano County Chamber of Commerce with a Joint Effort Marketing Grant to help rebrand the area for its great natural resources and attractions. Tourism is a huge industry in Northeast Wisconsin, and this grant will help to expand the industry by reaching new visitors.

  4. Former Secretary Ben Brancel, who retired earlier this month from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, was recognized as the Dairy Person of the Year by the World Dairy Expo. This is a well-deserved honor for an individual who has dedicated his life to public service. Watch a short video clip on this award here.


Brian's Journey and Other Recent Events


Earlier this month, I attended a fundraiser at Lambeau Field for the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation. The Foundation has presented 781 scholarships to deserving college-bound students in Northeastern Wisconsin, the United States, and other parts of the world ever since it was established in 1992 to remember the life of Brian LaViolette (pictured to the right), who was taken too soon due to a drowning accident.


Brian's sister, Kim, is now responsible for the Foundation, and has done an outstanding job to grow the organization. I recommend you learn more about the work the Foundation has done by visiting their webpage at this link. The Press-Gazette also had two great articles summarizing the work of the Foundation, including one about the group's history and successes and one written by a Press-Gazette writer Paul Srubas as an open letter to Brian.


Another event I recently attended was Get Your Rear in Gear. This event is focused on increasing the screening rates for the nationís number two cancer killer, colon cancer. Colon cancer screenings are easy to put off, but not only is colon cancer deadly, it is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed without proper screenings. To learn more about colon cancer, visit the Colon Cancer Coalition at this link.


Recycling Markets Directory Improves the Industry


For nearly three years, the Wisconsin Recycling Markets Directory has been dormant until the Environmental Management and Business Institute at UW-Green Bay undertook the task of updating data for over 300 businesses and 100 types of materials. This Directory will serve thousands of people each year who help make our $130 million recycling industry more economical. To commemorate this achievement, I presented a citation earlier this month to John Arendt from EMBI and Jennifer Semrau from the DNR.



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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