Updates from the State Senate - April 17, 2017



Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District







Banner Photo


The banner photo (on the top of the page) was taken in the Wittenberg (Western Shawano County). This is just one of many pieces of art that make up the Walls of Wittenberg, which is a  series of murals that cover the walls of many downtown buildings. Be sure to subscribe to the Updates from the State Senate E-Newsletter and see what part of the district the banner features next.


Quick Fact


The first recorded sale of land in what is now Wisconsin occurred in Kaukauna in 1793. Dominique DuCharme obtained a deed for 1,282 acres from local Native Americans. His price was two barrels of rum.




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Transparency Earns a Victory in the State Budget


Every budget cycle, the Governor's proposed budget includes non-fiscal policy hidden within the thousand page document. This is not unique to our current administration, but instead is a frequent occurrence from both sides of the isle. In my career as a state Senator, I have been very vocal against non-fiscal policy in the budget. In fact, during the last budget cycle in 2015, I even voted against the budget, in large part because of non-fiscal policy that was tucked away in the budget.


This budget cycle is no different. On Thursday, April 6th, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released a list of 83 non-fiscal policy items in the budget. While I may support some of these proposals, passing them in the budget removes the ability of me and my colleagues to judge the idea by itself, and it removes much of the transparency for the public. But during this budget cycle, on the same day the list of non-fiscal policy items in the budget was released, transparency scored a big win.


I strongly applaud the move made by the Joint Finance Committee Co-Chairs to remove all of the non-fiscal policy items from the state budget. I have long been an opponent of non-fiscal policy items in the state budget. I have said for several budgets that these items should all be stripped out and discussed through the committee process with public input, as separate legislation.  I commend my colleagues on the finance committee for this move and I too, wholeheartedly, agree that the state budget is no place for policy items. I look ahead to working with my colleagues on a much cleaner budget.

Saying Goodbye to Mike Aubinger

I was terribly saddened to learn about the death of Ashwaubenon Village President Mike Aubinger. The Village of Ashwaubenon was fortunate to have Mike serve them as Village President and as a strong community advocate. His quick wit and humor will be missed by everyone who had the pleasure to know him. Please keep Mikeís family in your thoughts and prayers.



H.O.P.E. Agenda Moves Forward


Earlier this month, the H.O.P.E. Agenda, which was established with the goal of tackling Wisconsinís opioid crisis, made some forward progress. Seven on the bills were unanimously approved by the Joint Finance Committee. More progress came last week when the Assembly approved nine of the bills in the H.O.P.E. Agenda with bipartisan support. The bills are now available to be voted on by the Senate.

I am a Co-Author on several of these bills, including:

  • January 2017 Special Session Bill AB 2 / SB 2: Establishing and expanding treatment and diversion programs

  • January 2017 Special Session Bill AB 7 / SB 7: Establishing and expanding graduate training in an addiction specialty and providing training grants

  • January 2017 Special Session Bill AB 9 / SB 9: Creating an addiction medicine consultation program

  • January 2017 Special Session Bill AB 11 / SB 11: Creating a mental health training program

The opioid crisis in Wisconsin is a widespread problem. Thousands of Wisconsinites are impacted every day by their addictions, and countless more are impacted by their friends or family memberís dependence. The H.O.P.E. Agenda is Wisconsinís plan to tackle this crisis by working with afflicted persons instead punishing them. More forward progress with these bills is still needed, but the approval of these seven bills last week is a great step.


For more information on the H.O.P.E. Agenda, click on the image above.


Working to Protect Wisconsin's Children

Wisconsin prosecutors sometimes find themselves with their hands tied in cases where children are in danger. As this article from the Racine Journal Times points out, in order for a prosecutor to meet their burden of proof in felony child neglect cases, actual physical harm on the child must be proven. I am working once again to change these laws and better protect Wisconsinís children.


My proposed changes, which are in development, are looking to make an adult guardian guilty of a Class I felony if he or she knows, or should know, that his or her action creates an unreasonable and substantial risk of bodily harm. The burden of proof to meet that standard would still rest on a prosecutor, and the accused would have a chance to pled their case, but this change would allow Wisconsinís prosecutors a greater opportunity to protect children from dangerous situations and harm.


Right to Try Passes Hurdle in the Assembly


If you've ever known a person suffering with a life threatening illness, you'll know that they would try anything that could help them. Unfortunately, current state law says they can't. In March, the Assembly overwhelmingly passed a 2017 Assembly Bill 69 which would allow terminally ill patients to try non-FDA approved drugs in an effort to help find a cure or at least alleviate some of their pain. The bill now moves to the state Senate, and if this bill, nicknamed the 'Right to Try' bill, passes the Senate, then the only remaining step is the Governors signature before Wisconsin may join the 33 other states who have already enacted similar legislation.


I am proud to co-sponsor the Right to Try bill, and look forward to a vote on the Senate floor. To read the bill or follow the bills progress, visit the Legislature's website.

Meeting Our Future Leaders


In March, I visited the Boys and Girls Club of Green Bay with some of my legislative colleagues from the Assembly Committee on Urban Revitalization. It was great to meet all these students.



On Tuesday, April 4th, a group of Education students and faculty from St. Norbert College visited the Capitol, and I had the pleasure of meeting them. Two of my staff members (also in the photo below) are St. Norbert grads, so they had fun chatting with the students and faculty, and sharing their favorite memories from the St. Norbert campus.



On Saturday, April 8th, I joined 500 community members for the Northeast Wisconsin Donate Life Walk at Bay View Middle School in Howard. If you weren't already aware, April has been proclaimed as Donate Life Month in Wisconsin by a Senate Joint Resolution I signed onto. My family has seen the impact an organ donation can have. I encourage everyone to register to be an organ donor. The process is easy, and can even be completed online.



Budget Listening Sessions


The Joint Committee on Finance is traveling the state to hold budget listening sessions. If you have comments about items in the Governorís proposed budget, you may want to attend a session to give your input. The closest remaining session to my Senate District is in Marinette on Friday, April 21st from 10 am to 5 pm in the Marinette High School Auditorium, but there are also two other sessions this week in Spooner and Ellsworth.


For more information on this session or other sessions, visit this page.

Learning More About Wisconsin's History


I recently read this column on an interesting time in Wisconsinís History that we marked the anniversary of at the end of last month. Enjoy.


This week (Monday through Friday) marks the anniversary of a remarkable period in Wisconsin history: within five days, from March 20th, 1856 to March 25th, 1856, three different people served as the Governor of the State of Wisconsin.


At the end of the infamous gubernatorial election of 1855, William Barstow was declared the election-night winner by a mere 157 votes. Coles Bashford, his opponent, claimed that the election was fraudulent Ė Barstow supporters had reported to the state vote totals from precincts that did not actually exist.

Due to delays in election reviews at the time, on January 7th, William Barstow was inaugurated as Governor of Wisconsin. Alternatively, the Chief Justice of the WI Supreme Court swore Barstowís opponent Coles Bashford into office as Governor in private ceremony.


Despite the criticisms, Barstow claimed that he would never ďgive up the office alive." However, his opponent Bashford brought the election results before civil courts, eventually leading to a decision by the state Supreme Court.

Before that decision could be officially finalized, Barstow relented in the face of overwhelming public opposition. On March 21st, he vacated his office, leaving his Lt. Governor, Arthur MacArthur (an awesome name) as the Acting Governor. On March 25th, with his supporters behind him and the Court's final order declaring him Governor in his hand, Coles Bashford walked to the State Capitol, knocked on the door, and told then-Governor MacArthur to leave peacefully, or force would be used to remove him. MacArthur chose to leave peacefully.


And so it was that on March 20th, William Barstow was Governor. On March 21st, Arthur MacArthur was Governor. And on March 25th, Coles Bashford was Governor.

This would be a much happier ending if Coles Bashford didn't flee the state two years later, having been caught taking bribes from the La Crosse & Milwaukee Railroad Co. to give the company favorable treatment in getting major land grants.


On the other hand, William Barstow went on to be brigadier general of the Union Army in the Civil War.

Most fascinatingly, Arthur MacArthur, the least tainted by the scandal, became a federal judge for the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. His son became a general with the United States military. And his grandson? He was General Douglas MacArthur.


Thanks For Reading!


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

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Senator Robert Cowles




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

Office: (800) 334-1465 | District: (920) 448-5092 | Sen.Cowles@legis.wisconsin.gov