Updates from the State Senate - January 29, 2018

 

The banner photo above was taken of a few people ice fishing on Shawano Lake. Remember, if you enjoy

fishing, snowmobiling, or other activities on our frozen lakes and rivers, always use caution. 

 

 

Robert Cowles

 

Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District

 

 

   

 

 

 

Quick Fact

 

In 1956, local railroad history aficionados organized to start a museum dedicated to American railroad history, and two years later, Congress recognized the newly established museum as the National Railroad Museum. The facility currently serves over 100,000 visitors annually from the banks of the Fox River in Ashwaubenon. 

 

Helpful Links

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reestablishment of the Conservation Corps Passed by Assembly

 

Last week, a bill Iíve authored with Representative Jeffery Mursau (R-Crivitz) to revive the Wisconsin Conservation Corps was passed by the Assembly and is now available for scheduling in the Senate. This bill (Assembly Bill 688), which is sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators including Representative Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay), creates a program in which young adults can learn valuable work and life skills while protecting and providing access to Wisconsin's natural resources.

 

Whether theyíre just out of college or failed to complete high school, too often young adults are having trouble finding their way in todayís world. The Wisconsin Conservation Corps offers these lost young adults the opportunity to have memorable outdoors experiences while gaining a new respect for our stateís natural resources and learning many of the job and life skills they need build a productive path for their future. Some of the benefits a young adult will have might range from finishing a GED or learning about ecosystem management to understanding the importance of showing up on-time and taking pride in their work. Furthermore, they may even connect with a future educational or employment opportunity that will open their door to the future.

 

Additionally, countless projects on public lands are yet to be completed due to a lack of available funding or manpower. If this bill is passed, the Wisconsin Conservation Corps would cut into this backlog and make necessary updates on public lands throughout the state which would not only be a huge benefit to the stateís natural resources and wildlife, but also the residents and tourists who spend time on public lands.

 

The Wisconsin Conservation Corps (WCC) was active from 1983 to 2003. Under this bill to revive the WCC, work crews would consist of members between the ages of 16 and 25 with preference given to young adults from an impoverished background or with no post-secondary education. Projects could be completed on public and tribal lands throughout the state, with some of these projects including fencing, invasive species management, park maintenance, stream bank stabilization, and trail construction or rehabilitation.

 

Read more about this plan to revive the Wisconsin Conservation Corps on Wisconsin Public Radioís website at this link. You can also read a column from the Green Bay Press-Gazette Editorial Board endorsing this proposal by clicking on below:

 

 

Workforce Development Efforts Successful, But Not Finished

 

2017 was a great year for job growth in Wisconsin. By the end of the year, more men and women were part of Wisconsinís workforce than ever before. This job growth is not isolated, as 70 of Wisconsinís 72 counties are at full employment (which is characterized by an unemployment rate below 4%) and unemployment claims have hit a 30-year low.

 

 

Despite these positive strides, more must be done help grow Wisconsinís workforce. One area the state needs to focus on is workforce participation. According to JobCenterOfWisconsin.com, a website which I drafted the enabling legislation for, there are nearly 100,000 jobs that still need to be filled. Throughout the state, there are populations of people in similar situations who have been left behind as Wisconsinís workforce has sped ahead. This session, Iíve authored and sponsored legislation to try and help these populations. Iíll overview three of these cases below:

  1. Some young adults in Wisconsin have either left the state to find employment or are unemployed or underemployed in Wisconsin. A proposal I discussed above to revive the Wisconsin Conservation Corps would develop these young adults who may have troubles finding employment while encouraging others find employment in the state.

  2. Many veterans have been left behind in Wisconsinís workforce, which is why Iím working with Representative Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago) to Hire Heroes. This bill, which has already passed the Assembly, will expand Wisconsinís transitional jobs for veteransí program to ensure that all veterans are eligible to show their skills to potential employers and ease their transition from military service to the civilian workforce.

  3. People with disabilities are often left out of the workforce despite the fact that not only are many able to work, but they have a desire to work. Assembly Bill 625, authored by Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Representative James Edming (R-Glen Flora) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators including myself, encourages state agencies to better coordinate and share resources to bring people with disabilities into competitive integrated employment. Under this model, adults with disabilities would work alongside other employees throughout their community.

 

If passed, these bills will help to improve Wisconsinís workforce by bringing more diversity of thought into the workplace while helping to increase our workforce participation rate. However, this is only part of the solution. A lot of great things have been done for Wisconsinís workforce, but more needs to be done. Increasing workforce participation and retaining our current workforce must remain a focus of our state and local governments and businesses for 2018 and beyond.

 

To learn more about our stateís workforce and economy, visit the Wisconsin Department of Revenueís website and watch their new video series titled "Wisconsin's Economy Today" at this link.

 

Progress on Other Bills I've Authored

 

Itís been a busy few weeks, and apart from the bill to reestablish the Conservation Corps, many other bills Iíve authored have seen progress. Below is an overview of some of that progress:

  1. Senate Bill 435: Named Save Our Pets, this bill allows first responders to provide care to our pets in emergency situations like house fires and car accidents. On the 4th, a Senate  Committee held a public hearing on the bill where I met Officer Holly McManus and K9 Officer Bane of the St. Francis PD, Deputy Brian Noll and K9 Officer Blackjack of the Marquette County Sheriffís Department, and Lisa Peters of the Fox Valley Animal Referral Center (pictured to the right), all of which came to testify in support of the bill. CBS 58 did a story on the hearing which can be seen at this link. Last week, the Senate approved this bill on a voice vote, but it still needs to be voted out of committee in the Assembly.

  2. Assembly Bill 618: This bill, authored by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee which I Co-Chair, will cleanup some of the unnecessary but statutorily required audits the Audit Bureau must perform. Freeing up Audit Bureau resources by removing the requirement for these audits will allow the Committee to request evaluations for other programs and agencies that are often overlooked, helping to ensure widespread accountability throughout our government. This bill was passed by both houses of the Legislature last week and is now available to be signed into law.

  3. Assembly Bill 355: Study after study has concluded that children exposed to abuse or neglect are at a greatly increased risk for future emotional or behavioral problems. In 2015, there were over 3,000 substantiated reports of child neglect in Wisconsin, but because of gaps in our current system, children are often forced to stay in neglectful situations for months before they receive help. Iíve authored this bill to try and combat this problem by closing the loophole that puts these kids at risk and protecting more vulnerable children from repeated acts of neglect and drug-endangered environments. The Assembly passed this bill last week and it is now available for scheduling in the Senate.

  4. Senate Bill 48: The Leading on Lead Act provides a funding mechanism for communities to address lead contamination in drinking water. This bill allows a municipal government to pass an ordinance to ask the Public Service Commission for the authority to use ratepayer dollars for a low or no-interest loan or an up to 50% grant for private property owners to replace their lead service lines. The bill was passed in October by the Senate and November by the Assembly, but as a result of a conflicting Assembly amendment, the Senate voted for final passage last week. The Leading on Lead Act now heads to the Governor to be signed into law. Read more about this bill on WPRís website at this link.

  5. Senate Bill 646: This bill helps Wisconsin to open the door to a new pro-business and pro-environment industry which converts post-use, non-recycled plastics into valuable commodities such as oil, gasoline, or chemicals. This bill will create markets for what would otherwise be waste, helping businesses to recuperate costs and helping local governments to shrink the size of their landfills. This process also has low air emissions because the process takes place in an oxygen-deficient or oxygen-absent atmosphere. During recent public hearings, I heard from leaders of out-of-state companies in this industry who are ready to come to Wisconsin upon passage of this bill, which would create jobs and spur tens of millions of dollars of economic development. Both Senate and Assembly Committees have now held public hearings and recommended the bills for passage.

 

Audit of State Fair Park Released

 

For the first time in ten years, an audit of State Fair Park was released. The agency that runs State Fair Park oversees a $20 million budget and a workforce of 2,000 employees during the peak season, and has the responsibility of administering the annual State Fair among other functions. The Legislative Audit Bureau found that the operations of State Fair Park were consistent with several best practices in the industry, but on nine occasions since 2013, the management failed to follow proper procurement procedures.

 

While Iím glad that this audit shows that the Wisconsin State Fair is running in a safe and satisfying manner, the financial management of State Fair Park is clearly deficient. The recommendations of this audit will help to strengthen the oversight and procedures surrounding procurement and contracting practices. This will aid in avoiding potential financial mismanagement in the future.

 

The full audit report on State Fair Park and other previous audits can be found on the Audit Bureauís website. You can also learn more about the audit by reading this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

 

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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