Updates from the State Senate - January 7, 2019

The banner photo above was taken along the Fox River in Kaukauna.


Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District







Quick Fact


Brown County has one of the best harbors on the Great Lakes for both foreign and domestic trade. The marine tonnage entering the Port of Green Bay has annually averaged around 143 ships and 1,637,776 tons of cargo.


Community Events



One of my favorite things about being your State Senator is getting to meet constituents out in the community at some of our great local events.


The 2nd Senate District is also home to many great events and attractions. Whether you're a visitor or a life-long resident, you will not run out of things to do and see in Northeast Wisconsin.


To find an event or attraction in your area, visit the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Fox Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Shawano County Chamber of Commerce, or the Clintonville Area Chamber of Commerce. To find more public events, visit the community calendars on WLUK News and the Appleton Post-Crescent.


Helpful Links










Dear Friends and Neighbors,


Happy New Year! Today marks the first day of the 2019-2020 Legislative Session.


Proposals are just starting to be introduced in the Legislature. I ask you to join me over the course of this session by reading my e-newsletters and following me on social media to stay up-to-date with my latest efforts for the people of Northeast Wisconsin in the 2019-2020 Legislative Session.


In this jam-packed e-newsletter, I've included information on:

  1. Three audits which were recently released

  2. The December 2018 Extraordinary Session

  3. My committee assignments for the new session

  4. A federal grant for a new overpass on Highway 29

  5. Recent events I've attended around the district

  6. And more


As always, 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 for more regular updates from around the 2nd Senate District and in the State Capitol.


Thanks for reading!


Senator Robert Cowles

Proudly Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District


Three New Audits Released


It was a busy week before Christmas in Madison after the release of three audits in as many days. As Co-Chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, I work closely with the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) and my colleagues on the Committee to request, analyze, and follow-up on these evaluations to ensure our state agencies are both accountable and transparent.


The first audit released on December 19th evaluated the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporationís (WEDC) process for verifying information submitted by Foxconn for tax credits passed by the Legislature in 2017. LAB found that WEDC established written procedures that contradicted the statutes for verifying that employees eligible for tax credits work in the state. Once again, the diligent work of the Legislative Audit Bureau has uncovered a discrepancy that had the potential to cost Wisconsin taxpayers money. This audit has given the Legislature and WEDC the ability to correct this issue prior to any tax credits being awarded. I look forward to the follow-up report by WEDC in January to ensure this has been rectified in accordance with the statutes. Read the full statement from my Co-Chair Representative Kerkman and I on my website or find Report 18-18 on the Audit Bureauís website.


The second audit was a biennial evaluation of the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) which manages $117 billion in assets including the Wisconsin Retirement System. LAB found that SWIB is meeting the five-year average annual investment return benchmarks. The audit also showed that expenses at SWIB increased 21.7% from 2013 to 2017. Maintaining thorough oversight of operating and project expenses needs to be at the forefront of the Boardís priorities to determine the appropriateness of budget overruns and avoid unnecessary costs while continuing to allow SWIB to manage investments to the best of their ability. Read a full statement on my website or find Report 18-19 on the Audit Bureauís website.


The third and final audit released that week examined the state governmentís financial statements for the 2017-2018 Fiscal Year. While the Department of Administration was in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, LAB identified ten deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting. The audit also found several significant deficiencies in the stateís information technology (IT) security policies. Maintaining oversight of our IT systemsí security is of the upmost importance to the state. It is my hope that state agencies will implement the LAB recommendations quickly and put these IT security issues behind us. Read a full statement on my website or find Report 18-20 on the Audit Bureauís website.


Extraordinary Session


Last month, the Legislature was in session to discuss four new proposals. One of those bills which I heard a lot of concern over would have changed the 2020 election cycle. This bill never made it out of the committee process, which means it did not pass. Of the three proposals that made it to the Senate floor, I voted against the largest proposal and in-favor of two of bills which I'll elaborate on below.



Of the three proposals that made it to the Senate floor, many of the items the Legislature debated were policy items I've already supported. These policies have already made it through the legislative process and have had public input and thorough consideration by myself and fellow Legislators. We were able to protect several policies from being potentially overturned by incorporating the original policy into law.


Between Senate Bill 883 and Senate Bill 886, I supported these two bills after they were amended to address concerns I'd heard from constituents. This Legislation ensured that we will preserve waivers for established work requirements for able-bodied public benefit recipients, ensured that revenue from taxing online purchases will reduce income taxes, and strengthened transportation practices for projects with federal highway revenue, among others.


After working into the early morning hours to ensure that the extraordinary session struck proper balance between the Executive and Legislative branches, I was unable to support a third proposal, Senate Bill 884. While some of the provisions in this legislation I support and will balance state government and protect the process for issuing a valid voter ID, the final bill limited early voting, made certain changes to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the administrative rule process, and automatically rescinded guidance documents which allow field staff to properly manage our state programs. I believe that these changes will have unforeseen impacts and as such, I could not vote in-favor of this bill.


I want to thank all of my constituents who contacted me with thoughts and concerns on the legislation being considered in the Extraordinary Session. Your input was greatly valued as I decided how to vote on each bill.


2019-2020 Committee Assignments Announced


With the start of a new Legislative Session comes new committee assignments. For the 2019-2020 Legislative Session, Iíll be serving on three committees, including returning as Chair of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. As Chair of this Committee in prior sessions, weíve been able to advance responsible natural resources and energy policy that not only has helped to provide clean air and water, but helped to improve human health, bolstered tourism, worked with Wisconsin farmers, considered the needs of local governments, and promoted manufacturing and Wisconsinís economy. I look forward to continuing to draft and advance policies that meet these goals in the upcoming legislative session. Feel free to contact my office if you want to learn more about some of the legislation we heard and passed in the previous Legislative Session.


I will also continue serving as Co-Chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. Working with my colleagues and the award-winning experts at the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau to ensure that we root out waste, fraud, and abuse in our state government is a unique way that I have the ability to serve the people of Wisconsin. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on the Committee to dig into the weeds to ensure that our state government is operating in an accountable and transparent manner. A complete list of the 42 Audit Reports released in the 2017-2018 Legislative Session can be found on the Legislative Audit Bureauís website.


For my third and final committee assignment, I will be returning as a member of the newly renamed Senate Committee on Transportation, Veterans, and Military Affairs. In the previous session, the Committee covered Transportation and Veterans Affairs, but in the upcoming session, the Committeeís scope will expand to policy issues surrounding the Wisconsin National Guard.


Federal Grant Awarded to Highway 29 Overpass


In the August e-newsletter, I wrote about a letter that I sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation in support of a grant request from Brown County to help fund the creation of an overpass on County Highway VV (by Maplewood Meats in Hobart) over State Highway 29. Last month, Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach and other local leaders announced that the federal government has awarded Brown County with about $20 million to help fund the nearly $28 million project.


This grant is a huge step forward for a needed development. Replacing the J-turns with an overpass will help to foster economic development in a growing community while also being much safer and helping to ease the mobility of goods and people through this intersection. Learn more about the project and the grant on WLUKís website at the link below.




Freedom Teachers Recognized


Two teachers from Freedom have recently been recognized for their outstanding dedication towards educating the areaís youth. First, congratulations to Freedom High School teacher Paul Larson on recently being awarded the National Future Farmers of Americaís prestigious ĎVIP Citation.í His passion for preserving Wisconsinís agricultural tradition by engaging with the next generation is highly appreciated! Read more on this award on the Post Crecentís website.


I also want to congratulate Janelle Punzel of St. Peter Lutheran School in Freedom on being awarded VFW Post 7692ís Teacher of the Year Award. Her passion for connecting students with veterans is a very valued addition to the education of her students. Thanks to VFW Post 7692 for inviting me to attend the presentation of this award last month (pictured below).



Session Review Newsletter Finalized


I recently mailed out a newsletter to residences in the 2nd Senate District which includes information on the bills Iíve authored and supported that became law in the 2017-2018 Legislative Session as well as some other information that may be helpful to Northeast Wisconsin residents.


If you want to check out the newsletter online, visit 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:

  • I recently attended the Veteranís Winter Hog Roast at Palm Gardens Banquet Hall in New Franken hosted by four veterans groups in the greater Green Bay area, including the VFW, American Legion, UWGB Vets 4 Vets, and Combat Vets Association.

  • On December 29th, I attended the groundbreaking for a new micro-brewery coming to Allouez with County Executive Troy Streckenbach, Village President Jim Rafter, and other local officials. Zambaldi Brewery, expected to open in late summer, is going to be a family owned business built on the vacant property of the old Village Hall and may just be a driver for more development in Village.



  • Homelessness is not just an issue in major metropolitan areas as the problem exists in communities of all sizes. I am impressed with the work of organizations in Northeast Wisconsin to help the homeless in our communities, and I was pleased to be able to support one of those organizations, St. Johnís, during their 4th Annual Restoring Hope Gala in Green Bay. WBAY recently reported on efforts that St. Johnís makes during the holiday season and how their mission doesnít just help people in short-term need, but instead looks at their long-term budgeting in an effort to turn their life around.

  • About a month ago, I spoke at the Brown County Medical Society Town Hall. This was a great event to be able to speak about some of the changes the Legislature has made related to health in the last Legislative Session.

  • Thank you to Rabbi Michoel Feinstein and the Chabad of the Bay Area for allowing me to attend your Annual Chanukah Menorah Lighting Celebration in Allouez. I also attended the tree lighting ceremonies at the Brown County Courthouse with Mayor Jim Schmitt and County Executive Troy Streckenbach and on Broadway in Green Bay. It was a pleasure to join them to celebrate the holiday season.



  • Also at the start of the holiday season, I attended the first lighting of the WPS Garden of Lights at the Green Bay Botanical Gardens. In its 22nd year, the Garden of Lights featured over 300,000 lights including the famous 60-foot walk-through caterpillar and much more. Susan Garot, the Executive Director of the Green Bay Botanical Garden, and her team do a great job every year on this seasonal event as part of the great programming and experiences that are offered at the Botanical Gardens.

  • Last week, I attended an awareness event called Ignite a Flame Against Human Trafficking at Cup O Joy on Broadway in Green Bay. Human trafficking is a huge problem in the United States, and the problem has been growing in our region. The awareness raised by events like this could just help to save a life.

  • One of the fastest growing sectors in Wisconsinís economy is in Information Technology. I recently attended an event in Green Bay where the need for more IT workers was showcased. Learn more on the Green Bay Press-Gazetteís website.


In Other News...


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

  • I was excited to hear last week that Faith Technologies, a Menasha-based company that manufactures energy and electrical products used in microgrids, will be constructing a $15 million facility in Little Chute. This facility, which is expected to be complete by fall 2019, is expected to employ 200 to 300 people and generate $18 million in annual wages. In summer, I attended a demonstration of Faith Technologies microgrid energy products at the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Grand Chute and was very impressed with their forward-looking energy insight. Learn more about the announcement on the Appleton Post Crescentís website.

  • Great work by Outagamie County to implement text-to-911 services for those unable to call emergency services. They join Brown County and others who are progressing towards NextGen 9-1-1, an initiative to improve the success and reliability of 911 which I supported in the last budget. Learn more about NextGen 9-1-1 in Wisconsin on the Department of Military Affairsí website and learn more about Outagamie Countyís initiative on WHBYís website.

  • Congratulations to Green Bay Packaging and KI which recently earned the recognition of 2018 Green Master level companies selected by the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council. These two Northeast Wisconsin companies join 30 other Wisconsin companies recognized this year as Green Masters. See the full list of awardees and learn more about the recognition by clicking on this link.

  • Fox Citiesí Valley Transit recent announced that they expect to receive a $7.68 million-dollar grant from the state Department of Administration. This grant, which results from the Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Environmental Mitigation Trust as part of a lawsuit, will replace 15 buses that will not only help to maintain public transportation in the Fox Valley for years to come, but will emit significantly fewer air pollutants. Learn more on WFRVís website.




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

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




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