Updates from the State Senate - September 9, 2019

The photo above was taken at Lambeau Field as we kick-off the 101st season of Packers football. Go Pack Go!


Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District







Quick Fact


Economic impact from tourism isnít just reserved for places like Door County and the Wisconsin Dells. Tourism in the counties comprising the 2nd Senate District creates over $2 billion in economic activity! In 2018 alone, that includes approximately $1,154,800,000 in Brown County, $635,700,000 in Outagamie County, $103,800,000 in Shawano County, and $151,800,000 in Waupaca County in total tourism-based business sales.


This economic impact results in over 20,000 jobs and $160 million in state and local taxes that helps to drive down the tax burden on local residents. Learn more on the Department of Tourismís website.


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,


The days may be getting shorter, but between community events and legislative hearings, Iíve been getting even busier. Itís been a few weeks since my last e-newsletter, and I have a lot of news to share in this update on progress on legislation Iíve authored or support, committee work, different events Iíve attended, and other good things happening around Northeast Wisconsin. As the fall portion of the 2019-2020 Legislative Session begins to heat up, be on the lookout on my social media feeds and in these e-newsletters for even more progress on legislative efforts and more.


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

  1. Progress on a number of bills

  2. Recent actions on government accountability

  3. Pay raises for GBCI Correctional Officers

  4. Solar power soaring in Northeast Wisconsin

  5. My continued support for health care innovation

  6. Participation in an organic waste forum at UW-Madison

  7. The number of opioid deaths decreasing

  8. Recent events I've attended around the district

  9. 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


Progress on a Number of Bills


After nine different committee hearings Iíve been involved with in recent weeks, some of the efforts Iíve authored or am supporting are moving forward. This includes portions of the Bite Back package Iíve authored with Representatives Mursau and Milroy and Senator Miller to improve our stateís approach to Lyme disease. Two of these bills were both heard and unanimously recommended for passage by the Assembly Committee on Environment. These two bills would post informational signs on Lyme disease and tick bites on state properties and sell insect repellant in certain State Parks to help reduce the number of tick bites on these properties and beyond. Learn more about the public hearing and importance for one family of addressing Lyme disease in this Associated Press story.


Those two bills, along with two other bills from the Bite Back package were also heard in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. The first of these would require that information on Lyme disease and a reminder to check for ticks after spending time outdoors be posted in informational brochures at State Parks and on the DNRís digital and print platforms in May, which is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. The final bill from the Bite Back package that was heard would establish a tick-borne disease study committee to provide further recommendations in our stateís fight against Lyme disease.



The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, which I Chair, also recommended a number of other efforts Iíve co-authored for passage during last weekís hearing. This includes: Senate Bill (SB) 212 to provide 4th graders and their parents with a free State Parks pass to expand upon their outdoors education and preserve Wisconsinís outdoor heritage; Senate Bill 264 to update Wisconsinís electronics recycling program and improve the programís efficiency, and; Senate Bill 169 to encourage wetland banking, a type of mitigation, closer to the site of the original wetland disturbance. Complimenting this progress, the Assembly companion bills for SB 264 on E-Cycle Wisconsin and SB 169 on wetland banking were recommended for passage by the Assembly Committee on Environment during a recent hearing.


Some other bills Iím supporting through co-sponsorship have also been moving through the legislative process, including two bills that were recently recommended for passage by the Senate Universities, Technical Colleges, Children and Families Committee. Assembly Bill 38 by Senator Feyen and Representative Murphy will help to promote public-private partnerships to advance more research in the UW-System. Assembly Bill 22 by Representative Thiesfeldt and Senator Johnson and supported by Schneider National, among others, will ensure truck drivers can spot the warning signs of human trafficking when they stop at truck stops in Wisconsin and beyond. Both bills have already passed the Assembly and now await action by the full Senate.


Finally, I recently introduced legislation with Representatives Vorpagel and Duchow and Senator Wanggaard that would line-up the penalties for knowingly false swatting calls with other false reporting incidents like bomb threats. Swatting is when a person knowingly falsely reports to any public safety entity that an emergency exists with the intent to elicit a response from any public safety entity's emergency response team (i.e. a SWAT team). Ultimately, the goal of this legislation is deterrence over punishment. Senate Bill 363 has already gained bipartisan co-sponsorship and support from law enforcement and first responders. Learn more about how swatting impacted a quiet suburban community and hear some support for this bill from a police chief on CBS 58ís website.


I look forward to sharing more news about progress on these bills and more in future e-newsletters.


Recent Actions on Government Accountability


As Co-Chair of the Audit Committee, ensuring accountability and transparency in state government is always one of the items on the top of my agenda. In recent weeks, the Audit Committee has held a hearing on a recent audit, Iíve introduced legislation regarding some past audit recommendations, and a new audit has been released.


First, the Audit Committee held a hearing on Report 19-6 which evaluated the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) on August 20th. This audit showed, among other things, that recipients of 68 tax credit and loan awards created just 2,084 of 5,970 contractually required jobs (34.9%) and that 60 such recipients retained just 7,806 of 13,272 contractually required jobs (58.8%). It was important to have WEDC CEO Mark Hogan before the Committee one last time in his role to learn what steps they are taking to address these issues.



I have also recently introduced Assembly Bill 370 with Representative Dave Murphy that follows-up on a 2018 audit to ensure accountability and transparency in the relationships between the UW-System and independent UW foundations. Read Audit Report 18-4 on relationships between the UW and certain affiliated organizations like foundations on the Audit Bureauís website.


Finally, a new report from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau found 90 investigations of incident reports and complaints over a five-year span involving the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King. 41.4% of investigations were related to resident abuse, and 32.2% were related to quality of care. The state Department of Health Services substantiated allegations in 40 of the 90 investigations and issued 22 citations to address deficient King practices or policies.


The release of report 19-14 along with an earlier report concludes what has been a long effort to audit the Veterans Home at King. I hope to follow-up soon with the state Department of Veterans Affairs to get an update on the status of recommendations made in these audits.


Pay Raises for GBCI Correctional Officers


Correctional officers at the Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI) may have recently noticed a little more money in their pockets. Thereís no doubt that correctional officers have a tough job, but too often their pay failed to reflect the difficulty and importance of their work.


As a result, many of the maximum security facilities have been faced with worker shortages, forcing existing staff to stay for open shifts. This takes a physical toll on the correctional officers and may lead to eventual burnout and resignations. According to Audit Report 19-4, it also takes an economic toll on the state as weíre paying significantly more to force this overtime than we likely would to close the vacancy rate.


The 2019-2021 State Budget provides a $5 an hour pay increase to correctional officers which takes effect on the first of next year. Building on this Legislative effort, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) took a more immediate step to try and reduce the staff vacancy rates at maximum security facilities. Initial reports of this raise have shown some success at helping to lower the vacancy rate, but more long-term work is needed to address this issue.


The Legislature and DOC believes that by providing these pay increases, weíre not only rewarding our dedicated and professional correctionís staff, but we will also be better stewards of the tax dollar by decreasing required overtime and increasing retention. Further, by having correctional officers who stay on the job longer and who arenít as overworked, we can help to improve the conditions in GBCI and at other correctional facilities for the staff, inmates, and broader community.


Solar Power Shines in Northeast Wisconsin


Two recent actions in Northeast Wisconsin will help our region and our state to advance towards a cleaner and more renewable energy future.


On August 22nd, the first utility scale solar project in Wisconsin broke ground in Two Rivers. With commitments already in place from multiple utilities including Wisconsin Public Service to purchase solar power generated right here in Wisconsin, Two Creeks Solar will not only help to shift the narrative on solar energy in Wisconsin, but throughout our region.


Senator Cowles along with representatives from Focus on Energy, Eland Electric in Ashwaubenon, and Secretary Caleb Frostman during a visit to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross solar array in July.


The following week, I attended an event to recognize the installation of a solar array at Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross. To truly promote diversity and security in our stateís energy production, larger projects like the one in Two Rivers and smaller projects like the one on Nicolet Drive are both necessary for a cleaner and more robust energy portfolio with a larger energy generation workforce than we previously thought possible.


Continued Support for Health Care Innovation


Innovation in the health care industry can help to drive down costs for all Wisconsinites. This session, Iíve supported legislation that advances innovation in health care, including the refunding of the Wisconsin Healthcare Stability Plan (discussed in the last e-newsletter) and step therapy reform on prescription medications.


Continuing my support for these efforts, Iíve recently co-sponsored legislation that expands telehealth services to Medicaid recipients. Telehealth is the delivery of health care services remotely by means of telecommunications like video conferencing. By expanding these services to low income individuals and families, we can both increase convenience for Medicaid recipients and decrease costs to taxpayers. Learn more about the bill by reading this press release release by co-authors Senator Kooyenga and Representative Loudenbeck.


Organic Waste Forum at UW-Madison


Organic waste (i.e. manure, food waste, fecal matter) can be one of the largest challenges for wastewater treatment plants, farms and factories, but this waste can also present huge opportunities. Last month, my staff presented on my P3: Wisconsinís Trading Marketplace legislation at an event focused around a more economical and forward-thinking management of organic waste streams at the UWís Wisconsin Energy Institute.




If passed, the Pollution Prevention Partnerships created by this bill could help to provide the economic flexibility necessary to implement technologies that create energy and provide a more environmentally friendly outcome for organic wastes. While I wasnít able to attend myself, Iím told there was a lot of positive reactions from the organic waste industry stakeholders that attended this event. Iím happy to have crack staff like Toni (who presented at the event) to help me craft these policies, spread information about their merits, and shepherd it through the Legislative process.


Number of Opioid Deaths Decreases


Itís about time that we see some good news related to the stateís opioid crisis. According to new data by the state Department of Health Services, opioid deaths have dropped 10% from 2017 to 2018 and are at their lowest level since 2015.


Last session, the Legislature implemented a number of bills as part of the Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Agenda. I supported all of these efforts on the floor of the Senate and many of them with my co-sponsorship.


Spending by state government to address addiction issues has grown as part of the HOPE Agenda from $5.1 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016-2017 to $24.7 million in FY 2019-2020. This additional investment is accompanied other efforts, including guidelines for physicians on opioid prescriptions, a crackdown on illicit opioid sales, more options for responsible disposal of unused medications (find a drug takeback location near you here), and the implementation of the Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline (call 2-1-1 to reach the hotline).


Over the last 20 years, more than 8,500 Wisconsinites have died from opioid overdoses. Too many of us know someone whoís been addicted to opioids, and too few of these cases have the happy ending we want. While no overdose deaths can be seen as acceptable, this reduction in opioid deaths is a step in the right direction for Wisconsin.




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. I also get to welcome dozens of residents from Northeast Wisconsin into the Capitol each week as they come to my office to talk about the issues important to them in their professional and personal life. Here is just a sampling of some of the events Iíve recently attended around the district and meetings Iíve had in the Capitol:

  • 1,000 Island Nature Center in Kaukauna has offered local residents a place for peace and relaxation that can only be provided by nature for fifty years. Last month, I attended a celebration for the 50th anniversary of 1,000 Island and learned more about the different ways they serve the community.

  • When a child is diagnosed with Downs Syndrome, it can put a toll on a family despite the rewards of raising a child. Through the ups and downs, these families often find comfort in meeting other families and community members who understand both the pleasures and challenges of raising a child with Downs Syndrome. I met some of these families at a recent walk to support Downs Syndrome efforts in the Green Bay area.

  • There were some great turnouts at the Speakerís Task Force on Water Quality hearings in Green Bay and Marinette near the end of August! As a Task Force member, it was exceptional to hear some local water quality success stories and learn more about the water quality challenges we face now and in the future from the experts, the boots on the ground, and lifelong residents of Northeast Wisconsin.


  •  I recently joined my colleagues in welcoming the expansion of Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation in the Fox Valley! While their business model isnít aimed at most of us, the impact Gulfstream has and will continue to have in Northeast Wisconsin will benefit all of us through direct and indirect job creation and an increase in tourism spending.

  • The gameday experience at Lambeau Field is unmatched by any other stadium throughout the country. Behind the scenes, a lot of work goes in to ensuring a safe gameday experience. I attended a tour by the Packers showing $5.5 million in security improvements that were made in the offseason. Learn more on WLUKís website.

  • I spent some time last month helping out at Habitat builds in Green Bay and Appleton for their Elected Officials Week. The impact Habitat for Humanity has in our communities is incredible! It was a pleasure to have the chance to support their work and learn more about their efforts.


  • As a member of the Green Bay Stadium District, I have the privilege of being part of a team that helps to promote community events in areas surrounding Lambeau Field. At a recent meeting, we approved funding to bring events to our area hosted by the Forest Lakes District Convention of the Evangelical Free Church of America in 2020, 2021 and 2022 and the WIAA Girls Basketball and Boys and Girls Volleyball in 2020 and 2021.

  • Skilled trades are some of the best career paths for local youth and those between jobs. Not only do these jobs offer good pay and stable employment, but they can offer a sense of community. It was a pleasure to be able to attend the Annual Summer Picnic of the Carpenters Local 1146 in Green Bay last month.


In Other News...


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

  • Some amazing and inspiring work by some St. Norbert students and future service members to help raise awareness and funding to help tackle the issue of veteran suicide. Learn more about their long trek on WLUKís website.

  • Building on the Legislatureís continued investment in the delivery of rural broadband, the Federal Communications Commission is investing $160 million into getting Wisconsin closer to high-speed internet access for all Wisconsin residents and businesses. Learn more about this investment on WPRís website.

  • Driving south? Watch for the brand-new signs that have been posted at the 41-441-10 interchange in Winnebago County to commemorate the late Senator Mike Ellisí life. I was part of the effort earlier this year with Senator Roger Roth and other Outagamie County legislators to pass Senate Bill 1 to designate this interchange that Mike fought so hard to get enumerated and funded.


  • The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is offering no-interest microloans of up to $20,000 for businesses affected Julyís severe weather. Learn more here.

  • Also following-up on Julyís severe weather, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved a disaster declaration for portions of Wisconsin. This declaration means that local governments, including those in Outagamie, Shawano and Waupaca Counties, will be eligible to apply for federal assistance to help cover costs related to the storm response and cleanup. Learn more on WBAYís website.

  • What amazing neighbors we all have in Northeast Wisconsin! The Kaukauna Fire Departmentís Assistant Chief Chad Gerritsí wife, Jennifer, was recently diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and has undergone chemotherapy. In a show of solidarity, Kaukauna FD shaved their heads. My prayers go out to Jennifer for strength and healing, and itís nice to see that she has a strong support system by her side during this tough time.

  • Labor Day weekend may be here and gone, but as we finish out the 2019 boating season, check out these safe boating tips from the Department of Natural Resources on WLUKís website.

  • Reinhart Foodservice in Shawano recently announced that they will be expanding and adding jobs in the city. This is awesome news!

  • Some excellent work being done in Pulaski to build the boats of which dreams are made! This is just one of many examples in Northeast Wisconsin that demonstrate the global impact of our regionís manufacturing industry. Learn more about the newest boat off the line on WFRVís website.

  • There are about 350 barn quilts scattered throughout Shawano County making the areaís rural roads a top-notch place to take a scenic weekend drive. Learn more about how this unique attraction comes together on WPRís website.

  • I think the news that Wisconsin leads the nation in cranberry production is pretty sweet, but some people tend to think itís deliciously bitter. In fact, this is now the 20th straight year that Wisconsin holds the title of the nationís leading cranberry producer.




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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