Updates from the State Senate - December 4, 2019

The photo above was taken along the Wolf River near New London.


Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District







Community Events



One of my favorite parts of 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.


Quick Fact


Did you know that the three most recent MVPs in Wisconsin, Rodgers, Yelich, and Giannis, all celebrate their birthdays during the first week of December? Earlier this year, I authored a bipartisan Joint Resolution to honor our history of professional sports excellence with 22 MVP awards won by athletes on Wisconsin teams and recognize the recent success of professional athletes in Wisconsin.


Learn more about this Joint Resolution which declares the first week of December 2019 as MVP Week in Wisconsin by reading this Green Bay Press-Gazette article or by viewing Senate Joint Resolution 55.


Helpful Links










Dear Friends and Neighbors,


As tens of thousands of Wisconsinites come out of the woods, begin thawing themselves out, and pack away the blaze orange for another 355 days, hopefully many of the residents in the 2nd Senate District didnít find themselves skunked during this deer hunting season. Whether youíve been in the woods with friends, around the table with family, or both, hopefully this email finds you coming off a good Thanksgiving holiday.


Recapping the past few weeks of action in the State Capitol and around the district, in this e-newsletter, youíll find information on:

  1. Dozens of bills signed into law

  2. Parks Revitalization Act 2.0 passes the Senate

  3. Environmental Trust Financing used for the first time

  4. Audit of Fast Forward program released

  5. TAD gets a boost in Northeast Wisconsin

  6. CNA Shortage Relief Legislation vetoed

  7. Recent events I've attended around the district

  8. 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


Dozens of Bills Signed into Law


A number of efforts Iíve co-sponsored were signed into law in November. Some of these bills include:

  • Senate Bill 380, now Act 56, opens the door for modern health technologies like telehealth to Medicaid recipients. These services increase the ease of seeking care and provides more options for some patients. This bill was authored by Senator Kooyenga (R- Brookfield) and Representative Loudenbeck (R-Clinton).

  • Assembly Bill 22, now 2019 Wisconsin Act 27, will ensure truck drivers can spot the warning signs of human trafficking when they stop at truck stops in Wisconsin and beyond. This bill was authored by Representative Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) and Senator Johnson (D-Milwaukee).

  • Assembly Bill 195, now Act 43, makes it easier for qualified educators to take advantage of teaching license reciprocity in Wisconsin and may encourage more educators to move and call Wisconsin home. This bill was authored by Representative Tranel (R-Cuba City) and Senator Marklein (R-Spring Green).

  • Assembly Bill 38, now Act 36, removes a barrier towards public-private partnerships that can help to advance more research within the UW-System while still maintaining a safeguard against conflicts. This bill was authored by Representative Murphy (R-Greenville) and Senator Feyen (R-Fond du Lac).

  • Senate Bill 142, now Act 47, prohibits the UW-System and technical schools from penalizing veteran students with late fees if their federal tuition benefits arenít paid in-time. This bill was authored by Senator Kooyenga (R- Brookfield) and Representative James (R-Altoona).

  •  Senate Bill 188, now Act 68, allows more Wisconsin farmers to consider hemp for a possible source of revenue by making Wisconsinís pilot program on hemp permanent following federal law changes. This bill was authored by Senator Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Representative Kurtz (R-Wonewoc).

  • Assembly Bill 193, now Act 42, allows municipalities to utilize biennial budgeting, similar to the state government, to help reduce the administrative burden on municipal officials and increase the stability in local government finances. This bill was authored by Representative Gundrum (R-Slinger) and Senator Kooyenga (R-Brookfield).


In addition to all of the bills above, 2019 Senate Bill 169 is now law! The new procedures for wetland banks in this legislation helps to ensure that mitigation happens closer to the site of the impacted wetland and will make it more financially viable to build banks in urban areas where theyíre needed most. These reasonable changes will provide more groundwater recharge, improve water quality, store floodwater, and build critical habitat for waterfowl and other species.



I was happy to co-author 2019 Wisconsin Act 59 with Senators Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Wirch (D-Somers) and Representatives Tusler (R-Harrison) and Ohnstad (D-Kenosha). Read more about this legislation and how it will benefit a local wetland bank thatís currently in development on the Press Timesí website.


Parks Revitalization Act 2.0 Passes the Senate


In November, the State Senate was in-session to consider a number of proposals. The agenda included 2019 Senate Bill 125, named the Parks Revitalization Act 2.0 which I authored with Representatives Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer) and Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay), which passed by a vote of 33-0.



To help preserve our stateís outdoor recreation industry, we not only need to attract new visitors, but we need to keep visitors coming back. Most visitors will never notice that the drinking fountains, shower facilities, or vault toilets are up-to-date. But if that water infrastructure is run down or out-of-service, it will impact the visitorís experience in our State Parks and may impact their plans to come back or visit other State Parks in the future.


The water facility and infrastructure upgrades that would be completed under the Parks Revitalization Act 2.0 will help to improve visitor experience, promote parks-based tourism, and protect the health and safety of millions of State Park visitors for decades to come. Not only will this bill help to ensure the delivery of clean water to visitors in State Parks, but by replacing some dilapidated outhouse facilities, we can help to prevent septic waste from contaminating ground and surface water near facilities.


Senate Bill 125 allows the DNR to spend up to $5.2 million in authorized, but unobligated Stewardship funds from prior fiscal years on critical health and safety and high priority water infrastructure projects in highly-visited Wisconsin State Parks and Forests. This legislation builds on progress from last sessionís 2017 Wisconsin Act 71 which provided $4.5 million from a similar funding stream, but recognizes that more work needs to be done to clear the backlog in State Parksí water infrastructure. The Parks Revitalization Act 2.0 now requires approval by the full Assembly after already being unanimously recommended for passage by the Assembly Committee on Forestry, Parks and Outdoor Recreation.




Environmental Trust Financing Used for the First Time


Recently, the state Public Service Commission (PSC) unanimously approved settlement agreements between utility ratepayers and WEC Energy Group, the parent company of We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service. The agreement for the first time utilizes a mechanism known as Environmental Trust Financing; a unique structure which was created by legislation I authored with former Representative Scott Jensen (R-Waukesha).


This settlement represents a victory for both utility ratepayers and energy producers. Utilizing Environmental Trust Financing has set-up the framework to retire more aging utility liabilities without overburdening ratepayers. I applaud this balanced approach and I hope that this sets a path for even more economically-friendly and sustainable planning by utility companies.


The settlement refinances about $100 million of the remaining cost associated with the Pleasant Prairie coal-fired plant thatís slated to close before its usable lifespan expires. By refinancing this investment, the potential impact to utility ratepayers is mitigated by tens of millions of dollars through a bond with lower financing costs than conventional financing methods. The power that was generated at the former coal plant will be replaced with energy thatís generated through other methods.




Audit of Fast Forward Program Released


The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) recently released an audit of the Fast Forward Program (Report 19-24), Wisconsinís workforce training grant program administered by the Department of Workforce Development (DWD). As a result of 209 grants, 9,451 individuals completed program training, were counted as program successes, and received an average wage increase of $1.85 per hour. These individuals represented 52.9% of the 17,881 individuals whom grant recipients were contractually required to train.


LAB found that DWD did not attempt to verify the accuracy of the information grant recipientsí submitted. LAB recommended that DWD make improvements, take additional actions to assess program results, and use the assessment results when awarding future program grants.


LAB also reviewed DWDís files for 242 grants totaling $57.0 million. LAB found that DWD did not consistently comply with statutes and administrative rules when awarding grants, require recipients to repay grant funds for not meeting contractually specified results, or provide sufficient management and oversight of all contracts. LAB made recommendations for DWD to improve program administration.


It is critical to accurately verify the results of our workforce training and economic development programs to ensure that our stateís investment is being realized, which is why I requested this audit. Utilizing data that is already collected by this Department to verify the results of the grant awards is a Ďno-brainerí and should have been implemented from the beginning. DWD should be working to incorporate the auditís recommendations to help improve the administration of this program moving forward.


TAD Gets a Boost in Northeast Wisconsin


On Monday, November 18th, the state Department of Justice announced the release of this yearís Treatment and Diversion (TAD) grants. Included among the recipients was Shawano County which received $107,000 to support a newly established adult drug court. Shawano County now joins existing programs that are operating in-part as a result of state funding in Brown, Outagamie, and Waupaca Counties.


Iíve attended a number of graduations from the Brown County drug courts which has caused me to become a supporter of the treatment and diversion model for nonviolent drug offenders. By using diversion methods and rehabilitation, weíre reducing recidivism and saving taxpayer funds while improving our communities. This is truly a win-win scenario, and I was proud to support the stateís continued investment in TAD programs when I voted for the 2019-2021 State Budget.


CNA Shortage Relief Legislation Vetoed


Itís unfortunate that Governor Evers recently chose to veto the bipartisan CNA Shortage Relief Legislation. At a time in our state when nursing homes and home health agencies are being forced to turn away residents due to a lack of staffing necessary to provide care, this legislation is needed more than ever as a partial solution to the CNA shortage; especially in our rural and northern communities.


2019 Assembly Bill 76, which I authored with Representative Warren Petryk (R-Eleva), aligns the required hours of instructional programs to train certified nursing assistants (CNA) with federal training requirements and the requirements in surrounding states like Minnesota. This bill, which changes training hours, but not standards, was passed with bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature and received bipartisan co-sponsorship.


This very reasonable legislation is a small change to help students become the caretakers that the residents of these facilities deserve sooner while still ensuring a credible licensure process. Assembly Bill 76, in addition to earning bipartisan support, had the support of a wide variety of organizations including LeadingAge Wisconsin, The Mayo Clinic Health System, Outagamie and Washington Counties, Disability Service Provider Network, Americans For Prosperity, Home Care Association of America, and more.


During the same week that Governor Evers vetoed Assembly Bill 76, he also vetoed three other proposals that received bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature.




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:

  • In advance of the recent Startup Week, I attended the kickoff for Startup Green Bay at the Urban Hub. Startups account for 65% of new job growth and provide unique opportunities for professionals and community members to become engaged in economic growth. Startup Green Bay will ensure that Northeast Wisconsin doesnít fall behind on this important innovation trend. Learn more about this event on WLUKís website.

  • Trout are not only a vital part of our ecology, but they play a huge role in our economy as well. Iíve been a long-time supporter of Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit focused around trout and trout habitat conservation, and I recently attended one of their monthly meetings in Green Bay.

  • Veterans deserve our respect and gratitude every day, but on Veterans Day, we make sure that we express that gratitude to the veterans in our lives and in our communities. Over Veterans Day Weekend, I attended a half-dozen events focused around veterans, including one at St. Paul Elder Services in Kaukauna (pictured below).



  • I was invited to speak to and had the opportunity to engage with members of the Rotary Club of Shawano on November 25th at the Daily Grind. We discussed a number of the issues important to them, including water quality, our agricultural economy, and Shawano Lake.

  • The badger state has a lot to offer for consumers with all types of different tastes. Perhaps there was no place that this was more evident than at the 30th Annual CP Auction, HOMEGROWN, which I recently attended in the Green Bay area.

  • Thereís a lot of musical talent among the regionís youth and young adults. Some of the best of this talent was recently on-stage for Talent Jam at the Meyer Theatre on November 23rd, and I had a chance to sit in the audience and listen to these musicians perform songs they wrote or provide their take on a timeless classic.

  • One of the most important things I do as a State Senator is engage with local government officials. I recently attended a H2ALOS meeting consisting of local government leaders from Hobart, Howard, Allouez, Ashwaubenon, Lawrence, Oneida, and Suamico to discuss some of the issues important to them and the areaís residents.


In Other News...


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

  • If youíre in the holiday spirit, perhaps thereís no better place to enjoy a festive atmosphere than at WPSís Garden of Lights at the Green Bay Botanical Garden. Once again, the crew at the Botanical Garden, led by Executive Director Susan Garett, has done an amazing job putting together an awe-inspiring show. The Green Bay Press-Gazette offered a sneak-peak of the lightshow, but be sure to check it out for yourself before the seasons over.

  • Congratulations to Mandy and Jeremy Van Schyndel of Kaukauna on being recognized with the Outstanding Adoptive Parent Award during a recent ceremony in the State Capitol!

  • If you havenít noticed yet, the season of Jack Frost is here. Residents who may dread this time of year because theyíre uncertain how theyíll pay for their heating bill should check out the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program for seasonal energy assistance information.




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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