Updates from the State Senate - December 30, 2019

The photo above was taken at Lambeau Field.


Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District







Quick Fact


On December 11th, 1833, the first newspaper in Wisconsin, known as the Intelligencer, was published in Green Bay.


Learn more facts from our stateís past like this by visiting the ĎThis Day in Wisconsin Historyí feature of the Wisconsin Historical Societyís website.


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.


Helpful Links










Dear Friends and Neighbors,


I hope you find yourselves still humming holiday tunes in your head from an enjoyable Christmas and holiday season. As the tree comes down in the State Capitol this week, weíre given a visual reminder that the holiday season is almost over and the daily hustle and bustle in the hallways of the State Capitol will pick back up.


Before I begin this e-newsletter, I wanted to take a moment to wish you a Happy New Year! Good luck with pursuing any resolutions you set.



In this e-newsletter, youíll find information on:

  1. Audits of school safety plans and more released

  2. Movement on several bills sets the stage for 2020

  3. Redevelopment in Green Bay area gets a boost

  4. Latest report reaffirms success of Focus on Energy

  5. EPA promotes innovative solutions to water quality

  6. Area athletes excel in high school fall sports

  7. 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


Audits of School Safety Plans and More Released


The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) released five new reports in December to round out 2019 with thirty total audits. As Co-Chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, itís my responsibility to take the work prepared by these award-winning financial and program evaluators and turn their findings, when necessary, into action. This may be done through legislation, but often is completed through continual follow-up, often over the course of years, with the agency. But before anything else, I need to read and understand the reports.


The first report released this month evaluated state-owned residential properties (Report 19-26). The state Department of Administration (DOA) is required to administer residential properties, which are managed by state agencies, with the Department of Natural Resources having 32 properties and the UW-System having 114 properties, and are leased to state employees, typically as part of their employment.


LAB found that DOA did not comply with all statutory requirements, did not track all properties for which it was statutorily responsible, and did not monitor state agency compliance with its policies, which had not been revised since 1975. Although DOA is statutorily required to conduct appraisals of these properties every ten years, the last appraisals were conducted in 1995. We will definitely be working with these state agencies to bring these properties and their policies back into statutory compliance.


Read the full press release from my Co-Chair, Representative Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem), and I on this audit on my website, or check-out this story from the Associated Press to learn more.


The second audit was the second annual evaluation of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporationís (WEDC) process for verifying tax credit information submitted by Foxconn (Report 19-27). In 2019, WEDC did not award any program tax credits because Foxconn did not create the minimum number of jobs. LAB found WEDCís written procedures continue to allow WEDC to award program tax credits for the wages paid to employees for services not performed in Wisconsin. LAB recommends that WEDC revise its procedures to ensure compliance with statutes and its contract.


While the written procedures were changed to attempt to address the finding in the 2018 report, the change doesnít accurately reflect the statutory requirement. I hope that, in WEDCís next follow-up, their written procedures will explicitly require it to award credits for only wages paid for services performed in Wisconsin.


Read the full press release from my Co-Chair and I on this audit on my website.


The third audit and final audit Iíll discuss reviewed school safety grants and plans (Report 19-28). 2017 Wisconsin Act 143, which I supported, appropriated $100 million to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in fiscal year 2018-19 for awarding school safety grants to school districts and other schools. LAB reviewed DOJís files for a sample of 70 grants that totaled $17.6 million, or 18.6% of the total amount of all grants awarded. LAB found that DOJ had appropriately administered and overseen these 70 grants.


To determine best practices for school safety, LAB reviewed DOJís online resources and documents from around the nation. LAB also directly distributed the report to every school district and school that was in operation in Wisconsin as of June 2019. LABís review of the 779 submitted school safety plans found a number of examples of best practices in emergency prevention and mitigation, emergency preparedness, response and recovery, school safety assessments, school safety drills, and school building blueprints.


This is a great example of a functional audit. In distributing this report around the state, LABís review of best practices in all of the submitted school safety plans will further help other schools refine and improve their school safety plans into the future. I believe that the items for legislative consideration would further improve and strengthen this program by adding accountability and continuous review of the school safety plans.


Read the full press release from my Co-Chair and I on this audit on my website, or check-out this story from the Associated Press to learn more.


The fourth report released this month and final audit Iíll discuss evaluated the State of Wisconsinís financial statements from fiscal year 2018-2019 (Report 19-30). This audit evaluates the stateís Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, and LAB found that the report was completed using generally accepted accounting principles. The evaluation also found an over $500 million reduction in the deficit and a $500 million decrease in the stateís long-term debt; both of which are great news!


LAB did identify one material weakness in the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund and four significant deficiencies, including three related to information technology security at DOA. Earlier this year, I advocated to start an audit of IT procurement, but thatís only part of the IT picture. This isnít the first time LAB has identified concerns with IT security in our state government, and itís time for DOA and other agencies to ensure these findings donít appear again.


The fifth audit, which I wonít go into detail on given that the findings are less notable, evaluated the State Investment Fund (Report 19-29).


Movement on Several Bills Sets the State for 2020


Itís been a busy few weeks thanks to progress on a number of bills Iíve authored. This helps to set the stage for even more progress in 2020. The efforts Iíve been working on range a number of different topics, but each of which has a tie back to Northeast Wisconsin. Some of this movement includes:

  • Senate Bill 512 was heard and unanimously recommended for passage by the Senate Utilities and Housing Committee. This bill, which Iíve authored with Representative Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay), establishes a process that gives unit owners a seat at the table in a dispute with a condominium association. This legislation resulted from contacts by several constituents and will help to protect their rights as property owners.

  • Senate Bill 90 and Assembly Bill 173 were both heard by committees, and AB 173 was unanimously recommended for passage. Wisconsinís state government has a strong tradition of accountability and transparency. This bill, which Iíve authored with Representative Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem), creates a state Tax Accountability Dashboard which can better inform the public discourse by providing an accessible, clear, and upfront series of graphics so taxpayers will know where their money goes.


  • Assembly Bill 323 was recommended for passage on a bipartisan vote by the Assembly Committee on Environment. This legislation, which Iíve authored with Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette), strikes a balance by reducing the environmental footprint and the risk to the human health of PFAS contamination while not hamstringing first responders from using this lifesaving product in emergency situations.

  • Assembly Bill 473 was heard by the Assembly Education Committee. When voters in Freedom turned down a referendum for a new building, they never knew that ripple effects would cause the School District to lose part of their state aid. Representative Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) and I are working together on this legislation to restore that state aid moving forward.

  • Assembly Bill 237 was heard by the Assembly Workforce Development Committee. A groundbreaking by WEC, the announcement by Alliant, and grand openings on community solar projects are just some of the major developments in renewables over the past few months. Despite this exciting progress, one of the key roadblocks we face in expanding our stateís renewable energy generation is more skilled workers in this space. Thatís why Iíve authored this legislation with Representative Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin) to help train more workers in renewable energy installation, repair, and maintenance.


Redevelopment in Green Bay Area Gets a Boost


When developers are looking for prime parcels for their next projects, they often are left with only two options: look beyond city limits or look within the community at properties that have seen better days. These run-down and under-used parcels can often present unique opportunities including more desirable locations, but these properties also come with distinct challenges. To unlock the full potential of redevelopment within our communities, partnerships with local governments and the state are not only helpful, but often may be necessary. The award of two state grants to the Villages of Ashwaubenon and Allouez will help to promote the redevelopment of blighted properties in these communities.


Ashwaubenon was awarded $476,000 from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporationís Idle Sites Redevelopment Program to assist with the expense of site preparation at a blighted parcel located on South Broadway. I wrote a letter in support of this project.


Allouez was awarded approximately $29,900 from the Department of Natural Resourcesí Wisconsin Assessment Monies grant program to assist with the expense of studies to identify and determine the extent of any soil and groundwater contamination at a site located on South Webster.


By redeveloping underutilized parcels with the help provided by these competitive state grant programs, we can grow property values, provide new employment opportunities, create new sources of property taxes that may offset some of the burden on residential property owners, develop new amenities for community members, and spur additional economic development. I applaud the leadership of the local governments in Ashwaubenon and Allouez in reaffirming their commitment to advancing their communities and the entire region by utilizing these high-value, yet blighted parcels.



Latest Report Reaffirms Success of Focus on Energy


A recent four-year summary of the Focus on Energy program reaffirmed the success of this important energy efficiency program. Highlights from the report of this four-year period include substantial increases in small business and rural residential participation. By helping residents and businesses become more energy efficient, Focus can create jobs, spur economic development, and improve environmental quality throughout our state.


The report also showed high levels of customer satisfaction and energy savings that helped to avoid 28 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Thatís the equivalent of taking six million cars off the road for an entire year! From supporting projects in buildings as large as the lighting, boilers, and HVAC system at Lambeau Field and as small as your bedside lamp, Focus has shown itself to be an accessible program for all Wisconsinites.



EPA Promotes Innovative Solutions to Water Quality


Recently, Region 5 of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $11.5 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants to Midwestern states. Among the recipients were Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District (NEW Water) which received $338,438 for buffers on ephemeral headwaters in Fox River sub-watersheds; an adaptive management technique to improve water quality in a region without the over burdensome expense of massive infrastructure upgrades that provide minimal impacts. This approach by NEW Water is in line with market-based approaches for nutrient reductions that includes water quality trading.


While few examples of water quality trades, including one at Heart of the Valley Metropolitan Sewerage District in Kaukauna, currently exist in Wisconsin, a new approach, 2019 Senate Bill 91, will help to promote more of these market-based approaches to water quality in Wisconsin. Iíve authored this legislation, better known as P3: Wisconsinís Trading Marketplace to Establish More Pollution Prevention Partnerships, with Representative Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) and Senator Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon). P3 has fostered the support of over 30 groups. This legislation awaits a vote in the full Assembly before it may advance to the Governorís desk for his signature.


This current announcement by EPA demonstrates their clear commitment towards helping the State of Wisconsin implement the nationís first statewide water quality trading marketplace. Iím glad to have it reaffirmed that EPA will be a partner, not a problem, when we implement this legislation.



Area Athletes Excel in High School Fall Sports


As area students enjoy a much earned break, the fall high school sports season has come to a close. While every student who takes time out of their day to join a sports team or other extra-curricular activity should be proud of their dedication and achievements, I wanted to take a moment in this e-newsletter to congratulate those from the 2nd Senate District who excelled in the fall sports season and qualified for the State Championships in their respective sports.


Ashwaubenon High School

  • Girls Swimming and Diving: Bry Bellile, Hallory Domnick (State Champion in the 500 yard freestyle!), Evelyn Geurts, Jocelyn McNicoll, and Sydney Popp


Bay Port High School

  • Football

  • Girls Golf: Individual Jo Baranczyk State Champion

  • Girls Swim and Dive: Emma Lasecki State Champion in the 200 Yard IM, Emma Lasecki State Champion in 100 Yard Butterfly


Freedom High School

  • Boys Cross Country Team

  • Girls Cross Country Team


In Other News...


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

  • Congratulations to two employers from the 2nd Senate District, Fox Valley Wood Products of Kaukauna and MCL Industries of Pulaski, on being nominated for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerceís Manufacturer of the Year Awards!

  • Winter Free Fishing Weekend is coming up! This annual event, taking place this year on January 18th and 19th, is the perfect opportunity for a seasoned ice fisherman or woman to introduce friends and family to the basics of this Wisconsin winter tradition.

  • Legislation Iíve worked on that was recently signed into law could benefit the Green Bay areaís first wetland bank. These banks not only serve as mitigation for unavoidable wetland impacts during development, but they filter groundwater, store floodwater, offer wildlife habitat, and more! Read more on the Press Timeís website.

  • I was excited to learn of Green Bay Packagingís recent announcement that, not only are they on track for an early 2021 opening of the first new paper mill in Wisconsin in three-decades, but by shutting down a coal boiler, theyíre cutting air emissions by 90%!

  • Great work by Fox Valley Technical College to rapidly adopt a new state law I supported which requires that students training to be truck drivers receive some training on how to spot the warning signs of human trafficking. This training will ensure that truck drivers can spot the warning signs of human trafficking when they stop at truck stops in Wisconsin and beyond.

  • Brad Smith, an Appleton native and the CEO of Microsoft, was recently covered by the Business Journal during a fireside chat he took part in while in Milwaukee. While at the forefront of the tech world, Smith hasnít lost touch with his Northeast Wisconsin roots.

  • Some Wisconsin State Parks will be hosting candlelight ski and hiking events this winter. This long-running tradition offers residents and visitors the opportunity to see some of our stateís best natural treasures in a new light. Learn more on the DNRís website.  




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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