February 16, 2012



Please feel free to contact me with any concerns or opinions you might have.

Office Phone: (608) 266-7505
Toll-free Phone: (800) 361-5487



Mailing Address:

State Capitol
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707


Web Site:












Supporting our neighbors and being involved in our community is of the utmost importance. Some community events that might be of interest to you and your family are listed below. 



Milwaukee Art Museum After Dark: Mardi Gras
February 17 from 5 p.m. to Midnight
Come in for a fun-filled evening to celebrate the festivities of Mardi Gras. No Mardi Gras party is complete without beads, dancing, stilt walkers, jugglers, psychics, and a parade. Kick-off the celebration with free samples of the Caribbean's finest firewater. You can also show off your Mardi Gras spirit by rocking your most colorful outfits.

CLICK HERE for more information.


Milwaukee Art Museum (MAP)

700 N. Art Museum Drive Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 224-3200



Food and Froth Fest
February 18 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Milwaukee was once considered the beer capital of the world. Raise a glass to our city’s history, and sample its legacy, at the Milwaukee Public Museum’s 14th Annual Food & Froth Fest. Sample stout crafted halfway around the world, or pair a lager brewed across town with appetizers from a variety of area restaurants and caterers. CLICK HERE for more information

Milwaukee Public Museum (MAP)
800 W. Wells Street
Milwaukee, WI 53233
(414) 278-2702



Chill on the Hill Call for Bands

Now through February 18

If you compose your own music, are family-friendly, and have a Bay View connection, then submit your band info to the Bay View Neighborhood Association by Saturday, February 18. Chill on the Hill is a local summer music concert series held outdoors on Tuesday nights at Humboldt Park. This year's dates are June 5 through August 28. Opening acts start at 6 p.m. with main acts running from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Chill on the Hill was named Best Outdoor Concert Series by the Milwaukee Magazine in 2010, and is frequently noted by bands to be their favorite venue in which to play. Crowds can reach up to 3,000 people on popular nights. If you would like to play at Chill on the Hill, you must adhere to the list of requirements found by CLICKING HERE and submit your information to Carol Voss via email at or by mail at BVNA, P.O. Box 070184, Milwaukee, WI 53207.


Bay View Winter Blast

February 19 from Noon to 4 p.m.

Join me at this community festival featuring musical entertainment, family activities, and community group stands. Winter Blast also hosts Bay View' s only chili cook-off between multiple neighborhood restaurants.

South Shore Park Pavilion (MAP)
2900 S. Shore Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53207






















































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Dear Friend,


This week you will find information on recent developments related to rehabilitating our communities and assisting victims of foreclosure. An update on important legislation from this week is also provided.


As usual, please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or opinions you may have about our community or our state.


Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7




Foreclosure Funds Raided, Victims Overlooked

Last week, we examined the positive affects that funds from the National Mortgage Settlement could have on Milwaukee’s housing market and those that fell victim to foreclosure as a result of fraudulent business practices. However, in a decision announced last Thursday, Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen once again continued the shocking trend of mismanaging federal money. Instead of distributing the foreclosure funds, they raided most of the $31.6 million in discretionary funds allocated by the federal government to help the victims of unfair mortgage practices.

The National Mortgage Settlement is a historic $25 billion, joint federal-state agreement with the nation’s five largest mortgage lenders aimed at bringing relief to borrowers harmed by dishonest mortgage practices. $140 million was allocated to Wisconsin, of which $31.6 million is discretionary. This money was intended to help fund consumer protection and state foreclosure protection efforts, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

However, rather than assist the victims of foreclosure, Governor Walker is choosing to keep $25.6 million of the state’s allocated discretionary funds to fill the budget whole he created by providing tax breaks to big corporations. Homeowners and those who lost their houses in the most recent financial crisis are still in distress and are desperate for help. This money should be directed to programs that concretely and immediately provide help for those that were preyed upon by our country's largest mortgage providers.

This issue is of the utmost importance in our community as Milwaukee and its residents have been disproportionately harmed by the crisis as six of the hardest-hit zip codes are in Milwaukee. Additionally, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Milwaukee is home to over 4,800 abandoned properties. These discretionary funds could have been put to good use rehabilitating or demolishing foreclosed homes, as well as increasing programs to help individuals avoid future foreclosure.

It is disappointing that Governor Walker continues to turn a blind eye to the needs of those in Wisconsin. The National Mortgage Settlement was a positive step forward in helping the housing market recover. Unfortunately, Milwaukee residents will not see the full benefits of its effect.




Rebuilding Our Housing Markets

The American dream of homeownership has been prevalent in our society since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. We share a belief that everybody should be able to own a little piece of America and have a place to call home. The prospect of owning a home is an essential part of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Unfortunately, for many this dream has been shattered since the housing market crash that began in 2007 as a result of fraudulent lending practices. Banks encouraged lax lending standards and the liberal use of adjustable rate mortgages to put debt obligations in the hands of people unable to repay such loans. As a result, most of us have family, friends, or neighbors who were led to believe they could manage the debt and now have been left financially strapped, in a spiral of homeownership debt, or facing the loss of their home through foreclosure.


Our community has been disproportionately affected compared to the rest of Wisconsin. Since 2008, 20,000 Milwaukee residents were notified that foreclosure action had been started on their homes. As a result of these housing foreclosures, costs have been shifted to Milwaukee taxpayers. Our neighbors cannot afford to have this happen again, therefore it is crucial that we work together to prevent similar housing market crashes.


In his State of the Union speech, President Obama introduced a new proposal to get our depressed housing markets headed in the right direction and provide those that were taken advantage of by dishonest mortgage lenders with much-needed assistance. Below, we will examine the main pieces of this proposal that address: refinancing, repurposing vacant homes, rehabbing neighborhoods and reducing foreclosure, and introducing a Homeowner's Bill of Rights.


Refinancing for Responsible Borrowers

Under current law, neighbors who have a loan backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the Federal Housing Administration can refinance their mortgage. However, if the cost of the loan exceeds the value of the home, the Federal Housing Administration is unable to support such a move. This proposal aims to provide all responsible borrowers who have been current on their mortgage for the past six months the opportunity to refinance, even if they have private loans or loans that exceed the value of their single-family home. It is estimated that this provision could save the average homeowner up to $3,000 annually.

Repurposing Vacant Foreclosed Homes
Many neighborhoods have experienced increased housing vacancies, which can be a hotbed for illegal activity. Therefore, President Obama's proposal will seek to improve these neighborhoods and their local economy by allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to sell homes they own through foreclosure to investors who agree to rent them out. These lenders currently own about 200,000 homes, only half of which have been put up for sale.


Rehabbing Neighborhoods and Reducing Foreclosures

Another provision in President Obama's proposal seeks to further rehabilitate our afflicted communities and reduce the number or foreclosures. The provision seeks to do this by expanding eligibility for the Home Affordability Modification Program, which can help homeowners lower their monthly mortgage payment by up to 31%. Another positive change that would help to rehab our neighborhoods and reduce foreclosures is increasing incentives for lenders to work with borrowers to help them rebuild their equity.

Homeowners Bill of Rights

To prevent something similar from happening in the future, this new proposal will also establish a Homeowner's Bill of Rights. Below are some items that would be written into this Bill of Rights:

  • Provide homeowners access to a simple mortgage disclosure form, so they understand the strings attached to the loans they take out

  • Fully disclose the fees and penalties homeowners might encounter

  • Create guidelines to prevent conflicts of interest that end up hurting homeowners

  • Support keeping responsible families in their homes and out of foreclosure

  • Protect families against inappropriate foreclosure through processes, including the right of appeal

Passing national legislation to implement these common reforms would be a positive step forward in assisting those that were knocked down by the devastating housing market crash and will help get our local housing markets and economies moving in the right direction.


Click here for more information about this proposal.




Common Sense Changes to Wetlands Bill Rejected 

On a party-line vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 368 this past Tuesday. This legislation significantly diminishes environmental protections that keeps our water safe for drinking and recreation, protects our valuable wetland resources, and reduces flooding.

Wetlands are critical in protecting the health of our community. They purify runoff from cities, farms, and construction sites, reducing our water treatment costs and ensuring we have cleaner water for drinking and recreation. Furthermore, wetlands are able to store large quantities of water to help prevent devastating shore erosion and flooding in our neighborhoods. The protection provided by wetlands is crucial in the Milwaukee area, which was devastated by flooding in June 2008 and 2009, and July 2010.

Wetlands also play a prominent role in Wisconsin's environment and tourism industry. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, nearly 40% of Wisconsin's 370 species of birds live in or use our wetlands as well as many mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles, such as white-tailed deer, waterfowl, and walleye. Additionally, Wisconsin's wetlands are home to one-third of the plants and animals on our state's endangered and threatened species list. The nature and wildlife featured in Wisconsin's wetlands provides the perfect setting for recreational wildlife watchers, anglers, hunters and boaters.

Senate Bill 368 became a clear choice of priorities with legislators opting to stand with hunting and fishing groups along with environmental scientists or aligning themselves with special interests seeking easier profits. I attempted to improve the bill by introducing two amendments.


My first amendment, the Sportsman's Amendment, offered a constructive and reasonable alternative to support economic development and ensure our wetlands remain available to Wisconsin's hunters, bird watchers, and anglers by:

  • Clarifying and streamlining the permit application process without gutting our commitment of first protecting our wetlands

  • Making our laws more consistent with federal law and bringing stability for business by saving costs, reducing confusion, and streamlining paperwork through one joint application process

  • Establishing a common sense approach to the review of alternatives without throwing out the requirement to try to avoid wetland destruction

  • Making sure mitigation benefits are only considered when the restoration occurs in the same watershed as the wetlands destruction, as this is especially important to flood control

  • Rewarding businesses that commit to restoring wetlands within the same watershed as their development project

  • Requiring the Department of Natural Resources to report the facts about the process of our wetland and habitat loss under this new law and the success of mitigation to the Legislature

My second amendment, the Flooding Prevention Amendment, would have ensured that the profits of special interests would not be placed above the needs of our homeowners, renters, and landowners. This amendment required the DNR to make sure that filling in a wetland would have minimal impact on flood prevention and habitat loss within the watershed that a project is planned.


Tragically, both of these common sense improvements were rejected in a cynically partisan effort to rush through legislation before the current legislative session ends next month.

Click here to view a copy of the amendments I authored or Senate Bill 368.



Mining Bill Introduced

This past Wednesday, Senate Republicans decided to eliminate the Senate Select Committee on Mining created to serve as an open forum to debate legislation related to allowing additional mining in Wisconsin. Almost simultaneously Senator Galloway introduced a Senate bill identical to Assembly Bill 426, which was immediately forwarded to the Joint Committee on Finance.


The decision to abruptly disband this committee, aimed at ensuring a transparent process, signals that some Senate Republicans may not be open to changing the existing bill. It is my hope that we can craft a bill that strikes a balance between job creation and environmental protections by establishing a mining regulatory process that is fair, flexible, and streamlines the bureaucratic process, while avoiding the weakening of environmental standards.

Another unfortunate side-effect of dissolving this committee, is that it will disenfranchise hundreds of citizens living in the affected area. Many of these Wisconsinites are eager to have a say in what happens in their community and had intended on testifying at hearings scheduled to take place in Platteville and Ashland. The Joint Committee on Finance will now be taking over all public hearings on the bill and have cancelled the Platteville and Ashland hearings to instead hold a hearing for Friday, February 17 at 10 a.m. As a result, most of the individuals living near the proposed mining locations will be unable to attend the public hearing as they received only 36-hours notice and reside approximately seven hours away from the hearing location.


Despite these recent changes, I remain hopeful that we can reach a bipartisan compromise that can secure economic opportunity while safeguarding environmental quality.

Click here to view a copy of this legislation.




Lead Acid Battery Bill Receives Public Hearing

This past week, Representative Mark Honadel and I had the opportunity to testify on Assembly Bill 266, bipartisan legislation we authored that updates Wisconsin law regarding battery deposits.

Current law requires anyone selling a lead acid battery to a consumer to accept the consumer’s used battery and cannot charge the consumer a deposit that is more than $5. However, the mandated cap no longer reflects the prevailing market value of used lead acid batteries. For this reason, large corporations have been ignoring the $5 limit for years opting to instead follow the market rate. In addition to losing out compared to bigger businesses, our small businesses have also been losing money when depositing old lead acid batteries to the nearby recycling center as most of these facilities charge the market rate, which is usually greater than $5.

Assembly Bill 266 will update this outdated law by requiring a deposit no less than $5 for all businesses, allowing the market to set the core charge amount. This legislative change will help to ensure that our small businesses are no longer at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to the cost of recycling lead-acid based batteries.

This legislative idea was brought to my attention by a small business owner in Oak Creek at my very first "Coffee with Chris." Since that time, I have received support from other local businesses in our community. Rep. Honadel and I jumped at the opportunity to work with our local companies to draft a bill that would solve a problem plaguing our small, neighborhood businesses.


Click here to view my testimony from this public hearing.


Click here to view a copy of this legislation.




Assembly Still Refuses to Keep Voucher Loophole Promise

This past Monday, a bipartisan letter that I authored and 25 other senators and representatives signed on in support of was submitted to Republican leaders encouraging them to uphold their promise to close the voucher loophole. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Assembly met this week for session, they have yet to take up this corrective legislation.

The voucher loophole was created when Republicans inserted a provision into the budget that establishes four criteria for a school district that, if met, would allow private and religious schools to take up to $6,500 in tax dollars per student away from our public schools. Republican legislators indicated that their intention with this budget provision was to simply expand the voucher program to Racine alone. However, hasty action on the budget and failure to acknowledge concerns addressing this potential issue led to unintended consequences, such as creating a voucher loophole.

At the time the budget was passed only Racine met the aforementioned criteria and qualified for expansion of the voucher program, but other communities could also qualify in future years if the law stays as it is in the current budget, forcing other cities to implement their own voucher program. There are currently two districts that are on the verge of becoming “choice eligible”--Green Bay and Menasha--both of whom meet three of four criteria.

During and after the budget debate, Senate and Assembly Republican leaders promised to pass additional legislation to close the voucher loophole created by the budget. In August, Senator Mike Ellis and Representative Robin Vos introduced Senate Bill 174. This bill closes the voucher loophole by amending the state budget to say that only school districts that have already qualified as an eligible school district may qualify as an eligible school district once Senate Bill 174 is in effect. Senate Bill 174 received a public hearing in the Senate and Assembly Education Committees this past October. This bipartisan bill has since passed unanimously in the Senate and has simply been waiting for several months to be scheduled for a vote in the Assembly before it can be signed into law.

We are fast approaching the end of the current legislative session and are quickly running out of time to pass Senate Bill 174. If Republicans are unwilling to honor their commitments and Senate Bill 174 is not voted on before the end of session, it will have to be reintroduced when the next legislative session begins in January 2013. Also, if this legislation fails to pass before the end of session it may be too late for our northern neighbors in Green Bay.


Click here to view a copy of the bipartisan letter that was submitted.

Click here to view a copy of Senate Bill 174.




Health Literacy Act Introduced

This past Monday, Representative Sandy Pasch and I introduced the Health Literacy Act, legislation that will help our neighbors fully understand their health care policies by making the language more readable. If passed, this legislation will also help our neighbors protect themselves against unnecessary health care costs.

Currently in Wisconsin, a significant amount of health consumers struggle to understand and actively use information they need to make important health care decisions. This is often due to the fact that language used in health insurance policies is frequently unclear and overly complex. According to the Institute of Medicine, nearly 90 million Americans, or almost half of the population of the United States, have difficulty understanding and properly utilizing health information. This statistic is especially concerning given that numerous studies have shown that individuals with low health literacy rates are subject to higher rates of illness and mortality.


Health literacy – known as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic information and services needed to make appropriate decisions regarding their health – plays an extremely important role in empowering health consumers, improving quality of health care, and reducing costs associated with unnecessary or untreated care.

In order for our family, friends, and neighbors to make the best possible health care choices, it is necessary for existing insurance policy language to be simplified so they are easy to read and understand. This legislation takes a positive step forward by helping Wisconsinites to become more proactive regarding their health care decisions.


The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance was on the path to facilitating the creation of easy-to-read insurance policies in late 2010, when they promulgated a rule that stemmed from well-thought recommendations of their nonpartisan advisory council charged with developing standards for readability of consumer insurance policies. Generally speaking, the rule would ensure that most insurance policies would be understood by someone with only some high school education. The rule was created by a wide variety of stakeholders across the state, including: consumers, advocates, business leaders, and insurance industry stakeholders.


Unfortunately, under new leadership in February 2011, the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance repealed this important rule, which is why we have introduced Senate Bill 469. We are hoping that this legislation will once again receive endorsement on a bipartisan level, and look forward to our family, friends, and neighbors having the opportunity to become more proactive with their health.


Click here to read a copy of Senate Bill 469.



Update on Airport Fuel Spill

Late last month, there was a jet fuel leak at Mitchell International Airport, which has been an issue of concern for area residents. The spill, estimated to have begun on January 25, was first detected on January 30. Shell Oil, the owner of the damaged pipe, shut off the flow of fuel to the leaking pipeline on January 31 and began excavation procedures to remove 300 feet of pipe from under the airport last week.

Before it was shut down, the pipeline was estimated to have leaked 9,000 gallons of jet fuel that flowed down the storm sewer at the airport and into Wilson Creek and the Kinnickinnic River. Shell clean-up crews placed floating booms on the waterways to contain the fuel spread and used vacuum trucks to skim the water’s surface. According to a Shell representative, the booms stopped the fuel from reaching Lake Michigan. As of last week, Shell has recovered around two-thirds of the leaked jet fuel.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are continuing to monitor the cleanup process.



February is Black History Month

Take a moment this month to remember the struggle and achievements of African Americans in our state and nation’s history as we celebrate Black History Month.

Black History Month grew out of Negro History Week, founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1926 as a way to honor the achievements and struggles of African Americans in United States history. Woodson choose a week in February in honor of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two men that played a crucial role in African American history. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the celebration to the whole month of February, and Black History Month began. Since then each American president has recognized this month as Black History Month. The theme of this year’s Black History Month is "Black Women in America: Culture and History."


There are several events around our community and in the State Capital to help you celebrate. Information on these events are listed below.

Black History Month Program & Cultural Showcase
Wednesdays in February at Noon

Join the Wisconsin Legislative Black & Latino Caucus every Wednesday in February to celebrate Black History Month. This weekly event will include a display of African American art, speakers, and musicians who will highlight different parts of African American history. Neighbors and legislators will celebrate on the first floor of the Wisconsin Capitol in the Rotunda.


Click here for additional information.

Wisconsin State Capitol

1st Floor Rotunda
Madison, WI 53707
(608) 266-5810

Sixth Annual African American Film Festival
Wednesday, February 22 at 7 p.m.

Join students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Union Theater to watch two unique presentations centered around African American history. The show is free and open to the public.


Click here for additional information.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Theater

Student Union Building (MAP)
3400 N. Maryland Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53211
(414) 229-4070

Black History Month Celebration
Saturday, February 18 at Noon

Attend this celebration hosted by the Milwaukee Urban League in conjunction with Handsome Barber Shop to help acknowledge and celebrate Black History Month. The book Great Black Inventors, as well as other door prizes and community resources, will be given away.


Click here for more information.

Handsome Barber Shop (MAP)
2701 N. Teutonia Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53206
(414) 455-1065



Wisconsin Band Wins Grammys

Congratulations to Eau Claire native Justin Vernon and his band Bon Iver for their well-deserved victory at this year's Grammys on February 12, where they took home awards for best new artist and best alternative album.


I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Justin Vernon in 2009 at the annual AIDS Walk Wisconsin at the Summerfest Grounds in Milwaukee. It is always great to see a fellow Wisconsinite succeed.


Click here to learn more about Justin Vernon and Bon Iver and to listen to some of their recording samples.


Submit Your Application Today

If you have ever wanted the chance to become a part of state government, the Office of the Governor is now accepting applications for appointment to a number of boards, commissions, and councils. This is the perfect opportunity to collaborate with other citizens across the state to develop innovative and positive solutions that will be provided to lawmakers on issues that affect our communities.


Click here to browse a list of the boards, commissions, and councils accepting applications.



See You in the Neighborhood

I created a survey that I am distributing to neighbors asking about various issues that are important to them, our community and our state. I have been distributing the survey door-to-door throughout our community and will continue doing so throughout the current legislative session. To return the survey, simply fold it, tape it, and affix a stamp.

Click here to save a stamp and take the survey online.

Click here to download and print a copy of this survey, which you can return to my office via mail, email or fax upon completion.


I look forward to hearing your views on these important issues. Hope to see you in the neighborhood soon!




Know Your Voting Rights

Scott Walker and Republican legislators recently enacted some of the most restrictive ID requirements for voters in the country. While they have been working to silence Wisconsin's voters, I have been working hard to keep Wisconsin's voters informed of their rights. I have created a simple handout answering some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding Wisconsin's new voter restrictions.


Click here to view this handout or visit my Web site,


Click here to view the same PDF in Spanish.




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