LARSON REPORT

WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

 

 

March 1, 2012

     

CONTACT ME


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

Email:
Sen.Larson@legis.wi.gov

 

Mailing Address:

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

 

Web Site:

SenatorChrisLarson.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMMUNITY EVENTS
 

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. 


 

To Kill a Mockingbird
Now through March 11
See this classic Pulitzer Prize-winning story that has become one of the most beloved and beautifully compassionate stories ever written. Set in small-town Alabama during the Great Depression and seen with brilliant clarity through the eyes of a young tomboy, this tale is about innocence, tolerance, family, and the courage to live what you believe.
The Repertory Theater will also be partnering with leading community organizations, including the Milwaukee Public Library, to create a city-wide series of events and discussions around To Kill a Mockingbird, including dramatic readings, book and panel discussions, talkbacks with artists moderated by university scholars, and more. CLICK HERE for more information or to purchase tickets.


Milwaukee Repertory Theater (MAP)
108 E. Wells Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 224-9490

 

Milwaukee County Winter Farmers' Market
Saturdays from 8 a.m. to Noon through April 14

Shop local Saturday mornings this winter as the Tommy Thompson Youth Center hosts the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers' Market. A wide variety of vegetables, artisan cheeses, baked goods, meat and poultry, organic dairy, and much more will be available for sale. CLICK HERE for additional information.

Wisconsin State Fair Park (MAP)
640 S. 84th Street
West Allis, WI 53214
(800) 884-3247

 


Family Free Day at Zoo
March 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
All visitors receive free admission to the Milwaukee County Zoo on this day, although the parking fee remains in effect. CLICK HERE for additional information on this event or the Milwaukee County Zoo.


Milwaukee County Zoo (MAP)
10001 W. Blue Mound Road
Milwaukee, WI 53226
(414) 256-5466

 

 

Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics, and Sustainability
March 6 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Participate in this new small group discussion course, which challenges participants to examine their roles, not only as consumers of food, but also as creators of food, systems and the world we all live in. It is the perfect course for those who want to delve deeper into the intricacies of the food system and explore actions they can take to create lasting change. CLICK HERE for additional information.

Urban Ecology Center (MAP)
1500 E. Park Place
Milwaukee, WI 53211
(414) 964-8505


Friday Night Show: The Lives of Stars
March 9 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Lives of Stars will track how different stars progress through birth, adulthood, old age, and ultimately death, an evolution astronomers have studied for decades. The program will also note some exciting changes stars endure when they run low on hydrogen fuel and can turn into an exotic object, such as a black hole. After stellar evolution is explored, a portion of the program will be devoted to viewing the current night sky. Admission is $2. CLICK HERE for more information.

 

UW-Milwaukee Manfred Olson Planetarium (MAP) 1900 E. Kenwood Blvd.

Milwaukee, WI 53211

 


South Milwaukee High School Theatre Co. Presents Bye Bye Birdie
March 9 through March 11

This spring the South Milwaukee High School Theatre Company is proud to present Bye Bye Birdie, a Tony Award winning musical that originally starred Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera. A comedy that all ages will enjoy, Bye Bye Birdie presents a hilarious satire of the 1950s. Inspired by Elvis Presley's draft notice in 1957, the plot follows the teenage hysteria that occurs when rock star Conrad Birdie is drafted into the army. Conrad's manager Albert Peterson, along with Peterson's love interest Rosie, devise a plan to promote Birdie a final time by promising one lucky girl a kiss from the star on national television. Unfortunately, the girl, Kim MacAfee, has a jealous boyfriend and a family who is not used to the limelight. Romantic comedy ensues as all of these characters interact on stage and the results will keep the audience in stitches. This production will be showing at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center on Friday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, March 11 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $11 for adults, $9 for seniors 60 and over, and $9 for students. A family 4-pack is also available for $33. CLICK HERE for more information or to purchase tickets.

 

South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center (MAP)

901 15th Avenue

South Milwaukee, WI 53172

(414) 766-5049

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




 

 

Dear Friend,

 

As the legislative session nears its conclusion, some bills are being held up in an attempt to gain partisan power, while others are being rushed through at an alarming rate. Such have been employed with legislation regarding our health safety net and our neighborhood schools. Continue reading for more information.

 

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


Sincerely,

Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7

 

 

 

Playing Games with Our Most Vulnerable

Legislation to remove the cap placed on FamilyCare received unanimous approval in the Senate on February 14, 2012. Unfortunately, Assembly Republicans continue to play games, which included attaching an amendment to this bill that simply seeks to comply with the order handed down by the federal government that the cap on Medicaid programs, including FamilyCare, be removed.

 

We are fast approaching the end of the current legislative session and are quickly running out of time to pass legislation to remove the cap. If Republicans are unwilling comply with the federal mandate and pass this bill, it will have to be reintroduced when the next legislative session begins in January 2013. This would mean turning our backs on our most vulnerable neighbors.

 

The Importance of Our Health Safety Net

Currently, about one out of five Wisconsin residents rely on our state's health safety net programs for their health care needs. The number of individuals enrolled in Wisconsin's Medicaid programs has been steadily increasing in recent years due to our state's ailing economy, continued loss of family-supporting jobs, and increased health care costs. Given the hardships our neighbors our facing, it is one of the worst times to consider any additional cuts to our health safety net.

 

FamilyCare is a bipartisan community-based, long-term care program that plays a vital role in Wisconsin’s health safety net. The program serves our state’s most vulnerable neighbors, including the elderly and individuals with disabilities, to enhance their health and quality of life.

 

As you may know, Governor Walker’s 2011-2013 Biennial Budget instituted a cap on the FamilyCare program. During the budget debate, my Democratic colleagues and I expressed our concerns about how family, friends and neighbors would suffer by being denied these life-saving services. Unfortunately, voices from across Wisconsin were once again ignored and the cap went into effect on July 1, 2011.


This past December, the federal government stepped in, ordering Governor Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature to pass legislation immediately in order to lift the caps on FamilyCare. As a result, Senate Bill 380 and Assembly Bill 477 were introduced. If the Legislature fails to pass Senate Bill 380 or Assembly Bill 477, Wisconsin will have to forfeit the $1.75 billion it is expected to receiving in matching federal funds for our Medicaid programs, including FamilyCare.

As a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 380 and Assembly Bill 477, I will continuing doing what I can to usher these bills through the legislative process. I will also continue to monitor the FamilyCare program to ensure that our family, friends, and neighbors receive the same level of coverage and quality of care once the cap has been removed.

 

Click here to view a copy of this legislation.

 

A Pattern of Assault
The full-scale attack on FamilyCare is not the first time that Governor Walker and his administration have put out a bounty on Wisconsin’s health safety net. In his backwards budget, Governor Walker cut nearly $500 million from our state’s Medicaid programs, which will have an especially devastating effect on our neighbors in Milwaukee County.

 

Notable health care cuts placed in the most recent biennial budget are listed below:

  • Only extends SeniorCare through 2012, bringing uncertainty to the long-term availability of the program, which is a cheaper option to Medicare Part D for our seniors and taxpayers.

  • Substantially restricts women's access to preventative health care, including: cancer screenings, pap tests, birth control and medical exams.

  • Reduces the eligibility and services for BadgerCare, which provides services to working families and had a wait-list of 50,000 Wisconsinites in June 2010.

The Governor continued his extreme agenda announcing an additional $554 million in cuts this past October. With these cuts, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) estimates that almost 65,000 Wisconsinites, including 30,000 pregnant women and children, will lose their current BadgerCare health care coverage.

 

Wisconsin's vital health care programs ensure that our families and neighbors are able to receive quality, affordable health care to prevent costly emergency room visits. These programs also help save valuable taxpayer dollars by keeping our loved ones in their own homes and active in their communities instead of placing them in nursing homes and in-patient facilities.

 

 

 

Rushing Special Needs Voucher Program

This past Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 486, legislation that would create a Special Needs Voucher Program. After listening to hours of testimony, this controversial bill left many with more questions than answers about how children with special needs would be educated, our neighborhood schools affected, and local taxpayers burdened under this bill.

 

Click here to view a list of just some of the questions raised by the Department of Public Instruction during this public hearing.

 

Lower Education Quality for Special Needs Students

Some of the most concerning issues raised dealt with the caliber of education that would be provided to  children with disabilities in our community. There is currently no provision in Senate Bill 486 that would require participating private and religious schools to periodically re-evaluate the individualized education program of a child with special needs. This runs counter to what is currently required of public schools under federal and state laws, which state that a child's individualized education program must, at the very least, be reviewed annually. Keeping individualized education plans up-to-date is vital to our children's education, as it ensures they are being taught in a way that fosters their learning and helps them develop essential life skills.

 

This bill weakens protections for students even further by not requiring participating private schools to have certified special education or related services personnel on staff to assist and educate any special needs students. In fact, it appears that under this bill, those teaching special education voucher students in private and religious schools would not even be required to hold a college degree. Parents should have some reassurance that their children are in capable hands and being taught by teachers that have the appropriate credentials and necessary experience.

 

Blank Checks to Private and Religious Schools

The significant flaws found in the program created by Senate Bill 486 do not just affect those special needs students who participate, but will also have a profound impact on all of our students as more money will be siphoned away from our neighborhood schools. Currently, public schools across Wisconsin only receive partial reimbursement of 26%, or a "sum certain" appropriation, of the total cost associated with educating a special needs child. Private and religious schools participating in the program created by Senate Bill 486, on the other hand, will receive a "sum sufficient" appropriation of 100%. This means if there are not enough school aids available to cover the cost of the program, other funds would need to be raided to fulfill the obligation.

 

Also under this bill, public and religious schools would be provided a maximum of $13,593 annually per special needs student, which is more than double the amount awarded for current voucher participants and almost three times the amount the state provides per pupil to our community schools for general aids. In addition to providing a higher reimbursement rate, Senate Bill 486:

  • Does not place a cap on the number of students who could enroll as special needs to private and religious schools using taxpayer funds.

  • Has no oversight for verifying that a student qualifies as special needs since the private or religious school makes its own determination.

  • Allows a current voucher student to re-enroll in an attempt to qualify as special needs so private and religious schools receive twice what they do now to educate the same student.

  • Reduces general aid to public schools districts by the amount of each special needs voucher provided, which means that some districts could be left with fewer resources for services needed by students with disabilities that continue attending our neighborhood schools.

  • Is silent on whether a school district's general aid would continue to be reduced if a participating special needs student moves out of that district and into another Wisconsin school district.

  • Provides no reimbursement to the state or taxpayers if participating private or religious schools accept the special needs voucher, but does not provide the necessary services.

It seems that if Senate Bill 486 were to pass, our neighborhood schools would essentially be forced to raid their drastically-cut budgets to write a blank check to private and religious schools. The implications of creating a special needs voucher program with very little accountability and transparency  can be seen first hand in Florida's McKay Scholarship Program, which is similar to what is being proposed in Senate Bill 486. This program has been the subject of investigations that uncovered widespread fraud and abuse and was described by the Miami New Times as a "perverse science experiment, using disabled school kids as lab rats and funded by nine figures in taxpayer cash." Is this really the type of program we want to mirror?

 

Increased Burden on Taxpayers

Communities that have voucher programs in place, including our own, have seen the financial burden it places on their local property taxes. In 2010, state law compelled Milwaukee Public Schools to levy over $50 million in taxes to subsidize the private and religious schools making up the voucher program, which amounts to 17% of the total Milwaukee Public Schools tax levy. Legislation at the state level recently expanded the voucher program in Milwaukee to allow private schools outside Milwaukee to participate, while also removing all enrollment caps on the program and raising the income limits on participants. Due to these policy changes in the Republican Budget, the cost of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program rose significantly, exceeding the state’s official 2012 estimate and increasing the financial responsibility of taxpayers to 22.6%.

 

Senate Bill 486 would again increase that financial burden, as it would cost Wisconsin an additional $80 million annually, which would balloon as more children with special needs participate in the program.

Click here to view a copy of Senate Bill 486.

 

 

Changing Our Redistricting Process

In order to encourage a new, more reasonable system of redistricting, I am co-sponsoring LRB 3475, legislation that would create an independent redistricting commission for Wisconsin. Redistricting has increasingly become a tool for partisan gain and sadly neither party has resisted the temptation to try and further their hold on power. This has created a hyper-partisan environment where legislators and their attorneys are more concerned with saving their own jobs, than ensuring each an every Wisconsinite receives adequate and equal representation as is promised to them by our Constitution.

How the Redistricting Process Works in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin State Legislature is required by Article IV, Section 3 of the Wisconsin Constitution to redraw Senate and Assembly districts every 10 years based upon the results of the federal census to ensure districts provide representational equality for all potential voters.

Wisconsin currently uses a legislative redistricting process, where the maps are drawn up by the majority parties in the Legislature, are voted on by the Senate and Assembly, and are then signed by the governor. If the Legislature cannot agree on a redistricting plan, as is usually the case with split houses, the Supreme Court steps in to finalize the new legislative districts. For the past 50 years, Wisconsin's elected officials have had to work together with bipartisan cooperation or leave the task of redistricting up to the courts. This was the first time in 60 years that one political party had complete control over the redistricting process.

The Benefits of an Independent Commission

Many states are shifting from a Legislative Redistricting Model to bipartisan or nonpartisan commissions to draw up their maps in an effort to decrease partisanship as well as legal fees involved with the process. In a state that has an Independent Commission Redistricting Model, maps are drawn by a redistricting commission comprised of nonpartisan members. If the Legislature rejects all three plans proposed by the commission, the State Supreme Court makes the final decision. So far 21 states use some form of a Commission Redistricting Model, such as an independent commission.

 

LRB 3475/1 would convert our current Legislative Redistricting Model to and Independent Commission Redistricting Model. The creation of this commission would have two goals:

 

1). Make the districts as compact and contiguous as possible

2). Make the districts as electoraly competitive as possible.

To implement this new redistricting process, we would have to change the Wisconsin Constitution.

In order to pass this constitutional amendment, a resolution must pass through the Legislature in two consecutive sessions and pass a statewide referendum.
Therefore, this legislation would not be implemented until the 2021 redistricting process occurs.

 

Recent Events Show Change is Necessary
In the most recent redistricting process, Republican legislators spared no expense to hire attorneys with $400,000 in taxpayer money to craft a secret plan to protect their jobs and create a one-party monopoly in Wisconsin for at least the next decade. After legislators, advocates, and neighbors voiced concerns over the new legislative district maps drawn and hurriedly passed by Republicans earlier this year, two former legislators and 13 others filed a legal challenge. The group raised concerns that the ultra-partisan boundaries violate the federal Voting Rights Act and the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because of the way they divide minority communities, break apart neighborhoods, and shift voters from one district to another.

In September, a federal three-judge panel was assembled to hear the challenge. The panel, two of whom are Republican appointees, includes J.P. Stadtmueller of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Diane P. Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Robert M. Dow Jr. of the Northern District of Illinois.

Republicans introduced several legal motions attempting to keep the process used to craft the maps secret. Not only did the three-judge panel rule against these attempts, but they issued a scathing opinion saying the following: "Quite frankly, the Legislature and the actions of its counsel give every appearance of flailing wildly in a desperate attempt to hide from both the court and the public the true nature of exactly what transpired in the redistricting process."

 

The court is continuing to hear this case and is expected to make a decision before the maps drafted by Republican legislators, their attorneys, and special interests go into effect in the Fall 2012 election.

 

Neighbors Support Changing Redistricting Model
This past July, I gave neighbors the opportunity to participate in a survey about Wisconsin's redistricting process. Overall, more than 400 people responded with their perspective. The survey found that:

  • 90% of respondents oppose Wisconsin's current redistricting system, which has the Legislature draw the state's Senate and Assembly district maps

  • 84% of respondents believe Wisconsin's current redistricting system increases partisanship and political gridlock in the state

  • 83% of respondents believe Wisconsin should switch to a bipartisan or nonpartisan commission model

First Step Towards Change

Wisconsin residents deserve assurance that they will not be treated as if they are pawns in a political game. An independent redistricting commission would allow for more accountability and transparency for what has recently been turned into a politically biased and secretive practice. It is time that we get our state moving forward again by taking politics out of such important constitutional matters as redistricting. The passage of LRB 3475 would be a good first step in cleaning up Wisconsin government and returning power to the people.

 

 

Protecting the Rights of Shareholders

It is important to ensure that everyone has a voice in our electoral process. Many neighbors have expressed their concerns about the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision, which allows corporations to make unlimited contributions to political campaigns. Therefore, I am co-sponsoring LRB 3530, the Shareholder Protection Act, to help ensure that the tradition of transparent, accountable government continues in Wisconsin.
 

The Shareholder Protection Act requires top corporate leaders to seek the approval of shareholders before the company makes contributions in state and local races. Shareholders have the right to know what political activities, parties, and candidates their potential earnings are being spent on. Such relationships and patronages may have a profound impact on the corporation's operation, reputation, and long-term sustainability.
 

Many shareholders make their investing decisions based on more than the potential for financial gain. Just as a shareholder is entitled to know if the company is investing in troubled regions or regimes, they should also be entitled to know and have an influence on the political activities and expenditures of the corporation the have a stake in. This proposal will help ensure that the political actions of a corporation actually reflect the will of the shareholders, rather than the whims of a CEO.

 

Click here to view a copy of this legislation.

 

 

Friday is Read Across America Day

Read Across America Day is this Friday, March 2. The National Education Association established Read Across America day in 1998 to celebrate and get children excited about reading.


Read Across America Day is held every year on March 2, the birthday of the American children’s author Dr. Seuss, who wrote over 40 children’s books, including multiple best-sellers many of which are still read by children and adults all over the world.


According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 39% of Milwaukee Public School students are at or above the basic reading level in grade 4 and only Detroit and Cleveland had worse results. Additionally, 51% of students are at or above the basic reading level in grade 8 and only Detroit, Fresno and Washington, D.C. had worse results. Read Across America Day was created in hopes of improving statistics like these and to motivate children to become successful readers.


Reading is a vital skill for student and lifetime achievement. According to the National Education Association, research shows that children who spend more time reading do better in school. In addition to this annual celebration, the National Education Association also provides resources to parents and teachers to get children excited about reading 365 days a year.

 

Click here for more information about Read Across America Day and the National Education Association.

 

 

 

St. Patrick's Day Festivities

Celebrate a full weekend of St. Patrick's Day events with the Shamrock Club of Wisconsin this year, including the 46th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The St. Patrick's Day parade is the oldest and largest St. Patrick's Day celebration in Wisconsin and has marched along Milwaukee’s streets since 1943.
 

This year’s celebration will kick-off Friday night at the Shamrock in Westown, located at the Miller Time Pub. Admission is free and guests will enjoy entertainment by Ian Gould and The Sandcravers. The parade steps off Saturday, March 10 at noon. It will start on Wisconsin Avenue at Old World Third Street and make its way through Downtown Milwaukee. Appearing in the parade will be Irish-themed floats, regional pipe and drum corps, Irish and Celtic organizations, and more. Anyone planning to attend the parade is encouraged to bring food items with them for the 3rd Annual food drive. Volunteers will be walking the parade route with grocery carts to collect donations.

 

Immediately following the parade the Post Parade Party will take place at the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center. The party will feature Irish entertainment and dancers along with traditional food and beverages.

 

Click here to view the parade route and find more information about the upcoming St. Patrick's Day festivities.
 

 

 

Meet for Coffee at Fixx

Saturday, March 3 from 11 a.m. to Noon

I will have office hours open to the public at Fixx Coffee House in St. Francis. This is your chance to talk in person about any questions, concerns, or opinions you might have about our community or state. No appointment necessary. Feel free to call my office for additional information.

 

Click here to visit the Web site for Fixx Coffee House.

Fixx Coffee House (MAP)
3558 East Sivyer Avenue
St. Francis, WI 53235
 

 

 

Thank You Neighbors!

Thank you to everyone that attended the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association Meeting this past Tuesday. It was encouraging to see so many of our neighbors stop by to share their thoughts on state issues.

The thoughtful comments and questions are greatly appreciated. Hearing your perspective on issues that will have a significant impact on our community is crucial as we wrap up the legislative session.


 

 

Neighborhood Survey Available

I created a survey asking about various issues that are important to our community, and our state. The input of neighbors is greatly appreciated.

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.

 

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

 

I look forward to hearing your views on these important issues!

 

 

 

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, SenatorChrisLarson.com.

 

Click here to view the same PDF in Spanish.

 

 

 

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