Larson Report 

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A Capitol Update from State Senator Chris Larson 

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

My deepest sympathies are with those touched by the senseless, violent tragedy in Las Vegas.

We all deserve to live in safe communities and the primary role of government is to keep people safe. No person’s life should be threatened, harmed, or cut short by violence of any kind. No family should have to fear that their loved ones won’t be safe when enjoying something as simple as a music concert.

While we deal with the shock of this tragedy, and mourn the loss of so many, we can no longer afford to do so silently. We must have a serious conversation about the epidemic of gun violence that plagues our neighborhoods.

We must all commit to taking meaningful action to reduce and prevent these senseless acts of violence. It’s time to address the fallacy that more guns, less training, and easier firearm purchases will make us safer. It’s the wrong direction. For more information on some proven ways to prevent gun violence, like universal background checks, see a previous Larson Report on this topic, here. 

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and the families of this horrific tragedy.
As you know, Wisconsin is a place that prides itself on our clean and abundant water. Each of us expects and deserves access to safe water to drink and the reassurance that our state policies reflect a long-term commitment to safeguarding the quality and health of our shared natural land.

These values are critically at stake as a toxic mining bill passed through a Republican-controlled Senate committee. Additionally, a pair of bills that will do further harm to our wetlands were circulated for co-sponsorship. Keep reading for more information on these three bills as well as for a brief history of attacks on lands and waters we've seen in the Walker era. 

In Service, 


Stewardship Heritage Under Attack

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Our policies must reflect a long-term commitment to our natural areas. When I ran for state senate, I did so because I share a belief with my neighbors that we have an obligation to our children and grandchildren to ensure safe water, air, and land for generations to come. Since having the privilege to serve the 7th Senate District, I have continued to fight for our shared values, which have been under attack by polluters and politicians alike. Across Wisconsin, our neighbors are deeply concerned about the health and quality of our rivers, streams, and forests. 

Wisconsin: Vulnerable to "Most Toxic Industry in the Country"
Just this week, we saw another Republican bill that attacks our heritage of stewardship passed through a GOP-controlled committee.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry voted, along party lines, to lift Wisconsin’s moratorium on sulfide mining. In 1998, a bipartisan group of Wisconsin lawmakers introduced this moratorium, also known as the “prove-it-first” law. It passed 29-3 in the Senate and 91-6 in the Assembly in 1998 and was signed into law by Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. This law requires sulfide mining applicants to prove a mine can operate for 10 years and be closed for 10 years without polluting before acquiring a permit. These mining practices are terribly toxic and no mining companies have been able to find a mine fitting these two standards since the passage of the bipartisan moratorium.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sulfide mining is America's most toxic industry, proving a need for prudent, pollution safeguards. Much like Foxconn, Republican legislators are using this dangerous bill to grab headlines, but ultimately our neighbors will fall victim to another 'bait and switch' scheme where the economic payback promise of jobs won't materialize, at the expense of our hard-earned tax dollars and safety of our lands and waters. 

Senate Bill 395 would clear the way for irresponsible mining that would devastate the natural beauty of Wisconsin’s environment, therefore, it's no surprise that many advocates have come out in opposition to this bill. Experts from groups, like Sierra Club, the River Alliance of Wisconsin, and the Midwest Environmental Advocates testified at the public hearing on the bill, have written op-eds noting the harm that will follow the passage of this bill, and have launched a video campaign to provide the real facts of this dangerous proposal.  

Democrats on the committee were critical of the GOP's eagerness to trade the health and well-being of Wisconsin citizens for increased profits for mining corporations. The GOP added a deceptive twist with one amendment passed in the committee, it states that the technology used in proposed mining operations should be capable of resulting in compliance with existing Department of Natural Resources regulations. This amendment removes our safeguard of actually requiring mining corporations to have a proven track record of using environmentally compliant mining technology.  This linguistic distinction may result in Wisconsin serving as a sort of testing ground for new, unproven, and potentially hazardous technology.

Notably, the amendments passed in committee do not change the bill's language pertaining to the 'prove-it-first' law. According to a statement by the River Alliance, "none of the proposed amendments fulfill our long-standing commitment to protect the environment and local business." 
See their full statement here. 

It makes sense to have the protection that the 'prove-it-first' law guarantees when permanent and detrimental damage to our clean water and overall environment is at stake. We have yet to see a metallic sulfide mine that hasn't left a legacy of pollution; in some cases even turning rivers and lakes into dead zones. Since 1997, the metal mining industry has accounted for 41% of all toxic materials reported to the EPA. The long-term environmental destruction far outweighs any short-term gains from sulfide mining. If we do not keep the moratorium in place, Wisconsin would be vulnerable to excessive pollution that would have harmful environmental and health consequences for generations to come.

Click here to hear this week's Democratic Radio Address on this issue. 

Click here to sign the Wisconsin Conservation Voters petition telling legislators to reject the toxic mining bill. 

Defying Logic: Getting Rid of Flood Protections After Unprecedented Flooding 
In addition to the toxic mining bill, there are bills being circulated for co-sponsorship that jeopardize the legal foundation that has protected 40% of our wetlands. These proposals would allow our wetlands to be filled in for development, opening the door to increased flooding in our local neighborhoods.

This summer, communities across the state were devasted by unprecedented flooding. Particularly harmed were the areas throughout western Wisconsin that were hit with tens of millions of dollars in damages by flash flooding. In the southeastern corner of the state, flooding caused nearly $9 million in damages to local roads and bridges. In fact, this week the United State Department of Agriculture designated seven Wisconsin counties as disaster areas due to the crop losses from heavy rains this summer. Wisconsin farmers in Calumet County lost over 30% of their strawberry crop as a result of the heavy rain and flooding. A crop loss that large is a financial catastrophe. This should come as a clear red flag to the governor and GOP legislators that we must protect our local farmers and our state's economy with policies that will preserve our agriculture and tourism industries, both of which rely heavily on a pro-conservation agenda. 

In a timely and critical opinion piece published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tracy Hames -- the executive director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association -- offered his expert thoughts on the importance of our wetlands and the grave reality of where Wisconsin is heading.

Here's a section of the op-ed:

"Here’s a story of wetlands at work: In five hours on the night of July 11, 2016, storms dropped a foot of water across a large portion of northern Wisconsin, causing more than $35 million in damage. Highways washed out, homes and businesses were inundated, and two lives were lost. Amidst this devastation, however, is the story of Bibon Swamp, a 14,000-acre wetland in the upper reaches of the White River. The swamp soaked up enough runoff that night to raise its water level nearly 6 feet. This translates to more than 10 billion gallons of water that did not go rushing down the White River and over a hydropower dam located only a few miles downstream from the swamp. Locals speculate that it was Bibon Swamp that saved the dam."

Hames goes on to warn us that further erosion of our wetland protections, including exemptions from wetland safeguards carved out in the Trump/Walker/Foxconn deal is the wrong approach. We must recommit to having healthy and robust wetlands to protect our neighbors, businesses, farms, and infrastructure from further devastation. You can read the full opinion piece, here. 

A Dangerous Pattern of Intentional Neglect
In our recent history, our waters have suffered from intentional neglect, a partisan rejection of our tradition of bipartisan stewardship, and politics that put corporate profits ahead of sustainability. As a result, our groundwater, rivers and streams, and lakes are all critically at risk of pollution and other devastating consequences. Threats to our groundwater are causing our private wells to become tainted, runoff pollution has resulted in countless miles of Wisconsin streams and rivers to become unable to support recreation and wildlife, and this pollution is creating a toxic soup of bacteria, algae, and chemicals in our lakes.  

Instead of taking strategic, common sense, approaches to safeguarding our lands and waters and protecting our health, Republicans have furthered their anti-conservation agenda. Here's just a sampling of the destructive actions that have passed into law in the seven years since Walker has taken office and Republicans took control of the Senate and Assembly (many other proposals have been introduced but blocked after public backlash):

  • 2011 Wisconsin Act 6
    2011 Wisconsin Act 6, which passed as Special Session Senate Bill 10, in the 2011-2012 legislative session, paved the way for a single corporation to fill in a wetland near Lambeau Field for development. At a site visit before the bill's passage, a wide-range of wildlife were observed, including sandhill cranes and geese. The Department of Natural Resources denied the developers application to fill the wetland because it did not meet the state's requirements. That's when Republicans ignored the expertise of biologists and other staff at the Department of Natural Resources and carved out an exemption for the corporation through 2011 Wisconsin Act 6. Despite the special treatment, the developer never actually built anything on the site. 

  • 2011 Wisconsin Act 118
    fter the passage of the aforementioned bill, the GOP majority continued chipping away at our wetland safeguards by passing what became 2011 Wisconsin Act 118 during the 2011-2012 session. Rather than attacking a specific wetland area, this law dangerously threatens all of Wisconsin's wetlands by fundamentally changing our protection standards. 

    Before Walker and the GOP took control of the Legislature, our wetland protections were arrived at through a collaborative, bipartisan process that resulted in an overwhelmingly supported law. The conservational success of this law was based on the “avoid, minimize, mitigate” principle. This principle established that developers seeking to fill wetlands must first attempt to avoid filling wetlands by looking for other, non-wetlands properties for development; then, if an alternative option was not possible, developers would need to reconfigure their project to minimize loss of wetlands, and finally, if the wetlands were to be destroyed, they would need to mitigate that loss by creating new wetlands to try to reduce flood potential and habitat loss.

    2011 Wisconsin Act 118 overturned the “avoid, minimize, and mitigate” principle of saving natural wetlands and encourages developers to go straight to mitigation. This move allowed developers to pay to have lower quality, manmade wetlands away from the filled-in wetlands they develop on. 

    I strongly opposed this legislation and introduced eight common sense amendments to reduce potential flooding and wetlands destruction in the Senate committee. Unfortunately, despite the support of mainstream environmental and hunting groups, each amendment was rejected on a partisan vote. 

  • 2011 Wisconsin Act 167
    2011 Wisconsin Act 167 changed a number of ways permits for construction and repair projects in or near navigable bodies of water are issued. This law negatively affects our water quality and resources, making it more difficult for the Department of Natural Resources to regulate construction or help protect our waterways by decreasing the ability for public participation in the permitting process.

  • 2013 Wisconsin Act 1 -- Iron Mining 
    During the 2013-14 Legislative Session, Republicans passed a partisan, open-pit mining bill, while at the same time rejecting a bipartisan alternative. This alternative would have both provided certainty in the permitting process and protected our waterways and local economies. Unfortunately, Republicans in the Legislature ignored this bipartisan proposal and 20 hours of expert testimony, choosing instead a bill written by an out-of-state mining company. This legislation made sweeping changes to Wisconsin’s environmental regulations by exempting mining companies from those currently in place in Wisconsin. The passage of the partisan, open-pit mining bill leaves us vulnerable to contaminated lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater with toxins like arsenic, lead, and mercury. Passage of this bill was also another false promise of jobs, as the corporation -- despite getting every concession and special treatment -- abandoned the mine proposal.

  • 2013 Wisconsin Act 81
    2013 Wisconsin Act 81 closed public access to up to 4,000 acres of managed forest land indefinitely. The managed forest law is a substantial tax relief program that was enacted in 1985 to promote timber production as well as more recreation space for outdoor enthusiasts. Under the managed forest law, property owners receive a tax break if they agree to maintain a Department of Natural Resources-approved forest management plan and keep their property open to the public.

    This law was passed in order to allow the open-pit iron mining company that was supposed to drill in northern Wisconsin to bypass some of these restrictions that property owners seeking the reduced taxes must adhere to. The closure of 4,000 acres of managed forest land is excessive, unjustified, and unfair not only to taxpayers and outdoor recreation enthusiasts but also to the thousands of Wisconsin landowners participating in the program in good faith.

  • 2013 Wisconsin Act 80
    We must protect our lakes from polluted runoff and sediment. 2013 Wisconsin Act 80 jeopardizes local erosion control efforts and water safeguards by allowing exemptions from shoreland zoning laws. 

  • Developer Grab Bag -- 2015 Wisconsin Act 391
    In yet another move to prioritize short-term political points over the long-term sustainability and safety of our water, Republicans pushed through what is now 2015 Wisconsin Act 391, stripping away the right of local communities to prevent frac sand mining from happening in their neighborhood. 

  • Polluter Grab Bag -- 2015 Wisconsin Act 387
    2015 Wisconsin Act 387, enacted last session, further rolled back protections for our wetlands. 


Take Action! 

As you likely know, the Department of Natural Resources Secretary, Cathy Stepp, whose legacy includes denying and ignoring climate change, recently resigned to take a position with the Trump administration. 

Last week, Governor Walker appointed former Republican lawmaker, Dan Meyer as the new secretary.

Our children and grandchildren deserve clean air to breathe and water that is free of pollution, without political interference or pressure. Meyer's appointment must go through the Senate before being confirmed, and legislators will have an opportunity to ask him questions. 

What questions do you have for the secretary? Email them to me at Sen.Larson@Legis.Wisconsin.Gov. 

In Case You Missed It

Each week, the Larson Report strives to provide up-to-date, in-depth information to you. Between editions, a lot happens in Madison and our Wisconsin communities. I want to make sure you know the most pressing issues facing our neighborhoods across the state. Below are some of the top stories from the past couple of weeks.

  • Gill v. Whitford: Wisconsin Gerrymandering in the Supreme Court

    Access to free and fair elections is a fundamental American value that must be protected.

    Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments for Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin partisan gerrymandering case concerning the federally deemed unconstitutional Assembly district maps, which were secretly crafted by Wisconsin Republicans.

    For too long, the voices of our neighbors have been silenced and our fundamental democratic freedoms betrayed by allowing politicians to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their politicians.

    The outcome of this case is one of the most critical U.S Supreme Court decisions of our time, and challenges the partisan abuse of power that has put a stranglehold on our elections for years.

    Using Wisconsin as a catalyst for justice and primary case study, the Gill v. Whitford case can serve as a clear example of the damage to democracy that highly partisan gerrymandering can have. In fact, before the GOP redrew Wisconsin’s district maps, Democrats held 52 seats in the Assembly after winning 57% of the vote, opposed to 46 seats held by Republicans. Just four years later, Democrats won 52% of the Wisconsin Assembly vote but held only 39 assembly seats; a sharp contrast to the 60 Republican-held seats.

    These seats and maps are essential to the building blocks of our democracy and are much more than just chess pieces used in an unfair partisan power grab; they represent our right as Americans to pick leaders who protect the integrity of our elections and represent the shared values of our state.

    For more information about this case, click here.

  • Wisconsin’s Right to Free and Fair Elections
    The right to vote in our country is our most fundamental freedom. We must protect the integrity of our elections while also ensuring that voting is completely free, fair, and accessible.
    A study released last week estimates that between 16,000 and 23,250 voters in Dane and Milwaukee Counties were unable to vote because of the strict requirements of our state’s law that requires an ID for voting. 

    Read more about voter ID law’s effect on voter turnout here.

  • College Goal Wisconsin
    Are you thinking about filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)?

    College Goal Wisconsin is affiliated with a national event that provides free information and assistance to families who need to complete FAFSA -- the federally required form for students seeking financial aid -- such as grants and loans. Completing the FAFSA is the first and most important step in qualifying for aid.

    For more information on these important events, click here.

  • WI Health Matters Talks Federal Health Care Scheme
    A coalition of health care advocates, collectively called WI Health Matters, shared stories and information about what the federal health care proposal and what its passage would have meant for Wisconsin families. 

    From tax cuts that primarily benefit the very wealthy to raising premiums for people with pre-existing conditions to kicking 414,000 Wisconsinites off of their coverage entirely this proposal would have been detremential to our neighbors' health and quality of life.

    Click here to view the video. 

Events in the Community
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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.

Give Kids a Smile -- Free Dental Exams for Children Ages 3-16
Saturday, October 7 from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Oral health is critical to overall health and well-being. Having poor dental hygiene can put you at a much greater risk of developing a variety of diseases and conditions throughout your life, which is why having regular dental exams is crucial, especially during childhood.
In an effort to provide dental care to kids who otherwise might not be able to access it, the Greater Milwaukee Dental Association, along with the Marquette University School of Dentistry, are again hosting the Head Start/Give Kids A Smile Dental Screening Day Saturday, October 7. Throughout the day, children ages 3-16 will receive free dental exams, along with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and fluoride varnish. A big thank you to the many Milwaukee area dentists, dental hygienists, dental students, and community organizers who are putting on this event. I am grateful for your commitment to the health of our kids!

Marquette University School of Dentistry 
1801 W Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53233

Wisconsin Health Fund 22nd Annual Health Fair 
Saturday, October 7 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Looking for free flu shots, screenings, and information on health and safety? The Wisconsin Health Fund (WHF) is hosting its 22nd annual Health Fair. Included in this free fair, WHF provides the community with services such as skin cancer screening, blood pressure screening, hearing and vision testing, and flu shots.

Wisconsin Health Fund
6200 W Bluemound Rd.
Milwaukee, WI 53213

Halloween Glen 
Friday, October 13 through Saturday, October 14
This non-scary Halloween and educational event is perfect for families! This humorous and educational outdoor adventure is a great alternative to the usual Halloween events. Actors will present interactive skits along the luminaria-lighted trails of Hawthorn Glen, Milwaukee Recreation’s 23-acre nature center. Families can then make craft projects, watch Halloween cartoons, and enjoy refreshments. People who wish to participate should register in advance. 

Trek ‘n Treat
Sunday, October 15 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 
Looking for a fun and educational way for your kids to get into the fall spirit? The Friends of Grant Park are sponsoring the event to "view the haunts of nature." By following the trails through the 7 Bridges area to 20 different stations, families will answer nature-related questions to receive treats along the way! Get into the fall spirit with some candy, pumpkin painting, and other activities related to Grant Park and its unique habitat.

Grant Park

100 Hawthorne Ave.
South Milwaukee, 53172

Pumpkin Pavilion

Thursday, October 19 through Sunday, October 22
Come see the beautiful sight of over 500 spooky jack-o-lanterns light up in the October night. The entire community is invited to attend in this year’s Pumpkin Pavilion to enjoy the Halloween festivities. On October 19 and 20, the public is invited to bring their creative carving ideas to help carve hundreds of pumpkins that will be set to light up on October 21 and 22. There will be fun games and activities, music, food, and the glowing pumpkin display for all to see.

Humboldt Park Pavilion
3000 S. Howell Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53207

South Milwaukee Downtown Market
Every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. until October 12
The city of South Milwaukee is having their Farmer’s Market every Thursday until October. At the market, you can find locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, flowers, and art. With the winter months coming up, be sure to grab some fresh, local produce while you can! The Farmer’s Market is held at the intersection of Milwaukee and 11th Avenues each Thursday.

Milwaukee Film Festival
Thursday, September 28 through Saturday, October 21
Join Milwaukee Film for a 15-day film festival aimed to entertain, educate, and engage the Milwaukee community through film. 

Oriental Theatre
2230 N Farwell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202