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April 23, 2015




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




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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. 


Alverno Forum: Genocide and its Global Consequences

Date: Thursday, April 23 at 6 p.m.

Location: Milwaukee

Description: Genocide has profound and far-reaching consequences. This forum will take on the challenge of investigating some of those consequences by exploring the effects on individuals, communities, and the global world. Forum participants, led by our panelists, will explore immigration and relocation due to genocide; cultural memory and cultural trauma; the social, genetic, and political consequences of diminished population diversity; and how we can connect meaningfully with our neighbors and our community through a deeper understanding of these issues.

To register for the Global Consequences forum, CLICK HERE.


Alverno College


3400 S. 43rd St.
Milwaukee, WI 53234


19th Annual Beer Tasting
and Live Auction Event

Date: Thursday, April 23 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Location: Bay View


Sample exciting and inventive beers from Wisconsin's many craft breweries. The event will feature dinner and a live auction. All proceeds will provide enrichment programs for families and seniors and supply the Bay View Community Center's food pantry. Tickets are required and are $35 through March 31, $40 after April 1, and $40 at the door.
Call 414-482-1000 for tickets or CLICK HERE.

The South Shore Yacht Club


2300 E Nock Street Milwaukee, WI 53207

Disney in Concert: A Tale as Old as Time
Date: April 24, 3 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Experience the magic of Disney with four leading vocalists like never before! See scenes from your favorite Disney movies -- including Frozen, Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Tangled, The Lion King, and more. Your favorite Disney stories come to life through Disney visuals and memorable melodies performed live by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. For ore information CLICK HERE  or call 414-273-7206

Marcus Center for the Performing Arts


929 N. Water St., Milwaukee, WI 53202

City of Cudahy 2015 Arbor Day Celebration
Date: Saturday, April 25, 2015 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 pm
Location: Sheridan Park, Cudahy, WI (meet at Cudahy High School�s football field)
Description: In a combined celebration of Arbor Day and Earth Day, come help in a clean-up of Sheridan Park by picking up litter and planting trees at Cudahy High School! Every little bit of effort to keep our community safe and clean is appreciated.

Cudahy High School

4950 S Lake Drive

Cudahy, WI 53110

An Irish Night at the Museum
Date: April 25-26, 6:30 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Milwaukee Irish Fest is proud to host An Irish Night at the Museum to celebrate its 35th Anniversary. The event being held at the Milwaukee Public Museum, will have a silent auction, dynamic food stations, a hosted bar with free beer, wine and soda, and entertainment from Tallymoore and Socks in the Frying Pan! This event is limited to guests 21 and older. CLICK HERE for more information or call 414-278-2702

Milwaukee Public Museum


800 W. Wells St., Milwaukee, WI 53202

Butler vs. Bullying: Making Friends, Not Enemies
Date: Monday, April 27, 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)
Location: Cudahy
Description: Light it up Blue and Healthiest Cudahy Collaboration presents this event featuring LeRoy Butler, to help shine a light on Autism and Child Development. The event is FREE, but tickets are required. Tickets are available at Cudahy Health Department at 5050 S. Lake Drive, Cudahy, WI 53110 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Cudahy High School

4950 S Lake Drive

Cudahy, WI 53110


Free Transit Rides
Date: April 28
Location: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties
Description: Public transportation across four counties will be free for an entire day as the Greater Milwaukee Foundation presents its next centennial Gift to the Community. Transit systems throughout Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties will offer rides at no cost on Tuesday, April 28, during their respective operating hours.
CLICK HERE, for more information.

Annual Bay View Tragedy Commemoration

Date: Sunday, May 3 at 3 p.m.Location: Bay View

Description: The event pays tribute to those lost in the tragedy of May 5, 1886, when the State Militia shot into a crowd of some 1,500 workers marching in an eight-hour-day rally, killing seven in front of the old Bay View Rolling Mills, then Milwaukee's largest manufacturing plant. The Bay View Tragedy played a significant role in Wisconsin's labor movement and the struggle of Wisconsin's workers to fight for their rights and improve their employment conditions.

Bay View Rolling Mills State Historical Marker Site (MAP)
Northeast Corner of South Superior and East Russell
Milwaukee, WI 53207


Milwaukee Museum Mile
Date: Sunday, May 3, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Come celebrate the fourth year of the Milwaukee Museum Mile's Annual Event. On this day, all five locations will offer free or reduced admission. Each museum will offer free tours and light refreshments -- including champagne at several locations. There are a number of free activities that will be available for children including the Milwaukee Museum Mile scavenger hunt. A shuttle bus will be made available for transportation between locations and no cost.

For more information, including location information, visit CLICK HERE or call (414) 278-8295.

The Milwaukee Ballet Presents: Cinderella
Date: May 14 through May 17
Location: Milwaukee
Description: The classic journey from servant to princess takes on added luster through the creative lens of Michael Pink. Delight in fairy godmothers, glass slippers and a pumpkin carriage that all conspire to deliver Cinderella to an unforgettable world of fantasy, love and beauty. All of this is punctuated by dancers from the Milwaukee Ballet School and Sergei Prokofiev's magical score performed by the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra.
For more information call 414-273-7206

Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

929 N. Water St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202



Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,


As the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Education, providing our children with a quality education is one of my top priorities. Our schools are struggling after being hit with massive cuts to funding over the past several years. In an effort to help our local schools with forward-thinking ideas, Rep. Mandela Barnes and I coauthored a bill that, if passed, will help our children get the education they deserve via the creation of "Community Schools." Read on for more on this bill.


On Tuesday, the Senate was in session. One of the bills that was taken up and passed was the repeal of the 48-hour cooling-off period when purchasing handguns. I was disappointed that this bill passed, and explain the negative implications of this bill in further detail below.


On a positive note, just in time for Earth Day, the Joint Finance Committee removed one of the bad environmental provisions in the 2015-17 state budget, a victory for conservation advocates. I also have details on proposals that could criminalize errors on some government forms. This, and more, is discussed this week in the Larson Report.


Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7



Community Schools Legislation

This week, State Representative Mandela Barnes and I unveiled legislation that would facilitate the creation of "Community Schools" in our local public school districts. Community schools take a wraparound approach, which allows for more comprehensive, individualized services for students.

Access to quality public education is a right that every child deserves and is enshrined in our state constitution. This forward-thinking legislation will help guarantee that our children as well as future generations have the necessary support to succeed year round. Wisconsin Republicans made historic, catastrophic cuts to our public schools and handed over a billion taxpayer dollars to unaccountable, voucher schools for the last 25 years without the promised results to show for it. It's a failed experiment and it's time we try something new. Our legislation creates innovative pathways for students, parents, teachers, other school staff, and members of the broader community to help make all the stakeholders in our neighborhoods succeed together.

In the state of Wisconsin, the concept of community schools is a largely unexplored approach to increasing educational opportunity and access for children. The establishment of community schools is a holistic, innovative strategy that aims to improve educational outcomes of students in underperforming schools while concurrently increasing access to essential services for students and community members alike. After all, children's academic performance and the health and vitality of the communities in which they reside are inextricably linked.

How do we create a "community school"?

First, our bill requires the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to create a community school start−up grant program, under which DPI awards competitive grants to school boards to plan and implement community schools. The bill requires that under the community school start−up grant program DPI will allocate portions of the program funding to establish community schools in both rural and high-poverty school districts, as well as transform low−performing schools into community schools. The bill defines a community school as a public school other than a charter school that focuses on improving student learning, strengthening families, and developing healthier communities, working with community partners to provide additional services to the surrounding community and providing wraparound support services to students and their families.

In order to receive a start-up grant from DPI, the grant applicant must demonstrate that it has secured matching funds for the grant from a community partner -- which could be a local business, community group, or an organization -- and identify a school resource coordinator who will work collaboratively with the school to provide services and programs that meet school and community needs. The school must also put together a "School Leadership Team" to serve as an advisory board for the school. Members would include the principal, community partners, parents, teachers, and/or classified employees, community members, and students (if a high school).

What services will community schools provide?

The applicant for a community school start−up grant must also describe the types of programming the school will provide to improve student learning, strengthen families, and develop a healthier community. Services could include:

  • Providing high−quality child care or early childhood education programming
  • Academic support and enrichment activities, including expanded learning time and summer or afterschool enrichment and learning experiences
  • Home visitation services by teachers or other professionals
  • Programs that promote parental involvement and family literacy, including parent leadership development activities and parenting education activities
  • Job training, internship opportunities, career counseling services, and community service and service−learning opportunities
  • Health services, including primary health, services by a school nurse, dental care, mental health counseling, and nutrition services
  • Adult education, such as English as a Second Language
  • Juvenile crime prevention and rehabilitation programs
  • Homeless prevention services

Finally, we require that community schools provide professional development for school administrators, teachers, and educational support professionals in culturally responsive teaching and practices that promote enhanced understanding, respect, and relationships among staff, pupils, families, and the community.

Republicans in power have spent a great deal of time, energy, and taxpayer dollars coming up with ways to sanction, punish, or privatize public schools who are trying to improve the quality of education they provide our children. This has not helped while those schools also have to deal with historic funding cuts, drastic reductions in resources, and loss of quality staff and teachers. That is why I and other progressives are finding innovative ways to help schools succeed in a sustainable way that will improve the educational outcomes of our children and also improve the overall quality of life in the community.

Rather than focusing solely on the "symptoms" of public schools facing significant challenges, the community school model proactively addresses the complex range of factors that lead to underachievement, while strengthening local communities in the process.

Successful examples of community schools can presently be found in cities such as Oakland, CA, Cincinnati, OH, and Chicago, IL, and smaller-scale initiatives have already been implemented here in Wisconsin. Now we would like to take this approach statewide.

We, as a state, need to come up with innovative ways to ensure every child has an equal and fair opportunity at a high quality education. Our bill not only provides schools the resources to allow kid's to succeed academically, but will also allow our community schools to address factors we know impact a student's ability to thrive in school. Instead of punishing our public schools, we should invest in them and give them the tools they need to succeed. That is the Wisconsin tradition we have historically known and what our bill will help our state return to.

To learn more about the Community Schools movement nationwide, click here to visit the Center for Popular Democracy's website.

To see a copy of our legislation, click here.

Repeal of Cooling-off Safeguard

Earlier this week, Republicans made the decision to ignore the will of the public and side with special interest groups by repealing Wisconsin's 48-hour cooling-off period on handgun purchases.

The bill allows firearm dealers to sell handguns immediately to buyers following a background check. The 48-hour waiting period was created as cooling-off period to reduce emotionally related, violent gun crimes. Eliminating this provision -- which was passed into law in the 1970s and is commonly known as the "cooling-off" period -- removes a crucial window of time for people to reconsider committing gun-related violent acts against others and/or themselves. This waiting period is essential to ensuring public safety.

The Republican actions come as a slap in the face to citizens desperate for solutions to increasing gun violence. Instead of focusing on ways to make our communities safer and implementing background checks for all types of firearm sales -- which polling has shown a vast majority of the public and even 74% of National Rifle Association members support --Republicans took a completely irresponsible step backwards by ignoring the public safety and mental health needs of our community. We must do more to protect families against gun violence, not cave to the influence and pressure of gun manufacturers and lobbyists.

On the floor of the Senate, Democrats proposed several amendments to the bill, including one to create universal background checks for all gun purchases, another would increase penalties for people who purchase firearms with the intent to give it to a felon (known as straw-purchases), and an amendment to keep the 48-hour waiting period on background checks that show a person has a pending domestic abuse charge. All of these sensible amendments, aimed at increasing public safety, were rejected.

Unfortunately, what we saw was another clear example of Republicans in the state putting special interest groups before people and sound public policy. Republicans passing this bill today is like eliminating stoplights, and pretending there won't be more accidents.

Following recent tragedies involving gun violence in our community and across our nation, I have heard from many neighbors with concerns about community safety. Our own neighborhood has experienced the devastation of gun violence first-hand, at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield, and countless other tragedies. We must do more to protect families against gun violence, not cave to the influence and pressure of gun manufacturers and lobbyists.

Republicans in the Legislature need to put aside their blind support for Governor Walker's ambitions, and stop passing bills to bolster his rhetoric while he tries to leave Wisconsin behind. Instead, they should join us in focusing on improving the quality of life of our neighbors here in Wisconsin. We'd be much better off as a state if leaders instead promoted our state's shared values, such as investing in our kids' schools, improving access to basic health care services, and creating family-supporting jobs that will help us grow the economy.

Attacks on Wisconsin's Job Seekers by Criminalizing Errors on Some Government Forms
A little over a month ago, Governor Walker signed so-called "Right to Work" legislation into law despite broad public disapproval. In addition to attacking Wisconsin workers, Governor Walker and his cronies are also scheming to attack and criminalize Wisconsin's job seekers.

Because of the continued lack of focus on creating quality jobs in Wisconsin by state leaders, Wisconsin workers have unfortunately struggled to find better work or, in other cases, those who find themselves unemployed can't find work because there aren't quality jobs available. So, instead of addressing this mounting problem head-on, Walker and Republican leaders are instead blaming the workers and scapegoating the unemployed.

Similar to Governor Walker's past political witch hunts, Republicans are ignoring the corruption and loss of millions of dollars by Walker appointees, while instead targeting job seekers who make mistakes on complex forms.

Some of the more egregious changes proposed by Governor Walker have already captured a lot of attention and debate, such as requiring drug tests in order to receive some benefits. However, other changes haven't been covered by the media but and could potentially result in our friends, family, and neighbors who are seeking work and need a little assistance to instead face hefty penalties putting them into debt -- or even jail.

In his 2015-2017 state budget proposal, Governor Walker increases penalties for individuals who commit unemployment insurance (UI) fraud and broadens the definition of what "fraud" means. Currently, individuals who are determined to have obtained UI benefits fraudulently must pay back the amount they received plus a 15% surcharge. They could also face a fine of up to $500 and 90 days in jail. Under the governor's budget, the penalties are increased to a 40% surcharge and a fine of up to $25,000 and/or 10 years in prison.

Another proposal, by the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), would dramatically increase the negative impacts of the governor's proposed penalty changes. DWD is requesting a change to the definition of UI fraud, which is referred to as "concealment." The requested new definition would remove the requirement that DWD prove that the fraud is the result of the claimant's intent, ("intent" being the cornerstone element of any type of fraud). This change in the rules would open the door to a range of problems and unfair practices. For instance, while it is currently the responsibility of the DWD to prove that an individual is knowingly trying to obtain benefits that they should not receive, under the proposed new definition, a person who is being accused of fraud would have to prove they did not mislead the state in order to get benefits. This shift in the burden of proof would be very difficult for most claimants, since they would likely need to be able to pay for legal representation. Essentially, this rejects the foundation of American freedom and our tradition of justice, judging people guilty until proven innocent.

In addition, according to the Wisconsin Unemployment blog by Madison UI attorney Victor Forsberger, not only would this be nearly impossible for individuals to try and prove, but there are specific things that would not be allowed to be used to prove the person had made a justifiable mistake, such as having a learning disability -- unless they have informed the Department of the disability previously.

Read more about this on the Wisconsin Unemployment blog by clicking here.

Notably, an audit conducted by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Audit Bureau reviewed UI overpayments and found that almost 90% of all erroneous UI benefits paid by DWD (called "overpayments") were caused by unintentional mistakes in the claims process by the claimant, not by intentional fraud (concealment).

It should also be noted that our current laws already guarantee all overpayments be repaid to the state, whether they are the result of fraud (intentional) or even if they are caused by a claimant's unintentional mistake, meaning claimants do not get to keep erroneous payments in any scenario. Further, many individuals catch their mistakes and self-report them to the Department of Workforce Development, in which case they still have to pay the benefits even if erroneous payments were the result of DWD's error.

Another component of this issue is the recent change in questioning that claimant's must answer when they file. Legal Action of Wisconsin noted, in a recent memo to the Joint Committee on Finance, the problems with the questions, which changed in October 2012. For instance, prior to the change the following question was asked: "Did you work and earn wages during the week?" Now, this same question is asked in the following way: "During the week did you work or did you receive or will you receive sick pay, bonus pay, or commission?" As Legal Action noted, allegations of fraud usually arise because of the way a claimant answers the required questions when they file for UI benefits. Therefore, it is crucial that the questions are clear, concise, and understandable.

The change from simple questions to confusing, compound questions has been repeatedly criticized by the state agency that reviews DWD UI decisions, known as the Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC). According to Legal Action, the questions have undoubtedly been a contributing factor to mistakes that result in an overpayment. Further, in a report on how to reduce overpayments, the U.S. Department of Labor also stressed the importance of clear questioning, and yet DWD has not corrected the problem.

What does all of this mean for Wisconsin's job seekers who are receiving unemployment benefits? For starters, if the definition of concealment is changed to remove the element of "intent", it would mean that instead of (as the aforementioned audit concluded) 90% of overpayments resulting from unintentional mistakes, 100% of the overpayments would be labeled fraud. This could result in a 40% civil penalty, a fine of up to $25,000, and up to 10 years in jail when a claimant simply got confused by the questions or otherwise made an innocent mistake.

According to the Legislative Fiscal, increasing the concealment surcharge from 15% to 40% will result in more revenue for the state: $470,000 in 2015-16 and $980,000 in 2016-17. The governor and Republicans have done little to create jobs or improve the lives of our Wisconsin neighbors, and now they are asking individuals who are struggling to find work under their failed policies to pay for their self-inflicted budget deficit.

The proposed changes are wrong for Wisconsin and show a dangerous disregard for justice, compassion, and community. I will fight against them as they do nothing to increase prosperity or opportunity in Wisconsin.

LIRC recently drafted a memo that discusses some of the legal "red flags" with changing the definition of concealment, click here to read the memo.


Ask Chris: Are there any updates from the budget committee?

I often have neighbors contact me looking for my perspective on various local and state issues. I very much appreciate our neighbors' questions and want to dedicate a portion of my newsletter to common questions that I hear to maintain an open dialogue. Please continue reading for this week's question.

Q: I am a neighbor who is concerned about the state budget provisions that will harm our environment. Has the Joint Finance Committee made any changes to these provisions?

A: Democrats, with the help of the outdoor enthusiasts and environmental advocates across Wisconsin, have convinced Republican Legislative leaders to reluctantly begin abandoning some of the damaging policies in Governor Walker's anti-conservation budget. Recently, the Joint Finance Committee voted to remove Walker's effort to strip authority from Wisconsin's Natural Resources Board. The success of our efforts will keep citizen involvement as a vital part of our conservation tradition. Further it will protect Wisconsin state public lands and parks from the possibility of being sold at the whim of the governor and his politically appointed DNR Secretary. It's important to remember that when Governor Walker had the opportunity to appoint the DNR Secretary, a person supposedly in charge of managing and safeguarding our shared lands and waters, he chose a person whose business was development.

Our success illustrates that Governor Walker and his corporate special interest allies have an agenda reflected in his anti-conservation budget, which even his Republican legislative allies cannot defend.


Further, joining legislative Democrats in rejecting the Governor's anti-conservation budget are hikers, bikers, anglers, boaters, hunters, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all political persuasions.

While having this provision removed from the budget is a success, we have more work to do to protect our conservation tradition and better safeguard our lands and waters. The legislative Joint Finance Committee still needs to remove the other dangerous provisions from Governor Walker's budget, including:

  • Gutting the Stewardship Fund

  • Eliminating state scientist and environmental expert positions

  • Defunding state parks while increasing recreation fees

  • Eliminating the Environmental Education Board

For details on these damaging, anti-conservation provisions, please click here to read a Larson report that focused on some of them.

Join me, and the majority of the citizens of Wisconsin, in sending a clear message to the both the governor and the Republicans in charge of the Legislature that we value our state's history, and this budget is simply wrong for Wisconsin.

Click here to add your name to the list of people who oppose Governor Walker's budget.

New Conservation Threat: Key conservation state officials and staff are now banned from working on, studying, or even talking about climate change and how it will affect our state lands.

Traditionally, here in the Badger state, we have tackled challenges as a community, with grit, determination, sacrifice, and innovation. But now with Governor Walker and his allies gripping absolute power, they are discarding the values and principles that our forefathers employed to bring prosperity to our state.

One of the keys to our past successes was clearly identifying the challenges we face -- it's a step that is crucial. But recently, Republicans who make up the majority of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands voted to silence and gag the Board's staff by forbidding them from considering the gravest ecological threat to our land and water -- climate change. Given they are responsible for managing  77,000 acres of public land, this is a deeply concerning and dangerous move.

Climate change is real, it is happening, and our actions are significantly contributing to it. It is affecting our health, land, water, plants, and wildlife. That's what the overwhelming evidence confirms. In fact, President Obama said in 2014 "This is not some distant problem of the future. This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now. Whether it means increased flooding, greater vulnerability to drought, more severe wildfires -- all these things are having an impact on Americans as we speak."

If we allow a blind pursuit of corporate profit or an extreme political ideology to deny science, bury the truth, and hide danger signs, our generation and those to come will all pay the price.

On Earth Day, President Obama visited Florida, a state whose economic livelihood and environment will be greatly damaged by climate change. Despite the clear danger, Republican control there has also lead to state workers being banned from talking about climate change.

President Obama's words rang true when he said, "This is not a problem for another generation -- this is a problem now."

For more information about climate change, visit the White House website by clicking here.


Talking with our Future Workers
The 12th annual "Posters in the Rotunda" event was held on April 22. This event gives Wisconsin's college students the opportunity to showcase their undergraduate research. Young men and women presented their work alongside their faculty advisors to legislators, UW alumni, and community members. I had the opportunity to speak with a number of these students about their research, which ranged from issues of ethnic identity to bow technique for beginning through advanced violinists. These young adults are the future of Wisconsin's workforce and hearing their ideas and perspectives was greatly appreciated.

Undergraduate research in our public universities is essential for Wisconsin's economic prosperity as it also brings both federal and private research and development to the state. Furthermore, undergraduates with fulfilling experiences and strong ties to their Wisconsin university are more likely to stay and work in our state after graduating. Therefore, the stellar research programs at Wisconsin's university campuses are crucial in preparing current college students to become innovative, creative, and hardworking members of the next generation of Wisconsin workers.


Acknowledging the Armenian Genocide 

2015 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. From 1915 to 1923, through massacres and death marches, over 1,500,000 Armenians in the Ottoman Empire perished and hundreds of thousands more were uprooted from their homes and ancestral  homeland.

Despite the overwhelming evidence and documentation, the Turkish government has never recognized nor accepted responsibility for the genocide of the Armenian people. Denying this tragedy is dangerous, as it not only covers up the truth of the Armenian peoples history, but also risks repeating similar injustices.


The Assembly and Senate recently passed a Joint Resolution to acknowledge the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Recognition of this atrocity is crucial as it provides the Armenian people a greater understand of their heritage as well as help fight against the recurrence of genocide.


To view the Joint Resolution, click here.




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