LARSON REPORT

NEWSLETTER


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September 10, 2015

     

 

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

 

Website:

SenatorChrisLarson.com

 

Find Me on Facebook and Twitter:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 




Local Food & Wellness Fair: Optimize good health with local food and natural wellness
Date: Saturday, September 12,
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee

Description: Fresh food is only one part of a healthy lifestyle. We need movement and body awareness to complete our physical self-care. That's why this year's annual Local Food Open House is expanded to include resources for natural wellness activities. Enjoy workshops, presentations and visit vendors as you learn about resources for eating locally and living well.

This event is presented in partnership with Green Square Center for the Healing Arts, Outpost Natural Food Co-op, and Slow Food WiSE.

Riverside Park

(MAP)
1500 E. Park Pl.
Milwaukee, WI 53211

 

 

Silver City International Food and Art Walk

When: Saturday, September 12, 2015
from Noon to 5 p.m.
Where: Milwaukee
Description: Music, Art, Cultural Performances, and Restaurant Specials featuring authentic International Cuisines from over seven different countries! Celebrate the rich cultural diversity of the Silver City neighborhood at the 4th Annual International Food & Art Walk! Travel the world along National Avenue between South 33rd and 35th streets and sample ethnic cuisine from countries spanning the globe while also enjoying live art performances, free live music, free activities for kids and displays from local businesses! For more information, CLICK HERE.

 

W National Ave. between 33rd to 35th Streets

(MAP)

Milwaukee, WI 53215

 

 

Beach Walk and Star Gazing  
Date: Saturday, September 15,
5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Location: South Milwaukee

Description: A sunset beach walk stroll along an illuminated path, campfire, s'mores for purchase, and gazing at the stars with stargazer Greg Gonia and his telescopes. Fun for the whole family. CLICK HERE for more information.


Grant Park Beach

(MAP)

100 Hawthorne Ave.
South Milwaukee, WI 53172


Milwaukee Coffee Festival
Date: Saturday, September 19,
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee

Description: Come enjoy a day of tasting, experiencing and learning about sustainably grown and locally sold coffee from the leaders in the field. Coffee sampling, presentations, door prizes and more. CLICK HERE fore more information.


Urban Ecology Center � Riverside Park

(MAP)
1500 E Park Place Milwaukee WI


 


Bay View Gallery Night
Date: Saturday, September 25,
times vary
Location: Milwaukee

Description: Celebrate local art, music and local business on one amazing evening in Bay View. Over 45 locations and over 200 artists! Free and family friendly.


For location and more information, CLICK HERE.

 

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

 

I hope you had a fun and relaxing Labor Day weekend, spending time with friends and appreciating the victories labor unions and the working class have given our country.

This Friday, our nation will be recognizing the 14-year anniversary of the horrendous 9/11 terrorist attacks. Since 2002, neighbors across the nation have participated in the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance to honor the memory of those who were lost. Read on for more information and what's happening in our neighborhood.

Additionally, the Fall Legislative Session is starting to ramp up and two Senate Committees I serve on have already had public hearings this week. I wrote a bit about one of the more contentious bills everyone who pays into unemployment insurance should know about. I also recently circulated legislation for co- sponsorship to help restore integrity to Wisconsin's elections.

 

As always, let me know what you think or if there's anything we should be bringing attention to in our community and state.
 


 

Sincerely,

Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7

 

 

Remembering September 11
This Friday, our nation will be recognizing the 14-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I will be joining Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and other elected officials for a memorial ceremony at the Milwaukee County War Memorial. I hope you will join us, in body or in spirit, to take a moment to remember the lives and our nation's resolve to not be intimidated by these acts of destruction and cowardice.
 

Where Were You on 9/11?

I was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and remember hearing the news from a friend when I arrived to campus that morning. We were trying to make sense of the chaos while we watched on TV in horror as the second plane hit the World Trade Center. All other news and everything else scheduled fell off the calendar as we waited for answers that took years to come.

September 11, 2001, took too many lives and changed all of us. The shared grief of 9/11 brought us closer together as a nation and in each of our communities. Before this tragedy, I had not been too interested in politics or paid any attention to how my community was affected by state and national policies. It was only afterward that I became more aware and resolved to get more informed and be more involved. Along with many others, we committed to making a better community and ensuring our greatest days as a country remained ahead. Do you remember where you were on 9/11 and how that day in history affected your life's path?

9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance

Starting in 2002, 9/11 family members and support groups wanted to provide a productive and respectful way to honor the memory of those who were lost while also rekindling the spirit of unity and compassion that swept our nation after 9/11. As a result of their efforts, the September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance was established into law by the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009. The September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance, a federally recognized observance, is being supported collaboratively by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the nonprofit MyGoodDeed, which annually organizes the 9/11 "I Will" campaign on behalf of the 9/11 community. All types of service are encouraged, and all ages, backgrounds, and abilities are encouraged to participate.

 

Click here fore more information about the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance and to find a volunteer opportunity in your community.

 

Restoring Integrity in Our Elections

Citizens paying close attention to our elections know that the flood of special interest money into politics is drowning our democracy. When millionaires and billionaires can secretly buy elections, when corporations and shady special interest groups can deluge us with grossly misleading ads, we are not free and our democracy cannot thrive.

The erroneous and precedent-breaking decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, also broke the special-interest cash dam, allowing an unprecedented flow of dark money into politics. It has had a harshly negative impact at every level of our American government, shutting out the voices of the middle class and voters. Since the 2010 ruling was made, there have been several attempts to restore integrity in our elections. Although often cast as a partisan issue, correcting this error should be a bipartisan endeavor, which is why I am introducing, the Free and Fair Elections Resolution (LRB 2338).

To view a copy of the resolution, click here.

The Free and Fair Elections resolution, which will be introduced in both the Senate and Assembly, calls for a limited amendments Convention of States for the singular purpose of proposing a Free and Fair Elections Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

By passing this resolution, Wisconsin would join other states in calling for a convention to propose an amendment to address the unjust influence of powerful economic forces in our elections. Recently, we saw leaders in the state of Montana try to tackle this issue. Unfortunately, they failed when their efforts to restore democracy were thwarted in court by the very special interests who are so good at subverting democracy and pouring money into campaigns. It is now clear that states acting alone do not have the ability or power to restore free and fair elections. However, acting collectively we do. Numerous grassroots groups and countless patriots are deeply concerned about the malignant influence of money in our democracy. This effort is bipartisan and is part of other efforts to restore and reclaim the integrity of our democracy.

This resolution is the first step in the lengthy process to amend the U.S. Constitution. Even after enough states call for a convention and then pass the proposal, a Free and Fair Elections Amendment would still need to be ratified by 75% of the states. In response to citizens across the nation becoming more vocal about the need to restore the integrity of our election process and democracy, Republican and Democratic controlled legislative bodies alike have already passed resolutions calling for a convention.

The strength of our nation has been built on fairness and freedom. It's time to stop the corrupting influence of money from special interests, multinational corporations, and elitist millionaires. The Free and Fair Elections Resolution will put us on the road to taking back our democracy.

Click here if you would like more information about the national effort to pass amendments like this.


 

Walker Fails on Fraud
Wisconsin has been shown to have the fastest shrinking middle class in the country while at the same time, we are one of the slowest growing economies in the country. Instead of addressing this job crisis head-on, at a hearing this week legislative Republicans peddled a bill that would jeopardize the economic lifeline we provide the very neighbors who find themselves temporarily laid-off or out of work. The punitive Senate Bill 140 would ban workers from receiving unemployment benefits for seven years if they make two filing mistakes within a year.

The bill appears to be a desperate measure to scapegoat workers for the failure of Governor Walker's Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to provide adequate service, sensible questions, and proper fraud prevention.

To make sense of this, let me give you a little background on DWD. DWD was recently audited because of a growing concern over their failure to answer phone calls from our neighbors who were left unemployed by Walker's cut-and-gut economy. The study, done by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, revealed over 60% of calls were not connected via phone for help. Nearly two million calls were blocked in 2013-2014 as our neighbors who were out of work struggled to make ends meet. This failure is inexcusable. Crippling a system designed to assist people when they are laid-off -- or their job is sent to China -- is blatantly immoral.
The audit also revealed additional failures by the Walker agency, such as not preventing fraud by businesses concealing employee information to avoid contributing their fair-share to the unemployment insurance fund, failing to prosecute people intentionally defrauding the system, and ignoring the massive number of workers who make unintentional errors on their claims. The audit even shows that Governor Walker failed to stop ten of millions of dollars in fraud and waste.

Although the audit found that there were up to 64,700 fraudulent payments that could be attributed to 44,488 unique social security numbers, the legislative Republican author of this bill acknowledged that just 19 cases were pursued for prosecution. Despite requests to do so, neither DWD nor the governor's office chose to testify to explain this failure. Sadly, while DWD has balanced tools to prevent fraud, the agency appears unwilling to use them. Testimony from Legal Action of Wisconsin shined a light on other disturbing trends within DWD. Although DWD has indicated that they made 64,700 fraudulent payments, testimony showed that some of these should actually be counted as unintentional errors, adding to the over 577,000 recorded unintentional errors.

What makes this even worse is that the number of individuals who make honest mistakes has been on the rise because of changes made by Governor Walker. Under Walker, DWD modified the way that it asks qualifying questions for those seeking unemployment benefits. In fact, the questions are now so muddled and confusing that both the United States Department of Labor and the Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission have noted the problem and requested that DWD change the misleading questions. At the committee hearing, Senator Julie Lassa, shared a story of one of her neighbors who unintentionally answered one of the questions wrong and also had her daughter help her use a computer to file for unemployment insurance. Although she self-reported the error, under this new GOP proposal, she could be ineligible for benefits for seven years because of the mistake she made, combined with the fact that she had someone else file her claim, could be counted as two errors.

Looking at the big picture, it's clear the governor and legislative Republicans have decided that rather than pull a few weeds, they are just going to mow down the whole garden.

If this weren't bad enough, it's about to get a lot worse. At the same time this bill is moving through the legislative process, DWD is also requesting a change to the definition of fraud in our state laws. The requested new definition would remove the requirement that DWD ensure 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. So on top of changing the questions to make them harder and more confusing, increasing the criminal penalties for fraud in the recently passed budget, and kicking people off the program for seven years if they make two mistakes, now they want to assume applicants guilt immediately. Taken all together, this is a sucker punch to the unemployed. It rejects the foundation of American freedom and our tradition of justice by judging people guilty until proven innocent.

The Solution:
While Senate Bill 140 fails to help our economy or our unemployed, there are immediate actions that we can take to improve the dismal track record of Walker on fraud. I anticipate that Senator Lassa and I will propose amendments including: requiring DWD to better monitor claims so that intentional fraud is found quickly and stopped, prosecute businesses that cheat and make them pay their fair share, requiring DWD to eliminate misleading questions, and protecting workers that make honest, unintentional errors.

Our workers are the economic backbone of our state, their efforts bring prosperity to businesses and communities alike. Safeguarding the integrity of our unemployment benefit system helps protect them, their families, and our communities from the volatile and  stressed economy that we have seen under Governor Walker. Wisconsin can and must do better.

 

 

Ask Chris

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: Last weekend, I read a news article regarding a bill you circulated that would strengthen our state's "rate review" process. What is "rate review" and what would the bill do to protect consumers, like me?


A: Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states and federal governments are required to work collaboratively to conduct an annual review of "unreasonable increases in premiums" for "nongrandfathered" health plans. This process is called "rate review." While plans that propose an unreasonable rate are required to provide a justification for the increase to the federal government, and post the justification on their websites, the ACA does not alter states' existing regulatory authority over health insurance rates.

Such state authority varies dramatically, ranging from states with no authority at all to those that have robust authority to review and approve or disapprove rates before they are implemented. In Wisconsin, we operate under a "file and use" system in which plans are not required to apply for approval in order to increase rates. Instead, carriers are only required to file rates with Walker's Office of the Commissioner of Insurance within 30 days of use. Under Governor Walker's Insurance Commissioner, no rate increases have been deemed unreasonable.
 

In April, a report was released that showed private health insurance rates in Wisconsin are far higher than rates in Minnesota -- where Medicaid was expanded, a state-based Marketplace was set-up, and a robust rate review process is used. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed our moral commitment to ensuring individuals have access to health care services, it is time to take this responsibility seriously by implementing the health care reform law as intended.

Click here to view the report by Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

According to the report, Wisconsinites may be paying up to $1000 more per year for health insurance than their neighbors in Minnesota. This is due to our failure to strengthen our consumer protections and accept federal funding to expand Medicaid.

Our friends, family, and neighbors deserve elected officials who support policies that protect their hard-earned money. This bill will take a step towards addressing the rising cost of health care premiums by strengthening our "rate review" process.

 

It is more expensive to be healthy in Wisconsin than in most other states. For individuals who are, for example, on a fixed income, there is often no room for unexpected costs. One neighbor reached out to me about her mother, who receives social security. She explained that if Wisconsin would have accepted the funding to expand Medicaid she would have qualified for BadgerCare. However, she was forced into the health care Marketplace because our state rejected the money to strengthen BadgerCare. A couple months ago, without notice, her plan shot up from $50/month (with the tax credit) to over $500 dollars. There was no warning and the money was directly debited from her account. What's more, if she did not have family support, she would have been unable to pay her living expenses for the month. She also acknowledged that not all of our Wisconsin neighbors have family that is able to offer support in times of need, therefore, ensuring consumers have adequate protections against unjustified insurance pricing is simply the fair thing to do.

Our bill would do the following to create a more rigorous rate review process in Wisconsin:

  • Require insurers give consumers at least 60 days notice of rate increases

  • Require OCI hold a public hearing rate increases of over 10%

  • Grant OCI the power to deny insurance rate increases that are not justified by underlying medical cost

  • Make sure rate review applies to all markets - individual, small group and large group

  • Publish all rate increases of health insurers publicly, even those under 10%

  • Require "prior authorization" before allowing rates to increase. Insurers would need to submit rates for approval by OCI and would be unable to implement the increases without approval

  • Require insurers that used increased medical costs as justification for increased premiums to make publicly available their negotiated rates with each provider system

These are easy, fair things to fix. This bill is about making sure patients are getting affordable care and taking the consumer's side instead of worrying about hurt feelings of large insurance companies. Everyone paying insurance in Wisconsin is impacted by insurance rates. If this bill moves forward, consumers will save money.

I will keep you updated on the progress of this bill via Facebook and Twitter. I will also be discussing rate review on Wisconsin Public Television's Here and Now.


 

Intern at the Capitol
A legislative internship at the Capitol is an excellent way to gain valuable real life experience about everyday operations of the Wisconsin State Legislature and the state's legislative process. This internship is a wonderful opportunity open to both students and recent graduates.

Intern responsibilities vary, but include policy research, summarizing proposed legislation, and responding to constituent inquires. All interns also assist with general office operations, including answering the phone. In addition, there may be opportunities for interns to attend session days, sit in on committee meetings, and participate in in-district events.

Applicants must be able to work during normal business hours, and dedicate a minimum of 10-12 hours each week to the internship. All intern positions are unpaid and are based in Madison.

To apply for an internship, please submit the internship application, a cover letter, and a resume electronically to Sen.Larson@legis.wi.gov or mail them to Wisconsin State Capitol, P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707. Please specify which office you are interested in working at when you submit your application materials. Do not hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions about this internship opportunity.

Click here for more information about this opportunity and to access the intern application.

 

Share your Thoughts on State and Community Issues!
With the 2015-2017 state budget process now concluded, the Legislature will be taking a brief break until Fall. The damaging effects of the state budget will be long-lasting, and I will continue to update you throughout the summer on the implications of the budget.

In the meantime, I want to hear from you! Therefore, I created a 2015-2016 Neighborhood Survey asking about various issues that are important to our community and our state. Your input is greatly appreciated and will help me prepare for session to resume in the coming months.

My staff and I will be working hard to deliver as many surveys door-to-door as possible during the next couple months. Additionally, I have also made this survey available 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.

Click here to take the survey online.

I look forward to hearing your views on these important issues! As always, please do not hesitate to contact me about any state or community matters important to you

 

 

 

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