LARSON REPORT

WEEKLY NEWSLETTER



 

January 30, 2014

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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. 
 

 

End of the Rainbow

Date: Now through Sun., February 9
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Explosive acting and classic songs bring down the house in this critically-acclaimed exploration of Judy Garland's infamous 1968 London comeback. Named in Time Magazine's "Top 10" List and called "electrifying" by The New York Times, this savagely funny and emotionally-searing play finds the once-glittering starlet sparring with her new fiance, her devoted accompanist, and her personal demons. Filled with Garland's legendary tenacity, razor-sharp wit, and once-in-a-generation voice, this is a piece of theater truly befitting the late, great songstress who took us "over the rainbow." CLICK HERE or call (414) 224-9490 for more information.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater (MAP)
108 E. Wells Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

 

Colorful Nebula
Date:
Fridays Now through March 7 at 7 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Colorful Nebula showcases the beauty of space by highlighting a few celestial clouds such as the Eagle, Horsehead, and Cat's Eye. Audiences will not only be able to marvel at space's hidden beauty, but also learn how nebulae are connected to stars. Nebulae form stars, are produced by middle-aged stars and can be the final outcome of massive explosions from dying stars. CLICK HERE for more information.

UWM Manfred Olson Planetarium (MAP)
Physics Building
1900 E. Kenwood Blvd.
Milwaukee, WI 53211

 

 

Andy Warhol: 10 Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century
Date: Now through Sun., March 30
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Experience these brightly-colored creations, featuring historical figures and renowned luminaries of Jewish culture from various disciplines. This exhibit is open to the public Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Warhol's large-scale portraits allude to the grandiosity associated with fame while establishing an intimacy between subject and viewer. Bring family and friends to experience the color and 'pop' of this unique suite of works. Guided tours are available throughout the afternoon along with coloring and scavenger activities for families. CLICK HERE or call (414) 390-5730 for more information.

 

Jewish Museum Milwaukee (MAP)
1360 N. Prospect Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

 

Trains that Passed in the Night--Railroad Photographs of O. Winston Link
Date: Now through Sun., April 27
Location: Milwaukee
Description: This exhibition features 36 framed, original prints signed by O. Winston Link that showcase the final years of steam railroading on the Norfolk & Western Railway, the last major railroad in America to operate exclusively with steam power. They are regarded as one of the best records of this long vanished type of locomotion. The broad appeal of Link's photographs is derived not so much from the images of the steam locomotives themselves, but from the way in which their inclusion expresses Link's deeply felt respect for the quality of life that the steam railroad supported for so many years in the U.S. The exhibit is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from noon to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. CLICK HERE for more information.

The Grohmann Museum (MAP)
1000 N. Broadway
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

 

Evita
Date: Tues., February 4 through Sun., February 9
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Andrew Lloyd Webber's Tony Award-winning musical returns at last. Eva Peron used her beauty and charisma to rise meteorically from the slums of Argentina to the presidential mansion as First Lady. Adored by her people as a champion for the poor, she became one of the most powerful women in the world--while her greed, outsized ambition, and fragile health made her one of the most tragic. "Evita" tells Eva's passionate and unforgettable true story, and features some of theater's most beautiful songs, including "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" and "High Flying, Adored." CLICK HERE or call (414) 273-7206 for more information.

Marcus Center for the Performing Arts (MAP)
929 N. Water Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

 

Milwaukee Art Museum Free Admission
Date: Thurs., February 6 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Admission to the Milwaukee Art Museum is free for everyone on the first Thursday of every month. Admission includes access to the entire Museum, including special exhibitions, programs, and lectures. CLICK HERE or call (414) 224-3200 for more information.

Milwaukee Art Museum (MAP)
700 N. Art Museum Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

 

Bay View Winter Blast

Date: Sun., February 16 from Noon to 4 p.m.

Location: Bay View

Description: Every winter, the Bay View Neighborhood Association hosts a warming event for neighbors to get together and have a blast. This is a  luau-themed party that will boast a Hawaiian shirt contest, hula hoop and limbo contests, spam carving, and face-painting. A tiki photo booth will also be available to take memorable photos. Live music, delicious food from local restaurants,  and booths from numerous community and neighborhood groups are just a part of what to expect at this year's Winter Blast. CLICK HERE for more information about this event.

 

South Shore Park Pavillion (MAP)

2900 South Shore Drive

Milwaukee, WI 53207
 

 

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

 

The Senate Committee on Education was slated to vote on a proposal that could force closures of our local public schools. This week's newsletter will discuss this concerning legislation whose vote has since been delayed. Continue reading for more on this and other important issues such as the annual State of the Union address, the propane shortage, and upcoming community meetings.


Sincerely,

Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7

 

 

Proposal Could Force Local School Closures

What started out as a bill to finally provide transparency in the unaccountable voucher system may morph into a proposal that threatens to close local public schools if a proposed substitute amendment is adopted. The Senate Committee on Education was slated to vote on this legislation, Senate Bill 286, this Thursday. The original version of the bill, which contained voucher accountability and transparency measures, received a public hearing on September 12, 2014. The substitute amendment, on the other hand, has not received a public hearing or even been discussed before this week. Unlike simple amendments, which change certain sentences or provisions of a bill, a substitute amendment replaces the current language of a bill in its entirety. This is why the lack of a public hearing on this proposal is so concerning for our community and state.

Under Senate Bill 286, all schools receiving taxpayer dollars, including private schools in the voucher program, would be given an A through F rating. These ratings would be based on four items:

 

  • Achievement on state exams

  • Achievement growth on state exams

  • The progress in closing achievement gaps between white students and minority students, students with disabilities, and low-income students

  • Graduation and attendance rate status and improvement

 

It all sounds like a step in the right direction, especially for bringing transparency to the unaccountable voucher program. But the bill takes a terrifying turn when it lays out what happens to "failing schools." Schools that receive F's for three consecutive years or D's and F's for a total of five years and do not show high achievement growth would be forced to contract with a charter-management organization rather than working with the school district or the elected school board to improve student performance and school quality. Further, Milwaukee is once again singled out since Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) would have only one year before sanctions kick in, while all other districts would get a three-year grace period once the system is in place in the 2015-2016 school year. Additionally, the grading system requires that 5% of all schools must be given an "F." So even if all schools are performing well, 5% will have to be listed as failing.

 

Essentially, the ability of the school, the district, elected officials, students, parents, and taxpayers to have a say in how their local schools are run is completely taken away and handed over to an independent charter organization. As a result, this bill creates another voucher-like program, just with a different name.

This new system would create an especially significant problem in our community given that Milwaukee Public Schools faces a number of demographic challenges for teachers and staff, including high rates of poverty, as well as problems that have been exacerbated by record cuts of $1.6 billion to K-12 education by Governor Walker and legislative Republicans. According to a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, within MPS there are schools that have 49 students, have had five principals in six years, have a student turnover rate of 55%, and have been forced to cut offerings such as art and music. Further, the majority of students are low-income, one in four has a special need, and many have unstable home lives or have experienced violence or homelessness first-hand.
While proper funding can sometimes help to mitigate these issues that are out of the control of classroom teachers and staff, schools have endured repeated and deep cuts for years, which have only made these problems worse.

My Democratic colleagues on the Senate Committee on Education have requested that the committee hold a public hearing on the substitute amendment to Senate Bill 286, which would create this radically different system. This would give community members, experts, and legislators the opportunity to examine this proposal and its potential ramifications more in depth. On Wednesday, the committee's chair cancelled the vote scheduled on SB 286. I hope that this change reflects that he intends to give the proposal's substitute amendment a proper public hearing. I will be sure to keep you updated on the status of this proposal.

 

 

Join Me at Upcoming Community Meetings

I will be hosting a number of town halls during February 2014. Attending these listening sessions is a great opportunity to talk to me about issues facing our community and state, or to listen to the concerns and thoughts of our neighbors.

The information for these events is listed below. I also advertise these by posting on my Web site, Facebook, Twitter, via neighborhood groups, with media alerts, and through direct emails.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office for additional information.

Monday, February 3, 2014

5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park (MAP)

Community Room
1500 E. Park Place
Milwaukee, WI 53211

(Representative Jon Richards and Alderman Nik Kovac also attending)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014
5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
South Milwaukee Public Library (MAP)
1907 10th Avenue
South Milwaukee, WI 53172


 

State of the Union: A Year of Action

This Tuesday, President Obama delivered the annual State of the Union address. It is evident that our country has made significant strides in recent years, including creating 8 million jobs over the past four years. Further, the United States has seen:

 

  • The lowest unemployment rate in over five years

  • A rebounding housing market

  • The addition of manufacturing jobs for the first time since the 1990s

  • More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world

  • Our deficits cut by more than half for the first time in over a decade

  • Our country named as the world's number one place to invest

 

In addition, emphasis was placed on now being the time to take action on proposals that will benefit the average American. Below are some of the issues President Obama highlighted that we should pursue on behalf of middle-class individuals and families both nationally and right here in Wisconsin.

 

 

Click here or on the video above to watch the 2014 State of the Union Address.

 

Paying Workers a Fair, Living Wage

It has been seven years since Congress last acted to increase the minimum wage. As a result, when adjusted for inflation, today's real minimum wage value is about the same as what it was in the 1950s. Workers making the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, including those in Wisconsin, only bring in $14,500 annually despite working full-time. This includes our family, friends, and neighbors working in the food industry, sales, office administration, health care, farming, and construction. It is unacceptable that there are Wisconsinites working full-time who are experiencing poverty rather than the American Dream.

 

Therefore, President Obama will use his executive authority to initiate a minimum wage increase to $10.10 for those working on new federal service contracts. He is also encouraging Congress to follow his lead by passing the Harkin-Miller bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 for all working Americans and index it to inflation from here on out. 

 

The benefits of adopting a higher minimum wage are vast. For example, such an increase ensures that low wage workers are rewarded fairly by their employers with pay close to a living wage. Additionally, strengthening the middle class through a modest minimum wage increase is economically proven to reduce poverty without jeopardizing employment, which means a stronger Wisconsin economy. Further, low wages decrease employee morale, lower productivity, and lead to frequent employee turnover, which can be costly to businesses.

 

The minimum wage debate has also made its way to Wisconsin. Recently, my Democratic colleagues and I used procedural rules to bring legislation, Senate Bill 4, which would increase the minimum wage for Wisconsin's workers, to a vote. Under this proposal, the current minimum wage would be increased from $7.25 per hour to a very modest $7.60 per hour. Although this bill was introduced a year ago, Republicans have yet to schedule a public hearing leaving it stalled in the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor. While every Democratic senator voted "yes" to raising the minimum wage, every Republican senator voted against it. As a result, this bill failed.

Had Wisconsin voted to adopt this common sense measure, it would have joined 13 other states that adopted higher minimum wages for 2014. Below is a list of these states and their adopted minimum wages.

Arizona: $7.90
California: $9.00
Colorado: $8.00
Connecticut: $8.70
Florida: $7.93
Missouri: $7.50
Montana: $7.90
New Jersey: $8.25
Ohio: $7.95
Oregon: $9.10
Rhode Island: $8.00
Vermont: $8.73
Washington: $9.32

My colleagues and I, like the president, will remain steadfast in our commitment to help rebuild Wisconsin's middle class by increasing the minimum wage. We will continue to fight for our neighbors and their families trying to achieve the American dream in Wisconsin.

 

Increasing Income Equality

President Obama also addressed the issue of income inequality in his State of the Union address saying that women deserve equal pay for equal work. He encouraged Congress to come together to do away with the policies that have kept women as the majority shareholders of lower-wage jobs.

 

According to the most recently available statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American woman working full-time, year-round was paid just 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts for the same work. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is not doing much better than the national average. According to the American Association of University Women, men in Wisconsin working a full-time job earned $46,214 on average compared to women doing equal work, who earned just $35,890 on average for an earnings ratio of just 78%.

This means that women in Wisconsin earn, on average, $10,000 less than men each year. If the gender wage gap were eliminated, a working woman receiving equal pay for equal work in Wisconsin would have enough money for one of the following:
 

  • 86 more weeks of food

  • 7 more months of mortgage and utility payments

  • 14 more months of rent

  • 2,799 additional gallons of gas


The fight for equal paychecks is not just a fight for women, but a fight for the health of Wisconsin's middle-class families.

 

Unfortunately, while the federal government is looking to move forward with policies that increase income equality, Wisconsin has recently moved backwards in this area. In 2009, Wisconsin led the nation by passing the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, legislation to give gender discrimination victims an avenue on the state level to recoup damages and deter bad actors from such undesirable actions. Before the Act, Wisconsin ranked 36th in the country when it came to closing the gender pay gap. Just a year after the law passed, Wisconsin's ranking improved by 12 spots, moving to 24th in the nation.

Shocking the state, all legislative Republicans rejected Wisconsin's tradition of fairness by voting to roll back equal protection laws for Wisconsin's working women by passing 2011 Wisconsin Act 219 last session. The adoption of this proposal eliminates equal protection laws for Wisconsin's women and limits their ability to seek justice for discrimination. This bill not only halted much needed steps towards equal pay for women, but also erased prior advances that have been made.

My Democratic colleagues, Senator Hansen and Representative Sinicki, officially introduced legislation to correct the mistake Republicans made last session and re-adopt the Equal Pay Enforcement Act. I have signed on as a co-sponsor of this legislation and look forward to supporting this fairness bill should it reach the Senate floor for a vote this session.

 

Making Higher Education Affordable

Exponential increases in tuition and fees coupled with challenging economic times over the years have made it nearly impossible for students to work their way through school, as was commonplace in the past. In fact, nearly 40 million Americans now hold over $1.2 trillion in student loan debt nationally.

 

In his speech, President Obama highlighted recent efforts to increase access and affordability to higher education. His administration has prioritized giving parents more information, offering colleges incentives to provide a better value, and creating a cap for monthly student loan payments to 10% of a graduate's income. The president also expressed his desire to work with Congress to see how they can help Americans even more with their student loan debt. 

 

The student debt crisis has also become apparent in Wisconsin. Our state currently ranks 10th in the nation for number of college students with debt, with 67% of graduates from four-year schools having loans to repay. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve System there are 753,000 Wisconsin residents with federal student loan debt (this does not include those with private student loan debt). Further, college tuition costs have doubled over the last 12 years and Wisconsin's student loan borrowers have an average debt of $22,400. It is estimated that Wisconsin residents paying student loans from obtaining a bachelor's degree are currently paying an average of $388 per month for about 18.7 years.

 

Student debt is the only kind of household debt that continued to rise through the Great Recession, and is now the second largest consumer debt in our country, more than credit cards or auto loans. Having this money tied up in debt is a huge drain on our already struggling Wisconsin economy as the money spent on student loans could instead be spent on cars, new homes, and at local businesses in our communities.

 

Because of recent gridlock in Congress, Wisconsin has taken up the challenge to decrease student loan debt for recent graduates. Senate Democrats have all signed on on to the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill, authored by Senator Dave Hansen and Representative Cory Mason, which would do the following:

 

  • Allow Wisconsin's student loan borrowers to deduct their student loan payments from their income tax, resulting in annual tax savings of approximately $172 for the typical borrower or as much as $392.

  • Enable Wisconsin's student loan borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates, putting potentially hundreds of dollars back in their pockets and into Wisconsin's economy annually. For example, a borrower with an interest rate of 6.8% and the average University of Wisconsin graduate's loan debt of $27,000 who could lower their interest rate to 4% could save over $40 per month. That would put nearly $500 back in their family's pocket over the course of a year.

  • Provide students and parents with detailed information about student loans, the best and worst private lenders, and ensure that students receive loan counseling so that Wisconsin's student loan borrowers can make informed financial decisions about student loans.

  • Ensure data is collected and tracked about student loan debt in Wisconsin to help policymakers and the public better understand the depth and breadth of the debt crisis in our state.

 

As you can see, this legislation offers common sense solutions for real savings on behalf of Wisconsinites managing student loan debt. I hope legislative Republicans will see the economic value of moving forward with such a proposal. Therefore, I encourage them to join me in supporting the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill this session.

 

If you would like to see the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill become law, I encourage you to sign onto the Higher Ed, Lower Debt petition. The petition states the following:

I support the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill authored by Sen. Hansen and Rep. Mason. It is a positive step forward in making higher education more affordable in Wisconsin and frees up money for Wisconsinites to spend in local communities and our state.
 

Click here if you would like join me in supporting the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill by signing on to the petition to encourage the Wisconsin State Legislature to pass the bill.


I also encourage you to tell your family, friends, and neighbors to join you in taking action. The more Wisconsinites that advocate for the bill, the more likely it is to pass.

 

 

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: Who is being affected by this propane shortage?

A: As you mentioned, Wisconsin and some of our neighboring states are experiencing a propane shortage. Unusually frigid temperatures courtesy of Arctic winds served as the catalyst for this supply shortage. This developing crisis could have a particularly negative impact on the approximately 250,000 Wisconsin families, mostly in rural areas, that are not served by natural gas lines and therefore rely on propane to heat their homes. Further there are a number of local businesses that also use propane rather than natural gas to heat their facilities.

With a supply that is insufficient to meet demand, the price of propane has also skyrocketed to over $5 per gallon, which is three times last year's average rate of $1.50 per gallon. In addition, many propane suppliers are unable to take on new customers due to the shortage, leaving Wisconsinites without a contracted propane supplier in a tough situation. Even if these Wisconsinites are able to pay the skyrocketing prices, they may not be able to find a company willing to sell part of their propane supply, as these companies seek to prioritize existing customers.

On Saturday, a state of emergency was declared to help manage the propane shortage. This will enable the National Guard to check on the welfare of neighbors, set up warming shelters, and support emergency management efforts, should they be called to action by Wisconsin.

To further assist affected Wisconsinites and local businesses, $8.5 million has been transferred to the state's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The program will use these funds to provide temporary relief to families struggling to pay their heating bills due to the astronomic increase in propane costs resulting from the shortage. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program will also help connect homeowners to propane dealers willing to sell them propane during the shortage. Further, an additional $8 million in lines of credit has been set aside for propane dealers interested in working with banks to ensure they have the funds needed to buy and deliver fuel to their customers.

Click here or call the toll-free number (866) 432-8947 if you are looking for energy assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Propane customers are not the only ones to have their energy usage affected this winter. Recently there was an explosion on the TransCanada natural gas pipeline, which provides natural gas to Minnesota and Wisconsin. As a result, energy providers such as We Energies in the Milwaukee area and Xcel Energy's Northern States Power in Eau Claire were forced to place limits on energy use by Wisconsin families and local businesses in order to conserve their limited natural gas supply.

These recent mishaps regarding Wisconsin's propane and natural gas supplies reminds us how important it is for our state to consider ways to diversify our energy sources. Increased diversification is important to ensure that Wisconsin families and local businesses have additional options and do not experience undue hardship if the supply of any one energy source, such as propane, natural gas, or foreign oil, is negatively impacted by external factors. Prior to the end of session, I anticipate a number of legislative proposals promoting greater access to renewable energy as well as broader energy freedom and security. 
 

 

Did You Know...?

You are probably aware that the 56th Annual Grammy Awards show happened this past Sunday, either from watching it yourself or hearing about it via the news and social media. But did you know that two Grammy winners were from right here in Wisconsin?

 

Viroqua native Butch Vig walked away with his third Grammy, this time in the category of Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media for his role as compilation producer on "Sound City: Real to Reel," which was the soundtrack for a documentary titled "Sound City." Vig studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also founded a recording studio, Smart Studios, in the city. He went on to become a professional drummer in the Madison-based, but internationally-known band Garbage, as well as a music producer.

 

Mike Maher of Wauwatosa is another Wisconsin native that received a Grammy this year for his work in music. Maher--a 2000 Marquette University High School graduate--plays the trumpet in a band named Snarky Puppy. They received the award for Best R&B Performance for the song "Something" from the band's 2013 album titled "Family Dinner--Volume 1."

 

Congratulations to Vig and Maher are in order for their hard work in the field of music. Also a big thank you to them for representing Wisconsin well at this year's Grammy awards.

 

Take the 2013-2014 Neighborhood Survey

I created a survey for the 2013-2014 Legislative Session asking about various issues that are important to our community and our state. The input of neighbors is greatly appreciated. My staff and I will be working hard to deliver as many surveys door to door as possible before winter arrives. In addition, 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 save a stamp and take the survey online.

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

 

 

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