LARSON REPORT

NEWSLETTER


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October 8, 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

 

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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. 



 

Annual Kelly Daffodil Bulb Sale
Date: Thursday, October 8, 9:00 a.m. to Noon
Location: Cudahy
Description: Come stock up on bulbs for flowers to plant in the Spring!
 

Kelly Senior Center
(MAP)
6100 S. Lake Dr.
Cudahy WI 532110


Halloween Glen
Date: Friday, October 9 through Saturday, October 10
Location: Milwaukee
Description: This non-scary Halloween and educational event is perfect for families! This year's theme will focus on all of the watery places here in Wisconsin and all of the creatures that call it home. Participants will load a bus at MPS Central Services and ride over to Hawthorn Glen. People who wish to participate should register in advance. Admission is $6.
For more information, CLICK HERE.

MPS Central Services

(MAP)

5225 W Vliet St
Milwaukee, WI 53208


US Bank and Fox 6 Neighborhood Night at Betty Brinn Children's Museum
Date: Thursday, October 15 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Enjoy free admission on the third Thursday of every month. There will be a special Be a Maker program going on where you can explore endless ways to be creative and experiment.

For more information, CLICK HERE.
 

Betty Brinn Children's Museum
(MAP)
929 E. Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Gallery Night and Day
Date: Friday, October 16 to Saturday, October 17
Location: Downtown & Historic Third Ward
Description: Happening just four times a year, this premier art event is perfect for experienced art connoisseur and the beginner art admirers. This venue will feature over 50 venues throughout downtown Milwaukee.For location and more information, CLICK HERE


2015 Hunting and Moon Pow Wow
Date: October 16, 2015 3:00 p.m. through October 18, 2015
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Explore the Native American culture by watching a dance competition and listening to traditional music, including a drumming circle. People will have the opportunity to purchase a variety of Native American arts and crafts along with a variety of foods. Admission is free.
For more information, CLICK HERE.

UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena
(MAP)

400 W Kilbourn Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53203

 

Milwaukee Fish Fry Tour
Date: Fridays now through November at 5:30 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Enjoy your Friday evening exploring the streets of Milwaukee and enjoying fish fries along the way. On this tour, you will be able to sample three half size fish fries along with dessert! This is a bus tour, but does require minimal walking. For location and more information, CLICK HERE.
 


 

 

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

 
I hope you are enjoying autumn! As a marathoner, the cool autumn air is perfect race weather. Hopefully, you are able to enjoy your favorite activities of the season, too.

In this week's newsletter, we'll outline the latest attempts to consolidate power and streamlining corruption in our state government. I will share what happened at the public hearing on a bill that further guts our state's good-government civil service laws.

Additionally, Senate Democrats and I unveiled our legislative priorities for the fall session.

As always, it is great to see many of you in the community at farmer's markets, races, and events. Please remember that I welcome your ideas and always appreciate hearing from you about your priorities and concerns.

See you in the neighborhood,



Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7

 

 

Set Up for the Tear Down of Civil Servants

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform held a public hearing on a bill that would gut our state's civil service protections. The bill, Senate Bill 285, received strong criticism at the hearing, as it puts our state on the path to allowing for more political patronage and corruption. Not surprisingly, the only individuals who came to voice their support for the bill were Walker political appointees who would likely benefit from it. By recklessly pushing this bill, Governor Walker and the GOP are again betraying the public trust and our shared values. Wisconsinites are not fooled by what Walker and the GOP are trying to do in our state -- consolidate power and fast-track corruption.

Specifically, the bill:

  • Removes neutral entrance exams for new job applicants and replaces them with a biased resume-based system
  • Shifts significant hiring authority to Walker political appointees
  • Extends the probationary period for new hires from 6 months to two years
  • Changes the layoff process from experience-based to subjective

Civil Service Protections Good for 100 Years
Wisconsin's civil service protections date back over 100 years -- first enacted in 1905. Like many of our Progressive Era policies, it served as a national model for good government. Even today, it is noted as one of the best in the country.

Having strong civil service laws is not only good for state workers, by making sure they are not pressured to perform favors for politicians or contribute to campaigns, but also for citizens as it keeps our government clean and prevents cronyism.

Throughout the years, our civil service laws have been collaboratively updated. In fact, the last major update came during Tommy Thompson's governorship. However, the process that was used to make changes -- which allowed for more flexible hiring procedures and tweaked the civil service exams -- was a lot different than what we are seeing today. A study commission was formed that involved all key stakeholders, including legislators, representatives of the governor and state agencies, and labor organizations, to come up with a plan. When I questioned one of the bill's authors on whether or not he was receptive to using a similar study commission in order to come up with a bipartisan plan, I was appalled when he suggested that if I voted in favor of his plan it would be bipartisan. Apparently, collaboration and bipartisanship does not mean the same thing now as it did then.

Senate Bill 285 Political Patronage Scheme
We already have proof of what happens when we throw out strong hiring standards and replace them with subjective evaluations by looking at the failed Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The quasi-private state agency does not use the same civil service standards as other state agencies. As a result, corruption and high turnover have run rampant within WEDC since its creation. As we heard from people who testified at the hearing, the last thing Wisconsinites want is to expand this model and open the floodgates to more corruption in all state agencies.

To fully understand the scope of how dangerous this bill is, we need to take a look at how we got here. Standing alone Senate Bill 285 has the power to cripple workplace protections, but combined with changes made in the last state budget it has the ability to allow for the total destruction of Wisconsin's heritage of impartiality and fairness in state government. Essentially, Republicans have once again changed the rules, and now they are rigging the game entirely. In other words, their public betrayal is an effort to politicize state employment that goes well beyond Senate Bill 285 alone.

Click on the video below to view the public hearing on Senate Bill 285 on Wisconsin Eye:

Scheme to Increase Political Patronage and Corruption was Buried in the Last State Budget
The latest bill being pushed actually builds on the repeal of a good government protection just a few months ago. In the 2015-2017 state budget, Walker and the Republicans eliminated the Office of State Employment Relations (OSER), the agency in charge of administering civil service laws through its Division of Merit Recruitment and Selection (DMRS). To ensure an impartial system, there were a number of checks and balances in selecting an individual to serve as the head of the DMRS. The administrator of DMRS was nominated by the governor, and approved by the Senate to be appointed to serve a five-year term. However, the governor appointed an individual from a register of at least five names provided by the director of OSER. In addition, the director of OSER was obligated to prepare and conduct an examination for the position of administrator of DMRS, to ensure they had the necessary skills for the job.

In the budget, OSER itself was dismantled and its functions got swept into the Department of Administration (DOA) -- a state agency that has become highly politicized. DMRS became the Bureau of Merit Recruitment and Selection within the new Division of Personnel Management housed within DOA.

Basically, the state budget destroyed a method that was carefully developed over time to ensure impartiality and replaced it with a system that allows for a political appointee -- with no required experience in human resources -- to run the new Division of Personnel Management. This becomes even more concerning, as we heard throughout the day at the hearing, when coupled with the replacing of civil service exams with biased resume selection.

For example, a state employee, Mark, who does maintenance work in the Capitol, stressed the importance of the current objective system using civil service exams and warned against replacing it with a subjective resume, which are inherently less fair and subjective. He described the general repair specialist exam he took, which took about three or four hours to complete. Another person who was applying a state maintenance job, whose background was in welding, complained that there were very few questions about welding. Mark went on to explain that the purpose of the exam is to make sure the state is hiring the the best people, with the right skills to perform the job. This is not something you can easily tell based on a resume alone. Others echoed the importance of the civil service exams during the hearing -- which is not one singular exam but rather many exams for each employment classification that is specific to the duties an individual would need to perform. The exam an applicant takes is specific to the job classification they are applying for. Under this bill, however, the exams would no longer be administered and instead, due to the changes made in the last state budget, a group of political appointees would base hiring decisions off of resumes. 

GOP Ignoring the Real Problems Facing our State
Walker's Wisconsin already has the fastest-shrinking middle class in the U.S., is last in the nation for new business start-ups, and lags in job creation. Wisconsin families face real challenges every day and are tired of the cronyism and political power grabs by Republican leaders who are focused on undermining our open records laws and eliminating government accountability.

My Democratic colleagues and I are listening to the hardworking neighbors in our communities. Rather than looking for ways to tear down Wisconsin workers, Democrats are focused on strengthening our middle class, boosting family wages, and ensuring greater retirement security. In fact, recently Senate Democrats unveiled their legislative priorities. Read on for more on this.

 

Senate Democrats Introduce Badger Blueprint

Autumn in Wisconsin has arrived with a colorful flourish and crisp air, with it the Wisconsin Legislature begins its fall session.

This season of change is ideal for my colleagues and me to ensure that efforts to strengthen and expand the middle class are a legislative priority. This summer, Senate Democrats listened to our neighbors across the Badger State and this week unveiled our Badger Blueprint, a legislative agenda that reflects the hopes, concerns, values, and priorities of the majority of Wisconsinites. It includes a wide range of new ideas and proven solutions to generate economic opportunities in Wisconsin.

Across the state, everyone understands that Wisconsin has been neglected for presidential political ambitions and torn apart to meet the partisan whims of millionaires and billionaires. It's the season of change, a time for something different.

Our Badger Blueprint is a shared vision of the values and policies needed to help strengthen our state. It focuses on progressive policies that encourage growth, drive innovation, and increase economic opportunities -- all vital to reversing Governor Walker's disastrous track record of an anemic economy, stunted growth in business start-ups, and the disgraceful title of the fastest-shrinking middle class in America.

The Badger Blueprint promotes innovative, balanced pro-growth solutions that will expand access to a quality education and lifelong learning opportunities and invest in crucial springboard infrastructure. We offer the Blueprint to help working families with student loan debt relief, provide more affordable child care, and expanded access to affordable health care.

Wisconsin families are tired of being second fiddle to presidential ambitions and partisan bickering. Wisconsin needs leaders willing to work together and focus on improving the economy, strengthening the middle class and boosting stagnant wages. The Badger Blueprint has ideas that should be embraced and championed by both parties. I am encouraging everyone across the political spectrum to review the Badger Blueprint and start pulling together so that we can turn our state around.

To view the Badger Blueprint and share your ideas on ways we can work together and move Wisconsin forward, click here.
 

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: The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary. I've heard that the GOP wants to get rid of this state agency. Could you explain this in further detail?


A: That's a great question. In fact, a legislator on the Audit Committee recently wrote about this in detail and provides a great answer to that question. Below is what she had to say:

 

"'Fix the broken programs, get rid of the ones that don't work and fund those that are working.' There's not a state candidate around that would disagree with this statement.

Yet there are some in the Legislature that would eliminate the very source of information on which programs are a waste of taxpayer dollars and where the broken programs need fixing.

For fifty years, auditors at the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) have assisted legislators and the people of Wisconsin in answering questions about dollars spent. Questions like, 'Did we get our money's worth out of that program?'

Skilled public sector auditors perform financial audits on various funds in state government, like the lottery or the Patient's Compensation Fund. They examine federal dollars to assure the state is compliant with federal law in the annual Single Audit. Auditors also review state expenditures in the LAB review of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Audit released near the end of the year.

The National State Auditors Association recently awarded the highest rating possible to the LAB's financial audit division. Very experienced auditors put the LAB's programs and policies through a rigorous review. These examinations are conducted every three years. Wisconsin's LAB has consistently received the highest ratings possible.

But financial audits are only part of the award winning work done by the LAB. Program evaluations, answering questions like did this program meet its goals, is the other part of the work of the Audit Bureau.

While the work of the financial division seldom makes headlines, the program evaluation auditors often find their work under the spotlight. Recently a GOP Assembly proposal called for eliminating the LAB. Capitol rumors said elimination was in retaliation for the embarrassing failures made public in three audits over the past three years of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

But far from cause for elimination of the nonpartisan watchdog, the program auditors of the Legislative Audit Bureau were rewarded with national recognition for their work on WEDC and similar critically important program audits.

The National Legislative Program Evaluation Society recognized the work of the LAB with its distinguished Certificate of Impact in 2013 for the FoodShare audit; in 2014 for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation audit; and in 2015 for the Supervised Release Placement and Expenditure audit. The recent national accolades should reassure voters and lawmakers of the LAB's stellar work.

Too often lawmakers say they want to know which programs work and which do not, but their actions tell us otherwise. Recent actions such as cutting funding for an outside evaluation for the Drug Court (Treatment Alternative Diversion) program. Or by budget action creating four or five alternative tests for students in publicly-funded private school programs, making accurate comparisons between public and private school student achievement extremely difficult.

Facts matter. Facts lead us to conclusions that might are may not always be popular politically. That's exactly why we need the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. If we truly care about creating a well-run state government no one should shy away from the facts nonpartisan auditors present to us -- regardless of political implications.

This summer the Beloit Daily News editorialized about the importance of independent agencies in state government. The editorial lauded the LAB saying the agency 'has earned a strong reputation for impartiality and independence from partisan political influence.'
Nonpartisan agencies like the Audit Bureau, the Fiscal Bureau and the Government Accountability Board play a key role in a well-functioning state government. The Beloit Daily News warns us: 'TAXPAYERS, TAKE NOTE. Agencies like the GAB, the Audit Bureau and the Fiscal Bureau exist under a mandate to serve truth, not politics. That's in the best interest of the people, if not the politicians. Understandably, the powerful object to any outfit they can't control. But government watchdogs must not be muzzled and broken to the partisan leash.'
 

Instead, let us laud the work of our nonpartisan agencies. Join me in congratulating the LAB on excellent accomplishments and national recognition.
And wish the agency another 50 years of exceptional work serving as 'the steward of the people's money.'"


I couldn't agree more with the sentiments of my colleague, Senator Vinehout. Instead of dismantling what little is left of nonpartisan agencies in our state government, especially given the proposed changes in civil service, we should be looking for more opportunities to build on the success of the LAB.

To view some of the audits the LAB has conducted, click here.
 

Wisconsin Loses Staunch Worker Advocate

Following a day-long hearing at the state Capitol on Tuesday, October 6, I was able to attend a vigil on the Capitol steps celebrating the life and advocacy of Marty Beil, the iconic and passionate former leader of the Wisconsin state employee labor union. Marty passed on October 1, at his home in Mazomanie, Wisconsin.

On a dark day, where Senate Republicans held a committee meeting pushing a bill that would grossly gut civil service protections, we also celebrated the life and legacy of a man that consistently pushed for fair wages and safer working conditions.

His straight talk, wisdom, and passion will be deeply missed by those who believe that we all lose when Wisconsin slips further into Walker's regressive era.
With his passing, my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. I will be joining my colleagues in the Legislature in introducing a Joint Resolution honoring the life and public service of Marty Beil.

As we look forward, I'm reminded that Marty saw the potential for a brighter future, a Wisconsin that celebrates and empowers our workers in both the private and public sector. We can get there, we all deserve better.

To view the Joint Resolution, click here.
 

It's Fire Prevention Week

In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Day. It has since developed into an entire week in the month of October as a way to educate people on how to prevent fires in the home. Each year has its own theme and this year's theme is "Hear The Beep Where You Sleep. Every Bedroom Needs a Working Smoke Alarm!" According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), Three out of five home fire deaths in 2007-2011 were caused by fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. In honor of this year's theme, the NFPA has released some tips for proper smoke detector use:

  • Install smoke alarms inside and outside each bedroom and sleeping area. Install alarms one every level of the home, including the basement.
  • Larger homes may need extra alarms.
  • It is best to use interconnected smoke alarms, when one smoke alarm sounds they all sound.
  • Test all smoke alarms at least once a month. Press the test button to be sure the alarm is working.
  • There are two kinds of alarms. Ionization smoke alarms are quicker to warn about flaming fires. Photoelectric alarms are quicker to warn about smoldering fires. It is best to use both types of alarms in the home.
  • A smoke alarm should be on the ceiling or high on the wall. Keep smoke alarms away from the kitchen to reduce false alarms. They should be at least 10ft from the stove.
  • People who are hard-of-hearing or deaf can use special alarms. These alarms have strobe lights and bed shakers.
  • Replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old.

September and October are also peak months for fires in college housing. According to the NFPA, roughly 70% of fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and barracks begin in the kitchen or cooking area. Fire research has shown that with modern housing it is easier for fires more rapidly than before. This is why having properly located fire alarms is essential to maximize the number of available escape routes.

No matter where you live, there are important steps you can take to be ready in case of a fire. First and foremost, make sure you have smoke alarms and they are set up properly. Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in home fires in half. All smoke alarms should be tested at least once a month and be replaced every 10 years. Another essential precautionary measure is to make and practice an escape plan out of your house. If possible, know at least two ways out of every room in your home. Additional precautions to prevent home fires are listed below:

  • Be mindful of where and how you use heating equipment. This includes regularly cleaning chimneys and keeping heating equipment, such as space heaters and stoves, away from things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding.
  • Smoking can kill in more ways than one. Smoking materials started an average of 17,900 smoking-material home structure fires per year during 2007-2011. These fires caused an average of 580 deaths, 1,280 injuries and $509 million in direct property damage per year.
  • Do not overcrowd outlets and be sure your house's electrical work is up-to-code. Half of home electrical fires involve electrical distribution or lighting equipment, while other leading types of equipment include washers or dryers, fans, air conditioning units, or water heaters.
  • Do not leave candles unattended. More than half of all candle fires start when things that can burn are too close to the candle.
  • Do not leave cooking unattended. Unattended cooking was one-third the factor for cooking related fires. Two of every 5 fires in a home was started in the kitchen.
     

 

 

 

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