Sen. Kathleen Vinehout
"Many people with disabilities depend on public programs so they can stay healthy and live, work and participate in the community," Jason Endres wrote to me in favor of a bill I recently introduced. My bill, Senate Bill 870, would create a Public Assistance Advisory Committee. I drafted this legislation in response to special session bills recently passed by the Legislature that modified public assistance programs.
"The quality of interpreters is so important. I need someone who has the fluent skills to work with me," Leah Simmons explained. "Their lack of knowledge reflects negatively on me." Professor Simmons uses specific jargon and language. Her colleagues and students judge her by the language she uses. She cannot communicate directly to hearing students. Simmons is deaf. She is part of a community of deaf and hard of hearing people working to upgrade skill levels and regulation of sign language interpreters.
"Public assistance should be a trampoline not a hammock," read the title of Gov. Scott Walker's press release touting work on a package of bills introduced in a legislative special session. The bills made changes to certain programs targeted at helping those living in poverty. During the recent Senate debate, proponents of the bills declared the best road out of poverty was a job. No one in the Senate disagreed. However, what these bills really do is keep people in poverty and make a few companies richer while providing little accountability.
Last Friday afternoon we learned of the 79 bills up for a vote on Tuesday. I spoke with my neighbor shortly after seeing the long list. "How can they possibly know what they are voting on?" she asked me. I replied there is no time to talk with people and learn the effects of these changes. Legislation moving quickly through the process makes changes to protections of our wetlands; specifically, wet areas not connected to a navigable body of water.
In a recent committee hearing, I argued majority lawmakers were moving broadband expansion forward by press release and little else. This week Rep. Don Vuwink (D-Milton) and I are circulating bills to actually move broadband forward for Wisconsin. The Committee on Revenue, Financial Institutions and Rural Issues debated a bill that would allow a local community to pass a resolution saying the community was "Telecommuting Ready." However, nothing in that bill helped communities gain access to broadband.
"With more people working in Wisconsin..., we can't afford to have anyone on the sidelines, we need everyone in the game," Gov. Scott Walker said, calling for a special session to take up bills he nicknamed, "Wisconsin Works for Everyone." The Senate Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations Committee, of which I am a member, took up the special session bills in a recent public hearing. The 10 bills make substantial changes in eligibility for FoodShare (nutrition) or BadgerCare (medical care). Many of the bills limit assistance for families experiencing hard times.
Farmers from several western Wisconsin counties traveled to Madison as part of the annual Ag Day at the Capitol. On the day Gov. Scott Walker delivered his State of the State address, farmers shared with their legislators, the state of things in their world.
The little girl walked home through the snow. She took the longer route. Mom asked her to stop at the store to buy milk. She touched the coupons and note. She couldn't lose them. Mom was so sick with cancer.
"Who put all this policy in the budget?" I whispered to my colleague the night the budget passed. "Groups," he said glumly. "I call it the 'Shadow Legislature.'" These groups are often from outside Wisconsin and often funded by large donors. Behind the scenes, they push for policy, added at the last minute, which is unrelated to the state budget but changed laws. Recently, these groups came out of the shadows to directly ask for what they wanted.
"I'm paying higher property taxes and I haven't had a raise in years." Sound familiar? You are not alone. Property taxes are a regressive tax — the tax falls harder on those with less means. Property tax bills take a bigger bite out of the paychecks of people who have not received a raise in years. At the same time, the very wealthy see their tax bill as a smaller share of their increasing piece of the pie. I fielded many questions lately about property taxes.