A Week in the Life of a Senator

“Just what do you do in your job?” The farm woman had invited me in for tea when I dropped off some material on Healthy Wisconsin.

It’s been a busy time and I was grateful for the chance to consider what I have been doing. I am in the middle of many town hall meetings we are scheduling on our health care reform plan. I had just returned from Osseo. Earlier in the week, I visited Durand and La Crosse. We have had a very good response from people who attended the meetings and want to see real health care reform happen.

I also talk or write to many people who contact the office with questions about Healthy Wisconsin. Sometimes this means tracking down answers about how the plan affects people in different situations.

But health care, while important, is just part of what I do.

I serve on the Senate Judiciary and Corrections Committee that deals with courts and prisons. Tomorrow I will travel to the other side of the state to tour the only prison for women in the state. The Committee will also hold a hearing on the need for additional judges and the state of the justice system.

Committees are where most of the real legislative work happens. And the Judiciary and Corrections Committee has been a very active one. We have toured facilities across the state and heard from those who work in the courts, prisons, jails, law enforcement and even from mothers who have incarcerated mentally-ill children.

After collecting information from around the state, the Committee will return to Madison and bring forth new ideas on how to address the problems we face.

Another Senate committee – the Committee on Economic Development (it has a longer name) is taking a similar approach. In the middle of our town hall meeting schedule, I traveled back to Madison for a hearing on the University Park.

The University Park is a very large business park that is owned by the university and rented by many high tech businesses. Many of these businesses were started by faculty who invented something while working at the university.

Recently a constituent wrote that UW-Madison has grown too large. After the hearing on Wednesday, I had the opportunity to see for myself with a campus tour. I do agree. It is a very large campus. Huge investments by the state have been made to the UW Madison campus.

I continue to look for ways to assist in any way I can in resolving the budget debate. One task, this week, is to find common ground in the agriculture budget. Reviewing the budget papers for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, I was disturbed to see that Republican Assembly program cuts would include such vital services as public health, food safety, meat inspection and animal health programs. The budget would also hurt consumer protection by deleting the Office of Privacy Protection.

Finding common ground has not been easy. But it seems to me, protecting public and animal health should be at the top of the list for all of us.

Providing technical support to the budget team is something I am grateful to have the opportunity to do. Senators can’t be experts in everything. Agriculture and Higher Education are two assignments where I can help educate others.

This week also is a time to stay in contact with constituents. People in our district are very active in contacting me. One part of the job I enjoy very much is the time I have to talk with folks about their concerns. I receive somewhere around 70 e-mails a day and a dozen letters. People are concerned about many things and some issues require quite a bit of research to adequately answer.

This week I’ve sent out dozens of replies to folks on topics as diverse as chiropractic techniques and drunk driving. Many people are concerned about issues related to the budget. Keeping up with what is happening is important to keeping people informed.

There is some fun in the job and I enjoy my time visiting with folks – at the Trempealeau County picnic on Saturday or the upcoming festival in Northfield this Sunday.

And speaking of Sunday, I can’t forget church. Lord knows, I’m going to need it!

Keep in touch! Write: State Capitol; P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707-7882 or sen.vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov; call Black River Falls (715) 284-1730; Eau Claire at (715) 838-0448 or Madison at (877) 763-6636 (toll free). Visit my website at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/senate/sen31/news/