KATHLEEN VINEHOUT
PEOPLE FIRST

Health Insurance Reform Is Law

“I am 24 years old and my job doesn’t provide health insurance,” the young man told me. “What do I need to do to qualify for my parents plan?”

Recently the Governor signed into law my proposal to require insurance companies to cover adult children up to age 27 on their parents plan. The new law, which goes into effect next February, is part of my five point plan for health insurance reform.

Under the new law parents will be able to add or continue to cover adult children on their policies.  Adult children must be unmarried and must not be offered a less expensive plan through their employer.  Insurance companies can charge no more than what they charge for under-age children.  Parents must file paperwork each year verifying their child qualifies.

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Rural Legislators Made a Difference

Early this spring Representative Ann Hraychuck and I invited our colleagues from western and northern Wisconsin to join us for informal discussions of issues important to our constituents. We started what became known in the Capitol as the Rural Caucus which also included Representatives Mark Radcliffe and Chris Danou.

In the week before the budget passed this group communicated daily, including a week-end conference call. Our focus was making changes to the budget that would benefit western and northern Wisconsin.

The initial version of the budget was written by a small group of people mostly from Madison and urban southeastern Wisconsin. And it showed.  Proposals to downsize state government meant Department of Natural Resource offices, Motor Vehicle Centers and State Patrol offices in rural areas were slated for closure.

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Smart Budget Decisions Require Input from Everyone

Early Saturday morning, the Assembly passed its version of the two-year state budget. Action now moves to the Senate. While it is expected we will vote on a budget package by week’s end, much work must be done before that vote happens.

The Governor’s budget made historic funding cuts to programs affecting all of us. As the budget moved through the process, some cuts were restored.  Then new revenue numbers showed even less money coming into the state which meant even deeper cuts or increases in taxes.

Legislators are very reluctant to raise taxes. A cigarette tax and a tax on oil company profits are still under debate but no general increase in sales tax or income tax is part of the discussion.

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Change the Culture in the Capitol

Putting together the state budget is always a difficult process. But it is made more so by the deep budget deficit. A few weeks ago, legislative leaders and the Governor hammered out a deal. Later the deal was pushed through the legislature’s budget committee.

This week members of the Assembly are scheduled to vote on the budget. Behind the scenes members are told, “This budget is bad. We need to pass it as quick as possible and get out of town.”

In the Capitol, the culture is one of a few making the decisions and the many having their arms twisted to go along with the deal.

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Rural Legislators Find Success Working Together

“Millions for Milwaukee and pennies for Polk,” said Harvey Dueholm, a former legislator from Polk County. His legendary statement reflected the imbalance of state dollars flowing into urban districts with those trickling to rural areas.

Rural lawmakers from both parties struggle against the tide of dollars sent to Wisconsin’s urban areas.

No question needs are great in Milwaukee. Folks say, as the great city goes, so goes the state and urban legislators work hard to make Milwaukee first rate. However, as one Buffalo County Board member said, “rural people are treated like second class citizens.”

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If There Hadn’t Been A Deal …

Jessy wrote; “Smoking helps relieve stress and relaxes me, which is very important to my recovery.”

“Smoking helps me not have bad feelings about being locked up. It relaxes me and it is the only free choice I have in this institution,” wrote Tammy.

Steven’s letter stated, “I already lost my rights. If you ban cigarettes, we will be made to feel like outlaws with no rights. Cigarettes help with stress management. Banning cigarettes gives me nothing to look forward to every day.”

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The Costs We Never Think About

Emotions spilled over as a mother testified before the Joint Audit Committee about her son, Jared, who had been in and out of jail. People thought Jared had drug and alcohol problems. But the real problem was mental illness.

Jared took medication to control his illness.  But while in jail, the dose of Jared’s medication was cut by three fourths and later completely taken away. It took three months to get the drug back.

Meanwhile Jared got in a fight and spent more time behind bars.

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Property Taxpayers Want School Reform

How can we help get school funding reform done? This question was asked by residents from Pepin who traveled to the Capitol last week.

Rep. Chris Danou and I gathered with a bus load of Pepin taxpayers for a very productive conversation on taxes and school funding reform. Many shared their deep frustration over property taxes.

“Property taxes are killing Pepin,” said one man. A lot of it has to do with how we fund our schools.

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Hunting Hearing Draws a Crowd

Last night I counted 77 deer in about a 20 acre field. They were munching on the baby barley and tender alfalfa shoots. My neighbor at church said there are so many deer they are scaring away the turkeys. I thought turkeys and deer could live together.

Most folks around me are thinking about turkeys. But today I am thinking about deer.

In my neighborhood there are way too many deer.

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“Wait Lady! I’m Paying MORE in Taxes!”

“Wait Lady,” said the Jackson County man. “I am paying MORE in taxes and you just said the state has reduced taxes. Are you nuts?”

“And right you are!” I told the man. “You ARE paying more in taxes. But some are paying a LOT less.”

Another man wrote me. “It is a slap in the face that us taxpayers be thought so gullible as to believe that propaganda.” The man went on…

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