KATHLEEN VINEHOUT
PEOPLE FIRST

What’s Good for Business?

Recently Eau Claire was named one of the top 50 best “Small Places for Business and Careers” in the United States by Forbes magazine.  Eau Claire ranked higher than any other Wisconsin city, followed by Appleton and La Crosse.

What makes a good city for doing business? We hear a lot about ‘jobs’ and ‘taxes’, but what really makes a difference?

Last year in Wisconsin some taxes on business were raised – mostly by closing loopholes that allowed some of the largest corporations to escape state taxes.

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Local Government Benefits from New Laws

The Governor traveled the state last week signing dozens of new laws. Amid all the pomp and circumstance was the creation of new laws that benefit our communities and counties.

Finding ways to help local government work together is a rewarding part of my job. Many times people want to work across county lines but find they need a law change to help. I was fortunate to work with local units of government to make life better – roads repaired, nursing home patients cared for and law enforcement optimized through bills recently signed into law.

Several of our counties have taxpayer supported nursing homes. These homes allow our frail and sick relatives to stay close to home. But the costs are rising which translates to rising property taxes. Allowing multiple counties to operate and fund county nursing homes is a way to share the costs across counties.  This keeps our county nursing homes financially healthy and reduces the burden on local taxpayers.

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Making Health Insurance Affordable for Small Businesses

“I am quite worried about health insurance reform,” the small business owner told me. “Can you tell me how all of this is going to affect me?” She went on to explain, “I do buy insurance for my employees, but it is very expensive and I am not sure I can continue.”

High costs hit small employers hard. They are left with few options. Pay more or drop coverage for employees. It is little surprise that half of those uninsured in the U.S. own or work for a small business or are self employed. If they do have insurance, workers in small businesses pay higher deductibles, have fewer choices and poorer coverage.

Many businesses are looking at sharp rate increases this spring. Concerned business owners have contacted me looking for ways to reduce health insurance costs. They are not sure changes at the federal level will provide much help.

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Some Good Things that Didn’t Make Headlines

Much of the work completed in the last week of the legislative session didn’t make headlines.  It wasn’t big and glitzy, but it makes a difference for all of us.

“We made history twice with this legislation - totally new legislation that allows creative thinking and did it all within an unbelievable time frame too,” Pam Semb wrote in her email.

Pam serves as Administrator of Lakeview Health Center in West Salem.  The health center provides care for developmentally disabled and other vulnerable people.  About half of the Center’s patients are from La Crosse County.  The other half come from surrounding counties that don’t operate such a facility.    

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Some Good Things Got Done

Early Friday morning the Legislature ended its 99th Session. Although work continues in the Capitol, the flurry of action on the nearly 2000 bills is over.

Hundreds of people called or wrote me sharing their opinions on legislation. Over the next few weeks I will be writing back and sharing the details of what happened and what did not.

People often write to support passage of a specific bill. In the past weeks, more people wrote about bills they did NOT want passed.  One of those bills would have made changes to Wisconsin’s voter registration and elections laws.  That bill never made it to the Senate.

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In the Legislature – as on the Highway – Speed Kills

It is a 150 page amendment to a 174 page bill and arrived on my desk this past Tuesday – a day when the Senate was voting on 67 other bills. The bill is up for a vote before the full Assembly this Tuesday.

The bill is known as the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The idea is to move us in to a new renewable energy economy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels – especially coal. This is a laudable goal. Most everyone agrees we need to move to a renewable energy economy. The question is how to get there.

The amendment to the Clean Energy Jobs Act substantially changes the original bill. There are a lot of questions and few clear answers at this point.

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Relationship Management: Whipping Legislators into Line

The pretty blue and white yard sign in the teacher’s yard said:

Senator Vinehout

Stand up for parent involvement in schools

Stop Blocking AB 116

The message really isn’t very clear but sounds as though I am getting in the way of parents and teachers working together.

The message is totally wrong.

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Things are not always as they seem

“Reduce your prescription drugs costs now!” the headline screamed. The fine print mentioned millions of dollars in savings because pharmacies would not have to meet state requirements to mark up drugs by 9%.

Citizens were asked to call their senators and show support for a bill to lower drug costs.

The bill is being pushed by Wal-Mart and other organizations have been recruited to support it.

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Health Care Reform Sparks Debate

As I travel around our Senate District recently no topic has sparked more debate than passage of historic health care reform.

The long awaited (and much maligned) law brings needed relief to those without insurance and to those facing double digit increases in insurance premiums. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 32 million uninsured people will be covered as a result of the new law. Over the next ten years the law will cost $938 billion paid for through savings, new taxes and fees.

Most constituents are relieved the bill finally passed. Citizens with no health insurance can expect, by the end of the summer, to find affordable coverage through the state’s high risk pool (HIRSP).

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Is that Stinky Electricity?

I met Pat Rezin about a year ago. I was visiting local businesses to talk about health care reform but Pat wanted to talk manure digesters.

A manure digester is made with a big tank that allows manure to ferment. Methane gas is produced and that gas can be converted to electricity. Whole farms – and whole communities – in Europe are powered with electricity made from cow manure.

Pat had an idea.

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