KATHLEEN VINEHOUT
PEOPLE FIRST

Voting? Remember the ID is FREE!

“Can they charge for an ID to vote?” a woman asked. “No,” I said. “The ID must be free.”

As I visit with folks at community festivals and county fairs, they are asking a lot of questions about Wisconsin’s new voter ID law: Do I need some kind of special ID to vote? Where do I get the ID? When do I have to use the ID?

Wisconsin’s new Voter ID law is the strictest in the nation. Beginning in January 2012, voters will need a photo identification card with current address, name and a photo that reasonably resembles the voter.

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One Bad Day Away from Losing Your Job?

“Subject: Hey, do you have a minute? Either come to my office or we can meet in a conference room.”

See an email like this, Mergers and Inquisitions website warns, and you may lose your job in the next five minutes.

For the 475 employees of the merged Wisconsin based M & I Bank this scenario is real. Parent company BMO Financial Group of Toronto announced half of the hundred or so people who lost their jobs in Milwaukee may be offered another by the new company.

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Voters Question New District Maps

“Have you heard about the new maps?” I asked a voter in Pepin County.

“Yes,” he said. “Can you tell me why they are doing this?”

Last weekend at festivals around our district, folks were talking about the new Legislative district maps. New boundaries will affect every citizen in the 31st Senate District.

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Budget Nixes Cooperation between Counties

How many times have you thought, “Oh, I can borrow that from my neighbor”? Whether it’s a cup of sugar or a haybine, western Wisconsin is full of cooperative people willing to help get the job done.

Just as people cooperate, so do local governments. This cooperation includes working together to keep roads in good shape. Towns, cities and villages rely on the local counties to help keep roads and bridges safe and snow plowed.

A provision in the new state budget, added late in the process, has local highway officials scratching their heads. The new law forbids counties from doing work with another county unless the project actually involves roadwork extending from their county into the next county. The new law also forbids counties from doing almost all work for a city within the county if the city’s population is over 5,000 people.

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Budget Impact Felt Long Term

“I am very concerned for my children,” the man held his three year old daughter close. “I just found out we are having another baby. I should be happy. But I’m not. I’m worried.”

He was concerned about what the state’s two year budget would do to our local schools.

Across western Wisconsin decisions are being made to cut programs, teachers and support staff.

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Watching the Bottom Line

After hours of debate in both the Assembly and Senate, lawmakers finished work on the state’s two year budget. The 1,532 page document now awaits the Governor’s signature.

A few budget facts might help to make sense of the financial shape of the state. This budget;

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Rules to Privatize County Road Work Hurts Local Cooperation

Buried in the state budget are new rules limiting cooperation among local government to fix roads. The budget would also require counties to contract out any road job over $100,000 with limited exceptions.

One man told me this weekend, “There are not too many road jobs under $100,000.”

For many years counties reached across borders to help save tax dollars on road work. Working together to get the job done makes sense; it also makes dollars and cents.

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When Private Firms Take Over Public Jobs Does the Public Win?

In the past several weeks I met with many local social workers who may lose their job under a budget proposal to privatize public services. This decision is under review by the budget committee.

The social workers are not complaining. They are sharing information about their successes and ideas on how to make the system better.

These workers properly sign up folks for health care and Food Share (formerly food stamps). Most counties run zero or very low error rates. They know local people. This knowledge helps provide quality services and even helps uncover fraud and illegal activities.

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Helping Our Heroes

Joe returned from war to find his world turned upside down. His mom passed away and his father moved. His brothers were scattered to the wind and his own struggles ended in homelessness.

Peter was treated for PTSD but still fought to hold down a job. When I met him, he was homeless and really unable to navigate the bureaucracy to find any help.

Jody remembers growing up in an alcoholic family. She confronted violence during her service and now fights the memories of violence in her own family.

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Is the Home Phone a Thing of the Past?

Like many rural residents I live in the hills at the end of a gravel road; in the hills where cell phones don’t work.

If you live in a rural area you might have to use a house phone (land line) to field calls. But that trusty old phone line might not be there when a new state law takes effect.

Last week the Legislature passed a bill to deregulate phone companies. The bill makes widespread changes in the rules phone companies follow and the fees they charge each other for access to phone lines.

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