Looking Back, Looking Forward

As we say good-bye to 2012, it’s good to reflect on the old year and the opportunities and challenges in the New Year.

Looking back, 2012 was the Year of the Mine.

The overwhelming reason constituents contacted me was to express thoughts about mining. Almost half of all contacts I received were related to mining.

Read more

Holidays Don’t Slow State’s Chief Watchdogs

Most of us spend the weeks before Christmas putting the finishing touches on our holiday celebrations. But, just like Santa’s elves, staff at the Legislative Audit Bureau was busily working to put the finishing preparations on new audit reports.

The holidays don’t slow the state auditors of the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) who serve as the state’s chief watchdogs.

Auditors in both the financial and program evaluation departments work overtime to complete audits that help legislators and the people of the state understand state finance and programs.

Read more

Let’s be Tough on Criminals and Smart on Crime

“I’m an alcoholic,” the man told a large audience in Eau Claire. “I was sentenced to 6 years in prison for my fifth drunk driving offense.” He served his time but relapsed after prison.

The construction worker continued his story, “I got into the Chippewa Valley Veterans Court. I’m sober. I’m a home-owner and I have a well-paying job.”

“Thirty years ago Wisconsin was tough on crime,” he said. “Wisconsin is now tough on criminals, but smart on crime.”

Read more

State Exchange Best Option for Lowering Health Costs

“Over the years I have seen the devastation of company denials on families [and] witnessed the financial devastation on families that cannot get health insurance,” wrote a local insurance broker. “I urge you to continue your fight to get Wisconsin involved in these exchanges.”

The woman who wrote me echoed the words of many brokers who want to see a state-run rather than a federally-run health exchange in Wisconsin.

Governor Walker announced he would have the federal government create an exchange. This action set off a chorus of complaints among traditionally conservative leaning organizations.

Read more

Count Your Blessings instead of Sheep

“Count your blessings instead of sheep, I tell my clients,” my sister, the psychologist, told me. “New research shows we can actually reprogram the brain by focusing on the positive.”

The cutting edge research is known as “neuroplasticity.” Researchers found the brain actually sets up new ways for impulses to travel.

When we learn a new activity or a new way of thinking or speaking, neurons housed in that area of the brain sends impulses to the nerve cell’s fibers or dendrites that secrete chemicals to create a new route connecting nerve cells in a different way. This research is known as the development of “neuro-pathways.”

Read more

What to Look for in an Affordable Health Insurance Exchange

“Don’t worry about the deadline,” a Legislative colleague recently told a group in Menomonie. “Preparations are being made to make sure Wisconsin creates an exchange.”

Under the federal health care law, states had to provide detailed plans for creating an exchange by November 16th. However, Governors in several states, including Wisconsin, indicated they were delaying plans until after the presidential election.

The election outcome made it clear Wisconsin must move forward on creating an exchange or the federal government will step in and create one for us. Fortunately, federal regulators extended the deadline to December 14th for Wisconsin to deliver its “blueprint” for an affordable health insurance exchange. 

Read more

Creating a Culture of Civility

“Sure the economy is a concern,” said the woman at the door. “But what I want is for all of you to get along. Can’t you learn how to compromise?”

Over and again I hear people asking politicians to get along and get things done.

In the world of politics there is a culture of competition where winning at all cost is what’s most important.

Read more

New Report Cards Grade Local Schools

Every student received a report card at the end of the first quarter. This fall every school also received a report card.

The Department of Public Instruction recently released report cards on almost all of Wisconsin’s over 2,000 schools. High schools, middle schools, elementary schools and charter schools are all rated.

The report card gives a grade from 0 to 100. The grade is based on four priority areas: student achievement, student growth, on-track and post secondary readiness including attendance, ACT participation and graduation rates, and closing gaps among disadvantaged and disabled students.

Read more

Report from a Public Hearing on Elections: Put Voters First

“I’m not going to touch that machine,” the aging farmer told the poll worker. “I want to make sure my vote is properly counted.”

The poll worker gently tried to persuade the farmer. But to no avail. He took his paper ballot and pencil into the voting booth and voted like he had for six decades.

Many people across the state echoed this farmer’s concerns at a recent public hearing I chaired of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Elections and the UW System.

Read more

WEDC Hid Lost Loans from Audit Committee

Paul Jadin, the head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), was surprisingly agreeable when he appeared before my colleagues and me at the recent hearing of the Joint Committee on Audit.

He was surprisingly agreeable; but less than forthcoming.

Mr. Jadin never mentioned that the state’s lead economic development agency had lost track of all $69 million in loans to businesses, including $9 million where were past due or in default. He never mentioned the problem even as he answered Legislators’ questions about the failures of WEDC’s own oversight processes.

Read more