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.

People concerned about access to broadband services in rural Wisconsin helped stall a final vote on a telephone company deregulation bill.

Last minute efforts to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act also failed. Questions were raised about rate hikes, nuclear power and the bill’s effect on electric cooperatives.

We did pass several renewable energy bills that help move Wisconsin toward the renewable energy economy.  The new laws will provide assistance to companies who produce renewable energy products; help companies interested in more energy efficient manufacturing; and will set efficiency standards for new state buildings.

Hundreds of Wisconsin citizens called for passing the first state law to legalize the on-farm sale of unpasteurized milk. As Chair of the Senate Ag Committee I worked with bill authors Rep. Chris Danou and Sen. Pat Kreitlow to carefully craft a bill that allows for limited and regulated sales while protecting the safety of consumers.

Legislation to help grow our $26 billion dairy industry was the focus of many farmers across our Senate district and the state.  Two years ago, I led efforts to pass a Dairy Modernization tax credit to help dairy farmers who modernized their facilities.  Extending this very successful program was an important priority for me.  Helping farmers reinvest in their operation makes them more efficient, profitable and ready to hit the ground running as commodity prices improve. 

Western Wisconsin is also home to many food processors.  Just last week I paid a visit to Bush Beans in Augusta and discussed their future plans. Did you know eight out of ten cans of baked beans in the US are made by Bush Beans?

According to the 2010 Status of Wisconsin Agriculture report, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois remain the nation’s largest concentrated producers of canned and frozen vegetables.  Excluding tomatoes, we are ranked second in the nation in production of vegetables for processing.

And like the dairy farmers, food processors worked with my colleagues and I to pass the Food Processing Modernization Tax Credit.  Similar to the dairy modernization credit, it will help Wisconsin food processors and distributors modernize and expand.

Western Wisconsin manufacturers can also benefit from bills passed in the final week of the legislative session.  I recently worked with two Tomah manufacturers, Cardinal Glass and USEMCO. Both companies, and many others, could benefit from a bill passed creating the “Green to Gold” program. 

This new program creates a $100 million revolving loan fund.  The dollars will be used by companies to become more energy efficient, use renewable energy and make products that support a green economy. Given our tight budget, lawmakers had to be creative in developing these new initiatives; using existing state and new federal dollars.

Jump-starting our economy is a priority.  Working together, we passed bills that will do good things for our economy and our way of life.