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.
I worked with Representative Schilling to pass legislation ensuring that counties have the authority to establish multi-county nursing home collaboration. For example, La Crosse County has collaborated with other counties to have their residents placed at Lakeview and these counties help cover the costs of providing care.
Allowing counties to join together in operating and funding county nursing homes is critical to maintaining access to the high level of care provided in these specialized facilities.
Another much needed bill that passed without much fanfare came out of our Rural Caucus meeting with rural school administrators. Many rural schools are struggling to keep class sizes small as they face space and staffing problems.
Schools participating in the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education or SAGE program must keep class sizes to 15 students per teacher. But the 15:1 student/teacher ratio makes it difficult for many rural schools to stay in the program without building more classrooms or hiring more teachers; options they cannot afford. These districts are forced to drop the SAGE program and go back to classrooms of thirty students or larger.
Research shows investing in small class sizes pays off with higher student achievement down the road. I joined my fellow rural legislators in crafting a bill that creates flexibility in the SAGE program. Our bill increases the student/teacher ratio to 18:1 in a classroom. Several rural school administrators said this bill saved the SAGE program.
Another bill providing flexibility will make a huge difference for one of our local communities. Before the session ended we were able to complete action on a bill that gives the Village of Warrens the needed flexibility to restructure their tax increment financing district (TID).
Village residents and county taxpayers were concerned about who would be responsible for the debt created by the bankruptcy of the Three Bears Lodge and the downturn in the economy.
Representative Radcliffe and I successfully negotiated and passed a bill that allows communities facing severe financial problems to restructure their TIDs. Warrens will now have time to work with state officials on how best to address their financial issues without putting the burden on county property taxpayers.
A bill that didn’t make headlines will allow local communities to use electric vehicles for city business. I worked with Whitehall Mayor Rod Moen to change the law prohibiting these golf cart-like vehicles from operating on state highways; which in many of our rural communities doubles as Main Street.
Keeping our roadways safe was the goal behind a bill expanding the state’s Safe Ride program. With the strong support of hundreds of tavern owners across our district and the state, I was able to pass a bill increasing state funding for the Safe Ride to 80% of transportation costs. This change is paid for by an increased fine on drunken driving convictions and means 16,000 more bar patrons will get a free, safe ride home.
These bills are small victories and not the headline grabbers. But they remind me of what one seldom hears – people working together to get something done without much fanfare but with big results for better services and savings to taxpayers.