Sen. Kathleen Vinehout
"Every Wisconsinite should have access to education or training past high school ... To be pursued at whatever point and pace makes sense for individual workers and industries," wrote researchers at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy eight years ago. Long before the current shortage of skilled workers, COWS anticipated the need for additional training. In 2009, the center teamed up with the Workforce Development Board, Skills2Compete and others to study "Wisconsin's Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs."
"My family conversations over Thanksgiving were all about health care," Mary shared with me. "It's all so confusing." Mary's family is not alone. From recent conversations, I'm betting that health care dominated talk at many Thanksgiving gatherings. Premiums are too high. Young people worry about finding money to buy insurance. Older people are trying to figure out Medicare. Many are struggling with unpaid or surprise bills. Everyone has a health care story. "My employer pays $3,000 for my HSA (health savings account). What happens if they decide not to pay?"
Sitting alone in the fog. Blending in with the grass and trees. Don't move. Just listen. Breathe. "Caaw, caaw caaw." Two crows overhead. One higher, hoarser, more nasal. A young one. Looking for food. They are opportunists. Listen. "Tuk, tuk, tuk tuk, tuk." A wild turkey to the north. The soft whoosh of wings overhead. Something flies by. Very still. Don't move. Wondering. An eagle screeches. A hairy woodpecker drums. It's still early. Dark. Quiet. Watch. A glimpse of a silhouette on the horizon. Too far. Too dark. Stay still. Watching. Waiting. Listening.
The day was busy. Filled with bills voted on by senators. Bills that, someday, will change people's lives for better or worse. Senators do not often see the faces of those whose lives changed. Bev, Bonnie and Jamie are working to put a face on the lives affected by the actions of lawmakers. The women are showing Wisconsin the faces of those suffering from addiction.
In the past 11 years, I wrote 64 times about the problems of speed and secrecy in the legislative process. However, I never saw a calendar as broad and deep in controversy as the most recent one before the state Senate. For weeks, we heard that the Senate would vote a hodge-podge of highly controversial bills. "Horrid," one staffer called the expected Senate calendar. None of us, including the public, knew what bills would come up for a vote.
"We have not been able to verify the jobs," said Secretary Mark Hogan at a recent public hearing of the Joint Committee on Audit. In this statement, the head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation confirmed what several years of audits repeatedly found: our state awarded hundreds of millions in tax credits and cash payments to companies to create jobs without ever checking to see if jobs were actually created.
"Can you find out the nuclear flaw in the Foxconn deal?" a woman asked me. She was referring to words leaked out of secret negotiations between the state and a Taiwanese billionaire. Lawmakers, who recently voted in favor of the Foxconn deal, did so without seeing any contract. They put faith in a state operation known as Wisconsin Economic Development.
"Hemp is an agricultural commodity and should be treated as such in Wisconsin law," Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, said when commenting on the recent passage of Senate Bill 119 by the Committee on Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism.
For 130 years, Wisconsin provided care for our aging veterans. Our state committed resources to build a beautiful campus on the Chain O' Lakes. Known as the Veterans Home at King, the home gives veterans and their families a picturesque retirement. Recently, stories leaked out from King that all was not well. Delayed maintenance, slipping quality of care, and management decisions, in the name of cost cutting, took away amenities central to veterans' quality of life. Impersonal vending machines replaced the coffee shop stocked with home-baked goods.
Farmers in diverse states like Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine and Minnesota are researching a new crop: industrial hemp. Many states are changing laws to allow growing of hemp. Wisconsin is slow to get in the game. Hopefully, this is about to change. Lawmakers on the Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee are considering a hemp legalization bill. If Senate Bill 119 becomes law, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection would create an active industrial hemp program and license growers.