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Legislators at Work

Celebrating our nation's independence

July 01, 2010
The Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, fireworks and the American flag serve as the symbols of our freedom. Each year, on the Fourth of July, as we celebrate that freedom, it is important to remember the history of our nation and reflect on its past. The United States of America gained its independence from Britain following many bloody battles waged during the War of Independence, which culminated with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. On that day, John Adams wrote to his wife, stating, "This day will be the most memorable epic in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival." It is amazing that on the very day they approved the Declaration of Independence, Adams was already foreseeing the great celebration of our Nation each year on July 4.

Let's hear it for tax break

July 01, 2010
While we are seeing some signs that the economy may be beginning to recover, too many Wisconsinites are still struggling to find a job. So I was very pleased when Congress, as part of the HIRE Act, passed a payroll tax break similar to the one I have been pushing to help businesses hire workers. This was a worthy first step, but a more robust jobs tax credit would help even more. That's why I am pushing to extend the tax break through 2011, and to expand it to help businesses even more. I have introduced a bill to create a temporary jobs tax credit over the next two years for businesses that hire new employees, expand work hours for their current workforce, or simply raise worker pay. Since the HIRE Act went into effect, I've met with numerous Wisconsin business leaders, including CEOs of manufacturing and engineering firms. In these meetings, I asked them what they thought of an expanded and extended jobs tax credit to go through 2011. Their responses have been very positive. These CEOs have told me how the tax credit would be especially helpful in 2011 when more businesses may be in a better position to expand their payroll as the economy strengthens.

Recent Legislators at Work
New law creates licensure for sign language interpreters
June 24, 2010
Consider this. Your doctor is explaining a serious medical concern with you, one which may affect you for the rest of your life, and providing detailed information and advice to deal with it. Then consider this: you can’t hear anything the doctor is saying. Thus, your only link to the hearing world is an interpreter. Faced with this scenario, you would expect that individual to have the appropriate level of training to communicate that vital information to you, but have no assurance they do. Sign language interpreters are a vital link between the deaf and hard of hearing individual and the rest of society, but many people do not know of the different levels and skills required to provide this service. A concern was brought to my attention a few years ago from key members of the deaf community who believed a level of competency and licensure by the state was necessary in order to create a minimum standard of quality for this vital service. Working together over the last three legislative sessions, we were able to craft a reasonable solution to this concern and see it signed into law last month.
A different kind of tree hugger
June 17, 2010
In 2008, Wisconsin’s forestry interests went on high alert when the first known presence of the Emerald Ash Borer was discovered in Washington and Ozaukee counties. In 2009, more were found in the southeastern community of Franklin, along with Brown and Crawford counties. This year, more have been identified in West Bend, as well as Vernon County. While small in size, these creatures can have a devastating impact on Wisconsin’s 770 million native ash trees, which is 7 percent of the total tree population, and 20 percent of the urban tree population.The Emerald Ash Borer is an invasive wood boring beetle that feeds on the tissues under the bark of ash trees, and kills them. The metallic green beetle is native to East Asia and was accidentally imported to the United States within the wood of shipping crates from China. EAB was first discovered in North America near Detroit in 2002, and since then, the beetle has spread to several eastern and Midwestern states, including Wisconsin. While not harmful to humans, they are a death sentence for Wisconsin’s forests, particularly in urban settings.
Protecting Wisconsin’s children from Internet predators
June 10, 2010
Our kids are our most precious resource. Families work very hard to raise them, pass along values and traditions, educate them and give them every opportunity to achieve their dreams. At the Department of Justice, we also work very hard to protect them. Nowhere is this commitment greater than in our efforts to fight Internet predators. While the Internet has opened many doors for our children, from education to communication to entertainment, it has also become an active crime scene. Online sex predators use technology to connect with kids, using all the tools they use — instant messaging, picture and video trading, chat rooms, Web cameras, Web microphones, social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook and even online gaming networks like X-Box Live. Child pornographers have invaded the Internet in many forms. Commercial pornography Web sites, often located abroad, find an endless supply of customers in the U.S., including in Wisconsin. Others use chat rooms to obtain and trade images and movies, while some simply use their own digital cameras, camcorders or cell phones to manufacture images. As for cell phones, have you heard the term “sexting?” It refers to sexually explicit chats and photos through cellular telephones. Often, predators use cell phones after meeting children online.
New rules of road begin this month
June 10, 2010
As the old adage goes, there are two seasons in Wisconsin: winter and road construction. Each summer, Wisconsin’s roads and highways are dotted with the familiar orange barrels, detour signs, and of course, men and women working the hot summer months making much-needed repairs and improvements. This is a good opportunity to remind motorists of the current rules of the road regarding construction, as well as provide an update of some of the new laws starting this summer. Whether it’s a major infrastructure project or a minor pothole fill, it makes sense to plan ahead by checking on construction, which may alter your travel plans. The Department of Transportation has a Web site dedicated to construction projects near your home or on your travel route. You may visit: www.511wi.gov or simply dial 511 on your phone (airtime free); of course, if your route includes road work areas, you may want to consider either taking an alternate route or allowing for extra time through the construction zone. While driving in work zones, the DOT has several suggestions for safe and easy travel, including avoiding peak travel hours, watching for special instructions from a flag person or on special electronic message boards, slowing down and merging as early as possible when approaching a work zone, leaving plenty of room for surprise slow-downs of vehicles in front of you, and being alert to narrow lanes and uneven pavement. Remember, the fines for traffic violations in a road work area are doubled, but only when a crew is on site.
Honoring fallen heroes
May 27, 2010
Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday in May, commemorates the men and women of the Armed Services who died while serving our country. While some may view the day as simply the beginning of summer, we must not lose sight of the true meaning and purpose of Memorial Day. In the Legislature, we also honor our military personnel through a “Fallen Solider” ceremony, and it gave me great pride to craft the protocol for this ceremony in 2005, along with the current Senate President. The procedure ensures the State Senate appropriately honors and remembers Wisconsin’s heroes who have fought for our country and made the ultimate sacrifice in a manner that is consistent and dignified for both Legislators and families. It applies to resolutions honoring deceased military personnel, as well as law enforcement officers and firefighters. When the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs notifies the Senate that a member of the Armed Forces has been killed in the line of duty, a Senate resolution honoring their service is drafted. Such resolutions and corresponding ceremonies are offered only if the family of the soldier approves. The Senate notifies the family of the intent to honor the deceased and makes arrangements for them to attend the Wisconsin Fallen Heroes presentation in Madison. During the ceremony, family members are typically escorted to the Senate floor for the reading of the Resolution, which is then followed by all Senators rising for a moment of silence, as the resolution is adopted. If the family is unable or unwilling to attend the ceremony, a citation of the resolution is delivered to the family. The resolutions honoring members of the Armed Forces are forwarded to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum for permanent archiving, where they remain accessible for family and visitors.
Organ donation: The gift of life
May 27, 2010
Each day, about 77 people in the United States receive organ transplants. During the same time frame, 18 people die waiting for transplants that cannot take place because of the shortage of donated organs. Despite continuing advances in medicine and technology, the demand for organs is vastly greater than the number of donors. That is why I urge you to consider becoming a potential organ donor, as April is “Donate Life” Month. As a registered organ donor myself, signing up is easy to do, and soon, it will be even easier. Beginning April 1, the State of Wisconsin is making an on-line organ donor registry available. Those interested can sign up at: www.YesIWillWisconsin.com. This is the first step to moving away from registering donors intentions with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to an easy to use on-line registry. The online registry is absolutely secure, conforms to federal health care privacy laws, and can only be accessed by health care security codes. It will be easy to update, allowing registrants to add or remove themselves at any time and will eventually replace the orange sticker on driver’s licenses. Registration does not override the surviving family’s wishes, but may help some families make the tough decision if necessary.
Wisconsin stands up to bullies
May 20, 2010
You may be familiar with the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” The truth is, though, words can be hurtful, especially to children. By all accounts, school bullying is more prevalent and severe than ever. It is no longer just childish taunts or pushing and shoving; rather, it has evolved into threats and acts of violence, intimidating e-mails, libelous text messages, and even sophisticated Web sites created with the sole purpose of tormenting vulnerable students. Schools should be a place for education and learning, not intimidation and physical, verbal, or psychological abuse. That is why for the last six years I have promoted school bullying legislation to establish a framework with the hopes of reducing such incidents. Previous efforts were approved by the Senate with broad bipartisan support, but failed to advance in the Assembly. However, a comprehensive school safety bill was offered this session, which included the school bullying bill. I am pleased to report the bill — Senate Bill 154 — passed the Legislature and was signed into law on May 12.
Honoring men, women of the blue line
May 13, 2010
In 1962, President Kennedy signed a proclamation designating May 15 as ‘Peace Officers Memorial Day’ and the week in which that date falls as “Police Week.” Twenty years after the declaration, the first official memorial service took place on Capitol Hill’s Senate Park in Washington, D.C. Only 125 people attended to honor 91 law enforcement officers. Today, Police Week is celebrated in ceremonies across the country, and National Police Week is observed from May 9 to 15. In 1994, Congress adopted and President Clinton enacted a law requiring the American flag be lowered to half-staff on May 15 as a special tribute to law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty. In 1996, final approval was given to build a Law Enforcement Memorial here at the Wisconsin State Capitol, which is now located on the Capitol grounds on the North Hamilton approach. It is made of the same bethel granite from which the state Capitol was constructed, circular in nature, and includes the names of all Wisconsin Law Enforcement officers that have died in the line of duty.Wisconsin’s fallen officers are remembered and honored during the annual Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony, and this year marks the 20th Anniversary of the observance. During this years’ ceremony, hundreds of law enforcement officers from across the state convene on the square of the State Capitol to pay tribute to their comrades who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their state and community.
Almost time to redraw map
May 06, 2010
Every 10 years, the political landscape in Wisconsin gets a makeover. This is otherwise known as redistricting or reapportionment, is the process by which senate, assembly and congressional legislative districts are geographically adjusted and boundary lines redrawn in order to maintain equal representation throughout the state. The law requires redistricting to occur every ten years and coincides with the U.S. Census, which you may have already received. The U.S. Census Bureau requests information of the number of individuals residing within your home and uses that information to determine the amount of federal aid each state receives, the number of U.S. Representative that will represent each state and the manner in which state redistricting will be done. How Americans are counted has become as important as how many are counted. With demographics changing, the stakes are high, as the control of Congress and statehouses are in play. In Wisconsin, responsibility for redrawing legislative and congressional district lines rests with the state Legislature, although Congress has the right to regulate and modify state plans. The Courts may also weigh if the Legislature can not agree to a new map, as was the case in the last three decades.
Tax freedom day finally arrives
April 15, 2010
Tax Freedom Day in Wisconsin will come one day earlier this year, as April 12, marks the day that Wisconsin taxpayers will have finally finished paying their taxes to local, state and federal government. It is the first day of the year in which all of your earnings are yours. For every day you worked from Jan. 1 to April 12 — 102 days — you have been working just to pay your taxes. Last year, that benchmark came on April 13 and I am hopeful the trend continues toward an even earlier day next year.
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