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Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

New law requires carbon monoxide detectors

News you can use


Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of accidental death in America.

A new Wisconsin law went into effect October 1, 2008 that requires carbon monoxide detectors be installed in most new residential construction units as of that date. The units include tourist cabins, bed and breakfast establishments, and any public building used for sleeping or lodging, such as hotels, motels, condominiums, apartment buildings, dormitories, fraternities, sororities, convents, seminaries, community-based residential facilities, and home shelters. Hospitals and nursing homes are exempt.

The law requires that the detectors be installed in existing residential buildings of the types mentioned above by April 1, 2010. 

Carbon monoxide is without odor or color, making it difficult to realize when it has become a problem. Low levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning or other illnesses. If untreated, the symptoms can lead to long term health problems. Symptoms of low levels of carbon monoxide poisoning include shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches. Moderate levels of exposure can be fatal if symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, and light-headedness persist. High levels can cause death in a matter of minutes.

To help those suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, get them outdoors immediately, or open all doors and windows. Get them to a hospital or emergency room as quickly as possible.

I voted in favor of Senate Bill 289 that was approved by the Legislature and signed into law. Here is a Legislative Council memo about Senate Bill 289 and details about the enacted law.

Audit finds state can’t collect damages for Social Security mess

Audits


Between December 2006 and January 2008, state government suffered three breaches of privacy when Social Security numbers were exposed to the public. 

During January 2008, I blogged, “A third breach of privacy in just over a year also occurred this month with a portion of 5,000 taxpayers in northeastern Wisconsin having their Social Security numbers exposed in a state mailing. A folding error enabled some of the recipients' Social Security numbers to be seen in the windows of envelopes containing federal 1099-G tax forms.”

I remain unable to fathom a situation that it is necessary to publish the Social Security number of any recipient of a state service. The third breach of privacy that occurred earlier this year led to a review prepared by the state’s highly-regarded Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB).

Since April 2008, state law has directed the LAB to establish a toll-free hotline to take reports of fraud, waste, and mismanagement in state government and to investigate reports received through the hotline. The LAB  started its investigation of the January 2008 breach of privacy in response to complaints that the state Department of Administration (DOA) had not used proper oversight of contract staff provided by Spherion for print and mail services. Complaints raised questions about workplace safety, a hostile work environment, and false billing hours. DOA reported that Spherion staff failed to notice the folding error that led to up to 5,000 tax forms mailed with Social Security numbers visible through envelope windows.

One of the LAB’s findings is unfortunate. The LAB discovered that the state’s contract with Spherion did not include any provisions to collect damages for instances like the breach of privacy.

The LAB writes, “The contract had no specific liquidated damage provisions, and DOA did not elect to pursue breach of contract damages from Spherion to pay the cost of addressing the security breach, including the cost of credit monitoring for affected taxpayers. DOA noted that it was not appropriate to require Spherion to pay for credit monitoring because it believes Spherion’s overall performance has been satisfactory and the number of documents affected represented a small percentage of the total number processed.”

As for preventing future blunders, the LAB writes, “DOA indicated that it has developed standard contract terms and conditions related to imposing liquidated damages and requiring contractors to pay the costs of security breaches for which they are responsible. It plans to encourage state agencies to incorporate these provisions into future contracts, where appropriate.”

The state’s contract with Spherion expires June 30, 2009, and DOA has begun a process to solicit bids during October or November of this year. The LAB calculates as much as $616,500 could be saved in the five-year period from fiscal year 2009-2010  through fiscal year 2013-2014 if state staff filled all print and mail positions currently filled by contract staff.

The LAB recommends that if DOA continues to contract for some or all print and mail staff in the future, billing procedures should be formalized, contractors should be prohibited from billing for time new staff are trained, and contracts should include standard provisions for damages if private information is disclosed.

The LAB did not substantiate any complaints about workplace safety, a hostile work environment, and fraudulent time recording by contract staff.

Here is the complete LAB report. 

I commend the LAB for another outstanding review on behalf of Wisconsin taxpayers.

It’s that time: Watch out for deer

Motorcycles, News you can use


The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) is issuing the following warning to motorists: Be extremely cautious the next several weeks. Here’s why:

Deer will be abundant and their movement unpredictable along Wisconsin roadways in coming weeks.”

The risk for car-deer crashes increases this time of year. During fall, deer on the prowl to mate are active and while on the move often find their way in the path of vehicles. October is a bad month for deer collisions and so is November. The most commonly struck objects in Wisconsin crashes are, in this order, another vehicle, a fixed object, and deer.

As a motorcycle enthusiast, I especially want to emphasize this finding:
Motorcycles were involved in 10 of the 14 fatal deer-vehicle crashes in Wisconsin during 2007.

Here is a press release from the DOT including advice about how to prevent car-deer crashes.

More want to vote early

News you can use


I blogged during May about the trend of voting via the Post Office. 
As one election official put it, “There is no line at your mailbox.”  Just how popular is the absentee ballot? The Associated press reports that nationwide, about a third of the electorate is expected to vote before Election Day, November 4, 2008.

The numbers show an increasing percentage of voters want to take advantage of the absentee ballot because they are travelling, they are elderly and have difficulty getting to the polls, the convenience of considering their choices in the comfortable confines of their home, or simply because they can. Many states, including Wisconsin, allow anyone to vote absentee, no questions asked.

During 2000, 16 percent of voters in the United States cast their ballots early. The number increased to 22 percent in 2004.

Statewide in Wisconsin, according the Government Accountability Board’s Kyle Richmond quoted by the Associated Press, about 365,000 people used absentee ballots or cast early votes at clerk’s offices in 2004, about 12 percent of the voting age population in the state. The number is expected to grow this year to 15 percent.

Voters who request an absentee ballot should start getting them in the mail the week of October 6, 2008. Here are details on obtaining an absentee ballot in Wisconsin.

Here is an Associated Press story on the popularity of Post Office voting.

Agreement needed to expand Wisconsin’s booming cranberry industry

Business


Cranberries are big business in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rapids now boasts having the largest cranberry producing plant in the world.

Our cranberry business could be even bigger if the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and cranberry growers can come to an agreement on expediting the permitting process to transform as many as 5,000 acres into cranberry bogs. An economic study prepared this year by University of Wisconsin economists has concluded that if Wisconsin’s cranberry industry were to add 5,000 new acres, the state would gain 1,115 new jobs and see an annual income increase of $75 million.

The CEO’s of Ocean Spray Cranberries and Cliffstar Corporation, two large and significant buyers of Wisconsin cranberries, have been discussing speeding up the process with Governor Doyle and the DNR so that cranberry expansion can take place in Wisconsin. Failure to come up with an agreement could send the cranberry companies to seek land in Canada, taking all the jobs and income that go along with the expanded fruit production.

A greater global demand for cranberries has necessitated the call for more bogs. The United States is exporting 30% of its crop to places like the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, China, and South Korea.

Wisconsin is an ideal place to grow and harvest cranberries and expand production. The state understands the business and already has plants in operation. Canada has plenty of land to convert into bogs, but lacks Wisconsin’s knowledge of the industry and processing plants.

Cultivating cranberries is time-consuming. The time it takes from beginning work on the land to the actual harvest is usually about three years. Add on the two-year permitting process in Wisconsin and one can understand the concerns of cranberry companies who can’t wait that long to satisfy global demand.

What is the hang-up? Some portions of the land that would be included in the Wisconsin expansion contain wetlands. Environmental groups are worried the wetlands will be destroyed. The CEO’s of Ocean Spray and Cliffstar insist they will replace any wetlands converted into cranberry bogs.

There is not a state in the entire country that produces more cranberries than Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association reports the cranberry is the state’s number one fruit in both value and acreage, providing an annual $350 million boost to the state economy and 7,200 jobs in Wisconsin. The Association also says in order to meet the rising worldwide demand for cranberries, an additional 110 million pounds, or 5,000 acres of berries must be produced in the next 5-10 years.

Wisconsin has a golden opportunity to expand one of our most successful industries, create jobs, and benefit the state economy. The Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune reports there is progress in talks between the state and cranberry executives. 
I urge the involved parties to come to a mutual agreement soon that will be in the best interests of all, especially Wisconsin’s lucrative cranberry industry.

This summer, I blogged that the Wisconsin blueberry is a superfood. The Wisconsin cranberry is also a superfood with many health benefits.

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