WISCONSINREPORT.COM (12/29/08) - In 2008, Wisconsin U.S. Senator Russ Feingold’s top accomplishments included efforts to help Wisconsin servicemembers and veterans and to protect the Great Lakes. Feingold continued support for men and women in uniform with efforts to help ease the tremendous burden they and their families face. In October the President signed into law legislation authored by Feingold to allow servicemembers to suspend cell phone contracts without charge when deployed. Feingold also led the Wisconsin delegation in calling for the establishment of new Vet Centers in Wisconsin, and more.
In July, the VA announced that it would open a new Vet Center in Brown County. And this year, Feingold helped improve the living conditions of servicemembers’ barracks after a Wisconsin man exposed the alarming conditions of his son’s barracks at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Feingold also worked hard in 2008 to protect the Great Lakes. Feingold helped lead efforts to pass the Great Lakes Compact in the Senate, including holding a key hearing on the measure in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Feingold supported efforts to clean up harbors and tributaries in the Great Lakes and called attention to the need to monitor Great Lakes water levels.
“I am happy with a lot of the work we were able to get done in Congress this year, particularly the progress we made to support our nation’s servicemembers and protect the health of our Great Lakes,” Feingold said.
“We took important steps to improve our nation’s jobs, health care, agriculture, education and security. But these steps are just the foundation to what I hope will be a successful new Congress next year," Senator Feingold said.
"I look forward to working with members of both parties in the new Congress to support businesses, jobs, and families in Wisconsin and the rest of our country,” Feingold continued.
Feingold’s other 2008 achievements included securing retooling funding for auto manufacturers and suppliers, helping to extend BadgerCare Plus health insurance, assisting Wisconsin farmers, expanding access to TRIO awards, funding education and job retraining programs, and calling attention to numerous crises in Africa.
A modified version of Feingold’s Cellular Phone Fairness Act was signed into law by the President in October, allowing servicemembers to suspend cell phone contracts without charge when deployed overseas. Feingold first heard concerns about cell phone termination charges from Wisconsin servicemembers and fought for two years to end the unfair fees.
In response to revelations of alarming conditions in Army barracks from a concerned Wisconsin father, Feingold also spoke several times with Army Secretary Pete Geren, urging him to ensure no soldiers were living in unsanitary barracks and that the Army provide sufficient funding to maintain its barracks.
In part due to Feingold’s efforts, the Army transferred over $200 million to its barracks maintenance account and conducted a worldwide review of its barracks which resulted in the relocation of over a dozen soldiers.
Feingold also supported United States military veterans this year when he led an effort in Wisconsin to request new community counseling centers, or Vet Centers, be opened in Wisconsin. This year, the VA announced that it will open a new Vet Center in Brown County as Feingold requested.
With Feingold’s leadership, the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact was signed into law in October, only a few months after Feingold helped move it through the Senate by chairing a full Judiciary Committee hearing on the Compact.
As demands for fresh water rise and Great Lakes water levels fall, the Compact will prevent Great Lakes waters from being siphoned off to other parts of the country. Feingold also successfully obtained provisions in the Climate Security Act of 2008 requiring the monitoring of the Great Lakes’ water levels and temperatures following historic low water levels in the Lakes.
In addition, Feingold supported reauthorization of the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which was reauthorized for two more years to help clean up harbors and tributaries in the Lakes with significant sediment contamination.
Feingold supported efforts to fund the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program that provides federal loans to automobile manufacturers to retool existing factories to build more fuel efficient cars. Congress funded this program and the President signed it into law in September.
Feingold co-led efforts to fund the Green Collar Jobs Initiative to create jobs in the renewable energy sector and supported the extension of vital tax credits to spur energy efficient building, solar and wind energy and manufacturing, advanced technology vehicles, and renewable biofuels and energy.
Feingold also helped provide $3.8 million to Wisconsin to fund education and job retraining programs for GM, Lear, Logistics Services, and United Industries employees.
Feingold worked with Governor Doyle and other members of the Wisconsin delegation to extend BadgerCare Plus to uninsured childless adults, helping an estimated 81,000 Wisconsinites gain access to the health care they need. Feingold co-led efforts to reauthorize the Dental Health Improvement Act expanding dental care for underserved areas of our country.
With Feingold’s support, Congress passed a mental health parity measure helping those dealing with mental illness get access to medical benefits and treatment.
Feingold also supported a measure that was signed into law by the President which prohibits insurance providers, employers and labor organizations from discriminating against individuals based on genetic information.
In June, Congress passed and the President signed into law a Farm Bill that contained many provisions Feingold authored and supported that will help Wisconsin farmers. Among the Feingold-supported provisions important to Wisconsin are: an improved safety net for family dairy farmers, new opportunities for rural America by improvements to programs to expand broadband service, and safeguards against energy market manipulation that contributes to increased costs.
Feingold also took a lead role in successful efforts to include a tax provision to ensure farmers remain eligible for Social Security benefits, mandatory country of origin labeling for ginseng, a provision to ensure that dairy prices are reported accurately, an improved Office of Advocacy and Outreach focused on the needs of small farms, and protection for farmers against unfair mandatory arbitration provisions in their livestock or poultry contracts with large corporate processers. The final Farm Bill also made significant improvements to food stamp and food assistance programs that will help many Americans.
A modified version of a Feingold measure was signed into law in August that ensures college systems with two-year branch campuses, like the UW System, are eligible to receive TRIO awards that provide programming to low income students and unrepresented minorities.
Feingold championed a measure signed into law to help ensure teachers receive training on developing high quality student assessments in order to reduce reliance on high-stakes standardized tests.
Feingold also supported efforts to require colleges to establish a code of conduct regarding student loans and increase transparency on the colleges’ preferred lender lists in order to help prevent abuses in the student loan industry.
After hearing from DOJ Pride, the gay and lesbian employees’ organization at the Department of Justice, Feingold questioned Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey at his confirmation hearing about the disparate treatment of gay employees at the Department. Mukasey committed to Feingold that he would end any discriminatory practices, and early in the year, Mukasey issued a new policy for the Department committing it to equal treatment of LGBT employees and allowing DOJ Pride to hold meetings and advertise events like any other employee organization.
Feingold also called attention to suspicionless laptop searches of Americans returning from overseas travel by the Department of Homeland Security. As a result of the public attention to the issue, DHS published its electronic border search policy for the first time. Feingold has introduced legislation to require reasonable suspicion for electronic border searches.
Feingold successfully passed a requirement that the administration report on its global strategy to combat and defeat al Qaeda. Feingold also successfully co-led efforts that were signed into law making it a federal crime to knowingly recruit or use soldiers under the age of 15 and permitting the United States to prosecute any individuals on U.S. territory for breaking this law.
Feingold also introduced four resolutions that were all passed by the Senate, calling attention to the humanitarian crises and human rights atrocities ongoing in Sudan, Chad, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Kenya.