Vukmir and Dems clash over nursing home law she backed
Wisconsin Democrats are accusing GOP candidate Leah Vukmir of using her power in the state Senate to help benefit a pair of campaign contributors who run a company where she has worked part time for years.
But Sally Sprenger, owner of that company, says Democrats have badly misfired with the attack.
“This is a made-up farce by Democrats,” Sprenger said Friday.
In 2011, Vukmir — newly elected to the state Senate — co-sponsored a tort reform bill proposed by GOP Gov. Scott Walker that made it harder to win big money damages against nursing homes and assisted-living centers. The GOP-controlled Legislature quickly approved the measure.
Democrats contend that the legislation benefits ANEW Health Care Services and ANEW Management, two companies owned by Gary and Sally Sprenger, Vukmir’s former sister-inlaw.
The pair has given Vukmir nearly $18,000 since 2004, including the maximum $10,800 for the Brookfield Republican’s current U.S. Senate bid. Vukmir, a registered nurse, has worked part time for at least a dozen years for ANEW Health Services, training certified nursing assistants.
Vukmir is challenging U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Senate Democrat.
But Sally Sprenger said Democrats had their facts wrong.
Sprenger said her companies do not own or run nursing homes or assistedliving centers. She said ANEW Management currently provides “assisted living services” at two senior housing facilities in Milwaukee.
She said her firms did not benefit from the 2011 legislation, which she said she had no role in sponsoring.
“I know nothing about this,” Sprenger said.
Jessica Ward, campaign manager for Vukmir, joined in the criticism.
“There’s no merit to any of this,” Ward said.
But Democrats stood by their criticism.
They noted that ANEW says on its website that it “operates three statecertified Residential Care Apartment Complexes” in Milwaukee. ANEW has also been the subject of a handful of complaints to the state Department of Health Services for his supervision of those centers.
“We’re on solid footing,” said Brad Bainum, spokesman for the state Democratic Party.
He said the record indicates Vukmir
“championed legislation that protected her employers and major campaign donors.” He called it “pay-to-play politics at its worse.”
Yet even if the Democrats are right, Vukmir was in the clear to sponsor and vote on the legislation
That’s because state legislative rules allow members of the Assembly and Senate to vote on measures that affect their employers — or even themselves — if the bills have a broad impact on a whole class of businesses or individuals.
In other words, a state rep who is also a teacher can vote on a bill granting raises to all Wisconsin educators. But the rep couldn’t vote on a bill that boosted only his pay.
So Vukmir could support a bill affecting all nursing home providers.
As for the measure itself, state legislators years ago approved a law that limited noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, to $750,000 in malpractice cases against doctors and hospitals.
Vukmir’s bill in 2011 extended that cap to civil cases against long-term care providers, including nursing homes,hospices and assisted-living facilities.
The bill, which became Act 2 in Walker’s first term, also borrowed elements from a failed 2008 measure sponsored by Vukmir. That earlier legislation said state inspections of nursing homes could no longer be used as evidence in civil or criminal cases.
A report by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism showed the 2011 tort reform law has made it more difficult to hold nursing homes accountable for wrongdoing by keeping this crucial evidence out of court.
State records show ANEW has been the subject of various complaints in just the past three years for its work at three of the facilities where it provides services. Most of the complaints were not substantiated.
Vukmir has reported on her annual income disclosure forms she has been paid more than $1,000 a year by ANEW since at least 2008. Last year, she said she made $2,266 training CNAs for the company along with her state salary of $66,226.