Vuk­mir and Dems clash over nurs­ing home law she backed

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin -

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.

Daniel Bice Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – WIS.

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