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Tuesday, November 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 22.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Twenty-one years without a raise
Worker got attacked by a criminal; then it was the system's turn
Grillot: 'It's not like they've frozen my other costs.'
Grillot: 'It's not like they've frozen my other costs.'
Credit:Mary Langenfeld

On Nov. 3, 1985, Patricia Grillot's life changed forever. The Madison resident, then a certified nurse practitioner and manager at Group Health Cooperative, was sent to a conference in Arlington, Va. Seconds after she entered her hotel room, someone knocked on her door, saying she'd dropped something. She opened the door and a man with a gun forced his way in.

He held the gun to her head, threatening to kill her. He pistol-whipped her repeatedly. He made her crawl to the bathroom and banged her head against the tub. He sodomized and raped her, leaving her in a pool of blood.

Grillot, then 34, was strong and athletic, an avid backpacker and mountain climber. The assault left her with severe brain damage and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. She now needs a walker to get around. She tried returning to work, but was unable to function.

Because the injuries that left her with a permanent total disability were job-related, Grillot qualified for worker's compensation, at the maximum 1985 rate of $321 a week, or about $16,500 a year.

More than two decades later, Grillot gets this same amount. That's because state worker's comp rates are not indexed to inflation. Grillot tells what's wrong with this picture: "It's not like they've frozen my other costs."

A couple of years back, in part at Grillot's urging, the Wisconsin Workers Compensation Advisory Council formed a committee to look into disability rates. It approved two modest hikes, the second of which will boost Grillot's rate of compensation by $17 a week, starting next January.

The committee's union reps say that's not nearly enough. They want to raise older rates to current levels. (A worker who qualifies for total permanent disability at the maximum rate now gets $744 per week.) They also want to tie rates to the Consumer Price Index or wage averages so that future cost-of-living increases are automatic.

"These people have been basically underpaid for years. They need some more money to live on," says Ron Kent of AFSCME International. There are only about 750 people in Wisconsin on permanent total disability, so the cost of making these changes is nominal. Worker's comp estimated it at $14 million per year; Kent says this would mean making employers pay an additional two cents per $100 of payroll. (The last comprehensive study, in 2004, found that Wisconsin averaged $2.27 per $100 of payroll, less than Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and 30 other states.)

Kent and state AFL-CIO president David Newby blame the committee's management and insurance reps for blocking this fix. Says Newby, "Management doesn't want to pay for it."

Committee member James Buchen of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce dislikes automatic increases but agrees on the need for a "significant" hike. He says the problem is that older cases are not part of the current premium structure so "somehow we have to figure out a revenue stream."

The committee plans to revisit this issue; Grillot and other recipients have asked to become members, to no avail. Worker's comp administrator Frances Huntley-Cooper, in a letter to Grillot, said committee members "worried that such people would focus on their own needs and not look at the big picture." Grillot find this outrageous: "Management also has a stake in this, and they're on the committee."

Meanwhile, Grillot is battling the Wisconsin Insurance Security Fund, a state entity, over its denial of medical expenses it says are unrelated to her initial injuries, leaving her with sizable costs beyond what Medicare covers. In January 2005, Grillot challenged these denials before a state administrative law judge. Soon after, the fund stopped paying some of her bills, including therapist-recommended housecleaning help.

Madison attorney David McFarlane, who represents Grillot, admits it's a complicated case that "pushes the envelop on worker's comp." But he says the medical evidence he's seen all supports that Grillot's ongoing problems stem from the 1985 assault. For instance, she has problems with balance and frequently falls, resulting in broken bones. That's why she could use housecleaning help and adjustments like better lighting, which the fund also rejects.

As the case awaits a ruling or further proceedings, Grillot perseveres. She tells of how, after the hotel where she was brutalized was torn down, she went back among the ruins, finding a lone thistle in bloom. It's an image she uses in talks to other survivors: "No matter how bleak, how barren, how empty life can be, you can be the thistle, and you can blossom."

...Try, try again

Madison mayoral candidate Ray Allen last week filed a second amended campaign finance report with the City Clerk's Office. The first two contained multiple errors, which were pointed out to his campaign. For example, required address information was not given for some donors.

Deb Schmidt, who oversees city election filings, says this is not unusual: "Yes, Ray's reports contain minor errors; however, many people's reports have minor errors." But because this is the start of a complex race, the office is eager to identify and correct reporting errors early on.

Looking back over past filings, Schmidt says Allen also had to amend his report in 2001, when he was running for school board. And he's twice missed filing deadlines, including one for the mayoral race due last Jan. 31. The report, filed Feb. 14, showed no activity.

As for incumbent Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Schmidt says he's never been late or had to file an amended report going way back to his first filing in, let's see, January 2002.

But how could that be? Cieslewicz didn't even register for his first mayoral election until July 2002.

Apparently, someone in January 2003 checked the wrong year on Cieslewicz's report. Schmidt says there's no way to know if it was someone in his campaign, or her office.

The out-of-towners

Now that Allen's amended reports are in, it's possible to crunch some numbers. Between Jan. 1 and June 30, he collected $18,618 from 105 donors (excluding the $37,984 chipped in by Allen and his wife). Of this, $6,349 (34%) came from 41 donors who live outside the city of Madison.

During the same period, Cieslewicz bagged $78,035 from 651 individuals. Of these, $12,218 (15.7%) came from 83 people who live out of town.

How do we know this? By going through the contributions line by line, page by page, typing numbers into a calculator one by one. You're welcome.

Life and death

Speaking of painstaking journalist endeavors that serve the greater good, guess what you learn when you compare a list of state lawmakers responsible for this fall's referendum on restoring Wisconsin's death penalty against roll calls for legislation of key importance to pro-lifers?

You guessed right: There's a lot of overlap. In all, 41 of the 47 state reps and 17 of 20 state senators who approved the death penalty referendum also voted last session for all three of the pro-life movement's biggest bills: to let medical practitioners refuse to provide health care or make referrals based on their personal beliefs; to impede embryonic stem-cell research; and to require that people seeking abortions receive unscientific and possibly untrue information about fetal pain.

All three bills passed and were vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle, as was a bill to let Wisconsin residents carry concealed weapons ' which, incidentally, was backed by every last lawmaker who voted for the death penalty.

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