Saturday August 24, 2019

Forward with Education & Reason

FacebookTwitterYoutube
Newsletter
Feeds:

Progressive Thinking

Discussion with education and reason.

Wisconsin: The Politics Behind Gun Violence Inaction

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 21 August 2019
in Wisconsin

las-vegas-shootingSen. Smith talks about legislation to expand the background check requirement for all firearm purchases as a way to fight against gun violence.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - I can’t imagine the horror victims go through when face to face with an active shooter while in a place of worship, school, shopping center or night club. How do families cope with the news of a loved one being murdered by a domestic terrorist, coworker or significant other? Or the news of a loved one who took their own life?

A few weeks ago, in a neighboring town, a young man shot and killed his mother, brother and nephew before driving to the home of a young woman he may have planned to abduct. He shot the parents of this young woman before killing her and himself. The family didn’t know the shooter before this happened, but his own family may have been aware he was dangerous.

Would a background check have saved those victims? We can’t be certain. Would a temporary law enforcement firearm removal order, also called a “red flag law,” stop this horribly tragic event? We’ll never know.

As a gun owner, I firmly believe in an individual’s right to own a firearm. I also believe gun violence prevention is long overdue. Countless lives have died in vain from our state and our nation’s inaction on gun violence.

Sadly, policymakers seem frozen with indecision when it comes to gun safety. We are trapped in a cycle of unexpected tragedies like El Paso, Dayton or Lake Hallie followed by the expected “thoughts and prayers” and then inaction by leaders to do anything to stop the cycle from happening again.

A Marquette Law School poll conducted in March of 2018 showed 81% of people favored background checks, with only 18% opposed. In the same poll, 56% of Wisconsinites supported assault-style weapon bans and 40% opposed the ban. More recently, a NPR poll conducted in February this year showed 65% of Americans believed a high-capacity magazine ban would reduce gun violence.

Polls consistently show people from all walks of life and political views favoring universal background checks. Wisconsin is ready for commonsense gun violence reforms, so why aren’t Republican lawmakers?

Pro-gun lobbying groups like the NRA use the 2nd Amendment as the reason for inaction. They use it to tie the hands of Republicans who might be willing to do something about gun violence.

Our Constitution has stood the test of time while our country has evolved. Take action now to stop the cycle of gun violence with commonsense reforms, and let the Constitution do its job. If the NRA wants to explain why simple background checks are wrong, or why they believe the founders thought it was necessary to have high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons when drafting the 2nd Amendment then let them try.

For decades, gun rights have been a wedge issue. It’s near the top of the list among single-issue voters. With that being the case, it isn’t any wonder why politicians do nothing. After all, when we are divided, those in power keep power.

jeff-smithBut, not everyone is so easy to predict on this issue.

Last week the Task Force on Suicide Prevention held a hearing in Eau Claire. It lasted over 7 hours, most of it being agency reports. The public who attended, and stuck around long enough, got their chance to testify.

A gun shop owner from Dane County came to tell us about the Gun Safe program he started with other shop owners. It allows anyone in a mental health crisis to temporarily store his or her weapons in a gun shop safe until the crisis passes.

A Republican lawmaker mistakenly thought the gun shop owner would be opposed to a Red Flag Law. The shop owner surprised the lawmaker by saying he was in favor of a properly worded law to help responsible gun owners make the right choice in a crisis. It was refreshing to hear such a thoughtful response. It reminded me that we should never make assumptions of where people may stand on any issue.

We can own guns responsibly and still demand action for gun violence. We’ve gone too long without commonsense solutions to fight against gun violence. The time to act was long ago, but the opportunity to act still exists.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

State Government: Legislators Gather for Nonpartisan Conference

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 14 August 2019
in Wisconsin

jeff-smithState Senator's experience at Summit meeting of legislators from other states and around the world gives opportunity to talk, including on redistricting reform.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Last week I joined over 7,000 legislators and staff from other states and around the world in Nashville at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) annual Legislative Summit. NCSL is a bipartisan organization that has been around 45 years with a mission to advise, train and advocate for state government, regardless of party affiliation.

I went to the conference with no real expectations or hopes. The bipartisan approach seemed so refreshing from the divisive politics we have become accustomed to.

After registering, we all received nametags showing our state and position, but no party affiliation. Though there may have been plenty of caution by some, we were able to strike up real conversations with many of the 7,000 attendees without mentioning our political party.

One morning I sat across from a fellow in the hotel. After chatting for a while, I learned he was from South Africa, and he was the leader of the African National Congress. It was fascinating and impressive that leaders from around the world were there to share and learn.

Another day I sat down again for breakfast in the hotel, and I met three legislators from Germany. In fact, one mentioned he had relatives in Eau Claire before he even knew I was from there. It truly is a small world.

During the course of the week there were sessions on elections, water, education, transportation, writing legislation, resolving conflict and just about every topic involving government you can think of. Throughout all these sessions we learned from experts and legislators who‘ve been deeply engrossed in the topic at hand while never taking a political stance on the subject. Of course, we all had our own biases, but it was left to each of us to fit the information shared into whatever way we viewed the world or our values.

Early in the conference, I attended a session on school safety. This is particularly timely as we approach a new school year and the concerns over the rise in mass shootings.

The school safety session was well attended. While taking questions, one panelist confessed that he had spent his political career voting against funding for school counselors, free breakfast programs and additional funding for classrooms. He now has such regret that he is using his retirement to volunteer for schools and do whatever he can to raise awareness for the needs of students. That’s what a bipartisan conference has the potential to bring out in people. His comments gave me hope that we would hear more open and honest dialogue through the week. And, for the most part, it played out that way.

On the last day I was surprised to find out there were separate Democratic and Republican legislator breakfasts. Not necessarily a terrible idea, I suppose, but it was surprising. The day before we left, there were opposing sessions regarding redistricting. Yes, there was a Republican Legislative Redistricting session and a Democratic Legislative Redistricting session simultaneously. They may as well have called these sessions Gerrymandering 101 for Republicans or Democrats. I did not attend. I can’t say for sure what was learned, but it was seriously concerning to me.

On the Republican side, former Governor Scott Walker ran the redistricting session. After overseeing the most extreme partisan gerrymandering of any state in the history of our nation, Scott Walker is now conducting lessons on how to do the same for other states. We should all be alarmed by this effort.

We can’t afford to allow bipartisan conferences to be hijacked by something as vile as extreme partisan gerrymandering. Wisconsin has already lost so much from corrupt redistricting. Let’s protect whatever small vestige of cooperation is left and rid our system of all forms of gerrymandering rather than accept it as normal.

We must take the opportunities, like NCSL, for Democrats and Republicans to come together, communicate and learn from each other. This is the only way we can work together and find solutions to the most pressing issues in our state.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Wisconsin: Questioning Our Economy

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 07 August 2019
in Wisconsin

family-worried-billsAn economy should work for all people, not just our country’s corporations. A successful economy is more than the unemployment rate. We need to understand the hidden factors in our economy that affect the way people work and raise a family.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Do you ever wonder how our economy stopped working for all of us? How have we arrived at stagnant wages, mega-rich corporations buying elections and people lacking essential access to healthcare?

Politicians like to cherry-pick numbers to show the economy is doing well under their watch. That’s why every Republican in this state talks about the unemployment rate. Here’s the dirty little secret -- they use the unemployment rate because it’s easy for voters to understand and it’s easy to manipulate. And it seems to work, too often, on people. They’re willing to overlook the insulting tweets from the White House because they’ve been told the economy is so great. But who is the economy really working for?

The unemployment rate is measured by how many people are looking for work. It doesn’t factor in many people who are underemployed or have given up on their work search. These people are forgotten. They gave up and were ignored. These individuals include people who took an early retirement, our adult children living in our homes, low-income workers who scrape by on whatever means they can or people who lost it all and are homeless. Just because the “numbers” sound good, doesn’t mean that people aren’t struggling.

The media judges our economy by the numbers. And, as we know, numbers can be skewed to show whatever we want. It seems the media takes the easy way out by reporting how the stock market does each day or over a period of time. That means stockbrokers and corporations are doing well, but where are the wages? It’s just rich people getting richer off of us.

A number I never see is how many jobs some people work to pay their bills. The most important measure of our economy is income.

Income disparity has never been greater. Why should anyone work one full-time job and still struggle to live? Everyone deserves a chance to live free and have a quality life. We are not put on this earth just to serve others without the chance to enjoy our own lives. That’s why you’ve heard so often about $15 per hour as a “living wage.” That’s the minimum anyone should be paid to afford health insurance, food, and a place to live. So why’s our “minimum wage” stuck at $7.25? That should be called “less than half a wage.” Why should someone have to work more than one job to get by?

There are numerous “hidden” factors in our economy affecting everyone, one way or another. Access to healthcare and college affordability are two of the biggest factors that can either enhance or hurt our earning potential.

During the 1940s, employers started offering health insurance policies as a way to attract workers and keep them healthy. It seemed like a win-win at the time. Nowadays, with the health insurance market too expensive, employees are stuck in jobs they may not like or they cannot afford to leave even if the pay is substandard. What if healthcare access wasn’t a factor in our career decisions? Would you, or someone you know, change jobs?

uwgb-studentsCollege affordability is becoming more difficult for our younger generations. Millennials and Generation Z graduates are entering the workforce with mountains of student loan debt. Sure, it’s easy to say don’t take out loans, but what jobs in our current economy don’t at least require a college degree or technical training? Unless wages increase, we cannot expect young people to save for retirement, buy houses or start families.

Our economy could do better if we start treating people better than corporations or treating people less like numbers. Every day, I hear stories from people in western Wisconsin trying to scratch out a living, raise a family and enjoy life. These stories can be uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. When you hear how well the economy is doing, don’t be afraid to ask yourself: “Is it working for everyone?”

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

State Government: Transit for Our Future

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 31 July 2019
in Wisconsin

highway-crowdedSenator Smith explores Wisconsin’s future mass transit needs and the importance of local decision making. Better funding sources are needed so we can make the necessary investments.


MADISON - Summer travel season is in full swing. During this busy time, families are crisscrossing through Wisconsin squeezing in those final summer vacations before kids go back to school. Summer is also construction season, causing headaches for everyone trying to get to and from our summer fun.

It seems like we just can’t catch up on road construction, especially on our county and town roads. Fewer and fewer of our tax dollars are returning to our local governments in the form of road aids. It‘s been especially difficult for local municipalities to repair and rebuild roads in our communities.

When we make our travel plans, what are the options? Usually we drive to our destination in Wisconsin or fly to some other state or country. When visiting other places, I’m sure you’ve noticed other travel options such as bus or passenger rail. Travel, like everything else, is always evolving. As we discover how expensive and difficult it is to keep up with road repairs, maybe we should get serious about mass transit options.

Supporting alternative travel methods will become more important whether we are traveling within our cities, to other counties or across our state.

Just think, if you plan to spend a day with the family in Wisconsin Dells or Door County; wouldn’t it be great if you and your family could jump on a train, bypass the traffic, get there safely and actually enjoy the ride? And what if we could connect travelers to towns along the Mississippi River or all the lakes up north? We could explore without the hassle and have a greater opportunity to enjoy the wonders of Wisconsin. Imagine the economic benefits as well. Now, I realize connecting all corners of the state may be a dream at this point, but you can’t accomplish great things if you don’t start dreaming.

Like a garden, we need to plant the seeds, then carefully nurture what we plant until they reach their full potential. That’s why I strongly believe local transit decisions create strong roots for our state’s transportation system to flourish.

If state legislators allowed municipalities to make transit decisions based on their local needs, we would be much further along in meeting the needs of our state as a whole. That’s why I introduced the Chippewa Valley Regional Transit Authority (RTA) idea during the 2009 state budget.

The law allowed local elected officials to design transportation systems to move people throughout the region, including between counties. Chippewa and Eau Claire counties passed the required referendum and appointed their members to the Authority.

In 2011, Republicans repealed the law and stripped our local officials of their power to handle regional transportation planning. Republicans pulled the plug while regional leaders were developing solutions to our local transit challenges.

In the near future, I’ll be reintroducing the Chippewa Valley RTA bill. It was a great idea the first time it passed, and it’s a great idea now. Local governments are better stewards of the public’s trust and they fully understand their unique challenges and how to set their priorities.

jeff-smithIt all boils down to funding. Mass transit investments are hard to come by while we scramble to address the transportation funding crisis. The budget is signed into law now and people can thank Governor Tony Evers for finally taking a step in the right direction for addressing the revenue shortfall and our unsustainable debt. Under Republican leadership, we paid nearly 20 cents of every dollar to debt. Now, we will be paying 18.5 cents per dollar.

Unfortunately, Republicans rejected Governor Evers’ modest 8 cent gas tax increase which would’ve brought in revenue from out-of-state drivers. Instead, Republicans socked Wisconsin drivers (only) with vehicle title fee and registration fee increases. Balancing the road costs solely on the backs of Wisconsin drivers is wrong, especially considering most neighboring states increased their gas tax so we can pay for their roads too.

It’s time to get off this do nothing treadmill. We need to capture out-of-state revenue for our roads, reign in our reliance on debt and move mass transit options ahead.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry

Enough of Divide and Conquer Politics

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 24 July 2019
in Wisconsin

scott-fitzgeraldWisconsin is a great place to live, work and raise a family because of the unique cities that make up our state. Building relationships between our rural and urban communities makes us stronger.


MADISON - When politicians have no answers, they find a way to distract constituents. Politicians have a knack for finding a scapegoat to blame when a plan is failing. It’s been the game played by politicians for decades.

We’re seeing it played out as Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald turn on their favorite scapegoat: Milwaukee. Republicans have failed our state time and again, they want you to believe Milwaukee is responsible for your expectations not being met.

door-county-peopleThis plan has proven to work for them. They work to anger voters and convince them that somebody else is taking more than their share.

We can’t continue to let politicians divide our state for petty political points. Rather than pitting voters against voters or one city against another, we should be working together for a stronger Wisconsin.

mke-walk-public-schoolsThis isn’t a new strategy for politicians. In 1979, Representative William Gagin (my own representative at the time) said money was going to that “black hole” in Milwaukee when asked why some critical programs were underfunded. Now, you might choose to believe he meant no harm with that statement, but you’d be wrong. It was a racist statement then and is a racist statement now. Fortunately, that statement doomed Gagin from serving another term, but sadly, the idea that Milwaukee is undeserving still exists today.

During former Governor Walker’s campaign in 2010, he blatantly said to one of his billionaire donors that his strategy was to “divide and conquer” our state. These statements by Representative Gagin and Governor Walker define what the political rhetoric is really about – tapping into the fears and biases of rural voters to hold power.

We’re still seeing this game played today. In April, Republican Joint Finance Committee members rejected Governor Evers’ proposal to provide an additional $40 million for replacing lead service lines because they feared Milwaukee would get too much of the funding. Milwaukee and the entire state will miss out on critical lead service line replacements just because Republican leaders claimed most of the additional funding was directed towards Milwaukee.

Just last week, Republican leaders threatened to take a veto override vote to prevent Milwaukee from using additional transportation dollars for their streetcar project. While Milwaukee officials publicly stated they do not plan to use the funds for that project, Republican leaders spread misinformation to villainize Milwaukee and score political points outstate.

milw-brewersWhy do Republican bullies pick on Milwaukee? After all, Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin with plenty of history to make us all proud. The City is known as a manufacturing hub, shipping center, and brewing capital. The City draws in billions of tourism dollars every year and has its spot on the map as a critical freshwater research center. And millions of fans throughout the state cheer on the Brewers and Bucks each year. So, why does the Republican propaganda machine think it’s alright to dis the largest and most culturally diverse city in our state?

jeff-smithWe should treasure these important drivers of our state rather than resent them. We can’t let politicians drive wedges between the cities in our state that make Wisconsin so unique. Republican leaders shouldn’t continue playing divide and conquer political games to pit all of us against each other.

Prosperity throughout Wisconsin is not a zero-sum scenario. If Milwaukee suffers, our whole state suffers. If western Wisconsin prospers, our whole state prospers. Instead of thinking about “giving” or “taking,” we need to think about how we can all work together to make our entire state a great place to live, work and raise a family.

Just like the adage about breaking a bundle of sticks, if we remain together we will be strong. If Republicans continue choosing to divide our state, our future remains less certain. Enough with the political games! Let’s work together to move all of Wisconsin forward.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Wisconsin Government: Trust the Voters

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 10 July 2019
in Wisconsin

wisc-capitol-domeSen. Smith writes about the history of gerrymandering and the consequences this practice has for voters. Our state needs redistricting reform and fair maps to ensure all Wisconsin voices are heard.


MADISON - Redistricting is right around the corner in 2021. New legislative and congressional district maps will be drawn up after the census by the political party in charge. Gerrymandered maps will give the party in charge a secure advantage for the next 10 years.

The term gerrymandering is well-known, but many people don’t know its origins. It comes from a man named Elbridge Gerry. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a delegate to the Continental Congress, a congressman and elected as Governor of Massachusetts. He even served as our nation’s 5th Vice President under James Madison.

While Gerry served as Governor of Massachusetts, he worked with Democratic-Republicans to draw legislative districts to ensure his Party’s control of the State Senate for years. One of the districts looked like a salamander, so the term for drawing oddly-shaped, politically disenfranchising districts has been called “gerrymandering” ever since.

In those times when we recently escaped the governing style of kings we were still slow to embrace the idea that government was to be created by the people and for the people. Elbridge Gerry, and many in our newly formed Republic, did not trust voters to determine our government.

Leap ahead to the Twentieth Century, and politicians still don’t trust voters. Paul Weyrich is also someone most people may not have heard of before. Weyrich is known for co-founding numerous conservative think tanks, such as The Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Think tanks seek power, are backed by money and don’t trust voters. Weyrich, a native of Racine, was famously recorded speaking at a religious conference in 1980 when he said, “Too many Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome, good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote…our leverage in elections goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Egregious gerrymandering has occurred in state legislatures held by Democrats as well as Republicans. When power is at stake, power brokers will do anything to bypass voters. Gerrymandering has become the most lethal tool against democracy.

jeff-smithThe recent gerrymandering ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) should have us all concerned. In a 5-4 decision, the court dismissed gerrymandering cases by numerous states. They acknowledged the threat of gerrymandering to our democracy, but said it’s not up to federal courts to decide. Even if SCOTUS ruled gerrymandering unconstitutional, we still need redistricting reform.

Advancements in algorithms and modern computing gives political Parties the tools to make perfectly gerrymandered maps. The way to make competitive and fair maps is to allow an independent commission to draw maps.

To date, 47 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have passed resolutions demanding nonpartisan redistricting reform. Despite overwhelming support by voters, the legislature ignores calls for reform.

The consequences of gerrymandering aren’t apparent to all voters, but here’s how gerrymandering affects the way your legislators act. Legislators should be responsive to the people. Gerrymandering creates “safe” districts for legislators. It makes them less willing to listen. Instead, legislators only fear their partisan leaders because their Party will challenge them in the primary election if they don’t toe the party line. Competitive districts will yield more responsive leaders.

If you think your representative is there for you, think again. Voters need to demand that legislators pledge support for nonpartisan redistricting. If they don’t, voters need to replace them with someone who does.

I pledge to support nonpartisan redistricting reform. Tell others to get their senators and representatives to take the pledge too.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Independence and Freedom for All

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 03 July 2019
in Wisconsin

4th-statue-fireworksAs we celebrate our country’s independence on July 4th, it’s important for us to remember the incredible progress we’ve made and to look forward to the work that must be done for all Americans to truly celebrate their freedom.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - When we think of the 4th of July, we often think of parades, fireworks and gatherings throughout our community. It’s a day of remembrance and pride for our country. It’s the day we officially recognize that our forefathers declared our independence as a separate nation.

The Declaration of Independence serves as a symbol of freedom and promise of equal opportunities for future generations of Americans. After 243 years, we recognize that we’re still growing as a country and struggling to achieve the original goals our forefathers agreed upon in 1776. We’re aware that our country’s politics have made it difficult for many people to truly celebrate their independence.

The Declaration includes the memorable line, “all men are created equal.” As we celebrate Independence Day, I urge you to think about the work ahead of us to ensure everyone has equitable access to freedom and opportunity that our country was founded on.

It’s been a slow, arduous struggle for women to gain a more equitable status to men in our country. In 1848, activists organized the first women’s rights convention and women adopted their own Declaration of Independence. It wasn’t until 1920 women were finally granted the right to vote. It’s mind boggling now that women weren’t able to apply for credit on their own until the Equal Opportunity Act passed in 1974.

Women finally had more freedom over their own bodies when they could make the decision to have a legal abortion in 1973. In 1978, women could no longer be fired for being pregnant. And in 1993, marital rape was criminalized. We still have a long way to go to ensure women’s bodies and their status and compensation in the workplace are treated equally to men.

Our original declaration in this country did not consider the rights of people of color, despite the phrase, all men are created equal… In fact, laws were passed to protect slavery, which drove our southern economy in the 18th Century and even after emancipation well into the 19th Century. Thus, it was controversial when the original draft of the Declaration of Independence included a passage that called for the abolition of slavery. There was not enough support for these seemingly radical demands at the time and it was stricken from the final document.

Of course, slavery was not abolished until 1865. Beyond emancipation, rights for all people of color has been an ongoing struggle as Jim Crow laws, limiting voting rights and other discriminatory practices have made real racial equality elusive.

There always seems to be battles for different segments of our population.

jeff-smithDuring the past month we celebrated the hard-fought achievements for equality within the LGBTQ community. Throughout our country’s history, laws have criminalized individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Many states, passed laws to ban marriage, adoption, medical access and inheritance for citizens who were gay. People could be fired and even denied hiring if they were gay. As recent as 1986, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could make homosexual sodomy a crime, a clear indication that these laws were targeting only one segment of the population.

If we truly want this to be a nation where all persons are created equal we must continue to raise our voices and we must remain diligent. Rights can be eroded so easily when we forget our neighbors who are different from us.

During June, we observed Wisconsin’s 100th anniversary of ratifying the 19th amendment, Juneteenth Day and Pride Month. These celebrations remind us of the incredible progress we have made. On July 4th, let’s remember these historical achievements and look forward to the work that must be done for all Americans to truly celebrate their freedom.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Budget Vote This Week: Rhetoric or What’s Right

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 26 June 2019
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearingThe Senate is scheduled to vote on the budget this week. Sen. Smith reviews Governor Evers’ budget proposals and the many changes in the version passed by the Joint Finance Committee.


MADISON, WI - Two weeks ago, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) passed their version of the state budget 12 to 4, along party lines. The full Senate scheduled a vote this week on the budget, a vote that may demonstrate the true callousness of politics in our state.

The first thing Governor Tony Evers did after winning his election last fall was go to the people to develop the budget. The first thing Republicans did with the Governor’s budget was throw it away.

It’s the job of party leaders to use their talking points. Republicans and Democrats will always have sharp differences on how to govern, but we can all agree how democracy should work.

The majority of voters chose Governor Tony Evers. He campaigned on Medicaid expansion to help 82,000 more citizens afford healthcare. As a legislator, I am duty bound to consider how to make what you want and voted for a reality.

kidsWhen voters elected our top-public school official as Governor, they were looking for leadership and a vision for fixing the failing school funding formula. We ought to take Governor Evers’ proposals for public education and special education funding seriously. We heard what you wanted in the gubernatorial election and I continue to hear your opinions every day in Madison and out in the 31st Senate District.

The budget we’ll be voting on isn’t what the people voted for last fall. Republican leaders discarded the creative investments in the Peoples’ Budget and replaced them with stale and unimaginative ideas.

We’ll be asked to vote on a budget that abandons the will of the people in so many ways.

  1. The Republican budget rejects full Medicaid expansion. Did Republicans forget they already partially accepted Medicaid in 2013? Why not join the 37 other states that already fully accepted Medicaid? It would free up $325 million more to spend on other priorities. It would lower health insurance premiums up to 11% in the private market.
  2. The Republican budget doesn’t do enough for people who drink lead-contaminated water everyday by rejecting Governor Evers’ proposal to replace lead service lines. Urban and rural communities are struggling with budget constraints, so now is the time for Wisconsin legislators to step up and ensure our children aren’t being poisoned by the water they drink.
  3. Republicans refused to acknowledge the potential for groundwater contamination from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) by rejecting Governor Evers’ plan to raise permit fees to pay for more CAFO inspections.
  4. The Republican transportation plan rejects Governor Evers modest eight-cents per gallon increase and slams Wisconsin drivers with tax hikes by more than doubling the titling fee and increasing registration fees by $10. That means Wisconsin drivers will squarely take the hit for funding our roads instead of collecting gas tax from out-of-state drivers. Why? Because Republicans can’t increase “taxes,” but they are okay with hammering only Wisconsin drivers with excessive fees.
  5. Shocking to some, Republicans rejected Governor Evers’ plan to scale back tax breaks for rich manufacturers to give middle class taxpayers a break. After tossing out the Governor’s plan to give middle class families $236 a year, Republicans bragged about protecting millionaires and giving middle class families only $136 a year.

jeff-smithThe list could go on, but I think it’s clear. The Legislature is missing a great opportunity to really make an impact on our lives. Just remember there was an alternative the next time you hit that massive pothole on your way to work, you get that health insurance bill or when your drinking water becomes contaminated. All for the sake of politics. When thinking about which political Party is “out of touch,” consider the struggles within your own community and the choices made in Madison.

Republicans had eight years to get it right thanks to gerrymandering. They’ve become complacent and they ignored the basic needs of families and communities. Over 175 times, they’ve taken away local decision making. And consider what we could be doing if we just listened to people, followed the basic principles of democracy and worked together as true leaders, representing the citizens of our great state.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Looking Inward for Juneteenth Day

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 19 June 2019
in Wisconsin

juneteenth-1900Juneteenth Day, an important date of our country’s history recognizing the official end of slavery as June 19th, 1865, offers us an opportunity to reflect on our history, the progress made and the work that still must be done.


MADISON - Wisconsin is filled with beauty. Sometimes we take our state’s beauty for granted because it’s very apparent all around us. It’s always the less apparent beauty that surprises us and compels us to look deeper in ourselves and appreciate everything around us.

The same is true with people. We see each other, but oftentimes we don’t take the time to meet and get to know others in our own neighborhood and community. We don’t recognize our perceptions of others until we question and reflect on them. For this Juneteenth Day, I hope you will join me by looking inward and recognizing our less-apparent biases.

While the Civil War ended in April 1865, the emancipation of enslaved African Americans didn’t occur until June 19th of that year, when Texas abolished slavery. Every year since 1996, our country has celebrated the official end of slavery as June 19th, 1865. We recognize this important date of our country’s history as “Juneteenth Day.”

Recently I heard something I’ve considered to be true for a long time while watching the show “United Shades of America.” Kamau Bell, the host of the show said, “Whether you think you're biased or not, racism is a part of your life, with or without you knowing it,” in response to an implicit bias test.

Bell revealed he was unfamiliar with the term “implicit bias” until four years ago, when Bell told a friend that he experienced racial prejudice. Bell’s friend told him this interaction stemmed from implicit bias. In this episode, Bell spoke with Dr. John Diamond, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about implicit bias and its connection to systemic racism, specifically in the City of Milwaukee.

Project Implicit, a test Bell took that made him feel uncomfortable, demonstrates most of us can be biased in our thoughts and actions without realizing it. This test looks at what people are thinking before they have a chance to consider the socially responsible answer. Dr. Diamond explains this concept saying, “You don’t have to necessarily dislike people of other races to be affected by [implicit bias].”

jeff-smithWe all have implicit biases. The Ohio State University Kirwan Institute points out how our thoughts, actions and decisions are influenced by these subconscious biases, which can include both favorable and unfavorable automatic assessments of others.

How does this happen?

We’re all influenced by our surroundings; whether it’s from our family members, our community or the entertainment we consume. Oftentimes it can be from stories or rumors we hear. Those influences shape our actions in ways can’t recognize. For instance, you might choose to not stop in certain neighborhoods based on news you saw on TV or a story you heard.

Redlining, the discriminatory practice of refusing to invest in communities of color, is a real thing in Milwaukee. Real estate values, critical community services, access to health care and even grocery stores are impacted by redlining.

It’s clear there is racial bias in our local communities when thinking of redlining. This bias doesn’t stop there. Racial bias plays more of a role than losing opportunity – it can be the loss of freedom.

The criminal justice system has been fueled by generational racial bias and prejudice; one example is the mass incarceration rates in our state. According to UW-Madison’s Racial Disparities Project, Wisconsin has either led or been second in the nation for disproportionately incarcerating African Americans since 1998. African American males comprise 43 percent of the prison population, but only 6.6 percent of the total state population.

Most of us don’t think we encounter racism and most of us are sure we aren’t racist. But, are we biased? It’s clear, after 154 years, our state and our communities still have racial bias.

Juneteenth Day offers us an opportunity to reflect on our history, the progress made and the work that still must be done. This day is a reminder to check our everyday biases. Take the time to learn more about injustices that affect our neighbors and communities. One lesson we can learn from Juneteenth Day is that none of us are free until all are free.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Wisconsin Farms in Crisis

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 12 June 2019
in Wisconsin

farm-familySen. Smith writes about the challenges facing our local farmers, their hard work and commitment, and the important role they play in our communities.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - You rarely hear complaints from farmers about their job because they love what they do, but you will hear an earful about the weather, milk prices and the occasional tractor breakdown. June is dairy month and there’s no better time to recognize the work dairy farmers do and the challenges they face.

Farmers need to be expert mechanics, scientists, business owners and creative geniuses to make a farm thrive. Factors beyond their control make even the smartest or the hardest working farmers face bankruptcy.

Farmers have seen glorious and terrible times throughout our history. In the 1930s, many farmers lost it all when the soil they relied on was literally blown away. In the 1980s, banks held auctions on farms they re-possessed after numerous farm bankruptcies.

Wisconsin farmers find themselves in desperate times. Much has been written about the plight of our farms, especially our dairy farms. We’ve lost dairy farms at an alarming rate – we are losing nearly two farms each day. Farm families deserve better.

My friend Mike told me a story about growing up on their farm in the 1980s. It was a difficult time and the neighboring farm family found the father hanged in their barn – he chose suicide instead of seeing everything he worked for in life come crashing down.

Soon after that horrible discovery, and a major rain event, Mike’s father got his tractor stuck in the mud right before the harvest. The son of the deceased farmer came to help Mike’s family farm. They got the tractor out of the mud and the crops harvested, but sadly, the family of the deceased farmer had to give up their farm. Even in terrible despair and grief, one farmer came to the rescue of another.

Farmer suicide is at an all-time high in Wisconsin. I’ve heard from farmers who found themselves at the brink but were talked out of taking that final terrible act. Counseling can help. The weight of mental strain on farmers struggling is incredibly difficult to bear due to the pride they take in their work and the consequences of each big decision. If we know a farmer struggling to make ends meet, we all need to offer support.

Understanding how we arrived at this crisis is just as complicated as the solutions to overcome it. Climate change has caused dramatic weather patterns. Farmers need to know impossible answers to important questions. Will it be a wet spring like this year? Will we experience a drought? Will the fall harvest be delayed? Even with the help of modern science, unpredictable weather causes major problems for farmers.

Low market prices is another factor out of a farmer’s control. Family farms can’t make a profit due to the overproduction by factory farms, the greater dependence on foreign markets and global tariffs. Federal rules and market boards make determinations that can make or break local farms. Despite how well the herd or crops are maintained, family farms are influenced by choices made thousands of miles away.

jeff-smithWe’ve all heard comments that make us wonder where our compassion has gone. Comments like “farmers deserve what they get” because of how they voted in the last election. Or, “farmers need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” If we hear comments like this, we all need to correct it and show compassion to our farmers for the jobs they do.

No matter the cause of the crisis, nobody deserves what our farmers are going through. NOBODY! With farmer suicide at an all-time high and the rapid rate of family farm closures, we need solutions, not someone to blame. As we work together to find these solutions, we must continue to hold onto compassion at a time when our farmers need it the most.

June is Dairy month. Visit a dairy breakfast and learn more about the important role farmers play in our communities. A complete list of Wisconsin dairy breakfasts can be found at https://hooraywisconsindairy.com. Most of all, take time to listen to your local farmers and understand their hard earned pride.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Sen. Smith: “Health, Science and Wisconsin”

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 05 June 2019
in Wisconsin

uwec-campusSen. Jeff Smith writes about the unique partnership between the Mayo Clinic and UW-Eau Claire that could make it “the center for rural healthcare in Wisconsin.”


MADISON, WI - Dr. Tim Nelson of Mayo Clinic walked the halls of the Wisconsin State Capitol along with UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt. They visited 11 offices in a marathon day of lobbying for UWEC’s new science and health sciences building project in the current budget.

We all know how important health care access is to keep people healthy. Rural communities in Wisconsin are especially difficult to serve. Critical care hospitals in small cities throughout Wisconsin struggle to keep doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Clinics can be a long drive for many and out of reach for others. And that’s if economic circumstances allow for families in rural areas to afford a healthcare plan.

While Medicaid expansion has been the biggest focus of the budget process so far, it wasn’t what Dr. Nelson and Chancellor Schmidt were talking to legislators about. In Dr. Nelson’s words, Mayo Clinic wants to “make Eau Claire the center for rural healthcare in Wisconsin.” You see, Dr. Nelson and Chancellor Schmidt are collaborating on a project that could make Wisconsin a leader for rural healthcare research.

healthcareMayo Clinic is a unique healthcare system – their mission is symbolized by three shields representing patient care, education and research. Mayo Clinic already provides top-notch patient care in Eau Claire. In 2017, Mayo Clinic and UW-Eau Claire entered into a master collaborative research agreement, making UWEC one of only two undergraduate campuses in the United States with access to Mayo Clinic’s incredible resources.

UWEC is seeking to replace their aged and inefficient science building on campus. Phillips Science Hall was built nearly 60 years ago. The building costs $500,000 per year to maintain and accounts for 34% of all UWEC’s unscheduled maintenance costs. With single pane windows, over 20 air exchangers, leaking pipes and inadequate spaces for equipment in the 21st Century, this building has outlived the needs of more than 5,500 students who pass through its halls every year.

The UW System is an economic engine for our state because of the unique focuses and experiences in which they specialize. We need to support funding priorities that ensure these campuses have the facilities they need. UWEC’s project has a broader purpose and creates a new blueprint for all other UW schools to follow by creating innovative partnerships, like their commitment to advancing health care research with Mayo Clinic. This is an excellent investment for us to make in our state.

World renowned Mayo Clinic Health System is based just over the river in Rochester, Minnesota. They recognize if they are to meet their own three-shield mission of providing cutting edge scientific methods for solving our healthcare needs they need a research facility and new students to learn modern methods.

Mayo Clinic Health System’s footprint goes beyond Eau Claire. They employ 8,400 people in 19 communities spread across western Wisconsin. With all that in mind, Mayo Clinic pledged a $13.7 million goal to help pay for the new health and health services building at UWEC. This is the largest private donation for a UW academic building outside of Madison and Milwaukee in our state’s history. They see an opportunity to invest in Wisconsin and turn the UWEC science building into something even more special that can ultimately have worldwide healthcare implications.

jeff-smithExciting, right? Groundbreaking healthcare research in the heart of rural Wisconsin and a huge economic boost for Wisconsin, beyond the $2.2 billion impact we already see from Mayo Clinic. But we could lose our opportunity.

Back in April, a tie vote resulted in no projects being approved by the State Building Commission for the first time in Wisconsin state history. Politics has clearly reared its ugly head and put many important decisions at risk, but this one can’t wait for the grandstanding to end. We can’t afford to sit and let this opportunity with Mayo Clinic pass us by because of political games.

If we don’t put political egos aside and approve this project, we could miss our chance to make Wisconsin the epicenter of medical research for rural healthcare. We are truly grateful for this opportunity offered by a world health leader and we cannot afford to miss it. Please call your legislators and tell them, we can make this a great victory for Wisconsin in 2019.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

State Legislature: "Politics or the People’s Priorities?"

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Monday, 03 June 2019
in Wisconsin

wisc-capitol-domeMADISON - My role representing the 31st Senate District didn’t just start when I was sworn into office on January 7th this year. It began last year when I started talking to voters in the 31st Senate District. I heard over and over from voters that they want lawmakers to work together to support our rural schools and fix our roads.

The people’s budget presented by Governor Tony Evers provided a $1.4 billion increase for k-12 education. The Governor’s plan included sparsity aid for rural districts and a start for restoring dramatic cuts made in the past eight years. Just last week, the Republican Joint Finance Committee members cut the Governor’s education plan and replaced it with barely one-third of what was requested. Legislative leaders appear to have not heard the people’s priorities.

Every single superintendent I talked to said special education is the greatest need for our public schools. Governor Evers included $600 million to help with special education. Republicans only added $50 million – this is an 83% cut from what the Governor proposed. Do we need to raise the volume of our voices?

Public schools aren’t the only ones struggling. Towns and other municipalities have struggled for years to keep up with road repairs, and some have resorted to grinding up their roads to go back to gravel. The restrictions on raising revenue along with the flat level of road aids and shared revenue have left towns in dire straits.

On top of inadequate road aids, towns are also punished for sending late spending reports to the state after the May 15th deadline. Towns lose 1% of their road aids per day after the May 15th deadline, and up to 10% of their total aid lost! When you consider that town clerks take office the first week of May without support staff, they may not be aware of important deadlines. It happens more often than you’d think. A 1% penalty may not seem like a big number, but small towns with road aid payments around $100,000 can lose up to $10,000 of an already sparse aid payment.

jeff-smithThat’s why, after hearing about a $6,300 penalty for a town in Pierce County, I partnered with my Republican Assembly colleague Joan Ballweg from Green Lake County to introduce Senate Bill 167/Assembly Bill 184. Our bipartisan bill lowers the penalty for towns to only $100 per day. It’s the least we can do until our leaders make the people’s priorities their own priorities.

Recently a local official asked me why we were taking votes on paddle wheel games (yes, we did that) when all she hears are complaints about roads. She wondered if all legislators were hearing the same concerns and why would we be ignoring the people’s priorities?

Citizens may not have the direct power to choose what bills we debate, but that doesn’t mean our legislative leaders shouldn’t be asked why. Better yet, we should inquire as to how many citizens have been asking for us to loosen restrictions on paddlewheels rather than helping towns repair our roads.

Of course, there are always other critical issues like the dairy crisis, addiction epidemic, health care worker shortage, clean water, medical marijuana and countless others. The common thread among all of these issues is why we can’t work together to solve these serious problems.

If we buckle down and start working on the people’s priorities, Republicans and Democrats could find the common ground to get things done. We could accomplish great things for Wisconsin if we can put the politics aside and do what people sent us to Madison to do. Raise the volume!

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry

We Are All One Wisconsin

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 22 May 2019
in Wisconsin

affordablecareState Senator writes about the issues that bring people together. It’s important that we don’t let politics get in the way of doing what’s right.


MADISON, WI - This past week, I met with several healthcare leaders from around the state. Dentists, dental hygienists, physicians, nurses, social workers and others discussed a whole gamut of healthcare topics.

Each professional was unique, but the message was the same – we need Medicaid expansion. It’s been a long eight years for our health care professionals while they watched 37 other states fully expand Medicaid. It should be no surprise that taking back our money from the federal government was their number one request.

We need to listen to the professionals’ recommendations. Let’s set aside the partisanship and expand Medicaid. Playground politics is a dangerous game when it prevents people getting the care they need.

Wisconsin has lost $1.6 billion since 2009 because we haven’t accepted full Medicaid expansion. Wisconsin spends $3.5 billion on Medicaid annually. Wisconsin would dramatically decrease the amount we spend on health care by expanding Medicaid. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, before Minnesota expanded Medicaid in 2013, they typically spent $4.9 billion. Now Minnesota only spends $61 million because they took the expansion.

We all face health challenges at some point in our lives. We’ll need to access oral healthcare, address an addiction in the family or find long-term care for a loved one or ourselves as we age. That’s why, according to a recent Marquette Law School poll, 70% of Wisconsinites support Medicaid expansion. Some issues are so paramount they surpass partisanship. Medicaid expansion is one of them.

clean-drinking-waterAnother issue that brings people together is water. We have never been so divided politically, but important issues like water unite all of us. Neighbors and strangers stand together for clean water, despite the choice of political yard signs. We’ve seen enough “divide and conquer” politics. It gives me hope to see people unite around important issues like keeping our water clean.

school-kidsThe same goes for our public schools – citizens of all political stripes work together to support local schools. When restrictions like revenue limits undermine our school districts, citizen groups often campaign for referenda to fill gaps in school funding and meet the needs of our students. Seeing neighbors and strangers with potentially contradicting political views accomplish shared goals give me hope there is a chance to do what’s right.

Communities hit with natural disasters also see an incredible effort to work together. Disasters such as spring floods bring hundreds of people together to protect everyone’s homes and businesses. Strangers are willing to step up, fill sandbags and provide comfort. It’s in these life-or-death situations we find ourselves standing shoulder-to-shoulder working for what truly matters. In other words, when faced with shared challenges, we have shared values.

Medicaid expansion is another chance for neighbors and strangers to pull together right now to do what’s best for everyone. It may not be your contaminated well water, your school district’s referendum, your house in the floodplain or your child without health care. But we are one community. We care about one another.

jeff-smithMaking the right choices doesn’t have to depend on political affiliation. After all, everyone pays taxes. Each tax dollar isn’t put into separate pots for Republicans, Democrats or Independents. The money we paid into federal and state programs belong to all of us. We can’t let politics get in the way for doing what’s right.

Contact your legislators today. Call the members on the Joint Finance Committee, who are reviewing the budget and making crucial decisions that will affect each of us. Tell them to stop prioritizing their own political ambitions and jeopardizing health care access. Demand we come together to accept our Medicaid expansion money now.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry

Your Government: Knowledge is Power

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 15 May 2019
in Wisconsin

capitol-night-wiscThe powerful keep the powerless from knowing the truth. When we see injustice and the spread of misinformation, we need to stand up to it.


MADISON - How many times have you heard the expression, “Knowledge is Power?” I heard it from an unexpected source last week during one of our public hearings in the Senate Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection Committee.

Who could disagree with the statement that knowledge is power? In fact, when someone used that line representing the conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, I thought it might be an opportunity to find agreement. The person testified in favor of a bill (Senate Bill 179) to force gas stations to post a sticker on each gas pump stating the tax being charged per gallon.

I asked the woman testifying if she also supported transparency regarding Governor Evers’ budget provision to post on each homeowner’s property tax bill the amount of tax money used for voucher schools. It seemed the perfect time to ask if we could agree that taxpayers should also have the knowledge so they can have the power. The woman refused to answer my question. Knowledge shouldn’t be limited because “limited knowledge is limited power.”

The same week Republicans said “no” to Medicaid expansion, they sent a flurry of anti-choice bills through committees. Senate Bill 174, called “A Woman’s Right to Know” also received a public hearing in our committee. Doctors are supposed to know the facts and patients trust their recommendations because they are based on years of medical knowledge and expertise.

SB 174 forces a doctor to inform a woman she may be able to reverse the process after taking a drug to chemically induce an abortion (despite lack of scientific evidence). So, I guess, it’s really just a woman’s right to know rhetoric rather than what is right. This would be “Wrong Knowledge is Wrong Power.”

jfcphotoWhat most people may want to know is that while Republicans were removing Medicaid Expansion from the budget they were passing bills to misinform women about important healthcare decisions. Here are the facts. Wisconsin has an opportunity to save $324.5 million, provide healthcare for 82,000 more residents and lower health insurance premiums for people with private insurance by 7-11% if we expand Medicaid. It’s a no-brainer. It all comes down to whether we put people before politics.

REAL knowledge IS real power. If we’re going to follow that philosophy, then we should be honest and consistent. If we really believe in knowledge and how citizens should be empowered, we should be forthright about our intentions behind our actions.

jeff-smithIt takes trust. Trust between legislators and the public. We can’t build trust when the information provided is not complete or is outright wrong.

Knowledge happens from firsthand experience, fact-based information and trustworthy sources. One or all of those things need to happen if knowledge is transformed into power. Then there is the power side of the equation. What sort of power? Where is the power applied? How is the power applied? That’s when things can get really sticky. Power can corrupt, and if power is the goal then the knowledge can also be corrupted to attain that power.

Too many times we’ve seen the powerful keep the powerless from knowing the truth. The facts are there for those that want to learn, but it takes effort on everyone’s part. In my office, one of my staff members has a quote from Edmund Burke near her desk that says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” When we see injustice and the spread of misinformation, we need to stand up to it. That is the true purpose of the “power” behind the statement knowledge is power.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Valuing Our Voices on Health

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 08 May 2019
in Wisconsin

school-meeting-crowdSen. Smith writes about key initiatives in Gov. Evers’ budget to make our communities healthier, including Medicaid expansion, lead testing and abatement programs, and investments to the Women’s Health Block Grant.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - During the past two months, I traveled throughout the 31st Senate District and met with constituents to hear their thoughts on the budget introduced by Governor Tony Evers. I joined Governor Evers at listening sessions in Eau Claire, Oshkosh, Kenosha, Superior and sat alongside Joint Finance Committee (JFC) members in River Falls for a public hearing. These were opportunities to listen to the comments and reactions from hundreds of Wisconsinites.

We’re now on to the next step of the budget process. Despite what the Republican JFC members heard from men and women at hearings in Janesville, Oak Creek, River Falls and Green Bay, they’ve decided to start from scratch, disregarding the vast support for “The People’s Budget.” They refused to consider the long-term impacts these political actions have on Wisconsin’s children and women. It’s time we pay attention and speak up louder – we must make sure the needs and voices of all Wisconsinites are valued.

While meeting with constituents in the 31st Senate District and joining Governor Evers at the budget listening sessions, one thing was clear: Wisconsinites support Medicaid expansion. They back Governor Evers’ proposal to accept federal funds to expand healthcare access for 82,000 people in our state. Folks understand the value of Medicaid expansion, which would save our state $324.5 million.

By leveraging state funds, we would see an additional $1.6 billion in new federal funding to invest in local programs and services that address Wisconsin’s most concerning health needs. From that investment, there would be $106 million going directly towards the counties that I represent, including Buffalo, Pepin, Trempealeau, Pierce, Eau Claire, Chippewa and Jackson. A significant portion of these funds would be used to improve health outcomes for women and their newborns by extending postpartum coverage for a whole year, rather than the current 60 days.

We must make sure that Wisconsin’s children continue to grow up in a healthy community. That’s why I strongly support Governor Evers’ proposal to invest $52 million in programs to improve lead testing and abatement. It’s shocking to know that children in Wisconsin have elevated lead levels in their bloodstream that are higher than the national average. In fact, Buffalo County has higher rates of lead poisoning than in Flint, Michigan, according to the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

jeff-smithI was encouraged to see that the Governor included $2 million in the budget towards preventing childhood lead poisoning in the counties that I represent. It's vitally important for the JFC to add this to the budget. These investments are necessary to ensure our children have access to clean drinking water, which will contribute to their intellectual and developmental growth.

The “People’s Budget” commits to strengthening women’s healthcare by restoring Women’s Health Block Grant Funding. These grants are directed to local public health departments and health clinics to provide essential services, including pregnancy testing, cervical cancer screenings, perinatal care, STI testing and treatment and general health screenings.

The restoration in grant funding is incredibly important to make sure access remains available for women that need it. Under the previous administration, the block grant funding was cut by 10%, according to the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health. This resulted in five Planned Parenthood clinics, including one in Chippewa Falls, to close their doors on approximately 3,000 women. These clinics did not provide any abortion services, rather they were open to provide critical primary care. These closures were politically motivated. Investing in women’s health initiatives isn’t about politics, it’s just plain common sense.

Republicans shouldn't play politics when it comes to the health and well-being of Wisconsin women and children by not expanding Medicaid. Although the listening sessions are over, it’s not too late to raise your voice to advocate for these programs in the “People’s Budget.” The Joint Finance Committee will begin voting on the budget on Thursday, May 9th. Soon they will be making their decision to include Medicaid expansion and determining the fate of programs to support women and children.

Call the JFC co-chairs, Senator Alberta Darling at (608) 266-5830 and Representative John Nygren at (608) 266-2343 or a JFC member from the list that can be found here: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2019/committees/joint/1968

Let them know you support these health care investments. Encourage your friends and family to get involved. This is an important time – let’s make sure all of Wisconsin’s voices are valued.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Mental Health is Real Health

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 01 May 2019
in Wisconsin

depression-suicidebygunSen. Smith highlights the challenges Wisconsin faces in addressing the mental health needs of communities.


MADISON - So much can be said about mental health and yet so little has been done. We all know someone struggling with mental illness. So few receive the help they need.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been at eleven budget listening sessions. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive about Governor Tony Evers’ budget. Time and time again, many of the conversations I have with attendees is about mental health.

Some people are born with mental illness, some form destructive habits after experiencing traumatic events. Despite the causes, we fail to treat the seriousness of the issue.

Last week, I attended a briefing by the Children’s Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators tasked with finding ways to help our children get the care they need. The briefing was about the importance of early childhood mental health consultants. Before we can crawl we are susceptible to mental illness. It takes a keen eye to spot it and it takes early intervention to treat it.

Childhood trauma can lead to serious mental illness. Children are resilient, but they struggle with communicating their needs. As parents, grandparents, teachers and child care professionals, we all play a part in identifying mental health needs. Excessive worrying, problems concentrating, extreme mood changes, avoiding social activity, changes in sleep activity, substance abuse, and hyperactivity are just a few indicators of mental illness.

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 individuals will be affected by mental or neurological disorders. Two-thirds of those with mental illness will not seek help due to the stigma associated with the disease.

For those who do decide to seek treatment, there is a serious lack of qualified professionals in Wisconsin. According to a study done by the Wisconsin Policy Forum in 2018, 55 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties has a significant shortage of psychiatrists, and 20 counties have no psychiatrists at all. Compounding the problem, the average age of psychiatrists in Wisconsin is 50 years old.

jeff-smithIf someone needs mental health treatment, it is covered by insurance thanks to a law I helped pass in 2008 called the Mental Health Parity Bill. That was a good start for treating mental illness, but very little has been done since.

Governor Evers’ budget, developed by listening to the people of Wisconsin, makes big investments for mental health treatment -- especially for kids. Schools will receive $44 million in categorical aids over the biennium for mental health professionals like nurses or counselors. He also adds $14 million for grant programs to help schools districts collaborate with community health organizations for mental health services.

The Governor also makes critical investments at our state treatment facilities. He adds 24 new beds and 58 new staff positions at Winnebago Mental Health Institute. He adds 14 new beds and 50.5 new staff for Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center. He adds 58 new beds and 34 staff to the Wisconsin Resource Center so inmates can receive the treatment they need.

For low-income individuals, the Governor invests $37 million for crisis intervention services and $23 million for postpartum care. Additionally, for substance abuse treatment, the Governor proposes creating three “hub-and-spoke” models designed to help regional hospitals refer patients to treatment centers, physicians and social service agencies.

We have a lot of work to do, especially for substance abuse challenges. Opioids and meth continue to ravage our state. Treatment alternative and diversion programs are a great way to keep people focused on healing from addiction rather than being locked up for it. The Governor adds an additional $2 million in grant funds for the program.

No one is immune to mental illness. Too many times we’ve seen people take their own lives because they didn’t get the help they needed or the pain was too unbearable. The illnesses we can’t see on an x-ray or in a blood test are the hardest to overcome. Mental illness is real and “toughing it out” isn’t how to handle it. We owe it to all those suffering to do whatever we can to help them through the hardest times in their lives.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Earth Day Should Be Every Day

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 24 April 2019
in Wisconsin

earth-dayIn honor of Earth Day, Sen. Smith highlights the importance of taking part in efforts to combat climate change. Now more than ever, it’s important to pay attention to the environment around us for future generations to enjoy.


MADISON - It’s been eight years since anyone in our executive branch of government uttered the words “climate change.” Thankfully, Governor Tony Evers brought science, common sense and the term climate change back to Wisconsin.

Since the 1970s, Wisconsin Governors have shaped our nation’s conservation legacy. In my office, over my desk, hangs an iconic poster from Governor Gaylord Nelson’s campaign. The man from Clear Lake was ahead of his time. He did all he could to raise awareness that the earth is worth protecting.

gaylord-nelsonThis week we celebrated Earth Day. From recycling to burning less fossil fuels, we already felt responsible to preserve and protect our world from our destructive behaviors in 1970, when Earth Day was recognized. It was Governor Gaylord Nelson who created the concept of Earth Day as a reminder to us all that we need to do our part.

The 1970s was a decade marked with milestone environmental changes for our country. President Richard Nixon proposed the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, Congress passed the Clean Water Act and amended the Clean Air Act. At the same time, oil companies were conducting research about how burning fossil fuels affect our climate.

I recently read a story from Scientific American about research conducted by InsideClimate News staff. They spent eight months pouring over documents and interviewing Exxon scientists and federal government officials.

The article described how researchers determined that Exxon knew of climate change since July 1977. James Black, Exxon’s senior scientist told the company’s management team, “In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels."

In a more recent article from The Guardian in September 2018, they described how Shell predicted climate change effects too. Analysts at Shell predicted a disappearance of specific ecosystems or habitat destruction, an increase in runoff, destructive floods, an inundation of low-lying farmland, the need for new sources of freshwater to compensate for changes in precipitation and global changes in air temperature would drastically change the way people live and work.

frac-sand-spill-wiscWestern Wisconsin and our state as a whole is not immune to the effects of climate change. What was considered flooding that should only occur once every hundred years is now happening annually in Wisconsin. Our country is experiencing fiercer tornados and hurricanes and long droughts out west are creating dangerous fire conditions. Globally, we are experiencing stronger and more frequent earthquakes and tsunamis.

Like cigarette companies that knew the health effects of smoking, oil companies knew that burning fossil fuels would harm our planet. The damage may be irreversible. Just like quitting tobacco, we need to change our habits. It takes everyone to pitch in if we are going to make a difference.

It’s encouraging to see so many municipalities adopt the Paris Climate Agreement even if the White House pulls the United States out. Even our Governor is pitching in by including big changes in his budget proposal for reducing our carbon footprint here in Wisconsin. Governor Tony Evers’ budget includes a provision setting a goal of 100% carbon-free electricity generation in Wisconsin by 2050. He also proposes using the Volkswagen emissions settlement funds for purchasing new public buses and installing new electric car charging stations.

We can all play a part. We must all play a part. As I continually say, if we err when making decisions on education or health care or transportation, we can fix it. But if we poison our water, air and earth, we cannot fix it. Think about how we leave this earth for generations to come. Every day needs to be Earth Day!

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Passing the Baton

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 17 April 2019
in Wisconsin

senate-scholar-programSen. Smith writes about learning opportunities like the Senate Scholar Program and internships that provide young people with the skills to take the baton from the older generation.


MADISON - The number of times I’ve heard people say, “We need to help young people engage in our community,” or “We need more young people in politics” is so common I won’t even venture to guess. It’s almost inevitable someone will say something like that at every meeting I attend.

It really hasn’t changed. As someone who grew up through the 1960s and 70s, adults regularly complained about young people engaged in peace, love and rock ‘n roll. Adults were sure the next generation was a lost cause and young people couldn’t care less about their community.

And I’m sure the generation before had the same concerns for their children.

Of course, their fears weren’t founded in fact. My generation was inspired by the generations before even if we didn’t admit it. As a Baby Boomer, I took lessons from the “Greatest Generation” – the ones who made it through the Great Depression and World War II.

Our democracy depends on each generation inspiring the next. Our patriotism becomes stronger through each generations’ contributions to our country.

senate-scholar-lara-boudinotSome have heard me say this before; we’re the surrogates for young people. They will take over when they’re ready. Just like my generation and every generation before, we’re caretakers for the next generation. The new generation is creating its own identity. Careers are established, families are grown and communities are transformed. That’s how it's always worked.

Our greatest responsibility is what we leave for our next generation. How do we create new opportunities and be good stewards of our natural resources? How will future generations judge our actions? Like anyone, we’ve stumbled at times in this race, but all that really matters is if we can hand off the baton without losing too much ground.

Last week, we hosted a group of students as Senate Scholars at the State Capitol. Several times each year, high school students across Wisconsin participate in this week-long program to learn more about state government.

Depending on what’s going on during the week, students become familiarized with all the different processes in the Capitol. They get an opportunity to staff the Senate floor when we’re in session, visit the Governor’s residence and go through the lawmaking process with mock legislation. They learn about the media, legislative staff, lobbyists and legislative agency support staff.

jeff-smithI crossed paths throughout our busy week with a young man named Michael, a Senate Scholar from Eau Claire. It wasn’t until Thursday, I was able to spend some time getting to know him and find out what he learned during his week-long experience.

Michael was inquisitive and attentive, learning all he could about the state government process. This young man’s visit to my office renewed my hope for our future generation. Like so many young people I meet, this experience left me with real certainty that our youth will be ready to lead when the time comes.

If you are a 16-18 year old high school student, or your son or daughter wants to learn more, I strongly encourage you to consider the Senate Scholar Program. Check out the website at www.legis.wisconsin.gov/ssgt/senatescholar to learn more about program eligibility requirements and the curriculum.

Dr. Tammy Wehrle, the Legislative Education and Outreach Officer for the Senate is an incredible asset for the Senate. She can help answer questions about the program. You can reach out to her at 608-261-0533 for more information.

If you're looking for a more in-depth look at the state legislature, we offer unpaid internships to college students and recent graduates. Interns have a chance to research policy and provide information to constituents. They also have the opportunity to attend committee hearings and participate at events in the district. Visit www.legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/31/smith/quick-links/intern-with-me to learn more about this program or to apply.

Opportunities like the Senate Scholar Program and internships give our next generation a glimpse of how government works. Our hope is for students participating in this program become the future leaders of our state and nation. I’m confident we will be in good hands if we keep supporting and building up our next generation through learning opportunities as Senate Scholars and interns.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Paying Again Through Referendum

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 10 April 2019
in Wisconsin

school-closedSen. Smith writes about public education and the impact of referenda in funding local schools.


MADISON - Last Tuesday was a big election day for Wisconsin. It was an even bigger election day for public education. Many Wisconsin school districts were able to pass crucial referenda to keep operating, some weren’t so lucky.

Some school districts are one bad referendum away from closing. We cannot educate our children on political whims alone, we need assurance from the state that education funding is a priority.

high-schoolUnfortunately, lurching from one referendum to the next has become the norm for school districts, but it hasn’t always been like this. Don’t get me wrong, K-12 funding has always been a matter of friction between political philosophies for decades, but agreements have been reached.

Disagreements came to a head in 1993 when the state adopted a school funding formula that capped revenue for districts at the level they were at that year. As a compromise, the state also promised to fund 2/3 of the total cost for educating our children.

The twenty-six year old formula is complicated, and it’s influenced by many different factors. The two most important factors are student enrollment and total property valuation within the district. Thus, if a district’s enrollment is bursting at the seams plus their property values are low, they receive a larger per pupil subsidy than a district with decreased enrollment and high property values.

Over the years, this formula has proven to fall short of our constitutional obligation to provide an equitable education to all children in Wisconsin. We live in a time now when one bad election turnout can force schools to close.

Politicians who support the current funding system would often say that voters could determine their support for their schools through referendum. That thinking seemed logical to some when referenda proved terribly difficult to pass. As state funding has been cut, schools are struggling to meet the needs of the communities. Referenda have become the only option to keep up.

Since 2011 the rate of success in passage has been overwhelming. In 2011 39 referenda passed while 31 failed. In 2014 80 passed while 38 failed. In 2018 141 passed and only 16 failed! Just last week 44 of 59 referenda questions passed.

jeff-smithOften political debate is about the obligation of government and how we manage the money every citizen pays through taxes. Will we cut funding or pay more for roads or libraries or even law enforcement? The state budget comes up for renewal every two years. It gets nearly all the attention from your leaders at nearly every level of government.

Municipalities, counties and school districts need to know what they can expect so they can plan their own budgets. Citizens want to know if their taxes will rise and if they can depend on good roads or their summer vacation to a state park. Even contractors pay attention because they want the work that comes out of building projects and road construction in the budget. It’s a big deal. So much depends on the priorities of politicians who find themselves in a position to make these decisions.

Parents, teachers and children want to know if their school is going to open next year. Annual referenda is not a consistent way to fund public education. Referenda should be a tool school districts can use to enhance their already good, properly-funded schools.

There isn’t nearly enough space here to describe the connection that education has to the success of everything in our society. Without state funding, without funding approved in referenda, how do we fund schools? Do we have to hold annual fundraisers just to keep the doors open? Should we continue to rely on this unreliable system for our children’s future?

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

State Building Commission: Leaders or Followers?

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 03 April 2019
in Wisconsin

uwec-campusSen. Smith writes about the budget process and the role the State Building Commission plays in approving Gov. Evers’ capital budget requests. We need bipartisanship throughout the budget process to support Wisconsin’s future.


MADISON - As leaders and policy makers in Wisconsin it is our job to ensure that our state government and operations run smoothly. Our agencies must be funded properly, people must be paid and projects should be moving forward in a timely fashion. It doesn’t need to be complicated. There are processes in place that have worked for decades.

The process begins with the presentation of the budget proposal from Governor Evers in the administrative branch to Wisconsin’s legislative branch. The legislative process is headed by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC), a 16-member bipartisan group of legislators, which reviews and makes recommendations based on the Governor’s budget proposal. These recommendations are then voted on by all members of the legislature before returning to the governor for his or her approval. Sounds simple, right?

Often overlooked in this process is the approval of the Governor’s capital budget requests by the State Building Commission. This commission is made up of the governor, a 6-member bipartisan group of legislators from the Senate and Assembly, and one private citizen appointed by the governor.

The commission is responsible for the state’s building program by approving and managing construction and improvement projects for our state buildings that play a vital role for communities throughout Wisconsin. The legislative members of the commission vote on building funding proposals and share their recommendations with JFC for final approval of the capital budget requests.

budget-hearingMembers of the State Building Commission have a history of working closely with each other to make sure these major projects go smoothly. It was always one place where partisanship did not usually blind the needs of progress.

For instance, during the early years of the Doyle administration (when the Republicans controlled both houses as they do today) the State Building Commission worked together and approved capital projects without any political ambitions getting in the way. The Commission was instrumental in funding key projects to support our higher education and healthcare facilities. That was 2003 and 2005. This is 2019.

On March 18th and 19th, the State Building Commission subcommittees met to vote on the capital requests from agencies to be included in the budget. All members of both subcommittees voted unanimously on the requested projects. However, something happened in the next 24 hours and the Republicans had a change of heart.

The commission began to vote on each individual item on the list. One by one, the votes were taken and each vote ended the same. While the two Democratic legislators, Governor Evers and the private citizen voted to approve each item, the 4 Republicans voted “no” on important projects, including the renovation of Phillips Science Hall at UW-Eau Claire. The tie meant no action taken. Thus, these projects are left in limbo and will be sent to the JFC without the Building Commission's recommendation.

This hasn’t happened before. The locked step negative vote really signals a change and raises a lot of questions. Is there any hope that our legislature can really work together in this shared government? Can the elected legislators in the Republican caucus stand up against the leaders that don’t have their constituents’ best interests at heart? How will this affect the budget process moving forward?

After Governor Evers introduced “The People’s Budget” on February 28th, we heard the usual rhetoric from opposition leaders referring to it as a non-starter. It’s a shame that partisan politics is getting in the way of the historical investments Governor Evers proposed. Improvements in our state’s infrastructure should be an issue that we all rally behind. Previous State Building Commissions worked together to approve projects that have made positive impacts in our local communities. We’ve seen the powerful result of compromise in the past. Now it’s time to be the leaders we were elected to be for the future of Wisconsin.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes
Copyright © 2019. Green Bay Progressive. Designed by Shape5.com