Thursday May 23, 2019

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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)
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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.

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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)
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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.

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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)
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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.

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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)
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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.

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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)
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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!

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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)
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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.

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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)
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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?

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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.

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State Government: The Budget Mosaic

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 Thursday, 28 March 2019
in Wisconsin

wisc-capitol-domeIt’s important to understand the budget from afar, but we learn even more from looking closer to see how everything connects.


MADISON - Connecting dots can be very satisfying -- when it all clicks together our eyes get big, our jaws drop and we become stunned with our newfound knowledge.

The bigger the conclusion, the more satisfying the result. For legislators, much is the same for comprehending the state budget. Pouring over the details and reading the documents line-by-line can be dull, very dull. But when things start to click and make sense, it’s all worth it.

Governor Tony Evers listened to the experiences and values from many different people and put together a budget that represents a large mosaic - tiny little pictures that make up a larger picture. There is value in viewing the mosaic from afar, but there can also be a benefit peering closely at one of the small pictures within to see how it all connects.

meeting-crowdThe other day, when giving a presentation about the budget at one of our listening sessions, a retired assistant district attorney chimed in about criminal justice changes in the state budget. He was concerned about forgetting the seriousness of some crimes. He stressed that sometimes incarceration is the only safe place for some criminals.

This gentleman had a point - we will never stop all crime. Some crimes are so heinous the guilty need to be locked up from society. Most often, criminals are the product of many factors. Without a good education some may be more at risk of committing a crime. Some grew up in a family stuck in a cycle of violence. Others still may have grown up in a good family, but struggle with mental health.

If we address the ailments of society head on, we have the best chance at fighting crime before it happens. Helping people with addiction and mental health issues get access to affordable and high-quality health care can help. Or fixing our broken school funding formula can help schools better educate at-risk youth. There’s no shortage of opportunities to help society heal.

Just as we think of numerous ways to address a single facet of the budget, let’s now talk about a single issue in the budget and how it affects all different aspects of our society.

It’s hard to go a day as state senator without hearing how broadband internet expansion can help Wisconsin prosper. I was encouraged to see Governor Evers include nearly $100 million in additional broadband funding in his budget. That’s more than double the amount we’ve spent on broadband in the last 5 years combined!

The budget also defines broadband as speeds that can download content at least 25 megabytes per second (mbps) and upload content at 3mbps. That’s also the Federal Communications Commission’s standard of broadband.

Farmers will be able to connect to learn more about best practices, find new opportunities to sell their products directly to consumers and file reports. Kids will be able to do their homework and research at speeds that keep up with the rapidly advancing world. Patients and doctors will be able to use telehealth screenings. Broadband is the difference that makes our communities stronger. Agriculture, education and healthcare all need broadband access.

internet-ruralLike rural electrification, rural broadband access is critical if our small cities, villages and towns are going to thrive and continue to exist. And, like rural electrification, government has a role. Broadband expansion is expensive and most service providers don’t believe there are enough profits to justify the cost in rural areas. They need incentives to expand into underserved communities.

The biggest difference between rural electrification and rural broadband expansion is the benefits to all for connecting more people. Every single person or business that connects to the world wide web not only gets access to the world’s largest repository of advice and information, but they also become a contributor for everyone else in the world.

Now, those are two prime examples of how multiple budget matters connect to affect citizens across all spectrums of life in Wisconsin. The budget is a moral document -- it lays out our values and offers us a glimpse of how everything we do in state government is connected.

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“You be the Judge of the Budget”

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 20 March 2019
in Wisconsin

crowdSen. Jeff Smith will hosting nine budget listening sessions in northwestern Wisconsin in March and April.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Ever since my two daughters were young and able to ice skate, I attended their figure skating practices and competitions. I’ve respected the work and dedication these young women put in for such an incredible sport. I became so interested that I started volunteering as the announcer for the Eau Claire Figure Skating Club competitions.

Competitive figure skating is mostly a solo sport. This changes however on the last day of the competition when many of the athletes get the opportunity to skate as a team. Synchronized skating has become a standalone competitive sport which adds that special team element to the skills they honed as solo artists. It's on that final day that I'm the announcer at the rink and introduce each team.

I’ve learned to appreciate the countless hours these young skaters put in with their coaches to perfect their spins, jumps, speed, and coordinating it all to music. Watching the perfect figure skating routine is the final product of hours of practice and countless falls and mishaps. There’s so much more than the few minutes the judges get to see on the ice including rivalry, high emotions, tears, and clashes in practice or the locker room.

I’ve found that description rings true for politics as well. There’s plenty of competition in the legislature as well as high emotions, disagreements, and tears at times. Certainly, it’s a rivalrous atmosphere with passionate individuals vying over sensitive issues.

At the end of the day, the young figure skaters put aside their craving for individual recognition to create a perfectly synchronized skating routine. I’m always amazed when they come together and create something great.

Just like a skater putting together a routine, Governor Evers put in his time practicing and training to perfect what he called the “People’s Budget.” Throughout this process, the Governor asked the people what he should include in his budget. To get suggestions, he hosted listening sessions in Superior, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Wausau.

As you can imagine, everyone has different ideas to move Wisconsin forward. Governor Evers embraced these diverse opinions and so do I. In the budget development phase, Governor Evers heard Wisconsin residents echo a few common ideas. Much of the suggestions revolved around affordable health care, roads that don’t bust up our cars, fully-funding public schools, and reforming our criminal justice system.

jeff-smithI will be hosting nine budget listening sessions to discuss Governor Evers’ biennial state budget proposal. I need you to be the judge for the Governor’s work on the People’s Budget, so please join me at one of the locations below.

Each budget listening session is from 5:30pm - 7:00pm and open to the public. Here are the details of our events:

· Thursday, March 21st: Whitehall - Whitehall Memorial High School

· Friday, March 22nd: Ellsworth - Ellsworth High School

· Monday, March 25th: Eau Claire - Joint Listening Session with Rep. Jodi Emerson - L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library

· Thursday, March 28th: Holmen - Joint Listening Session with Sen. Jennifer Shilling and Rep. Steve Doyle - Holmen Public Library

· Thursday, April 11th: Durand - Durand City Hall

· Monday, April 15th: River Falls - Joint Listening Session with Sen. Patty Schachtner - River Falls Public Library

· Thursday, April 18th: Alma - Alma High School

· Tuesday, April 23rd: Menomonie - Joint Listening Session with Sen. Patty Schachtner at the Shirley Doane Senior Center

· Date is TBD: Black River Falls - Location is TBD

For more information, check out my website or Facebook page. I look forward to seeing you at one of these events. If you can’t make it to one of our listening sessions, please call, write or email me with any feedback about the budget.

The synchronized routine of 132 legislators trying to work together on the budget has just begun. It won’t be easy, but we rely on you to be the judge of how we work together.

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Sen. Smith Celebrates Women’s History Month

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 13 March 2019
in Wisconsin

women-3genAs we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s make a better effort to celebrate the women in our lives says Senator.


MADISON - Last week we welcomed the beginning of Women’s History Month – a time for us to celebrate women's achievements, honor women's history and reflect on the work that still needs to be done. At an early age, I was most inspired and influenced by the women in my life. I’m fortunate to have these relationships throughout my life. Women have motivated me in so many different ways and have shaped me to be the person I am today.

I met my first best friend, Linda, when my family moved into my childhood home near Eau Claire. As kids, social norms taught us boys were supposed to play with boys and girls with girls. Despite these norms, and the taunts from the other kids in school, Linda and I played together.

Linda’s friendship taught me the importance of questioning social norms. If we had listened to the others in our classroom, I would’ve missed out on many memories, a great friendship, and an even greater lesson. Our friendship taught me to have more trust and faith in women.

Time and time again girls were at the top of our class. I learned to respect the efforts and work of the girls around me, especially the times when I fell short.

As I grew older, I continued to develop new friendships with the young women in my high school, which I still treasure to this day. In my adult life, that never changed. It was always clear to me that women in my life were motivated and knowledgeable in so many different aspects.

This includes the most important women in my life - my wife, Sue, along with our daughters, Emily and Sarah. They’ve pushed me to be well-rounded and inspired me to be who I am today. Whether it be at home, at the office, or even in the campaign to get elected as Senator, I’ve seen how the women around me stay committed and get things done.

From early on, I learned the importance of working with women and trusting women. Without these relationships I wouldn’t be as aware of the diverse life perspectives in my community or the importance of listening to others while I’m serving as State Senator.

In the first week of Women’s History Month, I had the opportunity to participate in the “Status of Girls” presentation organized by the bipartisan Alverno College Research Center for Women and Girls. This was an eye-opening presentation highlighting disparities between girls and boys in Wisconsin, from increased rates of poverty and abuse to disproportionate cases of cyberbullying and mental health diagnoses. It was concerning to learn how these issues don’t just stop when a girls becomes an adult, but they are issues that continue to impact a woman as she grows older.

jeff-smithI looked around the room at the presentation and realized that I was only one of two men present in a group with more than twenty attendees. I found this rather odd. Shouldn't more of us be concerned about the issues affecting more than fifty percent of our population? Why was there such little representation from men at this presentation on the status of Wisconsin girls – a key demographic that makes up 11% of our state’s population?

I understand that we all have busy schedules and a lot of things going on in our lives; however, we must remember to value the concerns and experiences of others, including the girls and women of our state. I’ve learned so much growing up with strong women all around me. These relationships are a reminder for me to stand up, support others, and advocate for issues that may not personally affect me. As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s make a better effort to celebrate the women in our lives by developing new friendships, connecting with others and strengthening the voices around us.

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First Glance at Governor Evers’ Budget

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 06 March 2019
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tony-evers-budget-2019Sen. Smith reviews the policies included in Gov. Tony Evers’ first budget, presented to the Legislature last Thursday, including broadband expansion, nonpartisan redistricting reform, education and transportation funding, and Medicaid expansion.


MADISON - Governor Tony Evers presented his first budget to the Legislature on Thursday evening last week. It was a uniquely crafted budget. It contained encouraging policy for Wisconsin’s future. And many of the Governor’s budget provisions were long overdue.

The Governor’s comments highlighted his goal to present the people’s budget to the Legislature: “It’s about creating a Wisconsin that works for everyone — a Wisconsin for us. This isn’t the Tony Evers’ budget, the Democratic budget, the speaker’s budget, or the Republican budget — this is the people’s budget. And it’s one that we crafted together.”

This was a very unique budget address. During the Governor’s speech, he presented a video about the process he used for developing the people’s budget. The video showed footage of public budget listening sessions throughout December in Green Bay, La Crosse, Wausau and Milwaukee. This was the first time a new Governor hosted listening sessions while crafting his budget for introduction.

Much of the budget was exactly what the Governor laid out in his campaign, but there were many policies he included that were from the feedback he received at the listening sessions. Governor Evers’ budget was specially crafted from a uniquely collaborative process.

Many of the different policies in the budget were encouraging for Wisconsin’s future -- for years we’ve seen devastating cuts to public schools, our universities, unsustainable borrowing and a Wisconsin that has lagged behind while the nation recovered. New ideas are needed if we are going to make Wisconsin a national leader again.

The Governor’s plan to add $78 million for broadband expansion grants is a massive increase from the $16 million adopted in the previous budget. Broadband expansion is arguably one of the most important budget provisions for our rural communities.

The Governor also defines broadband speed as 25 megabytes while downloading and 3 megabytes while uploading. This change will ensure rural communities truly receive “broadband” internet so we can fully participate in the digital age and not be left behind.

Nonpartisan redistricting reform was also included in the Governor’s budget. We need to look toward the future. Voters should choose their elected officials, not the other way around. This proposal is supported by a wide margin of citizens. It was no wonder the Governor included it in the people’s budget.

For years, Republicans have stripped away essential voters’ rights in Wisconsin. The Governor’s inclusion of automatic voter registration is a good first step for reversing the undemocratic policies of the last 8 years and starting a new chapter of voter rights expansion in Wisconsin.

There were additional provisions in the Governor’s budget that are long overdue.

When Governor Evers served as the Superintendent of Public Schools, he offered his Fair Funding for Our Future plan time and time again. Each time, Republicans punted on fixing the inequalities in our school funding formula. Republicans put politics first and kids last. Our children have suffered far too long from inaction. Now is the time to finally fulfill our constitutional duty to provide equal public education across Wisconsin by accepting the Governor’s plan.

jeff-smithFour budgets in a row, the Republicans kicked the can down the road by irresponsibly borrowing our way into a transportation crisis. Although I have reservations about some aspects of the Governor’s transportation plan, I do give him credit for finally offering ideas to fix the problem.

Since 2014, Republican ideology prevented Wisconsin from joining 37 other states to expand Medicaid, costing Wisconsin $1.1 billion in additional health care funding. It’s a no-brainer to finally accept the Medicaid expansion money for Wisconsin.

This is just the start -- we have a long way to go before the budget bill becomes law. The Governor’s unique way of crafting his budget deserves praise. His forward-looking budget is a sight for sore eyes. It’s great to finally see a budget include many of the things we’ve been waiting far too long see.

Republicans plan to dismiss the people’s budget outright. As we continue this process, Republicans and Democrats will need to look past old ways of saying “no” to each other and find new ways to say “yes” for Wisconsin.

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Part Three: Water is Precious

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 20 February 2019
in Wisconsin

hicap-residentsThird of three columns describing the importance of water in Wisconsin. Conserving water by limiting high capacity wells, preventing the destruction of wetlands and reinvesting in science at the DNR are easy ways we can keep drinking water clean.


MADISON, WI - Water is cheap. Fixing water quality problems is expensive. Protecting our water before polluting it is less expensive. We can take steps now to preserve our cheapest most precious resource. Changing our perceptions about water use, using nature to help us preserve water and reinvesting in science are easy ways to show how an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In the last two columns, I discussed how water sustains our lives and how important it is for our economic prosperity. This week I will offer simple, but critical ways we can invest in water, our most precious resource.

Most of Wisconsin is lucky to have immediate access to clean water whether it’s from our private wells or from our municipal water utilities. Because water is cheap, most people don’t think about conserving it. Think about that. Something must be done differently to motivate people to conserve water even when capacity is not threatened. Where there are private wells there is more awareness of conserving simply because the owner is the manager.

hicap-wellPrivately owned high capacity wells play a big role for Wisconsin’s water conservation. Each high capacity well can pump up to 70 gallons of water per minute, or up to 100,000 gallons per day. High concentrations of high capacity wells in a single aquifer can cause serious problems for our drinking water. As water levels drop from overuse, oxygen can breakdown sulfides and expose arsenic to be leached into the water table. Unassuming landowners with private wells are at risk of polluted drinking water if we don’t take a hard look at conservation when considering new high capacity well permits.

We can invest in nature as our defender against contaminated water. Wetlands are nature’s best water filters. In 1985 Wisconsin completed a wetland inventory and found 5.3 million acres of wetlands left in Wisconsin. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, based on an evaluation of wet soils, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimated Wisconsin was home to approximately 10 million acres of wetlands at one time. As of 1985, we lost 47% of our wetlands.

Properties with wetlands tend to be priced below market value and have always been an easy target for farmers and developers. Farmers learned quickly that wetlands were essential to preserving productive soils. Business developers have been slower to learn.

Wetland mitigation allows developers to create new wetlands or rehabilitate existing wetlands if damage to naturally-occurring wetlands is “unavoidable.” Wetlands form from necessity. They are nature’s way of storing water and preventing flooding.

In recent years, floodwaters have ripped through our western Wisconsin coulees causing incredible damage to homes, businesses, roads and bridges. Floods churn up contaminated sediments and sweep them into our surface waters and eventually into our groundwater too. Protecting and enhancing wetlands is one of the easiest things we can do today to keep our water clean and lesson the damage from powerful floods.

jeff-smithWe need to reinvest in science too. Wisconsin’s DNR scientists have been under attack for the last 8 years. In 2011, Act 10 forced a mass exodus of scientists and other dedicated public servants from state government. Former Governor Scott Walker sent 57 pink slips to DNR employees on Earth Day 2015, of all days. In the 2017-19 budget, Republicans cut 43 more positions and eliminated the Division of Science Services during a “reorganization” of the agency. All mentions of climate change were scrubbed from DNR publications.

Thankfully, Governor Tony Evers and his new pick for DNR, Secretary Preston Cole are choosing science over ignorance. Sec. Preston Cole’s comment that the DNR will “double down on science in natural resources management” should be a refreshing assurance for Wisconsin. Governor Evers’ recent announcement to help local governments with $40 million to replace lead services lines is another example of his new approach to protecting the public’s water.

As we start to reinvest in our state’s ability to keep water clean, I’ll need your help. It’ll take all of us to educate our neighbors, family and friends about new efforts to keep Wisconsin’s water clean. Water may be cheap, but if we lose sight of how precious it is, we will pay far more in the long run.

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Part Two: Water is Prosperity

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 13 February 2019
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door-countyIn the 2nd of 3 columns about clean water, Sen. Smith discusses how water is our key to prosperity and encourages us to think about future generations when considering the next big company coming to Wisconsin for our natural resources.


MADISON - Last week I wrote about how water is life. This week I hope to show how important water is for all of us to not only survive, but also to thrive.

In my Capitol office hangs an old re-election poster for former Governor Gaylord Nelson. The founder of Earth Day, Governor Nelson was one of Wisconsin’s fiercest advocates for our environment. He was also a pragmatist – he understood not only how important clean water was, but he also acknowledged its importance for our economy.

Milk, cheese, beer, and paper -- these are quintessential Wisconsin products. Each of these water-dependent products requires large amounts of clean water.

great-river-road-wiWater is abundant in Wisconsin. Our 1,017 miles of Great Lakes shoreland offer our state excellent access to the world’s largest supply of freshwater. Wisconsin’s “west coast,” is mostly lined by the Mississippi River, which is the 2nd largest watershed in the world. We even have more lakes than Minnesota! Wisconsin is so watery that 17% of our state is covered by water.

Every decision about water we make as representatives and senators in the State Capitol has a globally significant impact. We know how important water is, but so do companies hoping to gain access to our water.

In 2003, Wisconsin limited the ability of local governments to oppose Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). CAFOs are defined as operations with more than 1,000 animals on the farm. Here in the counties within the 31st Senate District, we have 24 of the 272 dairy CAFOs in Wisconsin.

High capacity wells on CAFOs pump vast quantities of water in a very small area, and the massive volume of animal waste generated at these facilities is too much for the surrounding cropland to handle as fertilizer. America’s Dairyland has always looked to small family farms to supply our country with high-quality milk and cheese. Low milk prices are driving smaller dairy farms out of business and CAFOs are taking their place. Without relief, more family farms will continue to struggle and large CAFOs will continue to expand.

In 2010, our 31st Senate District became the epicenter of the frac sand industry in Wisconsin and across the nation. The rush for high quality sand to support our U.S. and Canadian oil and natural gas hydrofracturing operations created a demand far exceeding our expectations in Wisconsin. Cleaning the tons of sand going across North America requires a lot of water and the chemicals used during the process leave serious concerns about water quality.

metallic-sulfide-mining-runoffIn 2011, the massive iron mine proposed by Gogebic Taconite created a frenzy of changes to water and air protections for the iron mining permit process. In 2017, the “Prove it First Law” was repealed for sulfide mining companies looking to come to Wisconsin. These changes lower the bar for potential mining companies to come to Wisconsin and pollute our water.

foxconn-groundbreakMost recently, in 2017, the state carved Foxconn out of environmental protections. Foxconn will also be able to pump up to 7 million gallons of water per day to manufacture liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. Only 4 million of the 7 million gallons will return to Lake Michigan daily. The harsh chemicals used in the manufacturing process leaves serious questions about water quality surrounding the facility and what pollutants will return back to the Great Lakes.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of companies lining up for Wisconsin’s water and natural resources. The million dollar question we need to ask ourselves is: are the long term consequences worth short term economic gain?

Next week, I’ll be writing about how water is our most precious resource and how we can preserve it for our lives and our prosperity. Former Governor Gaylord Nelson once said, “the ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”

Our water is the key to our state’s prosperity. It will be our children’s and our grandchildren’s prosperity too. The next time a big company or industry asks Wisconsin to roll back water protections for their profits, we need to ask ourselves how this decision before us contributes, rather than harms our water. If we make the right choices today, the words of thanks will be said.

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Part One: Water is Life

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Tuesday, 05 February 2019
in Wisconsin

lake-michigan-shoreFirst of three columns about clean water in Wisconsin, the importance of clean water for our biology as humans, and how our dependence on good quality drinking water warrants our greatest care.


MADISON - We take a lot of things for granted in life. Our car will always start, our dogs will always love us and the water we drink will always be clean. Like all these assumptions, nothing is guaranteed. Much like the adoration of our pets or the dependability of our vehicles, the quality of our water critically depends on the care we take for protecting the things we love and depend on the most.

When we turn on the faucet to fill a glass of water or sip from a drinking fountain, we have a reasonable expectation the water is safe. This blind trust is mostly due to the protections we have in place and the oversight of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

clean-drinking-waterGovernor Tony Evers declared the year of 2019 as the “year of clean drinking water” in his State of the State speech on January 22nd. I can’t agree more with the Governor -- that’s why, for the next three weeks, I will be writing about how water is life, prosperity and our most precious resource.

Water is life. According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the United States Geological Survey cited that “the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.” Overall, our body consists of 60% water. It’s recommended that we drink eight 8 ounce glasses of water each day to stay hydrated.

Water is critically important to our biology. Unfortunately, it is much easier to contaminate our drinking water than it is to clean it up. Each time our drinking water becomes polluted, we become less concerned about polluting it in the future because we troubleshoot the problem and then adjust our expectations. It’s like the boiling frog theory: if a frog jumps into a pot of boiling water it jumps out immediately, but if the frog is in the pot while the water slowly boils it remains.

jeff-smithThere are many countries that did not prioritize clean, accessible water until it was too late. Right here in North America, nearly three-quarters of people in Mexico drink packaged water, and they consume more bottled water per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Wisconsin is not immune to the emergency of contaminated drinking water. In Kewaunee County, samples from a recent study showed 60% of private well systems were contaminated with excess nitrates from human and animal waste. Even with protections in place, we cannot take clean water for granted. Going forward, we must work with professionals to enforce fact-based, scientific approaches to protect the public’s drinking water.

Water is life. We must count on our elected leaders in Madison and our best scientists to protect our fragile drinking water supply. When we start our cars during the next polar vortex, come home to our pets after a long day at work or take a cool drink of life-giving water; those are all reminders we must give the greatest care to the things we depend on the most.

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Lawmakers Need to Walk the Talk for Bipartisanship

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 30 January 2019
in Wisconsin

wisconsinThe legislature is considering a middle class tax cut for Wisconsin. Sen. Jeff Smith writes about how a new legislative session can turn the page for bipartisanship and his goals for cultivating good ideas and building trust across the aisle.


MADISON - I’ve said it. Governor Evers said it. Republican leaders said it - “We need to work together.”

A number of clichés come to mind as we talk about working together. “It’s easier said than done” or “Talk is cheap.” I prefer “walk the talk.”

When I flipped on the TV to watch the local news two weeks ago, I was surprised to see local Republicans lined up supporting Governor Evers’ idea to offer a middle class tax cut. Oddly, there were no Democrats involved in the press conference.

It’s common for the Majority Party not to include the Minority Party for press activities. It doesn’t have to be like this, but deep political divides still exist for many Wisconsin lawmakers.

During the last 8 years, the Majority Party ignored the wants and needs of the Minority Party. Harsh political fights over collective bargaining rights, redistricting, voting rights and many other issues left legislators very little appetite for bipartisanship. In fact, only 22% of all legislators currently serving in the Assembly or Senate know what it was like before 2011.

There are still some legislators (myself included) that do remember what it was like. Don’t get me wrong, there were still intense political disagreements, but we also discussed the merits of bills during public hearings and while meeting in the halls of the Capitol. The power of a good idea pulled Republicans and Democrats together.

We saw a glimmer of that power during Governor Tony Evers’ State of the State Speech last week. There was one moment when the Senate and Assembly Republicans joined Democrats for a standing ovation -- it was the Governor’s idea to offer a middle class tax cut.

We all agree a middle class tax cut is a good idea, but there will be disagreements about how to pay for it. Democrats want to pay for the tax cut by recovering funds from ill-conceived tax credits. Republicans want to do it only one time. Despite the differences on how to get there, we’ve found some common ground.

Imagine if Democrats and Republicans stood shoulder to shoulder advocating for a middle class tax cut at a press conference. Imagine if the Majority Party invited the Minority Party to the table to discuss how to accomplish our shared goal. The final product would be more representative of the needs of ALL Wisconsinites.

Unfortunately, there’s still some reluctance in really working together or perhaps there’s uncertainty as to where we start. I have a few ideas on what we can do first.

jeff-smithAs Senators and Representatives we bring our unique experiences and differing opinions to the job. Every new session offers us an opportunity to start a productive dialogue to learn from each other. We can’t let our own bias and partisanship get in the way of doing what’s right.

Beginning this term as a new Senator, I made a commitment with my team to meet with Democrat and Republican legislators in the Assembly and the Senate. I’ll take this time to introduce myself, listen to their ideas and learn more about the communities they represent.

Having these conversations to acknowledge our differences and similarities is the first step for establishing mutual respect. These relationships can build trust so we can, again, make the right decisions for the future of our state.

Team success begins and ends with trust in each other. As a lifelong sports fan and former high school sports participant, (can’t honestly say I was a star athlete, but I tried) I know how much further we get when we work as a team.

I’ve observed Republicans finding Democrats who might add their name next to theirs as co-authors of their bills. That’s a good step, but adding names is not enough; it’s about adding good ideas too. As legislators, we need to prioritize cooperative input and let the power of a good idea take root in our Legislature.

We have an opportunity to turn the page and heal the political divisions. Progress will happen once we put away the political scorecards and “walk the talk” for bipartisanship.

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Healthcare: Rushing to Fix One Part While Destroying the Whole

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 23 January 2019
in Wisconsin

affordablecareMadison Republicans claim they want to protect people with pre-existing conditions, but Wisconsin cannot afford to go back to 2008 when health care costs were skyrocketing and health insurance lacked the necessary coverage.


MADISON - Remember the high-gloss campaign mailings? The non-stop TV and radio campaign ads from last year about protecting people with pre-existing conditions? I bet you heard more than you ever wanted about pre-existing conditions, right? Well, the number one issue from last fall’s election is coming home to roost here in the Legislature.

When I left office as State Representative in 2010, bipartisanship was at an all-time low. The biggest political football at the time was the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Democrats knew it would be a political liability to pass the ACA, but health care reform was so desperately needed. During the 2010 Election, Congressional Republicans vowed to stop at nothing to repeal the ACA.

jeff-smithEight years later I’ve returned to Madison as a new State Senator. Republicans are still trying to eliminate the ACA, but curiously, some effects of the ACA have become incredibly popular. Covering people with pre-existing conditions was one of the ACA’s most important changes, and it was one of the Republicans’ biggest political liabilities in last year’s election.

Before the ACA, health insurance providers could deny coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Patients with medical histories of epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, lupus, sleep apnea, or even pregnancy are just a few examples of pre-existing conditions.

Pre-existing conditions are incredibly common for people seeking health insurance. According to research conducted by Families USA, published in 2012, more than 1.3 million (or one in four) Wisconsinites under the age of 65 were diagnosed with a pre-existing condition. In counties within the 31st Senate District alone, nearly 28% of the population under 65 years of age, had a pre-existing condition.

It’s no surprise that Republicans in the State Assembly are rushing to pass Assembly Bill 1 (AB 1) which would provide protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. There is far more to the story than only protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

Since the ACA was passed into law, countless lawsuits threatened pre-existing conditions coverage and many other crucial protections offered by the ACA. Most recently, former Attorney General Brad Schimel, with the support of former Governor Scott Walker and many legislative Republicans, joined a lawsuit with other states to eliminate the ACA. During the highly-controversial lame duck session last month, Republicans even went so far as to pass a law to prevent current Attorney General Josh Kaul from withdrawing Wisconsin from the lawsuit to overturn the ACA.

So while rushing to pass AB 1 to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions, Republicans are also supporting efforts to eliminate the protections nationally. Bizarre, right?

Pre-existing conditions coverage isn’t the only important protection in jeopardy of being eliminated with the Republicans’ lawsuit. There are countless other protections in the ACA that consumers need for affordable insurance.

For instance, the issue of affordability fails to be addressed in AB 1. If the ACA is repealed, there is nothing preventing subsidies from being taken away from consumers. This would result in increasing costs that will make it impossible for some to afford coverage.

Annual and lifetime caps are also not addressed in the Republicans’ plan. This change would require consumers to pay for all health care costs out-of-pocket after their insurance coverage runs out for the year, or during their lifetime. This has a significant effect on people with disabilities and those suffering from chronic illness.

Equally important, the Republicans’ plan would no longer require insurers to cover essential health benefits, including maternity care, substance abuse treatment, prescription drug services and chronic disease management.

Although pre-existing conditions coverage was a dominant issue from last fall’s election, many questions remain about equally important protections under the ACA. We can’t afford to go back to 2008 when health care costs were skyrocketing and consumers were offered health insurance plans lacking necessary coverage.

As this issue continues to dominate newspaper headlines and campaign promises, we must remember there is much more to the story. In every corner of Wisconsin, voters sent a clear message last fall – don’t take us backward on health care.

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Marsy’s Law: Do It Quick or Do It Right?

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 16 January 2019
in Wisconsin

rapeSen. Jeff Smith reports about Marsy’s Law, the background of this movement to change state constitutions around the country to increase victim's rights, and the complicated nature of balancing the rights of victims and the accused.


MADISON - Our first week of the legislative session is off to a fast start. It appears my first legislative vote will be changing our State Constitution with a resolution called, “Marsy’s Law.”

The new Legislature always has a high-priority issue that needs to be addressed immediately. In 2007, as a freshman State Representative, I voted to create the Government Accountability Board (GAB) in response to a caucus scandal years before I took office.

Democrats in the State Senate and Republicans in the State Assembly worked together for the nation’s first bipartisan ethics and elections board. It was a model of good government for the nation. My first vote was something to be proud of as a new legislator -- it was because we needed it, not because people or organizations with deep pockets wanted it.

Fast forward to 2019. I was hopeful my first vote would be on something equally important - like protecting voting rights or passing redistricting reform.

jeff-smithWhen I first heard about protecting the rights of victims with Marsy’s Law, it seemed like a great way to start my term as State Senator. As I started asking questions, I learned it is far more complicated.

In 1983 Marsy Nicholas was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in California. One week later, Marsy’s mother and brother ran into the murderer in a grocery store. They were overcome with fear and pain not knowing he was out on bail. This traumatic experience led to her brother, now a billionaire investor, to spend millions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying efforts to pass state constitutional changes across the country.

Here in Wisconsin, we have some of the strongest protections for victims in the country. Unfortunately, other states did not. That’s why California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota passed versions of Marsy’s Law.

justiceOur judicial branch of government is the impartial arbiter for balancing the rights of victims and the accused. This concept has been depicted for centuries with blind statutes and scales showing balance. Unfortunately, money, emotion and power influence the legislative branch of government. Our job as legislators is to create laws governing our justice system and to keep the scales of justice balanced above all else.

We should be cautious when approached by a national advocacy group with money asking for a “one-size fits all approach” to our State’s Constitution. Change to our State’s Constitution demands heavy scrutiny. Even more scrutiny should be given to rushing changes to our State Constitution. After all, a constitutional change is our way of “writing it in stone.”

Each constitutional change in Wisconsin needs to be passed by two consecutive sessions of the Legislature before being offered as a referendum to voters during a statewide election. If the new 2019-20 Legislature passes Marsy’s Law by the end of January, it will land on the spring election ballot in April, leaving voters little time to learn about its effects.

What do you think? I want to hear from you. I’ve heard the countless gut-wrenching stories about victims in Wisconsin seeking justice. I’ve read the editorials across the state cautioning lawmakers. I heard the pleas of local district attorneys asking for additional resources to help victims.

My hope is that we can have a conversation about what’s best for helping victims. How do we protect justice for victims while maintaining the rights of the accused? I’m open to considering changes to our Constitution. But instead of getting it done quickly, we need to get it done right.

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Senator Smith may be contacted through this link.

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Committees, Collaboration and Compromise

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 09 January 2019
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inNew State Senator Jeff Smith from western Wisconsin reports on the committee creation process, his appointments, and his experience working on each committee’s issues.


MADISON - Senate committees aren’t exactly the hottest topic to write about in state government, but it’s incredibly important for our work as legislators. Most Senate committee names seem like someone pulled the topics out of a hat and randomly strung them together to create a committee.

Strange as some committee names may appear, committee creation is more an exercise in compromise and collaboration than blind luck.

Every two years, the Majority Party Leader meets with his or her Majority Party colleagues. He or she shuffles through the requests and interests of his  or her Majority Party senators. Then he or she appoints committee chairs and assigns other Majority Party senators to the committees.

After the Majority Party organizes the committees, the Senate Minority Leader works with Minority Party Senators to fill the committees. Though seemingly monotonous, this cascade of events can be a great opportunity for legislators to work together.

jeff-smithEvery new legislator has priorities he or she is passionate about or has experience to contribute. Lesser known issues offer intrigue for new legislators. While we don’t always get everything we want, I find every committee assignment an opportunity to learn and keep up on addressing new challenges.

We aren’t experts in every field, but we were elected to use our best judgement when faced with decisions that affect a diverse population. Here’s the slate of committees I will be assigned to this session:

Agriculture, Revenue & Financial Institutions: I will serve as ranking minority member on this committee. I may not be a farmer or banker by trade, but my forty-acre hobby farm and experience living in rural western Wisconsin offer me great insight. I learned an overwhelming amount about the banking industry during the Great Recession when I served on the Assembly Financial Institutions Committee as a State Representative. I’m looking forward to using that experience to help families work with lending institutions to purchase new homes and start businesses.

Elections, Ethics & Rural Issues: Since I first ran for elected office, campaign finance reform and ethics were my passion. That experience led me to serve as the Chair of this committee during my career in the State Assembly. My rural roots run deep. I’ve spent my whole life in western Wisconsin and the last 33 years living in the country, maintaining a septic system and private well while appreciating the real beauty of this state.

Government Operations, Technology & Consumer Protection: Consumer Protections are important now more than ever. During my time in the State Assembly I learned firsthand how important consumer protections were when I led efforts to regulate the payday industry and puppy mills. I also look forward to learning more about our state’s government operations and our constantly evolving technology regulations.

Sporting Heritage, Mining & Forestry: This committee really gets to the heart of what I think will impact every generation to come. If we spoil the water, land and air around us there is no fixing it. We can make mistakes when dealing with most other issues, but we cannot afford to err when it comes to protecting our natural resources. As someone who grew up in the hunting heritage we are so proud of in Wisconsin, I find it even more urgent that we protect the resources that define our state.

While there may be plenty of other political distractions in the headlines for weeks to come, I hope our first job to create committees this session helps inspire a little hope that legislators can work together to build committees through collaboration and compromise.

With only 33 Senators working on so many issues I hope you play your part as an advocate, as an expert and as a citizen to help us pass bipartisan and commonsense legislation. Stay tuned for public hearings and other opportunities to make your voice heard as we work to make our state a great place to live generations to come.

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Divided, but Not Broken Government

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 02 January 2019
in Wisconsin

jeff-smithSenator-elect Jeff Smith, who will take office January 7th to replace outgoing Democratic Sen. Kathleen Vinehout in the 31st District, shares his goal to help heal the political divisions in Wisconsin state government.


Town of Brunswick, WI - As I traversed western Wisconsin last year campaigning to be the new 31st District State Senator, it was clear we’ve been fortunate to have Kathleen Vinehout serve as our Senator for the last twelve years.

Questions abound what Kathleen will do next. Many hope Senator Vinehout will continue her service in some capacity moving forward, but only time will tell. I join the many heartfelt thank you’s for Senator Vinehout’s service to Western Wisconsin and wish her the best in whatever venture she chooses to pursue.

Looking forward, we have our work cut out for us. Senate integrity is at an all-time low after the lame-duck session stripped away some of Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul’s authority before they are sworn into office on January 7th.

Be assured that I believe in our democratic system of checks and balances. What took place in Madison in early December, in the dark of the night, was not about checks and balances. It reflected the pettiness and vindictiveness that’s been on display for most of this past decade.

As I talked with countless voters throughout the campaign, health care, education and transportation were the primary issues. Although, with each and every issue, there was an underlying frustration. Voters want us to work together, listen and let local government work.

In my years of working to build a window washing business and serve my community, it has always been my belief that any success depends on building relationships. That’s how I will serve in my new role as your State Senator.

Our state and communities need our leaders to get along and work together. It’s too important to hold grudges. For this upcoming session, the Majority Party will need to figure out how to work with a governor that is not from the same party. I know that won’t always be easy. In fact, only 9 Republicans in the State Assembly (out of 63) have worked with a Democratic governor.

I hope my past experience working in both the Minority and Majority Parties in the State Assembly will help me guide others. I look forward to being a leader who can help heal our divided government.

Who are we if we are not leading as partners, neighbors and family? What purpose do we have if we are not dedicated to making lives better for all? And when will we do better if not right now?

While much may still be written and reported about the divisions in politics, it will be my goal to build those much needed relationships and lead us to a better place. That means I will rely on the best you have to offer in advice, ideas, support and friendship.

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