Tuesday December 10, 2019

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Homeless Wisconsinites Left out in the Cold by GOP

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 06 December 2019
in Wisconsin

homelessState Republican “A Hand for the Homeless” package just another stall tactic says Erpenbach.


WEST POINT - In Governor Evers’ budget proposal, he included funding to combat homelessness in Wisconsin. The funding was based on recommendations from an Interagency Council on Homelessness that was created in 2017. The recommendations were drawn from the council’s “A Hand and a Home: Foundations for Success,” an action plan that asked for $3.75 million annually to prevent and decrease homelessness in Wisconsin. Additionally, in February 2019, Republicans introduced a series of eight bills that had the same goals – the “A Hand for the Homeless” package. With both sides of the aisle working on the issue, there was hope that, before winter hit Wisconsin, the state would release funding and get to work on this pressing issue.

While all the funding was approved in the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) for the purpose of combatting homelessness, Republicans opted to hold the money in their supplemental appropriation fund, instead of releasing the dollars to the agencies charged with implementing the programs. Governor Evers included a detailed list of the programs that the funds would be used for, including increases for the Homeless Prevention Program, State Shelter Subsidy Grants, the Housing Assistance Program, and the creation of grants for Housing Navigation, etc. Yet, Republicans held back the funds, waiting instead for their own package of bills to be signed into law. Once again choosing partisanship over the good of Wisconsin.

This legislation passed unanimously in both Senate and Assembly committees and before the full Assembly, but despite Democratic effort, Republicans blocked the bills in the Senate, and adjourned until January 2020.

On July 15, 2019 the Department of Administration (DOA) requested the release of the funds passed in the budget and several months later they have not received a response. Despite the funding already being designated for this purpose, Republicans are forcing our most vulnerable to needlessly wait while they leave for their holiday vacations.

jon-erpenbachGovernor Evers sent a letter to the Republican JFC Co-Chairs, Senator Alberta Darling and Representative John Nygren, to release the funds on November 14, 2019, and JFC Democrats followed the call by requesting that the JFC convene to release the funding. Still, Republicans have stayed silent on the once bipartisan issue.

Those who are facing homelessness should not have to wait through the freezing Wisconsin winter months for Republicans to decide to do their job. There is support on both sides of the aisle for the legislation that was introduced by Republican Assembly members, yet Senate Republicans refuse to address this crucial issue.

Wisconsinites are sick of the constant political games. This is just another example of Republicans using tactics to stall progress in our state. Releasing the funds that the JFC is holding to combat homelessness should not be a partisan issue, and, with the funds already being slated for this purpose, the cost should not be preventing the programs from being executed.

Republicans have come out in support of these proposals. Democrats have pushed for the bills to be taken up in the Senate. Governor Evers has advocated for the funds. What is holding Senate Republicans back from taking the vote to help those in need?

There are only a few weeks left this year, and the legislature has yet to take up some of the most important issues to Wisconsinites. Wisconsinites expect more from their elected officials than to “play goalie” to issues that would have enormous positive impacts on our communities.

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The Ho-Chunk Code Talkers: Honoring Native American History

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, 04 December 2019
in Wisconsin

wwii-code-talkersNative American Heritage Month is an important time to remind ourselves of our country’s past, the role of the World War II Ho-Chunk Code Talkers, and honor Native Americans’ contributions to our country.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Since 1990, our country has recognized November as Native American Heritage Month. This commemorative month provides an opportunity to remember Native Americans’ roles in our country’s history and appreciate their cultural contributions. This should be a time for us to look deeper into our history and the contributions of all Americans.

Native American Heritage Month is an important time to remind ourselves of our country’s cruel past and violence towards Tribal Nations. During this month, we also honor Native Americans’ remarkable contributions to our country, including the World War II code talkers. The code talkers’ service is an example to the fortitude and social fabric within Native American tribes. Their role in World War II tells the story of American endurance, collaboration and the importance of sharing our strengths and skills.

ho-chunk-code-talkers-medalsHistory is often re-written by those with privilege to remove disturbing, violent accounts. We grew up learning of the Thanksgiving story and the “friendly” relationship between early settlers and the Indigenous people. This story disregards our country’s troubled past, while also ignoring the important role Native Americans have had in American history.

Our country has a complex, painful history regarding the treatment of Native Americans. Despite attempts to help European settlers when they first arrived, Native Americans were forcibly removed from their land, introduced to deadly diseases and became victims of mass genocide. For many decades, even as late as the 1950s, white Americans suppressed members of the Tribal Nations, forcibly placing children in boarding schools and promoting assimilation policies in an attempt to destroy their culture.

Many Native Americans still held onto their native languages, despite this traumatic history and the attempts to strip them of their heritage. During the World Wars of the twentieth century, members from Tribal Nations were willing to enlist and fight for the same values that other soldiers believed in. As Native American members joined the military, they realized their ability to speak another language would make it difficult for enemies to interpret intercepted messages. These enlisted members of Native American tribes became known as code talkers.

Although Native Americans were enlisted for this important duty, they still faced challenges working predominately with English-speaking soldiers.

jeff-smithI heard a story about an enlisted Ho-Chunk Code Talker, selected for this role because he could speak his native language. He began his assignment in the radio room waiting for a message with a commanding officer. When a message arrived, the code talker couldn’t understand the sender’s message. The officer was puzzled and demanded to know why he told them he could speak his native language but then couldn’t understand this message. He replied that he is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the sender was speaking Navajo. This anecdote reminds us of the presumptions we may have of others, but the importance of learning from others’ backgrounds.

As a nation of many cultures, religions and ethnicities, we should celebrate the code talkers’ legacy and their contribution to our country’s history. With this in mind, I recently introduced legislation to designate a stretch of Interstate 90 from La Crosse to Tomah in honor the

Ho-Chunk code talkers for their instrumental role protecting our values of freedom and democracy.

This bipartisan proposal is one small measure to honor Native Americans in our state, but we must do better to educate ourselves of these vital roles that are, too often, overlooked in our country’s history. Be sure to do what you can to learn more about our country’s history by listening, reading and having conversations with others.

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What Are You Thankful For?

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, 27 November 2019
in Wisconsin

uwec-teacherworkshopSen. Smith reflects on the amazing conversations he had and the lessons he learned during his first year representing the 31st Senate District.


BRUNSWICK, WI - We’re nearing the end of another year and already getting ready for Thanksgiving. Everything seems to speed up during these last weeks as we prepare for the holiday season and the New Year. As we try to slow things down, we have time to reflect on and remember what we accomplished this year and ask ourselves what we’re thankful for.

Personally, I have many reasons to be grateful. Barely a year ago, I was elected as your state senator, something I’m eternally grateful for. In the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and learn from community members and connect with legislators from across the state and country. While reflecting on the year and anticipating the time ahead, we must remember to listen, respect and learn. Let’s all do our best to build relationships and develop trust to make our state the place we want to leave for our children and future generations.

Learning really is a lifelong experience. Serving as your senator, I’m given more opportunities to learn than most people get. My personal style of listening evolved, allowing me to be outdoors and visible to constituents. During the week, I’d take out my truck and park, hoist up my flags and the Stop ‘n Talk sign and invite anyone to have a conversation. My mobile office hours offered the opportunity for folks to talk as they headed home from work or on the way to an event.

jeff-smithI’m thankful for all of the amazing advocates who visited me in my office or on the streets and shared personal stories, experiences and lessons. You can visit my Facebook page and find pictures and descriptions from many of my Stop ‘n Talks.

When I’m not in the district, I also have the fortunate opportunity to learn from Capitol colleagues, staff, statewide advocates and people serving in other parts of our great Nation. This past year, I met with community leaders at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) annual Legislative Summit and the NCSL Broadband and Cable Policy Summit. In fact, these were the best opportunities I had to mingle with legislators from the other side of the aisle. These learning opportunities make me a more knowledgeable and well-rounded representative for you. I’m thankful for any opportunity to listen and learn other perspectives and ideologies.

Although I had incredible experiences, this year also presented some challenges. After all, before I was even sworn in, Republicans passed new laws in a lame duck session that limited the powers of the governor and attorney general. It wasn’t a good start to the 2019 legislative session and the Republican’s failure to work with us hasn’t improved.

There’s more to be grateful for than the challenges that set us back. We must remember to rise above and remember everything we are grateful for. I’m truly thankful for shared governance. After all, democracy was always meant to be a shared style representing the people. This was Wisconsin’s first attempt at shared governance since 2008. In 2009-10 Democrats had the governor’s office and majorities in both houses and Republicans had the same from 2011 until this year.

Let’s be thankful for the prospect of shared governance and a new opportunity to work together. Hopefully by next Thanksgiving, I can share there’s been more opportunity to build relationships and trust with colleagues from the other side of the aisle.

Thanksgiving means different things to different people. It’s a time when we get together with family and friends. Maybe it’s a time for others to get away from those family and friends or the obnoxious uncle pushing political views at the Thanksgiving table. We need to come together and appreciate our commonalities and celebrate this unifying tradition. It’s called Thanksgiving for a reason – giving is how we pay forward, while we give thanks for what has been passed on to us.

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Stop the Spread of CWD

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 November 2019
in Wisconsin

hunting-deerThree days away from gun hunting season, Sen. Smith writes about the threat CWD poses to the future of hunting in Wisconsin and legislation introduced to help stop the spread of this disease.


BRUNSWICK, WI - We’re only three days away from gun hunting season in Wisconsin. Hunters are prepared and eagerly anticipating the time to look out from their deer stand. It would seem Wisconsin is prepared for the upcoming hunting season.

Think again. Wisconsin hasn’t done nearly enough to curb the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). The disease sounds scary enough without even knowing all the details... and it’s continuing to spread. As conservationists and hunters, we must test our deer and stay educated to understand the threat it poses to the future of hunting in Wisconsin and the ramifications on our rural economies and public health.

deerCWD is caused by abnormal proteins called prions, which lead to brain damage and attack the central nervous system. According to the Centers for Disease Control, CWD affects many different species of hoofed animals including whitetail deer. CWD belongs to a family of diseases called prion diseases, which also includes Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, understood as “mad cow disease” in people.

CWD is always fatal. Scientists believe CWD spreads between animals through direct contact with contaminated body fluids and tissue or indirectly through exposure in the environment while drinking water or sharing food. Due to the easy nature of CWD spreading, there are serious concerns raised about commercial deer and elk farms that force animals around one feeding area.

With over 380 registered commercial deer and elk operations in our state, it’s critical there are measures in place to prevent the spread of CWD. Officials have ordered warnings and bans on baiting and feeding stations and there’s been recent discussion about fence height and other needed regulations.

There’s more we must do to stop the spread of CWD – hunters must test their deer and properly dispose of their deer carcasses. Prions make CWD such a scary disease because they can survive in extreme temperatures and never leave the soil. When an infected carcass is left in the woods or fields for other animals to feed on, predators can scatter the prions across the landscape. Even when a carcass isn’t fed on, but just left to decay into the soil, prions can live in the roots and plants for the next deer to feed on and potentially become infected.

Scared yet? We all should be.

I’ve taken action with my legislative colleagues to get a grip on the spread of this deadly disease. Recently, we introduced legislation to address the spread of CWD in a few different ways. A bipartisan group of legislators introduced Senate Bill (SB) 325, which would require the Department of Natural Resources to create a carcass disposal grant program for county deer management advisory councils.

jeff-smithAdditionally, I authored legislation with my Democratic colleagues to promote CWD education and testing. SB 473 provides funding for CWD research; SB 474 requires the DNR to provide self-service CWD testing kiosks; SB 477 requires the DNR to provide carcass disposal dumpsters and CWD education. These measures and more are needed to address this critical issue facing our whitetail deer population and the great hunting heritage in Wisconsin.

Republican leadership hasn’t shown any inclination to move on CWD preventative measures this session. SB 325 is the only bill that’s had a public hearing; none of these bills have passed committee and been voted on. With that in mind, I stood before my senate colleagues during floor session on November 5th and requested SB 474 be moved to the calendar for a vote. Disappointingly, my motion was struck down on a partisan vote. So here we are, going into another hunting season without the additional resources to halt this dreaded disease from spreading further.

I’ll continue advocating for these preventative measures, but we still need hunters to test their deer and properly dispose of their deer carcasses. Learn about the steps you can take to stop the spread through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

This Saturday, I’ll be joining Senator Patty Schachtner and DNR officials to visit CWD Kiosks and carcass disposal sites in Eau Claire. If you see me, please do not hesitate to stop and talk. I want to hear from you.

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Wisconsin: Playing the Blame Game

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 November 2019
in Wisconsin

wisc-capitol-domeSen. Smith examines the consequences of elected officials playing the blame game. Specifically, this column mentions the vote of DATCP Secretary, Brad Pfaff, and the increase to title and registration fees.


MADISON - President Harry Truman followed the mantra, ‘the buck stops here.’ These are honorable, and even courageous words to lead by. His motto was displayed on his White House desk and was proudly expressed in his speeches. He reminded us not to pass blame on to others.

This is exactly what’s happening now in Wisconsin.

It’s easy to blame the top officer when things don’t go the way someone would like. I’ve heard folks sarcastically say “thanks a lot, Governor Evers!” in response to a policy with which they disagree. It’s a danger to our democracy to single out one individual and play the political blame game – it threatens our country’s fundamental practice of shared governance.

brad-pfaffJust last week, Republican Senators voted against Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protections Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff. Some Republicans claimed their “no” vote was because of changes to livestock siting rules, even though the Walker administration started the process for these changes. The Republicans’ role in the blame game cost Pfaff his job and left our state without a qualified agriculture advocate at a time when we need it most.

The blame game is even taking a visible toll on Wisconsin taxpayers. When Governor Evers introduced the state budget proposal in early 2019, he knew he couldn’t ignore the growing need to fix our crumbling roads, like his predecessor had. We heard over and over again that constituents were fed up with potholes and rough roads. Like most drivers and taxpayers, Governor Evers concluded the cost of fixing our roads should be spread fairly.

Governor Evers’ proposal included a modest 8 cent gas tax and reinstated the automatic indexing so infrastructure investments wouldn’t fall behind. There wasn’t a raise in the gas tax since 2005, when the Republican-led Legislature repealed automatic indexing, which was then signed by the Democratic Governor at the time.

This may not be the perfect answer as technology is making vehicles more fuel-efficient, but it would’ve meant that everyone using our roads and filling their tank in Wisconsin fairly contributed to the roads they traveled on.

Unfortunately, the Republican dominated Joint Finance Committee (JFC) thought otherwise. Republican JFC members threw out the Governor’s proposal and re-introduced their version of the budget, which increased the title and registration fees. After October 1st, the title and registration fees jumped. The title fee, which was $69.50 increased significantly to $164.50. The registration fee increased from $75 to $85. It doesn’t matter who uses them or how many out-of-state trucks pass through our state – now, only Wisconsin residents are expected to pay for road repairs.

It’s understandable that folks are shocked and frustrated to see, what were once reasonable fees, increased so dramatically in one budget. In the typical blame game style, Governor Evers is taking the heat for the costly decisions made by Republicans.

jeff-smithThese sneaky practices are typically done in the dark. However, we certainly were clued in when Republicans held a lame-duck session day last year to strip powers from the newly elected governor and attorney general. As it turned out, this was only the beginning. In the first ten months of 2019 we only met 7 times to consider legislation, including the first session day when new members were sworn in and we adopted session rules.

A recent AP article, featuring Wisconsin, highlighted the challenges and frustrations Democratic Governors have in working with Republican-led Legislatures. According to the article, Governor Jim Doyle was able to sign 491 bills the last time Wisconsin had a Republican majority in both houses with a Democratic governor during the 2005-07 session. So far this session, Gov. Evers has only been able to sign 19 bills into law.

It’s clear that Republicans never intended to work with our Democratic governor. Shared governance was never on their radar. When the tendency is to blame the governor for a hike in title fees or lack of attention to important issues facing our state, don’t forget he is supposed to have partners in the legislature willing to work. It’s time to put aside the political blame game and work together on the people’s priorities.

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GOP Failure to Confirm Brad Pfaff as DATCP Secretary

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Thursday, 07 November 2019
in Wisconsin

farmersSenator says move is further proof that the Republicans have gerrymandered the state to the point that they no longer feel accountable to the people who elected them.


MADISON - Senate Republicans voted on Tuesday to fire the Governor's Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection cabinet appointment, Brad Pfaff. The move left Wisconsin's leading agricultural agency without its top leader in the midst of rising trade tensions on the federal level and a growing dairy crisis that is threatening family farms across the state.

Brad was raised on a family farm in western Wisconsin and had dedicated his life to improving outcomes for our farmers. Since his nomination in December of 2018, Secretary-designee Pfaff was a trusted and credible partner of farmers, agribusinesses, and rural communities. His rejection by Senate Republicans shows how far they have strayed from representing the interests of farmers.

The following statement comes from Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) on the GOP failure to confirm Brad Pfaff as DATCP Secretary.

dave-hansen“Everything we know about Secretary-Designee Pfaff is that he is a smart, caring and dedicated public servant who has developed very close and strong relationships with the people he has been tasked to help. There is near unanimous support among the various groups in agriculture and the dairy industry supporting his appointment.

“And everything we know about what’s happening in the dairy industry and agriculture at large in our state is not good news. Our dairy industry is in crisis. We are losing family farms in terrifying numbers everyday—something that started well before Secretary –designee Pfaff took office. Our farms have run into extremely poor weather that has made their jobs even more difficult than they typically are and they are getting battered by the tariffs and trade wars.

“Senate Republicans could have stood up for family farmers today. After all they are the folks who are struggling and suffering the most in an industry that being taken over by large corporate farms at their expense.

“Instead, they chose to follow the lead of President Trump’s agriculture Secretary by reinforcing the message he had for state farmers when he visited only weeks ago: You aren’t big enough or rich enough to matter.

“This is further proof that the Republicans have gerrymandered the state to the point that they are no longer accountable to the people of this state and yet another reason why non-partisan redistricting reform must happen if there is to be any chance of electing a legislature that will truly represent the people.”

****

Thanks to Wisconsin Senate staffer Jay Wadd for his contribution to this article.

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Broadband for Those Who Need It Most

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 November 2019
in Wisconsin

broadband-map-northwoodsThis is the second of two columns describing the importance of broadband expansion in Wisconsin.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - We’re facing one of the largest infrastructure challenges in Wisconsin history. The decisions we make today on broadband expansion can either make Wisconsin a leader or allow us to fall behind in the digital age.

Last week, I discussed the challenges of getting better broadband. This week, I will break down how Wisconsin can get broadband out to those areas companies call “not profitable.”

Private internet service providers (ISPs) have to show a profit. They must balance the cost of connecting hard to reach homes and businesses with the amount of customers willing to pay for their service. During a recent broadband summit in Colorado, I learned ISPs need a 50% “take rate” (half of all homes in a village must take their service) for them to consider it profitable enough to provide the service.

New technologies can span long distances such as fixed wireless, low-orbit satellite or TV white-space, but they can be unreliable when the weather is bad or there are obstructions between towers and homes. The most expensive way to provide broadband is by using fiber optics. The average cost is $27,000 per mile, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, fiber optics provide the most reliable service and offers the speeds that are needed to keep up in an era of continual technological obsolescence.

Cheaper, line-of-sight technologies won’t work in the coulees and bluffs of the Driftless area. The high cost of installing fiber optics and the low population density are reasons why western Wisconsin is skipped over by ISPs.

There are cheaper ways to deploy broadband, but we need to get creative. I will be introducing “dig once” legislation to allow local governments to require empty conduit lines be installed in the right of way when work is being done along highways or roads. After the conduit is installed, ISPs can add fiber optics without digging up the right of way again. This allows ISPs to easily install fiber optics in the empty conduit at a significantly lower price. Dig once policies can save ISPs up to 90% of the cost to run fiber optics.

It will take significant public investment to get broadband to our sparsely populated areas. Wisconsin created a state broadband expansion grant program in 2013, but former Governor Walker and Republican leaders failed to fund the program. While Minnesota was investing $85 million from 2014-2017, Wisconsin only spent $3.9 million. The Legislature did better in the 2017-2019 biennial budget by adding $14 million to the program, but failed to make the necessary changes to target rural communities.

Thankfully, Governor Tony Evers set the tone for getting serious about broadband expansion by requesting $75 million for the grant program. The Legislature cut the Governor’s plan by $30 million, but still increased Wisconsin’s efforts to fund broadband expansion grants overall.

jeff-smithWe’ve turned a corner for getting serious about our financial commitment for broadband expansion. The next challenge is ensuring public dollars are spent in the most effective way. We must focus our public dollars on projects ISPs have considered not profitable. Instead of using taxpayer-funded grants on projects to make private companies more profitable, we should be using those funds for the hardest to reach areas. That’s the whole point of public investment.

No matter what we do to coax ISPs to rural Wisconsin, the map for expansion still belongs in the pockets of private companies. The only way Wisconsin can lure private companies into rural communities is by allowing municipalities to create publically-owned broadband infrastructure. Broadband, like many other services should be considered a public utility, just like electricity, water or gas if the public ever wants to control the expansion of service.

Ask any private ISP whether municipalities should create their own digital infrastructure and you will be told of all the difficulties. What you won’t hear is how it forces private companies to expand faster.

As we invest more resources, we need to take a good hard look at where the money is going. The public needs more say over how to get critical broadband internet service. We are not quite there, but I’m confident we can get ALL of Wisconsin hooked up for our future.

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Larson Supports Legalization and Decriminalization of Marijuana

Posted by Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson (D) is the Wisconsin State Senator from the 7th District in Milwauk
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on Thursday, 31 October 2019
in Wisconsin

marijuanaplantshandsMILWAUKEE – I commend Lt. Gov. Barnes and Rep. Sheila Stubbs for continuing to spotlight the need for marijuana decriminalization. Every legislative session since 2015, I have introduced bills to decriminalize and legalize marijuana.

Support for legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana in Wisconsin has grown to be popular for many reasons. Including so sick people can get their medicine, because it is an additional source of revenue, and also to alleviate the burden on our criminal justice system. Our sick neighbors shouldn’t be subject to criminal penalty or jail time for getting medicine they can readily get in other states. Moderate taxation on marijuana sales would help fill budget holes. Decriminalization will reduce arrests of non-violent drug offenders and decrease the population in our over-crowded prisons. It would also ensure we’re not needlessly giving someone a criminal record, making it harder for them for find a job, rent an apartment, and live productive lives.

Decriminalization is both a fiscal and moral imperative. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that Wisconsin spent $170.5 million in 2008 on marijuana prohibition.

chris_larsonAcross the nation, states are quickly moving to capture the benefits of both legalization and decriminalization with 33 states allowing medical use, 15 states have decriminalized marijuana, and 11 states have allowed recreational use. It is long past time for Wisconsin to take this next step.

The latest Marquette poll shows 59% of Wisconsin residents support making marijuana legal. Republican leaders in the legislature will continue to ignore their constituents – and our budget - at their political peril.

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Broadband Expansion: Better Broadband

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 October 2019
in Wisconsin

internet-ruralSen. Smith writes about some of the ways Wisconsin can improve internet speeds and accessibility. This column is the first of two columns describing the importance of broadband expansion in Wisconsin.


MADISON - After spending three days in Denver for a Broadband Summit with legislators from across the country, I came away with even more of an urgency to help Wisconsin catch up to other states on broadband internet expansion.

Wisconsin has a lot of opportunity to improve. In 2016, Wisconsin was ranked 49th in the nation for internet speeds according to the technology firm Speedtest. More recently, Wisconsin jumped to 41st for internet speeds. There’s no way around it, we need to provide internet speeds designed to keep up in a global economy.

Speeds may be increasing in Wisconsin, but progress is slow. Slow speeds don’t just force our TV streaming services to buffer. It’s more than that. Internet speeds determine the education of our children, the health care of our sick and the sales of our local economies. Every second counts on the Internet for almost every facet of our lives.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers broadband speed to be at least 25 megabytes per second (Mbps) while downloading website content and 3 Mbps while uploading. If fiber optics reach your home, speed is not an issue. But in rural areas like mine and many of yours, it’s like riding a moped on the Interstate – you’ll get there eventually, but the rest of the traffic is whizzing by at an alarming pace. For those who use dial-up internet, you know just how important it is to have adequate speeds. For people in rural communities with only satellite internet service, you know the hardships of having spotty internet service and data limits.

Technology continues to advance with new low-orbit satellites, 5th Generation (5G) capabilities, whitespace technology and fixed wireless antennas. The only tried and true method for delivering the speeds needed for today and tomorrow’s internet is fiber optics. Installing fiber optics may be expensive, but it provides assurance that Wisconsin can compete in a global economy.

Speed isn’t a luxury for internet usage – it’s a must. It’s truly an accessibility issue when determining whether a user has internet or not.

Understanding which speeds are where is another challenge. Wisconsin is not alone. Across the nation, the data informing regulators where broadband exists and where it doesn’t are completely inaccurate. We need honest mapping now.

The FCC uses census blocks to determine what areas are served. Urban census blocks can be as small as a few blocks and rural census blocks can be miles in size. Building broadband maps from these census blocks is a problem because they only show us where broadband MIGHT be available. I say might, because using census blocks, if one house can be connected in that block, then ALL of the homes are considered connected.

Fortunately, the FCC is taking steps to address these egregiously inaccurate maps by using multiple data streams such as shape-file mapping and crowdsourcing. This is important because there is a general belief that 80% of the population is being reached and some of us are skeptical of that claim.

jeff-smithWe can’t expand broadband to areas unless we know where it is needed. With the right data, we will not only be able to expand broadband to all areas, but we will be able to effectively lay out our infrastructure more efficiently.

Big things are in store for Wisconsin. During the summit in Denver, we learned about the applications of Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computers, 10G capability, microbiomes and other mind boggling science. In fact, as we wrestle with decisions on our 5G service, we learned that the science is already complete for 10G service! Technology is advancing at a break-neck pace and Wisconsin needs to keep up.

We need to think ahead for broadband expansion – speeds are the bottleneck of many users and accurate maps are the most immediate issue for understanding where broadband is needed. In my next column, I will be focusing on how we should use our state resources for broadband expansion and new ideas for making progress in our rural communities.

The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo and Pepin counties and portions of Trempealeau, Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire and Jackson counties and very small portions of Chippewa and St. Croix counties.

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Our Financial Future

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 October 2019
in Wisconsin

family-worried-billsSen. Smith talks about the importance of budgeting, saving and learning about our personal finances. Lawmakers have a responsibility to address important policy issues affecting financial wellness, including healthcare affordability, insurance accessibility and payday lenders.


EAU CLAIRE - October is “Financial Planning Month,” so we should all think about how we plan for our financial future, especially this week as we recognize “Save for Retirement Week” and “Get Smart about Credit Day” on Thursday.

While celebrating “International Credit Union Day” on Thursday last week at a local credit union in Melrose, I was inspired to write about the importance of protecting our personal financial future. October is a great time to think about our finances, but we should be committed to financial wellness year-round. We also need to push for progressive policies aimed at improving the lives of everyone.

The general rule for saving is to have 3 to 6 months of wages saved up for an emergency. However, for those of us who live paycheck-to-paycheck that’s easier said than done. The benefits of having an emergency fund alleviates financial stress and provides families with a little bit of breathing room to make important job decisions if laid off or while being unable to work.

Budgeting is critical – each hard-earned dollar should have a purpose. Sometimes it’s for rent or the mortgage payment and sometimes it’s for our future retirement. Tracking how much we spend on food, gas, utilities and other essential personal expenses gives us a better understanding of the value of a dollar.

Having personal savings can help us avoid predatory lenders too. Payday lenders, auto title loans and credit cards shouldn’t be part of our “emergency plan.” Students, the elderly and low-wage earners can be susceptible to predatory lenders, scams and fraud. Having a better understanding of our personal finances and creating savings is a good defense against falling prey to these lending practices.

During my time in the State Assembly back in 2009, I worked on bills to prevent payday lenders from taking advantage of consumers and introduced legislation to keep credit card companies away from students on campus. This session as Senator, I’ve signed on as a co-sponsor of SB 132 to prohibit caller-ID spoofing practices. This will prevent solicitors from deceptively masking their phone numbers when calling people to commit fraud and identity theft.

Not everyone has the income security to fall back on and the ability to set aside money for a “rainy day fund.” Wages are stagnant for most Americans, but livable wages for everyone holding a job is a good start. Neither the federal nor state minimum wage has kept up with inflation or the rapid pace of change in the world. Wage inequality is the worst we’ve seen in 5 decades. According to data from inequality.org, the top 10% earn 9 times more than the bottom 90% on average.

Bankruptcies are too high and not because families don’t plan well. The leading cause of bankruptcy is an unexpected health crisis. Health insurance, if a family can afford it, doesn’t always cover everything. Not only do health care costs affect our finances, but our ability to work is also affected with health-related problems. Too often, an unexpected health crisis can set a family back so far they never recover financially.

jeff-smithIt’s well-documented our health system is broken and we are behind the rest of the developed world. We desperately need to convert our health care model to a national health system that doesn’t leave people behind. Even Medicare needs improvement, but Medicare for ALL could be the answer.

Each of us are stewards of our personal financial future. The unexpected should always be expected and our personal savings should reflect it. Policymakers are responsible for making an economy that works for us – decreasing health care costs, increasing living wages and curbing predatory lenders is what each of should expect from our leaders in Madison and Washington.

We all need to work together to help everyone become financially independent. We can’t forget about people who are far too often forgotten. Maybe part of our planning as society should include advocating for a system that works for everyone so nobody gets left behind. As Paul Wellstone used to say, “We all do better when we all do better.”

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Recognizing Indigenous People’s 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, 16 October 2019
in Wisconsin

native-americanSen. Smith writes about Indigenous People’s Day, the day to recognize the rich ancestral history and cultural impact of Native Americans in our state.


MADISON, WI - There’s quite an interest in genealogy these days. We can now order a kit to learn what ethnicity make up our DNA to better understand our heritage and ancestry. Even beyond this initial discovery, we can connect to unknown relatives. It’s a privilege to learn more about who we are from our ancestry.

Last week, Governor Tony Evers declared the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day. This day is an opportunity for Wisconsinites to recognize the rich ancestral history and cultural impact of Native Americans in our state that often goes unappreciated. Just as important, this day allows us time to reflect on our country’s troubling history towards Native Americans. Together, we should reflect on the diverse ancestries that make up Wisconsin and continue to strive for a more equitable state for all.

For centuries, indigenous people have suffered in many ways while European settlers stole their land and left them displaced. They’ve been victims of genocide, racist government policies and forced assimilation of European customs. Throughout history, popular American culture has portrayed this group in racist, derogatory ways.

Despite the historic and modern day challenges that Native Americans have endured, they still demonstrate enormous pride in their own history and traditions. Their stewardship of the land and water for generations has shown everyone the importance of our environment. We owe a lot to the people of the First Nations. Indigenous people deserve our gratitude and respect.

jeff-smithThis legislative session, I’m proud to support initiatives for Wisconsin’s indigenous population. I introduced Assembly Bill 497 that will allow all tribal members to receive in-state tuition through the University of Wisconsin system. This bill will allow our UW System to become a magnet-school for all First Nations People across America. I’ve also sponsored Senate Bill 493 that would create a task force to investigate the unreported epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Wisconsin.

I’m proud to have sponsored Senate Bill 25, which passed into law as Act 250 in 2009 that prohibited the portrayal of Native Americans as a mascot in the state. This legislation passed, but has since been weakened by current legislative leaders. We should put a stop to this racist practice and ban it for good.

In September, I was honored to attend the Labor Day Pow Wow on the Ho Chunk grounds. As an outsider, I was welcomed and even invited to participate. I was impressed by the strong community presence and the traditions practiced. They’re dedicated to preserving their heritage by passing on stories from one generation to the next. Relationships between tribal members ran deep – their closeness between distant relatives was seen in their respect toward each other and their shared respect toward the land.

Recently, my wife and I had a discussion about what it would be like to live in the same place as our ancestors. Before my wife asked, I hadn’t thought too much about it, but it must be amazing for my distant relatives in Norway and Poland. These distant relatives do know what it’s like to know our family’s story and understand our heritage.

We can all agree it is fascinating for people of all backgrounds to learn about ancestral history. We must recognize our heritage – the good, the bad and the progress we continue to make as Americans.

As we observe Indigenous People’s Day in Wisconsin, we must stay committed to valuing the rich diversity of our state. Indigenous People’s Day is long overdue. Let’s all show the respect our state’s indigenous population deserves. It’s time we recognize everything they’ve done to protect this land and honor their contribution to our state.

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Believe in America’s Dairyland

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 October 2019
in Wisconsin

farm-familySenator Jeff Smith's Weekly Column is about Wisconsin's work to help dairy farmers make it through the recent dairy crisis. To preserve our reputation America's Dairyland, we need to stop family farm closures and find new ways to help young people continue our state's rich agricultural traditions.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Take a moment to imagine living on a small family farm. Waking at dawn to a rooster crowing and cows mooing. You head down to the barn to get the cows milked, collect chicken eggs, clean out stalls and feed all the animals before going back into the kitchen to grab breakfast for yourself.

This all too familiar lifestyle for most Wisconsin family farms is quickly becoming an illusion for our next generation of dairy farmers. Our reputation as America’s Dairyland is our pride, especially in the western Wisconsin and the 31st Senate District.

Oftentimes I’m awestruck at the beauty of western Wisconsin and the scenic farms nestled in the valleys and hills. People come to Wisconsin for a lot of reasons, but they almost always make sure to leave with some Wisconsin cheese. There’s no substitute. My own daughter still finds a way to bring tasty cheese back home after every visit to Wisconsin.

The dairy market crisis is wreaking havoc on Wisconsin farms. We’ve seen 551 dairy farms close in 2019 already after losing 638 in 2018 and 465 in 2017. Small, family farms are the hardest hit. Farmer suicides have shaken our communities to the core. Farmers face the decision to sell the farm or take on more debt to become bigger. Trade wars, access to credit and years of low milk prices make it hard for young folks to see a future in dairy farming.

At the World Dairy Expo in Madison last week, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “In America the big get bigger and the small go out.” He doubled-down on his comments about small family farms by saying, “I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.” That statement might help explain why farm subsidies seem to end up in the pockets of the largest operations while the small family farms are left with crumbs. It highlights what we already know. Leaders in Washington don’t have any intention to alleviate the dairy crisis in Wisconsin.

It’s clear we need to step it up right here in our own backyard. Starting in 2018, the Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 started meeting and learning from professionals in the dairy industry about the challenges we face.

The Task Force offered 51 recommendations to help Wisconsin’s dairy industry. Already, we’ve enacted the Dairy Innovation Hub idea so farmers can learn cutting-edge dairy farming methods at UW-Madison, UW-River Falls or UW-Platteville. But that isn’t nearly enough – there’s a lot more to do. Here are just a few of the other ideas that came out of the Dairy Task Force recommendations:

  • Increase funding for dairy processor grants from $200,000 to $400,000 annually.

  • Enable new startup cheesemakers by evaluating methods for shared cheese production spaces.

  • Reinstate the “Grow Wisconsin Dairy” initiative to help farmers access capital for farm succession and transition planning.

  • Conduct a review of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) for self-employed individuals.

  • Establish and offer model programs for communities, local businesses and education systems in career path development programs targeting the agriculture career sector.

In the recent budget, Governor Tony Evers also offered critical assistance for dairy farmers in his budget by increasing funding for county Ag Agents, organic and grazing specialists, expanding the Farm-to-School program, expanding the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin Program and critical farmer mental health programs, just to name a few. Unfortunately many of these ideas were cut or significantly reduced by Republicans from the final version of the budget.

jeff-smithMy colleague Representative Don Vruwink (D-Milton) and I recently introduced SB 453/AB 495 to create a small farm diversity grant program aimed at helping small farms try new agricultural ventures. We also teamed up to introduce SB 455/AB 500 which will help families save money when passing their farm onto their extended family.

There’s no shortage of good ideas, but we can do more. There’s too much at stake to tell dairy farmers to “get big or go out.” The dairy crisis doesn’t stop at the farmer’s doorstep. As policymakers and consumers, we must invest in our small family farms and encourage innovation to preserve our farming heritage in Wisconsin.

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Raising Awareness About Domestic Violence

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 October 2019
in Wisconsin

domestic-violenceSen. Smith writes about the devastating impact domestic violence has in communities across Wisconsin, and new legislation he has introduced to create a task force on murdered and missing tribal women and girls.


MADISON - We often focus on highly visible forms of violence in our society, like mass shootings. However, domestic violence happens every day in every town and neighborhood, and it often goes unreported or even unnoticed.

Since 1987, our country has recognized October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) to bring attention to the incredibly prevalent, but hidden, issue of domestic violence. According to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, DVAM stemmed from the “Day of Unity” organized by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to remember victims, honor survivors and connect violence-prevention advocates.

Years later, advocates continue to work to address domestic violence and lead violence-prevention efforts. Domestic violence deeply affects families and neighborhoods across the country and there’s more we must do to ensure our communities are safe. As Domestic Violence Awareness Month begins, we must do everything we can to support survivors and end violence.

It’s difficult to simply define domestic violence because it can take so many different forms. The Domestic Violence Awareness Project interprets domestic violence “as a pattern of abusive behaviors including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion–used by one intimate partner against another (adult or adolescent) to gain, maintain, or regain power and control in the relationship.”

Abusive behaviors and relationships can lead to life-threatening consequences. Last week, the non-profit organization, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, released the 17th annual edition of the Wisconsin Violence Homicide Report. This report provides a summary of all homicides connected to domestic violence in 2018.

During the past year, there were 37 deaths linked to domestic violence in 19 Wisconsin counties, meaning an individual was killed every 7.5 days. The organization’s report indicated that 65% of domestic violence homicides involved a firearm, making this the most commonly-used weapon in these incidents. Additionally, the report revealed that 2018 was “the first year rural areas had a greater percentage of domestic violence homicides than urban areas in Wisconsin” since they began tracking this statistic.

Although domestic abuse victims and survivors tend to be women between the ages of 18 and 25, domestic violence affects individuals of all identities and backgrounds. Wisconsin district attorneys are required to report all law enforcement involvement in domestic violence incidents to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Despite this sophisticated tracking system, domestic violence incidents impacting members of the most marginalized social groups have been historically under reported or neglected altogether.

Violence-prevention advocates have identified the alarming rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women in our state and country. End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin identified how “native women are subjected to higher levels of violence, including trafficking, sexual assault, domestic abuse and homicide, than virtually any other group.” According to the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, “murder is the third leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaskan Native Women.”

jeff-smithLast week, my legislative colleagues introduced a bill that would create a task force on murdered and missing tribal women and girls. The task force would include members of tribal governments, survivor advocates, members of the Legislature, law enforcement officers and more. This group would have a number of responsibilities, which includes learning how to better track this data, understanding the systemic sources of violence that tribal women and girls experience and the measures to address this violence to help communities heal.

I’m a proud co-sponsor of this bill, but I’m aware there is more we can do to make our communities safer. Be sure to support survivors by listening and serving as an advocate. We must continue to promote awareness about domestic violence and actively work for a safe future for all.

There are resources available if you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse. For immediate assistance, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

****

Please note, this weekly column contains sensitive information regarding domestic violence and assault, which may be triggering for some readers.

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Suicide; Listen Up to Save Lives

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, 25 September 2019
in Wisconsin

opioid-overdoseSen. Smith writes about meeting suicide prevention advocates in western Wisconsin and Madison. It is important to stop the stigma around mental illness and understand what action we must take.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Recently I joined 700 community members at Carson Park for the Sharing Hope Walk, a fundraiser to promote awareness for suicide prevention. Before the walk began, I read a board describing the walk’s importance. Right below the board, there were hundreds of shoes lined up neatly along the course. When I read the bottom of the board, I learned the empty shoes symbolized the number of community members that died by suicide.

Once I saw the empty shoes, I truly understood what brought people there that day. The thoughts I had to share could not compare to the stories I heard from the other speakers. As tears came to my eyes, I realized how fortunate I was to be there with these remarkably strong people who all lost someone dear to them.

In this moment, I knew I was there to listen. As an elected official, it’s what I love to do. People share their joy and grief with me because they want to make a difference in their community. When community members use their advocacy skills to make a difference, it helps legislators, like me, understand community concerns.

The people at the Sharing Hope event wanted change so others would not go through the horrific grief they experienced. One mother shared a compelling story about her son who attempted suicide a dozen times. Her son survived each attempt and was inspired to stay alive because of the kindness of another young man. After he told his new friend that his day “sucked,” he told him the day wasn’t done and things would get better. Unfortunately, her son’s friend and new hero died in a car accident before he could have a full life. Now, when he’s down, he visits the grave of his hero and reflects on that day and how he must keep going.

However, not everyone has a hero to keep them going. We need to continue to use our voice to smash the stigma around mental illness. Policymakers must listen to the advocates and experts to provide resources for those struggling. I will continue advocating for mental health funding for our schools, additional healthcare resources for our communities and proactive solutions to prevent suicide.

Firearms must be part of the suicide prevention discussion. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, firearm suicide makes up two-thirds of all gun deaths and half of all suicides. Also, firearm suicide disproportionately affects rural areas; suicide by firearm rates are 58% higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

jeff-smithLast week, I joined many of my Democratic colleagues to introduce the Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) bill to prevent suicide among those most at-risk. ERPO provides a civil process for families or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from individuals that may be at risk of harming themselves or others. This process is similar to obtaining a temporary restraining order in cases of domestic abuse, child abuse or harassment.

The ERPO proposal is one step we must take to address this issue. It’s been proven effective in 17 other states and Washington D.C., to significantly lower the number of suicides by firearm. We must act and make sure resources are available so family members can protect the ones they love and make sure they know there are better days ahead.

When my colleagues introduced the bill, I was surrounded by healthcare providers, mental health professionals, and activists from Moms Demand Action. Every member of the group had a reason for being there and a story to share. Elected officials need to listen up – we have an opportunity to save lives.

Remember, there are resources available if you or someone you know is struggling. Please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention resource page at afsp.org/find-support/resources/ for a complete list of services.

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Bold Plans Needed to Save Our Planet

Posted by Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano has not set their biography yet
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on Monday, 23 September 2019
in Wisconsin

flooding-east-river-gbClimate change is real and increasingly a part of our daily lives. Change won’t take place overnight, but some common-sense steps can be taken immediately.


SHAWANO, WI - God created a world in which everything was in perfect harmony. The land and its plants and animals were a part of an ecosystem that worked beautifully. Man should be able to enjoy all creation for eternity but unfortunately future generations won’t have that opportunity if we continue on our present path.

Climate change is real and increasingly a part of our daily lives. There is evidence, facts, and science to tell us that.

Western Wisconsin has experienced yearly flooding in areas where such phenomena had only occurred every hundred years. Fiercer tornadoes and hurricanes can be seen across the country. Longer droughts out west are causing dangerous fire conditions. Warming temperatures have disrupted wildlife migration, produced toxic algae blooms, and contributed to the dirtying of our Great Lakes.

Even Pope Francis believes that climate change is a moral issue that must be addressed now in order to protect the earth and all that inhabit it. In 2015 he wrote a 192 page encyclical urging the world to take action on this ecology crisis.

earth_day_globeAccording to a February study, there’s a 99.9999% chance that humans are the cause of global warming. Humans burn fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, which release carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and other gases into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. CO2 is the greenhouse gas that’s most responsible for warming. If the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere isn’t lowered, temperatures will continue to increase.

If we want a habitable planet, we have to confront the problem at its source. This means we have to reduce the use of coal, oil and gas by mid-century.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius could avoid catastrophic consequences. However, a recent analysis by Carbon Tracker found that 92 percent of companies are working toward growth in fossil fuel production and/or reserves.

Can the fossil fuel industry be trusted to act in the best interest of our planet? Absolutely not.

We can’t believe fossil fuel companies when they appear to care about the planet. Their industry lobbyists have spent years pretending to support the Paris Agreement’s goals. Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total have spent $1 billion collectively on greening up their image. However, they’ll only invest 3 percent of their $115 billion on low-carbon technologies like carbon capture and algae bio fuels.

Conservative Republicans continue to deny that there is a problem. They profess that oil, gas and coal are all good sources of energy and oil drilling should be increased. They won’t support expanding wind and solar sources. They would rather support private ownership of gas and electric industries.

Former Governor Walker ordered the term “climate change” to be struck from government documents. President Trump also attacks climate science. He refused to sign an agreement protecting the rapidly melting Arctic region unless any references to climate change were removed.

Political will to turn off the fossil fuel taps won’t take place overnight. But some common-sense steps could be taken immediately. The yearly $20.5 billion state and federal subsidies could be eliminated. There could be a ban on new leases for oil and gas development on America’s public lands. Reckless new drilling could be stopped by reinstating the crude oil export ban.

When you hear the words “New Deal” you may recall an economic measure that was introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 to counteract the effects of those who were suffering from the Great Depression. It involved a massive public works program which brought about immediate economic relief, as well as reforms in industry, agriculture, finance, water power, labor and housing.

Drastic measures are necessary at this point in time. Legislation called the “Green New Deal” has been introduced in Congress. Just like the first “New Deal”, heavy investment by the federal government in green manufacturing could bring about a long period of widely shared economic growth. Profound changes to transportation, housing, energy, agriculture, forestry and more could avert climate breakdown.

This new deal is counter to the current system in which corporations produce huge profits from fossil fuels. However, it could return power generation to local or community control. It could bring needed jobs and investment to communities which have been ravaged by fossil-fueled power.

Governor Tony Evers recently showed his determination to address climate change by committing the state to use 100 percent carbon neutral energy by 2050. His order includes the creation of the Office of Sustainability, which Republicans had stripped from his budget.

This is our planet. Future generations are counting on us to preserve it. Only bold plans will reverse the global warming that is destroying God’s creation.

Jan Koch, Shawano

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Middleton Legislators Echo Police Chief’s Call for Gun Safety

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Saturday, 21 September 2019
in Wisconsin

school-gunsMADISON – It has been a year since an active shooter targeted his place of work in Middleton. Yet, unfortunately, a year later we have made zero progress in ensuring that no other Wisconsinites are affected by gun violence.

Every Wisconsinite should have the opportunity to go to school, a place of worship, or any other public space in their community knowing that they are safe, and there are steps that we can take to strengthen the system to ensure that an incident, such as what happened in Middleton, will not happen again.

The majority of Wisconsinites agree that it is time to pass gun safety legislation. According to the most recent Marquette Law Poll, 80% of Wisconsin voters support expanded background checks, and nearly the same percentage of Wisconsinites are in support of red-flag laws. The numbers are clear, this is not a partisan issue.

That is why Middleton Police Department Chief, Charles Foulke released a statement recalling the incident and urging politicians to make a difference. As someone who has served his community for 38 years, his words speak volumes.

Enough is enough, it is time to enact common-sense gun laws.

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Have a Conversation for Democracy’s Sake

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, 18 September 2019
in Wisconsin

congress-unproductiveSen. Smith talks about the importance of having conversations with people that have different points of view. We can overcome the political divisiveness in society if we remember we have more in common than what sets us apart.


MADISON - Politics is everywhere around us – when you turn on the television, open a newspaper or scroll through Facebook. It’s hard to get away from it all. When we see the divisiveness all around us, it’s easy to think our system is broken.

Political divisiveness affects our attitudes of others and the way we communicate with neighbors or members of our own family. It’s easy for hurtful rhetoric to drive a wedge in these relationships, which makes it difficult to realize the values we share: hard work, a supportive community and what’s best for our family. It’s time we learn how to progress forward together.

Oftentimes, politicians use fear to make people angry and pit one group against another. It’s a simple tactic that has a big impact determining who we interact with and who we ignore.

During my time as a state senator, I’ve hosted many Stop n’ Talks throughout the 31st Senate District. It’s my own way to get around the district to learn from anyone who wants to talk. Folks have busy lives, and it’s difficult for people to find the time to attend official town hall meetings or scheduled hearings. I find the best way to have a conversation is to show up where citizens congregate or invite anyone to stop and talk on their own terms.

A couple of weeks ago, I held a Stop n’ Talk near an event that attracted many from the farming community. As their state senator and the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Revenue and Financial Institutions, I wanted to make myself available to learn. Most folks are polite; they acknowledge me with a cordial hello, talk to me about their concerns or simply ignore me. However, there were many who had no qualms about insulting me, while refusing to have a conversation.

jeff-smithI’ve also been uninvited from public events, as a state senator, because organizers thought my presence was politically-motivated. I find these examples to be so sad, yet telling about where we are now. My attempts to meet and learn about the issues that matter most to community members are seen as “photo opportunities” or “campaign stops.”

It’s a dangerous cycle we’ve fallen into when we refuse conversations with others based on political beliefs, pushing us further apart. Without the opportunity to openly communicate, we’re unable to discuss the issues that matter most to us.

This broken cycle pushes us back into our own bubble, reinforcing preconceived notions of others groups, which affects the way our democracy works and functions. Voting is a practice that should provide all citizens the opportunity to have their voices heard, but that isn’t always the reality. Poll taxes, literacy tests and other restrictive measures have limited a citizen’s ability to express views at the ballot box. More recently, voter ID laws limit certain people’s right to vote. To this day, politicians gerrymander, creating districts that guarantee an election win for a certain party.

Voters are disenfranchised even when voter suppression attempts fail. Lame duck session laws from last fall changed the jobs our elected officials can do after the election.

Recently, Attorney General Josh Kaul found it impossible to perform the job he was elected to carry out due to the enormous roadblocks from last fall’s lame duck session. The extraordinary session created a process that ties the hands of our Attorney General by requiring the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee to sign off on settlements.

These practices, from voting disenfranchisement to the unprecedented lame duck laws, silence voters and prohibit productive debate or negotiation, pushing things to be more partisan.

I see firsthand the damage all this political divisiveness has done to us. Citizens don’t see a cohesive government working for their best interests, especially when legislators only meet on rare occasions. The fear-based rhetoric, harmful voting policies and the lame duck laws erode whatever trust citizens might still have in their government and their elected officials.

We all have a responsibility to repair the system. Set aside the blame game. Start a conversation with someone with a different point of view. Contact your legislators and tell them to do the same. Insist that your legislature work for your best interests by meeting, debating and working toward solving problems together. After all, we have more in common than what sets us apart.

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Wisconsin schools put students first, Legislature should do the same

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 13 September 2019
in Wisconsin

school-kidsSenator Jon Erpenbach is hopeful that Republicans will join Democrats and work to restore what they have cut from education.


WEST POINT - Under Governor Tony Evers’ leadership, Republicans agreed to make a down payment on the People’s Budget and increase funding for our schools. Unfortunately, with school just getting started for the year, communities across Wisconsin are already realizing that their schools need more. Education should be one of our state’s biggest priorities, yet schools are facing teacher shortages and closures - with at least one entire district considering dissolution- and heartbroken students.

Schools and communities across Wisconsin are already beginning the process of putting referendums on the ballots, asking property taxpayers to pay more to keep school doors open. They are doing so because the state once again failed to fully fund education. Governor Tony Evers proposed funding education to the full amount that taxpayers are already paying through referendums. Yet, Republicans apparently believe that local taxpayers should carry far too much of the weight of funding their schools, throwing aside equity, as rural, underfunded schools fall behind, and unaccountable voucher programs steal funds away from communities.

On average, students in Wisconsin have lost 11.8% of the local teaching experience that they had in the classroom since 2011 due to teachers being underappreciated and underpaid. Communities are facing more challenges to attract and keep talent in because Republicans have slashed compensation. There is no denying that politicians disrespecting teachers hurts kids.

Cuts have hit our rural schools especially hard. Republicans cut, altered, or eliminated their own Blue Ribbon Commission proposals that Governor Evers included in his budget, including an increase in sparsity aid for rural districts. The GOP cut the Governor’s proposal significantly, cutting $10.1 million from sparsity aid for rural schools compared to the Governor’s plan. Their rejection of the task force recommendations led to schools in my district, Senate District 27, losing $600,000, with 82 other districts statewide also losing funds.

jon-erpenbachThese major cuts do not come without consequence. According to data released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), under Republican leadership, standardized test scores in English and math are declining. For English, reading, and writing, only 39.3% of students met proficiency standards, with math at 40.1%. DPI notes that declining scores may be attributed to underfunding classrooms. In order to continue moving Wisconsin forward, it is vital that we give students and teachers the support that they need. Thankfully, Governor Evers is already moving us in the right direction by signing a budget that will increase funding by $570 million over the next two years. Unfortunately, the budget he was sent cut hundreds of millions from his original proposal, including 84% of his proposal to live up to the state’s responsibility to fund special education.

Wisconsin communities are suffering because Republican lawmakers would rather use our tax dollars to support corporate giveaways instead of funding public schools. The People’s Budget would have funded schools to virtually the same amount that taxpayers have approved in referenda under eight years of GOP control, but Republicans refused to make that investment. While I am thankful that Governor Evers was able to restore some funding with his veto pen, we should have, and Democrats fought to, fully fund education. Unfortunately, the Republicans in the Legislature put a tax handout that is resulting in fewer jobs and an infamous giveaway to Foxconn ahead of 830,000+ students in 422 Wisconsin communities.

There is no better investment in Wisconsin than improving chances for future generations to thrive. Under Republicans, Wisconsin’s priorities have not aligned with what the state needs, or what voters chose last November, and we are now paying the price. Governor Evers was able to make historic investments in our schools, yet as he has pointed out, it was only a down payment on the People’s Budget. Our communities and schools deserve more, and I am hopeful that Republicans will join Democrats in approving more of their Blue Ribbon Commission proposals, and work to restore what they have cut to education.

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The time for redistricting reform in Wisconsin is now

Posted by League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
Erin Grunze is the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
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on Friday, 13 September 2019
in Wisconsin

voter-us-electionsLeague of Women Voters continues the fight for nonpartisan redistricting legislation.


MADISON - The need for redistricting reform in Wisconsin is critical. Concerned voters across the political spectrum are calling to end the practice of gerrymandering by our elected officials. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has advocated for nonpartisan redistricting for decades. Over these decades, the control of the legislature has teetered between the two major parties. The response from the party in power has always been to accuse the League of siding with the minority party and that the League is looking to push that party’s agenda. The League has been accused of siding with Republicans and then siding with Democrats.

But in fact the League has always been looking out for the voters in our advocacy. The voters who are packed together or cracked apart because of gerrymandering. It’s a problem with power, and when those in power can determine how they keep their power, we no longer have a representative democracy. Republican voters are cheated when Democratic politicians gerrymander like in Maryland. Democratic voters are cheated when Republican politicians gerrymander like in Wisconsin. No party is innocent.

Gerrymandering isn’t a problem of one party. It’s the partisan cling to power that damages the will of the voters and erodes our democracy. Voters should pick their elected officials, not the other way around. With our current system in Wisconsin, politicians draw their own district lines to pick their voters and to lock in their own political power.

Yet, there is a solution.

Representative Robyn Vining (AD 14) and Senator Dave Hansen (SD 30) drafted redistricting reform bills that will make this process more open, more representative, and more transparent by taking the redistricting process from the partisans and moving it to an independent and nonpartisan Redistricting Advisory Commission. There is bi-partisan support because this is a solution that is right for democracy. Wisconsin voters across the political spectrum want to see this change.

And now is the time for the nonpartisan redistricting bills SB 288 and AB 303 to get a public hearing and deserve serious consideration by lawmakers in Wisconsin as we expect the representatives we elect to be held accountable to the public’s unified call for reforms. Elections should be determined by voters, not politicians who draw maps.

Fair voting maps are fundamental to what makes democracy work. The League will keep pushing for this reform with unrelenting energy and motivation of our members and partners. It has been and will continue to be a long, difficult fight, but it may be our most important work. Wisconsin deserves better and the League is committed to making it happen.

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Wisconsin: America is Best When Labor is Strong

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, 04 September 2019
in Wisconsin

electrical-workersSen. Smith talks about his upbringing in Eau Claire and the impact of organized labor in the community. Leaders before us worked to put protections in place for workers, but there’s still more to do.


EAU CLAIRE - Another Labor Day has come and gone. Summer is beginning to wind down and we’re taking our last chance to fish or camp for the season. Children are reflecting on their summer and eagerly anticipating the new school year.

This time of year is also an opportunity to reflect back on my upbringing in Eau Claire and remember the hardworking families in my community. I think about the great strides made in the 20th century because of organized labor. Unions knew at the core of their mission, that nobody should live to work. We should be able to work, so we can live a comfortable life.

Growing up on the north side of Eau Claire, I had a pretty ordinary childhood. My mother worked hard to raise seven children and my father opened his window cleaning business and ran the business for decades. It was common for families to have one parent working outside the home and one parent in the home.

jeff-smithFamilies in our neighborhood were lower-middle income level by today’s standards. I grew up near the Uniroyal factory. We weren’t too far from the paper mill, and Presto was just a couple of miles north. Many of the kids I grew up with had parents who worked in one of these places. Their parents could support their family because they earned union wages and benefits. It was at the height of a comfortable working class that made America work.

Many of the families were able to afford fishing boats, camping trailers and cabins on the lake. My neighbors were able to spend more time doing the things they enjoyed with their families. These were all things my family couldn’t afford.

The union jobs in the community provided my neighbors an opportunity to have a comfortable lifestyle and build the middle class. These jobs allowed families to own cabins in the resort areas of northern Wisconsin. It was common for a family to take two weeks off for family vacation in the summer and a week off for deer hunting.

None of this would’ve been possible if it weren’t for the courage and foresight of organized labor in the early 20th century that advanced worker’s rights in America. Federal legislation, including the Occupational Safety & Health Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and Labor Relations Act supported workers, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions. The Social Security Act was revolutionary, putting protections in place for citizens of all ages. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers and unions to discriminate against individuals based on race, national origin, religion or gender.

Although there has been tremendous progress for worker’s rights, there is still more we must do for workers in our country. Today, too many families need multiple jobs to get by. According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 13 million Americans that have more than one job. Also, based on U.S. Census data, women are more likely than men to have a part-time job to support themselves and their families.

Union jobs guaranteed most workers would have a comfortable future after retirement. The decline of unions and well-paying jobs in our country, force workers to consider how they’ll retire without a pension or 401K plan to supplement their Social Security.

There are steps we can take to support everyday hardworking men and women. We should begin by increasing the minimum wage, restoring prevailing wage, implementing paid family and medical leave and repealing the “Right to Work” law. Governor Evers included all of these proposals in the 2019-21 Biennial Budget, but they were deleted entirely by Republicans.

Oftentimes, we forget the impact of organized labor in our own community. The leaders before us worked tirelessly to improve working conditions and living standards for all. We can’t fall behind. As we push forward, let us remember our hardworking leaders and the example they set to support our neighbors. Remember, we all do better when we all do better.

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