Wednesday February 24, 2021

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What the Budget Says About Us

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 17 February 2021
in Wisconsin

high-voltage-lines-farmsSen. Smith writes about the budget investments announced by Governor Evers to support communities all across Wisconsin.


MADISON - Budgets are necessary to keep us on track, lay out our priorities and work toward what we want to accomplish. Every two years, the Governor introduces a budget that reflects the values of our state. The state budget is a moral document just as much as it’s a financial map for the years ahead. When state leaders approve the budget, we’re showing the world who we are and what we stand for.

At a time when America was building back after the social and economic crisis of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” I consider these words as the golden rule for our state’s budgeting responsibility.

Governor Evers appears to already be following the golden rule set by President Roosevelt. Governor Evers introduced his 2021-23 budget this week, but he set some impressive goals in previous weeks that should make Wisconsinites proud. The Governor’s budget will go a long way toward supporting our small businesses and critical industries, making healthcare more affordable and helping communities across our state recover from the pandemic.

The budget aims to address many of the issues that were apparent long before the pandemic but were made even more visible in the past year, including Wisconsin’s agricultural crisis. The Governor prioritized rural prosperity efforts last year and is, once again, committed to strengthening Wisconsin’s essential industry. His budget proposal invests $43 million to support our farmers, provide additional mental health resources and create partnerships throughout the food supply industry. More than $28 million of this investment will go toward expanding agricultural market opportunities, supporting new and innovating farming practices and strengthening our agricultural workforce.

marijuana-farmer-jobsGovernor Evers’ budget supports our rural communities in many other ways. He proposed legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, which would generate an estimated $165 million in revenue for our state. This would go a long way to boost our economy and even help our rural schools with additional sparsity aid. Marijuana legalization would provide greater oversight over producers, processors and distributors. The evidence available also shows states that already legalized marijuana experienced a reduction in opioid-related deaths.

Governor Evers’ budget focuses on making health care more affordable for Wisconsinites across the state. He adopted policies in his budget to lower prescription drug costs and provide greater access to mental health resources. Specifically, the Governor proposed capping insulin co-pays at $50 and providing more oversight over the pharmaceutical supply chain. In addition, Governor Evers directed more than $150 million in the budget to improve Wisconsinites’ access to quality mental and behavioral health services and treatment.

The Governor understands the importance of investing in the industries and workforce that care for Wisconsinites from an early to old age. In the 2021-23 budget, Governor Evers directed $140 million in his budget toward a new initiative to address quality, affordability, access, and equity for childcare in the state. Additionally, Governor Evers targeted more than $600 million to strengthen Wisconsin’s long-term care infrastructure and support the direct care workforce and family caregivers.

jeff-smith-ofcBefore Governor Evers introduced the budget, he declared 2021 the Year of Broadband Access and announced $200 million toward rural broadband expansion investments. This last year really showed us how every household relies on being connected to their workplace, school and healthcare provider. I hope we really can make this the year of broadband access.

Governor Evers’ budget reflects the priorities of the People. These priorities must echo our state’s motto, “Forward.” They must uphold the ideals our country was founded on, asserting we’re all equal under the law and that we have the same access to opportunity. The budget must help us create a more equitable state by removing racial and socioeconomic barriers and systems that deny success.

The budget will represent who we are as a state, whether we’re a state looking out for one another or whether we’re a state leaving too many behind. I choose the former and I hope you do too.

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Honoring Hank Aaron’s Legacy during Black History Month

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 10 February 2021
in Wisconsin

hank-aaron-wavesHank Aaron had a far-reaching impact on the Eau Claire community, where he first started his baseball career. Our entire nation will remember him for the opportunities he created for more people of color to follow their dreams.


MADISON - Our country has been shaped by remarkable, outspoken leaders. Historical figures called for action when they observed widespread hardship or were confronted with inequality. America truly would not be the country it is today without the courageous leaders of our past. During Black History Month and beyond it’s important that we honor and celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of Black leaders from our country’s history.

hank-aaron-bravesThe passing of Hank Aaron, the baseball legend and civil rights advocate, made me think about this a lot. Hammerin’ Hank made an impact on my own hometown, Eau Claire, a few years before I entered this world and long after. After he signed with the Milwaukee Braves in 1952 as a shy 18-year-old from the Deep South, he was assigned to play his first professional season with their Class C affiliate, the Eau Claire Bears. The rest is history as he went on to become the most prolific home run hitter by the time he retired in 1976.

Hank Aarons’ impact on the small northern city in Wisconsin was not only tied to his athletic skills. He faced racial prejudice and heard racial slurs while growing up and starting his career. Although experiencing some discrimination in Eau Claire, Hank Aaron never forgot how the Eau Claire community “opened up their arms” and accepted him. A number of families, who looked much different than him, invited him to dinner and welcomed him into their homes over the course of the summer. Aaron changed a lot of perceptions for residents living in a predominately white community and made people see someone for who they were, rather than what they looked like.

Hank Aaron experienced racism throughout his career and it didn’t disappear even after he helped the Braves win a championship. He even received death threats as he approached the revered home run record of Babe Ruth in 1974. Hank Aaron continued to persevere both on and off the field; his achievements helped push for racial equality in America.

When he played for the Braves, he requested a public moment of silence before a game to acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. They never honored this request, but he remained unapologetic in his push for equality. Hank Aaron remained a civil rights activist into his retirement, while involved with the NAACP. In 2002, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for promoting civil rights.

Of course, Hank Aaron wasn’t the first Black athlete to break racial barriers and become a civil rights activist. Jackie Robinson opened many doors when he began as first baseman on April 15, 1947 – five years before Hank Aaron came to Eau Claire. Jackie Robinson’s career is well documented; fans cursed him, other teams threatened to not take the field and even some of his own teammates threatened to sit out.

As much as we know about Robinson’s baseball career, his passion for social justice started well before that. In fact, Jackie Robinson, was court-martialed as a member of the Army in 1944 because he refused to sit in the back of a bus because of his skin color. Robinson’s legacy in breaking down the “color barrier” signified broader acceptance and inspired many other Black Americans during the Civil Rights movement of the 20th Century.

jeff-smithThere have been people and events driven by hatred and division over the course of our country’s history.  Fortunately, leaders like Hank Aaron emerged to bridge divides and work toward a more equitable America, despite overwhelming adversity. Black History Month calls on us to remember the legacies of these leaders who devoted their careers and lives to improving the lives of people of color.

We owe a lot to Black leaders who made great strides to get our country where it is today. But, we still have a lot of work to do. The stories of Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson remind us a better world is possible through shared goals and a commitment to uplifting the voices of those who are too often silenced.

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Correct a Cheating System with Fair Maps

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 February 2021
in Wisconsin

vote-47-mbWhy must Wisconsin establish a nonpartisan redistricting process? Right now, the Majority Party faces no consequences for their inaction during a pandemic. Fair maps are needed to correct a system that’s been cheating the people of our state for far too long.


MADISON - I can always appreciate a good game of cribbage; sure, there’s some friendly competition, but more importantly, it’s a chance to catch up with someone and make some memories. But, imagine someone beat you to the end of the board just to find out they cheated the whole game, maybe by moving their pegs a couple extra spots each round or slyly taking a look at your cards. You’d probably be frustrated and distrusting if you play them again, right?

Sorry to say, but you’ve been cheated, and not just in a game of cards. At a time when every Wisconsinite needs leaders working for them, they have legislators abdicating their responsibilities while COVID-19 wreaks havoc on Wisconsin.

I know some people may always feel cheated by their legislators, but when the state is faced with a health crisis and an economic disaster, it’s more important than ever for partisanship to be set aside. Wisconsinites want the Legislature to work together and get things done. Yet, when push came to shove, the same legislators who ignore these pleas don’t face any consequences and can keep their jobs.

The Majority Party hasn’t been playing fairly for a while now and it shows. Partisan gerrymandering allows their absence and inaction to go unpunished. Non-partisan redistricting reform will be the tactic to correct these wrongs. It will ensure all Wisconsinites are represented and have equal access to succeed.

Just three weeks ago, the State Senate passed a compromise COVID-19 response bill with near unanimity. The newly appointed Senate Majority Leader actually worked with Governor Evers to deliver a bill that Republicans and Democrats could both agree on. Although some individuals on both ends of the spectrum would say it didn’t go far enough, it was considered a ray of hope and something to build on. This compromise showed we really could work together, or so it seemed. Then we saw the bait and switch.

covid-19-protest-madisonLast week, Assembly Republicans chose to add poison pills to this bipartisan legislation, essentially killing the bill. These provisions were not part of the COVID-19 response legislation that was mutually agreed upon by Democrat Governor Evers and the Republican State Senate. Assembly Republicans’ endgame was politically motivated, without any consideration of the fact that we are still in a dire public health and economic crisis.

Last Thursday, Senate Republicans caved into Assembly Speaker Vos’ demands and passed this legislation again, but unfortunately included hyper-partisan provisions. After eight months of inaction, Republicans have wasted another four weeks arguing between themselves about how to make this more political.

Politics have also stopped the Majority Party from accepting commonsense health recommendations, like wearing a mask to slow the spread of the virus. Last Tuesday, Senate Republicans passed a resolution to end Wisconsin’s emergency health orders and the mask protective order. Assembly Republicans delayed their decision for now, once it became known Wisconsin would lose nearly $50 million per month in food assistance if the emergency order was struck down.

jeff-smithWhen I talk with constituents about Wisconsin’s political gridlock, many believe the solution to the problem is to institute term limits. They’re sure that placing limits on how long someone serves will solve these problems. My response is always the same: if you truly believe in political compromise, then you must support non-partisan redistricting reform. If you really think term limits are the answer, you must support non-partisan redistricting. Term limits come naturally when voters have real choices.

When we have an independent, nonpartisan redistricting process, your needs are prioritized over the ambitions of political leaders. Fair maps will require legislators to listen to you, rather than their Party leader. Compromise happens when the people matter more than political insiders. Your family matters when politicians collaborate and actually get things done for you.

Nonpartisan redistricting reform will direct our Legislature to work fairly and for the people. No one likes to be cheated and this is the only way we can go to make sure we’re not distrustful of Wisconsin’s leaders for another decade.

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What You Need to Know about the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

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, 27 January 2021
in Wisconsin

covid-19-vaccinationSen. Smith writes about the progress of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout and shares information from the Department of Health Services on vaccine distribution.


MADISON - It’s been so long since most of us have been in a crowd, but I’m sure we’re all eager for the chance to once again go to a theater, shake hands when meeting someone or dine at our favorite restaurant. My wife and I miss heading down to our local restaurant, which would normally be packed with so many of our neighbors and friends on a Friday night.

The road to returning to our normal routines may seem far off, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ve gained more information and collected tools to help us in our COVID-19 recovery. We learned to slow the spread by staying home, social distancing and wearing masks. Now we have the COVID-19 vaccine, another tool at our disposal in our fight against COVID-19. We can thank scientists, researchers and frontline workers for allowing us to start visualizing an end to this pandemic.

Governor Tony Evers continues to work with the federal government and private partners to get more Wisconsinites vaccinated as quickly as possible. It’s important to know the vaccine roll-out will take time while the vaccine supply increases. This explains why certain populations, like healthcare workers or elderly residents, are prioritized before the general public. While we wait patiently, it’s up to us to remain vigilant and follow safety precautions to keep our communities safe.

On December 14th, Wisconsin received its first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Wisconsin began receiving the Moderna vaccine one week later. Since then, Wisconsin has vaccinated groups most vulnerable to infection. Phase 1A includes frontline medical personnel and residents of the 57,000 nursing homes and 147,000 long term care facilities in Wisconsin. Phase 1B includes police and fire personnel. Beginning Monday, January 25th Wisconsin began vaccinating more residents aged 65 and older. The State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee is currently making recommendations for other priority populations as vaccine production and distribution continues.

The federal government is responsible for allocating vaccines to each state; the number of vaccines allocated to each state differs depending on the state’s population. In recent weeks, Governor Evers publicly requested more vaccines be sent to Wisconsin.

The Department of Health Services provides a transparent overview of our state’s vaccine distribution process. The agency continues to update the number of vaccines Wisconsin has allocated, ordered, shipped and administered throughout the state.

The pandemic has been challenging for individuals in many ways, but perhaps the biggest hardship has been our inability to spend time with our family. My wife’s parents are over 90 years old and still do quite well in their own home. They’ve kept up with technology, but we help them when needed. Last Wednesday, they called my wife to say they received a message from their healthcare provider informing them they were eligible for a vaccine. My wife helped her parents make an appointment for the very next morning. She picked them up at 6:30 the next day and they received their first dose.

jeff-smithLike so many others, our parents were anxiously wondering how they’d know when they could get vaccinated. Once more vaccine doses become available, more information will be released to explain where someone can get vaccinated among the 1,200 eligible vaccinators in Wisconsin. These vaccinators include healthcare providers, pharmacies, local health departments, places of employment, and mass vaccination clinics.

There isn’t a conspiracy to block or delay the release of the vaccine. Legislators cannot produce more vaccine doses or expedite the process just by demanding it to happen.

A public health crisis shouldn’t be used to advance political agendas; we’ve seen this happen too much during the past year and we’re seeing it play out again with the vaccine roll-out. Don’t let legislative leaders play the blame game and pretend they have the answers to get you vaccinated. We won’t get anywhere if these leaders are more focused on making headlines with disingenuous proposals or raising doubts about the vaccine itself.

While more Wisconsinites get vaccinated, remember to continue following public health precautions to do your part to stop the spread. Our collective efforts will help us overcome the pandemic sooner and safer.

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Saving our Democracy

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, 20 January 2021
in Wisconsin

trump-insurgents-enterWe can bridge a divided nation by reflecting on our own attitudes and behaviors, but it’s also up to elected officials to be truthful and honest and restore trust in our democratic process.


MADISON - Now is the time when our government should be focusing on our COVID-19 recovery. Wisconsin leaders should be fixing the unemployment insurance crisis, working on the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out and expanding broadband access for every rural household. This is what I’d rather spend my time on. Sadly, other issues have overshadowed the essential work that should be happening because our nation is as divided as it’s ever been.

The shocking attack on our nation’s Capitol earlier this month left Americans with all sorts of questions. How did we get to this point? How were we so unprepared on that day, despite all of the warning signs? What can we do differently to bridge the rift we’re experiencing these days? As Americans, we must reflect on these questions and consider what we, personally, can do to be more empathetic and humble listeners. But it’s also up to our country’s leaders to set the right example through their speech and actions.

jeff-smithI know some may react negatively to my call for civility, truth and compromise because I’m a partisan office holder. It’s no secret I take stands on issues and plead with the Majority Party to act on policies I consider important based on views from people in the 31s Senate District. But, my role in advocating for these policies is drastically different than using fear to drive citizens to hijack our democratic process.

What can elected leaders do to change the political climate? We should start by toning down the political rhetoric and admitting when bad actors are misleading citizens. We’ve seen what happens when people are consumed by conspiracy theories and how passion drives them to act violently. As much as I’d like for our politics to change, it can only happen with the cooperation of the Party in charge.

I appealed to my colleagues on the Senate floor last Tuesday by introducing a Senate Resolution condemning the misinformation and violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The Resolution also recognizes our country has a new President and Vice-President and offers condolences to the family of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick who was killed by the violent mob on January 6th.

The Majority Party failed to take a stand against the violence and conspiracy theories. This same attitude led us to the situation we’re in today. During this dark time in our country’s history, our elected officials must lead rather than shrink away. Elected officials have a responsibility to inform their supporters that the election was fair and legitimate.

There may even be some of my legislative colleagues who, themselves, have become convinced conspiracy claims are true. If that’s so, we have a lot more work to do to rebuild relationships in our country, especially considering many of these elected officials were reelected during the 2020 election.

Democracy is built on the assertion that the person with the most votes wins. I’m old enough to remember that Joe Looby won the Assembly District seat I grew up in by a single vote. He was forever known as “landslide Looby” after that. The obligatory recount after the election did nothing to change the final result. In 2010, I lost a close election that also went through a recount, which only verified the initial result. I know the pain of losing, but also know it’s necessary to accept results and find other ways to peacefully advocate for what I believe in.

As elected leaders, we must understand that our constituents rely on us to be truthful and sometimes painfully honest with them. When a leader is silent about misinformation or repeat it without verification, it can be seen as supporting falsehoods and creating a fictitious reality. We must not abuse our platform as leaders; we’ve seen this happen and how dangerous it can be.

Last Tuesday, the Wisconsin State Senate showed a glimmer of hope by voting on a compromise COVID-19 response bill supported by our Democratic Governor and the Republican Majority leader. I hope we can build on that – it’s the only way this democratic republic will survive.

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