Monday October 19, 2020

Moving Forward with Facts & Reason

FacebookTwitterYoutube
Newsletter
News Feeds:

Progressive Thinking

Discussion with education and reason.

Emergency Preparedness to Build Resilient Communities

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, 18 March 2020
in Wisconsin

flood-wi-fieldSen. Smith talks about the importance of emergency preparedness to protect communities from natural disasters or public health emergencies, specifically, the Flood Prevention & Resilience Plan targeted toward flood prevention and relief.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Emergencies hit communities without notice and threaten our local economies. We are facing an unprecedented public health emergency right now, but we have faced emergencies before and we’ve become stronger from it.

Flooding in western Wisconsin has tested our communities’ responses to emergencies. Public health emergencies and flooding are dramatically different emergencies, but both require us to work together to keep our communities healthy and safe.

We’ve seen political leaders show up for photo opportunities when something dramatic happens, especially after a natural disaster. It’s not bad when leaders show up; it’s important they see firsthand what happened and be an advocate, but there’s more to do.  We need to know how we can prevent disasters in the future and how to support those affected by these events.

jeff-smithThat’s why, just last week, I joined Governor Tony Evers for a visit to the Town of Dodge and the City of Arcadia. Last year, Governor Evers made the same visit when both places were flooded in Trempealeau County. Flooding has become an annual occurrence in these places. What we once called 100-year floods are now considered normal.

Flooding has not occurred yet this season and this was no photo opportunity with any press in Dodge. This visit occurred because Governor Evers hasn’t forgotten last year’s floods. Rather than wait until the next flood happens, the Governor and I want to continue the conversations we had last year with local government officials and introduce planning measures to address conditions that make flooding more frequent and severe in western Wisconsin.

Between 1950 and 2006, communities in every region of Wisconsin, have experienced an increase of average annual rainfall by more than 7 inches, according to the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts. The increase in rainfall, along with destruction of our wetlands and failing infrastructure, directly correlate to the escalating frequency of floods in Wisconsin. Together, these factors threaten our community’s public safety, health and economic security.

In the meetings, residents and local officials voiced concerns that flood prevention measures cost too much. Local town, city and county budgets are already stretched and cannot handle the expensive fixes needed to protect residents from flooding. That’s where the state needs to step up to the plate.

After the tour of Trempealeau County, Governor Evers, myself and several of my legislative colleagues introduced the Flood Prevention & Resilience Plan, a package of 6 bills directly targeted toward flood prevention and relief. This package of bills will:

·         Invest $10 million into the Municipal Flood Control grant program to help municipalities fund flood prevention projects, including flood proofing, riparian restoration, acquisition of vacant land, construction of flood control structures and flood mapping projects.

·         Create a flood mitigation program to proactively address infrastructure that is identified as at-risk and provide local units of government with grant reimbursements to cover 50% of the cost of modifying, replacing, or relocating culverts or bridges.

·         Increase funding for the Soil and Water Resource Management grant program to promote the installation of structural pollution-abatement and conservation practices.

·         Require all emergency work, designated by Federal Emergency Management Agency, be eligible for disaster assistance payments, including debris removal, protective measures for roads and bridges, water control facilities, utilities, and parks. Legislation will also reduce the amount recipients of disaster assistance payments are required to make.

·         Allow individuals to deduct amounts of premiums paid for flood insurance from their taxes.

·         Incentivize local governments to rebuild infrastructure at a higher capacity to withstand flooding by increasing the reimbursement rate paid to local governments.

These flood prevention investments will help local governments rebuild and prepare when the next flood emergency happens. I’m impressed by Governor Evers’ commitment to take proactive steps to help communities susceptible to flooding. Governor Evers didn’t show up for a photo opportunity in a disaster area. He came back when the cameras weren’t rolling to talk with people about how to make their lives better and communities stronger.

Now, it’s up to the Legislature to move forward on these proposals. In the meantime, remember to do everything you can to prepare yourself by getting flood insurance and staying educated by visiting FloodSmart.gov.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Logic behind Healthcare

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, 11 March 2020
in Wisconsin

medicaid_checkupOver the past thirty years, Wisconsin has fallen 16 spots in national healthcare outcomes to 23rd. It’s beyond time to give Wisconsinites the care they deserve by expanding Medicaid.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - We’ve been hearing a lot in the news lately about our health. Just last week, I found myself in many conversations with healthcare professionals talking about ways to improve the health of our community – and no, I’m not only talking about keeping our communities safe by preventing the spread of coronavirus.

Throughout my conversations with caregivers, nurses, health professionals and researchers, we identified prominent issues affecting the state of public health in Wisconsin. While discussing issues, from surprise medical bills to the nursing shortage to the opioid epidemic, I started to think about how we’re all connected to these issues in one way or another.

Although we may not be directly impacted by these health challenges in our personal lives, they affect our community in significant ways. Collectively, our state has a role to play for addressing public health challenges and making our communities healthier for all. Our capacity to empathize with others has the ability to save lives.

medicaid-coverage-wiscLast week, I attended the UW Robert La Follette School of Public Affairs Health Policy Forum. The forum highlighted public health challenges facing Wisconsin including the long-term care workforce shortage, patient protections and housing affordability. I had the opportunity to participate as a panelist with three rural health experts to discuss strategies that can help solve the unique healthcare struggles facing rural Wisconsin.

The real value of the panel was listening to the health professionals who live within the communities they serve. Being around incredibly smart people in the medical field could be intimidating, but I found their concerns and potential solutions were similar to what I’ve heard from residents of rural western Wisconsin.

For example, we agreed Wisconsin must join other neighboring states by investing in broadband expansion to advance access to rural clinics and health professionals. This idea is also something I’ve heard many times from residents of western Wisconsin. Broadband expansion has been a boon to our neighboring states’ rural communities in sustaining a strong economy and improving telehealth availability for the elderly or patients who may face difficulties in traveling. It only makes sense.

jeff-smithAfter the panel, I met a physician with years of experience in improving healthcare delivery, continuing his mission to help health systems provide the best care to their patients. During our conversation, he reminded me about Wisconsin’s significant drop in healthcare outcomes. According to the 2019 United Health Foundation’s Annual Report, Wisconsin ranked 7th nationally for healthcare outcomes in 1990. In 2019, we’ve fallen 16 spots to 23rd. By comparison, Minnesota only dropped from 2nd to 7th and Illinois increased their rank from 24th to 29th in the same time period. Republicans have not found the political will to expand Medicaid, while neighboring states have, it’s not a coincidence this has been the result.

We have a responsibility to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin. For each month that Republicans refuse to act, Wisconsin wastes approximately $13 million in state funding to pay for other states’ Medicaid programs. Over the next two years, Wisconsin would save $320 million, while lowering premiums for private insurance holders by 7 to 11 percent.

I’ve noticed lawmakers or individuals in positions of power don’t take action unless they are directly or severely affected. During the public health forum, many healthcare professionals pointed out, more than once, that Wisconsin has a serious opioid addiction problem.

The opioid epidemic, affecting individuals, families and communities across the country, is not new to Wisconsin, but it has become considerably worse in recent years. It wasn’t until legislators personally knew someone or knew a family affected by the opioid epidemic that action was taken. We should never wish such pain on any family, but we ought to develop empathy for others and collaborate to address public health challenges, before we may have to experience it for ourselves.

Let’s think ahead and think about others. We should use our empathy for decision making so we can find our way out of this black hole of inaction. It’s lifesaving.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Sen. Smith: I’m Here, Ready to Listen

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, 04 March 2020
in Wisconsin

meeting-crowdOver the next couple of weeks, Sen. Jeff Smith will be hosting a series of listening sessions to hear from the people of the 31st. and hopes you can join them.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - I’ve always said that one of the best parts of my job is listening to others, whether it’s their stories, suggestions or questions. During this time of year, I regularly hear many of the same questions.

What happened? Where did the time go? Why didn’t things get done? What can we expect?

These are all important questions, questions Wisconsinites deserve to ask, especially as the legislative session comes to a close. I hope to have the opportunity to answer these and your other pressing questions during my end-of-session listening sessions.

As always, the best part of listening is learning. I learn a lot from folks who come to the listening sessions, and I hope I’m able to share insightful information for others to learn from as well.

Last week, I held the first end-of-session town hall listening session in Whitehall at Sweet Temptations Cafe. More than a dozen constituents sat with me to ask questions and start a discussion. The topics of conversation ranged from the broken school funding formula, broadband expansion, gerrymandering and the urgency of repairing our crumbling rural roads to Managed Forest Land.

Our conversation on these interesting and important issues could have gone on for hours. Although the topics are relatively different, the answers I come back to are typically the same. When we talk about being unable to expand Medicaid or properly fund our public schools, the conclusion rests on the decisions made by the Majority Party or the consequences of gerrymandered maps.

For example, when Governor Evers presented a plan to provide property tax relief for Wisconsinites while recommitting the state to two-thirds funding of our public schools, Republicans declined to even have a discussion, instead opting for a one-time property tax rebate.

After listening to the hardworking educators in the area, I knew the importance of Governor Evers’ plan. I support Governor Evers’ plan because it’s the plan my constituents have advocated for to support our rural communities in more ways than one. I’m continuing to listen and learn from residents across the state on the best ways to lead and collaborate with my legislative colleagues.

jeff-smithI want to make myself available to learn more from you. In the following weeks, I’m holding these upcoming end-of-session listening sessions:

· March 5 (5:30 PM – 7:00 PM) – Chippewa Valley Technical College Room 101 in the Business Education Center, Eau Claire with Representative Jodi Emerson

· March 10 (5:00 PM – 6:30 PM) – Revolution Coffee, Black River Falls

· March 12 (4:30 PM – 6:00 PM) – The Twisted Oak Coffee House, Prescott

· March 26 (5:30 PM – 7:00 PM) – Roger Marten Community Center, Mondovi

· April 2 (5:30 PM – 7:00 PM) – Cochrane-Fountain City High School, Fountain City

With the last session day happening the last week of March, this is a chance for you to share your thoughts on what the legislature still needs to accomplish and your ideas about what we could be doing better for the next session in 2021.

But don’t think this is the end of my work for 2020. Along with holding scheduled listening sessions like these, I’ll be getting back out on the road for my mobile office hours with my truck and Stop N’ Talk sign.

The conversations and action we take in 2020 will, undoubtedly, have an impact on how we work in 2021. We don’t get any more free passes to complain if we don’t demonstrate our duty to stand up, participate and fight for the best interests of Wisconsinites. Be sure to show up to listening sessions and share your thoughts. Make your voice heard loud and clear.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Policymaking by the People, for the People

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 26 February 2020
in Wisconsin

lines-farmsRecently-introduced legislation, which would change Wisconsin’s current livestock siting standards, serves as an important reminder why legislators must listen to constituents and stakeholders when developing new policy says Sen. Smith.


MADISON - Before a bill becomes a law, a process exists to ensure policymakers develop the most effective policy proposal, and with good reason. Decisions made on the state level influence the way folks work and live in all corners of the state. Legislation should be a product of the conversations policymakers have with the stakeholders who will be impacted.

But that’s not what happened when Republicans introduced Senate Bill (SB) 808, a bill which would rewrite livestock siting and expansion standards in Wisconsin. When making significant policy changes, the safety and health of individuals involved must be our first priority. Rather than create hastily-made policy, we need to think critically and develop well-informed policy that will assure Wisconsin’s a better place for all.

In 2003, the State Legislature passed the Livestock Siting Law, which gave the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) the ability to create standards for local governments regarding the location and expansion of livestock operations which have more than 500 animal units, according to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau.

Before legislation was passed, town boards and their constituents wanted an opportunity to voice their thoughts on growing livestock facilities. These standards were created to ensure neighboring properties were protected from the negative consequences of expanding facilities. For example, a farm wanting to expand from 400 to 4,000 cows would have more manure, which will spread and eventually affect the groundwater.

Livestock siting isn’t a simple process or law. After all, livestock siting affects Wisconsin’s agricultural practices, our environment and public health. When legislators introduced a new bill regarding livestock siting rules, there were many concerns over the changes it would make. Considering the proposed changes SB 808 would have on current livestock siting laws, many of us were shocked with how fast it moved through the legislative process.

Typically, the legislative process for a bill to become a law takes months from the time a legislator drafts the bill, talks through the proposal with subject experts and stakeholders, introduces the bill to the Legislature, has a public hearing and committee vote, passes both houses and is signed by the Governor. The length of this process is imperative for experts and constituents to provide input.

In just under 9 days, Republicans introduced the bill and scheduled the bill for a vote in the Senate and Assembly. The way in which this bill sprinted through the legislative process with very little scrutiny took my breath away. The bill authors skipped consultation with subject experts or professionals at DATCP and the Department of Natural Resources when moving this bill forward. Why wouldn’t you work alongside the two agencies responsible for administering this law?

Although The Livestock Siting Law certainly could use updating, SB 808 went too far. If passed, SB 808 would move siting approval from local governments to DATCP, essentially stripping away local control while eliminating public input on the CAFO permitting process, which threatens our clean drinking water.

SB 808 would also create the Livestock Facility Technical Review Board, a new DATCP board, operating separately from the already established Livestock Facility Siting Review Board. Questions are still unanswered as to the new board’s role and purview, the rulemaking process or the public’s role on the board.

jeff-smithFortunately, SB 808 was pulled at the last minute. I credit the advocacy of citizens who contacted their legislators and demanded an end to this bill.

As a state senator, I believe we need to offer resources to make it easier for town officials to do their job – I’ve heard this from my constituents too. I believe there are improvements to the current livestock siting process that can be made, only with the input of local government leaders and community members.

More importantly, I understand with any change to current law, we must consult constituents and the professionals in the community who truly understand the impact of the proposed policy. Now think about what you can share with your elected official. Be sure to speak out and share your thoughts – we need to hear from you.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Cutting Taxes by Supporting Schools

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 19 February 2020
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsSen. Smith writes about Wisconsin’s expected budget surplus and how we can use that to invest in our public schools while providing tax relief to homeowners.


MADISON - Every other January the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), a nonpartisan agency, reviews Wisconsin’s general fund and projects an economic forecast for the state. Recently the LFB reported an expected $450 million surplus by the end of this biennium, on June 30, 2021.The question now is what do we do with that surplus?

Governor Tony Evers has a plan. Two weeks after the LFB released their findings, the Governor called for a special session to invest in our public schools and reduce property taxes. He did this because he knows that what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state. However, Republican leaders rejected Governor Evers’ plan and touted a one-time tax break to property owners in Wisconsin.

Governor Evers’ plan would restore the state’s commitment to fund two-thirds of public education costs, invest more in special education and increase mental health services available for school children. Additionally, it would prioritize funding rural schools through sparsity aid.

Schools in the 31st Senate District would see new investments over $3.9 million in general school aid, $880 thousand in sparsity aid and $2.1 million in special education aid. And these are just part of Governor Evers’ recommendations.

The complete package would also fund special education readiness grants, aid for mental health programs and service grants and tribal language revitalization grants. Altogether, the schools in the 31st Senate District would receive more than $12 million.

Properly supporting our public schools at the state level would decrease the burden on homeowners by not requiring school districts to pass referenda just to keep operating. These much needed, overdue contributions would ensure all students have access to a quality education while fulfilling shared goals to provide tax relief. Residents of the 31st Senate District would see more than $7 million in property tax relief under Governor Evers’ proposal.

If there is a way to satisfy both sides, shouldn’t we at least be open to discussing it? We should lay all ideas out on the table and figure out how to use the best ideas of both sides to work for the better good of Wisconsin. I know it can be done and I know there are legislators on BOTH sides who want to work together.

We need long-term solutions to address the challenges our public schools and rural communities are facing. I don’t think tax credits are a long term answer to any subject we try to tackle, especially not critical issues like education. The other side of the aisle is saying the opposite and adds that the governor’s proposal is not the answer either.

jeff-smithAnd just like the call to work together on other fundamental issues from helping our farmers to gun safety; why does it have to be one or the other? The Governor has one package of bills he would like passed and the Republicans have their own. Once again I ask, “Why does it have to be one or the other?” After all, the most common questions I hear from our constituents is “Why can’t you get along and work together?”

I want to believe there is room to agree because we all care about these issues and can collaborate to find a solution. If government worked as it should, we would lay all proposals down side by side and hash it out. This is a great opportunity to prove to citizens that we can work as a shared governance.

This place in history is the perfect opportunity to restore shared governance as it once was. No, we don’t need to bring back the practice of making decisions in “smoke-filled rooms.” However we may benefit from adapting a collaborative spirit and restoring faith and trust in our elected officials. Now is the time to work for everyone and cut taxes by prioritizing Wisconsin’s future.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes
Tweet With Us:

Share

Copyright © 2020. Green Bay Progressive. Designed by Shape5.com