Saturday August 15, 2020

Moving Forward with Facts & Reason

FacebookTwitterYoutube
Newsletter
News Feeds:

Progressive Thinking

Discussion with education and reason.

Pass the Healthcare Heroes Act

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 12 August 2020
in Wisconsin

coronavirus-nurse-tiredThe Legislature must reconvene to pass the Heroes Act, supporting frontline healthcare workers, and work to address the other pressing issues impacting Wisconsinites during this public health crisis.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Back in April, I participated in a virtual roundtable discussion with Wisconsin’s frontline healthcare workers. Amidst the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic in Wisconsin, this group of healthcare workers shared deeply unsettling safety concerns related to the scarcity of COVID-19 testing, the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and healthcare affordability.

Healthcare workers have gone above and beyond to serve their community throughout this global pandemic while putting their lives at risk. Yet, there’s very little our state has done to show its appreciation for these heroes. Today, our state’s healthcare workers are still sharing the very same concerns they expressed four months ago in April during the roundtable discussion. And they have every reason to do so.

coronavirus-ppeAs of August 10th, there have been 124,813 cases among doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, and 600 American health care personnel have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tragically, many public health experts figure these statistics misrepresent the actual count and believe the number of cases and deaths of healthcare personnel to be higher. As of August 2nd, data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reveal 767 nursing home staff alone have died, a shocking statistic upholding the point made by public health experts.

Our healthcare professionals have been at the forefront of this public health crisis since the beginning. We must do everything we can to show our support for their selfless work. As a legislature, this starts by passing the Healthcare Heroes Act.

In July, I proudly joined my Democratic colleagues to co-sponsor the Healthcare Heroes Act, a comprehensive bill aimed at protecting our state’s essential healthcare professionals. First, this legislation will provide hazard pay to healthcare workers during a public health emergency and provide paid medical leave for healthcare workers who contract a communicable disease. Second, this bill covers COVID-19 testing and treatment for Wisconsin’s frontline health care workers.

The Healthcare Heroes Act will also expand Medicaid in Wisconsin. The COVID-19 public health crisis has clearly identified how important affordable, accessible healthcare is in keeping people safe and healthy. Now, while we’re still experiencing the severe impact of COVID-19 in the state, is the time Wisconsin should join the 39 other states that have already expanded Medicaid. Medicaid expansion is a commonsense solution, supported by 70% of Wisconsinites, to provide critical relief during this tumultuous time.

Unfortunately, it’s now been over a month since we introduced the Healthcare Heroes Act and Republicans have shown no interest in passing this legislation to protect Wisconsin’s healthcare workers.

Instead, Republicans have expressed their eagerness to return for session to strike down Wisconsin’s face mask requirement, a simple, practical measure to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, keep our communities safe and protect our healthcare heroes.

jeff-smith-ofcWe should return for session to pass the Healthcare Heroes Act and also work to address the biggest challenges people are facing throughout our state: the unemployment insurance crisis, rent and mortgage payments, a plan to ensure our children and teachers are safe as the next school year opens and more. Once again, the Majority Party is unwilling to meet to take action on these measures to keep Wisconsinites safe; they’re only interested in scoring political points.

COVID-19 has been a terrible disaster, causing great harm and even death. But there are things we’ve learned about ourselves and others that will be forever engrained in the way we approach things moving forward. Maybe the most valuable lesson has been recognizing the essential workers that keep our communities going.

Never have the words “essential worker” meant so much as it does now. Just as the first responders were recognized for the heroes that they always were after 9/11, every healthcare professional is recognized today. From doctors, nurses, and EMTs, to the dedicated workers performing essential services at our hospitals, we realize now how important they are to all of us.

We’ve made the call for the legislature to get back to work for 4 months now. It’s time for the legislature to pass the Healthcare Heroes Act and show our appreciation for the heroes among us.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Legislature Must Act for Unemployed

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 05 August 2020
in Wisconsin

unemloyment-lines-covid19-bgThe COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us out of work and policy decisions made in more normal times have made it difficult for Wisconsinites to get the help they need now. The legislature must meet to get us through this difficult time.


MADISON - “I’ve been working my whole life, and was doing fine before COVID-19, and now suddenly, I can’t work, and can’t get unemployment. I’m scared of what life will be like in a few weeks when I run out of money for food, let alone bills,” said a man whose unemployment benefits were delayed 10 weeks.

He was one of the hundreds of constituents we’ve helped over the last 4 months. His Unemployment Insurance (UI) was held up because the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) needed to investigate his previous employment.

UI was created so anyone who lost their income would have something to fall back on. As a society, we’ve learned we’re better off if we have insurance programs to support families during tough times. Our economy and family lives are better when unemployment payments can prevent evictions, provide food and supplement lost wages.

/unemployment-lines-hialeah-flWe must always remember the intent of these essential programs. There will always be detractors, but also opportunities to improve. In the past 10 years, detractors got their way by changing the unemployment insurance to a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy. They claimed abuses of the system but forget about people who really need a smooth-running system to help them through what is normally a bump in the road.

For over a decade, Republicans knew DWD’s software and computer system wasn’t prepared for a flood of UI requests, but DWD’s warnings went unheeded by our Joint Committee on Finance. Wisconsin was left with a 40-year-old phone system and software that requires retired technicians to perform maintenance because it is so outdated.

My office, like many others, have become mediators for constituents who’ve had difficulty contacting DWD or have waited an inordinate amount of time for their case to be resolved. With the enormous surge of claims, people have waited up to 15 weeks to receive resolution and payments they desperately need to pay rent, buy food, pay for utilities and afford other vital needs.

One of the changes made by Republicans prevented people who received Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) from receiving unemployment. This resulted in one of my constituents, who is blind, unable to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, even though she worked part-time to supplement the meager SSDI payment she receives due to her disability.

A young, fresh-out-of-high-school worker was let go by his previous employer and found a new job. Due to suitability determinations created by Republicans, his unemployment claim was stuck for weeks in adjudication.

DWD must verify workers’ job history to determine their benefits. Complex cases make the hurdles even greater for DWD to pay out UI. A woman from the district was undergoing cancer treatments. A week or two into the pandemic she was scheduled to go back to work. Her short term disability payments forced her UI claims to be held up in adjudication for verification, which resulted in all her payments being delayed months.

These are just a handful of examples of the hundreds of constituent cases my office has worked on in the past 4 months. Much of the delay and trauma in UI cases could be resolved if the legislature acted. We’ve been on hold for over 100 days because Majority Party leaders are unwilling to bring us together before the November election.

jeff-smithMy colleagues and I introduced bills to motivate the Republican leaders to fix the delays in UI claims, but no response. They are more interested in running for reelection than helping unemployed workers.

Many people have never needed to navigate the UI system before but found themselves trying to figure it all out for the first time. Some may have wondered if UI was ever really needed. This pandemic has clearly shown UI matters and so do the details.

An old neglected system, additional hurdles imposed by Republicans in the last 10 years and their reluctance to address the unemployment crisis have left Wisconsin workers without answers. We can do better, but we have to work together to get the job done and help Wisconsin get through this difficult time.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Erpenbach on GOP Emergency Session

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
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 01 August 2020
in Wisconsin

coronavirus-mask934 people have lost their lives in Wisconsin and 96% of our state’s population lives in a place with a high level of COVID-19. Blocking real public health plans to keep us safe is reckless.


WEST POINT, WI - People have been struggling to navigate a UI System filled with barriers created by Senator Fitzgerald and his caucus. The pleas for social justice and safe elections have been ringing across the state for months. And yet, the only time we rush back to the floor is to restrict the Governor’s ability to respond to this pandemic.

jon-erpenbachAnd I’m not buying the ‘freedom’ argument or ‘it’s my body and my choice’ argument either. Voting rights have been eroded from people of color, and women have been losing their ability to make their own healthcare decisions for years now.

Almost 600 people have lost their lives in Wisconsin and 96% of our state’s population lives in a place with a high level of COVID-19. Saying no is an easy thing to do. But not having a plan to keep Wisconsinites safe during a pandemic is reckless.

As we’ve seen before, the GOP has NO PLAN for this pandemic, only to say ‘NO’ to the one thing we know will keep Wisconsinites safe.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Fitzgerald Decision to Overturn Governor’s Mask Order Just More Politics

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30 has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 01 August 2020
in Wisconsin

covid-19-protest-madisonSenate Republican move to overturn Governor’s order requiring people to wear masks in public is simply pandering for votes and power, ignores public health.


GREEN BAY, WI - In what is no surprise, Senate Republicans wasted no time announcing their intent to overturn Governor Ever’s Executive order requiring people to wear masks in public along with his earlier order that could result in the National Guard no longer being able to help with virus testing or assisting poll workers in providing safety at the polls for voters this fall.

dave-hansen-gbSince the Republicans came to power under Scott Walker their only concern has been protecting their own hold on power. This has come to include attacking Governor Evers at all costs even if it costs the lives of their own constituents.

Since we met in March the Republicans ignored doing anything to protect the people from this deadly virus or to remove the barriers that have led to delays in processing unemployment claims. Apparently the only thing that can get them to bring the Senate back into session is an opportunity to take another partisan shot at Governor Evers.

This is just one in a continuing list of examples for why non-partisan redistricting is so badly needed.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Wis Democracy Campaign - Trump’s Move Backfires

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 01 August 2020
in Wisconsin

portland-fed-force-2020MADISON - You might have thought I was being a bit on the hysterical side last week when I wrote to you about the risk of Donald Trump imposing martial law. But there he was this week tweeting about postponing the election!

Fortunately, this move backfired, as he was met with near universal condemnation, including from Republican elected officials (even in Wisconsin!).

We at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign signed on to a letter denouncing this reckless move, which you can read here.

Meanwhile, this week we kept doing what we do, day in and day out: Exposing money in Wisconsin politics.

matt-rothschildBefore I came to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, I didn’t even know what Legislative Campaign Committees are. But I soon found out: They’re the treasure chests that the Speaker, the Senate Majority Leader, and the two minority leaders have at their disposal for elections.

This year, these campaign committees raised record amounts, with the Republicans way ahead, as you’ll see here:

Legislative Fundraising Committees Raise Record Cash

In a related post, we discussed another record that was broken: fundraising by all the legislative candidates. Speaker Vos, for his personal campaign, led the way with $355,000 on hand. Add that to the $2,371,000 he controls as head of the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, and you can see why he’s so powerful. You can find all the details here:

Legislative Donors Undaunted by Pandemic

And here’s some good news! The Marathon County Board this week passed a resolution in favor of independent, nonpartisan redistricting. That makes 52 counties out of the 72 in Wisconsin that have passed board resolutions to ban gerrymandering. Also this week, the Bayfield County Board voted to let the citizenry weigh in on this issue on November 3 with an advisory referendum. That makes 10 county referendums coming up: Adams, Bayfield, Brown, Crawford, Door, Dunn, Iowa, Jefferson, Kenosha, and Rusk.

Thanks to all the amazing grassroots activists who are making this happen!

I hope you have a nice weekend.

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry

Questions Remain Unanswered for 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, 29 July 2020
in Wisconsin

schools-reopening-2020-cnnWith the COVID-19 pandemic spreading, school districts are wrestling with questions to safely bring students back this fall. Schools need answers fast for educating students, supporting teachers and helping parents stay employed.


MADISON - The first day of school has always been an exciting time for children. About this time of year, heading into August, families begin to plan their schedule and stock up on school supplies. For some it might mean new supplies or even new clothes. Kids want to make a good impression that first day and parents want a routine in their busy life.

That was then, and this is now.

Since school buildings closed last spring to protect families from the spread of COVID-19, schools districts have been figuring out the best way to educate our children while keeping them safe. Of course, that was always the objective, but now we’re facing new challenges and school districts are forced to look at this school year through a different lens.

In March, school buildings closed because the COVID-19 epidemic was just beginning in Wisconsin. Now, at a time when many districts are preparing for the students’ return, the crisis only seems to be getting worse in the state. Balancing physical and mental health concerns can always be tricky, but now the public health pandemic presents a difficult element for balancing mental and physical health needs for children.

We also have to consider an economy that has taken a severe hit. Parents are struggling to make ends meet and they are concerned their kids’ education may fall behind. Families want normalcy; parents want to go back to work and kids want to go back to school, but many questions have to be answered before we can get there.

reading-bookDuring these past several months, we’ve been encouraged to stay safer at home so we don’t inadvertently contract the virus and spread it to others. Now, many are demanding children return back to the classroom. What will a classroom look like this fall? It’s clear that schools have a responsibility to keep children at least 6 feet apart whenever possible, which means smaller class sizes spread out in the room. Public health experts have also made it exceedingly clear that the best weapon we have to slow the spread is wearing a mask, but I think many parents know all too well how difficult this will be for young children.

Starting this new school year, how do we transport kids to school in buses that are typically packed shoulder to shoulder? School districts will have to get creative in spreading kids out in buses and covering the additional costs, or leave it to the parents to drive their kids to school themselves.

There’s no doubt in my mind that our teachers love what they do and love their students. They always put their best foot forward and place the students’ interests above their own. But, this decision whether to open schools has caused quite a dilemma for teachers who will soon be in classrooms with multiple children who may very well bring the virus without realizing it. What happens if a teacher becomes sick? What does that mean for their family?

jeff-smithDo we test each child and teacher every day? What happens when (not if) the first case of COVID-19 shows up in the school? Will everyone be placed in quarantine? Does this mean the end of in-person learning? What does this mean for parents who are trying to go to work with a COVID-19 positive child? Who would be held responsible for spreading the virus at the school?

There are so many questions to consider when thinking of children returning to school.

More than 100 days have passed since we passed the COVID-19 relief bill. Unfortunately, the Majority Party has been silent on meeting again to take up legislation to fix the unemployment crisis and any bills aimed at helping our public schools educate our children during this difficult time.

Our public schools have always been the center of our communities, something our communities take a lot of pride in. If we as a community want our schools open again, then we all need to step up. We must take responsibility and take care of each other through this. That means caring enough to wear a mask, social distance and look out for our neighbors and our children.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Wis Democracy Campaign - Trump’s March to Martial Law

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 25 July 2020
in Wisconsin

portland-fed-force-2020With Trump's placement of federal forces in Portland and his vow to send them to other cities, Matt Rothschild fears democracy may be lost.


MADISON - For many years, first while I was at The Progressive magazine and for the last five and a half years at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, I’ve been worried about our little experiment in democracy in this country ending at the hands of an authoritarian.

Well, now we have an authoritarian as President, and with his placement of federal forces in Portland – and his vow to send them to other cities, including Milwaukee! – my fears are growing stronger by the day. I write about how Trump might overturn our cherished system here:

Trump’s Troops in Portland and the March to Martial Law

Focusing back on Wisconsin, we looked at the recent campaign finance filings and noticed that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is way ahead in the money chase. If you’re a Democrat, you may be cheering this news. But I’m not because I think it’s obscene that anyone can give unlimited amounts of money to the political parties now. Until 2015, when the Republicans disastrously rewrote our campaign finance law, the ceiling on gifts to political parties was $10,000. Now there is no ceiling. The sky is the limit. And so out-of-state billionaires are throwing their money into Wisconsin to influence the outcome of political races here. Find out who they are by clicking here:

State Dems Raised 10X More Than Republicans in Recent Months

Ok, let’s end with some good news! The Public Service Commission, under pressure from the Sierra Club, Citizen Action, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and other public interest advocates and activists like you, reversed course this week and decided not to let the utilities start cutting people off, which they were going to do as of tomorrow. Instead, the PSC extended the moratorium on shut-offs until at least Sept. 1.

Activism pays off!

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

The People’s Maps Commission: By the People and 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, 22 July 2020
in Wisconsin

voting-2020-538The People’s Maps Commission has an important role in re-drawing Wisconsin’s electoral maps and fixing our broken partisan gerrymandering system. State residents have until July 31st to apply to be a member.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - When representatives of the original colonies gathered to determine the formation of the United States they took the bold step of putting the trust in the hands of its citizens, establishing the United States as a Democratic Republic.

From an early age, we learn the importance of the right to vote and our responsibility to participate in democracy as American citizens. After all, democracy can only happen when people choose their elected officials at every governing level, from the town hall to the U.S. Capitol.

Yet, as with all nations throughout history, the thirst for power overcomes the core belief behind the original intent. Once elected into office to serve the people, many politicians want all the power they can grab and do all they can to protect their power. This is why we must have the People’s Maps Commission to uphold the principles of a Democratic Republic, in which our country was founded on.

scott-walker-signs-voteridThroughout our country’s history, people in power have politically disenfranchised marginalized communities in obvious ways, such as misleading voters on issues or passing laws that make it difficult or impossible for some citizens to vote.  People who have historically been deprived this right have the greatest understanding how valuable the vote is.

Partisan gerrymandering is one of the greatest detriments to truly having a democracy that works. States are obligated to redraw electoral districts after every census. Population shifts over a decade make it logical to adjust lines so districts are evenly represented. In the past, self-serving politicians learned, through trial and error, how to manipulate the district maps in such ways that people of color would be disenfranchised. Eventually, the courts ruled, that drawing district lines to disenfranchise people of color was unconstitutional. This ruling didn’t completely stop partisan gerrymandering, though; it’s just become much more sophisticated and diabolical.

Partisan gerrymandering has become easier for politicians and data experts to determine how people lean politically and draw district lines in such a way that makes the incumbent unbeatable.  This practice diminishes your voice in government and completely defeats the purpose of a representative democracy if politicians can count on winning no matter how poorly they represent us.

In 2009, I co-authored legislation and held a public hearing as Chair of the Assembly Elections and Campaign Reform Committee to fix this manipulative practice, but unfortunately it didn’t pass. In this legislative session, I supported legislation to create a non-partisan redistricting process, and also introduced legislation to establish a constitutional amendment for non-partisan redistricting reform.

Most recently, during the State of the State address, Governor Evers announced the creation of the People’s Maps Commission, which will consist of 9 people in Wisconsin, excluding politicians or lobbyists, to draw the next legislative maps in 2021. Just last week, the Governor released the official details for the People’s Map Commission application and the selection process. The members of the Commission will be chosen by the Selection Panel, which includes 3 retired judges.

jeff-smithThe Commission will hold 8 hearings, one in each congressional district, to hear directly from experts, stakeholders, elected officials and the general public. Following the hearings, the Commission will apply the U.S. Census data to draw the maps. Once these maps are created, the Legislature will then decide to accept the non-partisan Commission’s maps or draw their own. The People’s Maps Commission will help fix our broken partisan gerrymandering system and put an end to politicians picking their voters.

The Majority Party, blinded by the power they hold, hired a bunch of slick lawyers to draw electoral maps for them instead of using a nonpartisan commission. They even signed secrecy pledges to prevent the public from seeing the maps! We need an open process to create fair maps and end map manipulation for good.

Non-partisan redistricting reform is not a partisan issue – it’s a people issue. We all deserve a government that works for us and represents the values of its citizens.

The deadline to apply for the People’s Maps Commission is July 31st. If you’re interested in applying, you can do so by visiting govstatus.egov.com/peoplesmaps.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

New Legislation Would Fix Unemployment Benefits Problems

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
User is currently offline
on Friday, 17 July 2020
in Wisconsin

unemployment-wi-wkowBills would roll back barriers to Unemployment Insurance (UI) imposed during decade of misguided anti-worker legislation.


WEST POINT – Republicans spent years putting in place hurdles that hardworking Wisconsinites have to navigate in order to receive Unemployment Benefits that they have earned. What is worse, during a global pandemic, Republicans have spent more time on political name-calling than acting to address the challenges that the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is facing today, too many of which stem from the obstacles that the GOP have created. Wisconsinites deserve more than empty promises and political games.

With the unprecedented circumstances that our state is facing, the legislature should be working to alleviate some of the pressures on DWD and help them process claims faster. DWD has already increased staffing, added call centers, and streamlined systems, but there is more that we can do. That is why Wisconsin Legislative Democrats announced a package of legislation to remove Republican-implemented restrictions and barriers that will allow DWD to ensure Wisconsinites can access their earned benefits faster.

jon-erpenbachI am happy to be the lead on two bills in the package:

LRB 6254 - The current definition of “suitable work” creates challenges for claimants. This bill reinstates DWD’s authority to determine by administrative rule what constitutes suitable work a claimant must accept if offered, and what labor market conditions to review based on the number of weeks that the claimant has received benefits.

LRB 6256 - Several laws enacted over the last decade have restricted DWD’s ability to increase access to unemployment insurance when appropriate. This bill expands DWD’s authority to promulgate rules that provide waivers for work search and job registration requirements.

I will also be a sponsor of legislation to remove the punitive ban on Unemployment benefits for Wisconsin workers who receive social security disability (SSDI).

These bills are a part of a package that will help Wisconsinites access the resources they need. In the 100+ days since the declared public health emergency started, GOP legislators have only met one time to pass a band aid fix to the problems that our state is facing, while making statements acknowledging that more needs to be done. Now is the time for Republicans to live up to that promise and pass meaningful reform to our unemployment system. I also hope that the Governor will call us into a special session to pass these bills as soon as possible.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

A Trip Worth Taking Right Here

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 15 July 2020
in Wisconsin

trempealeau-co-bikesWe can enjoy all of the great things Wisconsin has to offer, opportunities to go outdoors and explore in these summer months, while staying safe and social distancing.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Sometimes it seems like we forget what a beautiful state we live in. It’s easy to do when we’re so accustomed to the beautiful, great outdoors surrounding us. Thousands of years ago glaciers carved our northern region and left behind rich soils and minerals and an iconic landscape.

While we may sometimes forget what we have right down the road from our front door, out-of-state visitors have flocked here for decades to escape their own flat or treeless landscape. Over the years, thousands have built their summer homes in northern Wisconsin because of the breathtaking natural beauty and recreational opportunities. But we tend to just drive by the natural landscape and forget how lucky we are. Many of us plan our vacations traveling to other states because it’s a chance to get away from work and explore someplace new.

This year is different, though. COVID-19 has changed how we plan our vacations and interact with others, where we go and how often we go anywhere. Fortunately, we have all we need right here in Wisconsin.

If some Wisconsinites flew to distant places in the past, they’re staying closer to home this summer. If they booked a hotel, they’re now looking at other options like camping in a tent or renting an RV. If they went to a waterpark before, they now feel safer social distancing on a river or lake in their own kayak or boat.

COVID-19 has forced many to look at vacation through a different lens. I’ve heard RV sales are through the roof, and kayaks and boats are hard to find because they just can’t build them fast enough for the demand this year.

There are plenty of ways to enjoy the summer while being responsible and practicing social distancing during the pandemic. And what better place is there to live than in the state where the rest of the nation would come to unwind if they could?

great-river-road-wiWisconsin has over 2,500 miles of hiking trails and 66 state parks. Here in Wisconsin, we’re framed by two great lakes and the Mississippi River. We have over 15,000 lakes and countless streams and rivers meandering through Wisconsin making it a great place to fish, kayak and canoe.

We have Door County, which is nationally renowned for its beauty surrounded by Lake Michigan. If you drive north to the south shore of Lake Superior, you’ll be amazed by the immensity of the largest freshwater lake in the world. And, while you’re there, enjoy some fresh fish from any of the many fisheries around the lake. And don’t forget the wild rice!

There are still ways we can support local Wisconsin businesses while staying safe. If you’re up in Hayward, check out the giant musky, then pick up and enjoy some of that tasty, fresh toffee in the area. Check in with a nearby supper club to enjoy Wisconsin’s infamous Friday fish fry or a local brewery to try creative, new beer.

jeff-smithAnd, of course, there’s also a lot to enjoy right here in western Wisconsin, including the most beautiful drive on Highway 35, which runs through the 31st Senate District, stretching from Prescott all the way south through Platteville, known as the Great River Road. The Great River Road has been rated in national reports to be the most scenic drive in America, which you may not have known because we live it every day. You’ll know it when you take the time and plan your trip on the Great River Road along the Mississippi River. Stop at all the markers and read the historical significance of the river to our predecessors.

So, while some may feel bummed that they couldn’t go to that faraway city or destination, this may be the time to rediscover Wisconsin. We can remind ourselves what we have right here all around us. Take a slow trip and stop at all the unique and interesting places along the way; you might be surprised at what we have missed by leaving. Wisconsin is worth the time. Wisconsin has it all.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Student Debt and our Future

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 08 July 2020
in Wisconsin

uwgb-studentsOur kids need an education to get ahead, but the resulting debt can tarnish the degree's value, grow bigger than you thought due to overly burdensome interest payments, and stunt the growth of the economy for all of us. Find out more.


MADISON - Most of us have to take on some debt at some point in our lives, whether we take out loans to purchase a car or to help us become homeowners. Oftentimes, people borrow with clear expectations, understanding the whole process. Student loans are different and for many reasons.

Student loan debt has become a national crisis amounting to $1.6 trillion in total student loan debt in the United States and $22 billion right here in Wisconsin, according to the Department of Education.

Earlier this year, Governor Tony Evers signed Executive Order #67, which established the Task Force on Student Debt. The Task Force was formed to better understand the student loan crisis and find solutions to provide relief to Wisconsin borrowers. In May, I was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force, fortunate for the opportunity to bring along my personal experience helping my daughters navigate the student loan system and my professional experience as the former Vice-chair of the Financial Institutions Committee and Vice-chair of the Higher Education Committee.

Chaired by the Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld, the Task Force includes a group of experts from financial institutions and members of state government. The Task Force also includes diverse representation from the UW System, the Wisconsin Technical College System, Tribal colleges and universities, and for-profit educational institutions.

seniorsBefore the Task Force on Student Debt officially met, Secretary Blumenfeld, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB) Secretary Connie Hutchison held listening sessions throughout Wisconsin to hear directly from student loan borrowers about their experiences. Common themes surfaced at these listening sessions: the need for borrower education and consumer protections; the realization that student debt is a multi-generational issue, impacting students’ parents or relatives; an understanding that student debt affects other finances; and acknowledging the confusion and frustration of the borrowing system.

These themes became wholly apparent in the four Student Debt Task Force meetings we’ve had since May. Our meetings consist of eye-opening testimonials from student loan borrowers along with presentations from leading researchers in the field of student debt and experts who’ve implemented various policy initiatives in other states to help borrowers.

In only the first four meetings, I’ve learned that student loans are unlike any other loan and they are incredibly complicated. The confusion can begin even before a student enters college when they fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which helps students understand their federal student aid eligibility. More often than not, students and parents fill out the FAFSA or other financial aid applications trusting the system will favor the student because, after all, college is about setting up the student for a successful future. Right?

Unfortunately, in many cases, there isn’t anyone advising or answering questions for the person filling out financial aid applications. Many factors contribute to borrowers feeling overwhelmed by the amount of debt they’ve taken on. Student debt can tarnish the degree if the borrower earns less than expected, the debt can grow bigger than expected or the payment plan doesn’t relieve the debt with over burdensome interest payments.

jeff-smithAlso, for those who think the student debt crisis only impacts folks in metropolitan areas, they’d be wrong. In a presentation from the Student Borrower Protection Center, we learned that nearly 20% of Wisconsin’s rural population holds student debt with a 12% delinquency rate, meaning they’ve missed one or more loan payments.

From what I’ve learned in the first several meetings, it’s obvious Wisconsin has a student debt problem that needs fixing. The task force has four remaining meetings where we’ll continue learning about student debt and break down potential solutions to support Wisconsinites. Our discussions will result in a report which will include policy recommendations to be passed along to Governor Evers for consideration.

As a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Student Debt, it’s clear that much depends on how we, as policymakers, come together with solutions that affect America’s future potential.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Governor’s Task Force on Student Debt, please visit LookForwardWI.gov.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Patriotism: Protecting the Health of Americans

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 01 July 2020
in Wisconsin

coronavirus-mask3-jennifer-anistonAmericans can express their patriotism and respect for their fellow citizens during this public health crisis by wearing a face mask.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - As we move through a year that has already been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we think ahead to when we can resume normal activities, be part of community gatherings and celebrate holidays, like Independence Day.

Independence Day invokes strong feelings about patriotism and freedom. Many Americans use this time of year to celebrate the holiday and express these feelings, whether it’s in the form of yard displays, fireworks or even red, white and blue clothing.

Patriotism is celebrated during this holiday, but what does it mean and what makes someone patriotic? Is it wearing red, white and blue, flying the American flag or watching the fireworks during this time of year? These traditions can help any American feel patriotic for a day, but how can we continue to show our pride for our country and respect for our fellow Americans?

One way to show our admiration for our country is by simply wearing a face covering to protect the health of those around us. This is one of the easiest and greatest opportunities we all have to support our state and country in a unified manner. Wearing a mask is one simple step we can take to protect our fellow citizens and avoid the spread of a disease that impacts our health, economy and every other aspect of life.

covid19-masks-hiltonheadIn the past few months, we’ve become accustomed to social distancing and other public health practices to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Although some restrictions have been eased, it’s important to remember we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic and we need to take certain precautions.

Public health experts have emphasized one of the best ways for us to limit the spread is to wear a mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges individuals to wear cloth face coverings when in public to prevent community spread of the contagious virus. In fact, the CDC website offers valuable information on how to properly wear and wash a face mask and even provides directions on how to make a cloth face mask.

jeff-smithI wear a mask when I venture out in public. If I happen to be carrying the virus even without showing symptoms, I could pass it onto someone else just by speaking to them or even breathing near them. It’s not worth the risk to be in public without a mask and potentially infect others.

Unfortunately, the public health recommendation that masks be worn in public has strangely become a partisan issue. It appears that many would rather excuse themselves from wearing a mask because our president refuses to wear a mask, political allegiance and the appearance that it’s unpatriotic.

Similar to the small safety measure of a face mask, many things have become twisted to be viewed as a partisan issue. When the pandemic first started impacting Wisconsin and we had the “Safer at Home” plan in place, we heard some residents proclaim their freedom was taken from them.

However, I understood, as did the majority of Wisconsinites, some sacrifices would have to be made to get through this crisis and grow stronger from it. Similar to breathing in dangerous carcinogens, which we do all we can to avoid, our health is at risk due to COVID-19, even though it could have been easily prevented. We can be good citizens of our state and country by simply wearing a mask to lower the chance of passing on an infectious disease.

As we head into Independence Day weekend, I ask that you consider what you can do to be a good citizen. If you haven’t done so already, start wearing a mask to protect members of your community. Pay attention to where your red, white and blue clothing or the fireworks you just bought are made. Buy local and American-made products.

Patriotism isn’t just the annual display of colors and fireworks. We can celebrate our patriotism every single day by being thoughtful citizens and respecting the people all around us.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Senator Hansen In Response To Violence In Madison

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30 has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 24 June 2020
in Wisconsin

madison-violence-102320-gmtodayViolence needs to stop, but inaction by State Legislature on Police reform only fueling the fire says Green Bay Senator.


GREEN BAY, WI - For the past few weeks we have seen peaceful protests in our state in response to the killing of George Floyd and other black lives that have been taken before and since his death.

tim-carpenterThe violence we saw last night in which a state senator and others were assaulted and state property damaged cannot be tolerated. Senator Carpenter is not only a good legislator but a decent man who has supported efforts to end racism, police brutality and reform the way in which we provide public safety. No person should feel unsafe in their community.

dave-hansen-gbThe violence needs to stop so we can return the focus to the original intent of the protest: to provide systemic reform to our police departments so the rights of every person, regardless of their race, are protected.

In Colorado they passed significant police reforms in 16 days. As we sit here today nothing is being done thanks to Republicans like Robin Vos, Scott Fitzgerald and John Nygren.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Aging in Rural Wisconsin

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 24 June 2020
in Wisconsin

door-county-peopleSen. Jeff Smith writes about the existing challenges farmers face when aging in rural Wisconsin.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Growing old is an inevitable part of life. When it comes to aging, we can’t help but wonder where we’ll live when we retire, the quality of life we’ll have and how we’ll stay healthy. While most of us want to remain in our homes for as long as possible, aging in place is almost a must for farmers in rural Wisconsin.

Last week, I participated in a webinar about aging on the farm in rural Wisconsin. We learned about the unique challenges farmers face when it comes to aging, compared to older adults in other areas of the state.

Farmers have to be more than just an agricultural expert. They must be efficient in welding, woodworking, plumbing, machine repair and more. Farming is so multi-faceted that it’s hard for a farmer to imagine why they need a hobby. Even between planting and harvesting, there’s always plenty of repair work, while advising and supervising the next generation of farmers. This explains why farmers never really retire.

wisc-dairy-farmFarming families take pride in how many generations have grown up and continued the legacy of farming. I recently saw a report on television about a dairy farmer named Mr. Anderson who was ending his business after five generations. When asked what he’d do next, Mr. Anderson said he’d have to figure it out.

Like Mr. Anderson, when there isn’t that next generation ready to take over, there comes a time when a farmer is forced to make the tough choice and sell their equipment, land and other assets.

Often, even after selling assets, a farm couple will stay in their home and lease out the land. That way, they can age in place on their own terms. But, even under those circumstances, challenges exist.

In urban areas, medical care is within reach and grocery stores are usually nearby. However, aging in place in rural Wisconsin is more difficult. A hospital might be an hour or more away and groceries may be just as far. Neighbors, of course, don’t just happen to walk by and check on you when you are living on the farm.

When the time comes and it’s clear that more support is needed, they may search out long term care. It was common for small cities and villages to have assisted living facilities. I recall when my wife’s grandfather, who farmed in the Town of Chimney Rock, moved into the facility in Strum. Gramps knew many of the staff and appreciated that his own sister worked there and could look after him.

That isn’t the case anymore. It’s hard to find any village with a facility because they’ve mostly closed. Now, it’s not only more difficult to age in place, it’s difficult to even make the move into a facility nearby. Since many aging adults don’t have the option to choose their own facility, many find themselves far away from their loved ones, taking a toll on their physical and mental health.

While a semi-retired, seasoned farmer faces many challenges while on the farm, we must find ways to support those who choose to age in place in rural Wisconsin.

jeff-smithWisconsin must expand Medicaid to ensure residents have accessible and affordable healthcare. These federal funds would allow us to pay home healthcare workers a livable wage, empowering more of us to stay in our homes and communities as we age.

It’s equally important that Wisconsin expands its broadband infrastructure to ensure residents in rural Wisconsin have access to telehealth services, social media to stay in touch with loved ones and the opportunity to order groceries and medicine.

Even the professor leading the discussion on our call listed broadband expansion as a top solution. I didn’t expect this forum to become another opportunity for broadband expansion, but I shouldn’t be surprised it’s part of every conversation these days and the solution to so many issues we face.

Generations of farmers have supported our communities and the state as a whole; their contributions are what makes rural Wisconsin such a great place to live. We owe a lot of gratitude to our farmers – we must continue finding ways to support Wisconsin farmers in all stages of life.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

The Movement America Has Been Waiting For

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 June 2020
in Wisconsin

george-floyd-protest-eau-claireWe still have a lot of work ahead of us to address systemic racism and injustice, and it will take a collective effort to achieve equality.


MADISON - This Friday, on June 19th, our country celebrates Juneteenth, an important holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves dating back to 1865. In the 155 years since the Emancipation Proclamation was read to freed slaves, many Americans have believed our country simply fixed its biased attitudes and racist behavior.

However, this assumption is far from the truth. The legacy of racism within our country wasn’t resolved because of the Emancipation Proclamation or the civil rights demonstrations in the mid-20th century. The fight for racial and social equity is nowhere near close to being finished.

Today, because we’ve never actually addressed racism and injustice through systemic societal change, we are experiencing a reaction that should not surprise anyone. Like a volcano that erupts after we’ve ignored it when it’s only boiling within its boundaries, racism hasn’t gone away because we chose to look away.

Racism is weaved into the social fabric blanketing our country. The everyday reality of racism may not be visible to many Americans, but it is very much there and will continue to exist unless we do more to reveal racial prejudice and expose institutional racism within our society.

The terrible murders of unarmed Black persons have continued to expose racial discrimination within America and have set off a powerful reaction across this country. Ahmaud Arbery was a young man out jogging when he was chased down by white supremacist vigilantes and killed. Breonna Taylor, an EMT in Louisville, was murdered in her own home by police. George Floyd was killed after an officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

juneteenth-1900These recent deaths have shed light on the horrific violence invoked by racial prejudice, but appallingly there’s a much longer history of suffering and brutality, at the hands of white vigilantes and police, against the Black community.

Activists throughout the country are raising awareness of racial injustice, while challenging all Americans to not only condemn racism, but actively work to be anti-racist. This movement and the call to action from young people, especially, allow me to feel optimistic. This eruption of social activism may be the push our country needs to think critically about changing the landscape and creating a more equitable society.

Last week, members of the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus sent a letter to Governor Tony Evers requesting a special session to take up legislation to reform the justice system at the state level. Their letter cites the emergent need for a special session while laying out the existing support from civilians and law enforcement alike. I’m proud to stand behind my colleagues within the Legislative Black Caucus in supporting a call to reform the justice system.

Achieving equality will take hard work and persistence. It isn’t enough for people to want justice and peace – we have to make it happen. Don’t walk away when the going gets tough. Be sure to hold your elected officials accountable. Don’t let your elected officials ignore this movement and move on, like so many already do.

jeff-smithToo many legislators know that if they just hide from the issue it’ll be forgotten and they’ll never have to answer the tough questions or take the tough vote. This movement will take endurance from all citizens who are demanding justice right now.

The change we need won’t happen tomorrow or next fall just because there are elections. It won’t even happen next year until laws are debated and votes are taken.

Just like any lesson we learn from history, we cannot ignore the work that must be done to truly achieve the promise of the Declaration of Independence for all Americans to obtain, “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A more just, equitable society will take more than changes in the law; it will take a change in attitude and willingness to learn and grow. I’m optimistic that our collective efforts will make a difference.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

What We Can Learn From Dairy 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 June 2020
in Wisconsin

farm-familyThe Senator writes about ways we can support our dairy farmers and celebrate June Dairy Month in Wisconsin. He reflects on conversations with friends from the farming community and their ability to be resilient during tough times.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Last Friday, I had the chance to connect virtually with some good friends in western Wisconsin to celebrate June Dairy Month. We had a conversation about the ways dairy has made an impression on our own lives and the impact the dairy industry has on the State of Wisconsin. And of course, after sharing stories, we started a milk chug challenge, throwing back glasses of fresh, cold milk.

My friends on the call are farmers or have close ties to Wisconsin’s dairy industry going back generations within their family. They talked about their interest and lifelong dedication to the dairy industry while sharing their optimism of better days ahead for dairy farmers.

Time and again, Wisconsin’s dairy farmers have exemplified their resilience in times of uncertainty. This time isn’t any different. During June Dairy Month, let’s remember all of the contributions our dairy farmers have made to make Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland. Although we’ll be celebrating Dairy Month differently this year, we can still find ways to support our state’s farmers and the dairy industry.

During the beginning of the 20th century, farmers experienced an agricultural crisis like they’d never seen before. The rising cost of agricultural products after World War I, in addition to extreme drought conditions, created significant problems for farmers trying to make ends meet.

Even at the end of the 20th century, farmers still faced significant market challenges. Many of us can still remember the heart-wrenching bankruptcies and farm auctions that destroyed the dreams of many farming families. But, once again, the grit of our farmers showed through as they stuck with their love for the land and their lifestyle.

Today, our farmers are still facing serious challenges, many of which are man-made. While farmers experience the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic head-on, they’re still under escalating pressure due to over-production, high land prices, and low milk prices. But farmers push ahead and show us, how resilient they can be in stressful situations.

During last Friday’s call, Shane Goplin, a member of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, proudly said, “Dairy is the glue that keeps rural America together.” I couldn’t agree more and that’s why I’m so committed to making sure we do everything we can to support our hardworking dairy farmers.

We all have a role to play to support our farmers moving forward and to keep our close-knit rural communities growing stronger. The Legislature must get to work, set aside ideological politics, and pass policies that give farmers the resources and tools they need to survive. I know that laying out the tools in front of clever and resilient people leads to amazing growth both intellectually and economically, just like farmers have demonstrated throughout the last century.

In May, Governor Tony Evers announced the distribution of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for Wisconsin. As part of this relief package, $50 million will be directed toward the Wisconsin Farm Support Program, which will provide payments between $1,000 and $3,500 for eligible farmers. The goal of the program is to provide immediate assistance to farmers struggling amid this global pandemic. This is a solid first step, but it’s only a down payment for what else the state must do to offer support to help our farmers.

jeff-smithWhile there are state-level solutions that must be considered and passed, there are simple ways you can support Wisconsin’s dairy farmers during June Dairy Month. Start by buying dairy products from local family farmers and producers. Find out if your county is celebrating June Dairy Month through a virtual or drive-thru dairy breakfast. Also, take part in a milk chug challenge with your friends on social media to share why you’re thankful for our farmers and what Wisconsin’s dairy industry means to you.

Like always, we should acknowledge our farmers’ resiliency to get us through these tough times. During this month, as we celebrate Wisconsin’s dairy industry, let’s remember how our farmers’ determination has pulled us through crises before. Let’s learn from them and return the favor, honoring them in the month of June and supporting them for years to come.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Erpenbach on Nationwide Protests: Black Lives Matter

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
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 03 June 2020
in Wisconsin

george-floyd-protest-milwWe must listen to Black Americans, their experiences, acknowledge the hurdles they face, and make bold changes to address these systematic inequities and injustices, says State Senator.


West Point, WI - While many are feeling the pressure of a global pandemic, for many Americans there is another virus that has been running through the veins of our society for centuries - racism. The protests that are taking place throughout our country, and all over the world, reinforce that our society and our leaders need to do much, much better at delivering justice and equity in our communities. No more Black lives should be lost due to hatred and bigotry.

As many of you were, I was sad to witness a woman overtly use her whiteness as a weapon against a Black man, and then I was devastated to learn about the murder of George Floyd. Unfortunately, these were only the most recent tragedies – the lives of Tony Robinson, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, and many more have also been senselessly taken.  Black people are dying in Wisconsin, and all over our country while doing the most mundane things that as white people we often take for granted.

jon-erpenbachI will not pretend that I do or will be able to understand the experiences of Black Americans. However, as an elected official, I hope to be a part of the solution to put in place structural changes that will prevent injustices from happening again and again. We cannot stand for leaders in Wisconsin or on the federal level calling for violence against those who are asking to be heard.

These individuals are our friends and neighbors, and we must listen to their experiences, acknowledge the hurdles they face and make bold changes to address these systematic inequities and injustices.

It is not our jobs as white people to tell those who are continuously and systematically oppressed how they can or cannot protest. I know the damage and looting that’s been done has not been from those seeking to put a face on the injustices and giving voice to those who are no longer with us.  Don’t lose sight of the issues at hand. Don’t lose sight of the changes that need to be made.

Change starts with us. It is time to do the work.

Black Lives Matter.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Be the Change We Need

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 June 2020
in Wisconsin

george-floyd-protest-mdsn-wprCommunities across the country are coming together to raise awareness of the racial inequities that exist in America. We all have a responsibility to make a difference moving forward.


MADISON, WI - In the months since Wisconsin has been impacted by COVID-19, we’ve all thought about the day that our lives will begin to return to normal. It’s an understandable thought to have. After all, the pandemic has forced us to make changes in nearly every aspect of our lives.

But this calls into question, what does “normal” really mean?

Our country is reeling in the tragic death of George Floyd, another Black man whose life was taken too soon. Communities across the country have come together to mourn, listen, and raise awareness of the systemic inequities causing traumatic suffering for people of color in our country.

This is a wake-up call for all of us. Even after we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not be comfortable with a society that normalizes racial prejudice and injustice. We must find the resolve to do what is needed in pursuit of a more equitable environment. Together, we must challenge the normalcy of racism in our country.

george-floyd-protest-eau-claireThere are many Americans who have a difficult time believing racism still exists in our country. From stereotypes broadcast in the media, horrific acts of violence or the disparities impacting communities of color, it’s clear our country still has a racial divide.

In fact, the ongoing public health crisis provides a striking example of the ways racism still impacts communities of color. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, as of May 31st, 25% of Wisconsin residents who died due to COVID-19 were Black, even though this group makes up less than 7% of the state’s population. Public health experts have attributed the disproportionate number of deaths in the Black community to health and economic disparities.

We need to ask ourselves how many more times must we talk about this with little or no action to show?

For decades, politicians have been aware of racial disparities in America; yet, it seems our country’s leaders either deny it completely or only talk about how terrible it is without taking meaningful action. After seeing the upsetting video of the murder of George Floyd, I knew that my words would be inadequate. Once again, politicians’ thoughts, prayers and empty promises aren’t enough. This time, we must make our words matter. We need systemic change now.

Like so many other deaths of Black men and women that should have never happened, words didn’t save George Floyd. For as long as our country has existed, we’ve ignored brutal injustices that occurred in America. Possibly because it’s often easier for those of us with white privilege to look away. This time we can’t look away. We can only move on with heavy hearts and determination to make change.

We all have a responsibility to make a difference. On Sunday, I participated in a moving vigil held for Mr. Floyd with more than 300 other concerned citizens from the Eau Claire area. We heard from a woman who used to live in Minneapolis who remembered George Floyd as someone who looked out for her and others. Eau Claire Police Chief Matt Rokus answered questions people had regarding police training and equipment. Local officials spoke of how horrified they were when they saw the video. Together, we talked about what we can do as a community to change the status quo.

jeff-smithI can assure you, as a leader and as an ally, I am committed to working toward an equitable future. As an ally, I will listen, take a step back and let others speak and always make myself available to learn. I will allow myself to feel uncomfortable while confronting racism engrained in our country.

In my role as a state senator, I’ll continue this mission, working with my legislative colleagues to advance policies to prioritize equity and ensure there are not unintended consequences that would negatively affect communities of color.

It’s time we speak up and act. Returning to normal leaves people, and entire communities, behind. Remember, all lives don’t matter until black lives matter. It’s our responsibility to make the world a better place and it starts with each and every one of us. Do your part to move Wisconsin forward.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Erpenbach Calls for Senate to Remove Unemployment Insurance Barriers

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
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 28 May 2020
in Wisconsin

unemploymentRepublicans put into place more than a dozen new hurdles in just eight years that Wisconsinites have to jump over in order to receive the benefits they have earned. Time for political games with people's lives is over.


West Point – In December 2014 an audit was performed on the Wisconsin Unemployment System. The audit found that in FY 2013-2014, 1.7 million calls to the call centers, which was 60.2% of the total calls, were blocked because the queue was full. The audit showed significant issues and vulnerabilities in the process, which should have sounded the alarm for Republican leadership, but they took no action to modernize the system.

Fast forward to 2020, during a global pandemic that has resulted in historic unemployment levels, and Wisconsinites are now forced to pay the price for Republican inaction. Unfortunately, instead of taking steps to modernize the system – that was not built to handle the challenges we are facing today - Republicans have spent the last decade doing everything possible to make it harder to get unemployment benefits. The non-partisan Legislative Council compiled a list of changes to Unemployment under Republican control. It shows that instead of working to improve access to benefits that Wisconsinites have earned, Republicans would rather assume fraud and create tripwires for Wisconsinites who work for a living.

scott-fitzgeraldl-stands-behind-walkerRepublicans put into place more than a dozen new hurdles in just eight years that Wisconsinites have to jump over in order to receive the benefits they have earned. One wrong step, and the claimant has to go down a long road of investigations, eligibility questions and fact finding, which only prolongs the process. These excessive policies have resulted in frustration and delays for too many Wisconsin workers.

The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is facing enormous challenges and have done everything in their power to navigate these unprecedented times. They have been fielding millions of calls a week, are continuing to increase their capacity and hours to keep up with demand, have blocked attempted identity-fraud, and are doing everything within their power to provide service to Wisconsinites during this public health emergency. The Department has proactively worked to improve the system while navigating patchwork laws and are working around the clock to get Wisconsinites the benefits they deserve.

Meanwhile, my colleagues across the aisle have resorted to finger pointing and blaming a Department that informed them of the challenges they were facing years ago. Today at 11:00am the Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform will hold an informational hearing on the unemployment system to discuss the challenges of the program, difficulties people are experiencing, how DWD has responded and how to move forward. I ask my Republican colleagues to take this time to turn the mirror on themselves and to work to remove legislative barriers that are hindering DWD from more effectively doing their job.

jon-erpenbach-radioWe have work to do — it’s time both sides of the aisle to come together and pass meaningful legislation that will provide long-term relief to workers, students, families, and seniors. It’s likely that today’s hearing will go longer than Republican leaders have allowed the Senate to work since this pandemic started. Their delay has already cost Wisconsin $25 million of our federal dollars, and their legislation did far too little to remove the legislative tripwires that are preventing Wisconsinites from receiving the benefits they have earned.

I have been listening to my constituents who are looking for help with their unemployment and I believe our jobs as legislators should go beyond giving input from afar. Getting these benefits can be the difference between being able to afford groceries, pay rent, and survive during this pandemic. Now is the time to come together and get work done.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Restoring Trust in Trying Times

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 May 2020
in Wisconsin

covid-19-protest-madisonSen. Smith writes about the role and responsibility of government. While facing this current public health, we must remind ourselves of all the good our government can do serving its people.


MADISON, WI - At times, there is a real disconnect between science and politics in our country. But, in the case of how we handle a pandemic, it can be dangerous.

For decades, we’ve been fed the philosophy that government can’t be trusted. Don’t get me wrong, too many politicians throughout history have brought that on by corrupt and often selfish behavior. Problems within government can become sensationalized and people begin to think that is the standard rather than the exception. It begins to impair our judgement of government and the important role it has in our lives. For every problem reported on by the media there are scores of examples how innovative solutions are found.

wi-senate-swearing-inThe doubt we may have for irresponsible political leaders, initiates a pattern of distrust in government as a whole, causing skepticism of government officials who possess the expertise to make decisions in the public interest. Dangerously, the distrust of government can spill over into the world of science, influencing opinions of public health. It’s clear this is happening today with just how easily a deadly virus has been twisted into a political football.

This pandemic has affected our lives at every level. It forced us to take another look at the role of government. We have a chance to reevaluate how the economy is driven, how education is provided, where we get healthcare and even how we socialize. With all that to consider we may also reshape how we are governed or, at least, how we perceive government.

Wisconsin has a rich history of being an innovator for solving government’s biggest issues. In 1911, Wisconsin passed the first Worker’s Compensation Program. During the Great Depression, Wisconsin created the first Unemployment Insurance program in 1932 and our nation’s Social Security system in 1934.

When people lost their savings, their homes and their futures, Wisconsin stepped up as an innovator during our nation’s most difficult times. The federal government, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, started the New Deal to put people to work, resulting in an amazing network of roads, parks and connectivity for many who needed it. New agencies and programs were established out of necessity to support farmers, young workers and families.

This period saw the consolidation of one-room schoolhouses, which resulted in a revolution of educated and successful entrepreneurs and scientists elevating America to become the envy of all the world. The government supported these aspirations by returning the investment Americans contributed. School districts and elected school boards of our peers were formed to govern and make decisions that we trusted would be in the best interest of our children.

Our government also increased healthcare accessibility and affordability through the Affordable Care Act and BadgerCare Program. Veterans are covered through the Veterans Administration as a benefit for their service. Medicare was adopted for seniors, which we pay into throughout our lives so we can retire with less worry. Again, those programs are what we do for each other and for the benefit of society – it’s what we expect from government because we invest in it.

jeff-smithSome of us don’t think twice about these programs until we need them. This current crisis has forced many to file for unemployment insurance or apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for the first time in their lives. While we each strive to support ourselves and our families, we are grateful to have these government programs during emergencies.

That’s why, when so many have found they need assistance, government may be rediscovered as a partner to wade through this uneasy time.

Now is the time to rethink the role of government, not simply as an entity working against us, held in disdain by so many, but a representative body contributing to society. At times, I understand some of us haven’t felt the government and politicians lived up to their expectations. The responsibilities of our government must reflect the priorities of the people. To achieve this, we must restore trust and remind ourselves all the good our government can do serving its people.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes
Copyright © 2020. Green Bay Progressive. Designed by Shape5.com