Thursday October 1, 2020

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Every Day, Every Farmer Counts

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, 30 September 2020
in Wisconsin

farm-familyAlthough National Farm Safety and Health Week has already passed, it’s important that we continue thinking about what we must do to protect farmers.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in America. In 2018, the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety reported 23.4 accidental deaths per 100,000 farm-workers. National Farm Safety and Health Week takes place every year during the third week of September to acknowledge the dangers when farming, especially now, while farmers are harvesting. This year’s theme, “Every Farmer Counts,” compels us to recognize that behind these alarming statistics, there are lives lost and real families impacted by these tragedies.

As you’re reading this, National Farm Safety and Health Week has already passed. Ensuring the health and well-being of farmworkers is something we should take seriously every single day, not just one week out of the year. Our farmers have tremendous pride in what they do and what they produce. Their work in feeding America cannot be downplayed or taken for granted, because we know the health risks that are a part of the job are very real.

Harvest time is especially dangerous for farmers who become exposed to silo gas in their farm structure or become trapped in a silo while it’s being filled. Heavy machinery with all the working parts can also be dangerous. All it takes is a lapse of concentration for a moment and a person can get caught in a position they can’t get out of. Years ago, I got my pant leg caught in the power takeoff of my tractor and took quite a while to cut myself free. Fortunately, in my case, my tractor shut down before causing permanent damage. I was lucky.

Keeping hands and legs out of harm’s way is not the only approach to avoid injury. Tractor rollovers cause horrific accidents, which is why roll bars are recommended on tractors even when mowing.

This time of year, especially, we’re all responsible to look out for farm machinery on the road. Farmers are recommended to have emergency flashers on their machinery, but that doesn’t always happen. Farm machinery is generally wide and slow. Even when they’re off to the side, it can be difficult to see around them and passing can be treacherous.

Take care when coming across farm machinery on the road. Remember that machinery has the right of way and they won’t be on the road for a long distance. Be patient and only pass when the driver signals it’s safe or there’s a clear vision of the road ahead.

Obvious dangers may cause injury or even death on a farm, but some are more subtle. It’s just as important we emphasize the need for mental health support as much as identifying protections for farmers’ physical health. In the last couple of years, the loss of life through suicide has taken an especially tragic toll on farming families.

Farming is notorious for being a lifestyle passed on from generation to generation. When economic hardship occurs, like the current dairy crisis, farming families can face terrible stress. Through no fault of their own, a farming family may find themselves facing bankruptcy and the loss of a homestead that’s been in the family for decades.

Farmers should know the Wisconsin Farmer Wellness Program, overseen by The Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection, is available to provide critical support for those experiencing stress or a mental health crisis.

jeff-smithThe farming lifestyle is too often romanticized. We see the farming landscape when we drive through the countryside, without taking into account all of the hard, dangerous work actually happening on the farms. Farmers work tirelessly to be sure we have the food we need to keep us all healthy.

Every one of us, but especially lawmakers, need to offer more than rhetoric when expressing how we respect our farm families. We must show we mean it through our actions. Policies must be passed to preserve that way of life and protect our farmers from falling victim to corporate factory farms. We have to get serious and look out for those farmers who look out for us.

So, let’s consider every week to be Farm Safety and Health week for the health and prosperity of our nation.

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WI Democracy Campaign - Mourning RBG

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Saturday, 26 September 2020
in Wisconsin

ruth-bader-ginsbergCareer dedicated to equality and justice, two things right at the heart of our work here.

MADISON - Here at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, we remain in mourning at the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Among the many causes she championed in her career dedicated to equality and justice, two are right at the heart of our work here.

The first is reducing the influence of money in our politics. She told The New Republic back in 2014 that the worst decision of the Roberts Court was Citizens United. “The notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be," she said.

And the second cause is ending gerrymandering.

In 2015, Justice Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in a case called Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. The case revolved around the constitutionality of Proposition 106, the statewide binding referendum that passed in Arizona in 2000 and that took the redistricting authority away from the legislators and handed it over to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Committee.

Ginsburg ruled that the initiative process was totally in keeping with our founding principles. “The Framers may not have imagined the modern initiative process in which the people of a State exercise legislative power coextensive with the authority of an institutional legislature,” she wrote. “But the invention of the initiative was in full harmony with the Constitution’s conception of the people as the font of governmental power.” That conception is crucial in the context of gerrymandering, Ginsburg argued, stressing the importance of “lawmaking by the people, particularly where such lawmaking is intended to check legislators’ ability to choose the district lines they run in.”

In a sentence that rings so true for those of us in Wisconsin, she noted: “The legislature’s responsiveness to the people its members represent is hardly heightened when the representative body can be confident that what it does will not be overturned or modified by the voters themselves.”

matt-rothschildJustice Ginsburg knew well why our Legislature here in Madison is not responsive to the people. It’s because of gerrymandering.

May her memory be a blessing.


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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How “Doing Nothing” Works for Politicians

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, 23 September 2020
in Wisconsin

scott-fitzgeraldWe see politicians use a “Do Nothing” strategy to avoid responsibility or point fingers, says Sen. Smith in his weekly column.

MADISON - While scrolling through social media recently, I saw someone ask, “Why hasn’t Governor Evers distributed funds from the Heroes Act?” Others jumped all over this comment, claiming the Governor failed because the Heroes Act wasn’t being implemented when it could be.

The truth of the matter is the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act several months ago to provide more COVID-19 relief to states; but the U.S. Senate hasn’t taken any action on the bill. Governor Evers cannot take action on federal funding that hasn’t actually passed Congress and signed by the President.

This anecdote provides a good lesson for many of us who may be confused about how our government works. This story also represents the “Do Nothing” political strategy we’re seeing used these days. The theory seems to be if politicians do nothing, you’ll forget and they won’t have to justify their inaction or provide an answer on a politically-risky vote.

In this hyper-polarized political climate, especially in the weeks ahead before an historic election, it’s critical we understand how our government works to serve the People’s best interests.

You see, most people consider the Governor as the top political leader, responsible for making all of the difficult decisions that affect our day-to-day lives. In reality, the Governor oversees the executive branch and there is a Wisconsin Supreme Court and a Wisconsin State Legislature. These three branches of government place checks and balances on each other. This system effectively works to prevent abuse within every branch of government and saves us from falling into a totalitarian state.

robin-vos-is-safe-to-voteIt’s important to know the Governor can’t act without the Legislature first passing bills. Republicans have now used this process to their advantage, as a political tool. The Majority Party realizes if they do nothing, then Governor Evers can’t enact legislation to help Wisconsin families. Republicans also understand citizens will then place all the blame on the Governor while they hide and stay silent.

In Wisconsin, the Majority Party has taken the “Do Nothing” strategy to new heights (or lows depending on your view). Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, their plan was to stop working by early March and get paid for the last 9 months of the year. At the time the pandemic hit, the Senate didn’t even get through the final session calendar, so even less got done.

Amidst a global pandemic, an unemployment crisis and our country’s awakening to the realities of systemic racism, the Majority Party has sat idly by. Wisconsinites have called their leaders to act. The Legislature could act, but this would throw their “Do Nothing” political strategy off.

Disappointingly, the Majority Party developed another practice to carry out this strategy. They’ve learned they can delay and even avoid any action if they hide behind a task force. Task forces are designed to study new policy ideas and prepare legislation to be passed, but a task force only works if those involved are actually committed to seeing something get done.

jeff-smithThis session, Governor Evers declared 2019 as the Year of Clean Drinking Water and offered solutions in his budget, which were ultimately rejected by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee. Rather than acting on these policy proposals, the Assembly Speaker created a Water Quality Task Force, adding another hurdle to delay any progress from actually happening.

Most recently, Governor Evers declared a special session on police reform in response to the Jacob Blake shooting. Despite the fact that bills had been drafted and introduced from both parties, the Assembly Speaker established a Task Force on Racial Disparities, hoping it will delay action long enough for his members to get past the election and have you forget why it was necessary in the first place.

In the last session alone, there were thirty bills introduced from the various task forces established. Only three of these bills were actually passed and signed into law, exposing the “Do Nothing” strategy and the consequence it has on our state.

The “Do Nothing” strategy only works if voters let it work. Demand more from your elected officials and hold them accountable. Make us the Working Legislature we should be.

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Housing Crisis in a Pandemic

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 16 September 2020
in Wisconsin

eviction-noticeSen. Smith writes about the resources currently available to Wisconsinites to cover mortgage or rental costs, including those recommended by the Treasurers’ Homeowners Task Force, the CDC eviction moratorium and the Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - Six months into a global pandemic, we’ve become familiar with language we’ve never expected to use before COVID-19. “Quarantine” was a word most likely associated with popular sci-fi movies, and “safer at home” was a phrase we probably only heard when we were expecting a big snowstorm.

There were many aspects of our lives we may have previously taken for granted, even in the beginning of this year. But if there was any confusion before the pandemic about the necessity of safe housing, it’s abundantly clear now. Unfortunately, affordable, safe housing is still out of reach for so many Americans. Most of us believe adequate housing is essential to have a decent quality of life. When you find yourself without safe housing it’s important to know the support available for you.

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with members of the Treasurers’ Homeowners Task Force about their work. Last spring, Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski established the Task Force with the mission of helping more Wisconsin families reach the American dream of owning a home. To achieve this mission, the Task Force is prioritizing two strategies: preparing potential buyers and providing relief to owners, when needed.

In preparing potential homebuyers, the Task Force is working with stakeholders statewide to provide educational resources and financial tools to make what may seem like a lofty idea of buying a home a reality.

working from homeThe Task Force is also determined to support current homeowners, especially those facing economic hardship. COVID-19 has undoubtedly impacted us all, some a little more than others. Fortunately, there are resources available to those who may need some assistance to get through this challenging time. If you’re financially strained, Task Force members recommend talking to your county or city Treasurer’s office for guidance; contacting your mortgage lender to learn about COVID-19 relief options or reaching out to a local social service agency for assistance.

The Treasurer’s Task Force is working on long term solutions, but there is important short-term assistance available now. On September 1st, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order temporarily halting evictions until December 31, 2020. Renters are not automatically protected. They must apply to become protected against eviction in emergency situations. Renters must prove to their landlord they’ve exhausted all other relief options and an eviction would leave him or her homeless. Also, the eviction moratorium still requires the renter to pay the landlord at a future date.

The CDC eviction moratorium is only one means of housing relief for Americans. In Wisconsin, there are more programs directed specifically toward state residents to provide housing support. Additional support was made available in March when Congress passed the CARES Act, which distributed $2 billion to Wisconsin from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF).

Since Wisconsin received the CRF payment in April, Governor Tony Evers has distributed $1.8 billion to direct critical support where Wisconsinites need it most. Governor Evers allocated this federal funding toward Wisconsin’s farmers, small businesses and childcare providers. Additionally, Governor Evers prioritized this funding to provide essential support for healthcare professionals, local governments, as well as our K-12 schools and higher education institutions.

jeff-smithIn May, Governor Evers announced the Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program (W.R.A.P.), a $25 million program to provide housing support for state residents. Eligible applicants can receive an award up to $3,000 to cover rental payments. To be eligible, applicants must be an adult, a Wisconsin resident with a household income at or below 80% of the county median income in the month of, or prior to the application date. W.R.A.P. funding is still available; renters are encouraged to reach out to their local Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (CAP) to apply.

Despite all of these efforts by Governor Evers and Treasurer Godlewski, there will always be housing insecurity. We, as a caring society, must continue to work toward solving homelessness in the long term while we assist as many families as possible right now. If you know someone in need of adequate housing, please share these opportunities with them right now.

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Frances Perkins’ New Deal

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, 09 September 2020
in Wisconsin

frances-perkinsFrances Perkins dedicated her career advocating for workers’ rights and became a high-profile leader helping to establish programs that are fundamental to the way our country runs today. Bold leaders like her and the collective efforts of Wisconsin workers move us forward.

MADISON - Annually, our country honors the contributions of American workers on Labor Day, but perhaps it wasn’t until this year, while living through a pandemic, when many really appreciated the essential role many workers have in our day-to-day lives.

Similarly, many Americans are unaware of the historical significance of the labor movement. Even lesser known are the leaders who helped strengthen workers’ rights and establish the working standards we all know today. Like many other labor activists, the story of Frances Perkins is remarkable, yet very few know of her and her efforts to improve working conditions in our country.

union-workersFrances Perkins’ remarkable story and her contributions to the United States helped our country become the greatest economic power in the world during the 20th Century. Her efforts for fair wages, labor rights and programs for helping people in difficult times resulted in far less families living in poverty and the birth of the middle class. Perkins’ story illustrates how we, as a nation and community look out for one another. The story of Frances Perkins is also a reminder that when we pull through together, we achieve great things.

Frances Perkins built a successful career as a labor rights activist at a time when many women didn’t hold leadership positions. Her career began in the early 20th Century advocating for working families, people living in poverty and improved working conditions for adults. She also led efforts to protect children who, more often than not, faced hazardous workplaces.

Historians from the Frances Perkins Center claim that one of the most pivotal points of her career came on March 25, 1911 when she and her friends witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. This tragic event claimed the lives of 146 workers in a hazardous, fire-prone workplace. Many of the victims were young women who lost their lives because nothing was done to prevent this horrific fire. This event motivated Perkins to develop policies to support working people, much of this inspiring the New Deal.

At this time, Frances Perkins was already Executive Secretary of the New York City Consumer’s League advocating for fire protections in workplaces and standard work hours for women and children. In response to the fire, New York formed a citizens’ Committee on Safety and appointed Perkins as its Executive Secretary. The recommendations from this Committee became the model for laws in states across the country.

unemployment-great-depression-jobsPerkins continued to hold high-profile roles in her career, including Industrial Commissioner in New York. As she worked to stop New York’s rising unemployment, she challenged President Hoover’s false reports that employment was on the rise and the Depression was near the end.

In 1933, Perkins became the first woman to serve in a Presidential cabinet when Franklin Roosevelt appointed Perkins as Secretary of Labor once he began his first term as President in 1933. As Labor Secretary, Perkins created a platform centered on workers’ rights, helping to establish programs that are now fundamental to the way our country runs today, including the 40-hour work week, a minimum wage, unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation.

jeff-smithAs U.S. Labor Secretary, she led the Committee on Economic Security, which helped develop the Social Security Act which instituted the Social Security program we all know today. Perkins was also a key leader in creating the Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1938; her work with labor leaders on this legislation helped establish a minimum wage, maximum working hours and banned child labor.

Nearly a century later, our country is facing many of the same challenges Perkins dedicated her career to solving, including a struggling economy and families unsure of what the future holds. Right now, we need to take great leaps to build the next great economy. It will take ideas from brilliant and bold leaders like Frances Perkins and the collective efforts of Wisconsin workers.  With determination, backbone and foresight, we can make it happen.


Note: Information about the inspiring life and work of Frances Perkins for this column comes from the Frances Perkins Center.

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