Monday April 19, 2021

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Brief Against Vos and LeMahieu

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 Friday, 16 April 2021
in Wisconsin

assembly-wi-robin-vosMADISON - This week, we filed an amicus brief in the case against Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu for misappropriating your tax dollars to defend their plan to gerrymander our voting districts once again later this fall.

You can read our posting, with a link to the brief, here:

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Files Amicus Brief in Case Against Vos and LeMahieu

Earlier this week, we submitted three testimonies on some of the anti-voter bills that Republicans in the Legislature have introduced. You can read these here:

Don't Make It Harder to Vote Absentee

Don't Legalize Harassment of Election Officials

Don’t Turn Away Poll Workers

matt-rothschild-2018And speaking of these bills, I’d like to thank you if you’ve already contacted your legislators and urged them to oppose them.

>> If you haven’t done so yet, you can still take action to protect the freedom to vote in Wisconsin by opening our action alert email from yesterday. <<

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

****

P.S. If you like the work we’re doing, please send us a tax-deductible gift by clicking here. Thanks!

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Schools, Children and their Future

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 14 April 2021
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsSen. Smith writes about the critical investments for our schools that Governor Evers proposed in his 2021-23 biennial budget.


MADISON - You may have heard politicians and the media use the line that schools should “open” or schools have a plan to “re-open.” This has caused a lot of confusion because schools never stopped providing support and instruction to their students. Teachers never stopped teaching. Yes, to protect students and families, many districts had to adjust their methods of instruction, but the work never stopped.

Like everyone, schools were appropriately cautious when the pandemic began last year, keeping students home to protect our communities. That didn’t stop teachers from finding ways to reach their students. In many of our rural communities, teachers found themselves educating from their car in a parking lot where they could access reliable internet. Students and parents also had to adapt if their home internet wouldn’t connect them to the classroom. Throughout everything, school districts faced extraordinary challenges to provide the educational experience we all expect for our children despite inadequate funding.

Governor Tony Evers’ 2021-23 biennial budget addresses many of the inequities that existed before the pandemic and puts schools in a better position to prepare our kids for the future. The investments we make today will help Wisconsin bounce back stronger than before. After all, as Governor Evers often says, “what’s best for our kids, is what’s best for our state.”

The Governor’s budget includes a K-12 general aid increase of $600 million over the next two years – this is the largest increase in over a decade. This badly needed funding will help modernize classrooms, retain quality teachers and reduce the need for local property tax increases. School districts would also see an additional $709 million in state aid for special education funding. This would raise our current state reimbursement rate for special education from 31% to 50% to better support students who need the most help.

This pandemic has strained all of us mentally and we all know children who’ve faced these challenges. School districts across the state reported spending upwards of $270 million on pupil services staff over the last year with only $6 million, or 2% of that total funding, coming from the state. This should concern us all – mental health services are critical.

Thankfully, Gov. Evers recognizes these needs and recommends directing $46 million toward school mental health services and increasing the reimbursement rate for local districts. This would allow schools to bring in more social workers, counselors, psychologists and nurses to address health needs and improve education outcomes.

jeff-smithIn Wisconsin, school districts must provide transportation to all eligible pupils whether they attend a public or private school. Oftentimes, rural transportation costs cut into what school districts can spend in a classroom. It’s great to see Gov. Evers target $4 million over the biennium to fully fund high-cost transportation aid for school districts with relatively high transportation costs. This increased funding is estimated to reimburse 100% of costs and help alleviate the financial strain many of our school districts are experiencing.

Gov. Evers does more to support our rural schools by investing $20 million in sparsity aid. The budget increases sparsity aid to fully fund per pupil payments of $400 for sparse districts with 745 or fewer pupils. In addition, the governor recommends providing $100 per pupil for those districts with 10 or fewer pupils per square mile with more than 746 or more pupils.

These investments are critical for western Wisconsin and all school districts throughout Wisconsin to provide the best educational opportunities for our children. Our teachers, staff and school administrators have gone above and beyond to connect kids to the classroom, despite the unprecedented circumstance. It’s time we show our schools support by passing Governor Evers’ budget.

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Imagine the Possibilities during the Year of Broadband Access

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, 07 April 2021
in Wisconsin

cellular-5gSen. Jeff Smith writes about Governor Tony Evers’ efforts to expand broadband access with historic investments and innovative policies in his biennial budget.


MADISON - What year is this? You might quickly answer that it’s 2021 and you’d be right. But Governor Tony Evers also declared this as the Year of Broadband Access in Wisconsin. This declaration is exciting and important in more ways than one.

For starters, Governor Evers’ budget includes a historic $200 million investment to improve Wisconsin’s broadband infrastructure – this is five times the amount invested in the 2013, 2015, and 2017 budgets combined. The Governor is also directing a significant portion of infrastructure funding from the federal American Rescue Plan toward expanding broadband access.

The Year of Broadband Access highlights the opportunity to bring legislators and constituents together around one issue that will make a big difference. I’ve heard from colleagues on both sides of the aisle that this must get done. I’ve heard from my Republican colleagues that they like the ideas I proposed last session. Now, this is something to build on. We may find that we can actually get things done if we work together on this important project.

Governor Evers’ recent budget listening session on bolstering Wisconsin’s infrastructure reminded so many of us why we must focus our efforts on expanding broadband. The Federal Communications Commission reports that there are more than 430,000 people in rural Wisconsin who lack access to high-speed internet; this is about 25% of our rural population. I’d even say it’s much higher than that if they’re relying on what Internet Service Providers (ISP) are reporting. One of the biggest problems is the questionable mapping based on census blocks. If an ISP reports that one house or business in a census block has access, then the entire census block is counted as having access. This is why I’ve been pushing for honest mapping and greater accountability.

internet-rural-s5We also need the Legislature to remove roadblocks for municipalities to expand broadband. Current law prohibits municipalities from offering internet access without having an ISP providing it. This is problematic because private services need to show a profit and they’re not interested in rural areas with low population density. The Governor borrowed an idea from my Better Broadband legislative package by removing this restriction, so municipalities who aren’t currently served could make the investment to provide broadband to their residents. As I’ve suggested over and over, municipal governments don’t want to get in the business of managing this service, but they could own the fiber that an ISP leases to become that provider.

Wisconsin currently has a broadband expansion grant program, which provides funding for projects in underserved and unserved areas. It’s woefully underfunded though, and provides just enough to expand access at a snail’s pace. In the last budget cycle the Legislature invested $54 million for this program. In his budget, Governor Evers proposes directing nearly $150 million into the grant program.

jeff-smithInternet affordability is a challenge that is often overlooked. For too many families, the cost is just not within their budget after rent, food and other basic necessities. Governor Evers’ budget includes $40 million to create an Internet Assistance Program just for that reason. This program would reduce costs and make internet services affordable for tens of thousands of low-income families throughout Wisconsin. The budget also creates a Broadband Line Extension grant program, which will reduce the cost of expensive line extensions from residences to existing broadband infrastructure.

It’s become more obvious over the last year that internet access isn’t just a luxury – it’s a necessity. Broadband expansion efforts go beyond our kids logging on for class, shopping online and streaming movies. Now we use the internet to access health care, pay bills and do our jobs. High-speed internet is a must if we want the next generation to have the option of living in the splendor of rural Wisconsin.

I’m just as excited at the possibility of legislators coming together to work on this critical issue, which will improve our way of life and strengthen our economy. Imagine where this might lead us. We may discover the political process of working together that citizens have been asking for.

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To the Wis. Supreme Court We Go

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 Friday, 02 April 2021
in Wisconsin

vote-47-mbMADISON - Yesterday, we joined with other pro-democracy groups in filing a brief at the Wisconsin Supreme Court to oppose the latest push to curtail the right of Wisconsinites to vote. Here’s what I posted on this:

Our Brief to Defend Voting Rights at the Wisconsin Supreme Court

The person asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to interfere with our voting rights is the same Jere Fabick who prevailed earlier this week on Evers’s mask mandate. And it just so happens that Justice Rebecca Bradley got a big check from Fabick when she was running for a seat on the bench, as we explain here:

Conservative Justice Sides with Major Campaign Contributor Over Pandemic Health Orders

Also this week, my colleague Cely Flores posted a strong piece praising Gov. Evers for proposing to give undocumented students in-state tuition:

Governor’s Budget Offers Undocumented Students A Brighter Future

Cely’s articles, by the way, are now being reprinted by La Communidad and by Madison Vibra, which we’re thrilled about!

Other staff members have been busy tracking the money in the State Superintendent’s race. Here’s what they put together:

Jill Underly Raises $1.3M+ Mostly From State Dem Party

matt-rothschild-2018Please remember to vote on April 6. If you are voting absentee, you can go here to track your absentee ballot and find your local options for returning your ballot before Election Day.

And I hope you’ll be able to enjoy the warm weather this weekend.

Best,

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

***

P.S. If you like the work we’re doing, please send us a tax-deductible donation by clicking here. Or snail mail it to us at 203 S. Paterson St., Suite 100, Madison, WI 53703, and make your check out to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Thanks!

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Expand BadgerCare and Bring our Dollars Back Home

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, 31 March 2021
in Wisconsin

healthcare-family-drSen. Smith writes about Gov. Evers’ budget proposal to expand BadgerCare in our state. BadgerCare expansion ensures we’re being smart by covering more people while returning our tax dollars back to Wisconsin.


MADISON - On March 23rd, we commemorated the eleventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) being signed into law. Since its passage, 2.6 million Wisconsinites with preexisting conditions have benefited from enhanced healthcare protections. This certainly is an anniversary to celebrate, but it also reminds us that we still have work to do to get more Wisconsinites covered.

Thanks to the ACA, the federal government has offered to return our own tax dollars back to Wisconsin if we expand BadgerCare, Wisconsin’s Medicaid program. Unfortunately, it’s been eleven years and we still haven’t expanded BadgerCare. If Wisconsin expanded BadgerCare when the ACA first passed, Wisconsin taxpayers would have saved $2.1 billion. These savings could’ve been used to lower prescription drug costs, expand mental health services, improve pregnancy outcomes and more. Wisconsin is still being held back by leaders playing politics with people’s healthcare.

If our own tax dollars can be returned right back to us, I suspect most people would consider it a no-brainer to accept. After all, why should we pay to expand health care access in other states– which is what we’re doing now–before addressing our challenges here at home?

Governor Tony Evers’ 2021-23 budget includes a proposal to expand BadgerCare in Wisconsin. In doing so, we’d be able to expand healthcare coverage to 90,900 more Wisconsinites while also saving our state $634 million. We know Wisconsin could draw in an additional $2 billion from the federal government since President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, according to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. These savings could be reinvested back into new and existing healthcare programs serving residents across the state.

Medicaid ensures that Wisconsin residents have access to preventive and lifesaving healthcare. Current Medicaid programs–including IRIS, Family Care and SeniorCare–are available to help individuals living in poverty, people with disabilities and those who may be ineligible for Medicare. Medicaid provides prescription drug subsidies through SeniorCare. Medicaid helps cover screenings and treatment for breast and cervical cancer for women under the age of sixty-five. BadgerCare expansion would help more Wisconsinites by increasing reimbursements and building greater capacity of existing Medicaid programs.

We have an opportunity right in front of us to cover more Wisconsinites while also saving our state money. This would seem like an easy decision, right? After all, this is about bringing back our federal tax dollars to Wisconsin. The Republican Majority has a different idea. Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) called Medicaid Expansion a “nonstarter” doubling down on Republicans’ opposition.

Many politicians seem to believe healthcare is a privilege – as if the quality of care you receive should depend on how wealthy you are. Whether you believe healthcare is a right or a privilege, our federal tax dollars are still being sent to other states to pay for their programs when it should be coming back here.

jeff-smithWisconsin is one of only twelve states that have refused to expand Medicaid. Recent reports suggest Wyoming, Alabama and Texas are stepping closer to final passage. We’re paying for these states to expand Medicaid without taking care of residents here in Wisconsin.

We need Medicaid because of our current healthcare system that predicates profit over public health. With a broken healthcare system driven by insurance companies and big pharmaceutical corporations, the most humane thing we can do as a society is ensure that all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality health care. BadgerCare expansion ensures we’re being smart by returning our dollars to lower the cost of Medicaid programs overall.

We can get this done, right here in Wisconsin, by expanding BadgerCare.

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