Wednesday February 19, 2020

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Stop the Spread of CWD

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, 20 November 2019
in Wisconsin

hunting-deerThree days away from gun hunting season, Sen. Smith writes about the threat CWD poses to the future of hunting in Wisconsin and legislation introduced to help stop the spread of this disease.

BRUNSWICK, WI - We’re only three days away from gun hunting season in Wisconsin. Hunters are prepared and eagerly anticipating the time to look out from their deer stand. It would seem Wisconsin is prepared for the upcoming hunting season.

Think again. Wisconsin hasn’t done nearly enough to curb the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). The disease sounds scary enough without even knowing all the details... and it’s continuing to spread. As conservationists and hunters, we must test our deer and stay educated to understand the threat it poses to the future of hunting in Wisconsin and the ramifications on our rural economies and public health.

deerCWD is caused by abnormal proteins called prions, which lead to brain damage and attack the central nervous system. According to the Centers for Disease Control, CWD affects many different species of hoofed animals including whitetail deer. CWD belongs to a family of diseases called prion diseases, which also includes Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, understood as “mad cow disease” in people.

CWD is always fatal. Scientists believe CWD spreads between animals through direct contact with contaminated body fluids and tissue or indirectly through exposure in the environment while drinking water or sharing food. Due to the easy nature of CWD spreading, there are serious concerns raised about commercial deer and elk farms that force animals around one feeding area.

With over 380 registered commercial deer and elk operations in our state, it’s critical there are measures in place to prevent the spread of CWD. Officials have ordered warnings and bans on baiting and feeding stations and there’s been recent discussion about fence height and other needed regulations.

There’s more we must do to stop the spread of CWD – hunters must test their deer and properly dispose of their deer carcasses. Prions make CWD such a scary disease because they can survive in extreme temperatures and never leave the soil. When an infected carcass is left in the woods or fields for other animals to feed on, predators can scatter the prions across the landscape. Even when a carcass isn’t fed on, but just left to decay into the soil, prions can live in the roots and plants for the next deer to feed on and potentially become infected.

Scared yet? We all should be.

I’ve taken action with my legislative colleagues to get a grip on the spread of this deadly disease. Recently, we introduced legislation to address the spread of CWD in a few different ways. A bipartisan group of legislators introduced Senate Bill (SB) 325, which would require the Department of Natural Resources to create a carcass disposal grant program for county deer management advisory councils.

jeff-smithAdditionally, I authored legislation with my Democratic colleagues to promote CWD education and testing. SB 473 provides funding for CWD research; SB 474 requires the DNR to provide self-service CWD testing kiosks; SB 477 requires the DNR to provide carcass disposal dumpsters and CWD education. These measures and more are needed to address this critical issue facing our whitetail deer population and the great hunting heritage in Wisconsin.

Republican leadership hasn’t shown any inclination to move on CWD preventative measures this session. SB 325 is the only bill that’s had a public hearing; none of these bills have passed committee and been voted on. With that in mind, I stood before my senate colleagues during floor session on November 5th and requested SB 474 be moved to the calendar for a vote. Disappointingly, my motion was struck down on a partisan vote. So here we are, going into another hunting season without the additional resources to halt this dreaded disease from spreading further.

I’ll continue advocating for these preventative measures, but we still need hunters to test their deer and properly dispose of their deer carcasses. Learn about the steps you can take to stop the spread through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

This Saturday, I’ll be joining Senator Patty Schachtner and DNR officials to visit CWD Kiosks and carcass disposal sites in Eau Claire. If you see me, please do not hesitate to stop and talk. I want to hear from you.

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Wisconsin: Playing the Blame Game

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, 13 November 2019
in Wisconsin

wisc-capitol-domeSen. Smith examines the consequences of elected officials playing the blame game. Specifically, this column mentions the vote of DATCP Secretary, Brad Pfaff, and the increase to title and registration fees.

MADISON - President Harry Truman followed the mantra, ‘the buck stops here.’ These are honorable, and even courageous words to lead by. His motto was displayed on his White House desk and was proudly expressed in his speeches. He reminded us not to pass blame on to others.

This is exactly what’s happening now in Wisconsin.

It’s easy to blame the top officer when things don’t go the way someone would like. I’ve heard folks sarcastically say “thanks a lot, Governor Evers!” in response to a policy with which they disagree. It’s a danger to our democracy to single out one individual and play the political blame game – it threatens our country’s fundamental practice of shared governance.

brad-pfaffJust last week, Republican Senators voted against Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protections Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff. Some Republicans claimed their “no” vote was because of changes to livestock siting rules, even though the Walker administration started the process for these changes. The Republicans’ role in the blame game cost Pfaff his job and left our state without a qualified agriculture advocate at a time when we need it most.

The blame game is even taking a visible toll on Wisconsin taxpayers. When Governor Evers introduced the state budget proposal in early 2019, he knew he couldn’t ignore the growing need to fix our crumbling roads, like his predecessor had. We heard over and over again that constituents were fed up with potholes and rough roads. Like most drivers and taxpayers, Governor Evers concluded the cost of fixing our roads should be spread fairly.

Governor Evers’ proposal included a modest 8 cent gas tax and reinstated the automatic indexing so infrastructure investments wouldn’t fall behind. There wasn’t a raise in the gas tax since 2005, when the Republican-led Legislature repealed automatic indexing, which was then signed by the Democratic Governor at the time.

This may not be the perfect answer as technology is making vehicles more fuel-efficient, but it would’ve meant that everyone using our roads and filling their tank in Wisconsin fairly contributed to the roads they traveled on.

Unfortunately, the Republican dominated Joint Finance Committee (JFC) thought otherwise. Republican JFC members threw out the Governor’s proposal and re-introduced their version of the budget, which increased the title and registration fees. After October 1st, the title and registration fees jumped. The title fee, which was $69.50 increased significantly to $164.50. The registration fee increased from $75 to $85. It doesn’t matter who uses them or how many out-of-state trucks pass through our state – now, only Wisconsin residents are expected to pay for road repairs.

It’s understandable that folks are shocked and frustrated to see, what were once reasonable fees, increased so dramatically in one budget. In the typical blame game style, Governor Evers is taking the heat for the costly decisions made by Republicans.

jeff-smithThese sneaky practices are typically done in the dark. However, we certainly were clued in when Republicans held a lame-duck session day last year to strip powers from the newly elected governor and attorney general. As it turned out, this was only the beginning. In the first ten months of 2019 we only met 7 times to consider legislation, including the first session day when new members were sworn in and we adopted session rules.

A recent AP article, featuring Wisconsin, highlighted the challenges and frustrations Democratic Governors have in working with Republican-led Legislatures. According to the article, Governor Jim Doyle was able to sign 491 bills the last time Wisconsin had a Republican majority in both houses with a Democratic governor during the 2005-07 session. So far this session, Gov. Evers has only been able to sign 19 bills into law.

It’s clear that Republicans never intended to work with our Democratic governor. Shared governance was never on their radar. When the tendency is to blame the governor for a hike in title fees or lack of attention to important issues facing our state, don’t forget he is supposed to have partners in the legislature willing to work. It’s time to put aside the political blame game and work together on the people’s priorities.

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GOP Failure to Confirm Brad Pfaff as DATCP Secretary

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 07 November 2019
in Wisconsin

farmersSenator says move is further proof that the Republicans have gerrymandered the state to the point that they no longer feel accountable to the people who elected them.

MADISON - Senate Republicans voted on Tuesday to fire the Governor's Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection cabinet appointment, Brad Pfaff. The move left Wisconsin's leading agricultural agency without its top leader in the midst of rising trade tensions on the federal level and a growing dairy crisis that is threatening family farms across the state.

Brad was raised on a family farm in western Wisconsin and had dedicated his life to improving outcomes for our farmers. Since his nomination in December of 2018, Secretary-designee Pfaff was a trusted and credible partner of farmers, agribusinesses, and rural communities. His rejection by Senate Republicans shows how far they have strayed from representing the interests of farmers.

The following statement comes from Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) on the GOP failure to confirm Brad Pfaff as DATCP Secretary.

dave-hansen“Everything we know about Secretary-Designee Pfaff is that he is a smart, caring and dedicated public servant who has developed very close and strong relationships with the people he has been tasked to help. There is near unanimous support among the various groups in agriculture and the dairy industry supporting his appointment.

“And everything we know about what’s happening in the dairy industry and agriculture at large in our state is not good news. Our dairy industry is in crisis. We are losing family farms in terrifying numbers everyday—something that started well before Secretary –designee Pfaff took office. Our farms have run into extremely poor weather that has made their jobs even more difficult than they typically are and they are getting battered by the tariffs and trade wars.

“Senate Republicans could have stood up for family farmers today. After all they are the folks who are struggling and suffering the most in an industry that being taken over by large corporate farms at their expense.

“Instead, they chose to follow the lead of President Trump’s agriculture Secretary by reinforcing the message he had for state farmers when he visited only weeks ago: You aren’t big enough or rich enough to matter.

“This is further proof that the Republicans have gerrymandered the state to the point that they are no longer accountable to the people of this state and yet another reason why non-partisan redistricting reform must happen if there is to be any chance of electing a legislature that will truly represent the people.”


Thanks to Wisconsin Senate staffer Jay Wadd for his contribution to this article.

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Broadband for Those Who Need It Most

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, 06 November 2019
in Wisconsin

broadband-map-northwoodsThis is the second of two columns describing the importance of broadband expansion in Wisconsin.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - We’re facing one of the largest infrastructure challenges in Wisconsin history. The decisions we make today on broadband expansion can either make Wisconsin a leader or allow us to fall behind in the digital age.

Last week, I discussed the challenges of getting better broadband. This week, I will break down how Wisconsin can get broadband out to those areas companies call “not profitable.”

Private internet service providers (ISPs) have to show a profit. They must balance the cost of connecting hard to reach homes and businesses with the amount of customers willing to pay for their service. During a recent broadband summit in Colorado, I learned ISPs need a 50% “take rate” (half of all homes in a village must take their service) for them to consider it profitable enough to provide the service.

New technologies can span long distances such as fixed wireless, low-orbit satellite or TV white-space, but they can be unreliable when the weather is bad or there are obstructions between towers and homes. The most expensive way to provide broadband is by using fiber optics. The average cost is $27,000 per mile, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, fiber optics provide the most reliable service and offers the speeds that are needed to keep up in an era of continual technological obsolescence.

Cheaper, line-of-sight technologies won’t work in the coulees and bluffs of the Driftless area. The high cost of installing fiber optics and the low population density are reasons why western Wisconsin is skipped over by ISPs.

There are cheaper ways to deploy broadband, but we need to get creative. I will be introducing “dig once” legislation to allow local governments to require empty conduit lines be installed in the right of way when work is being done along highways or roads. After the conduit is installed, ISPs can add fiber optics without digging up the right of way again. This allows ISPs to easily install fiber optics in the empty conduit at a significantly lower price. Dig once policies can save ISPs up to 90% of the cost to run fiber optics.

It will take significant public investment to get broadband to our sparsely populated areas. Wisconsin created a state broadband expansion grant program in 2013, but former Governor Walker and Republican leaders failed to fund the program. While Minnesota was investing $85 million from 2014-2017, Wisconsin only spent $3.9 million. The Legislature did better in the 2017-2019 biennial budget by adding $14 million to the program, but failed to make the necessary changes to target rural communities.

Thankfully, Governor Tony Evers set the tone for getting serious about broadband expansion by requesting $75 million for the grant program. The Legislature cut the Governor’s plan by $30 million, but still increased Wisconsin’s efforts to fund broadband expansion grants overall.

jeff-smithWe’ve turned a corner for getting serious about our financial commitment for broadband expansion. The next challenge is ensuring public dollars are spent in the most effective way. We must focus our public dollars on projects ISPs have considered not profitable. Instead of using taxpayer-funded grants on projects to make private companies more profitable, we should be using those funds for the hardest to reach areas. That’s the whole point of public investment.

No matter what we do to coax ISPs to rural Wisconsin, the map for expansion still belongs in the pockets of private companies. The only way Wisconsin can lure private companies into rural communities is by allowing municipalities to create publically-owned broadband infrastructure. Broadband, like many other services should be considered a public utility, just like electricity, water or gas if the public ever wants to control the expansion of service.

Ask any private ISP whether municipalities should create their own digital infrastructure and you will be told of all the difficulties. What you won’t hear is how it forces private companies to expand faster.

As we invest more resources, we need to take a good hard look at where the money is going. The public needs more say over how to get critical broadband internet service. We are not quite there, but I’m confident we can get ALL of Wisconsin hooked up for our future.

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Larson Supports Legalization and Decriminalization of Marijuana

Posted by Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson (D) is the Wisconsin State Senator from the 7th District in Milwauk
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 31 October 2019
in Wisconsin

marijuanaplantshandsMILWAUKEE – I commend Lt. Gov. Barnes and Rep. Sheila Stubbs for continuing to spotlight the need for marijuana decriminalization. Every legislative session since 2015, I have introduced bills to decriminalize and legalize marijuana.

Support for legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana in Wisconsin has grown to be popular for many reasons. Including so sick people can get their medicine, because it is an additional source of revenue, and also to alleviate the burden on our criminal justice system. Our sick neighbors shouldn’t be subject to criminal penalty or jail time for getting medicine they can readily get in other states. Moderate taxation on marijuana sales would help fill budget holes. Decriminalization will reduce arrests of non-violent drug offenders and decrease the population in our over-crowded prisons. It would also ensure we’re not needlessly giving someone a criminal record, making it harder for them for find a job, rent an apartment, and live productive lives.

Decriminalization is both a fiscal and moral imperative. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that Wisconsin spent $170.5 million in 2008 on marijuana prohibition.

chris_larsonAcross the nation, states are quickly moving to capture the benefits of both legalization and decriminalization with 33 states allowing medical use, 15 states have decriminalized marijuana, and 11 states have allowed recreational use. It is long past time for Wisconsin to take this next step.

The latest Marquette poll shows 59% of Wisconsin residents support making marijuana legal. Republican leaders in the legislature will continue to ignore their constituents – and our budget - at their political peril.

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