Wednesday February 19, 2020

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The time for redistricting reform in Wisconsin is now

Posted by League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
Erin Grunze is the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
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on Friday, 13 September 2019
in Wisconsin

voter-us-electionsLeague of Women Voters continues the fight for nonpartisan redistricting legislation.

MADISON - The need for redistricting reform in Wisconsin is critical. Concerned voters across the political spectrum are calling to end the practice of gerrymandering by our elected officials. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has advocated for nonpartisan redistricting for decades. Over these decades, the control of the legislature has teetered between the two major parties. The response from the party in power has always been to accuse the League of siding with the minority party and that the League is looking to push that party’s agenda. The League has been accused of siding with Republicans and then siding with Democrats.

But in fact the League has always been looking out for the voters in our advocacy. The voters who are packed together or cracked apart because of gerrymandering. It’s a problem with power, and when those in power can determine how they keep their power, we no longer have a representative democracy. Republican voters are cheated when Democratic politicians gerrymander like in Maryland. Democratic voters are cheated when Republican politicians gerrymander like in Wisconsin. No party is innocent.

Gerrymandering isn’t a problem of one party. It’s the partisan cling to power that damages the will of the voters and erodes our democracy. Voters should pick their elected officials, not the other way around. With our current system in Wisconsin, politicians draw their own district lines to pick their voters and to lock in their own political power.

Yet, there is a solution.

Representative Robyn Vining (AD 14) and Senator Dave Hansen (SD 30) drafted redistricting reform bills that will make this process more open, more representative, and more transparent by taking the redistricting process from the partisans and moving it to an independent and nonpartisan Redistricting Advisory Commission. There is bi-partisan support because this is a solution that is right for democracy. Wisconsin voters across the political spectrum want to see this change.

And now is the time for the nonpartisan redistricting bills SB 288 and AB 303 to get a public hearing and deserve serious consideration by lawmakers in Wisconsin as we expect the representatives we elect to be held accountable to the public’s unified call for reforms. Elections should be determined by voters, not politicians who draw maps.

Fair voting maps are fundamental to what makes democracy work. The League will keep pushing for this reform with unrelenting energy and motivation of our members and partners. It has been and will continue to be a long, difficult fight, but it may be our most important work. Wisconsin deserves better and the League is committed to making it happen.

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Wisconsin: America is Best When Labor is Strong

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, 04 September 2019
in Wisconsin

electrical-workersSen. Smith talks about his upbringing in Eau Claire and the impact of organized labor in the community. Leaders before us worked to put protections in place for workers, but there’s still more to do.

EAU CLAIRE - Another Labor Day has come and gone. Summer is beginning to wind down and we’re taking our last chance to fish or camp for the season. Children are reflecting on their summer and eagerly anticipating the new school year.

This time of year is also an opportunity to reflect back on my upbringing in Eau Claire and remember the hardworking families in my community. I think about the great strides made in the 20th century because of organized labor. Unions knew at the core of their mission, that nobody should live to work. We should be able to work, so we can live a comfortable life.

Growing up on the north side of Eau Claire, I had a pretty ordinary childhood. My mother worked hard to raise seven children and my father opened his window cleaning business and ran the business for decades. It was common for families to have one parent working outside the home and one parent in the home.

jeff-smithFamilies in our neighborhood were lower-middle income level by today’s standards. I grew up near the Uniroyal factory. We weren’t too far from the paper mill, and Presto was just a couple of miles north. Many of the kids I grew up with had parents who worked in one of these places. Their parents could support their family because they earned union wages and benefits. It was at the height of a comfortable working class that made America work.

Many of the families were able to afford fishing boats, camping trailers and cabins on the lake. My neighbors were able to spend more time doing the things they enjoyed with their families. These were all things my family couldn’t afford.

The union jobs in the community provided my neighbors an opportunity to have a comfortable lifestyle and build the middle class. These jobs allowed families to own cabins in the resort areas of northern Wisconsin. It was common for a family to take two weeks off for family vacation in the summer and a week off for deer hunting.

None of this would’ve been possible if it weren’t for the courage and foresight of organized labor in the early 20th century that advanced worker’s rights in America. Federal legislation, including the Occupational Safety & Health Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and Labor Relations Act supported workers, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions. The Social Security Act was revolutionary, putting protections in place for citizens of all ages. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers and unions to discriminate against individuals based on race, national origin, religion or gender.

Although there has been tremendous progress for worker’s rights, there is still more we must do for workers in our country. Today, too many families need multiple jobs to get by. According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 13 million Americans that have more than one job. Also, based on U.S. Census data, women are more likely than men to have a part-time job to support themselves and their families.

Union jobs guaranteed most workers would have a comfortable future after retirement. The decline of unions and well-paying jobs in our country, force workers to consider how they’ll retire without a pension or 401K plan to supplement their Social Security.

There are steps we can take to support everyday hardworking men and women. We should begin by increasing the minimum wage, restoring prevailing wage, implementing paid family and medical leave and repealing the “Right to Work” law. Governor Evers included all of these proposals in the 2019-21 Biennial Budget, but they were deleted entirely by Republicans.

Oftentimes, we forget the impact of organized labor in our own community. The leaders before us worked tirelessly to improve working conditions and living standards for all. We can’t fall behind. As we push forward, let us remember our hardworking leaders and the example they set to support our neighbors. Remember, we all do better when we all do better.

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Wisconsin: Kiddos and Mental Health

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, 28 August 2019
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsAfter a visit to Northwest Journey and the Menomonie School District, Sen. Smith writes about the importance of mental health funding for our children.

EAU CLAIRE - We always want what’s best for our children. We want our children to be happy, comfortable and safe. If we could provide all the tools for our children to succeed, why wouldn’t we?

The urgency for mental health funding is not going away. We need to face it head on. You’d think an issue affecting so many people would lead us to come together to find solutions on this important issue. What is the biggest hurdle we face?

It all comes down to funding. Without proper funding it’s very difficult for families, school districts and community agencies to afford the resources and professional staff needed to treat mental illness. As lawmakers, it’s our job to address the serious issues affecting our communities. We have many funding responsibilities as legislators. The welfare of our children must be the most important.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve had the privilege of meeting professionals who deal directly with mental healthcare for our children, or “kiddos,” as the professionals call them. I recently visited Northwest Journey, a care center for school-age children in crisis. I learned about the incredible services offered at the organization. The professionals spoke about their passion to help children overcome their doubts and achieve a bright future.

The stories I heard and read were heartbreaking, but encouraging to think of a child’s potential, if given the resources to succeed. One of the children wrote, “A year ago around this time I thought I didn’t have a future but I can take a step back and see that my future holds an endless amount of possibilities.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise to most that families in crisis are less likely to have the means to afford private services or even private insurance. Northwest Journey is able to offer these critical services through the Medicaid program, which is managed by the state and provides assistance to families in-need.

If Republicans would’ve expanded Medicaid, organizations like Northwest Journey would have the potential to do so much more for their clients. This is our money that we’ve already paid to the federal government. I don’t understand why we would fund other states’ Medicaid programs, while ignoring the critical needs of our own children right here in Wisconsin.

There’s more we must do to support our children, besides expanding Medicaid. Prior to meeting with professionals at Northwest Journey, Senator Patty Schachtner (D-Somerset) and I learned about similar challenges Menomonie School District faces relating to providing mental health service. You see, our schools are woefully short of counselors and psychiatrists to help children in crisis.

Since 1993, Republicans imposed revenue limits on school districts. This dramatically restricted each district’s ability to fund our schools. Incremental increases based on 1993 education funding levels while using a broken funding formula has been disastrous for Wisconsin schools.

School districts have made deep cuts just to afford core curriculum, forcing mental health services onto the chopping block. Republicans cut $38 million in school mental health aid from Governor Evers’ budget, which would’ve funded more mental health professionals and programs.

School funding and how the formula works (or doesn’t work) has been debated for years. And, like so many other important issues, Republicans haven’t done anything about it.

jeff-smithOur children are relying on us. All children will be affected in some way, even families who aren’t directly affected. No matter the circumstances, we all walk the same path, breathe the same air and rely on the same democracy. We are all one community.

You can do your part by contacting legislators in your area. Ask them if they believe a child’s well-being is the most pressing priority. If so, tell them you will be holding them accountable based on their decisions. Those actions need to result in more success stories like those children at Northwest Journey who have found hope in their future.

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Wisconsin: The Politics Behind Gun Violence Inaction

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, 21 August 2019
in Wisconsin

las-vegas-shootingSen. Smith talks about legislation to expand the background check requirement for all firearm purchases as a way to fight against gun violence.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - I can’t imagine the horror victims go through when face to face with an active shooter while in a place of worship, school, shopping center or night club. How do families cope with the news of a loved one being murdered by a domestic terrorist, coworker or significant other? Or the news of a loved one who took their own life?

A few weeks ago, in a neighboring town, a young man shot and killed his mother, brother and nephew before driving to the home of a young woman he may have planned to abduct. He shot the parents of this young woman before killing her and himself. The family didn’t know the shooter before this happened, but his own family may have been aware he was dangerous.

Would a background check have saved those victims? We can’t be certain. Would a temporary law enforcement firearm removal order, also called a “red flag law,” stop this horribly tragic event? We’ll never know.

As a gun owner, I firmly believe in an individual’s right to own a firearm. I also believe gun violence prevention is long overdue. Countless lives have died in vain from our state and our nation’s inaction on gun violence.

Sadly, policymakers seem frozen with indecision when it comes to gun safety. We are trapped in a cycle of unexpected tragedies like El Paso, Dayton or Lake Hallie followed by the expected “thoughts and prayers” and then inaction by leaders to do anything to stop the cycle from happening again.

A Marquette Law School poll conducted in March of 2018 showed 81% of people favored background checks, with only 18% opposed. In the same poll, 56% of Wisconsinites supported assault-style weapon bans and 40% opposed the ban. More recently, a NPR poll conducted in February this year showed 65% of Americans believed a high-capacity magazine ban would reduce gun violence.

Polls consistently show people from all walks of life and political views favoring universal background checks. Wisconsin is ready for commonsense gun violence reforms, so why aren’t Republican lawmakers?

Pro-gun lobbying groups like the NRA use the 2nd Amendment as the reason for inaction. They use it to tie the hands of Republicans who might be willing to do something about gun violence.

Our Constitution has stood the test of time while our country has evolved. Take action now to stop the cycle of gun violence with commonsense reforms, and let the Constitution do its job. If the NRA wants to explain why simple background checks are wrong, or why they believe the founders thought it was necessary to have high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons when drafting the 2nd Amendment then let them try.

For decades, gun rights have been a wedge issue. It’s near the top of the list among single-issue voters. With that being the case, it isn’t any wonder why politicians do nothing. After all, when we are divided, those in power keep power.

jeff-smithBut, not everyone is so easy to predict on this issue.

Last week the Task Force on Suicide Prevention held a hearing in Eau Claire. It lasted over 7 hours, most of it being agency reports. The public who attended, and stuck around long enough, got their chance to testify.

A gun shop owner from Dane County came to tell us about the Gun Safe program he started with other shop owners. It allows anyone in a mental health crisis to temporarily store his or her weapons in a gun shop safe until the crisis passes.

A Republican lawmaker mistakenly thought the gun shop owner would be opposed to a Red Flag Law. The shop owner surprised the lawmaker by saying he was in favor of a properly worded law to help responsible gun owners make the right choice in a crisis. It was refreshing to hear such a thoughtful response. It reminded me that we should never make assumptions of where people may stand on any issue.

We can own guns responsibly and still demand action for gun violence. We’ve gone too long without commonsense solutions to fight against gun violence. The time to act was long ago, but the opportunity to act still exists.

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Democracy Campaign: Evers Bows to WMC

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 Friday, 16 August 2019
in Wisconsin

tony-eversProgressive critiques Governor, Republicans, gun laws, and the NRA.

MADISON - When I saw that Gov. Evers was speaking to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, I decided to take a look at his talk. And I was horrified to find out that he complimented WMC, which has done so much damage to our state over the last nine years. Here’s my critique of the governor’s talk:

Evers Bows to WMC

matt-rothschildThis week, we also took a look at the money that legislators have hauled in recently, and we discovered that the GOP’s haul was twice as big as the Democrats’:

Republican Lawmakers Led Fundraising in First Six Months of 2019

And in a follow up to our post last week on the NRA in Wisconsin, we noted that the Republican Senators who were dodging the issue of gun laws so studiously were also recipients of the NRA’s largesse:

GOP Senators Dodging Gun Law Questions Got Election Support from NRA

Thanks for taking a look at our offerings this week.

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