Monday October 14, 2019

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Believe in America’s Dairyland

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, 09 October 2019
in Wisconsin

farm-familySenator Jeff Smith's Weekly Column is about Wisconsin's work to help dairy farmers make it through the recent dairy crisis. To preserve our reputation America's Dairyland, we need to stop family farm closures and find new ways to help young people continue our state's rich agricultural traditions.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Take a moment to imagine living on a small family farm. Waking at dawn to a rooster crowing and cows mooing. You head down to the barn to get the cows milked, collect chicken eggs, clean out stalls and feed all the animals before going back into the kitchen to grab breakfast for yourself.

This all too familiar lifestyle for most Wisconsin family farms is quickly becoming an illusion for our next generation of dairy farmers. Our reputation as America’s Dairyland is our pride, especially in the western Wisconsin and the 31st Senate District.

Oftentimes I’m awestruck at the beauty of western Wisconsin and the scenic farms nestled in the valleys and hills. People come to Wisconsin for a lot of reasons, but they almost always make sure to leave with some Wisconsin cheese. There’s no substitute. My own daughter still finds a way to bring tasty cheese back home after every visit to Wisconsin.

The dairy market crisis is wreaking havoc on Wisconsin farms. We’ve seen 551 dairy farms close in 2019 already after losing 638 in 2018 and 465 in 2017. Small, family farms are the hardest hit. Farmer suicides have shaken our communities to the core. Farmers face the decision to sell the farm or take on more debt to become bigger. Trade wars, access to credit and years of low milk prices make it hard for young folks to see a future in dairy farming.

At the World Dairy Expo in Madison last week, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “In America the big get bigger and the small go out.” He doubled-down on his comments about small family farms by saying, “I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.” That statement might help explain why farm subsidies seem to end up in the pockets of the largest operations while the small family farms are left with crumbs. It highlights what we already know. Leaders in Washington don’t have any intention to alleviate the dairy crisis in Wisconsin.

It’s clear we need to step it up right here in our own backyard. Starting in 2018, the Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 started meeting and learning from professionals in the dairy industry about the challenges we face.

The Task Force offered 51 recommendations to help Wisconsin’s dairy industry. Already, we’ve enacted the Dairy Innovation Hub idea so farmers can learn cutting-edge dairy farming methods at UW-Madison, UW-River Falls or UW-Platteville. But that isn’t nearly enough – there’s a lot more to do. Here are just a few of the other ideas that came out of the Dairy Task Force recommendations:

  • Increase funding for dairy processor grants from $200,000 to $400,000 annually.

  • Enable new startup cheesemakers by evaluating methods for shared cheese production spaces.

  • Reinstate the “Grow Wisconsin Dairy” initiative to help farmers access capital for farm succession and transition planning.

  • Conduct a review of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) for self-employed individuals.

  • Establish and offer model programs for communities, local businesses and education systems in career path development programs targeting the agriculture career sector.

In the recent budget, Governor Tony Evers also offered critical assistance for dairy farmers in his budget by increasing funding for county Ag Agents, organic and grazing specialists, expanding the Farm-to-School program, expanding the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin Program and critical farmer mental health programs, just to name a few. Unfortunately many of these ideas were cut or significantly reduced by Republicans from the final version of the budget.

jeff-smithMy colleague Representative Don Vruwink (D-Milton) and I recently introduced SB 453/AB 495 to create a small farm diversity grant program aimed at helping small farms try new agricultural ventures. We also teamed up to introduce SB 455/AB 500 which will help families save money when passing their farm onto their extended family.

There’s no shortage of good ideas, but we can do more. There’s too much at stake to tell dairy farmers to “get big or go out.” The dairy crisis doesn’t stop at the farmer’s doorstep. As policymakers and consumers, we must invest in our small family farms and encourage innovation to preserve our farming heritage in Wisconsin.

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Raising Awareness About Domestic Violence

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, 02 October 2019
in Wisconsin

domestic-violenceSen. Smith writes about the devastating impact domestic violence has in communities across Wisconsin, and new legislation he has introduced to create a task force on murdered and missing tribal women and girls.


MADISON - We often focus on highly visible forms of violence in our society, like mass shootings. However, domestic violence happens every day in every town and neighborhood, and it often goes unreported or even unnoticed.

Since 1987, our country has recognized October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) to bring attention to the incredibly prevalent, but hidden, issue of domestic violence. According to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, DVAM stemmed from the “Day of Unity” organized by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to remember victims, honor survivors and connect violence-prevention advocates.

Years later, advocates continue to work to address domestic violence and lead violence-prevention efforts. Domestic violence deeply affects families and neighborhoods across the country and there’s more we must do to ensure our communities are safe. As Domestic Violence Awareness Month begins, we must do everything we can to support survivors and end violence.

It’s difficult to simply define domestic violence because it can take so many different forms. The Domestic Violence Awareness Project interprets domestic violence “as a pattern of abusive behaviors including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion–used by one intimate partner against another (adult or adolescent) to gain, maintain, or regain power and control in the relationship.”

Abusive behaviors and relationships can lead to life-threatening consequences. Last week, the non-profit organization, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, released the 17th annual edition of the Wisconsin Violence Homicide Report. This report provides a summary of all homicides connected to domestic violence in 2018.

During the past year, there were 37 deaths linked to domestic violence in 19 Wisconsin counties, meaning an individual was killed every 7.5 days. The organization’s report indicated that 65% of domestic violence homicides involved a firearm, making this the most commonly-used weapon in these incidents. Additionally, the report revealed that 2018 was “the first year rural areas had a greater percentage of domestic violence homicides than urban areas in Wisconsin” since they began tracking this statistic.

Although domestic abuse victims and survivors tend to be women between the ages of 18 and 25, domestic violence affects individuals of all identities and backgrounds. Wisconsin district attorneys are required to report all law enforcement involvement in domestic violence incidents to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Despite this sophisticated tracking system, domestic violence incidents impacting members of the most marginalized social groups have been historically under reported or neglected altogether.

Violence-prevention advocates have identified the alarming rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women in our state and country. End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin identified how “native women are subjected to higher levels of violence, including trafficking, sexual assault, domestic abuse and homicide, than virtually any other group.” According to the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, “murder is the third leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaskan Native Women.”

jeff-smithLast week, my legislative colleagues introduced a bill that would create a task force on murdered and missing tribal women and girls. The task force would include members of tribal governments, survivor advocates, members of the Legislature, law enforcement officers and more. This group would have a number of responsibilities, which includes learning how to better track this data, understanding the systemic sources of violence that tribal women and girls experience and the measures to address this violence to help communities heal.

I’m a proud co-sponsor of this bill, but I’m aware there is more we can do to make our communities safer. Be sure to support survivors by listening and serving as an advocate. We must continue to promote awareness about domestic violence and actively work for a safe future for all.

There are resources available if you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse. For immediate assistance, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

****

Please note, this weekly column contains sensitive information regarding domestic violence and assault, which may be triggering for some readers.

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Suicide; Listen Up to Save Lives

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, 25 September 2019
in Wisconsin

opioid-overdoseSen. Smith writes about meeting suicide prevention advocates in western Wisconsin and Madison. It is important to stop the stigma around mental illness and understand what action we must take.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Recently I joined 700 community members at Carson Park for the Sharing Hope Walk, a fundraiser to promote awareness for suicide prevention. Before the walk began, I read a board describing the walk’s importance. Right below the board, there were hundreds of shoes lined up neatly along the course. When I read the bottom of the board, I learned the empty shoes symbolized the number of community members that died by suicide.

Once I saw the empty shoes, I truly understood what brought people there that day. The thoughts I had to share could not compare to the stories I heard from the other speakers. As tears came to my eyes, I realized how fortunate I was to be there with these remarkably strong people who all lost someone dear to them.

In this moment, I knew I was there to listen. As an elected official, it’s what I love to do. People share their joy and grief with me because they want to make a difference in their community. When community members use their advocacy skills to make a difference, it helps legislators, like me, understand community concerns.

The people at the Sharing Hope event wanted change so others would not go through the horrific grief they experienced. One mother shared a compelling story about her son who attempted suicide a dozen times. Her son survived each attempt and was inspired to stay alive because of the kindness of another young man. After he told his new friend that his day “sucked,” he told him the day wasn’t done and things would get better. Unfortunately, her son’s friend and new hero died in a car accident before he could have a full life. Now, when he’s down, he visits the grave of his hero and reflects on that day and how he must keep going.

However, not everyone has a hero to keep them going. We need to continue to use our voice to smash the stigma around mental illness. Policymakers must listen to the advocates and experts to provide resources for those struggling. I will continue advocating for mental health funding for our schools, additional healthcare resources for our communities and proactive solutions to prevent suicide.

Firearms must be part of the suicide prevention discussion. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, firearm suicide makes up two-thirds of all gun deaths and half of all suicides. Also, firearm suicide disproportionately affects rural areas; suicide by firearm rates are 58% higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

jeff-smithLast week, I joined many of my Democratic colleagues to introduce the Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) bill to prevent suicide among those most at-risk. ERPO provides a civil process for families or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from individuals that may be at risk of harming themselves or others. This process is similar to obtaining a temporary restraining order in cases of domestic abuse, child abuse or harassment.

The ERPO proposal is one step we must take to address this issue. It’s been proven effective in 17 other states and Washington D.C., to significantly lower the number of suicides by firearm. We must act and make sure resources are available so family members can protect the ones they love and make sure they know there are better days ahead.

When my colleagues introduced the bill, I was surrounded by healthcare providers, mental health professionals, and activists from Moms Demand Action. Every member of the group had a reason for being there and a story to share. Elected officials need to listen up – we have an opportunity to save lives.

Remember, there are resources available if you or someone you know is struggling. Please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention resource page at afsp.org/find-support/resources/ for a complete list of services.

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Bold Plans Needed to Save Our Planet

Posted by Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano has not set their biography yet
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on Monday, 23 September 2019
in Wisconsin

flooding-east-river-gbClimate change is real and increasingly a part of our daily lives. Change won’t take place overnight, but some common-sense steps can be taken immediately.


SHAWANO, WI - God created a world in which everything was in perfect harmony. The land and its plants and animals were a part of an ecosystem that worked beautifully. Man should be able to enjoy all creation for eternity but unfortunately future generations won’t have that opportunity if we continue on our present path.

Climate change is real and increasingly a part of our daily lives. There is evidence, facts, and science to tell us that.

Western Wisconsin has experienced yearly flooding in areas where such phenomena had only occurred every hundred years. Fiercer tornadoes and hurricanes can be seen across the country. Longer droughts out west are causing dangerous fire conditions. Warming temperatures have disrupted wildlife migration, produced toxic algae blooms, and contributed to the dirtying of our Great Lakes.

Even Pope Francis believes that climate change is a moral issue that must be addressed now in order to protect the earth and all that inhabit it. In 2015 he wrote a 192 page encyclical urging the world to take action on this ecology crisis.

earth_day_globeAccording to a February study, there’s a 99.9999% chance that humans are the cause of global warming. Humans burn fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, which release carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and other gases into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. CO2 is the greenhouse gas that’s most responsible for warming. If the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere isn’t lowered, temperatures will continue to increase.

If we want a habitable planet, we have to confront the problem at its source. This means we have to reduce the use of coal, oil and gas by mid-century.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius could avoid catastrophic consequences. However, a recent analysis by Carbon Tracker found that 92 percent of companies are working toward growth in fossil fuel production and/or reserves.

Can the fossil fuel industry be trusted to act in the best interest of our planet? Absolutely not.

We can’t believe fossil fuel companies when they appear to care about the planet. Their industry lobbyists have spent years pretending to support the Paris Agreement’s goals. Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total have spent $1 billion collectively on greening up their image. However, they’ll only invest 3 percent of their $115 billion on low-carbon technologies like carbon capture and algae bio fuels.

Conservative Republicans continue to deny that there is a problem. They profess that oil, gas and coal are all good sources of energy and oil drilling should be increased. They won’t support expanding wind and solar sources. They would rather support private ownership of gas and electric industries.

Former Governor Walker ordered the term “climate change” to be struck from government documents. President Trump also attacks climate science. He refused to sign an agreement protecting the rapidly melting Arctic region unless any references to climate change were removed.

Political will to turn off the fossil fuel taps won’t take place overnight. But some common-sense steps could be taken immediately. The yearly $20.5 billion state and federal subsidies could be eliminated. There could be a ban on new leases for oil and gas development on America’s public lands. Reckless new drilling could be stopped by reinstating the crude oil export ban.

When you hear the words “New Deal” you may recall an economic measure that was introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 to counteract the effects of those who were suffering from the Great Depression. It involved a massive public works program which brought about immediate economic relief, as well as reforms in industry, agriculture, finance, water power, labor and housing.

Drastic measures are necessary at this point in time. Legislation called the “Green New Deal” has been introduced in Congress. Just like the first “New Deal”, heavy investment by the federal government in green manufacturing could bring about a long period of widely shared economic growth. Profound changes to transportation, housing, energy, agriculture, forestry and more could avert climate breakdown.

This new deal is counter to the current system in which corporations produce huge profits from fossil fuels. However, it could return power generation to local or community control. It could bring needed jobs and investment to communities which have been ravaged by fossil-fueled power.

Governor Tony Evers recently showed his determination to address climate change by committing the state to use 100 percent carbon neutral energy by 2050. His order includes the creation of the Office of Sustainability, which Republicans had stripped from his budget.

This is our planet. Future generations are counting on us to preserve it. Only bold plans will reverse the global warming that is destroying God’s creation.

Jan Koch, Shawano

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Middleton Legislators Echo Police Chief’s Call for Gun Safety

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
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on Saturday, 21 September 2019
in Wisconsin

school-gunsMADISON – It has been a year since an active shooter targeted his place of work in Middleton. Yet, unfortunately, a year later we have made zero progress in ensuring that no other Wisconsinites are affected by gun violence.

Every Wisconsinite should have the opportunity to go to school, a place of worship, or any other public space in their community knowing that they are safe, and there are steps that we can take to strengthen the system to ensure that an incident, such as what happened in Middleton, will not happen again.

The majority of Wisconsinites agree that it is time to pass gun safety legislation. According to the most recent Marquette Law Poll, 80% of Wisconsin voters support expanded background checks, and nearly the same percentage of Wisconsinites are in support of red-flag laws. The numbers are clear, this is not a partisan issue.

That is why Middleton Police Department Chief, Charles Foulke released a statement recalling the incident and urging politicians to make a difference. As someone who has served his community for 38 years, his words speak volumes.

Enough is enough, it is time to enact common-sense gun laws.

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