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We Will Bounce Back Together

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, 29 April 2020
in Wisconsin

coronavirusSen. Smith writes about the Badger Bounce Back Plan, introduced last week by Governor Tony Evers, to help Wisconsin move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic.

EAU CLAIRE - During the COVID-19 public health emergency, Wisconsinites have had to make incredibly challenging decisions, including Governor Evers. On April 17th, Governor Evers’ administration made the difficult, yet responsible, decision to extend the “Safer at Home” order.

Although the “Safer at Home” order was extended, there are some changes from the original order that became effective on April 24th, which include: public libraries may provide curbside pick-up; golf courses may open again; non-essential businesses can do more things such as deliveries, mailings, and curbside pick-up; arts and craft stores may offer expanded curbside pick-up of materials to make face masks, and residents can take care of aesthetic or optional exterior lawn care or construction.

Throughout this crisis, these policy decisions have been made in the interest of public health and safety in consultation with scientists and medical professionals. Several weeks ago, the Department of Health Services projected that Wisconsin could have 440 to 1,500 deaths statewide if we did not practice social distancing to flatten the curve. The collaborative effort made by Wisconsinites in all corners of the state proved that the “Safer at Home” order works to slow the spread of COVID-19. In just the first three weeks of the “Safer at Home” order, Wisconsin saved at least 300 lives and perhaps as many as 1,400 lives.

This pandemic is far too contagious to eliminate the “Safer at Home” order all at once. As Governor Evers said, we must think of getting through this like turning a dial, rather than just flipping a light switch. The more disciplined we are now, the faster we can turn it. If we simply return to life as normal without taking gradual steps and the necessary precautions, we risk a spike in cases and more severe economic impacts.

Rural communities are not immune to the effects of COVID-19. Although the prevalence of COVID-19 is much higher in urban areas, like Madison or Milwaukee, the virus can easily spread to other counties if these safeguards are not in place. A COVID-19 outbreak in rural Wisconsin could have a detrimental impact on our close-knit communities. Our population in rural communities tends to be older and much more at risk of dying from COVID-19. We have fewer resources and less access to health care options to care for the sick than urban areas.

If one area of our state begins to lift the “Safer at Home” order, there could be a rush to those communities which will create a greater danger of COVID-19 transmission. This statewide plan is in place to protect ALL Wisconsin residents and help our state grow more resilient together.

For Wisconsin to get through this safely and become more resilient, Governor Evers introduced the Badger Bounce Back Plan, which outlines a process to help Wisconsin move forward from this pandemic. It is based on federal guidelines released from the White House on April 16th. It includes certain gating criteria each state should meet before gradually restarting its economy in three phases.

jeff-smithTo move from phase to phase, Wisconsin must have a downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses, COVID-19 cases and symptoms, and positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period. Additionally, hospitals will have to treat all patients without crisis care and have robust testing programs in place for at-risk healthcare workers.

The Evers’ administration is working closely with businesses and private partners to reach the gating criteria and re-open Wisconsin. To do this, the Badger Bounce Back Plan has steps in place to expand COVID-19 testing by 85,000 tests per week; increase contact tracing to better understand virus transmission in Wisconsin, and improve tracking systems to keep Wisconsin better informed.

We are all anxious to return to life as we knew it. I fall into that category as well. But, let’s face it, our world is changed forever from this dramatic experience. Getting back too soon or opening up certain regions will not make things better and could only make things worse. Let’s keep up our diligence and consider those who stayed healthy because we stayed safe at home.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - Earth Day/Lethal Protests

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 Thursday, 23 April 2020
in Wisconsin

wdc-header-2020-logoMADISON, WI - Happy Earth Day!

Our staff put out a thorough report this week on how, during the Walker Administration, Wisconsin shirked its obligations to combat climate change and to protect the environment. Here’s our press release, with a link to the report:

Wisconsin GOP Leaders Added Fuel to Climate Change Fire, WDC Report Shows

And today, the Wisconsin Examiner printed my op-ed, which summarized the report, showed the progress that Gov. Evers has made on this issue, and briefly discussed the impact of the coronavirus on the environment:

An Earth Day Assessment of Wisconsin's Environmental Progress

Lastly, I wanted to share with you something I just wrote. It’s about the MacIver Institute, here in Wisconsin, ginning up the protests against the governor’s “Safer at Home” order. MacIver’s idolatry of the “free market” extends to flagrantly jeopardizing lives in Wisconsin, as I argue here:

The Lethal Idiocy of the MacIver Institute

I hope you share my outrage about this.


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary Reminds us to Cherish and Protect Wisconsin’s Environment

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling lives in La Crosse with her husband and two children. She curr
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on Wednesday, 22 April 2020
in Wisconsin

gaylord-nelson“The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” - Gaylord Nelson

LA CROSSE, WI - Fifty years ago, on April 22, 1970, former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day. A day dedicated to celebrating the nature around us and promoting conservation, it acts as a symbol of progressive ideology championed by one of Wisconsin’s own.

From hunting, fishing and recreation, to our robust agriculture industry, our environment and unique natural features are a major driving force behind the success of our local economies. And that’s why it’s so important we continue to fight for the conservation of our state and our country, just as Governor Nelson did half a century ago.

Despite Wisconsin’s rich history and connection with the outdoors, protecting our environment hasn’t always been a priority for the leaders of our state. But after eight years of an administration focused on rolling back environmental protections, Governor Evers provides a much-needed perspective. Like Nelson, he believes that our environment is something to be treasured, not taken for granted. And he’s pushed many progressive policy changes that would put the future of conservation center-stage.

In fact, in the past year, Evers has created a Task Force on Climate Change to develop strategies that’ll help communities reduce its effects. He also created the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy to oversee Wisconsin’s goal of providing 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050, and prioritized water quality and sustainability solutions within his budget proposal. By taking these steps, he’s proven that he can push Wisconsin in the right direction – but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

jennifer-shillingOver the past decade, historic storms and flooding have repeatedly challenged our communities, devastated local businesses and wreaked havoc on Wisconsin’s crops, making it clear that climate change is a real threat to our state. And while my Republican colleagues may see environmental protection policies as trivial and unimportant, Wisconsin Democrats remain committed to setting sustainable, commonsense standards – and you can help.

This Earth Day takes place during a truly unprecedented time. While we all do our part to shelter in place and tackle the COVID-19 pandemic head-on, it’s easy to feel isolated. But at the same time, it reminds us how connected we really are, and how our actions spark consequences for the world around us. So, today I challenge you to think about your impact on the environment. And take this time to implement a few eco-friendly changes in your life. Whether that’s cutting down on plastic, opting to consume less energy or switching most of your shopping to local, environmentally-conscious companies, your changes in behavior, no matter how small, will help to carry out the legacy of Gaylord Nelson. Because, as he once said, “The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”

Let’s all do our part to leave behind a better Wisconsin for tomorrow.

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The Wisconsin COVID-19 Response Bill

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, 22 April 2020
in Wisconsin

unemploymentSen. Smith writes about the COVID-19 Response Bill signed last week and explains what steps we still must take to further help Wisconsin.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - The COVID-19 public health emergency has forced us to quickly adapt and adjust our daily routines for this unprecedented time. Like so many families in rural Wisconsin, my bandwidth isn’t capable of allowing me to always work from home. So, last week from a small room on the UW-Eau Claire campus, I joined my senate colleagues through my computer screen for a virtual Senate Floor Session.

During Senate Session, I voted in support of the COVID-19 Response bill, a legislative package to support Wisconsin during this challenging time. Immediately after passing this bill, Governor Tony Evers signed the bipartisan bill into law. I’m proud to have voted for this bill; however, I know there’s more work to do to support Wisconsin families, businesses, farmers and medical professionals.

There are a number of measures included in the bill to help Wisconsin residents. The COVID-19 Response bill:

  • Suspends the one-week waiting period for a claimant to receive unemployment insurance benefits, which leverages an additional $9 million from the federal government for Wisconsin workers.
  • Makes changes to the state’s Medicaid regulations so that Wisconsin could be eligible for additional Medicaid funding, amounting to approximately $150 million for the first quarter of the year.
  • Allows Wisconsin Retirement System participants to be re-hired for critical positions during the public health emergency while receiving their annuity.
  • Allows pharmacists to extend certain prescriptions up to a 30-day supply during the pandemic.
  • Requires insurance plans to cover the costs of COVID-19 testing.
  • Prohibits an insurer or self-insured health plan from denying or cancelling health coverage based on a current, past or suspected diagnoses of COVID-19.
  • Prevents surprise medical billing during public health emergencies.

These are important measures. However, there were key parts from Governor Evers’ proposal that were missing from the legislative proposal, introduced by Republicans, that would do more to help Wisconsinites impacted by COVID-19. The Legislature must meet again and vote to:

  • Provide hazard pay or workers compensation for ALL frontline and critical workers who are risking their lives going to work every day.
  • Provide additional support for local governments that are currently on the frontline working with their communities to address their unique situation in this pandemic.
  • Further invest in Wisconsin’ small businesses and farmers who are struggling to make ends meet.
  • Offer additional resources for public health officials and enhance the ability of state and local public health officials in their effort to flatten the curve.
  • Make telehealth more available to patients with disrupted care.
  • Support hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities that are working hard to increase the capacity of our healthcare system.
  • Provide relief for families in need of assistance with basic needs like food security or emergency assistance with housing or utility payments.

During Senate Session, I joined my Democratic colleagues in introducing three amendments to fill gaps where the legislative proposal fell short. One amendment would have included the aforementioned relief proposals to provide greater support to front-line workers, business owners, public health professionals and Wisconsin families. The other amendments would move future elections to a mail-in process, ensure Wisconsin residents can vote safely in future elections, and extend relief efforts to any future declared public emergencies. Ultimately, Republicans rejected all three amendments; therefore they weren’t included in the bill signed into law by Governor Evers.

jeff-smithLast week, Governor Evers also extended the “Safer at Home” plan. This is a challenging time for us all, but the easing of restrictions indicates that it is working and we are moving in the right direction. Getting the economy working again is our focus, but COVID-19 is far too contagious to just lift the Safer at Home Order – we must do it gradually to limit the strain on our economy and health care system.

I want to thank the front-line workers, medical professionals and all the people helping our communities during this crisis. Thank you for doing your part by staying home. Our work is not done, not by a long shot. The “Safer at Home” plan is working to keep more Wisconsinites safe. As long as we follow social distancing practices, we’re doing what we can to save lives. Keep it up.

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Wisconsin’s Response to Coronavirus

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, 15 April 2020
in Wisconsin

tony-evers-talks-2uSince declaring a public health emergency for the state, Governor Tony Evers has introduced two COVID-19 relief packages and issued numerous emergency orders to slow the spread of COVID-19.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - As we near the end of a month while under the COVID-19 public health emergency, I thought of the steps Governor Tony Evers has taken to keep Wisconsinites safe. Keeping in mind how much pressure the Governor has been under both personally and politically, it seems we ought to commend him for his steadfast leadership and resolve. Governor Evers understands the serious responsibility in issuing the “Safer at Home” order – he understands these measures will protect Wisconsinites, but they’re not helping win friends or votes. These difficult decisions must be made knowing that.

So let’s walk through some steps Governor Evers has taken so far.

March 12 – Governor Evers declared a public health emergency in Wisconsin. As a result, he issued 23 emergency orders, which are intended to streamline responses from state agencies during the public health emergency to help Wisconsinites.

March 21 – Governor Evers shared a COVID-19 policy package with legislative leaders to provide immediate and long-term relief to Wisconsin residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal includes measures to support local public health agencies; expand telehealth coverage; prohibit surprise medical billing and cover the cost of testing and treatment related to COVID-19; reform election laws; repeal the one week waiting period to receive Unemployment benefits; help essential workers cover childcare costs; and more.

coronavirus-ppeMarch 21 – On behalf of Governor Evers’ request, the Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for additional personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gowns, gloves and face shields. On March 31, Wisconsin received PPE from the Strategic National Stockpile for healthcare workers.

March 26 – Governor Evers launched the PPE Buy-back Program to encourage businesses and organizations to sell PPE to the state in a continued effort to collect more supplies for healthcare workers.

March 24 – Governor Evers issued the “Safer at Home” order in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

March 30 – Governor Evers announced a new public-private partnership with Wisconsin businesses to increase COVID-19 testing capacity in the state.

March 31 – Governor Evers requested a major disaster declaration for Wisconsin. This would help all 72 counties and the state’s federally recognized tribes receive additional resources in response to COVID-19, including Direct and Public Assistance, Hazard Mitigation, Crisis Counseling, Community Disaster Loans and Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Program. Wisconsin was later granted this federal disaster declaration on April 4.

April 1 – Governor Evers introduced a second legislative package. This proposal included additional measures for Wisconsin residents during this difficult time, such as support for small businesses and workers; aid for emergency food banks; broadband expansion efforts; vaccination coverage to SeniorCare members; utility assistance for families; and more.

April 3 – Governor Evers signed Executive Order #73, calling for a special session to take up changes to the spring election to be held on Saturday, April 4. The next day, Republican leaders gaveled in and out within minutes, rejecting changes be made to protect voters and election workers.

April 6 – One day before the spring election, Governor Evers signed Executive Order #74 to suspend in-person voting for the April 7th Election until June 2020. He called on the Legislature to meet in Special Session to address the election date; however, Republican leaders chose not to meet. Later that day, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled the April 7 election to go on, as planned, against the guidance of health experts.

jeff-smithTake note of what is missing throughout this process: any action from the Republican-led Legislature. Republicans still haven’t taken action on Governor Evers’ COVID-19 relief proposals, introduced more than 3 weeks ago. While Republican leaders have marked Governor Evers as the “bad cop” they’ve sat on their hands throughout the first month, doing nothing to help Wisconsin during this crisis. Ironic, since they went to so much trouble to take power out of the Governor’s hands during the 2018 Lame Duck Session so they could be the decision makers.

So far the Republican leaders only know how to stand in the way and criticize Governor Evers’ swift response. That is not leadership. I hope by the time you read this, Republicans will have finally joined Governor Evers in making Wisconsin safer.

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