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It's Cold Outside for Our Furry Friends

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, 18 December 2019
in Wisconsin

dog-winter-snowThe Senator talks about looking out for our vulnerable furry friends. He works with a constituent to learn about unattended tethering,  and introduces legislation to prohibit this harmful practice.


BRUNSWICK, WI - While it’s not officially here yet, the winter season has come to western Wisconsin. Snow has fallen and temperatures have dropped close to zero. During these winter months, my family’s two dogs enjoy exploring the outdoors. But, as the days get even colder, you’ll find the dogs spending more time inside near the wood burning stove in our family room.

Not all animals find winter so enjoyable, especially if they’re unable to warm up indoors. I recently learned the dangers for animals when kept outside for extensive periods of time. Even their furry coats aren’t enough to keep them warm as their body temperatures drop and their paws freeze.

As a legislator, I’ve come to learn the value of an advocate’s voice, while meeting community members and activists, and hearing their stories. These conversations are important reminders to look out for those who are vulnerable, including our furry friends who can’t speak for themselves. Our voices have power – we must speak up to take care of others.

jeff-smithIn 2009, I introduced the Commercial Dog Breeders Licensure Bill, as a State Representative. This bill, enacted by Governor Doyle, created a licensure process and stronger regulations for puppy mills. The passage of 2009 Act 90 was an incredible accomplishment, but I quickly learned the work to protect dogs didn’t stop there.

During the 2018 campaign, I met Becky who previously worked as a rural mail carrier. While on her route, she came across too many dogs who were permanently chained or tethered in a yard. Becky even saw dogs who were chained for such a long time that their collars became embedded into their skin.

She noticed other signs to indicate a dog has been chained for long periods of time. The area around the dog is a hardened dirt patch, and typically, the dog doesn’t have any shelter, if any. Of course, with little-to-no social interaction with others, these dogs become very defensive of their territory, aggressive and can be dangerous to humans. According to the animal welfare advocacy group, UnChain Wisconsin, tethered dogs are nearly three times “more likely to bite, with children almost always being the innocent victim.”

Too many dogs are permanently chained year-round. People often find themselves in unfortunate places in life and don’t know what to do with the dog they adopted. Some owners forget about the responsibilities or a family member loses interest in the pet. Whatever the reason, the dog becomes victim of circumstances brought on by poor judgement. This neglectful practice heightens the risk for entanglement, dehydration, starvation, heatstroke, frostbite, trauma, disease and death.

The United States Department of Agriculture condemned unattended tethering, defining the practice as “inhumane.” Despite their opposition and advocacy against this practice, little has been done to stop it. Many Wisconsin municipalities don’t have ordinances to prevent these abusive practices or they don’t have the resources to enforce it. The responsibility is left to neighbors and friends to intervene, which isn’t always easy or successful.

Throughout the past year, I worked with Becky and others to develop the “Unattended Tethering” bill to prohibit these harmful practices and provide appropriate shelter for dogs. Specifically, the bill will prohibit owners from tethering their dogs during extreme weather or under unsafe conditions, ban tethering to treadmills or training devices and prohibit owners from leaving dogs unattended in a motor vehicle under life-threatening circumstances.

After years of working with dog owners, Becky rescued some dogs from these dangerous circumstances. However, she wanted to advocate for these animals, who have no voice, in a different way. Her experience and advocacy moved this policy proposal forward. During the holiday season, I encourage you to advocate for others, like Becky. Be sure to look out for others who may not be able to advocate for themselves and find a way to use your voice to get involved and to help.

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Next President Should Not Hide Behind Justice Department Policy

Posted by Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert lives in Howard and is a Partner in the Green Bay Progressive. Mem
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on Saturday, 14 December 2019
in Wisconsin

whitehouse-crimals-lkkWe need the Congress to specifically state in law what many of us have always taken for granted - that no one, including the President of the United States, is above the law.


GREEN BAY, WI - Like many patriotic Americans, I believe that no one is above the law, not even the President. However, with the rampant corruption and pending impeachment of Donald Trump, the ambiguity of whether or not a sitting President can be indicted is currently being debated.

Presently, the Constitution is silent on whether a president can face criminal prosecution, the U.S. Supreme Court has not directly addressed the question, and the U.S. Justice Department has a decades-old policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Therefore, criminal charges being brought against Trump, regardless of the severity of his crimes, just aren’t going to happen.

The thought of a criminal residing in the White House sickens me, and I would hope it would be troublesome for everyone. Therefore, in order to keep crooks from occupying 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, in the future, voters must do a better job of vetting Presidential candidates.

In addition, we need the Congress to specifically state in law what many of us have always taken for granted - that no one, including the President of the United States, is above the law or has the right to obstruct justice by ignoring a lawful subpoena in an effort to cover his/her crimes. Every American deserves to be assured of this fundamental principle of our government.

I would hope that all candidates for President will show he/she will follow the law and has no crimes to hide by supporting such a clarification in law.

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Wisconsin Democrats Introduce Bills to Protect Property Taxpayers

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
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 12 December 2019
in Wisconsin

school-bus-kidsLegislation attempts to reverse the increasing bill for the costly school choice and voucher programs at the expense of public schools.


MADISON - Property taxpayers have a hidden cost on their bills this month. According to the Department of Public Instruction, this hidden fee will cost the 27th Senate District $3.1 million, and upwards of $95.6 million statewide. If left unchecked, this fee – voucher schools – will increase year after year without oversight or authority.

This week Democrats introduced legislation to give the power back to taxpayers, instead of making them blindly foot the increasing bill for the costly school choice and voucher programs at the expense of public schools. Representative Sondy Pope (D-Mt.Horeb), Representative Dave Considine (D-Baraboo), and I introduced legislation to freeze the number of participants in the 3 main voucher programs and require teachers in the voucher programs to be licensed. Additionally, our bills will limit the voucher to lesser of the current payment or the school district’s general aid per student, and limit voucher payments to no more than tuition charged. Additionally, Senator Janet Bewley (D-Mason) introduced legislation to require a referendum before a district faces increased property taxes from vouchers taking away aid.

These proposals would ensure that property taxpayers don’t lose more to voucher operations than they would receive in state general aid per student, would ensure that voucher operations don’t take in more from taxpayers than they would have received in tuition, and would give the power back to taxpayers to decide how their tax dollars are spent.

school-meeting-crowdThis is not the first time that Democrats attempted to increase transparency and accountability this year. In Governor Evers’ budget proposal, he included several of the same proposals that we have reintroduced today. However, Republicans on the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) removed all provisions aimed at increasing the standards of voucher programs on their first vote.

Voucher school operators, on average, takes $2,618 more per student than the general aid a public school district receives. In 97% of districts statewide, property taxpayers would pay more per student to voucher schools than for their public schools, and although general aid is designed to limit the cost of public schools to property taxpayers, homeowners are on the hook for their increased taxpayer contributions to voucher programs.

Additionally, many private schools in the voucher programs charge significantly less in tuition than the voucher payments. In those cases, private schools make more from school district property taxpayers than they would have received in tuition. Choice schools often funnel these tax dollars to statewide lobby organizations that are designed to demand more from taxpayers without oversight. In other words, these voucher schools are draining resources from public schools, while profiting at property taxpayers’ expense.

Our public schools are already tragically underfunded, and taxpayers are forced to raise their own taxes through referendums in order to keep their doors open. Taxpayers deserve full transparency when it comes to the unreliable voucher programs, and the legislation that we introduced this week is a step in the right direction.

As avid supporters of public education, we are proud to work alongside our Democratic colleagues to fight back against the bad policies and burdens that taxpayers have to endure under Republican leadership. These bills are common-sense proposals that allow property taxpayers to choose whether or not they shell out hundreds of millions of dollars without oversight or authority.

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What Will It Take to Close Lincoln Hills?

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, 11 December 2019
in Wisconsin

lincohn-hills-youth-prisonWe must close Lincoln Hills and take steps to reduce recidivism in Wisconsin. If we don’t invest in the rehabilitation of our youth, we will continue to see institutional racism in our corrections system.


IRMA, WI - Within the last decade, Lincoln Hills has reached a state of crisis. New reports emerged this fall, citing the violence taking place at this youth detention facility. This revelation reminds us that nothing yet has happened to resolve the serious issues in Wisconsin’s youth prisons.

Lincoln Hills, located in Irma, opened in 1970 for male youth offenders. While most of us live far from Lincoln Hills, and few people know individuals housed at the facility, we should all be concerned about the future of these young men.

The way Wisconsin handles youth offenders directly affects whether they end up on a lifetime path within our justice system. We should all want a system that provides a safe space and promotes practices to reduce the rate of recidivism once these young men are released.

After high profile incidents, criminal complaints, civil lawsuits and a federal investigation, officials determined Lincoln Hills needed to shut down. During the 2017-18 session, the State Legislature passed Act 185, to restructure the state’s juvenile correctional system. This legislation was an attempt to fix, what appeared to be, a broken system.

Act 185 will convert Lincoln Hills from a youth facility to an adult correctional institution by establishing Type 1 facilities for serious juvenile offenders and establishing Secured Residential Care Centers (SRCCs) around the state.

Officials needed new facilities for the young adults, currently at Lincoln Hills, to reach their goal of closing this facility. Act 185 appropriated $25 million for the construction of Type 1 facilities for serious offenders under the age of 17 who were convicted of class A or B felonies, including homicide, sexual assault or armed robbery.

Act 185 also appropriated $40 million to build multiple SRCCs around the state. The Department of Corrections (DOC) invited counties to apply for a grant from the $40 million budgeted for this project. I was disappointed when the March grant application deadline passed and the only counties interested were Milwaukee, Racine, Dane and Brown.

After having conversations with DOC officials, I learned that counties are reluctant to apply for the grant because it only covers construction, and they fear the constraints placed on their budgets wouldn’t allow them the resources needed to run the facilities. Thus, the goal of having youth facilities closer to families may not be met.

It does make some sense that counties in Southern Wisconsin would jump on the opportunity to bring their youth back home. After all, 60% of the youth currently at Lincoln Hills are from Milwaukee County.

Something is very wrong with Wisconsin incarcerating disproportionate amounts of African Americans compared to our total population. According to Youth Justice Milwaukee, 70% of the youth in Lincoln Hills are African American, despite comprising only 10% of Wisconsin’s total youth population.

This trend in our youth facilities is seen on a larger scale in Wisconsin’s adult correctional system too. Wisconsin incarcerates African-American men at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country. According to the State Bar of Wisconsin, 43% of males incarcerated in our state are African-American. Wisconsin’s total African-American population is only 6.6%, indicating another example of the racial inequalities in the state.

jeff-smithIf we don’t invest in the rehabilitation of our youth, we will continue to see institutional racism in our corrections system. Keeping young offenders close to home is a good first step on the path of reducing recidivism.

The DOC has done everything they can to help counties apply. This year the Legislature passed a bill, signed into law by Governor Evers, to double the amount of funding. We also extended the deadline for closure of Lincoln Hills to allow counties more time to get the SRCCs built and running.

But still nothing is happening. The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee, has refused to meet and vote on the funding. Political games are continuing while time is running out to prevent violence in Wisconsin’s youth prisons. What else will it take?

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Homeless Wisconsinites Left out in the Cold by GOP

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
User is currently offline
on Friday, 06 December 2019
in Wisconsin

homelessState Republican “A Hand for the Homeless” package just another stall tactic says Erpenbach.


WEST POINT - In Governor Evers’ budget proposal, he included funding to combat homelessness in Wisconsin. The funding was based on recommendations from an Interagency Council on Homelessness that was created in 2017. The recommendations were drawn from the council’s “A Hand and a Home: Foundations for Success,” an action plan that asked for $3.75 million annually to prevent and decrease homelessness in Wisconsin. Additionally, in February 2019, Republicans introduced a series of eight bills that had the same goals – the “A Hand for the Homeless” package. With both sides of the aisle working on the issue, there was hope that, before winter hit Wisconsin, the state would release funding and get to work on this pressing issue.

While all the funding was approved in the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) for the purpose of combatting homelessness, Republicans opted to hold the money in their supplemental appropriation fund, instead of releasing the dollars to the agencies charged with implementing the programs. Governor Evers included a detailed list of the programs that the funds would be used for, including increases for the Homeless Prevention Program, State Shelter Subsidy Grants, the Housing Assistance Program, and the creation of grants for Housing Navigation, etc. Yet, Republicans held back the funds, waiting instead for their own package of bills to be signed into law. Once again choosing partisanship over the good of Wisconsin.

This legislation passed unanimously in both Senate and Assembly committees and before the full Assembly, but despite Democratic effort, Republicans blocked the bills in the Senate, and adjourned until January 2020.

On July 15, 2019 the Department of Administration (DOA) requested the release of the funds passed in the budget and several months later they have not received a response. Despite the funding already being designated for this purpose, Republicans are forcing our most vulnerable to needlessly wait while they leave for their holiday vacations.

jon-erpenbachGovernor Evers sent a letter to the Republican JFC Co-Chairs, Senator Alberta Darling and Representative John Nygren, to release the funds on November 14, 2019, and JFC Democrats followed the call by requesting that the JFC convene to release the funding. Still, Republicans have stayed silent on the once bipartisan issue.

Those who are facing homelessness should not have to wait through the freezing Wisconsin winter months for Republicans to decide to do their job. There is support on both sides of the aisle for the legislation that was introduced by Republican Assembly members, yet Senate Republicans refuse to address this crucial issue.

Wisconsinites are sick of the constant political games. This is just another example of Republicans using tactics to stall progress in our state. Releasing the funds that the JFC is holding to combat homelessness should not be a partisan issue, and, with the funds already being slated for this purpose, the cost should not be preventing the programs from being executed.

Republicans have come out in support of these proposals. Democrats have pushed for the bills to be taken up in the Senate. Governor Evers has advocated for the funds. What is holding Senate Republicans back from taking the vote to help those in need?

There are only a few weeks left this year, and the legislature has yet to take up some of the most important issues to Wisconsinites. Wisconsinites expect more from their elected officials than to “play goalie” to issues that would have enormous positive impacts on our communities.

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