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Part Three: Water is Precious

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 February 2019
in Wisconsin

hicap-residentsThird of three columns describing the importance of water in Wisconsin. Conserving water by limiting high capacity wells, preventing the destruction of wetlands and reinvesting in science at the DNR are easy ways we can keep drinking water clean.


MADISON, WI - Water is cheap. Fixing water quality problems is expensive. Protecting our water before polluting it is less expensive. We can take steps now to preserve our cheapest most precious resource. Changing our perceptions about water use, using nature to help us preserve water and reinvesting in science are easy ways to show how an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In the last two columns, I discussed how water sustains our lives and how important it is for our economic prosperity. This week I will offer simple, but critical ways we can invest in water, our most precious resource.

Most of Wisconsin is lucky to have immediate access to clean water whether it’s from our private wells or from our municipal water utilities. Because water is cheap, most people don’t think about conserving it. Think about that. Something must be done differently to motivate people to conserve water even when capacity is not threatened. Where there are private wells there is more awareness of conserving simply because the owner is the manager.

hicap-wellPrivately owned high capacity wells play a big role for Wisconsin’s water conservation. Each high capacity well can pump up to 70 gallons of water per minute, or up to 100,000 gallons per day. High concentrations of high capacity wells in a single aquifer can cause serious problems for our drinking water. As water levels drop from overuse, oxygen can breakdown sulfides and expose arsenic to be leached into the water table. Unassuming landowners with private wells are at risk of polluted drinking water if we don’t take a hard look at conservation when considering new high capacity well permits.

We can invest in nature as our defender against contaminated water. Wetlands are nature’s best water filters. In 1985 Wisconsin completed a wetland inventory and found 5.3 million acres of wetlands left in Wisconsin. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, based on an evaluation of wet soils, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimated Wisconsin was home to approximately 10 million acres of wetlands at one time. As of 1985, we lost 47% of our wetlands.

Properties with wetlands tend to be priced below market value and have always been an easy target for farmers and developers. Farmers learned quickly that wetlands were essential to preserving productive soils. Business developers have been slower to learn.

Wetland mitigation allows developers to create new wetlands or rehabilitate existing wetlands if damage to naturally-occurring wetlands is “unavoidable.” Wetlands form from necessity. They are nature’s way of storing water and preventing flooding.

In recent years, floodwaters have ripped through our western Wisconsin coulees causing incredible damage to homes, businesses, roads and bridges. Floods churn up contaminated sediments and sweep them into our surface waters and eventually into our groundwater too. Protecting and enhancing wetlands is one of the easiest things we can do today to keep our water clean and lesson the damage from powerful floods.

jeff-smithWe need to reinvest in science too. Wisconsin’s DNR scientists have been under attack for the last 8 years. In 2011, Act 10 forced a mass exodus of scientists and other dedicated public servants from state government. Former Governor Scott Walker sent 57 pink slips to DNR employees on Earth Day 2015, of all days. In the 2017-19 budget, Republicans cut 43 more positions and eliminated the Division of Science Services during a “reorganization” of the agency. All mentions of climate change were scrubbed from DNR publications.

Thankfully, Governor Tony Evers and his new pick for DNR, Secretary Preston Cole are choosing science over ignorance. Sec. Preston Cole’s comment that the DNR will “double down on science in natural resources management” should be a refreshing assurance for Wisconsin. Governor Evers’ recent announcement to help local governments with $40 million to replace lead services lines is another example of his new approach to protecting the public’s water.

As we start to reinvest in our state’s ability to keep water clean, I’ll need your help. It’ll take all of us to educate our neighbors, family and friends about new efforts to keep Wisconsin’s water clean. Water may be cheap, but if we lose sight of how precious it is, we will pay far more in the long run.

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Erpenbach Applauds Medical Marijuana Proposal

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 Tuesday, 19 February 2019
in Wisconsin

medical-marijuanaWe should legalize medical marijuana, as an ever growing list of organizations and individuals support decriminalization for medical use.


MADISON - Since 2009, I have been the author of legislation to legalize marijuana for medical use. In that time I have heard heartbreaking stories from people across the state who are using marijuana to alleviate serious medical conditions; People breaking the law to get their loved ones a medicine that works.

Legislators have long been behind the public on this issue. Recent polling showed that 59% of Wisconsinites support the legalization of all marijuana, but broken down into medical use the numbers are even higher.

In addition, thirty States and Washington, D.C., both red and blue, have passed effective medical marijuana programs, and no state has ever sought to repeal it. It is time for Wisconsin to join them in passing these regulations.

jon-erpenbachThe bottom line is that seriously ill patients should not have to break the law to access their medication. Marijuana can provide relief to those suffering from cancer, glaucoma, PTSD, ALS, chronic pain and can even help in the fight against opiate addiction. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014 found that opioid overdose deaths were reduced by 25% in states with an effective medical marijuana law. This is a common-sense solution to a crisis that impacts both urban and rural areas of our state.

There are a multitude of reasons why we should legalize medical marijuana, and an ever growing list of organizations and individuals that support decriminalization for medical use. This proposal will help individuals seeking to alleviate chronic pain in a safe and legal way, and I applaud Governor Evers for listening to the people of Wisconsin.

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Part Two: Water is Prosperity

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, 13 February 2019
in Wisconsin

door-countyIn the 2nd of 3 columns about clean water, Sen. Smith discusses how water is our key to prosperity and encourages us to think about future generations when considering the next big company coming to Wisconsin for our natural resources.


MADISON - Last week I wrote about how water is life. This week I hope to show how important water is for all of us to not only survive, but also to thrive.

In my Capitol office hangs an old re-election poster for former Governor Gaylord Nelson. The founder of Earth Day, Governor Nelson was one of Wisconsin’s fiercest advocates for our environment. He was also a pragmatist – he understood not only how important clean water was, but he also acknowledged its importance for our economy.

Milk, cheese, beer, and paper -- these are quintessential Wisconsin products. Each of these water-dependent products requires large amounts of clean water.

great-river-road-wiWater is abundant in Wisconsin. Our 1,017 miles of Great Lakes shoreland offer our state excellent access to the world’s largest supply of freshwater. Wisconsin’s “west coast,” is mostly lined by the Mississippi River, which is the 2nd largest watershed in the world. We even have more lakes than Minnesota! Wisconsin is so watery that 17% of our state is covered by water.

Every decision about water we make as representatives and senators in the State Capitol has a globally significant impact. We know how important water is, but so do companies hoping to gain access to our water.

In 2003, Wisconsin limited the ability of local governments to oppose Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). CAFOs are defined as operations with more than 1,000 animals on the farm. Here in the counties within the 31st Senate District, we have 24 of the 272 dairy CAFOs in Wisconsin.

High capacity wells on CAFOs pump vast quantities of water in a very small area, and the massive volume of animal waste generated at these facilities is too much for the surrounding cropland to handle as fertilizer. America’s Dairyland has always looked to small family farms to supply our country with high-quality milk and cheese. Low milk prices are driving smaller dairy farms out of business and CAFOs are taking their place. Without relief, more family farms will continue to struggle and large CAFOs will continue to expand.

In 2010, our 31st Senate District became the epicenter of the frac sand industry in Wisconsin and across the nation. The rush for high quality sand to support our U.S. and Canadian oil and natural gas hydrofracturing operations created a demand far exceeding our expectations in Wisconsin. Cleaning the tons of sand going across North America requires a lot of water and the chemicals used during the process leave serious concerns about water quality.

metallic-sulfide-mining-runoffIn 2011, the massive iron mine proposed by Gogebic Taconite created a frenzy of changes to water and air protections for the iron mining permit process. In 2017, the “Prove it First Law” was repealed for sulfide mining companies looking to come to Wisconsin. These changes lower the bar for potential mining companies to come to Wisconsin and pollute our water.

foxconn-groundbreakMost recently, in 2017, the state carved Foxconn out of environmental protections. Foxconn will also be able to pump up to 7 million gallons of water per day to manufacture liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. Only 4 million of the 7 million gallons will return to Lake Michigan daily. The harsh chemicals used in the manufacturing process leaves serious questions about water quality surrounding the facility and what pollutants will return back to the Great Lakes.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of companies lining up for Wisconsin’s water and natural resources. The million dollar question we need to ask ourselves is: are the long term consequences worth short term economic gain?

Next week, I’ll be writing about how water is our most precious resource and how we can preserve it for our lives and our prosperity. Former Governor Gaylord Nelson 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.”

Our water is the key to our state’s prosperity. It will be our children’s and our grandchildren’s prosperity too. The next time a big company or industry asks Wisconsin to roll back water protections for their profits, we need to ask ourselves how this decision before us contributes, rather than harms our water. If we make the right choices today, the words of thanks will be said.

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LWV WI Calls On Lawmakers To End Gerrymandering

Posted by League Women Voters WI, Andrea Kaminski
League Women Voters WI, Andrea Kaminski
League Women Voters WI, Andrea Kaminski has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 13 February 2019
in Wisconsin

voter-primariesWisconsin legislature should establish a redistricting system similar to that in Iowa says nonpartisan political organization.


MADISON, WI - With a legacy going back almost a century and a presence in all 50 states, the League of Women Voters takes the long view on how voting district maps are drawn. In Wisconsin the League has been active on apportionment and redistricting since the 1930s. Through the decades our stance has sometimes lined up with that of one major political party or the other, but that is not because we have changed our minds about where we stand.

The Wisconsin League adopted a position in the 1970s favoring voting maps drawn by a nonpartisan entity, rather than by the legislators who might want to ensure their own job security by creating “safe” districts. It’s the voters who should choose their representatives, not the other way around. Currently we support having a nonpartisan legislative agency draw the maps, a plan that has worked well in Iowa since 1980. Over the years our position has not sat well with the party in power.

In a 1989 letter to the League, Assembly Speaker Dave Travis, a liberal Democrat, blasted the League for our position favoring an independent commission. He said the League “allowed itself to be used for partisan political purposes on behalf of the Republican Party of Wisconsin during the 1980s redistricting process.”

That was then. Now it’s the Republican legislators who oppose nonpartisan redistricting. That party’s leaders have refused to even hold a public hearing for the “Iowa Plan” bill which was introduced in each of the past four sessions. The Democrats, on the other hand, may be wishing they had followed the League’s advice in the 1980s or in the 2009 legislative session, when their party controlled both houses of the legislature and governor’s office.

wi-dist-maps-currentWhat has changed between the 1980s and today? Not the League’s position. All that has changed is which party is in power. The party in power got there through the current system and is often reluctant to make any changes. This is happening in both red states and blue states around the country. In Maryland and New Jersey, the League has recently fought against gerrymandering by the Democrats.

This battle really is between the party leaders, much more than the public. The latest Marquette University Law School Poll found that 72 percent of likely voters, including 63 percent of Republican leaners and 83 percent of Democratic leaners, say they would prefer to have district maps drawn by a nonpartisan commission.

It is expected that a new bill will be introduced soon in the Wisconsin legislature to establish a redistricting system similar to that in Iowa. If enacted, this would result in fair districts for voters rather than safe districts for politicians. It would cost taxpayers well under $100,000 every ten years, with most of that spent on public hearings held around the state to get public input. Compare that to the $3 million and counting that has already been spent or committed to have a private law firm draw the voting maps back in 2011 and then have the state defend the gerrymandered districts in the courts.

When this legislation is introduced it should have a public hearing and a vote in both houses of the state legislature, and then Governor Evers should sign it into law. In addition, nonpartisan redistricting should be incorporated into the biennial state budget, which will be in effect through June of 2020. Given that the nonpartisan process will be less expensive than what we have had in the past, it will free up needed tax dollars for better pursuits than rigged districts.

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Andrea Kaminski is the Legislative Coordinator for the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin is a nonpartisan political organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. There are 20 local Leagues throughout Wisconsin. More information at lwvwi.org

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Sen. Larson Leads on Campaign Finance Reform

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, 07 February 2019
in Wisconsin

chris_larsonSen. Larson’s bills would limit the role of the super wealthy and corporations, and bring some more transparency to our politics.


MADISON - Sen. Chris Larson, Democrat from Milwaukee, is taking the lead in the Wisconsin State Senate on the urgent issue of campaign finance reform.

He is introducing what he calls the “2019-2020 Campaign Integrity Package,” which consists of nine bills. These bills would go a long way toward rectifying the damage that was done when the GOP leadership disastrously rewrote our campaign finance law back in 2015.

“Powerful special interest groups and wealthy corporations continue to have an overwhelming and growing effect on elections across Wisconsin and nationwide,” Sen. Larson says. These bills “address our most damaging campaign finance problems.”

mta-milwaukeeOne of the bills, which is entitled the “No Corporate Campaign Bribes Act,” would ban corporations, labor unions, tribes, and other groups from donating to political parties and legislative campaign committees. In the last session, such donations amounted to $1.7 million. For more than 100 years prior to the 2015 rewrite of our campaign finance law, corporations and other groups were not allowed to make such donations. (The Legislative Reference Bureau draft number for this bill is LRB-1094. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Jonathan Brostoff is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

Another bill, the “Communications Transparency Act,” would lift the lid on the dark money that has flooded into Wisconsin elections. It would require so-called “issue advocacy” groups to disclose the names of any donors who gave them $100 or more in the preceding 12 months. Now we’d know who is paying for the mud that’s splattering on our screens at election time. The bill would also require the reporting, within 48 hours, of any mass communication that costs more than $500 and is made within 60 days of an election. (Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate.)

Another important bill, the “Coordination Control Act,” would prohibit unlimited donations to “issue advocacy” groups that are coordinating with candidates. Instead, those donations would not be able to exceed the limits on direct contributions to candidates. Under the 2015 law, a candidate may coordinate with these outside groups, which can raise unlimited amounts of money from their donors, thus making a mockery of the limits on direct contributions to candidates. The bill also redefines “coordination” to mean that the candidate or candidate’s agent “exercises control over or engages in substantial discussions or negotiations” with the outside electioneering group. The 2015 law made it almost impossible to convict someone of illegal coordination because it defined coordination much more narrowly. (This bill is LRB-1093. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Jimmy Anderson is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

Four bills would lower donation limits.

One of them, “The Sensible Limits Act,” would place a $10,000 ceiling on donations to political parties and legislative campaign committees. The 2015 law let rich people give unlimited amounts to these groups, which may then turn around and give that money to the candidates. (This bill is LRB-1088. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Melissa Sargent is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

A similar bill, the “Stop Unlimited Contributions Act,” would also limit the transfer of funds between political parties and legislative campaign committees. (This bill is LRB-1319. Lead sponsors of the bill are Rep. Sargent in the Assembly and Sen. Larson in the Senate.)

The “Restoring Reasonable Limits Act” would lower the individual donation limit to $10,000 for candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, and secretary of state. The 2015 law had raised it to $20,000. (This bill is LRB-1089. The lead sponsors are Sen. Larson and Rep. Sargent.)

The “Special Interests Limitation Act” would also cut in half the amount that the political action committees may contribute to candidates. (This bill is LRB-1090. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Christine Sinicki is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

The last two bills would eliminate defects that the 2015 law introduced.

The “Closing the PAC Loophole Act” would require any group that spends more than $1,000 on express advocacy to register as a political action committee in Wisconsin. The 2015 law allowed national PACs to avoid registering unless they spend more than half their money in Wisconsin, and most don’t. (This bill is LRB-1091. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Anderson is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

And the “Contribution Sunshine Act” would require campaign committees to identify the employer of any donor who gives more than $100. The 2015 law took this requirement away, and by so doing, obscures the influence that a company may be exercising. (This bill is LRB-1095. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Brostoff is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

Sen. Larson and the other lead sponsors of these bills are doing a great service to our democracy here in Wisconsin.

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