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Marsy’s Law: Do It Quick or Do It Right?

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, 16 January 2019
in Wisconsin

rapeSen. Jeff Smith reports about Marsy’s Law, the background of this movement to change state constitutions around the country to increase victim's rights, and the complicated nature of balancing the rights of victims and the accused.

MADISON - Our first week of the legislative session is off to a fast start. It appears my first legislative vote will be changing our State Constitution with a resolution called, “Marsy’s Law.”

The new Legislature always has a high-priority issue that needs to be addressed immediately. In 2007, as a freshman State Representative, I voted to create the Government Accountability Board (GAB) in response to a caucus scandal years before I took office.

Democrats in the State Senate and Republicans in the State Assembly worked together for the nation’s first bipartisan ethics and elections board. It was a model of good government for the nation. My first vote was something to be proud of as a new legislator -- it was because we needed it, not because people or organizations with deep pockets wanted it.

Fast forward to 2019. I was hopeful my first vote would be on something equally important - like protecting voting rights or passing redistricting reform.

jeff-smithWhen I first heard about protecting the rights of victims with Marsy’s Law, it seemed like a great way to start my term as State Senator. As I started asking questions, I learned it is far more complicated.

In 1983 Marsy Nicholas was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in California. One week later, Marsy’s mother and brother ran into the murderer in a grocery store. They were overcome with fear and pain not knowing he was out on bail. This traumatic experience led to her brother, now a billionaire investor, to spend millions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying efforts to pass state constitutional changes across the country.

Here in Wisconsin, we have some of the strongest protections for victims in the country. Unfortunately, other states did not. That’s why California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota passed versions of Marsy’s Law.

justiceOur judicial branch of government is the impartial arbiter for balancing the rights of victims and the accused. This concept has been depicted for centuries with blind statutes and scales showing balance. Unfortunately, money, emotion and power influence the legislative branch of government. Our job as legislators is to create laws governing our justice system and to keep the scales of justice balanced above all else.

We should be cautious when approached by a national advocacy group with money asking for a “one-size fits all approach” to our State’s Constitution. Change to our State’s Constitution demands heavy scrutiny. Even more scrutiny should be given to rushing changes to our State Constitution. After all, a constitutional change is our way of “writing it in stone.”

Each constitutional change in Wisconsin needs to be passed by two consecutive sessions of the Legislature before being offered as a referendum to voters during a statewide election. If the new 2019-20 Legislature passes Marsy’s Law by the end of January, it will land on the spring election ballot in April, leaving voters little time to learn about its effects.

What do you think? I want to hear from you. I’ve heard the countless gut-wrenching stories about victims in Wisconsin seeking justice. I’ve read the editorials across the state cautioning lawmakers. I heard the pleas of local district attorneys asking for additional resources to help victims.

My hope is that we can have a conversation about what’s best for helping victims. How do we protect justice for victims while maintaining the rights of the accused? I’m open to considering changes to our Constitution. But instead of getting it done quickly, we need to get it done right.


Senator Smith may be contacted through this link.

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Nation hurt by good people failing to oppose Trump

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 Wednesday, 09 January 2019
in Wisconsin

sheep-brennan-foleyHer greatest disillusionment isn’t Trump, it's that too many people are largely fine with all of the vicious, toxic filth and are not outraged or uncomfortable enough to take action or speak out.

GREEN BAY - Happy New Year to every person who didn’t vote for Donald Trump or who no longer supports him. Although I’m trying to look forward to the coming year with some optimism, the truth is I’ve become overwhelmed with disillusionment. I no longer think of the country in which I live, or many of the people who live in it, in the same way.

laura-kiefertThe greatest disillusionment to me isn’t Trump himself. I expected he’d be a horrible president because he’s a horrible person. He lacks a single kind or empathetic impulse, is impervious to compassion, and morally incapable of leading the country. Since his election, Trump has clearly caused the ugliness that exists among us to be elevated to a level not seen for over half a century.

My disillusionment comes with the reality that too many people I cared about and respected, people I thought were good people with admirable values, many of whom I considered to be friends, are largely fine with all of the vicious, toxic filth we’ve been infected with and are not outraged or uncomfortable enough to take action or speak out against the rising hatred and those who perpetuate it.

America will not return to the greatness and decency it once had until we all join together to hold our leaders to a higher standard of honesty and integrity. It’s the least we deserve as a nation.

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Committees, Collaboration and Compromise

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 January 2019
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inNew State Senator Jeff Smith from western Wisconsin reports on the committee creation process, his appointments, and his experience working on each committee’s issues.

MADISON - Senate committees aren’t exactly the hottest topic to write about in state government, but it’s incredibly important for our work as legislators. Most Senate committee names seem like someone pulled the topics out of a hat and randomly strung them together to create a committee.

Strange as some committee names may appear, committee creation is more an exercise in compromise and collaboration than blind luck.

Every two years, the Majority Party Leader meets with his or her Majority Party colleagues. He or she shuffles through the requests and interests of his  or her Majority Party senators. Then he or she appoints committee chairs and assigns other Majority Party senators to the committees.

After the Majority Party organizes the committees, the Senate Minority Leader works with Minority Party Senators to fill the committees. Though seemingly monotonous, this cascade of events can be a great opportunity for legislators to work together.

jeff-smithEvery new legislator has priorities he or she is passionate about or has experience to contribute. Lesser known issues offer intrigue for new legislators. While we don’t always get everything we want, I find every committee assignment an opportunity to learn and keep up on addressing new challenges.

We aren’t experts in every field, but we were elected to use our best judgement when faced with decisions that affect a diverse population. Here’s the slate of committees I will be assigned to this session:

Agriculture, Revenue & Financial Institutions: I will serve as ranking minority member on this committee. I may not be a farmer or banker by trade, but my forty-acre hobby farm and experience living in rural western Wisconsin offer me great insight. I learned an overwhelming amount about the banking industry during the Great Recession when I served on the Assembly Financial Institutions Committee as a State Representative. I’m looking forward to using that experience to help families work with lending institutions to purchase new homes and start businesses.

Elections, Ethics & Rural Issues: Since I first ran for elected office, campaign finance reform and ethics were my passion. That experience led me to serve as the Chair of this committee during my career in the State Assembly. My rural roots run deep. I’ve spent my whole life in western Wisconsin and the last 33 years living in the country, maintaining a septic system and private well while appreciating the real beauty of this state.

Government Operations, Technology & Consumer Protection: Consumer Protections are important now more than ever. During my time in the State Assembly I learned firsthand how important consumer protections were when I led efforts to regulate the payday industry and puppy mills. I also look forward to learning more about our state’s government operations and our constantly evolving technology regulations.

Sporting Heritage, Mining & Forestry: This committee really gets to the heart of what I think will impact every generation to come. If we spoil the water, land and air around us there is no fixing it. We can make mistakes when dealing with most other issues, but we cannot afford to err when it comes to protecting our natural resources. As someone who grew up in the hunting heritage we are so proud of in Wisconsin, I find it even more urgent that we protect the resources that define our state.

While there may be plenty of other political distractions in the headlines for weeks to come, I hope our first job to create committees this session helps inspire a little hope that legislators can work together to build committees through collaboration and compromise.

With only 33 Senators working on so many issues I hope you play your part as an advocate, as an expert and as a citizen to help us pass bipartisan and commonsense legislation. Stay tuned for public hearings and other opportunities to make your voice heard as we work to make our state a great place to live generations to come.

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Divided, but Not Broken Government

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 January 2019
in Wisconsin

jeff-smithSenator-elect Jeff Smith, who will take office January 7th to replace outgoing Democratic Sen. Kathleen Vinehout in the 31st District, shares his goal to help heal the political divisions in Wisconsin state government.

Town of Brunswick, WI - As I traversed western Wisconsin last year campaigning to be the new 31st District State Senator, it was clear we’ve been fortunate to have Kathleen Vinehout serve as our Senator for the last twelve years.

Questions abound what Kathleen will do next. Many hope Senator Vinehout will continue her service in some capacity moving forward, but only time will tell. I join the many heartfelt thank you’s for Senator Vinehout’s service to Western Wisconsin and wish her the best in whatever venture she chooses to pursue.

Looking forward, we have our work cut out for us. Senate integrity is at an all-time low after the lame-duck session stripped away some of Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul’s authority before they are sworn into office on January 7th.

Be assured that I believe in our democratic system of checks and balances. What took place in Madison in early December, in the dark of the night, was not about checks and balances. It reflected the pettiness and vindictiveness that’s been on display for most of this past decade.

As I talked with countless voters throughout the campaign, health care, education and transportation were the primary issues. Although, with each and every issue, there was an underlying frustration. Voters want us to work together, listen and let local government work.

In my years of working to build a window washing business and serve my community, it has always been my belief that any success depends on building relationships. That’s how I will serve in my new role as your State Senator.

Our state and communities need our leaders to get along and work together. It’s too important to hold grudges. For this upcoming session, the Majority Party will need to figure out how to work with a governor that is not from the same party. I know that won’t always be easy. In fact, only 9 Republicans in the State Assembly (out of 63) have worked with a Democratic governor.

I hope my past experience working in both the Minority and Majority Parties in the State Assembly will help me guide others. I look forward to being a leader who can help heal our divided government.

Who are we if we are not leading as partners, neighbors and family? What purpose do we have if we are not dedicated to making lives better for all? And when will we do better if not right now?

While much may still be written and reported about the divisions in politics, it will be my goal to build those much needed relationships and lead us to a better place. That means I will rely on the best you have to offer in advice, ideas, support and friendship.

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Sen. Vinehout "Saying Goodbye"

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Wednesday, 26 December 2018
in Wisconsin

kathleen-vinehoutKathleen Vinehout looks back at her twelve years of service as the State Senator for the 31st District as she reflects on the 624 columns she personally wrote, the countless heartfelt constituent cases she worked on, and the breadth of legislation she drafted.

MADISON - “Good Bye,” I said to my friend. “I remember the first time I met you,” she said in reply. “It was at the ‘New Legislator Training’ …I was going through my spiel. You kept asking questions about auditing and program evaluation. I was impressed way back then.”

Twelve years – to that day – my Senate career is history. My, how time flies.

Cleaning out my desk, I found notes I took on my orientation day. I set my goals as part of the training. Here’s what rookie Senator Vinehout promised herself: vote my conscience; match my votes to my district; be honest; respond to constituents; show respect to everyone in the Capitol; be the ‘servant leader’ – humble and listening; be the professor and folksy farmer.

I’d say, I did pretty darn good.

capitol-dome-mdsnAs a rookie, I wanted to solve every problem. I naively thought getting the policy correct meant a bill would become law. My first big project was to draft a healthcare bill that covered everyone and saved a billion dollars – my colleagues and I called it Healthy Wisconsin.

I quickly learned just coming up with a plan was a long way from changing the law. The plan failed. Later, I was able to pass less ambitious, but important health bills. For example, keeping your adult children on your health plan until they turn 27 – years before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed.

Today, Wisconsin still grapples with high health care costs. Recent court decisions to overturn the ACA make state health protections even more critical.

School funding, like health, was a perennial concern. In the new legislator orientation, my notes tell me, we learned “What’s wrong with the existing system.”

I recently attended my last hearing in the Capitol – The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding Reform. Twelve years later, I’m still listening to experts, including school superintendents, about what’s best to help kids. I joined with other commissioners to propose nearly 20 solutions for fixing our school funding problems.

I was encouraged the Commission found so much agreement. I’m hopeful the recommended solutions will be adopted in the upcoming state budget.

I carry the stories of people and their problems with me, in my mind and heart. Sometimes I helped. Sometimes I couldn’t. People called me when they faced impossible conundrums. Like the truck driver who needed his CDL renewed. The federal law called Real ID, requires birth certificates for driver licenses. The man was born in Mexico. As an adopted infant, his American parents never finished the naturalization process. He needed a birth certificate that didn’t exist. His adopted parents passed away. The adoption agency closed. I could find no solution.

This kind of situation tears at my heart.

Along the way, I’ve learned that just having a Senator listen can be a powerful act. I spent a lot of time listening. I slowly learned that, by itself, listening can heal.

I’ve heard so many stories. Many were shared in my weekly column. You are reading the 624th column I’ve written. And, yes, I personally wrote every single one.

There’s a lot to a lawmaker’s job. One metric for measuring success is the bills one introduced. Over 12 years, I introduced 364 bills. Forty-three became law. Working in a Republican Legislature for the past 8 years, I’ve had to work with my Republican colleagues as 2nd author to get my bills passed.

Of course, merely counting bills doesn’t address the breadth or quality of the proposals. Like Healthy Wisconsin, I’ve grappled with transformational issues. Topics like free college tuition, universal broadband, and, of course, universal healthcare.

I’ve always thought of my job as a team effort. Yes, my name is on the door. But that role cannot be accomplished by one person. Doug, my loving husband, is my rock and political guru. My son Nathan is my greatest joy.

I was blessed with amazing staff: Jacob Wipperfurth, Beau Stafford and my retiring, fabulous, Chief of Staff, Linda Kleinschmidt. I was also blessed with incredible constituents. Thank you to all of you. I’m a better Senator because of your help.

Keep Sowing Seeds for Peace on Earth and Good Will to All!

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