Monday June 17, 2019

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Erpenbach on the Republican Tax Plan

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 Thursday, 07 February 2019
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_senateDemocratic leader says GOP’s plan consumes 80% of the estimated balance before the budget process even begins, and uses one-time funds that would ultimately attribute to a deficit.


MADISON - While I am glad that Republicans are taking steps to support Governor Evers’ vision for a tax cut for the middle-class, today’s public hearing on their alternative proposal makes it clear that their spending plan is shortsighted and irresponsible. Once again, Republicans are playing politics, instead of fighting for what is best for Wisconsin, and in doing so, they are putting taxpayers on the hook for a tax cut with no way to pay for it in the future.

jon-erpenbachThe GOP’s plan consumes 80% of the estimated balance before the budget process even begins, and uses one-time funds that would ultimately attribute to a deficit. It leaves no room for Governor Evers or the legislature to work on the priorities of Wisconsinites and to reach across the aisle to find common ground on what matters most to our communities.

The people of Wisconsin have made it clear that they want Governor Evers to expand opportunities, including investing in our schools, rebuilding infrastructure and improving health care. Due to the lack of school aids under Republicans, taxpayers have already had to pass $1.46 billion in local referendums to assist their schools, forcing local communities to approve $300 million in 2018 alone. It is important that we reduce the burden on property taxpayers by properly funding education and making smart investments in our communities.

Governor Evers has a plan that works for Wisconsin’s hardworking families without increasing Wisconsin’s budget deficit. I urge Republicans to work with Governor Evers’ on his proposal that would provide sustainable tax relief and would put the people of Wisconsin first, not support a plan they cannot pay for.

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Part One: Water is Life

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 Tuesday, 05 February 2019
in Wisconsin

lake-michigan-shoreFirst of three columns about clean water in Wisconsin, the importance of clean water for our biology as humans, and how our dependence on good quality drinking water warrants our greatest care.


MADISON - We take a lot of things for granted in life. Our car will always start, our dogs will always love us and the water we drink will always be clean. Like all these assumptions, nothing is guaranteed. Much like the adoration of our pets or the dependability of our vehicles, the quality of our water critically depends on the care we take for protecting the things we love and depend on the most.

When we turn on the faucet to fill a glass of water or sip from a drinking fountain, we have a reasonable expectation the water is safe. This blind trust is mostly due to the protections we have in place and the oversight of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

clean-drinking-waterGovernor Tony Evers declared the year of 2019 as the “year of clean drinking water” in his State of the State speech on January 22nd. I can’t agree more with the Governor -- that’s why, for the next three weeks, I will be writing about how water is life, prosperity and our most precious resource.

Water is life. According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the United States Geological Survey cited that “the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.” Overall, our body consists of 60% water. It’s recommended that we drink eight 8 ounce glasses of water each day to stay hydrated.

Water is critically important to our biology. Unfortunately, it is much easier to contaminate our drinking water than it is to clean it up. Each time our drinking water becomes polluted, we become less concerned about polluting it in the future because we troubleshoot the problem and then adjust our expectations. It’s like the boiling frog theory: if a frog jumps into a pot of boiling water it jumps out immediately, but if the frog is in the pot while the water slowly boils it remains.

jeff-smithThere are many countries that did not prioritize clean, accessible water until it was too late. Right here in North America, nearly three-quarters of people in Mexico drink packaged water, and they consume more bottled water per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Wisconsin is not immune to the emergency of contaminated drinking water. In Kewaunee County, samples from a recent study showed 60% of private well systems were contaminated with excess nitrates from human and animal waste. Even with protections in place, we cannot take clean water for granted. Going forward, we must work with professionals to enforce fact-based, scientific approaches to protect the public’s drinking water.

Water is life. We must count on our elected leaders in Madison and our best scientists to protect our fragile drinking water supply. When we start our cars during the next polar vortex, come home to our pets after a long day at work or take a cool drink of life-giving water; those are all reminders we must give the greatest care to the things we depend on the most.

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Lawmakers Need to Walk the Talk for Bipartisanship

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, 30 January 2019
in Wisconsin

wisconsinThe legislature is considering a middle class tax cut for Wisconsin. Sen. Jeff Smith writes about how a new legislative session can turn the page for bipartisanship and his goals for cultivating good ideas and building trust across the aisle.


MADISON - I’ve said it. Governor Evers said it. Republican leaders said it - “We need to work together.”

A number of clichés come to mind as we talk about working together. “It’s easier said than done” or “Talk is cheap.” I prefer “walk the talk.”

When I flipped on the TV to watch the local news two weeks ago, I was surprised to see local Republicans lined up supporting Governor Evers’ idea to offer a middle class tax cut. Oddly, there were no Democrats involved in the press conference.

It’s common for the Majority Party not to include the Minority Party for press activities. It doesn’t have to be like this, but deep political divides still exist for many Wisconsin lawmakers.

During the last 8 years, the Majority Party ignored the wants and needs of the Minority Party. Harsh political fights over collective bargaining rights, redistricting, voting rights and many other issues left legislators very little appetite for bipartisanship. In fact, only 22% of all legislators currently serving in the Assembly or Senate know what it was like before 2011.

There are still some legislators (myself included) that do remember what it was like. Don’t get me wrong, there were still intense political disagreements, but we also discussed the merits of bills during public hearings and while meeting in the halls of the Capitol. The power of a good idea pulled Republicans and Democrats together.

We saw a glimmer of that power during Governor Tony Evers’ State of the State Speech last week. There was one moment when the Senate and Assembly Republicans joined Democrats for a standing ovation -- it was the Governor’s idea to offer a middle class tax cut.

We all agree a middle class tax cut is a good idea, but there will be disagreements about how to pay for it. Democrats want to pay for the tax cut by recovering funds from ill-conceived tax credits. Republicans want to do it only one time. Despite the differences on how to get there, we’ve found some common ground.

Imagine if Democrats and Republicans stood shoulder to shoulder advocating for a middle class tax cut at a press conference. Imagine if the Majority Party invited the Minority Party to the table to discuss how to accomplish our shared goal. The final product would be more representative of the needs of ALL Wisconsinites.

Unfortunately, there’s still some reluctance in really working together or perhaps there’s uncertainty as to where we start. I have a few ideas on what we can do first.

jeff-smithAs Senators and Representatives we bring our unique experiences and differing opinions to the job. Every new session offers us an opportunity to start a productive dialogue to learn from each other. We can’t let our own bias and partisanship get in the way of doing what’s right.

Beginning this term as a new Senator, I made a commitment with my team to meet with Democrat and Republican legislators in the Assembly and the Senate. I’ll take this time to introduce myself, listen to their ideas and learn more about the communities they represent.

Having these conversations to acknowledge our differences and similarities is the first step for establishing mutual respect. These relationships can build trust so we can, again, make the right decisions for the future of our state.

Team success begins and ends with trust in each other. As a lifelong sports fan and former high school sports participant, (can’t honestly say I was a star athlete, but I tried) I know how much further we get when we work as a team.

I’ve observed Republicans finding Democrats who might add their name next to theirs as co-authors of their bills. That’s a good step, but adding names is not enough; it’s about adding good ideas too. As legislators, we need to prioritize cooperative input and let the power of a good idea take root in our Legislature.

We have an opportunity to turn the page and heal the political divisions. Progress will happen once we put away the political scorecards and “walk the talk” for bipartisanship.

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Healthcare: Rushing to Fix One Part While Destroying the Whole

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, 23 January 2019
in Wisconsin

affordablecareMadison Republicans claim they want to protect people with pre-existing conditions, but Wisconsin cannot afford to go back to 2008 when health care costs were skyrocketing and health insurance lacked the necessary coverage.


MADISON - Remember the high-gloss campaign mailings? The non-stop TV and radio campaign ads from last year about protecting people with pre-existing conditions? I bet you heard more than you ever wanted about pre-existing conditions, right? Well, the number one issue from last fall’s election is coming home to roost here in the Legislature.

When I left office as State Representative in 2010, bipartisanship was at an all-time low. The biggest political football at the time was the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Democrats knew it would be a political liability to pass the ACA, but health care reform was so desperately needed. During the 2010 Election, Congressional Republicans vowed to stop at nothing to repeal the ACA.

jeff-smithEight years later I’ve returned to Madison as a new State Senator. Republicans are still trying to eliminate the ACA, but curiously, some effects of the ACA have become incredibly popular. Covering people with pre-existing conditions was one of the ACA’s most important changes, and it was one of the Republicans’ biggest political liabilities in last year’s election.

Before the ACA, health insurance providers could deny coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Patients with medical histories of epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, lupus, sleep apnea, or even pregnancy are just a few examples of pre-existing conditions.

Pre-existing conditions are incredibly common for people seeking health insurance. According to research conducted by Families USA, published in 2012, more than 1.3 million (or one in four) Wisconsinites under the age of 65 were diagnosed with a pre-existing condition. In counties within the 31st Senate District alone, nearly 28% of the population under 65 years of age, had a pre-existing condition.

It’s no surprise that Republicans in the State Assembly are rushing to pass Assembly Bill 1 (AB 1) which would provide protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. There is far more to the story than only protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

Since the ACA was passed into law, countless lawsuits threatened pre-existing conditions coverage and many other crucial protections offered by the ACA. Most recently, former Attorney General Brad Schimel, with the support of former Governor Scott Walker and many legislative Republicans, joined a lawsuit with other states to eliminate the ACA. During the highly-controversial lame duck session last month, Republicans even went so far as to pass a law to prevent current Attorney General Josh Kaul from withdrawing Wisconsin from the lawsuit to overturn the ACA.

So while rushing to pass AB 1 to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions, Republicans are also supporting efforts to eliminate the protections nationally. Bizarre, right?

Pre-existing conditions coverage isn’t the only important protection in jeopardy of being eliminated with the Republicans’ lawsuit. There are countless other protections in the ACA that consumers need for affordable insurance.

For instance, the issue of affordability fails to be addressed in AB 1. If the ACA is repealed, there is nothing preventing subsidies from being taken away from consumers. This would result in increasing costs that will make it impossible for some to afford coverage.

Annual and lifetime caps are also not addressed in the Republicans’ plan. This change would require consumers to pay for all health care costs out-of-pocket after their insurance coverage runs out for the year, or during their lifetime. This has a significant effect on people with disabilities and those suffering from chronic illness.

Equally important, the Republicans’ plan would no longer require insurers to cover essential health benefits, including maternity care, substance abuse treatment, prescription drug services and chronic disease management.

Although pre-existing conditions coverage was a dominant issue from last fall’s election, many questions remain about equally important protections under the ACA. We can’t afford to go back to 2008 when health care costs were skyrocketing and consumers were offered health insurance plans lacking necessary coverage.

As this issue continues to dominate newspaper headlines and campaign promises, we must remember there is much more to the story. In every corner of Wisconsin, voters sent a clear message last fall – don’t take us backward on health care.

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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.

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Senator Smith may be contacted through this link.

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