Saturday February 16, 2019

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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 Elect District 31 has not set their biography yet
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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 Elect District 31 has not set their biography yet
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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 Elect District 31 has not set their biography yet
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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 Elect District 31 has not set their biography yet
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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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