Friday December 9, 2022

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Our Enduring Responsibility: To Support and Honor Wisconsin’s Veterans

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 16 November 2022
in Wisconsin

veterans-vietnam-foxLast Friday, November 11, we celebrated Veterans Day. This week, Senator Smith writes about our continuing responsibility to provide support to our veterans and the gratitude we owe them for their honorable service.


MADISON - Last Friday, November 11, we celebrated Veterans Day. The theme for this year’s celebration was honor. The commitment to our country that our veterans have shown by remaining steadfast in the face of peril is one of the truest forms of honor.

Wisconsin is home to over 300,000 veterans, comprising 7.4 percent of the adult population. From Revolutionary soldiers at the very birth of our nation to modern-day soldiers protecting us abroad, our state and our nation owe the utmost respect and gratitude for those who have served and the families that supported them.

Veterans make many sacrifices to preserve our freedom as Americans. Our veterans deserve recognition for their commitment to putting our country ahead of themselves. More importantly, our veterans deserve assurance that the country they served will be there to offer support if and when they need it.

veterans-memorial-day-2020We ask a lot of our service members. It is critical that we address the immediate needs of veterans and their families. These include support for physical and mental health services, education programs, career and job placement assistance, as well as addressing housing insecurity and substance abuse initiatives.

Veterans often face unique challenges affecting their mental, emotional and physical health after completing their service. Many returning veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and substance abuse, and are more likely to die by suicide. According to the census, over 20 percent of Wisconsin’s veterans have a service-connected disability.

The COVID-19 pandemic created staffing shortages throughout our healthcare system, and long-term care facilities for veterans were particularly impacted by this shortage. Rural areas, which often have more limited mental health services, were also disproportionately impacted.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, 67 percent of Wisconsin’s veterans live in rural areas, with long distances to travel to access Veterans Affairs (VA) resources. Since 2006, the Department of Veterans Affairs has administered the Office of Rural Health, established to address the unique issues faced by veterans in rural areas when it comes to accessing healthcare.

vets-gi-billTelehealth expansion took off dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing to support telehealth programs will undoubtedly increase health care access for underserved communities. As I discussed in last week’s column, broadband access remains an issue in many rural areas of Wisconsin, therefore limiting telehealth’s adoption. At a recent VA mental health summit, VA psychiatrist Michael McBride estimated that roughly 30 percent of veterans who live in rural areas lack access to the Internet. Telehealth appointments that can reach rural veterans hinge on broadband expansion to these areas.

This year, the Department of Health and Human Services debuted the 9-8-8 crisis line, designed to provide support for people experiencing mental health crises. You can dial “1” from the main menu to immediately access mental health resources for veterans.

For some veterans, mental health struggles have led to substance abuse, financial instability and in some cases homelessness. According to the Housing Assistance Council, at least 300 Wisconsin veterans are experiencing homelessness. The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs administers the Veterans Housing and Recovery Program, which provides temporary housing and supportive services to veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

jeff-smithIt is important to acknowledge your own family members who served. My father’s WWII Navy uniform hangs in my Senate office. He passed away recently, but his service uniform reminds me of the selfless service our veterans endure and how they proudly commit themselves to our country and way of life. I know that many families have similar stories. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is collecting stories of Wisconsin veterans. You can submit photos and stories of veterans in your family here: https://wisvetsmuseum.com/about-wisconsin-veterans-museum/veterans-profile-submission/

It’s our continuing responsibility to support our brave veterans who truly exemplify the meaning of public service. Let’s ensure that we maintain what we have while we find new ways to support veterans’ physical, mental and financial well-being.

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Gerrymandering and the 2022 Election in Wisconsin

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 15 November 2022
in Wisconsin

gerrymander-elections-redistrictingMADISON - In Wisconsin’s recent elections, we saw the ugly results of gerrymandering.

Gov. Evers won by 90,000 votes but still the Republicans gained more seats in the Legislature, coming within a whisker of a veto-proof majority.

And it’s not just because Democrats congregate in Milwaukee and Dane County, like Republicans like to claim.

Take a look at the Evers victory map. He won up in the northwest, taking Douglas, Bayfield, and Ashland counties by about 57 percent each.

And guess what? Those Democratic voters of Douglas, Bayfield, and Ashland counties now have zero representation in the State Legislature.

No State Senator, no Assembly person.

Why?

Because Robin Vos drew the maps not to abide by the county lines but to distort the districts by bringing in Republican voters from nearby red counties.

When he testified about the maps last fall, Vos admitted he “used partisanship” in drawing them. Basically, he confessed to the crime of gerrymandering.

But he bragged that it was legal, so we got to make it illegal.

matt-rothschildThere’s a huge grassroots effort in Wisconsin to ban gerrymandering. Already, 56 of our 72 counties have passed resolutions and referendums urging the Legislature to outlaw it.

And there’s a huge Wisconsin Supreme Court race coming up in April that will determine the ideological balance of the court. If a justice is elected who believes that gerrymandering undermines the will of the people, as guaranteed in our Wisconsin Constitution, then it’s possible that the Court could ban it.

Please go to fairmapswi.com to follow this issue and to see how you can help.

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With Broadband, Strong Connections Build Strong Communities

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 09 November 2022
in Wisconsin

internet-appsThis week Senator Smith writes about the challenges and opportunities for broadband expansion throughout Wisconsin.


BRUNSWICK, WI - It’s truly amazing the technological strides we’ve made in the past century. Many communities in western Wisconsin were among the last in the state to be hooked up with home electric service in the 1930s. The miles of infrastructure needed to reach these homes was significant, and considered not profitable by electric companies at the time.

Today we have similar issues with broadband. Technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and Wisconsin must stay competitive. Access to fast, affordable broadband is critical for parents to work, kids to keep up on their schooling and businesses to thrive. Broadband must be treated as a public utility, like electricity, water and gas.

broadband-town-mtgThe first issue we’ve faced is knowing where to build the infrastructure. The lack of precise data showing where we need broadband construction muddies the issue. We can’t expand broadband to the areas that need it most if we don’t know who has service and the speed they receive.

Wisconsin initially used broadband surveys produced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to determine levels of coverage. The FCC’s broadband surveys are broken down into census blocks. For their purposes, a census block is considered covered with broadband if even just one house in the block could have broadband.

In cities, a census block can be as small as a couple city blocks, but rural census blocks can span for miles. This produces a map that shows where broadband might be, rather than where broadband is, therefore grossly overestimating the coverage in rural areas.

In response to the FCC’s flawed maps, Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission gathered its own data. According to that data, the estimated number of Wisconsinites lacking internet grew substantially, from 400,000 to 650,000. With the right data, we will not only know where to expand broadband throughout the state, but we will be able to lay out infrastructure more efficiently.

Public-private partnerships are working to leverage investments for attracting broadband development in our rural areas. This works only in some areas though. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must balance the cost of connecting outlying homes and businesses with the amount of customers willing to pay for service. ISPs generally look for at least a 50% “take rate”, the percentage of residents willing to sign up for service, in order to consider it profitable to install broadband infrastructure.

high-voltage-lines-farmsNo matter what we do to persuade private companies to develop broadband infrastructure in our rural communities, companies still determine which homes are worth connecting by focusing on profitability. Public investment can remedy this. Instead of using taxpayer-funded grants on projects that make private companies more profitable, we should be using those funds in the most hard-to-reach areas. That’s the whole point of public investment.

Fiber optics are the way to go, providing fast and reliable internet service that can keep up with the pace of modern life. In the past, I’ve sponsored “dig once” legislation. This bill allows local governments to require empty conduit lines be installed in the right-of-way during highway and road construction. After the conduit has been installed, ISPs may easily add fiber optics without digging up the right of way a second time. This concept provides an efficient way to slash the cost of running fiber optics by 90%.

jeff-smithHere in SD 31, the Town of Cross in Buffalo County is a shining example of what can happen when neighbors come together to develop broadband infrastructure in their community. Residents surveyed their neighbors to determine need, and then approached the town board with their findings. This year, the Public Service Commission awarded Town of Cross $2.1 million in State Broadband Expansion Grant funds. When completed, the service is estimated to provide fast broadband service to 229 addresses.

As we invest more resources into broadband expansion, we need to take a hard look at where that money is going. The public deserves input on how and where we add broadband service. We’re not quite past the finish line yet, but if we empower our communities as we did with rural electrification, I’m confident that we can get all of Wisconsin connected.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - Gov Race Smashes $$$ Record

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 04 November 2022
in Wisconsin

2022-gov-raceMADISON - Obscene amounts of money have been flooding into the race for governor here in Wisconsin.

This money has shattered the old record, with more than a staggering $100 million being spent here on this race. Here’s our post on it:

Spending in Wisconsin Gov Race Smashes Record

For the details on the biggest donors to the campaigns of Gov. Evers and Tim Michels, see these items:

See Evers’s Largest Contributors
See Michels’s Largest Contributors

2022-outside-moneyAnd for a glimpse at the biggest spenders by the outside “independent expenditure” groups, see this posting:

Outside Spending Hits Horrifying New High

Enough already! We need to put a limit on all this spending because it’s not only splattering our screens with mud, it’s drowning out our voices.

Here at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, we’ll press forward on this crucial issue of campaign finance reform.

You can count on that!


matt-rothschildBest,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Know Your Rights on Election Day

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 02 November 2022
in Wisconsin

votingThe 2022 General Election is next Tuesday, November 8th. Whether you vote early, by mail-in absentee ballot or on Election Day, it is important to know your rights when it comes to casting your vote.


BRUNSWICK, WI - We are days away from another big election – more people will be voting in-person than in recent years. Bustling polling locations, filled with voters and hardworking election staff and volunteers, are always a heartwarming sight.

If you can’t vote in-person on Election Day, you have options. You can still early vote in-person at your municipal clerk’s office until Sunday. You can also request a mailed absentee ballot until 5pm on Thursday. Be sure your mail-in absentee ballot arrives to your polling location by 8pm on Election Day.

As the Ranking Member of the Senate Elections, Election Process Reform and Ethics Committee, I’ve long been focused on preserving voting rights. Everyone, regardless of political party preference, deserves a voice in our democracy. I’ve made this a signature issue of my time in the State Senate.

jeff-smithEven before 2020, I’ve pushed to clarify Wisconsin electoral rights. The first bill I introduced as State Senator in 2019 was the Voter Protection Act (VPA). The VPA would’ve allowed automatic voter registration, increased penalties for voter suppression, deception and intimidation and provided an easy-to-read Voter Bill of Rights. I’ve introduced this bill twice in four years, but Republicans have not scheduled a public hearing. In the last two years, as more doubt has been shed on our electoral process, we’ve seen increased attempts to chip away at our voting rights.

veteran-olderIt shouldn’t be a fight to preserve voting rights. They were hard-won through our Democratic Republic’s history. Despite the attacks, voting remains an unalienable right born from our Constitutional Convention. The silver lining of enfranchising new people over the course of history has been seeing the enthusiasm, empowerment and vindication of the principles on which our country was founded.

It’s only recently that we’ve seen a departure from expanding voter access. Over the last 12 years, Wisconsin has seen more politically-motivated attempts to block people from voting than ever. We’ve been witnessing the slow and continual degradation of our representative democracy. Everyone wants their side to win, but what is gained if we’ve lost sight of what we’ve built?

Democracy’s fragility was seen firsthand on January 6th, 2021 when the plot to overthrow the election narrowly failed. It led to introspection for many, sparked anger in others and emboldened some.

vote-47-milwaukeeNovember 8th will be our first big Election Day since November 2020. Voters not only need to be informed about who they are voting for and how to vote, but now it’s more important than ever to know your voting rights.

vote-poll-workersClerk staff and polling location volunteers do an amazing job during every election. They are unsung heroes of our democracy. They’ve always been under the microscope of election observers, and this election will be no exception.

Observing the election process is a great opportunity to understand how seriously our election officials take their jobs and how it all works. The privilege to witness democracy in action is good for transparency and alleviating any doubts about the process. Voters shouldn’t be surprised to see observers at the polls. This year, there may be more than usual. In recent news, the Republican Party of Wisconsin announced more than 5,000 observers to watch over elections – three times more than usual.

trump-jan6-qanon-shamanVoters must know observers are not allowed to harass, intimidate or interfere with voters or polling location staff and volunteers. If you or someone you know is a victim of intimidation or discrimination during the voting process, you can report the information to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice by calling 1-800-253-3931. Likewise, if you witness corruption or efforts to commit fraud during the voting process, you can report the activity to officials at the U.S. Western District Court by calling 1-608-264-5158, or by calling your county’s District Attorney.

You will have important choices to make on Tuesday, November 8th, but also be aware of your rights. When you go to vote, I hope you will also take the time to thank local polling location workers for their hard work and commitment to our electoral process.

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