Monday June 14, 2021

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A Wisconsin Summer Adventure Awaits

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 June 2021
in Wisconsin

door-county_bikingSen. Smith writes about the many ways Wisconsinites can enjoy the outdoors during National Camping month and the summer months beyond.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - We love our beer and cheese in Wisconsin. But Wisconsin is more than beer and cheese. A whole lot more.

Over the last century, Wisconsin has been an escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city life. In the 1920s, the state was literally an escape for gangsters, like John Dillinger, who ran away to Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters. Baby Face Nelson’s hideout was in Lac du Flambeau and the Capone’s family favorite was in Mercer. But you don’t need to be hiding from the law to find great adventure and enjoyment in Wisconsin.

Now is as good a time as any to plan and enjoy your great Wisconsin outdoor adventure. June happens to be National Camping Month to kick off the summer season. With numerous campgrounds spread throughout the state – access to rivers, lakes and parks is unmatched anywhere else – Wisconsin truly is the place to see, enjoy and explore.

Framed by Lake Superior on the northern border, Lake Michigan on the east and the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers on the west, Wisconsin’s freshwater resources highlight Wisconsin’s natural beauty. Between those GREAT lakes and rivers, Wisconsin has 15,074 lakes according to the Department of Natural Resources. There are more than 12,600 rivers and streams meandering along 84,000 miles of terrain. Out of those rushing waters, there are over 2,700 trout streams. For fishing enthusiasts, there’s no better place for the thrill and adventure of the outdoors than here in Wisconsin.

The beauty of Wisconsin can truly be enjoyed along our waterways. For canoe and kayak enthusiasts, it’s always a thrill to explore the caves along the south shores of Lake Superior. One of the longest stretches of free-flowing rivers in the nation is right here in Wisconsin. After the removal of 4 dams, the Baraboo River has 112 miles of free-flowing river that can be traveled by canoe or kayak without ever leaving the water.

It’s no coincidence that some of the most noted environmentalists attached themselves to the beauty of Wisconsin. From First Nation members to more recent environmental conservation leaders, like Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Sigurd Olson and Gaylord Nelson, the natural splendor of Wisconsin inspired them and many others to protect our precious natural resources. Thanks to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program, established in 1989, we continue to preserve and enhance the enjoyment of Wisconsin’s natural treasures. As stewards of our land and water, we must ensure future generations will continue to have the same opportunities we have by making smart investments to preserve Wisconsin’s natural resources.

jeff-smithWisconsin has done a great job of mixing the natural beauty around us with fun recreational activities. From Northern getaways around Hayward, Bayfield and Minocqua to Door County and the Wisconsin Dells, tourists and residents alike have plenty of fun and wondrous choices where to enjoy Wisconsin. Tourism had an economic impact of $22.2 billion in Wisconsin in 2019 and we expect an even greater impact in 2021.

Campgrounds play an important role when it comes to enjoying Wisconsin’s outdoors. Camping isn’t only for those who fish, hike or canoe, either. Summer is also the time for music festivals, fairs and shows. Campgrounds provide that place where folks who share interests interact and extend the fun they had during the day.

Wisconsin’s music fest scene reaches nearly every corner of the state. Summerfest in Milwaukee is the largest music festival in the world. In western Wisconsin, we have Country Jam, Eaux Claires and Blue Ox in Eau Claire, Country Fest and Rock Fest in Cadott, Ashley for the Arts in Arcadia and Blues on the Chippewa in Durand. No matter where you are in Wisconsin, camping options and outdoor activities are never too far away.

During National Camping Month and the summer months beyond, take advantage of all that Wisconsin has to offer. You’ll be amazed by the opportunities and adventure that await.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - 2 Actions for You to Take

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 Friday, 04 June 2021
in Wisconsin

wdc-logoMADISON - I hope you’re having a good week.

Here are two actions I’d like you to take:

1.     Tell your legislators to oppose Assembly Bill 369 relating to the timeline for local redistricting in Wisconsin following the 2020 federal decennial census.

This is a bill whose draft we were notified about last Friday as Memorial Day weekend was starting. It was formally introduced on Tuesday, the Assembly committee public hearing held yesterday, and it is on the agenda for a vote without a hearing in the Senate committee tomorrow morning! That’s far from adequate process. On substance, the bill would postpone the redistricting of local political districts until 2023. It would unconstitutionally disadvantage local communities, such as Madison, that have grown in population, and it would also let the State Legislature impose boundaries on local communities after that, which goes against the traditional way of Wisconsin, which starts the redistricting process from the local level on up, as I noted in my testimony here:

Don't Extend the Gerrymander

>>>Contact Assembly committee members and your legislators and strongly urge they oppose AB369.

2.     Sign the Fair Maps petition.

As part of the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition, we’re encouraging all of our members to sign this petition demanding that our legislators pass nonpartisan redistricting legislation:

>>>Tell Your Legislators to Pass Fair Maps

matt-rothschild-2018Thanks for taking these two actions to keep the heat on the Legislature!

Best,

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

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Raise Your Glass (of Milk) and Celebrate Dairy Month

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 June 2021
in Wisconsin

farm-familySen. Smith writes about how Wisconsinites can celebrate Dairy Month in June. Dairy breakfasts are just one way to show your appreciation for our farmers and members of Wisconsin’s agricultural industry.


MADISON - There has always been an attachment to agriculture for Wisconsinites. From the earliest days, the hilly landscape and fertile soils of the Driftless region provided perfect conditions for producing food. It helps, too, that Wisconsin has so much fresh water nearby.

Thanks to this ideal landscape and generations of hard work, Wisconsin built a reputation over time as a top agricultural producer and a state that will never deny a love for food.

While our state is a national leader in cranberry and potato production, dairy is still king in Wisconsin. Despite the loss of many farms in our state, we’ve still held on to the title of America’s Dairyland – and for good reason. We have 1.28 million cows and almost 7,000 dairy farms in Wisconsin, which is more than any other state. Dairy alone accounts for $45.6 billion to our economy in Wisconsin. If these numbers didn’t convince you, the fact that Packer fans wear a foam cheese hat to games is evidence enough that we take our title of America’s Dairyland very seriously.

Wisconsinites will never shy away from the chance to eat a squeaky cheese curd, order a scoop of fresh ice cream or go head-to-head in a milk chug challenge. And that’s why we proudly celebrate June as Dairy Month. It all starts with fresh milk from healthy cows, but there are so many hardworking professionals that go to work every day so you can enjoy the best dairy products in the country. From our dedicated farmers and milk haulers to the technicians and cheesemakers of Wisconsin – we celebrate them and their work during Dairy Month!

Year after year, Wisconsin cheesemakers prove their products are incomparable. From Colby to cheddar; from Gouda to asiago; from string cheese to cheese curds, we’re spoiled here with the best tasting cheeses in the world. With over 1,200 licensed cheesemakers producing over 600 types of cheeses, we have almost twice as many cheese choices than any other state. Our cheesemakers produce 26% of the cheese consumed in America, which amounted to 3.39 billion pounds in 2020.

Our cheesemakers export their products around the world with the leading importers of our dairy products being Canada, China and Japan. Okay, maybe the deep-fried cheese curds aren’t the healthiest food, but you can’t beat that very special treat to share with friends.

Don’t just take it from me; athletes can also vouch for Wisconsin dairy. Fun fact: chocolate milk is a proven best source for sport recovery. In fact, studies conducted in high school sports camps found that athletes drinking chocolate milk saw greater improvement in their performance over those who drank a sugary sports drink. It appears chocolate milk is not just for fun and flavor.

jeff-smithFor almost 50 years, Wisconsin has celebrated June Dairy Month with dairy breakfasts in nearly every county. Each year a different farm will host a dairy breakfast in their county, making it even more fun and interesting. Anyone can attend and they do by the thousands. You’ll find hundreds of people in line for delicious pancakes, waffles, milk, cheese curds and ice cream served by the host family and volunteers from the area.

Dairy breakfasts are more than just about the food, though. It’s about learning where our milk comes from. As visitors tromp around the grounds, they’re able to take hay rides, examine the latest equipment and even watch demonstrations. Of course, the animals are often the main attraction for young kids.

Dairy breakfasts have proven to be extremely successful over the years. Host families put in a lot of work to make it a memorable experience for every visitor. Show your appreciation for our farmers and members of Wisconsin’s agricultural industry by visiting a dairy breakfast this June. Find your nearest dairy breakfast at WisconsinDairy.org and bring the family out this month to enjoy some live music, farm activities and the best breakfast you could ask for.

Statistics in this column come from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

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Wisconsin Workers Deserve Results, Not Rhetoric

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, 26 May 2021
in Wisconsin

unemployment-office-lineSen. Smith writes about recent legislative efforts to prematurely end unemployment insurance benefits for unemployed Wisconsinites.


MADISON - When a friend or neighbor is struggling, what’s your first instinct? Most of us would likely ask if there’s any way to help. The alternative would be to ignore them or suggest they try harder and buck up. Some would say that others’ troubles are their own tough luck or made from their own bad choices.

It may be true that a small number of people bring their troubles on themselves, but sometimes it just comes down to bad luck. For that reason, insurance is available to assist individuals in difficult times like these. People pay into a fund in case misfortune arises. We pay, hoping we’ll never need to make a claim, but it’s reassuring to know this support is available just in case. We accept this is the way insurance works.

Wisconsin’s Unemployment Insurance fund works the same way. Unemployment insurance (UI) is not welfare. UI is an insurance policy similar to what we have to protect our belongings, home, health and even our lives.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many Wisconsinites who never needed unemployment insurance assistance suddenly found themselves laid off and struggling to cover their bills. The UI system was overwhelmed almost overnight with claims.

With nearly unanimous bipartisan support, Congress passed the CARES Act around this time creating additional unemployment insurance benefits to support Wisconsinites. These additional benefits proved to be invaluable for many unemployed workers who couldn’t access regular UI benefits or lost unrecoverable wages.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) specifically made $300 payments available for working families to spend in their local communities at grocery stores, restaurants and other local small businesses. That extra $300 kept families from suffering more while the pandemic created chaos in our economy.

Now, in May 2021, as the economy is slowly beginning to roll again, legislative Republicans want to prematurely end the $300 FPUC payments and repeal three other UI federal programs that are still supporting working families in our state.

Republican leaders are using the workforce shortage as an excuse to deny unemployed workers the UI benefits they’ve earned. UI benefits are not to blame for the labor shortage. Just look at the recent unemployment numbers that have returned to pre-pandemic levels: in the last two months, the rate was below 4% (3.8% in March and 3.9% in April). A year ago in April of 2020, the rate had hit a high of 13.6%. Additionally, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate of 3.8% in February was far below the national average of 6.2%. Wisconsin workers are back to work despite the Republican rhetoric!

jeff-smithIt’s important to point out many of the challenges related to workforce retention existed long before the pandemic, and again can’t be attributed to UI. Before the pandemic, parents struggled to find reliable, affordable childcare near their workplaces; this problem has only worsened now that 25% of all daycare centers in our state have permanently closed. Wisconsin still has a caregiver crisis with many employees in that field transferring to different industries that deliver better wages. The lack of broadband access and affordable housing can limit someone’s ability to move or change vocations. And some workers may have made the decision to go back to school and re-train for the next work challenge with the loss of their previous job.

Keep in mind that the politicians who gave themselves a 300 day vacation in 2020 – without losing any pay – are the same politicians who are taking away workers’ UI compensation.

UI payments are the low-hanging fruit Republicans are grasping for to justify their inaction on long-term workforce development solutions. We need to think smarter about ways we can strategically improve issues, like childcare access or broadband expansion, in our communities. It will take time and effort, but Wisconsin’s future is worth it.

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Fair Maps are the Will of the People

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 Monday, 17 May 2021
in Wisconsin

voting-2020Sen. Jeff Smith and Rep. Deb Andraca write about the Fair Maps Bill they are introducing on May 17th to create a nonpartisan redistricting reform process in Wisconsin.


MADISON - There seems to be only one thing people of both political parties can agree on -- our legislative process is broken. Compromise is rare, most elections have pre-ordained winners, and incumbents feel free to ignore constituents who disagree with them. Fortunately, we have an opportunity to fix the problem once and for all.  We can restore Wisconsin’s reputation as a state that works by and for the people, and we have introduced legislation that can do just that.

We are two elected officials who unequivocally believe that politicians should not draw political maps, which is why we are introducing the Fair Maps Bill. This legislation would establish an independent, non-partisan commission to create legislative districts based on commonsense principles including compactness, following municipal boundaries, and keeping communities together whenever possible.

To understand why these reforms are needed, just look at what happened last time the maps were created. Ten years ago legislative districts were drawn in secret, by private attorneys working for Republican politicians, with zero input from the public and one partisan objective: to take decision-making away from the voters and give it to a political party. With the help of secrecy oaths and computer algorithms unavailable to past mapmakers, Republicans drew crazy political boundaries that locked in their party’s advantage for a decade.

And it worked! Wisconsin is known as a “purple” state because every statewide election is decided by extremely thin margins, yet in the Wisconsin legislature one party has an overwhelming majority in both the Senate and the Assembly.  This majority is far beyond anything that can be explained by political geography.

Unfortunately, gerrymandering has been a bipartisan issue nationally. For instance, Maryland has a Democratic gerrymander that is just as skewed as Wisconsin’s because, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be tempted to lock in job security for a decade?

jeff-smithBut one politician’s gain is a collective loss to our state and our democracy. When Democrats and Republicans run in “safe” seats we get candidates loyal to the party, not the people in their district. Moderate Republican or Democratic candidates cannot win in highly partisan districts. This leaves a gap where bipartisanship is usually able to grow and thrive. Gerrymandered maps produce candidates who are comfortable, serving year after year with no incentive to innovate or do better. Competition is good for business, and competition is good for candidates too.

Deb AndracaFor those who say we can never remove partisanship from the process, we need look no further than our own Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB). Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to pioneer a state-level, non-partisan, professional legislative support staff. LRB works with both Republicans and Democrats to ensure our laws are crafted to the best of our abilities without unintended legal consequences. These men and women aren’t political appointees and are trained to help each member based solely on the substance of the issue at hand.

The Fair Maps Bill would utilize the expertise of the existing LRB staff, with input from a citizen-led Redistricting Advisory Commission, to create maps that are fair, compact, and as free from political favoritism as possible.

We need the Fair Maps Bill to prevent Wisconsin maps from ever being gerrymandered again, by any political party, for partisan gain. We don’t want our kids facing this crisis ten years from now. We want to join Iowa, Michigan, and the eleven other states that have a nonpartisan redistricting commission instead of waging expensive, taxpayer-funded legal battles.

We want politicians, like us, to stay out of the map making process. But most of all we want to fix this problem once and for all to restore Wisconsin’s tradition of open government. Contact your elected representatives at 1-800-362-9472 and tell them to support the Fair Maps Bill because if there is one more thing we should all agree on, it is that the will of the people -- not political parties -- should be the law of the land.

 

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Senator Jeff Smith (D – Brunswick) represents the 31st Senate District including Buffalo and Pepin counties and portions of Trempealeau, Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire and Jackson counties and very small portions of Chippewa and St. Croix counties.

Representative Deb Andraca (D – Whitefish Bay) represents the 23rd Assembly District including communities of Bayside, Fox Point, Grafton, Mequon, Thiensville and Whitefish Bay.

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