Thursday October 6, 2022

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Empowerment Over Shame for Mental Health Awareness

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, 05 October 2022
in Wisconsin

counseling-servicesMany Wisconsinites are struggling with the negative effects of mental health challenges and accessing care. What can we do to increase the support we provide?

BRUNSWICK, WI - Since 1990, the first full week of October has been celebrated in the U.S. as Mental Illness Awareness Week. This year, the theme is “What I Wish I Had Known.” Advocates are encouraging people to share their experiences about things they wish they had known earlier in their path to healing.

While serving in the State Assembly in 2008, I was proud to pass the Mental Health Parity Bill, which required mental health treatment be covered by insurance. This was a good step forward for ensuring all Wisconsinites have access to mental health care, but shockingly little has been done since then.

Mental health struggles affect folks in every phase of life, from early childhood to old age. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mood disorders are the most common cause of hospitalization for all people in the U.S. under the age of 45, and mental illness and substance abuse disorders are involved in one out of every eight emergency room visits. One in six children between the ages of six and seventeen experience a mental health disorder each year, and heartbreakingly, suicide is the leading cause of death among ten through fourteen year olds.

Whether someone is born with a propensity toward mental illness or undergoes a traumatic event, they battle a negative stigma when they attempt to access care. A 2019 national poll from the American Psychiatric Association found that mental health stigma is still a major challenge in the workplace, with over half of workers concerned about discussing mental health issues at their jobs. More than one in three workers were concerned about retaliation if employers found out they sought medical attention.

Mental healthcare is just that – healthcare. Stigma continues to deter people from seeking life-saving care. Each of us can do our part to talk openly about mental health. Choosing empowerment over shame will save lives.

jeff-smithAs your State Senator, I’m here to listen. People share their joys and their grief with me because they want to make a difference in others’ lives. When neighbors use their advocacy skills, it helps legislators like me understand the concerns and needs of our community.

Access to care remains a top-concern for battling mental health throughout western Wisconsin. Rural areas in particular face challenges, from hiring shortages to transportation. Even before the onset of COVID-19, workforce shortages created significant mental health coverage gaps across the state.

The extended pandemic presented additional challenges to those seeking any kind of treatment, including mental and behavioral healthcare. Even when a patient can find a provider, it can sometimes be challenging to receive care. Telehealth was expanded during Governor Evers’ emergency declaration, but these measures were not made permanent.

sand-mining-wi-manThat’s a big problem. One in five adults and children reported that the pandemic had a significant negative effect on their mental health. Over half of adults in rural areas reported that the pandemic has affected their mental health, including two-thirds of farmers and farm workers.

In 2020, Congress designated a new free and confidential crisis lifeline accessible by dialing 988. The crisis line is accessible by phone call or text, and there is an online chat feature at Those who reach out will have access to support center staff, counselors trained to reduce stress, emotional support and connections with local resources.

We can do our part to reduce the negative effects of mental illness in Wisconsin by funding programs that support those struggling with mental health issues. Governor Evers has included many of these priorities in his budget proposals over the last several years, with increased investment in telehealth, mental health support in schools, state treatment facilities and crisis intervention services. The legislature can support these initiatives by fully funding the Governor’s priorities in the next budget.

Ensuring that all Wisconsinites have access to quality mental and behavioral healthcare erases the stigma for all of us. Treating the whole patient, physically and mentally should be our number-one goal. If you are struggling with mental health concerns, please reach out. You are not alone, and your story matters.

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Wis. GOP’s Assault on our Democracy

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, 30 September 2022
in Wisconsin

us-shame-2022MADISON - A coalition partner of ours at a group called American Oversight asked me to send them a statement about the assault on voting rights here in Wisconsin, so this is what I wrote:

The Wisconsin GOP’s Shameful Two Years

This week, we’ve also been tracking the big money in the governor’s race. Here are our two posts on Evers and Michels:

Evers Raises $4.5M+ in About a Month

Michels Raises $5.4M+ in August Mostly from His Own Pocket

A couple things concern me about these reports. For one thing, should Michels just be able to waltz in and buy the governor’s mansion because he has unlimited personal funds?

And as for Evers, do we really want all those out-of-state donors pouring their big money in? What right do they have to influence who should be governor of Wisconsin when they don’t even live here?

These reports highlight the need for comprehensive campaign finance reform so that each of us gets an equal say in who gets elected.

We’re a long way from that right now.

I hope you have a nice weekend (it’ll be nicer if you don’t watch all the ugly campaign ads on your screens!).


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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Evers Right About Direct Democracy

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 Thursday, 22 September 2022
in Wisconsin

womens-healthGov. Evers is right to call for binding referendums, and how this call echoes one from another progressive Wisconsin governor 111 years ago! - Matt Rothschild

MADISON - On Sept. 21, Gov. Tony Evers made a bold move: He came out in favor of binding referendums, and he called the Legislature back to vote on beginning the process of amending our Wisconsin Constitution to provide for such popular sovereignty.

Noting the motto inscribed in the Capitol that proclaims, “ The will of the people is the law of the land,” Evers pointed out that this is no longer true in Wisconsin – especially on abortion rights.

tony-evers“Well, right now, today, when it comes to reproductive freedom, the will of the people isn’t the law of the land. And it damn well should be, folks. It really should,” Evers said.

Evers is right about reproductive freedom. In the latest Marquette Law School poll, 63 percent opposed the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and 83 percent of Wisconsinites favored allowing a woman to get an abortion in cases of rape and incest. And that included 70 percent of Republicans. Only 10 percent of Wisconsinites oppose such a provision. Yet with the overturning of Roe, Wisconsin, under the abortion ban passed back in 1849, doesn’t allow exceptions for rape and incest. (Tim Michels, by the way, opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest.)

And it’s not just the issue of reproductive freedom where the will of the people of Wisconsin is being denied. The Marquette Law School poll in August found that 78 percent of Wisconsinites favor paid medical leave for parents of new babies. And 69 percent favor legalizing marijuana (a whopping 83% favored legalizing medical marijuana in a previous Marquette poll).

The vast majority of Wisconsinites also favor banning gerrymandering, with 72 percent approval, according to a 2019 Marquette poll, and 87 percent approval, according to a 2021 poll by YouGov.

When We, the People, aren’t getting what we overwhelmingly want, there’s something seriously wrong with our democracy.

And one way to fix it is by giving us the right of binding referendums, as Evers is proposing.

After all, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio have it. Why can’t we, here in Wisconsin?

In two cases over the past decade, Michigan and Ohio used it to great effect.

After Scott Walker rammed through Act 10, dealing a crushing blow to public sector unions, Republicans in Ohio passed a copy-cat bill, which was signed into law. But the people of Ohio wouldn’t stand for it, and they overturned it by referendum.

In Michigan, a grassroots activist named Katie Fahey was so appalled by the gerrymandering in her home state that she started a movement on Facebook to ban it, and she and other activists got hundreds of thousands of signatures to place the referendum on the ballot. And in 2018, it passed, and gerrymandering is no longer legal in Michigan.

matt-rothschild-2018 Evers is not the first governor of Wisconsin to propose giving the people of Wisconsin such power. Back in 1911, Governor Francis McGovern asked the Legislature to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to allow binding referendums. “The great task of the time,” he said, “is how to make and keep government really representative of the people.” Binding referendums “embody but one idea: that of placing the people in actual control of public affairs.”

So here we are, 111 years later, and that remains the great task of our time, because the people of Wisconsin still don’t have actual control of our public affairs, and our government is still not really representative of the people.

We’ve got to change that, and Tony Evers has the right idea to do so.


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GOP Would Prefer You Don’t Notice Plans For Nation’s Highest Sales Tax

Posted by Jon Erpenbach Press. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach Press. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Tuesday, 20 September 2022
in Wisconsin

wisconsin-senateRepublican majorities in the state legislature are also floating plans for a $600 Million property tax hike.

MADISON - My Republican colleagues have been suspiciously quiet this summer about two proposals they floated near the end of session that would take more from Wisconsin consumers and taxpayers. These plans matter, as they you are likely to see them resurface again next year.

Special interests sought to impose the highest sales tax in the nation on working Wisconsinites. Coupled with a plan to increase property taxes by nearly $600 million to expand private voucher schools it’s no wonder GOP policymakers aren’t talking about their combined plans to shift taxes onto the backs of Wisconsinites who work for a living.

The sales tax would skyrocket to 8% under the GOP plot. As the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau notes in a memo outlining the plan: “If Wisconsin's sales tax rate were increased to 8.0%, it would have the highest state rate among surrounding states and the highest state sales tax rate in the country,” adding that an “increase in the sales tax rate could result in higher prices for consumer products and lower incomes for Wisconsin workers.”

Why would the GOP want an increase in the sales tax? To eliminate the state’s income tax in a scheme that would increase taxes on 28% of households while running up massive deficits in the budgets ahead.

jon-erpenbachA Senate colleague currently running statewide put forward a bill designed to put the first part of the plan, eliminating the income tax, in motion. Publically, little was heard of the bill or the sales tax plan again. The Fiscal Bureau memo provides a clear snapshot of what that would look like for working families in the Badger state:

More than 874,000 households would see a tax increase – and that’s assuming the whooping sales tax increase went only to 8%, not the 12% or more the Fiscal Bureau indicates would be needed to eliminate the deficit the GOP would create.

Another GOP bill introduced earlier this year would hit those same workers with a $577 million property tax increase. Why? To give students already going to private schools a free ride at taxpayer expense. Worse, for most property owners the full bill will come at your expense come property tax time.

As the Department of Public Instruction noted in its analysis of the bill: “The impact on property taxpayers in applicable school districts could be as high as $577.3 million for the 2022-23 school year, assuming 67,869 additional voucher students.” For comparison, $577 million is equal to roughly 11% of the total property taxes paid for schools.

The highest sales tax in the nation, staggering deficits and 11% more in school property taxes. It’s no wonder you aren’t hearing anything from Republicans in the Capitol about their plans to add to your tax burden and lighten workers’ wallets. That is, until next year, when Republicans again try to quietly drop this scheme into the budget at your expense.


LFB Proposed State Tax Law Changes for Wisconsin

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Protecting Our Watersheds for a Better Future

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, 14 September 2022
in Wisconsin

wetlands-wiOur rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands can only sustain us if we remain committed to caring for them. Jeff Smith writes about our connection to water sources here in Wisconsin.

BRUNSWICK, WI - Since humans have inhabited the Great Lakes region, waterways have been an integral part of travel, trade, farming and culture. Our shallow lakes supplied First Nations people with the wild rice that played an essential role in their culture and diet. Rivers provided a travel route for diplomacy and trade among cultures, allowing for the transportation of fur, timber and trade goods. Streams and wetlands provided homes to an amazing variety of plants and wildlife.

This month, the River Falls Preservation Committee is hosting a traveling exhibit from the Wisconsin Historical Society. The exhibit, entitled “Great Lakes Small Streams: How Water Shapes Wisconsin”, is geared towards adults and secondary school students, and will be housed in various locations until October 29th (see below for details).

Wisconsin boasts plentiful groundwater and a great expanse of surface water, from the lakes Michigan and Superior to the Mississippi river and the network of rivers, streams, wetlands and lakes in between. The U.S. Geological Service estimates fifteen percent of Wisconsin is covered by groundwater, the fourth highest by area in the United States.

lake-michigan-shoreWe cannot take this resource for granted. Our rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands can only sustain us if we remain committed to caring for them.

Climate change has taken its toll nationwide, as we see in headlines daily. As drought conditions ravage the American West, I have gained a renewed appreciation for all our water continues to do for us in Wisconsin. Not only does water hydrate us, it also sustains wildlife, fosters our recreation economy, generates energy and waters our crops and livestock.

kewaunee-harbor-familyWisconsin has historically been a leader in pioneering conservation practices. In the early 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built an erosion control demonstration in the Coon Creek Watershed that proved to be wildly successful and served as an example nationwide. Conservationists used measures such as terracing to shore up land and reduce the soil erosion that was obstructing the area’s rivers and streams.

Early land surveyors in Wisconsin mapped around five million acres of wetland statewide. The development of Wisconsin’s agricultural economy spurred settlers to drain much of these wetlands, driving wildlife from their habitat and opening land up to rapid erosion.  Since that time, local water conservation departments as well as private groups work hard to restore these habitats, essential to the survival of so many of our native species.

Our water sustains a broad variety of wildlife throughout the state. The Wisconsin Wetlands Association estimates 75 percent of Wisconsin’s wildlife depend on wetlands at some point in their lives, and 30 percent of Wisconsin’s rare, endangered and threatened species depend on wetlands for survival.

Not only do healthy rivers provide opportunities for recreation, they also play an important role in regulating ecosystems. This week, I’ll be touring some of our local trout streams. Local conservation groups continue to do an amazing job restoring habitats, benefiting not only trout but whole ecosystems.

Water has been a big part of Wisconsin’s renewable energy efforts. According to the Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin has over 120 hydroelectric dams. Hydropower was Wisconsin’s first renewable energy resource, stretching all the way back to 1882, when the world’s first hydroelectric power plant was built on the Fox River in Appleton.

jeff-smithFor all these reasons and more, it is essential to Wisconsin’s future prosperity that we retain our strong connection to our water and all it provides to us. I encourage you to get outside this fall and appreciate how blessed we are with an abundance of water.

The exhibit will be on display in the City Hall Atrium during business hours through Sept. 16th and at the River Falls Bacon Bash from 10-4 on Sept. 17th, also in the City Hall Atrium. Resources for teachers and more information on other locations/times available here:

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