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Less for Rx Affects Us All

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, 25 August 2021
in Wisconsin

affordablecareactSen. Smith writes about legislative efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs and improve access to affordable, high-quality health care for Wisconsinites.

MADISON - Nobody should have to choose between paying for groceries or lifesaving drugs. Many people even ration their drug to save money and end up putting themselves at greater risk. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 37% of individuals taking four or more medications per day could not afford their prescriptions.

In 2019, Governor Evers signed Executive Order #39 to form the Task Force on Reducing Prescription Drug Prices.

syringeThe cost of insulin had risen from $40 a vial in 2001 to $289 in 2018. Medications to manage asthma increased as much as 50% over just a few years. Cancer treatments, arthritis medication and other lifesaving prescriptions also saw massive price increases. With the knowledge that prescription drugs were estimated to cost Wisconsin residents over $1.3 billion in 2019, the Executive Order required the following:

“The Task Force shall advise and assist the Governor in addressing excessive prescription drug prices and the financial burden that prescription drug prices place on Wisconsin residents.” The Task Force was responsible to:

a.       Gather and analyze data and information relating to the development, pricing, distribution, and purchasing of prescription drugs.

b.      Review actions already to reduce prescription drug prices.

c.       Identify opportunities to coordinate with other states and the federal government.

d.      Recommend potential actions that can be taken to reduce prescription drug prices in Wisconsin.

Now, I know that I don’t need to rehash what you probably already know. Profits for drug manufacturers have gone through the roof which affects all of us either directly or indirectly through the cost of insurance.

The task force met 8 times through August of 2020, and through consensus, made a number of recommendations that included the following:

  1. Require additional transparency and reporting for prescription drug supply chain entities.
  2. Increase the number of consumer protection staff and anti-trust attorneys focused on improper pharmaceutical industry practices.
  3. Increase funding for free and charitable clinics, dedicating a portion of the funding to pharmacy benefits, to expand access.
  4. Limit the copay an insurer can charge for a month’s supply of insulin.
  5. Ensure that health care providers participating in the 340B drug discount program are able to reinvest savings from drug purchases into patient care and support activities.
  6. Advocate for federal regulatory changes to streamline the market entry of affordable generic equivalents.
  7. Explore and support efforts to improve physician access to real-time patient pharmacy benefit information in electronic medical records to allow physicians to consider out-of-pocket costs when prescribing medications.

jeff-smithIn his budget proposal earlier this year, Governor Evers included measures to begin implementing the recommendations from the Task Force. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical corporations still wield a lot of political power and those measures were cut from the budget by Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee.

Just because a few politicians in positions of power don’t want to take on the drug companies and address the rising cost of prescription medication doesn’t mean this issue will magically go away. That’s why I recently joined a number of colleagues and introduced 16 stand-alone bills that we hope will force our legislature to act. The following are samples of what is in those bills.

·         Creating a Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board and Office of Prescription Drug Affordability

·         Grants for free and charitable clinics

·         A program to import more affordable medications from Canada

·         A cap on Insulin co-payments

·         Fiduciary and disclosure requirements on pharmacy benefit managers

·         Licensure of pharmaceutical representatives

·         Insulin safety net programs

You can help move these important bills by contacting your legislators and the committee chairs in each house. It’s about time we took common sense measures to protect the health and well-being of everyone.

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Honoring American War Heroes

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, 18 August 2021
in Wisconsin

veterans-012015Sen. Smith writes about the Ho-Chunk Nation’s Code Talkers role and their contributions to our country during World War I and II and the need to commemorate their service and sacrifice in Wisconsin.

EAU CLAIRE - In the horrific wars of the early twentieth century (World Wars I and II) members of Native Tribal Nations were just as willing as their non-native neighbors to enlist and defend our shared values.

Some tribal nation members who enlisted were recruited for a special duty, a special force you might say. The secret skill these soldiers possessed wasn’t new, it was very old and persisted despite immense pressure and attempts to strip this cornerstone of their culture away here in the United States.

It was literally the words they spoke! The U.S. military realized that by using native languages, it would be much harder, if not impossible, for our enemies to intercept and decipher critical messages on the battlefield.

This is one of the most interesting stories from those world wars. It is this sort of contribution to our own heritage as a nation of many cultures, religions and ethnicities that we should lift up and celebrate. Telling the story of the native “Code Talkers,” as they were known, tells the story of this nation. How we endured and came together using the unique skills and strengths we possessed.

hochunknation-membersThe stories about Ho-Chunk code talkers are amazing and offer a glimpse of what America was like during this tumultuous time of war. An enlisted man was asked if he spoke his native language and he replied that yes he did. They then assigned him to the code talker unit. This gentleman was thrilled because it was an upgrade in his quarters as well as his meals and other amenities. When it came time to begin his new assignment someone accompanied him to the radio room. He sat before a receiver and someone spoke over the radio. The officer hovering over him asked him what the message was.

The soldier responded that he didn’t understand the sender. The officer was puzzled and demanded to know why he had told them he could speak his native language but couldn’t understand this message. He responded that he is Ho-Chunk and what he heard came from someone speaking Navajo. That is a humorous anecdotal story that also reminds us of the misunderstanding we can suffer about other cultures and the presumptions we all make at times.

The efforts and sacrifices of the Code Talkers were kept secret for decades until the program was declassified in 1968. Even then, it took several more decades until native code talkers were finally recognized and honored by our nation for their unique and significant contributions to our military success.

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed August 14th as National Code Talkers Day in honor of all Native American veterans who served the United States in times of war dating back to the American Revolutionary War. And in 2013, with the support of Rep. Ron Kind, Congress honored the contributions and sacrifices of these veterans with a Gold Medal Ceremony where members of the Wisconsin Ho-Chunk, Oneida and Menominee Nations were among the 33 tribes recognized for their heroic efforts.

jeff-smithWe may never know the whole story, but we do know their service made an impact on the world.

Last session, I was proud to author bipartisan legislation to designate the stretch of Interstate 90 from La Crosse to Tomah for the Ho-Chunk Code Talkers who were so instrumental in our efforts to protect freedom and democracy. As I continue to talk with Native leaders across our state, it is clear we can all do better to educate ourselves about these unique and important stories that are too often overlooked in our country’s history. Be sure to do what you can to learn more about our country’s history by listening, reading and having conversations with others.

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It’s Your Vote – Not Money – that Should Count

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, 11 August 2021
in Wisconsin

voteSen. Jeff Smith writes about the Ready to Amend Act, legislation he introduced last week as part of the Campaign Integrity Package to help restore faith in the electoral process.

MADISON - Last week I joined a number of other legislators to introduce the Campaign Integrity Package, legislation to help restore faith in the electoral process. We know there isn’t one quick fix to get money out of our political process, but it will take a number of changes—and the Campaign Integrity Package is a start.

Nearly every day I see or hear comments that people feel that they are without a voice and their vote doesn’t matter. It’s understandable why they feel that way. Billionaires and corporations spend unfathomable amounts of money to influence your vote. Most working Americans can’t imagine donating but a few dollars if anything. Someone who can afford to write a $1 million check to a campaign or third party group can drown out the voices of regular voters and tilt an election in their favor.

money-behind-politicsWhile money has always had too much of an influence, it was the decision in the 2010 court case of Citizens United vs. FEC (Federal Elections Commission) that really opened the flood gates by declaring corporations are “people” and money is “speech”. It was this decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that finally allowed the biggest moneyed interests to spend almost anything they wanted with very little restrictions or oversight.

Just look at the numbers. In 2016, legislative candidates and 3rd party groups spent $28.1 million. In 2018, that number increased to $35.8 million. And in 2020, both of those previous records were shattered when we saw $53.9 million in political spending.

But even with the horrendous Citizens United decision, there are simple, commonsense campaign finance reforms our state can implement in order to restore faith in our democracy:

“Campaign Contribution Limits Act” (LRB 4220): This proposal restores sensible campaign contribution limits including limiting contributions to Political Action Committees (PACs).

“Closing the PAC Loophole Act” (LRB 4221): This proposal defines a PAC, for campaign finance purposes, as a committee that includes a person, other than an individual, that spends more than $1,000 in a 12-month period on expenditures for express advocacy.

“Coordination Control Act” (LRB 4222): This proposal places the same financial limits on coordinated expenditures between candidates and groups as are currently in place for direct contributions.

“No Corporate Campaign Bribes Act” (LRB 4223): This closes the segregated fund shell game loophole used to funnel additional money to committees by prohibiting corporations, labor organizations and other such associations from contributing to funds administered by a political party or campaign committee.

“Contribution Sunshine Act” (LRB 4224): This proposal requires any committee that receives campaign finance contributions of more than $100 cumulatively from an individual to report that individual’s place of employment and occupation, if any.

“Communications Transparency Act” (LRB 4225): This proposal also provides a definition for mass communication related to campaigns and requires so-called “dark money” groups to disclose the names of their donors who have given $100 or more in the preceding 12 months.

“Ready to Amend Act” (LRB 4226): This resolution places a question on the November 2022 ballot to ask the people if Congress should propose an amendment to overturn Citizens United v. F.E.C.

jeff-smithI hear a lot of ideas about ways we can change the system. Some think term limits are the way to go, but this won’t fix how money is spent or how it influences the person elected to office. Good government happens when we end gerrymandering and make our electoral system more open and transparent.

The Campaign Integrity Bills, combined with my bill to create a non-partisan redistricting process, can improve our democratic process and end the political stranglehold of the corporate elites. It’s not too late to restore the voice of you the voter as long as the people you entrusted to represent you take action.

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Family Fun at the Fair

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, 04 August 2021
in Wisconsin

fairgoersSen. Jeff Smith writes about all of the fun activities families can enjoy at a local county fair.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - Summer is all about family fun. It’s the season with plenty to do outdoors. Family vacations are planned around national parks and monuments. Campgrounds fill up and lakes are busy with boats, kayakers, anglers and swimmers.

With everything going on and the many places to visit, it can be easy to overlook what’s happening right in your own backyard, including your local fair. County fairs are held across the state offering fun times and entertainment for your entire family.

Not all fairs are alike; some have midway rides and games, some have musical events and other shows. Other fairs keep it as simple as possible with demonstrations, displays, animal showings and food. Oh, the food. Fair food may not make the list for your healthy diet, but it’s certainly hard to resist.

My own family has made terrific memories thanks to our county fair. We were a 4-H family, so my daughters entered projects in woodworking, food preparation, natural science and more. Every year we had animals at the fair and it taught my daughters the important value of responsibility because they had to keep their area clean and care for their animals. My family got to the fair early and left late each day.

For current 4-H members, the fair is still the culmination of a year of hard work. They built connections, learned new things and worked on skills that will be judged during those few days in the summer heat. During the course of the year, they may have honed their shooting skills with an air gun or bow and demonstrated they know how to shoot safely. Their very special project made from wood might win them a blue ribbon. Youngsters can show off the relationship they’ve built with their animals over the last year. It’s so rewarding to see young people with their horses, not to mention all of the other animals, including cats, dogs, exotic animals, sheep and goats.

When some think of a county fair they think of the typical farm experience: showing cattle or hogs. Of course that’s a big part of it, but there’s so much more. From shooting sports and playing piano to showing your dairy cow and shooting a rocket into the air, there are plenty of activities for kids to enjoy at a county fair.

jeff-smithIn my experience, I’ve been lucky enough to assist in our county fair even after my daughters graduated. It never gets old seeing the excitement of youngsters bringing in their projects. Every year there are creative projects I’d never seen before. When interviewing kids about their taxidermy mounts, they tell the story of their hunt with their parent or mentor. It’s always special – and you can share in their special moments at the fair.

At this point of the summer many, if not most, county fairs have come and gone until next year. But county fairs are the precursor to the state fair. The Wisconsin State Fair begins August 5th and runs through the 15th. Champions in every category from every county have the chance to be entered in the state fair and be judged one more time. It’s also your chance to experience fun and sample new food with fellow Wisconsinites.

Maybe your summer included travels to distant and amazing places. After all, we have so much natural beauty throughout this great country. You may have spent your summer relaxing on one of Wisconsin’s beautiful lakes or at the local pool socializing with neighbors and friends.

Let’s face it, football is on the horizon and that means fall is right around the corner. Visiting the fair might be your last chance to enjoy summer in Wisconsin.

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The Facts About the Birds and the Bees

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, 28 July 2021
in Wisconsin

bee-pollinatorSen. Jeff Smith writes about the crisis impacting pollinators, which threatens the crops farmers grow and harvest.

MADISON, WI - Where does our food come from? It’s a question we think of a lot while grocery shopping or sitting down for a meal with our family. Of course, the answer is our farmers. Farming is hard, but satisfying work. They play a critical role in feeding the world and they rely on climate conditions for a productive crop. Farmers are also aware of pollinators’ essential role in helping them do their job.

Pollinators include many species of birds, bats, butterflies, bees and even small mammals. Over 100,000 animal species play a role in pollinating over 250,000 flowering plant species in the world, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Insects are the most common pollinators. Pollinators play an important role, especially when it comes to the way our food chain works.

Without these natural partners, our food supply would be at risk. One-third of all food produced for human consumption is dependent on pollinators. While we do have domestic pollinators, over 80% of pollinators are wild. Honey bees alone pollinate 80% of all flowering plants and approximately $10 billion worth of food crops in the United States each year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Alarmingly, bee populations and other pollinator species have dropped significantly in recent years. There were nearly one billion monarch butterflies in the United States 25 years ago; now the population stands at approximately 34 million. In 2015 – in just one year – there was a 40% loss of honey bee colonies in the United States. Wisconsin is home to the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, which saw an 87% decline over a 20 year period and became the first bee to be granted protections under the Endangered Species Act in 2017.

Declining pollinator populations are happening for a number of reasons. While parasitic mites can cause a colony to collapse, poison is equally devastating. Private landowners are stepping up to halt the destruction and restore the population of pollinators. In western states, farmers found that rest-rotation grazing creates better habitat for pollinators over pastures with no livestock grazing. More prudent use of fertilizers and insecticides can also make a difference.

Climate change also threatens pollinators’ existence. Adopting climate change mitigation policies is critical and urgent for so many reasons. The risk of pollinator extinction (and loss of food sources, as a result) should certainly motivate us to slow and reverse climate change.

While we may feel there are some causes of the pollinator crisis that are out of our control, there are things we can do to improve the situation. I’ve teamed up with other legislators to introduce the Pollinator Protection Bill Package, which can move us in the right direction on this important, but often overlooked subject.

jeff-smithSenate Bills 455, 456 and 457 aim to limit harmful insecticides and raise greater awareness among Wisconsinites about the crisis devastating pollinator ecosystems. SB 455 protects pollinators by limiting insecticide use near pollinator habitats located on land maintained by the Department of Natural Resources. SB 456 returns decision-making about acceptable pesticides back to the local municipality or county. Currently these local subdivisions are prohibited from adopting such protections – this bill is one way to protect nearby pollinator habitats.

SB 457 prohibits a person who sells or provides plants from labeling or advertising the plant as being beneficial to pollinators if the plant has been treated with and contains a certain concentration of insecticides that are hazardous to pollinators.

These bills deserve immediate action in Legislature before this crisis worsens. We know that over 75% of our flowers and 35% of the crops we eat need to be pollinated, but we’re losing significant populations of pollinators every year. We must act immediately to avert a situation that could become irreversible.

We’ve shown in the past we’re capable of correcting mistakes to save valuable natural resources. We can look up at the eagles to remind ourselves what we can do when we’re determined to fix a problem.

So, where does our food come from? Start with pollinators.

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