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Supporting Wisconsin Workers Makes A Strong Economy

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, 14 June 2023
in Wisconsin

tech-jobs-engineering-techniciansSen. Smith writes about real solutions to our workforce shortage and policies that will attract workers to our state.

MADISON - During the Senate floor session last Wednesday, Republicans signed off on a set of unnecessary and punitive Assembly bills that create additional roadblocks for Wisconsin workers accessing unemployment, despite Wisconsin’s unemployment rate being at a historical low.

In fact, Republicans already passed legislation requiring applicants for unemployment to document their work search last year. That didn’t stop them from putting a referendum on the ballot this past spring asking if the voters favored a work requirement – after they’d already passed the legislation.

unemployment-office-lineAs we saw during the pandemic, unemployment insurance is an important tool to provide stability to those between jobs. It’s important to note that workers pay into the unemployment insurance program when they are employed. It’s not a “handout” that goes to those who choose not to work. Despite Republican efforts to paint hardworking Wisconsinites as “takers,” this is simply not the case.

Wisconsinites already participate in the workforce at one of the highest rates in the nation. In fact, we have a shortage of workers, as Wisconsinites are aging out of the workforce or moving out of the state.

evers-2023-sosIn his biennial budget proposal, Governor Evers put forward many measures to address Wisconsin’s worker shortage. Evers’ budget proposal includes up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave – time Wisconsinites would be able to use to welcome a child to their family, to care for an ailing family member or to recover from a medical procedure or unexpected injury.

Lack of access to affordable child care is another barrier to entry in the workforce. Working parents lose less productivity when they can afford and depend on quality child care for their kids. The Child Care Counts program has been effective in helping child care centers stay open and affordable, but we must continue to provide this vital support so that parents can have access to quality and affordable child care.

childcareMothers still take on a majority of child care responsibilities despite younger generations of fathers taking on a more direct role. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, if women in Wisconsin participated in the labor force at the same rate as countries with paid leave, there would be an estimated 22,000 more workers in the state with $758 million more in wages earned statewide.

By providing workers with paid family and medical leave and supporting our child care facilities, we address the root of our workforce shortage. The Republicans’ plans create more hoops to jump through in order for workers to access the unemployment insurance they have paid into.

Just last month across the Mississippi, Minnesota enacted legislation to guarantee workers paid family and medical leave starting in 2026. For border communities like many in Senate District 31, it’s troubling to think how western Wisconsin communities will suffer if the employment market in Minnesota provides better quality of life for workers.

wisc-leavingWe are losing young workers at an alarming rate as older workers age out of the workforce. Young Wisconsinites want action on issues like affordable healthcare (including mental health care), environmental protections, reproductive freedom and cannabis legalization.

jeff-smithLegislative Democrats will continue to champion real solutions to our workforce shortage and advocate for the quality-of-life issues that will attract workers to our state. We can build a more productive workforce, and I hope that my legislative colleagues are as committed as I am to that goal.

The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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We’re Called Cheeseheads for a Reason

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, 07 June 2023
in Wisconsin

farm-familySen. Smith celebrates June as dairy month by writing about our prominence in the nation’s cheese making industry, salutes dairy farmers and encourages everyone to attend one of the many dairy breakfasts throughout Wisconsin.

Eau Claire - If you have any doubts about our commitment to dairy consider the facts. To start with, June is Dairy Month in Wisconsin. Every weekend there are a number of dairy breakfasts around the state. You can check the list from the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin for a delicious breakfast near you. Typically hosted by a dairy farm you can learn a lot about what goes on at the farm and see plenty of neighbors.

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 over a 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 foam cheese hats to games is evidence enough that we take our title of America’s Dairyland very seriously.

While milk is an important part of any healthy diet, cheese rules. On average Americans consume 27 pounds of cheese each year. That’s a lot of cheese and 90% of our Wisconsin milk goes into cheese making. Everyone, it seems, loves their Mac & Cheese but you just can’t beat those squeaky fresh cheese curds. You can pick up your favorite cheese curd flavors directly from the creameries spread throughout western Wisconsin, but be sure to stop in Ellsworth, the cheese curd capital of the world. If you’re like me you can’t resist a quick stop.

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. Wisconsin is proudly the home of world champion cheesemakers year after year. 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.

jeff-smithDon’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.

Dairy breakfasts are more than just about the food. 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 take time out during a very busy time of year 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 and don’t be shy about showing off your cheesehead. Find your nearest dairy breakfast and bring the family out this month to enjoy some live music, farm activities and the best breakfast you could ask for.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - Beware! Poison in the Revenue Sharing Bill

Posted by Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Matt Rothschild
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Matt Rothschild
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Friday, 02 June 2023
in Wisconsin

wdc-logo-2022Matt finally gets to testify on State's revenue-sharing bill.

MADISON - Last week, I went to a hearing at the State Capitol on the revenue-sharing bill.

I got there a good fifteen minutes before the hearing was to start, and I was one of the first to fill out the form that I wanted to testify about the bill.

The meeting started at 9:00 a.m. By 10:00 a.m., the sponsors of the bill had testified. By 11:00 a.m., a lot of local officials had already testified. By noon, still more. By 1:00 p.m., there were only a few people left to testify. By 1:45 p.m., there was only one person left to testify: Me!

If Committee Chair Dan Knodl thought he could wait me out, he was dead wrong. Here’s the testimony I waited so long to give:

Don’t Abridge Our Right to Petition Our Government!

Speaking of Knodl, we’ve completed our first count of the cost of the special election he won in April when he narrowly defeated Jodi Habush Sinykin. If you want to find out who the big donors in that one were, just click here:

Special Legislative Election Cost Nearly $3M

And here’s a tasty little item! The Milwaukee businessman who’s running the GOP Convention there next summer actually donated the max to Joe Biden last time around:

gop-conv-2024WI GOP Donor Heading 2024 Presidential Convention Also Gave to Biden

I hope you like these offerings, and I hope you have a nice weekend!




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

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Save Lives, Stop Prohibition

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, 31 May 2023
in Wisconsin

marijuana-wi-presentIllinois and Michigan have long been collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue from Wisconsin residents who cross the border to purchase marijuana. Now Minnesota is poised to join them. Wisconsin needs to catch up.

MADISON - Wisconsin is in a rapidly-shrinking minority of states that have not legalized marijuana, one of only ten in the country.

Our immediate neighbors are way ahead of us. Illinois has generated $425 million in tax revenue from legal sales of marijuana, with an estimated $36 million coming directly from Wisconsin residents. Not only is the new source of funding benefiting Illinois as a whole, a portion of each dollar spent is being reinvested in communities that have been forced to do more with less.

marijuana-store-beloitWhile Michigan does not break down marijuana tax revenue by the buyer’s state of residence, Michigan collected $325 million in marijuana tax revenue overall. Dispensaries near the Wisconsin-Michigan border report about half their sales are to out-of-state customers. That tax revenue supplied $60 million to Michigan municipalities and counties in the past fiscal year and sent $70 million to both K-12 education and the Michigan Transportation Fund.

Minnesota will be the next to legalize recreational pot. Our neighbor to the west has had medical marijuana since 2014. As I write this column, both houses of the Minnesota Legislature have passed the bill to legalize recreational marijuana and the governor has pledged to sign it. This renders Wisconsin a desert island in the Great Lakes region, denied a safe and effective medicine, the tens of thousands of jobs the industry could create and a massive source of funding that could be used to improve communities here in Wisconsin.

Over two-thirds of Wisconsinites support marijuana legalization, according to an August 2022 Marquette Law School poll, yet the gerrymandered Republican majority won’t even hold a hearing on the subject.

Marijuana legalization would grow Wisconsin’s economy and help us recover from the fiscal turmoil of COVID-19. Governor Evers’ proposed budget taxes marijuana similarly to alcohol, and would generate an estimated $165 million in revenue. Close to $80 million from marijuana sales would be reinvested statewide through the Community Reinvestment Fund, with $34 million to support our smaller and more spread-out rural schools.

marijuanaplantshandsLegalizing marijuana is not only about the potential tax revenue. Marijuana would be a boon to Wisconsin’s agriculture industry. Many of our farmers are rapidly aging out of the workforce – the U.S. Census Bureau reports the average American farmer is 57 ½ years of age. It’s vital for our farm industry and land stewardship for young farmers to have new opportunities to grow with this new and lucrative crop.

It’s hard for our kids and grandkids to consider farming a viable career and a thriving lifestyle while we are stuck in the past. In states that have legalized recreational marijuana, new opportunities have attracted younger farmers to the growing and profitable industry of cultivating cannabis.

My colleague Senator Melissa Agard (D-Madison) often says the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it’s illegal. I agree wholeheartedly, and throughout communities in my district I’ve seen cannabis prohibition does more harm than good.

Like other food, drug and alcohol products, our elected bodies determine what is legal and regulated. When we buy our food in a grocery store or alcoholic beverages in a tavern, consumers can be confident that they are buying products that have been approved and inspected for safe consumption. Marijuana legalization will create a safe product for consumers while opening doors for farmers and entrepreneurs to get involved in a well-regulated market.

jeff-smithThere’s much to be said about the long-term health benefits of marijuana legalization. Those who use cannabis to treat chronic pain will have access to a medicine that, unlike opioids, does not lead to debilitating addiction. Those who use cannabis recreationally would be assured a safe and regulated product, free from poisonous additives.

Times and attitudes are changing, but still, the most dangerous thing about cannabis right now is that it’s illegal. Wisconsin needs to catch up to our neighboring states and create a safe market for marijuana. This plan makes sense – it’s about time the Wisconsin Legislature acts on it.

Wisconsin should take advantage of the same opportunities our neighbors have by legalizing cannabis. In doing so, we take a huge step toward modernizing our economy and strengthening our future.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Proof We Can Get Things Done Together

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, 24 May 2023
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inLast week, the Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously to raise the pay of public defenders and district attorneys. This step can help restore confidence in the Legislature’s ability to get the people’s work accomplished.

MADISON - In an environment where politics can be so disagreeable, it is nice to report something good coming out of the Capitol. Last week, taking a break from the vitriol to which we have become all-too accustomed, members of the Legislature came to a bipartisan agreement.

The state of Wisconsin has faced a crisis brewing in our justice system for years. The old adage states “the wheels of justice turn slowly,” and in the past couple years it seems to have come to a near stop.

People accused of offenses are guaranteed a speedy trial by our Constitution. Victims also deserve to have cases resolved in a timely manner. Yet our system has become so broken that justice has become unreliable. With challenges faced by law enforcement and our courts, neither victims nor the accused always see justice served.

In simple terms: justice should be fair and timely. It’s the state’s responsibility to ensure this, and yet in past years the investment just hasn’t been there. The pay available for assistant district attorneys (DAs) and public defenders has not been competitive enough to keep positions filled. Understaffed and overworked, elected DAs have resigned when it became impossible to keep up with the caseload.

Members of both parties in the Legislature have been concerned about this issue, and Governor Evers and the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) have taken steps to fix it. After years of falling behind in pay equity for assistant DAs and public defenders, the JFC voted to raise pay for public defenders, assistant DAs and elected DAs alike.

attorney-public-defenderAssistant DAs and public defenders would receive $8.76 more per hour, increasing starting salaries from $56,659 per year to $74,880. The provisions also exempt current assistant DAs and public defenders from current maximum salary levels so they can qualify for deserved increases in pay.

We’ve also seen elected DAs take a demotion to deputy DA to take advantage of better pay. These budget provisions ensure DAs are being paid in keeping with the position of leadership they hold.

In the case that a public defender is not available, the court system engages private attorneys. Under these budget provisions, compensation for private attorneys needed for those cases will also be raised to better incentivize attorneys to step in when needed.

Funding is included for some much-needed positions in Kenosha and Sauk Counties, currently funded through pandemic funds that are slated to expire. These two counties often take on cases for offenders who are not considered local to them, severely overtaxing their courts. These provisions increase funding to pay for the additional circuit court branches created in the last budget. The budget includes funding to help the Supreme Court update and maintain aging cybersecurity software.

For both the accused and the victim of a crime, the Constitution guarantees the right to a fair trial. It is our duty to make sure everything is in place so justice is upheld in a fair and timely manner.

jeff-smithLegislators like to imagine they are being good stewards of the public’s money when they reduce spending, but this is often the opposite of the truth. In reality, when we don’t keep up with costs, it compounds problems and cuts people off from access to services guaranteed to them by our government. The longer we put it off, the more costly it becomes, putting us in a position where we are falling ever more behind.

By paying legal professionals in public service a fair and competitive wage, we will restore trust in our justice system. And it happened in the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which agreed unanimously to move Governor Evers’ proposal forward.

If we can work towards more bipartisan agreements on the important issues facing our state, we could even start to restore faith and trust in our legislature. Isn’t that a great idea?

Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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