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Team Smith is Here to Serve

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, 08 September 2021
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inState Senator Jeff Smith writes about everything that he, and his office, can do to serve residents of the 31st Senate District.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - “What can you help with?” It’s a question I get a lot, but I was asked this most recently while visiting folks in an Arcadia neighborhood. You see, I’ve been getting out in other communities around the 31st Senate District, meeting others and dropping off contact cards to make sure folks know how to get ahold of me. I look for any opportunity to be out where people can talk to me in person. So what is it that I (and my office) can do for you?

A legislator, and his or her office, is meant to serve the constituents of the district they’re elected to represent. From listening to your ideas and answering your questions to navigating government agencies or supporting local government needs, we sure can do a lot to help.

The 31st Senate District office is a busy place. Team Smith includes me and my staff, and we’re here to hear from you. We respond to your phone calls and emails to share helpful resources. Team Smith also researches policy issues or potential legislation. Bill ideas often come from constituents who are facing difficult situations that need law changes to fix their problems.

I can walk through a good example of how you and I can work together to solve a problem. Back at the farmer’s market in 2009, a constituent told me how she was looking into getting a dog. She discovered that many ads led to unhealthy and unethical puppy mills and she wondered if I’d be interested in looking into it. Together we visited some dealers and went to a dog auction in Thorp to learn more. My staff and I connected with other groups that were concerned about this practice and we began piecing together language to prohibit dangerous dog breeding and selling practices. Without getting into all the details, our efforts led to successfully passing legislation that was signed by the governor to become Act 90 in 2009.

This story highlights just one aspect of a legislative office, although it may be what many folks expect we put most of our efforts into. However, there’s so much more to what we do in a legislative office that doesn’t make the headlines the same way that political disagreements and new bills do. We work with agencies if residents are experiencing a problem, like missing unemployment insurance benefits, for example. We connect to organizations and resources to assist individuals if they’re struggling to pay rent or take care of a loved one who is aging or has a disability. If my office can’t help directly, we’ll know someone who may be able to.

jeff-smithAs a legislator, I can’t step in to help with a constituent’s court case or legal proceeding. And realistically, a bill I introduce can’t become law at the snap of my fingers (no matter how hard I’ve tried). It takes time for an idea to work its way through the legislative process, but it’s my job to work with my colleagues – on both sides of the aisle – to have your ideas heard in the Capitol.

Of course, for the past 18 months, we’ve had to get creative in finding ways to connect safely. Just because you might have spent more time at home with your family doesn’t change the fact that you may need some help or may have an idea to share with my office.

Many times, it’s simply connecting with constituents at the farmer’s market or at one of my Stop & Talks that will lead me to an issue I had no knowledge of before. Whether you see me at a Stop & Talk, have a contact card on your doorstep, or prefer to give my office a call, I want to hear from you.

Send us an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call us at (608)266-8546. Certainly, don’t shy from approaching me in person when you see me around. I have a personal belief that I’m here to serve whenever you see me, no matter where it might be.

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Homework to Start the School Year

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, 01 September 2021
in Wisconsin

school-bus-kidsSen. Smith writes about the things we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect our children as they begin their new school year.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - We’ve reached that point of year again when kids are excited to return to the classroom, see their friends and begin a new school year. As adults, we can understand their excitement, but it’s up to us to make sure kids can have a safe and successful school year.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen a drastic turn of events in our fight against COVID-19. Like many other states, Wisconsin is experiencing an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. This is ramping up just as schools are preparing to welcome back our children. This should alarm all of us. The good news is we have tools at-hand to reverse this trend and help our schools stay open.

With all that we’ve learned since the beginning of the pandemic, we know how to stop the spread if we do certain things. The easiest is getting vaccinated. On August 23, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine. Prior to this announcement, the COVID-19 vaccines met the FDA’s “rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization,” and now we can be even more confident knowing the safety and efficacy of the vaccine is confirmed.

covid-19-teacher-back-to-schoolThe COVID-19 vaccine can prevent you from getting COVID-19 or becoming seriously ill or dying of COVID-19, according to Mayo Clinic. Additionally, the vaccine can prevent you from spreading the virus to others and get us closer to reaching herd immunity. Fifty-one percent of Wisconsinites are now fully vaccinated, but we still have work to do to protect kids who are too young to get the vaccine.

When polio raged across the country, people celebrated the discovery of a vaccine and eagerly lined up to get vaccinated. The same goes with chicken pox and other communicable diseases. Of course, the first reason folks get vaccinated is to protect themselves and their family, but also to protect others in their community.

The COVID-19 vaccine is free for Wisconsinites. If you haven’t received your vaccine yet, you can receive $100 for doing your part to protect your community. If you get your first vaccine dose by September 6, you’ll be eligible to receive $100 just by visiting 100.wisconsin.gov.

We have to move forward. We are at a pivotal time in getting through the pandemic. We owe it to our loved ones, our frontline healthcare workers, our local businesses and our children’s future to get vaccinated so Wisconsin can flourish during this critical time.

jeff-smithWe don’t have to look back this year if we get vaccinated and wear a mask when we’re indoors and around others to stop the spread. The reason to wear a mask is no different than staying home when you’re sick or keeping children home from school if they have symptoms: so they don’t infect others.

With school open now it’s even more important to stop the spread. Next to long term care facilities, schools are probably the most vulnerable to the spread of communicable disease. Anyone could be carrying the virus without knowing it before they infect others. That includes children who can spread it to other children and the adults in their school. We must all do our part to keep kids at school, teachers teaching and support staff working by limiting the spread and preventing schools from being short-staffed.

Before our kids head back to school, we adults have some homework to do. Talk to your doctor or head to Vaccines.gov to learn more about how you can protect yourself and your loved ones. We all want to see our kids have a good year and it’s our job to set them up for success.

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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)
User is currently offline
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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