Tuesday October 19, 2021

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Every Worker Deserves a Safe Workplace

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 April 2021
in Wisconsin

electrical-workersSen. Smith writes about the steps our country has taken to protect workers and create safe workplaces. We observe Workers’ Memorial Day annually on April 28th to remember workers who have been killed or injured on the job.


MADISON - It has always fascinated me that American workers accomplished so much even when the technology and machinery that we take for granted now wasn’t yet available back then. Consider the New York skyscrapers, for instance. We’ve seen photos of workers walking on narrow beams hundreds of feet above the ground or the iconic photos of workers eating their lunch sitting on a steel beam overlooking the city. It’s hard to imagine the risks these workers took to construct those enormous structures.

We only see pictures of these moments when things were going right. The unfortunate reality is, it’s likely that you would’ve known someone who died or got seriously injured on this type of job if you lived a century ago. All it might take is a gust of wind or a momentary loss of balance. Indoor workplaces had their own risks with dangerous chemicals in enclosed spaces or crowded, fire-hazard warehouses.

We observe Workers’ Memorial Day annually on April 28th to remember workers who have been killed or injured on the job. Fifty years ago, on April 28, 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) went into effect. OSHA provides protections for workers guaranteeing safe and healthy workplaces.  On this historic anniversary of OSHA, we reflect on how far we’ve come to protect workers, and we remain committed to supporting future generations of American workers.

There have many workplace tragedies documented in our country’s history. When officials first began documenting workplace incidents, the National Council for Industrial Safety estimated that between 18,000 and 21,000 people lost their lives to workplace injuries in 1912 alone.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 killed 146 workers. In Lawrence, Massachusetts, the Pemberton Mill collapsed in 1860, killing 145 workers. The Monongah mining explosion killed 362 in Virginia in 1907. A molasses tank ruptured in Boston in 1919, releasing a rush of molasses down the street at 35 mph killing twenty-one and injuring another 150 people.

Terrible disasters like these compelled changes in the workplace, making it less likely to occur in the future. Workers and government leaders worked together to establish many of the workplace safety measures we have today. Some businesses aren’t always ready to invest in safety measures until they absolutely have to. Much like citizens rising up against monarchies or dictators for their freedom and self-governance, workers had to organize and demand safe conditions. Unions representing various workplaces negotiated changes that eventually saved lives.

There were instances when employers recognized the need to protect their workers, including the inspiring story of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in the 1930s. At the time, many expected such an undertaking to have a cost of one death per one million dollars spent. But the chief engineer of the Golden Gate project would not stand for that. He commissioned a rope safety net under the floor of the bridge, which saved 19 lives during construction. He also required workers to wear hard hats, safety lines and respirators, which was considered revolutionary at the time.

jeff-smithWe can always improve what we know and do. That’s why Governor Evers’ budget proposal includes provisions to support Wisconsin workers in a number of ways. If passed, the budget makes the unemployment insurance system less burdensome for unemployed workers.

The budget would allow state and local front-line workers to negotiate together. The budget also enhances worker compensation by requiring state and local public works projects to pay workers the hourly wage and benefits paid to the majority of workers in the project's area. The Governor also proposed repealing certain prohibitions that limit worker freedoms. The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee has the ability to keep these proposals in the budget – in the interest of Wisconsin’s current and future workforce, let’s hope they do.

As we pass through each day without fear of terrible workplace disasters, remember those who were not so fortunate. We can support every worker in every workplace to earn a living wage in a safe environment.

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How the Budget Connects Our Community

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, 21 April 2021
in Wisconsin

door-county-peopleSen. Smith reflects on the budget listening session he hosted last week. The conversation was a reminder of how the budget connects us to one another and will help us build stronger communities.


MADISON - I had an amazing conversation with a number of constituents who attended my budget listening session last week. The attendees, who were strangers to each other, shared personal and heartfelt stories. They made it clear that the decisions made by their legislators truly do affect them and their communities.

We discussed the importance of mental health treatment and appropriate intervention for those experiencing a mental health crisis. Community members shared their support for investing in our public schools and our rural roads. We also hit on ways to strengthen our economy, create jobs and expand broadband access. When community members come together, we open up about our shared values and the ways public policies impact our everyday life.

Governor Tony Evers encourages us to think of the budget as connecting the dots – how one investment can connect and address more than one issue. The budget also shows how we’re all connected and rely on one another. If you succeed, the community succeeds. When the community succeeds, everyone is better off. When the tide rises, all ships are raised. We all do better when we all do better.

It starts with our children and investing in opportunities for them to succeed. Even before the pandemic struck, Wisconsin faced a childcare crisis. Parents need affordable, reliable and convenient childcare. Children need a safe environment that provides developmental support. Most business leaders agree and support initiatives to keep local childcare centers open and staffed by professional providers. Employees are more likely to be productive and stay in their roles knowing their children are in good hands and close by.

When children have early support and a healthy start, they’re better prepared for the educational experience in front of them. But we must invest in our public schools so every student has the same opportunities to succeed.

Governor Evers often says that every dollar invested in our kids is an investment in our state’s future. The Governor backs this up by restoring the state’s two-thirds funding commitment for public schools and proposing significant investments in mental health support, special education funding and sparsity aid for our rural schools. Education prepares the next generation of innovators and workers.

Education investments today prepare children for life’s future challenges and saves our state from an overly expensive correctional system down the road. When we invest in education, we’re investing in safer communities and a reduced incarceration rate. That’s why I’m glad to see the Governor’s budget invest more dollars in the UW System than the Department of Corrections. We need less prisons when we provide more educational opportunities for all Wisconsinites.

The opportunity to learn is easier in today’s world when every household has access to fast, reliable broadband. We must make bold investments in broadband infrastructure now, just like our leaders did with electricity generations before us. The Governor’s broadband plan would invest up to $200 million from the American Rescue Plan Act in addition to the $200 million he proposed in his budget.

jeff-smithWhen we invest in broadband infrastructure and affordability we open up a world of possibilities. We create more opportunities to learn, improve healthcare access and encourage local economic development. Broadband access will be a catalyst for Wisconsin’s future growth and success.

Healthcare access is critical to the success of any family, community and state. That is why the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was important for so many when enacted eleven years ago. Unfortunately, the Republican Majority has stubbornly allowed political ideology to get in the way of expanding Medicaid – a key component of the ACA. For the overall health and wellbeing of our families and communities, Wisconsin must expand Medicaid. In doing so, we could save $2.1 billion in taxpayer funding and offer healthcare coverage to more Wisconsinites.

It’s so clear how the budget is not only a document where one issue is connected to another – it’s necessary that we tie all these proposals together for our individual success and the social fabric of our communities.

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Brief Against Vos and LeMahieu

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, 16 April 2021
in Wisconsin

assembly-wi-robin-vosMADISON - This week, we filed an amicus brief in the case against Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu for misappropriating your tax dollars to defend their plan to gerrymander our voting districts once again later this fall.

You can read our posting, with a link to the brief, here:

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Files Amicus Brief in Case Against Vos and LeMahieu

Earlier this week, we submitted three testimonies on some of the anti-voter bills that Republicans in the Legislature have introduced. You can read these here:

Don't Make It Harder to Vote Absentee

Don't Legalize Harassment of Election Officials

Don’t Turn Away Poll Workers

matt-rothschild-2018And speaking of these bills, I’d like to thank you if you’ve already contacted your legislators and urged them to oppose them.

>> If you haven’t done so yet, you can still take action to protect the freedom to vote in Wisconsin by opening our action alert email from yesterday. <<

I hope you have a nice weekend.

Best,

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

****

P.S. If you like the work we’re doing, please send us a tax-deductible gift by clicking here. Thanks!

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Schools, Children and their 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 April 2021
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsSen. Smith writes about the critical investments for our schools that Governor Evers proposed in his 2021-23 biennial budget.


MADISON - You may have heard politicians and the media use the line that schools should “open” or schools have a plan to “re-open.” This has caused a lot of confusion because schools never stopped providing support and instruction to their students. Teachers never stopped teaching. Yes, to protect students and families, many districts had to adjust their methods of instruction, but the work never stopped.

Like everyone, schools were appropriately cautious when the pandemic began last year, keeping students home to protect our communities. That didn’t stop teachers from finding ways to reach their students. In many of our rural communities, teachers found themselves educating from their car in a parking lot where they could access reliable internet. Students and parents also had to adapt if their home internet wouldn’t connect them to the classroom. Throughout everything, school districts faced extraordinary challenges to provide the educational experience we all expect for our children despite inadequate funding.

Governor Tony Evers’ 2021-23 biennial budget addresses many of the inequities that existed before the pandemic and puts schools in a better position to prepare our kids for the future. The investments we make today will help Wisconsin bounce back stronger than before. After all, as Governor Evers often says, “what’s best for our kids, is what’s best for our state.”

The Governor’s budget includes a K-12 general aid increase of $600 million over the next two years – this is the largest increase in over a decade. This badly needed funding will help modernize classrooms, retain quality teachers and reduce the need for local property tax increases. School districts would also see an additional $709 million in state aid for special education funding. This would raise our current state reimbursement rate for special education from 31% to 50% to better support students who need the most help.

This pandemic has strained all of us mentally and we all know children who’ve faced these challenges. School districts across the state reported spending upwards of $270 million on pupil services staff over the last year with only $6 million, or 2% of that total funding, coming from the state. This should concern us all – mental health services are critical.

Thankfully, Gov. Evers recognizes these needs and recommends directing $46 million toward school mental health services and increasing the reimbursement rate for local districts. This would allow schools to bring in more social workers, counselors, psychologists and nurses to address health needs and improve education outcomes.

jeff-smithIn Wisconsin, school districts must provide transportation to all eligible pupils whether they attend a public or private school. Oftentimes, rural transportation costs cut into what school districts can spend in a classroom. It’s great to see Gov. Evers target $4 million over the biennium to fully fund high-cost transportation aid for school districts with relatively high transportation costs. This increased funding is estimated to reimburse 100% of costs and help alleviate the financial strain many of our school districts are experiencing.

Gov. Evers does more to support our rural schools by investing $20 million in sparsity aid. The budget increases sparsity aid to fully fund per pupil payments of $400 for sparse districts with 745 or fewer pupils. In addition, the governor recommends providing $100 per pupil for those districts with 10 or fewer pupils per square mile with more than 746 or more pupils.

These investments are critical for western Wisconsin and all school districts throughout Wisconsin to provide the best educational opportunities for our children. Our teachers, staff and school administrators have gone above and beyond to connect kids to the classroom, despite the unprecedented circumstance. It’s time we show our schools support by passing Governor Evers’ budget.

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Imagine the Possibilities during the Year of Broadband Access

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 April 2021
in Wisconsin

cellular-5gSen. Jeff Smith writes about Governor Tony Evers’ efforts to expand broadband access with historic investments and innovative policies in his biennial budget.


MADISON - What year is this? You might quickly answer that it’s 2021 and you’d be right. But Governor Tony Evers also declared this as the Year of Broadband Access in Wisconsin. This declaration is exciting and important in more ways than one.

For starters, Governor Evers’ budget includes a historic $200 million investment to improve Wisconsin’s broadband infrastructure – this is five times the amount invested in the 2013, 2015, and 2017 budgets combined. The Governor is also directing a significant portion of infrastructure funding from the federal American Rescue Plan toward expanding broadband access.

The Year of Broadband Access highlights the opportunity to bring legislators and constituents together around one issue that will make a big difference. I’ve heard from colleagues on both sides of the aisle that this must get done. I’ve heard from my Republican colleagues that they like the ideas I proposed last session. Now, this is something to build on. We may find that we can actually get things done if we work together on this important project.

Governor Evers’ recent budget listening session on bolstering Wisconsin’s infrastructure reminded so many of us why we must focus our efforts on expanding broadband. The Federal Communications Commission reports that there are more than 430,000 people in rural Wisconsin who lack access to high-speed internet; this is about 25% of our rural population. I’d even say it’s much higher than that if they’re relying on what Internet Service Providers (ISP) are reporting. One of the biggest problems is the questionable mapping based on census blocks. If an ISP reports that one house or business in a census block has access, then the entire census block is counted as having access. This is why I’ve been pushing for honest mapping and greater accountability.

internet-rural-s5We also need the Legislature to remove roadblocks for municipalities to expand broadband. Current law prohibits municipalities from offering internet access without having an ISP providing it. This is problematic because private services need to show a profit and they’re not interested in rural areas with low population density. The Governor borrowed an idea from my Better Broadband legislative package by removing this restriction, so municipalities who aren’t currently served could make the investment to provide broadband to their residents. As I’ve suggested over and over, municipal governments don’t want to get in the business of managing this service, but they could own the fiber that an ISP leases to become that provider.

Wisconsin currently has a broadband expansion grant program, which provides funding for projects in underserved and unserved areas. It’s woefully underfunded though, and provides just enough to expand access at a snail’s pace. In the last budget cycle the Legislature invested $54 million for this program. In his budget, Governor Evers proposes directing nearly $150 million into the grant program.

jeff-smithInternet affordability is a challenge that is often overlooked. For too many families, the cost is just not within their budget after rent, food and other basic necessities. Governor Evers’ budget includes $40 million to create an Internet Assistance Program just for that reason. This program would reduce costs and make internet services affordable for tens of thousands of low-income families throughout Wisconsin. The budget also creates a Broadband Line Extension grant program, which will reduce the cost of expensive line extensions from residences to existing broadband infrastructure.

It’s become more obvious over the last year that internet access isn’t just a luxury – it’s a necessity. Broadband expansion efforts go beyond our kids logging on for class, shopping online and streaming movies. Now we use the internet to access health care, pay bills and do our jobs. High-speed internet is a must if we want the next generation to have the option of living in the splendor of rural Wisconsin.

I’m just as excited at the possibility of legislators coming together to work on this critical issue, which will improve our way of life and strengthen our economy. Imagine where this might lead us. We may discover the political process of working together that citizens have been asking for.

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