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Justice for Indigenous Communities

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, 12 October 2022
in Wisconsin

hochunknation-membersThe third anniversary of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Wisconsin is an opportunity to celebrate and commit to the preservation of Indigenous American cultures.

BRUNSWICK, WI - In 2019 Governor Tony Evers declared the second Monday of October to be commemorated as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Wisconsin. On the third anniversary of this day, we should reflect on all we owe to the Indigenous communities that contribute so much to the state of Wisconsin.

Since the arrival of European settlers, American culture has portrayed Native individuals in derogatory ways. Despite many historic and modern-day challenges that Native Americans have faced, Indigenous communities have endured.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an opportunity for all Wisconsinites to recognize the rich ancestral history and cultural impact of First Nations peoples in our state, a history that so often goes unappreciated. Just as important, this day allows us time to contemplate our nation’s history when it comes to interactions between the United States government and sovereign tribal communities.

native-americanOne challenge facing Indigenous communities is language loss. The United Nations estimates that a language dies every two weeks, most of them Indigenous languages. Native American languages were critical for our Native American code talkers for the military in WWI and WWII. These language must be preserved as a testament to our diverse and rich culture.

In Wisconsin, our communities are taking action to prevent this loss. Last year, Ho-Chunk tribal officials partnered with the Wisconsin Library System to establish a collection of materials, including written, audio and visual materials, detailing the Ho-Chunk language.

Tribes are using language classes and even immersion programs to educate young tribal members in their ancestral languages. With resources like these, Native communities can educate new generations of speakers and ensure the survival of an important element of their cultural heritage.

While serving in the State Assembly I was proud to pass legislation to stop the dehumanizing practice of using caricatures of Indigenous people as mascots. In the intervening years, many schools have stopped using these mascots, but according to the Wisconsin Indian Education Association, some of these names remain in use in our schools. It’s past time for school districts to do the right thing and end the practice for good.

The number of Indigenous students in the UW system has fallen precipitously in the last decade. In response, I sponsored a bill to allow any member of a federally-recognized tribe in the United States to receive in-state tuition within the University of Wisconsin System. Drawing in Native students from across the nation strengthens the UW system, improves outcomes for Native communities across the country and attracts young professionals who can build a brighter future for our state.

jeff-smithI was honored to serve on the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force. I’m excited to see what recommendations are put forward in the final report this winter.

I look forward to partnering with tribal leaders and communities to continue this important work across our state and nation. We celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ day this week, but the work of honoring and preserving our Native communities is ongoing.

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

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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
User is currently offline
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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