Tuesday January 18, 2022

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This is Our Shot to End the Pandemic

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, 07 July 2021
in Wisconsin

covid-19-vaccinationIt’s important that more people get vaccinated to keep moving our state in the right direction. Sen. Smith shares information about the COVID-19 vaccine and where Wisconsinites can get their shot.


MADISON, WI - Independence Day is a holiday always filled with many treasured traditions and memorable events. Unfortunately, last year we missed out on many of our favorite ways to celebrate America’s founding – grilling out with friends and family, watching fireworks in a nearby park or lining up on a parade route. We sure were able to do things a lot differently this 4th of July.

Back in March, President Joe Biden predicted our lives would look a lot more normal by the 4th of July. Honestly, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard that. At that point, there was still a limited supply of vaccines available and not all American adults were eligible. Since the spring, President Biden’s Administration has worked hard to expand eligibility, manufacture and distribute doses and get more shots in arms.

Thanks to Governor Tony Evers’ leadership, Wisconsin has consistently ranked one of the top states in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. Just last week, the state passed a notable milestone: 50% of Wisconsinites have received at least one vaccine dose! Here in western Wisconsin, residents have showed up to get their shot. More than 50% of residents in Eau Claire and Trempealeau counties have received at least one dose, with neighboring counties closely catching up. This united effort is what it will take to protect our communities and help our state and economy continue to recover.

While more Wisconsinites get vaccinated, it’s important that we understand we’re still not completely out of the woods yet. COVID-19 variants are emerging and spreading throughout the United States. The Delta variant now accounts for one in four new cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But, the good news from the CDC is that the vaccines “offer protection against most variants spreading in the United States.”

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Scientists and public health experts developed the vaccine using medical research that has been around for decades. The vaccines went through all required stages of clinical trials and continue to undergo intensive safety monitoring, according to the CDC. The vaccines have shown to keep people from getting and spreading COVID-19. Every shot administered gets us one step closer to defeating this virus.

Everyone over the age of 12 is now eligible to get their vaccine, and it’s easy to make an appointment to get your shot. There are many places you can go to get your free COVID-19 vaccine, including your neighborhood pharmacy, your local health department or your doctor. The easiest place to learn where you can get your vaccine is by visiting Vaccines.gov.

The WI Dept. of Health Services outlined a number of resources and programs that are offering support to help you get vaccinated. Free child care is available while parents and caregivers are getting vaccinated. Participating businesses are also offering rewards for getting a vaccine and protecting the community.

We have many reasons to celebrate the 4th of July – Americans’ resiliency is just one of them. The last year and a half has been incredibly challenging. We were apart from our friends, family and neighbors for months. We changed our normal routines and missed out on big life events. Many of us lost loved ones. Despite the challenges and tragedy Americans endured, we found ways to persevere. This is what America is all about.

jeff-smithGenerations before us experienced immense hardship. They lived through devastating wars, social injustice, economic depression and overwhelming uncertainty as to what the future holds. Americans have always found a way to overcome disasters, and this pandemic is no different. The vaccine is our ticket out of the pandemic and to get through to the other side.

I got vaccinated because I knew it was one small way to protect my community and help America bounce back. There are many personal reasons why it’s important to get your vaccine. If you haven’t already, now is your chance to get your shot and ensure we can build a better American future. As citizens have been throughout our country’s history, we’re united in this effort to move America forward.

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Celebrate Immigrant Stories

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, 30 June 2021
in Wisconsin

immigrants-usaSen. Smith reflects on the contributions of immigrants in honor of Immigrant Heritage Month.


MADISON - Many Americans are interested in genealogy and learning how their personal heritage has evolved over generations. New technology makes it even easier to trace one’s genealogy, simply by sending in a sample of DNA. While we know that our genetic makeup is split in many different ways, we share a curiosity of learning where we’re from and how our story started.

June is National Immigrant Heritage Month, so what better time to celebrate the contributions of immigrants throughout our country’s history and reflect on where our own ancestors came from.

In my case, my wife has done a lot of digging into her own family for her parents. Her father, in particular, has always been interested in his roots. Once we started, our curiosity grew and spread to my side of the family as well. We found that one of my ancestors arrived here as early as the late 16th century. It really is surprising what we can learn.

America is incredibly diverse. From the First Nations, to modern day immigrants, we really are like a big salad bowl; different cultures and identities are all mixed together, but each has something unique to bring.

Immigrants have always faced immense challenges. Even before immigrants set foot in America, they faced hardship in their home countries, like starvation, war or political oppression. We must acknowledge that a significant population was enslaved and forced here by slave traders.

Immigrants faced a whole new set of challenges after arriving in an unfamiliar place. Although the United States is a nation of immigrants, prejudicial, nativist attitudes greeted many newcomers; this has always fascinated me because many of us are immigrants ourselves.

immigrants-europe“The refugees seeking haven in America were poor and disease-ridden. They threatened to take jobs away from Americans and strain welfare budgets … They were bringing with them crime … And, worst of all, these undesirables were Irish.” This excerpt was taken from an article describing the Great Famine and migration to America in the 19th century. When the Irish arrived, they faced discrimination from many of those who were already living here.

While the Irish were landing on our eastern shores in the mid-19th century, Chinese immigrants were coming to California to escape the economic chaos in their homeland. They were treated as cheap labor in the mines and on the railroad lines connecting the west to the east. Immigrants have been discriminated against, harassed, exploited and used as a political scapegoat. Today, we still see how cultural intolerance targets and vilifies certain groups, which can lead to racialized violence.

Immigrants have found ways to persevere despite overwhelming adversity. Whether immigrants arrived in the 19th century or just this year, they’ve made our country stronger. A more recent example that many of us in Wisconsin are familiar with is the Hmong migration after the Vietnam War. Immigrants are our country’s entrepreneurs, healthcare workers, farmers, small business owners, veterans, community leaders and so much more. We truly would not be the United States of America without them.

jeff-smithMy mother’s parents each came here in the early 20th century from Poland. My grandfather arrived in 1914 and returned to Europe as early as 1917 fighting for his new country in World War I. It was common for immigrants to defend the United States in wars.

What I recall from my own Polish relatives is that they lived in a neighborhood and associated with other Polish immigrants. There was even a Polish Club for dances and events. This is still typical for many large cities with culturally distinct neighborhoods.

The upcoming Independence Day holiday should be a reminder of the opportunity America promises to many. While we were taught to think romantically of immigrants arriving on ships with their first view of America being the Statue of Liberty, immigrants risk so much for a better future.

America is a nation of immigrants, all with their own story to share. During Immigrant Heritage Month, make a commitment to listen to these stories and learn from your neighbors. Let’s reflect on where we come from and respect all immigrants as we would our own family.

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We Need to Better Connect

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, 23 June 2021
in Wisconsin

broadband-map-northwoodsSen. Jeff Smith provides an update on what’s been happening with broadband expansion efforts during the state budget process.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - While the weather has warmed up, I’ve been able to hold more Stop N’ Talks and meet people throughout the district. During these visits, the question I’m asked most often is “Can’t you just get along?”

At the beginning of this legislative session, I was looking forward to finally getting back to work after a year the legislature seldom met. When this session began, I had high hopes that we had at least one important issue that every legislator seemed to agree on and that we might actually accomplish: broadband expansion.

This past year really illustrated how important it is for every household to be connected. It was encouraging to hear my colleagues on both sides of the aisle talk about the undeniable need to invest in and improve broadband access.

Governor Tony Evers heard Wisconsinites’ calls loud and clear by declaring 2021 the Year of Broadband Access. Governor Evers proposed a historic $200 million investment in his 2021-2023 biennial budget and added an additional $100 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for broadband expansion.

Governor Evers delivered on his commitment to make 2021 the Year of Broadband Access. The application window for broadband expansion grants is currently open for communities and their partners to apply.

Meanwhile, the Republican Majority countered the Governor with a half-baked, deeply-flawed plan earlier this spring before the U.S. Treasury Department issued its guidance on how to use the ARPA money. Despite the problems with their proposal, the silver lining is that Republicans are finally willing to follow the Governor’s lead on broadband expansion.

Just last week, Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) – the legislative budget-writing committee – voted to borrow $125 million to expand broadband. Earlier this year, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that expanding broadband statewide would cost roughly $1.4 billion.

jeff-smithI’m not an accountant, but I know a bad deal when I see one. We could spend $1.4 billion to fully expand broadband in Wisconsin utilizing the $4.4 billion in new revenue we have today. But JFC Republicans decided to borrow, which will cost us $35 million in interest over the course of 20 years according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

To summarize, Republicans want to borrow and pay interest to address what may be the most pressing issue facing Wisconsinites, even though we have the funding immediately available.

So, why borrow? Well, this goes back to funding our public schools. Yes, it’s related. You see, the JFC slashed Governor Evers’ K-12 budget by 90%, thinking they could recoup that loss with federal ARPA funds. Unfortunately, this cut to our schools prevented Wisconsin from meeting a federal standard on state education spending to be eligible for $2.3 billion in additional funding. Republicans couldn’t invest any more state dollars – like $200 million for broadband access – without having to spend more in our classrooms. So, instead of investing our windfall of revenue into broadband expansion and putting a few more dollars in schools, Republicans chose to create more debt. This goes to show the lengths Republicans are willing to go to avoid properly funding our schools. It’s pretty hard to reconcile that and get along.

There was a time when opposing ideas could be worked out for the best outcomes. There was a time when elected officials were more responsive to your real needs rather than their own ideology. After such a difficult year, I, like many, hoped for a chance to work together, but it just isn’t panning out that way.

Internet isn’t the only thing we’re lacking connection on. Elected officials have become so disconnected from the communities they represent – communities who want better schools, better broadband and a better state for future generations. I still believe collaboration is possible, but it’ll take elected officials willing to listen and lead, putting your priorities over party interest.

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How a Surplus Can Help Us Bounce Back

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, 16 June 2021
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_unionSen. Smith shares a budget update and writes about the recent economic forecast, projecting $4.4 billion in new revenue coming into Wisconsin. This surplus gives ample opportunity for state leaders to address immediate needs and build our state up for success.


MADISON - Let’s face it, political philosophies often prevent elected officials from actually getting done what is expected of them. No news there.

Even when a legislator presents a good idea, members of the opposite party feel obligated to oppose it. They’ll find excuses to explain why now isn’t the right time to make the effort like “the state doesn’t have the money right now,” “there are higher priorities” or “we need to study it more.” Did I mention the “we just don’t have the money for it” excuse? That’s always the popular one.

During the budget cycle, when legislators are fussing over funding priorities, partisan excuses are heard on a daily basis. Sometimes it seems like the only reason things don’t get done is because it wasn’t the idea of the people in charge.

Over the last several weeks, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) – the legislative committee tasked with reviewing the state budget – has made sweeping changes to Governor Tony Evers’ initial proposal. The Republican Majority removed BadgerCare expansion (again), marijuana legalization, millions for our K-12 schools, key environmental conservation initiatives and more than 390 other proposals from the governor’s budget. All the usual excuses were uttered as one after another, Republicans couldn’t get themselves to support ideas put forth by Democrats no matter how logical and popular they might be.

Just last week though, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, updated their economic forecast and projected $4.4 billion in new revenue coming into Wisconsin. That’s not a misprint. Over the last 15 months, state leaders expected slower growth, or even a shortfall, because of the pandemic. This would’ve forced many services and projects to be delayed or shelved. But, now here we are with a surplus. Oh, what to do?

There is ample opportunity to address immediate needs and build our state up for success. We could start by investing in infrastructure projects that are so sorely needed, including local road projects and improved broadband access. If someone didn’t understand the need to expand broadband before, the pandemic certainly showed them why broadband access is essential.

We can improve health and public safety by investing in substance abuse and mental health services. Many communities have also requested assistance in order to expand access to police body cameras and provide additional training for law enforcement officers.

It’s possible to invest this surplus to help our public schools. The Republican-led JFC chose to cut 90% from the governor’s budget for K-12 education. They can make up for that now and do even better for our students and families.

This surplus could help modernize Wisconsin’s outdated unemployment insurance system, which is still using computer software from the 1950’s and hardware from the 1970’s. We saw how much trouble the antiquated systems caused for so many Wisconsinites – there’s no reason to say “no” right now.

All of these ideas are investments into Wisconsin. State leaders should act on these ideas today to guarantee Wisconsin remains a state where business owners want to stay and families want to live. Good schools, good roads, connectivity and help when you need it – it’s the return you should expect from your investment.

jeff-smithBut this seems to be a philosophical difference we can’t get past. You see, the Republican Majority immediately thinks they can benefit themselves in their next election by targeting more tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, rather than putting it back into our communities.

It’s interesting how we have this surplus after a year when so much slowed down. As our Fiscal Bureau noted in their report, this unprecedented surplus was possible because of the stimulus packages that targeted relief to working families, seniors and our local economies. This blueprint for success should serve as an example of how we should apply this $4.4 billion in unexpected revenue toward community investments, continuing the momentum to grow our economy and improve our financial security.

Let’s not squander this opportunity. We have a chance to bounce back stronger and build back better, so let’s get politics out of the way and make it happen.

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A Wisconsin Summer Adventure Awaits

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, 09 June 2021
in Wisconsin

door-county_bikingSen. Smith writes about the many ways Wisconsinites can enjoy the outdoors during National Camping month and the summer months beyond.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - We love our beer and cheese in Wisconsin. But Wisconsin is more than beer and cheese. A whole lot more.

Over the last century, Wisconsin has been an escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city life. In the 1920s, the state was literally an escape for gangsters, like John Dillinger, who ran away to Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters. Baby Face Nelson’s hideout was in Lac du Flambeau and the Capone’s family favorite was in Mercer. But you don’t need to be hiding from the law to find great adventure and enjoyment in Wisconsin.

Now is as good a time as any to plan and enjoy your great Wisconsin outdoor adventure. June happens to be National Camping Month to kick off the summer season. With numerous campgrounds spread throughout the state – access to rivers, lakes and parks is unmatched anywhere else – Wisconsin truly is the place to see, enjoy and explore.

Framed by Lake Superior on the northern border, Lake Michigan on the east and the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers on the west, Wisconsin’s freshwater resources highlight Wisconsin’s natural beauty. Between those GREAT lakes and rivers, Wisconsin has 15,074 lakes according to the Department of Natural Resources. There are more than 12,600 rivers and streams meandering along 84,000 miles of terrain. Out of those rushing waters, there are over 2,700 trout streams. For fishing enthusiasts, there’s no better place for the thrill and adventure of the outdoors than here in Wisconsin.

The beauty of Wisconsin can truly be enjoyed along our waterways. For canoe and kayak enthusiasts, it’s always a thrill to explore the caves along the south shores of Lake Superior. One of the longest stretches of free-flowing rivers in the nation is right here in Wisconsin. After the removal of 4 dams, the Baraboo River has 112 miles of free-flowing river that can be traveled by canoe or kayak without ever leaving the water.

It’s no coincidence that some of the most noted environmentalists attached themselves to the beauty of Wisconsin. From First Nation members to more recent environmental conservation leaders, like Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Sigurd Olson and Gaylord Nelson, the natural splendor of Wisconsin inspired them and many others to protect our precious natural resources. Thanks to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program, established in 1989, we continue to preserve and enhance the enjoyment of Wisconsin’s natural treasures. As stewards of our land and water, we must ensure future generations will continue to have the same opportunities we have by making smart investments to preserve Wisconsin’s natural resources.

jeff-smithWisconsin has done a great job of mixing the natural beauty around us with fun recreational activities. From Northern getaways around Hayward, Bayfield and Minocqua to Door County and the Wisconsin Dells, tourists and residents alike have plenty of fun and wondrous choices where to enjoy Wisconsin. Tourism had an economic impact of $22.2 billion in Wisconsin in 2019 and we expect an even greater impact in 2021.

Campgrounds play an important role when it comes to enjoying Wisconsin’s outdoors. Camping isn’t only for those who fish, hike or canoe, either. Summer is also the time for music festivals, fairs and shows. Campgrounds provide that place where folks who share interests interact and extend the fun they had during the day.

Wisconsin’s music fest scene reaches nearly every corner of the state. Summerfest in Milwaukee is the largest music festival in the world. In western Wisconsin, we have Country Jam, Eaux Claires and Blue Ox in Eau Claire, Country Fest and Rock Fest in Cadott, Ashley for the Arts in Arcadia and Blues on the Chippewa in Durand. No matter where you are in Wisconsin, camping options and outdoor activities are never too far away.

During National Camping Month and the summer months beyond, take advantage of all that Wisconsin has to offer. You’ll be amazed by the opportunities and adventure that await.

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