Sunday February 23, 2020

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Cutting Taxes by Supporting Schools

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, 19 February 2020
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsSen. Smith writes about Wisconsin’s expected budget surplus and how we can use that to invest in our public schools while providing tax relief to homeowners.


MADISON - Every other January the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), a nonpartisan agency, reviews Wisconsin’s general fund and projects an economic forecast for the state. Recently the LFB reported an expected $450 million surplus by the end of this biennium, on June 30, 2021.The question now is what do we do with that surplus?

Governor Tony Evers has a plan. Two weeks after the LFB released their findings, the Governor called for a special session to invest in our public schools and reduce property taxes. He did this because he knows that what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state. However, Republican leaders rejected Governor Evers’ plan and touted a one-time tax break to property owners in Wisconsin.

Governor Evers’ plan would restore the state’s commitment to fund two-thirds of public education costs, invest more in special education and increase mental health services available for school children. Additionally, it would prioritize funding rural schools through sparsity aid.

Schools in the 31st Senate District would see new investments over $3.9 million in general school aid, $880 thousand in sparsity aid and $2.1 million in special education aid. And these are just part of Governor Evers’ recommendations.

The complete package would also fund special education readiness grants, aid for mental health programs and service grants and tribal language revitalization grants. Altogether, the schools in the 31st Senate District would receive more than $12 million.

Properly supporting our public schools at the state level would decrease the burden on homeowners by not requiring school districts to pass referenda just to keep operating. These much needed, overdue contributions would ensure all students have access to a quality education while fulfilling shared goals to provide tax relief. Residents of the 31st Senate District would see more than $7 million in property tax relief under Governor Evers’ proposal.

If there is a way to satisfy both sides, shouldn’t we at least be open to discussing it? We should lay all ideas out on the table and figure out how to use the best ideas of both sides to work for the better good of Wisconsin. I know it can be done and I know there are legislators on BOTH sides who want to work together.

We need long-term solutions to address the challenges our public schools and rural communities are facing. I don’t think tax credits are a long term answer to any subject we try to tackle, especially not critical issues like education. The other side of the aisle is saying the opposite and adds that the governor’s proposal is not the answer either.

jeff-smithAnd just like the call to work together on other fundamental issues from helping our farmers to gun safety; why does it have to be one or the other? The Governor has one package of bills he would like passed and the Republicans have their own. Once again I ask, “Why does it have to be one or the other?” After all, the most common questions I hear from our constituents is “Why can’t you get along and work together?”

I want to believe there is room to agree because we all care about these issues and can collaborate to find a solution. If government worked as it should, we would lay all proposals down side by side and hash it out. This is a great opportunity to prove to citizens that we can work as a shared governance.

This place in history is the perfect opportunity to restore shared governance as it once was. No, we don’t need to bring back the practice of making decisions in “smoke-filled rooms.” However we may benefit from adapting a collaborative spirit and restoring faith and trust in our elected officials. Now is the time to work for everyone and cut taxes by prioritizing Wisconsin’s future.

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Americans Cannot Allow a King or an Emperor to be in the White House

Posted by Randy Schumann, Madison
Randy Schumann, Madison
Randy Schumann, Madison has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 12 February 2020
in Wisconsin

donald-trumpWhen America consisted of 13 colonies 244 years ago, the colonists enacted a Declaration of Independence and forcibly in a war, got rid of America's first "King" -- England's King George III.


MADISON, WI - In the 3 years since Donald Trump has been President, he has continually violated his Oath of Office to "uphold the Constitution" which establishes 3 co-equal parts of government. The executive branch (President), the legislative branch (Congress), and the judicial branch. But rather than uphold the constitutionally established separation of powers, Trump has unconstitutionally refused to comply with mandated requirements to provide Congress with lawfully subpoenaed documents, and has vilified Federal court decisions that have determined numerous actions and executive orders of Trump to be unconstitutional.

And most recently during Trump's impeachment (non) trial in the Senate, a Trump defense attorney, Alan Dershowitz, argued that whatever Trump does as President, "if it is something he believed would get him elected in the public interest, he could not be impeached for it."

constitutional-conventionThat arrogant argument essentially says that there are no constitutional limits on a President's power, that the powers of Congress under the Constitution are null and void, and as a consequence, Donald Trump is, in effect, a 'King" who is above the law and cannot be called to account by Congress under the Constitution.

Interestingly, a recent article noted that the same inability to separate the personal interests of a leader (such as Trump) from the country he leads (America) has echoes to ancient Rome. Roughly 2,000 years ago, the Roman Senate over a relatively short period of time, abdicated to their "princeps"/ "first among equals" leader, the Senate's oversight powers over the military, their veto authority over legislation, and also granted any Princep immunity from prosecution. Not surprisingly, the result was that what had been a "first among equals" leader became a series of "Emperors" with sole, unquestioned authority over the Senate and the Roman people. Another result was the notion that the identity of the Emperor was inseparable from the identity of the State, such that any disagreement with the Emperor was an attack against the state itself - and thus arguably "treasonous" subject to the death penalty. The final result of Rome and its Senate/government allowing the creation of Emperors was the fall of the Roman empire.

If that description of what happened with the creation of Emperors in Rome 2000 years ago sounds familiar, that is because it also describes Trump's defense attorney Dershowitz's argument referenced above in Trump's Impeachment (non) trial in the Senate.

The bottom line: America forcibly got rid of its first "King" 244 years ago. Americans now need to learn from both Roman history 2000+ years ago, and from our own Revolutionary War, and act in little more than 244 Days to vote out of office and get rid of, a President who sees himself as, and acts as, a King /Emperor in violation of his oath to uphold our Constitution.

 

Randy Schumann
Madison, WI

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Pay Attention Before Your Car is Towed

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 February 2020
in Wisconsin

car-repoRecently, Senate Bill 613, legislation that could devastate the life of someone who relies on their vehicle to drive to work or take their children to school, was quietly introduced under the radar in Madison.


MADISON - Every day, we consume so much new information. While watching TV, reading the local paper or scrolling through social media, we may even feel overwhelmed by all the news available to us.

I start feeling the same way when I think about the legislation introduced this session. There have been more than 800 bills introduced in the Senate, alone. Most likely, you’ve learned about some legislative proposals; however, there are some policies quietly introduced or adopted under the radar that have huge implications for Wisconsinites.

Despite everything that’s going on in our lives and the news everywhere around us, it’s important to pay attention and be aware of the policies affecting our future.

jeff-smithRecently, I joined my colleagues on the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection for a public hearing. Public hearings serve a useful purpose for legislators. Once a bill is introduced, it’s assigned to a committee and the committee Chair can decide whether to hold a public hearing on the proposal. During a public hearing, legislators can learn a lot about the bill, its background and the potential consequences of the policy before taking a vote.

During the recent hearing, we learned about Senate Bill 613, a seemingly simple bill that could have a huge impact on the lives of Wisconsin residents, like in the following scenario.

If a lessee missed payments on a car loan, the lender may employ someone to repossess the vehicle right out of the lessee’s driveway. Of course, the lender has the legal right to do so if the lessee truly missed payments. If the lender believes a lessee missed payments, the lender will send a letter notifying the lessee of the overdue fees.

If the lender hasn’t heard back in 15 days, they may contact a repossessor. The next day, the tow truck pulls up and the driver begins to hook up the vehicle. However, the lessee may not have received the letter, their payment may have come in after the repossession order was made or the lender may have mistakenly given the repossessor the wrong vehicle identification number. The lessee comes outside, insisting the repossessor stops the towing process.

Currently, the lessee has the ability to stop the repossession temporarily through this “breach of peace” until the lender can prove they deserve repossession to a court. Situations like these have the capacity to escalate. The “breach of peace” policy is in place to protect everyone involved and prevent escalation and potential violence.

Senate Bill 613 redefines “breach of peace” which, consequently, weakens the rights of consumers and holds the repossessor harmless from charges even if they took the lessee’s vehicle. During the executive session, I proudly voted against this bill.

The passage of this bill on the Senate floor could be devastating to someone who relies on their vehicle to drive to work or take their children to school, but mistakenly had this vehicle taken. This could cause the individual to miss work and lose pay to support their family, which could continue to snowball causing great harm to the family. Yet, there still would be no repercussions for the lender or repossessor.

This bill is so tilted against the consumer, it’s ironic that the bill was assigned to the Committee tasked to protect consumers. It’s shameful, but unfortunately, not surprising.

Over the last decade, Republicans have turned their back on consumers at the request of an industry. This proposal adds one more weight in the scales of justice against Wisconsin families. The same shift in the scales occurred in the relationship between tenants and landlords, which has greatly contributed to the affordable housing crisis Wisconsin is facing.

As session continues and some proposals move forward to public hearings, I’m committed to protecting families from harmful policies, like Senate Bill 613. Consumers and families working to make ends meet are overdue for attention to their needs. Let’s find solutions for those dealing with debt, rather than doubling down on their despair.

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Connect Wisconsin with Better Broadband

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 February 2020
in Wisconsin

broadband-map-northwoodsLast week, Sen. Smith introduced the “Better Broadband” package, 6 bills to expand broadband and better connect our communities. Today he covers accessing high speed broadband to guarantee rural prosperity for our future.


MADISON - Governor Tony Evers shined a bright light on the urgency of strengthening our rural communities by calling a special session to take up agriculture bills, creating the Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity and establishing the Office of Rural Prosperity. In western Wisconsin, we have an opportunity to step up and continue leading the way.

We should think of rural prosperity as a jigsaw puzzle.  Rural prosperity relies on our agricultural industry, job security, entrepreneurial opportunity, tourism, quality schools, community spaces and more. Each individual piece contributing to rural prosperity has a purpose and need. However, these pieces don’t create an image and illustrate rural prosperity unless all the pieces are connected.

internet-ruralAccess to reliable broadband matters for the many Wisconsinites who want to continue enjoying rural life or for those who want to settle down in a new community. These connections will only strengthen rural prosperity in Wisconsin.  Investments in broadband reliability and connectivity correlate to investments in our rural communities – let’s make it happen.

While there may be plenty of good reasons to live in a metropolitan area, I find it hard to believe that most people who grow up in the beauty of rural Wisconsin wouldn’t continue living here if they had access to a job or entertainment for themselves or their family.

Reliable internet access would help farmers connect to UW-Extension, potential dealers and markets, loan offices, mental health resources and more. Small town businesses must also be able to connect to the rest of the world to compete and offer the same level of services as any large city business.

Every household and business should be connected, period. In this ever changing world of technology, it’s increasingly more possible for employees to work from home and for students to study at home, only IF they’re connected to true high speed internet. We must expand broadband to offer the same opportunities in our rural areas to what’s available in our metropolitan areas.

Last week, I introduced the “Better Broadband” bill package, 6 important bills to connect communities and help our state attain real rural prosperity. The “Better Broadband” package will:

·         Increase funding for broadband expansion grants to $100 million annually in 2020-21, improve broadband mapping and require internet service providers to disclose to the Public Service Commission which properties have service and their minimum average speed.

·         Prioritize grant funding for projects to expand fiber optics to farms.

·         Protect consumers by prohibiting companies from advertising their service as “broadband” unless it’s capable of providing minimum download speeds.

·         Allow a city, village, town, county or the Department of Transportation to require installation of empty conduit lines for future fiber optics expansion.

·         Give municipalities the authority to use broadband expansion grant money for project planning purposes and encourage municipalities to create and expand municipal-owned broadband networks.

·         Require grant recipients to provide broadband speeds that are at least 25 Mbps (megabits per second) while downloading and 3 Mbps while uploading, or the speed set by FCC if higher than 25/3.

jeff-smithThese proposals seem so logical that many may wonder why we’d need to pass legislation for the proposals to go into effect. But, just like routing electrical power into rural America, government leaders have a responsibility to connect all homes, businesses and communities. While private Internet Service Providers are driven by profit margin, government is driven by the public good.

In today’s world, we need high speed broadband to guarantee rural prosperity for our future. Let’s put all our best resources, both private and public, into expanding broadband for Wisconsin. We need to make Wisconsin a state that works for all of us. After all, when rural Wisconsin thrives, all of Wisconsin thrives.

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Economic Growth Not Felt By Everyone

Posted by Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano has not set their biography yet
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on Tuesday, 04 February 2020
in Wisconsin

donald-trump-deficitBe careful when Trump uses the term “the economy”, it all depends who you are talking about and where they live, says northeastern Wisconsin resident.


SHAWANO, WI - “It’s the economy, stupid.” This now infamous phrase has been used to point out how a country is doing financially. Saying that “the economy” in the United States is booming is ignoring what is really going on.

Yes, the unemployment rate is at an historic low. However, that does not take into account the millions of laborers who are “underemployed”. Many are working part-time hours when they are in desperate need of full-time, salaried work. Also existing are a large number of Americans so depressed over their economic situation that they have not applied for a job in a year or longer.

Yes, it looks like the United States has most of its work force employed but since the crash of 2008 seventy-five percent of new jobs pay less than $50,000 a year. Wages might be rising slightly nationally but In Wisconsin a large percentage barely pay above the $7.25 minimum wage, which is one of the lowest in the nation.

Today millions of people fall under the degrading classification of “working poor”. In contrast, the top 1 percent of earners take home eighty-five percent of income.

The unemployment number means nothing. The stock market’s advances mean nothing either.

The richest 10 percent of Americans own 84 percent of stocks. The bottom half of households don’t own stocks. The daily rise and fall of Wall Street has no effect on most Americans. It won’t have very much influence on the waitress at the diner, the family farmer, or the home health care worker helping an elderly diabetic inject his insulin—a drug he could not afford if he were not on Medicare.

For most Americans “The economy” does not exist. What do all the economic forecasts mean for the 58 percent of who have less than $1000 in savings, or the 28 percent who have no savings at all? One misfortune could bring them to bankruptcy.

Whether “the economy” grows by 3 percent of 3.5 percent next quarter will have no relevance in the lives of those who are juggling thousands in credit-card debt and student-loan payments, along with the rising healthcare costs and the expenses of living.

There is no “economy” for most poor and work-class Americans. There is only everyday life. Because they don’t have adequate healthcare, they pray that their children don’t get sick. Unfortunately, paid family leave is not given to low-income wage earners. They pray their car doesn’t break down and they can’t get to work. Job security is fragile in low-income jobs. They pray their landlord does not raise the rent. It is difficult to find affordable housing for families.

When Donald Trump became president, the nation had a major economic recovery going on according to a new study at the Harvard Business School on U.S. competitiveness. Co-author Michael Porter said it could have given us the chance to take some significant resources and devote them to some of our well-known challenges, like infrastructure or health care. But very little of that happened.

The overwhelming majority of business leaders surveyed in the report said lobbying primarily advanced company interests, sometimes at the expense of the public interests. Those surveyed said businesses’ overall engagement worsened the political system by advancing policies that benefited special interests.

Even though candidate Trump promised to reduce the deficit, his 2017 tax cuts and increased government spending have increased the treasury’s deficit which is expected to grow to a trillion dollars this year.

Donald Trump’s massive tax cut only made the wealthy richer. It has proven to be nothing more than a handout for the largest corporations. Companies have given even bigger bonuses to their executives instead of increasing the number of good paying jobs and bringing back jobs which were shipped overseas.

trump-tariffsDue to President Trump’s trade war Wisconsin’s manufacturing sector is in a recession. Companies have had to slow their business growth, putting expansions on hold and laying off workers to ensure their businesses can survive. Some estimates show Trump’s trade war could result in Wisconsin losing 37,344 jobs. The tariffs have cost the state nearly a billion dollars.

Even though we just lived through a seemingly prosperous decade, the bulk of Americans don’t have enough money in their retirement accounts to retire on. Moreover, some people who retired and thought they would live on their fixed income have had to take a job because they found out their income wasn’t enough.

For Wisconsin’s growing elderly population there is a glimmer of hope. Governor Tony Evers has set up a Retirement Security Task Force. It’s not that Wisconsin’s workers don’t want to save, it’s that the have been living under economic conditions that have made saving either impossible or inaccessible. A recent AARP of Wisconsin study revealed that 1 in 7 registered voters have no way to save for retirement at work. The Governor and StateTreasurer Sarah Godlewski believe hard-working individuals deserve to have peace of mind and feel secure when they retire.

When the term “the economy” is being used, be cautious. Using it as a measure of success shows a clear absence of any long-term strategy which lies outside the next election cycle. Focusing on what is happening in people’s real lives makes for a more intelligent conversation. It could also make for a better country.

Jan Koch,
Shawano

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It’s Time to Stand Up for our Agricultural and Rural Communities

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 31 January 2020
in Wisconsin

door-county-peopleState Senator says family farms are Wisconsin’s legacy and makes proposals to better address the real issues that our rural communities are facing.


West Point - The story is starting to become cliché. Wisconsinites overwhelmingly support a proposal that benefits our state, Republican leadership cries “partisanship”, and blocks action until an undetermined future date. We saw this happen with funding to combat homelessness, which still has seven pending proposals awaiting Republican action, and now we are watching this happen with Governor Evers’ call for a special session to help our agricultural and rural communities.

During the State of the State Address, Governor Evers announced that he will be prioritizing Wisconsin’s farmers, and called for a special session to take up proposals to help alleviate the strain on our rural communities. The special session was scheduled for Tuesday, and unfortunately, the day came and passed with no discussion, no debate, and no progress. In fact, Republicans chose instead to ignore our farm crisis and hold a partisan political rally of their own.

Democrats stand ready to take up a plethora of proposals, from passing the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports (WIDE) to providing grants to small dairy processing plants and increasing support for farmer mental health. Unfortunately, Republicans were nowhere to be found. For generations, farmers have served as the backbone for our state, and it is time that we step up and support our agricultural industries and rural communities.

Wisconsin unfortunately leads the nation in farm bankruptcies, with an average of 2 dairy farms closing per day. Whether it is effects of global warming wiping out crops, bad federal policies disrupting trade or slapping on unnecessary tariffs, or massive corporate farms shutting down their competition, each day these challenges stack up and get harder to address. These challenges are outside of the control of Wisconsin farmers, and it will take legislative action to keep our state alive.

jon-erpenbachThe truth is, agricultural diversity is one of Wisconsin’s greatest strengths. That’s one reason why it’s vital we do everything we can to maintain our smaller family farms. Agriculture contributes nearly $105 billion to our state’s economy and thousands of jobs. From vegetables, to cranberries to leading the nation in cheese production, our agricultural industry should not be taken for granted.

Thankfully, Governor Evers did more than call a special session, he also signed an Executive Order to create the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity. The commission is tasked with going out into our communities to listen to the issues that are affecting farmers, the agricultural industry and rural businesses. The commission will create recommendations based on the information they gather and report back to the Governor, so that we can better address the real issues that our rural communities are facing.

Additionally, the Governor announced his plan to work with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to establish the Office of Rural Prosperity. This action will help to ensure that our farmers, agriculture, and rural communities are a part of Wisconsin’s economic development strategy.

Wisconsin depends on our farmers, so this crisis is not their burden to carry alone. It is the food that comes to our tables, the farmer’s markets that bring people together, the businesses that depend on access to locally grown food, and the communities that keep our state afloat. Our farms are Wisconsin’s legacy. The least we can do is show up to the discussion.

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It’s Time to Prioritize Rural Prosperity

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, 29 January 2020
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_farmSen. Smith writes about the SOS Address and the urgency of prioritizing rural prosperity. He shares information about Evers’ three-part plan to support our farmers and invest in our agricultural industries and rural communities.


MADISON - During the State of the State, Governor Tony Evers reflected on the accomplishments made in 2019 and the priorities we must carry out in the year ahead. As we draw closer to the end of this legislative session, we have a stronger sense of urgency to get things done.

Governor Evers showed exemplary leadership and his willingness to tackle the serious issues in our state during his State of the State Address. Along with his effort to create a Fair Maps Commission and Task Force on Student Debt, Evers announced a 3 part plan to address the visible challenges affecting our farmers and rural communities.

Finally, Wisconsin has a leader who values the dedication of our family farmers, recognizes Wisconsin’s role as America’s Dairyland and wants to learn from those who live and work in rural Wisconsin.

The Legislature is wrapping up session too soon. The Majority Party has neglected to hold public hearings or schedule votes on legislation that offer solutions to some of the most pressing issues in our state, including the dairy crisis. Wisconsin lost more than a third of dairy farms in the last decade, losing 800 in 2019 alone. At a time when local, family farms are disappearing rapidly and Wisconsin is leading the nation in farm bankruptcies, we need to take action.

During the State of the State, Evers called for a special session for the Legislature to take up 8 bills to support our farmers and invest in our agricultural industries and rural communities. I’m especially proud of the proposal to create a small farm diversity grant program to help new producers with initial start-up costs, a bill I introduced earlier this session with Rep. Vruwink (D – Milton).

  • In the agriculture special session bill package, Governor Evers also included proposals to:
  • Create the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports to help build Wisconsin’s presence in international dairy markets.
  • Offer more opportunity for dairy processors who want to innovate and become more efficient in their practice through the dairy processor grant program.
  • Expand the Farm Center to assist farmers in financial planning and farm succession.
  • Increase resources and partnership opportunities for farmers through UW Extension.
  • Provide additional mental health services and peer support programming for farmers.
  • Connect farmers to education and training assistance through new grant programs.
  • Promote producer-consumer relationships in local communities through the Farm-to-School program.

The announcement of the special session was not the only productive news Governor Evers shared during the State of the State. As the second part of his agricultural investment plan, Evers announced the creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity.

The Commission will be made up of members of Wisconsin’s rural communities and agricultural industries. Together, members will travel around the state learning about agricultural issues directly from key stakeholders. This experience will qualify them to advise the Governor and Legislature on critical agricultural and rural economic solutions we must make moving forward.

Under the third part of the agricultural investment plan, Governor Evers directed the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to create the Office of Rural Prosperity. This new division within the agency will focus on broadband expansion, accessible healthcare in our rural areas, housing availability and more.

The creation of WEDC initially overlooked the impact of our rural economy, a critical piece of the puzzle. Now we’re really going to be a major player in building the economy like we always knew we were capable of.

The day after the State of the State Address, I had the opportunity to sit down with community members and members of Governor Evers’ cabinet to discuss rural prosperity. I realized these are just the beginning steps toward prioritizing the issues that matter most to our economy and way of life in our rural areas.

Now we need leaders from the Majority Party to step up and prove they understand the urgency of our agricultural industry and farm families. This may be the greatest opportunity yet to demonstrate how shared governance can work. Let’s get to work!

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Fighting for America’s Dairyland

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling lives in La Crosse with her husband and two children. She curr
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on Friday, 24 January 2020
in Wisconsin

farm-familyWe need a meaningful and comprehensive approach to help our farmers and rural communities succeed.


MADISON - When you say ‘Wisconsin’ what is the first thing that comes to mind? For me, I think ‘America’s Dairyland.’ As Wisconsinites, that title is something we take deep pride in, knowing that our state produces the finest milk and cheese in the nation.

It isn’t surprising that Wisconsin produces more than 26 percent of the nation’s cheese and accounts for more than 14 percent of the nation’s milk productions. Between cheese, dairy and vegetables, agriculture contributes almost $105 billion to our state’s economy.

What’s easy to forget is the people whose sweat, hard work, perseverance, and dedication built the foundation of our state pride.

Despite this honorable farming heritage, Wisconsin has been losing dairy farms at an alarming rate – roughly two farms a day – and our state leads the nation in farm bankruptcies. We cannot abandon those generations of families that have dedicated their lives to feeding our families and communities.

jennifer-shillingOur local farm families are the backbone of communities across Wisconsin, but the federal trade war is making it impossible for many to stay afloat. Rather than closing markets and eliminating trade opportunities, we should be supporting our local farmers and helping them compete on a level playing field.

The time for action is now, and Governor Evers is seizing this moment by calling a special session for the legislature to address these challenges head on. The package of bills he announced in his State of the State address aim to do the following: create the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports to help build Wisconsin’s dairy brand in international markets, expand the Farm Center that currently provides no-cost services to farmers, increase staffing at UW Extension to ensure farmers have partners and resources closer to home, and help connect farmers and their produce to local universities, tech colleges, hospitals and businesses through a farm-to-fork program.

Additionally, the Governor wants to expand rural access to broadband services, improve access to affordable health care, and help rural communities harness the technologies, opportunities and jobs of the renewable energy economy.

This is a meaningful and comprehensive approach to help our farmers and rural communities succeed.

By promoting financial security and expanding economic opportunities, we can support Wisconsin’s family farmers and ensure everyone can enjoy healthy, affordable and locally-grown food options.

My Democratic colleagues and I remain committed to working with Gov. Evers to advance these bold solutions and improve the economic security and prosperity of Wisconsin rural communities.

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Healthcare: Surprise! It’s a Bill!

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, 22 January 2020
in Wisconsin

affordablecareSurprise medical billing incidents occur often, and cause major problems for many of us who live within ordinary means. Sen. Smith hopes to establish a meaningful solution.


MADISON - Last week, Governor Tony Evers assigned homework for the Legislature to accomplish in the new year. Governor Evers urged bipartisan cooperation to tackle some of the most pressing issues in our state and create solutions Wisconsinites support to close the dark store loophole, lower insulin costs, protect our water, address homelessness and more.

In his letter, Governor Evers also highlighted an issue that happens far too often, but gets very little attention: surprise medical billing. With only a few more session days left for legislators to debate and vote on legislation, we must prioritize the issues impacting Wisconsinites across the state together to make our state better for all.

Surprise medical billing incidents occur more than you’d think. If you or someone you know hasn’t dealt with surprise medical bills, imagine this: you’re a patient scheduled for a necessary procedure. You know your doctor and the clinic or hospital is in your network, so you don’t think twice about it. Everything goes smoothly, you recover nicely and all is well. But then you get a bill months later, which may be thousands of dollars that you didn’t expect.

It doesn’t make sense because you have insurance and visited the same doctor and clinic you’ve been to in the past. After calling to get answers, you’re told the anesthesiologist was out-of-network and their insurance doesn’t cover that portion of the procedure.

Surprise medical billing causes major problems for people like us who live within ordinary means. Suddenly a family is facing extreme financial stress while considering how to pay for expensive unplanned medical bills.

In fact, something similar happened to me many years ago. When my children were young, I made a skate rink for them in front of our house. One day, I slipped while spraying the last layer of ice. One leg bent unnaturally and caused excruciating pain. After crawling to the house and hoping to recover on my own, I visited my doctor. The doctor insisted I needed an MRI to find out what happened to my knee. Since the machine at my usual clinic was unavailable, I was referred to another clinic for the exam.

Months later, after I had the MRI, I received a shocking bill and learned I would have to pay out-of-pocket because I was sent to another clinic.

jeff-smithI know, personally, the impact of surprise billing and how devastating it can be. When you’re facing an already stressful health emergency, you shouldn’t be expected to worry if a physician is covered by your insurance or any other hidden costs are involved in your care. All a person wants when sick or in pain is to get the help they need and feel better again – paying an expensive medical bill makes it extremely difficult for an individual to recover quickly and comfortably.

Surprise medical billing affects many of us. Policymakers on the state and federal level have been working in search of solutions to prevent these practices. Throughout this session, I’ve worked with Representative Debra Kolste (D – Janesville) and Senator Luther Olsen (R – Ripon) to find a solution for Wisconsinites to relieve the stress and financial burden associated with surprise billing.

We’ve consulted with many stakeholders, including non-partisan policy experts, advocacy groups and graduate students at the UW School of Law and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health to establish a meaningful solution to protect patients from surprise bills. We need to be sure we get this right.

Today, Governor Evers delivers the State of the State address when he will announce the top priorities for 2020 and the remainder of this session. While I listen to his speech, I’ll reflect on all of the constructive policy work we’ve carried out this session and keep considering ways I can work with my colleagues to push substantial healthcare policy proposals forward.

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Good Government Demands Redistricting Reform

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, 15 January 2020
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door-county-peopleSen. Smith writes about measures we can take for fair maps in Wisconsin, including the passage of Senate Bill 288/Assembly Bill 303 and the constitutional amendment he recently introduced.


MADISON, WI - Every new year is an opportunity to reflect on what we can do better moving forward. When the New Year is the first of a new decade we think even bigger. What can we do in this new decade to become the sibling, parent, neighbor, colleague or citizen we’re expected to be?

While being a parent may arguably be the most important role many of us take on, being a good citizen is a close second. You may already say you never miss voting during an election, and that’s a good thing. But can we do better?

As we prepare for the next decade, we must commit ourselves to be the best citizen we can be. There are many opportunities to be a better citizen: participate in the census, call your elected officials and demand nonpartisan redistricting reform. Every day in my role, I work to ensure each vote counts – it’s a responsibility I take seriously, and I hope you do too.

Every ten years, citizens are required to complete the U.S. Census by providing information about themselves for officials to identify demographic shifts in our country. Data collected in a census year is then used to draw legislative districts.

wi-dist-maps-currentRedrawing political lines can be very controversial. Currently, Wisconsin statutes allow legislators to draw their own lines, which can be easily manipulated for political advantage, known as gerrymandering. Consequently, if Wisconsin has uncompetitive maps, legislators are far less likely to make decisions reflecting the will of their constituents.

In 2011, Republican leaders paid a private law firm to draw the lines, according to their specifications. The attorneys forced legislators to sign a document agreeing they wouldn’t disclose how the redistricting occurred.

Advocates challenged this undemocratic process all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Millions of our tax dollars were paid to the law firm that drew the lines and to defend their actions in court. The Supreme Court took no action other than to suggest each state should handle this problem in their own way.

Before this happened, most citizens didn’t pay much attention to legislative redistricting. Now, it’s clear we need a better system to protect our vote.

With the start of a new decade, the Legislature can change the way legislative districts are determined. All we need to do is pass a bill. In October, Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Representative Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa) introduced legislation to create a fair process for nonpartisan redistricting reform.

This legislation makes the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) responsible for re-drawing Wisconsin’s legislative districts. The LRB is the full-time, nonpartisan agency made up of lawyers we already rely on to turn your ideas into law. With no outside political pressure or affiliations, this is the agency perfectly suited to handle this important task. As legislators, we should approve fair maps, not draw favorable maps for our own protection.

jeff-smithSince Senate Bill 288 and Assembly Bill 303 were introduced, the Republican Committee Chairs haven’t held a public hearing. Public hearings allow legislators an opportunity to learn more about an issue and listen to Wisconsinites. In 2009, as the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, I held a public hearing on similar legislation to establish a process for nonpartisan redistricting reform.

This session, it’s important, if not more than in 2009, that legislators in the Majority hold a public hearing to create fair maps. That’s why legislators sent a letter today to the Senate Committee Chair requesting a public hearing. Make sure you know where your legislator stands and advocate for a public hearing.

Last week we also took steps to prevent gerrymandering in future redistricting efforts. I introduced legislation with Representative Hesselbein to create a constitutional amendment for nonpartisan redistricting reform, modeled after SB 288/AB 303.

We can’t move these proposals forward without the support from more legislators. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: contact your elected officials and urge their pledge of support for nonpartisan redistricting reform. While you have your own personal intentions for 2020, let’s all commit to be better citizens to make every vote count and restore trust in government.

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Senator Dave Hansen Announces Retirement

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30 has not set their biography yet
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on Thursday, 09 January 2020
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dave-hansen-jane-gbAfter 40 years of public service, popular local leader, 72, retiring from the State Senate at the end of the current term.


GREEN BAY - After much thought, reflection and discussion with my wife Jane and my family, I have decided not to seek re-election to the State Senate and retire at the conclusion of my current term.

I have been blessed in so many ways: meeting Jane and her agreeing to marry me, the birth of our three daughters Kathy, Cari and Christy; the addition of our three sons-in-law who together with our daughters have further blessed Jane and me with eleven terrific grandkids and also being given the privilege to serve on the Brown County Board and in the Wisconsin State Senate.

I am proud to have led a life of public service for more than forty years. First as a teacher and coach at Annunciation Catholic School in Green Bay, as a truck driver for the city of Green Bay, as a member of the Brown County Board and finally as a state senator. I’ve always tried to do my best and I hope the people I have had the privilege to serve believe I have had their best interests at heart and that I have done well by them.

dave-hansen-jane-victoryOn December 18th I turned 72. And as much as it has become a cliché in politics, I truly am retiring to spend more time with my family. I have no fears about my chances for reelection having survived an attempted recall in 2011 and winning handily in a district that Republicans told me they gerrymandered specifically to defeat me. I believe had I chosen to run again I would win.

But as anyone who knows me will tell you, Jane and my family are the most important people in the world to me and it is important to me that I spend more time with them at this stage of our lives.

dave-hansen-seniorcareI will miss the many friends I have made in the Legislature and state government just as I look forward to continuing the many friendships I have made back home as a state senator. It truly has been a privilege to represent what I consider to be the best place in the world, with the best people, to live and raise a family. It is an honor I will always carry with me.

I will also miss the opportunity being a state senator has given me to meet so many people who I otherwise wouldn’t have and to learn about them, their families, their accomplishments, hopes, dreams and concerns. I have especially enjoyed doing what I can to support our young people by visiting their classrooms, meeting with them during school tours of the Capitol, and helping them celebrate important achievements like attaining Eagle Scout, succeeding in their academic and athletic endeavors and more.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my time in the State Senate, however, after what will be 40 years of public service I am looking forward to January 2021 and beginning a the next chapter in my life with Jane and my family.

To all the people of the 30th District thank you for the honor and privilege to serve you.

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Let's Finish What We Started

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 January 2020
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capitol-crowd-wiSen. Smith writes about issues to prioritize going forward, including Medicaid expansion and gun safety reform. In 2019, we saw a glimpse of what compromise looks like and he's hopeful we can all come to the table to finish what we started.


BRUNSWICK, WI - During this time of year, we’re surrounded by reminders to set goals for the next twelve months and fulfill our New Year’s resolutions. As the weeks pass by, we typically find ourselves falling back into our old habits and routines. Once we slip up, it may seem like our resolutions are hopeless and we push off our goals to next year.

While preparing to head back to Madison, I thought about small, yet realistic intentions to continually motivate me in this New Year. Step by step, I’m hopeful these intentions will guide me to put differences aside and finish what we started in 2019.

To begin, I’m determined to stay away from holding grudges and I’ll encourage others to do the same.

Of course, we won’t suddenly lock arms and sing “Kumbaya.” After all, I wouldn’t expect anyone to turn their back on their own personal values or beliefs. The basic principle of our political system brings two separate parties with at least two ideas to the table to solve any problem. That’s the standard most citizens expect and hope for from their elected officials.

jeff-smithI intend to follow through on this expectation while advocating for policies to support all Wisconsinites. In the last year, I heard from constituents over and over about the necessity and urgency of expanding Medicaid to improve healthcare affordability for Wisconsinites. Medicaid expansion will also save our state more than $300 million to later re-invest back into essential health programs. With 62% of Wisconsinites supporting this proposal, Medicaid expansion must be a top priority.

I’ll continue advocating for commonsense gun safety measures. Last year, my Democratic colleagues introduced legislation to implement universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders to remove firearms from individuals who may be suffering from a mental illness and present a danger to themselves or others. These lifesaving proposals, supported by more than 80% of Wisconsinites, still haven’t moved forward, even though Governor Evers called a special session to debate and vote on the bills.

I intend to find common ground so we can have a civil discussion to find solutions we can agree on. Considering the overwhelming support from Wisconsin residents on these ideas, I hope my colleagues can come to the table and do the right thing.

The effort to gather together isn’t futile – there’s hope for more compromise in 2020. Last year, there were signs that legislators could find themselves in agreement, in principle, on some major issues. I was pleased and surprised to see legislation introduced by Republicans mirroring bills that had previously been introduced by Democrats. The most prominent examples that jumped out included contraception accessibility and medical marijuana legalization.

Earlier in the year, Republicans introduced Senate Bill 286, which would allow pharmacists to sell contraceptives to customers over the age of 18 without a doctor’s prescription. I was impressed to hear one Republican author identify the hurdles that existed for women to access contraceptives as a primary reason for introducing this legislation. This may be one area we can finally break through and have a civil conversation about women’s health and access to birth control.

Recently, two Republican legislators introduced a version of a bill to legalize medical marijuana. Though it was quickly criticized by their own leaders, it gave many hope that the conversation could be resurrected and not take a partisan stance like it’s been in the past. I applaud this effort and others that give us a glimpse at what might be.

In 2020, I will keep fighting for the issues that matter most to Wisconsinites. My Republican colleagues have begun to show they’re capable of recognizing the challenges Wisconsinites face. Now we need them to act on Medicaid expansion and gun safety reform. Let’s all hope that 2020 brings us closer to the type of shared governance that most of us wish for and expect so we can finish what we started.

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Every Conversation Sparks a New Idea

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 January 2020
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tom-sieber-peopleThis week’s column describes how the discussions in western Wisconsin help Sen. Smith craft new legislation to help all of the state. This is the second of three columns detailing reflections from 2019 and what the Senator is looking forward to in 2020.


BRUNSWICK, WI - The past year pushed me to learn and grow as a leader. As I spent time with my family over the holiday season, I reflected on the value of collaboration, a lesson learned in 2019. I thought about all the conversations I had with others, and how accomplishments were possible from the time spent learning from others.

We’ve collaborated with Democrats, Republicans, local leaders, industry experts and others to introduce 24 new bills. However, I don’t use this number as a measuring stick for our progress through the year, it is a reflection of the discussions I’ve had with folks throughout the district.

Every conversation sparks a new idea. The best ideas come from advocates understanding a certain issue or professionals who have expertise in a specific field.

jeff-smithI appreciate hearing from constituents who contact my office directly, but I also want to meet people where they’re at, whether that’s coming home from work or heading to a community event. In the last year, I routinely parked my pickup truck along roads throughout the district and invited folks to “Stop ‘N Talk” about the issues they’re facing or things they’d like to see changed.

After Governor Tony Evers introduced his 2019-21 budget, I held 8 budget town halls from Black River Falls to Ellsworth and Alma to Eau Claire to discuss Wisconsin’s priorities. Folks consistently said they wanted to properly fund our public schools, fix our roads and expand Medicaid, which would provide healthcare coverage to more than 3,000 individuals in counties throughout the 31st Senate District.

As the year progressed, I prioritized meeting with constituents of diverse backgrounds, including farmers, teachers, students, town leaders, county board members, tribal members and many more. These meetings resulted in new ideas, innovative investments and inspired much of the legislation I introduced.

This fall, I had the chance to speak with local farmers on a milk hauler route ride along. The challenges farmers face are just as diverse as the solutions needed to help. These conversations with local farmers provided me with valuable insight for offering new bills to support small family farms, farm succession planning or help with sustainable agricultural practices.

Throughout the year, I visited local school districts, meeting teachers, reading children’s books with elementary students and participating in a high school civics classes. These visits remind me of the valuable role our schools have in preparing children for Wisconsin’s future workforce and ensuring our schools and teachers are well supported. As a result of these visits, I introduced legislation to make it easier for rural school districts to hire trained, qualified teachers by allowing retired teachers come back to the classroom.

In 2019, I also introduced two bills to address Wisconsin’s healthcare workforce shortage. Earlier in the year, I toured Gundersen Tri-County Hospital in Whitehall and learned about the consequences of the nursing shortage and how it affects the quality of care in rural communities.

Over the summer, I joined commuters on City of Eau Claire bus routes to listen to the issues that matter most. This experience motivated me to introduce legislation to recreate the Chippewa Valley Regional Transit Authority.

As Wisconsinites prepared for hunting season, I introduced legislation with my Democratic colleagues to allocate funding for CWD research, testing and carcass disposal sites.

During the gun hunting season, I toured CWD testing kiosks with Senator Schachtner and met hunters and scientists concerned about the growing spread of CWD. These conversations reinforced the need for these preventative measures to stop the spread of CWD and preserve Wisconsin’s hunting heritage.

I’m looking forward to meeting more advocates and introducing new bills to support Wisconsinites in 2020. However, we won’t be able to address the most critical issues or have meaningful accomplishments without non-partisan redistricting reform. Next week, I’ll be writing about my 2020 priorities and the need for fair maps.

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Senator Jeff Smith: Lessons Learned in 2019

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 Thursday, 26 December 2019
in Wisconsin

new-year-happyThe Senator from western Wisconsin shares lessons learned in 2019 and his hope for cooperative shared government. He’ll be writing about 2019 reflections and his hopes for 2020 for the next three weeks.


BRUNSWICK, WI - This time of year offers an important opportunity to reflect and be grateful for the experiences we’ve earned. It’s been an honor serving as your state senator this year. As I returned from my last Madison trip of 2019, I had so much to think about, including the lessons learned, accomplishments made and what to look forward to in 2020.

For the next three weeks, I’ll be writing about my 2019 reflections and what drives me to serve the 31st Senate District. This past year created so many opportunities to learn from advocates, constituents and my legislative colleagues.

When this year began, I knew this would be a year of learning for myself and the entire legislature. After all, this was the first year Wisconsin had shared government since the 2007-2008 session, when Republicans controlled the Assembly, Democrats controlled the Senate and there was a Democratic governor.

I cringe when people call shared government divided government. Democracy is supposed to be messy, it’s supposed to be deliberate. Putting aside our ambitions and doing our part in the democratic process isn’t about division, it’s about finding unity.

In 2018, before officially taking office, I attended a legislative forum with area leaders. During the forum, I explained the reality of the situation: to get a committee hearing scheduled or a bill passed, I’d need support from Republicans, like the senator I was sitting next to. The Republican senator quickly replied, letting me know my help would be needed to prevent their bills from being vetoed. This optimistic conversation gave me hope of a cooperative environment within the Capitol.

jeff-smithHowever, my initial expectations fell far short of what happened this year. Stripping the Governor and Attorney General of power during the Lame Duck Session set a bad precedent and an uncooperative tone. The state senate only met 9 times in 2019, without bringing up important policy proposals, including Medicaid expansion or closing the dark store loophole. Less Senate floor sessions isn’t a bad thing if committees are thoroughly vetting policy and producing quality legislation. But this hasn’t been the case.

This year, I became the Ranking Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Financial Institutions and Revenue, a responsibility I take very seriously.

During the final Committee hearing of the year, we were scheduled to debate and vote on three bills relating to labeling dairy and meat products. These bills stem from farmers’ concerns for consumers not understanding the labeling for plant-based foods and imitation animal products. I understand we aren’t saving lives or farms with such legislation, but it’s something we can agree on that may help famers know we care about protecting Wisconsin’s proud agricultural legacy.

Under these bills, a grocer could be imprisoned if they sell products that are labeled as milk, cheese or meat if they aren’t produced by a mammal or come from an animal. Before we voted on these bills, I introduced amendments to remove the bill’s imprisonment penalty. Typically, in committee, we discuss and vote on the amendments and pass the bills with or without the amendments. Instead of following this procedure, the Republican Committee Chair ruled he wouldn’t even consider a vote on the amendments.

Even a member from his own party spoke against this process. Additionally, Senator Risser, the longest serving legislator in the nation, stated “I can safely say that if it has happened, it is a rare occurrence. The Chairman’s failure to allow deliberation of amendments perverts the very nature of committee meetings, to scrutinize legislation before it is sent to the full Senate for final review.”

This entire session, I’ve tried to say we have shared government to acknowledge the need for bipartisanship, but it feels more like divided government. Despite setbacks in 2019, I will renew my optimism for the good government concept of cooperation in 2020.

I’ve met advocates who have inspired my hope and lifelong endeavor to continue learning. My office has become my classroom where I learn from people of all backgrounds and identities. In next week’s column, I’ll share how conversations with others and lessons learned resulted in accomplishments over the last year.

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It's Cold Outside for Our Furry Friends

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, 18 December 2019
in Wisconsin

dog-winter-snowThe Senator talks about looking out for our vulnerable furry friends. He works with a constituent to learn about unattended tethering,  and introduces legislation to prohibit this harmful practice.


BRUNSWICK, WI - While it’s not officially here yet, the winter season has come to western Wisconsin. Snow has fallen and temperatures have dropped close to zero. During these winter months, my family’s two dogs enjoy exploring the outdoors. But, as the days get even colder, you’ll find the dogs spending more time inside near the wood burning stove in our family room.

Not all animals find winter so enjoyable, especially if they’re unable to warm up indoors. I recently learned the dangers for animals when kept outside for extensive periods of time. Even their furry coats aren’t enough to keep them warm as their body temperatures drop and their paws freeze.

As a legislator, I’ve come to learn the value of an advocate’s voice, while meeting community members and activists, and hearing their stories. These conversations are important reminders to look out for those who are vulnerable, including our furry friends who can’t speak for themselves. Our voices have power – we must speak up to take care of others.

jeff-smithIn 2009, I introduced the Commercial Dog Breeders Licensure Bill, as a State Representative. This bill, enacted by Governor Doyle, created a licensure process and stronger regulations for puppy mills. The passage of 2009 Act 90 was an incredible accomplishment, but I quickly learned the work to protect dogs didn’t stop there.

During the 2018 campaign, I met Becky who previously worked as a rural mail carrier. While on her route, she came across too many dogs who were permanently chained or tethered in a yard. Becky even saw dogs who were chained for such a long time that their collars became embedded into their skin.

She noticed other signs to indicate a dog has been chained for long periods of time. The area around the dog is a hardened dirt patch, and typically, the dog doesn’t have any shelter, if any. Of course, with little-to-no social interaction with others, these dogs become very defensive of their territory, aggressive and can be dangerous to humans. According to the animal welfare advocacy group, UnChain Wisconsin, tethered dogs are nearly three times “more likely to bite, with children almost always being the innocent victim.”

Too many dogs are permanently chained year-round. People often find themselves in unfortunate places in life and don’t know what to do with the dog they adopted. Some owners forget about the responsibilities or a family member loses interest in the pet. Whatever the reason, the dog becomes victim of circumstances brought on by poor judgement. This neglectful practice heightens the risk for entanglement, dehydration, starvation, heatstroke, frostbite, trauma, disease and death.

The United States Department of Agriculture condemned unattended tethering, defining the practice as “inhumane.” Despite their opposition and advocacy against this practice, little has been done to stop it. Many Wisconsin municipalities don’t have ordinances to prevent these abusive practices or they don’t have the resources to enforce it. The responsibility is left to neighbors and friends to intervene, which isn’t always easy or successful.

Throughout the past year, I worked with Becky and others to develop the “Unattended Tethering” bill to prohibit these harmful practices and provide appropriate shelter for dogs. Specifically, the bill will prohibit owners from tethering their dogs during extreme weather or under unsafe conditions, ban tethering to treadmills or training devices and prohibit owners from leaving dogs unattended in a motor vehicle under life-threatening circumstances.

After years of working with dog owners, Becky rescued some dogs from these dangerous circumstances. However, she wanted to advocate for these animals, who have no voice, in a different way. Her experience and advocacy moved this policy proposal forward. During the holiday season, I encourage you to advocate for others, like Becky. Be sure to look out for others who may not be able to advocate for themselves and find a way to use your voice to get involved and to help.

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Next President Should Not Hide Behind Justice Department Policy

Posted by Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert lives in Howard and is a Partner in the Green Bay Progressive. Mem
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on Saturday, 14 December 2019
in Wisconsin

whitehouse-crimals-lkkWe need the Congress to specifically state in law what many of us have always taken for granted - that no one, including the President of the United States, is above the law.


GREEN BAY, WI - Like many patriotic Americans, I believe that no one is above the law, not even the President. However, with the rampant corruption and pending impeachment of Donald Trump, the ambiguity of whether or not a sitting President can be indicted is currently being debated.

Presently, the Constitution is silent on whether a president can face criminal prosecution, the U.S. Supreme Court has not directly addressed the question, and the U.S. Justice Department has a decades-old policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Therefore, criminal charges being brought against Trump, regardless of the severity of his crimes, just aren’t going to happen.

The thought of a criminal residing in the White House sickens me, and I would hope it would be troublesome for everyone. Therefore, in order to keep crooks from occupying 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, in the future, voters must do a better job of vetting Presidential candidates.

In addition, we need the Congress to specifically state in law what many of us have always taken for granted - that no one, including the President of the United States, is above the law or has the right to obstruct justice by ignoring a lawful subpoena in an effort to cover his/her crimes. Every American deserves to be assured of this fundamental principle of our government.

I would hope that all candidates for President will show he/she will follow the law and has no crimes to hide by supporting such a clarification in law.

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Wisconsin Democrats Introduce Bills to Protect Property Taxpayers

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Thursday, 12 December 2019
in Wisconsin

school-bus-kidsLegislation attempts to reverse the increasing bill for the costly school choice and voucher programs at the expense of public schools.


MADISON - Property taxpayers have a hidden cost on their bills this month. According to the Department of Public Instruction, this hidden fee will cost the 27th Senate District $3.1 million, and upwards of $95.6 million statewide. If left unchecked, this fee – voucher schools – will increase year after year without oversight or authority.

This week Democrats introduced legislation to give the power back to taxpayers, instead of making them blindly foot the increasing bill for the costly school choice and voucher programs at the expense of public schools. Representative Sondy Pope (D-Mt.Horeb), Representative Dave Considine (D-Baraboo), and I introduced legislation to freeze the number of participants in the 3 main voucher programs and require teachers in the voucher programs to be licensed. Additionally, our bills will limit the voucher to lesser of the current payment or the school district’s general aid per student, and limit voucher payments to no more than tuition charged. Additionally, Senator Janet Bewley (D-Mason) introduced legislation to require a referendum before a district faces increased property taxes from vouchers taking away aid.

These proposals would ensure that property taxpayers don’t lose more to voucher operations than they would receive in state general aid per student, would ensure that voucher operations don’t take in more from taxpayers than they would have received in tuition, and would give the power back to taxpayers to decide how their tax dollars are spent.

school-meeting-crowdThis is not the first time that Democrats attempted to increase transparency and accountability this year. In Governor Evers’ budget proposal, he included several of the same proposals that we have reintroduced today. However, Republicans on the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) removed all provisions aimed at increasing the standards of voucher programs on their first vote.

Voucher school operators, on average, takes $2,618 more per student than the general aid a public school district receives. In 97% of districts statewide, property taxpayers would pay more per student to voucher schools than for their public schools, and although general aid is designed to limit the cost of public schools to property taxpayers, homeowners are on the hook for their increased taxpayer contributions to voucher programs.

Additionally, many private schools in the voucher programs charge significantly less in tuition than the voucher payments. In those cases, private schools make more from school district property taxpayers than they would have received in tuition. Choice schools often funnel these tax dollars to statewide lobby organizations that are designed to demand more from taxpayers without oversight. In other words, these voucher schools are draining resources from public schools, while profiting at property taxpayers’ expense.

Our public schools are already tragically underfunded, and taxpayers are forced to raise their own taxes through referendums in order to keep their doors open. Taxpayers deserve full transparency when it comes to the unreliable voucher programs, and the legislation that we introduced this week is a step in the right direction.

As avid supporters of public education, we are proud to work alongside our Democratic colleagues to fight back against the bad policies and burdens that taxpayers have to endure under Republican leadership. These bills are common-sense proposals that allow property taxpayers to choose whether or not they shell out hundreds of millions of dollars without oversight or authority.

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What Will It Take to Close Lincoln Hills?

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, 11 December 2019
in Wisconsin

lincohn-hills-youth-prisonWe must close Lincoln Hills and take steps to reduce recidivism in Wisconsin. If we don’t invest in the rehabilitation of our youth, we will continue to see institutional racism in our corrections system.


IRMA, WI - Within the last decade, Lincoln Hills has reached a state of crisis. New reports emerged this fall, citing the violence taking place at this youth detention facility. This revelation reminds us that nothing yet has happened to resolve the serious issues in Wisconsin’s youth prisons.

Lincoln Hills, located in Irma, opened in 1970 for male youth offenders. While most of us live far from Lincoln Hills, and few people know individuals housed at the facility, we should all be concerned about the future of these young men.

The way Wisconsin handles youth offenders directly affects whether they end up on a lifetime path within our justice system. We should all want a system that provides a safe space and promotes practices to reduce the rate of recidivism once these young men are released.

After high profile incidents, criminal complaints, civil lawsuits and a federal investigation, officials determined Lincoln Hills needed to shut down. During the 2017-18 session, the State Legislature passed Act 185, to restructure the state’s juvenile correctional system. This legislation was an attempt to fix, what appeared to be, a broken system.

Act 185 will convert Lincoln Hills from a youth facility to an adult correctional institution by establishing Type 1 facilities for serious juvenile offenders and establishing Secured Residential Care Centers (SRCCs) around the state.

Officials needed new facilities for the young adults, currently at Lincoln Hills, to reach their goal of closing this facility. Act 185 appropriated $25 million for the construction of Type 1 facilities for serious offenders under the age of 17 who were convicted of class A or B felonies, including homicide, sexual assault or armed robbery.

Act 185 also appropriated $40 million to build multiple SRCCs around the state. The Department of Corrections (DOC) invited counties to apply for a grant from the $40 million budgeted for this project. I was disappointed when the March grant application deadline passed and the only counties interested were Milwaukee, Racine, Dane and Brown.

After having conversations with DOC officials, I learned that counties are reluctant to apply for the grant because it only covers construction, and they fear the constraints placed on their budgets wouldn’t allow them the resources needed to run the facilities. Thus, the goal of having youth facilities closer to families may not be met.

It does make some sense that counties in Southern Wisconsin would jump on the opportunity to bring their youth back home. After all, 60% of the youth currently at Lincoln Hills are from Milwaukee County.

Something is very wrong with Wisconsin incarcerating disproportionate amounts of African Americans compared to our total population. According to Youth Justice Milwaukee, 70% of the youth in Lincoln Hills are African American, despite comprising only 10% of Wisconsin’s total youth population.

This trend in our youth facilities is seen on a larger scale in Wisconsin’s adult correctional system too. Wisconsin incarcerates African-American men at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country. According to the State Bar of Wisconsin, 43% of males incarcerated in our state are African-American. Wisconsin’s total African-American population is only 6.6%, indicating another example of the racial inequalities in the state.

jeff-smithIf we don’t invest in the rehabilitation of our youth, we will continue to see institutional racism in our corrections system. Keeping young offenders close to home is a good first step on the path of reducing recidivism.

The DOC has done everything they can to help counties apply. This year the Legislature passed a bill, signed into law by Governor Evers, to double the amount of funding. We also extended the deadline for closure of Lincoln Hills to allow counties more time to get the SRCCs built and running.

But still nothing is happening. The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee, has refused to meet and vote on the funding. Political games are continuing while time is running out to prevent violence in Wisconsin’s youth prisons. What else will it take?

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Homeless Wisconsinites Left out in the Cold by GOP

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 06 December 2019
in Wisconsin

homelessState Republican “A Hand for the Homeless” package just another stall tactic says Erpenbach.


WEST POINT - In Governor Evers’ budget proposal, he included funding to combat homelessness in Wisconsin. The funding was based on recommendations from an Interagency Council on Homelessness that was created in 2017. The recommendations were drawn from the council’s “A Hand and a Home: Foundations for Success,” an action plan that asked for $3.75 million annually to prevent and decrease homelessness in Wisconsin. Additionally, in February 2019, Republicans introduced a series of eight bills that had the same goals – the “A Hand for the Homeless” package. With both sides of the aisle working on the issue, there was hope that, before winter hit Wisconsin, the state would release funding and get to work on this pressing issue.

While all the funding was approved in the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) for the purpose of combatting homelessness, Republicans opted to hold the money in their supplemental appropriation fund, instead of releasing the dollars to the agencies charged with implementing the programs. Governor Evers included a detailed list of the programs that the funds would be used for, including increases for the Homeless Prevention Program, State Shelter Subsidy Grants, the Housing Assistance Program, and the creation of grants for Housing Navigation, etc. Yet, Republicans held back the funds, waiting instead for their own package of bills to be signed into law. Once again choosing partisanship over the good of Wisconsin.

This legislation passed unanimously in both Senate and Assembly committees and before the full Assembly, but despite Democratic effort, Republicans blocked the bills in the Senate, and adjourned until January 2020.

On July 15, 2019 the Department of Administration (DOA) requested the release of the funds passed in the budget and several months later they have not received a response. Despite the funding already being designated for this purpose, Republicans are forcing our most vulnerable to needlessly wait while they leave for their holiday vacations.

jon-erpenbachGovernor Evers sent a letter to the Republican JFC Co-Chairs, Senator Alberta Darling and Representative John Nygren, to release the funds on November 14, 2019, and JFC Democrats followed the call by requesting that the JFC convene to release the funding. Still, Republicans have stayed silent on the once bipartisan issue.

Those who are facing homelessness should not have to wait through the freezing Wisconsin winter months for Republicans to decide to do their job. There is support on both sides of the aisle for the legislation that was introduced by Republican Assembly members, yet Senate Republicans refuse to address this crucial issue.

Wisconsinites are sick of the constant political games. This is just another example of Republicans using tactics to stall progress in our state. Releasing the funds that the JFC is holding to combat homelessness should not be a partisan issue, and, with the funds already being slated for this purpose, the cost should not be preventing the programs from being executed.

Republicans have come out in support of these proposals. Democrats have pushed for the bills to be taken up in the Senate. Governor Evers has advocated for the funds. What is holding Senate Republicans back from taking the vote to help those in need?

There are only a few weeks left this year, and the legislature has yet to take up some of the most important issues to Wisconsinites. Wisconsinites expect more from their elected officials than to “play goalie” to issues that would have enormous positive impacts on our communities.

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The Ho-Chunk Code Talkers: Honoring Native American History

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, 04 December 2019
in Wisconsin

wwii-code-talkersNative American Heritage Month is an important time to remind ourselves of our country’s past, the role of the World War II Ho-Chunk Code Talkers, and honor Native Americans’ contributions to our country.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Since 1990, our country has recognized November as Native American Heritage Month. This commemorative month provides an opportunity to remember Native Americans’ roles in our country’s history and appreciate their cultural contributions. This should be a time for us to look deeper into our history and the contributions of all Americans.

Native American Heritage Month is an important time to remind ourselves of our country’s cruel past and violence towards Tribal Nations. During this month, we also honor Native Americans’ remarkable contributions to our country, including the World War II code talkers. The code talkers’ service is an example to the fortitude and social fabric within Native American tribes. Their role in World War II tells the story of American endurance, collaboration and the importance of sharing our strengths and skills.

ho-chunk-code-talkers-medalsHistory is often re-written by those with privilege to remove disturbing, violent accounts. We grew up learning of the Thanksgiving story and the “friendly” relationship between early settlers and the Indigenous people. This story disregards our country’s troubled past, while also ignoring the important role Native Americans have had in American history.

Our country has a complex, painful history regarding the treatment of Native Americans. Despite attempts to help European settlers when they first arrived, Native Americans were forcibly removed from their land, introduced to deadly diseases and became victims of mass genocide. For many decades, even as late as the 1950s, white Americans suppressed members of the Tribal Nations, forcibly placing children in boarding schools and promoting assimilation policies in an attempt to destroy their culture.

Many Native Americans still held onto their native languages, despite this traumatic history and the attempts to strip them of their heritage. During the World Wars of the twentieth century, members from Tribal Nations were willing to enlist and fight for the same values that other soldiers believed in. As Native American members joined the military, they realized their ability to speak another language would make it difficult for enemies to interpret intercepted messages. These enlisted members of Native American tribes became known as code talkers.

Although Native Americans were enlisted for this important duty, they still faced challenges working predominately with English-speaking soldiers.

jeff-smithI heard a story about an enlisted Ho-Chunk Code Talker, selected for this role because he could speak his native language. He began his assignment in the radio room waiting for a message with a commanding officer. When a message arrived, the code talker couldn’t understand the sender’s message. The officer was puzzled and demanded to know why he told them he could speak his native language but then couldn’t understand this message. He replied that he is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the sender was speaking Navajo. This anecdote reminds us of the presumptions we may have of others, but the importance of learning from others’ backgrounds.

As a nation of many cultures, religions and ethnicities, we should celebrate the code talkers’ legacy and their contribution to our country’s history. With this in mind, I recently introduced legislation to designate a stretch of Interstate 90 from La Crosse to Tomah in honor the

Ho-Chunk code talkers for their instrumental role protecting our values of freedom and democracy.

This bipartisan proposal is one small measure to honor Native Americans in our state, but we must do better to educate ourselves of these vital roles 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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