Tuesday November 12, 2019

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Wisconsin Farms in Crisis

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 June 2019
in Wisconsin

farm-familySen. Smith writes about the challenges facing our local farmers, their hard work and commitment, and the important role they play in our communities.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - You rarely hear complaints from farmers about their job because they love what they do, but you will hear an earful about the weather, milk prices and the occasional tractor breakdown. June is dairy month and there’s no better time to recognize the work dairy farmers do and the challenges they face.

Farmers need to be expert mechanics, scientists, business owners and creative geniuses to make a farm thrive. Factors beyond their control make even the smartest or the hardest working farmers face bankruptcy.

Farmers have seen glorious and terrible times throughout our history. In the 1930s, many farmers lost it all when the soil they relied on was literally blown away. In the 1980s, banks held auctions on farms they re-possessed after numerous farm bankruptcies.

Wisconsin farmers find themselves in desperate times. Much has been written about the plight of our farms, especially our dairy farms. We’ve lost dairy farms at an alarming rate – we are losing nearly two farms each day. Farm families deserve better.

My friend Mike told me a story about growing up on their farm in the 1980s. It was a difficult time and the neighboring farm family found the father hanged in their barn – he chose suicide instead of seeing everything he worked for in life come crashing down.

Soon after that horrible discovery, and a major rain event, Mike’s father got his tractor stuck in the mud right before the harvest. The son of the deceased farmer came to help Mike’s family farm. They got the tractor out of the mud and the crops harvested, but sadly, the family of the deceased farmer had to give up their farm. Even in terrible despair and grief, one farmer came to the rescue of another.

Farmer suicide is at an all-time high in Wisconsin. I’ve heard from farmers who found themselves at the brink but were talked out of taking that final terrible act. Counseling can help. The weight of mental strain on farmers struggling is incredibly difficult to bear due to the pride they take in their work and the consequences of each big decision. If we know a farmer struggling to make ends meet, we all need to offer support.

Understanding how we arrived at this crisis is just as complicated as the solutions to overcome it. Climate change has caused dramatic weather patterns. Farmers need to know impossible answers to important questions. Will it be a wet spring like this year? Will we experience a drought? Will the fall harvest be delayed? Even with the help of modern science, unpredictable weather causes major problems for farmers.

Low market prices is another factor out of a farmer’s control. Family farms can’t make a profit due to the overproduction by factory farms, the greater dependence on foreign markets and global tariffs. Federal rules and market boards make determinations that can make or break local farms. Despite how well the herd or crops are maintained, family farms are influenced by choices made thousands of miles away.

jeff-smithWe’ve all heard comments that make us wonder where our compassion has gone. Comments like “farmers deserve what they get” because of how they voted in the last election. Or, “farmers need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” If we hear comments like this, we all need to correct it and show compassion to our farmers for the jobs they do.

No matter the cause of the crisis, nobody deserves what our farmers are going through. NOBODY! With farmer suicide at an all-time high and the rapid rate of family farm closures, we need solutions, not someone to blame. As we work together to find these solutions, we must continue to hold onto compassion at a time when our farmers need it the most.

June is Dairy month. Visit a dairy breakfast and learn more about the important role farmers play in our communities. A complete list of Wisconsin dairy breakfasts can be found at https://hooraywisconsindairy.com. Most of all, take time to listen to your local farmers and understand their hard earned pride.

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Sen. Smith: “Health, Science and Wisconsin”

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 June 2019
in Wisconsin

uwec-campusSen. Jeff Smith writes about the unique partnership between the Mayo Clinic and UW-Eau Claire that could make it “the center for rural healthcare in Wisconsin.”


MADISON, WI - Dr. Tim Nelson of Mayo Clinic walked the halls of the Wisconsin State Capitol along with UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt. They visited 11 offices in a marathon day of lobbying for UWEC’s new science and health sciences building project in the current budget.

We all know how important health care access is to keep people healthy. Rural communities in Wisconsin are especially difficult to serve. Critical care hospitals in small cities throughout Wisconsin struggle to keep doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Clinics can be a long drive for many and out of reach for others. And that’s if economic circumstances allow for families in rural areas to afford a healthcare plan.

While Medicaid expansion has been the biggest focus of the budget process so far, it wasn’t what Dr. Nelson and Chancellor Schmidt were talking to legislators about. In Dr. Nelson’s words, Mayo Clinic wants to “make Eau Claire the center for rural healthcare in Wisconsin.” You see, Dr. Nelson and Chancellor Schmidt are collaborating on a project that could make Wisconsin a leader for rural healthcare research.

healthcareMayo Clinic is a unique healthcare system – their mission is symbolized by three shields representing patient care, education and research. Mayo Clinic already provides top-notch patient care in Eau Claire. In 2017, Mayo Clinic and UW-Eau Claire entered into a master collaborative research agreement, making UWEC one of only two undergraduate campuses in the United States with access to Mayo Clinic’s incredible resources.

UWEC is seeking to replace their aged and inefficient science building on campus. Phillips Science Hall was built nearly 60 years ago. The building costs $500,000 per year to maintain and accounts for 34% of all UWEC’s unscheduled maintenance costs. With single pane windows, over 20 air exchangers, leaking pipes and inadequate spaces for equipment in the 21st Century, this building has outlived the needs of more than 5,500 students who pass through its halls every year.

The UW System is an economic engine for our state because of the unique focuses and experiences in which they specialize. We need to support funding priorities that ensure these campuses have the facilities they need. UWEC’s project has a broader purpose and creates a new blueprint for all other UW schools to follow by creating innovative partnerships, like their commitment to advancing health care research with Mayo Clinic. This is an excellent investment for us to make in our state.

World renowned Mayo Clinic Health System is based just over the river in Rochester, Minnesota. They recognize if they are to meet their own three-shield mission of providing cutting edge scientific methods for solving our healthcare needs they need a research facility and new students to learn modern methods.

Mayo Clinic Health System’s footprint goes beyond Eau Claire. They employ 8,400 people in 19 communities spread across western Wisconsin. With all that in mind, Mayo Clinic pledged a $13.7 million goal to help pay for the new health and health services building at UWEC. This is the largest private donation for a UW academic building outside of Madison and Milwaukee in our state’s history. They see an opportunity to invest in Wisconsin and turn the UWEC science building into something even more special that can ultimately have worldwide healthcare implications.

jeff-smithExciting, right? Groundbreaking healthcare research in the heart of rural Wisconsin and a huge economic boost for Wisconsin, beyond the $2.2 billion impact we already see from Mayo Clinic. But we could lose our opportunity.

Back in April, a tie vote resulted in no projects being approved by the State Building Commission for the first time in Wisconsin state history. Politics has clearly reared its ugly head and put many important decisions at risk, but this one can’t wait for the grandstanding to end. We can’t afford to sit and let this opportunity with Mayo Clinic pass us by because of political games.

If we don’t put political egos aside and approve this project, we could miss our chance to make Wisconsin the epicenter of medical research for rural healthcare. We are truly grateful for this opportunity offered by a world health leader and we cannot afford to miss it. Please call your legislators and tell them, we can make this a great victory for Wisconsin in 2019.

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State Legislature: "Politics or the People’s Priorities?"

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 Monday, 03 June 2019
in Wisconsin

wisc-capitol-domeMADISON - My role representing the 31st Senate District didn’t just start when I was sworn into office on January 7th this year. It began last year when I started talking to voters in the 31st Senate District. I heard over and over from voters that they want lawmakers to work together to support our rural schools and fix our roads.

The people’s budget presented by Governor Tony Evers provided a $1.4 billion increase for k-12 education. The Governor’s plan included sparsity aid for rural districts and a start for restoring dramatic cuts made in the past eight years. Just last week, the Republican Joint Finance Committee members cut the Governor’s education plan and replaced it with barely one-third of what was requested. Legislative leaders appear to have not heard the people’s priorities.

Every single superintendent I talked to said special education is the greatest need for our public schools. Governor Evers included $600 million to help with special education. Republicans only added $50 million – this is an 83% cut from what the Governor proposed. Do we need to raise the volume of our voices?

Public schools aren’t the only ones struggling. Towns and other municipalities have struggled for years to keep up with road repairs, and some have resorted to grinding up their roads to go back to gravel. The restrictions on raising revenue along with the flat level of road aids and shared revenue have left towns in dire straits.

On top of inadequate road aids, towns are also punished for sending late spending reports to the state after the May 15th deadline. Towns lose 1% of their road aids per day after the May 15th deadline, and up to 10% of their total aid lost! When you consider that town clerks take office the first week of May without support staff, they may not be aware of important deadlines. It happens more often than you’d think. A 1% penalty may not seem like a big number, but small towns with road aid payments around $100,000 can lose up to $10,000 of an already sparse aid payment.

jeff-smithThat’s why, after hearing about a $6,300 penalty for a town in Pierce County, I partnered with my Republican Assembly colleague Joan Ballweg from Green Lake County to introduce Senate Bill 167/Assembly Bill 184. Our bipartisan bill lowers the penalty for towns to only $100 per day. It’s the least we can do until our leaders make the people’s priorities their own priorities.

Recently a local official asked me why we were taking votes on paddle wheel games (yes, we did that) when all she hears are complaints about roads. She wondered if all legislators were hearing the same concerns and why would we be ignoring the people’s priorities?

Citizens may not have the direct power to choose what bills we debate, but that doesn’t mean our legislative leaders shouldn’t be asked why. Better yet, we should inquire as to how many citizens have been asking for us to loosen restrictions on paddlewheels rather than helping towns repair our roads.

Of course, there are always other critical issues like the dairy crisis, addiction epidemic, health care worker shortage, clean water, medical marijuana and countless others. The common thread among all of these issues is why we can’t work together to solve these serious problems.

If we buckle down and start working on the people’s priorities, Republicans and Democrats could find the common ground to get things done. We could accomplish great things for Wisconsin if we can put the politics aside and do what people sent us to Madison to do. Raise the volume!

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We Are All One Wisconsin

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, 22 May 2019
in Wisconsin

affordablecareState Senator writes about the issues that bring people together. It’s important that we don’t let politics get in the way of doing what’s right.


MADISON, WI - This past week, I met with several healthcare leaders from around the state. Dentists, dental hygienists, physicians, nurses, social workers and others discussed a whole gamut of healthcare topics.

Each professional was unique, but the message was the same – we need Medicaid expansion. It’s been a long eight years for our health care professionals while they watched 37 other states fully expand Medicaid. It should be no surprise that taking back our money from the federal government was their number one request.

We need to listen to the professionals’ recommendations. Let’s set aside the partisanship and expand Medicaid. Playground politics is a dangerous game when it prevents people getting the care they need.

Wisconsin has lost $1.6 billion since 2009 because we haven’t accepted full Medicaid expansion. Wisconsin spends $3.5 billion on Medicaid annually. Wisconsin would dramatically decrease the amount we spend on health care by expanding Medicaid. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, before Minnesota expanded Medicaid in 2013, they typically spent $4.9 billion. Now Minnesota only spends $61 million because they took the expansion.

We all face health challenges at some point in our lives. We’ll need to access oral healthcare, address an addiction in the family or find long-term care for a loved one or ourselves as we age. That’s why, according to a recent Marquette Law School poll, 70% of Wisconsinites support Medicaid expansion. Some issues are so paramount they surpass partisanship. Medicaid expansion is one of them.

clean-drinking-waterAnother issue that brings people together is water. We have never been so divided politically, but important issues like water unite all of us. Neighbors and strangers stand together for clean water, despite the choice of political yard signs. We’ve seen enough “divide and conquer” politics. It gives me hope to see people unite around important issues like keeping our water clean.

school-kidsThe same goes for our public schools – citizens of all political stripes work together to support local schools. When restrictions like revenue limits undermine our school districts, citizen groups often campaign for referenda to fill gaps in school funding and meet the needs of our students. Seeing neighbors and strangers with potentially contradicting political views accomplish shared goals give me hope there is a chance to do what’s right.

Communities hit with natural disasters also see an incredible effort to work together. Disasters such as spring floods bring hundreds of people together to protect everyone’s homes and businesses. Strangers are willing to step up, fill sandbags and provide comfort. It’s in these life-or-death situations we find ourselves standing shoulder-to-shoulder working for what truly matters. In other words, when faced with shared challenges, we have shared values.

Medicaid expansion is another chance for neighbors and strangers to pull together right now to do what’s best for everyone. It may not be your contaminated well water, your school district’s referendum, your house in the floodplain or your child without health care. But we are one community. We care about one another.

jeff-smithMaking the right choices doesn’t have to depend on political affiliation. After all, everyone pays taxes. Each tax dollar isn’t put into separate pots for Republicans, Democrats or Independents. The money we paid into federal and state programs belong to all of us. We can’t let politics get in the way for doing what’s right.

Contact your legislators today. Call the members on the Joint Finance Committee, who are reviewing the budget and making crucial decisions that will affect each of us. Tell them to stop prioritizing their own political ambitions and jeopardizing health care access. Demand we come together to accept our Medicaid expansion money now.

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Your Government: Knowledge is Power

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, 15 May 2019
in Wisconsin

capitol-night-wiscThe powerful keep the powerless from knowing the truth. When we see injustice and the spread of misinformation, we need to stand up to it.


MADISON - How many times have you heard the expression, “Knowledge is Power?” I heard it from an unexpected source last week during one of our public hearings in the Senate Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection Committee.

Who could disagree with the statement that knowledge is power? In fact, when someone used that line representing the conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, I thought it might be an opportunity to find agreement. The person testified in favor of a bill (Senate Bill 179) to force gas stations to post a sticker on each gas pump stating the tax being charged per gallon.

I asked the woman testifying if she also supported transparency regarding Governor Evers’ budget provision to post on each homeowner’s property tax bill the amount of tax money used for voucher schools. It seemed the perfect time to ask if we could agree that taxpayers should also have the knowledge so they can have the power. The woman refused to answer my question. Knowledge shouldn’t be limited because “limited knowledge is limited power.”

The same week Republicans said “no” to Medicaid expansion, they sent a flurry of anti-choice bills through committees. Senate Bill 174, called “A Woman’s Right to Know” also received a public hearing in our committee. Doctors are supposed to know the facts and patients trust their recommendations because they are based on years of medical knowledge and expertise.

SB 174 forces a doctor to inform a woman she may be able to reverse the process after taking a drug to chemically induce an abortion (despite lack of scientific evidence). So, I guess, it’s really just a woman’s right to know rhetoric rather than what is right. This would be “Wrong Knowledge is Wrong Power.”

jfcphotoWhat most people may want to know is that while Republicans were removing Medicaid Expansion from the budget they were passing bills to misinform women about important healthcare decisions. Here are the facts. Wisconsin has an opportunity to save $324.5 million, provide healthcare for 82,000 more residents and lower health insurance premiums for people with private insurance by 7-11% if we expand Medicaid. It’s a no-brainer. It all comes down to whether we put people before politics.

REAL knowledge IS real power. If we’re going to follow that philosophy, then we should be honest and consistent. If we really believe in knowledge and how citizens should be empowered, we should be forthright about our intentions behind our actions.

jeff-smithIt takes trust. Trust between legislators and the public. We can’t build trust when the information provided is not complete or is outright wrong.

Knowledge happens from firsthand experience, fact-based information and trustworthy sources. One or all of those things need to happen if knowledge is transformed into power. Then there is the power side of the equation. What sort of power? Where is the power applied? How is the power applied? That’s when things can get really sticky. Power can corrupt, and if power is the goal then the knowledge can also be corrupted to attain that power.

Too many times we’ve seen the powerful keep the powerless from knowing the truth. The facts are there for those that want to learn, but it takes effort on everyone’s part. In my office, one of my staff members has a quote from Edmund Burke near her desk that says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” When we see injustice and the spread of misinformation, we need to stand up to it. That is the true purpose of the “power” behind the statement knowledge is power.

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