Monday June 24, 2019

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Looking Inward for Juneteenth Day

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 June 2019
in Wisconsin

juneteenth-1900Juneteenth Day, an important date of our country’s history recognizing the official end of slavery as June 19th, 1865, offers us an opportunity to reflect on our history, the progress made and the work that still must be done.


MADISON - Wisconsin is filled with beauty. Sometimes we take our state’s beauty for granted because it’s very apparent all around us. It’s always the less apparent beauty that surprises us and compels us to look deeper in ourselves and appreciate everything around us.

The same is true with people. We see each other, but oftentimes we don’t take the time to meet and get to know others in our own neighborhood and community. We don’t recognize our perceptions of others until we question and reflect on them. For this Juneteenth Day, I hope you will join me by looking inward and recognizing our less-apparent biases.

While the Civil War ended in April 1865, the emancipation of enslaved African Americans didn’t occur until June 19th of that year, when Texas abolished slavery. Every year since 1996, our country has celebrated the official end of slavery as June 19th, 1865. We recognize this important date of our country’s history as “Juneteenth Day.”

Recently I heard something I’ve considered to be true for a long time while watching the show “United Shades of America.” Kamau Bell, the host of the show said, “Whether you think you're biased or not, racism is a part of your life, with or without you knowing it,” in response to an implicit bias test.

Bell revealed he was unfamiliar with the term “implicit bias” until four years ago, when Bell told a friend that he experienced racial prejudice. Bell’s friend told him this interaction stemmed from implicit bias. In this episode, Bell spoke with Dr. John Diamond, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about implicit bias and its connection to systemic racism, specifically in the City of Milwaukee.

Project Implicit, a test Bell took that made him feel uncomfortable, demonstrates most of us can be biased in our thoughts and actions without realizing it. This test looks at what people are thinking before they have a chance to consider the socially responsible answer. Dr. Diamond explains this concept saying, “You don’t have to necessarily dislike people of other races to be affected by [implicit bias].”

jeff-smithWe all have implicit biases. The Ohio State University Kirwan Institute points out how our thoughts, actions and decisions are influenced by these subconscious biases, which can include both favorable and unfavorable automatic assessments of others.

How does this happen?

We’re all influenced by our surroundings; whether it’s from our family members, our community or the entertainment we consume. Oftentimes it can be from stories or rumors we hear. Those influences shape our actions in ways can’t recognize. For instance, you might choose to not stop in certain neighborhoods based on news you saw on TV or a story you heard.

Redlining, the discriminatory practice of refusing to invest in communities of color, is a real thing in Milwaukee. Real estate values, critical community services, access to health care and even grocery stores are impacted by redlining.

It’s clear there is racial bias in our local communities when thinking of redlining. This bias doesn’t stop there. Racial bias plays more of a role than losing opportunity – it can be the loss of freedom.

The criminal justice system has been fueled by generational racial bias and prejudice; one example is the mass incarceration rates in our state. According to UW-Madison’s Racial Disparities Project, Wisconsin has either led or been second in the nation for disproportionately incarcerating African Americans since 1998. African American males comprise 43 percent of the prison population, but only 6.6 percent of the total state population.

Most of us don’t think we encounter racism and most of us are sure we aren’t racist. But, are we biased? It’s clear, after 154 years, our state and our communities still have racial bias.

Juneteenth Day offers us an opportunity to reflect on our history, the progress made and the work that still must be done. This day is a reminder to check our everyday biases. Take the time to learn more about injustices that affect our neighbors and communities. One lesson we can learn from Juneteenth Day is that none of us are free until all are free.

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State Republicans Ask Wisconsinites to "Pay More for Less"

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 Sunday, 16 June 2019
in Wisconsin

family-worried-billsRepublican budget proposal continues to delay road projects, increase health care costs and shift money away from our classrooms and higher education.


MADISON, WI - Following his victory last fall, Governor Tony Evers hit the road to visit communities across Wisconsin. After months of open discussions with community leaders, students, families and seniors, he introduced the People’s Budget to address the issues impacting Wisconsinites every single day.

There was overwhelming support from school administrators, local health clinics and community leaders for the People’s Budget that reinvests in our state. It was the first time in eight years Wisconsinites finally saw a budget vision that put their needs first. Yet, despite the public support, Republicans dismantled it in order to further rig the economy against the middle-class and advance their special interest agenda.

Families and Wisconsin communities deserve better than the scrapped-together Republican budget proposal that continues to delay road projects, increase health care costs and shift money away from our classrooms and higher education.

To reestablish Wisconsin as a leader in K-12 education, the People’s Budget invested a total of $1.4 billion more into local classrooms. Republicans rejected that proposal and cut over $500 million in special education funding from the budget.

jennifer-shillingThe People’s Budget accepted $1.6 billion in federal funds to expand Medicaid and increase affordable health care coverage to 82,000 Wisconsinites while also lowering premiums. Republicans blocked that proposal and rejected money that could be used to address the opioid epidemic, improve access to dental and mental health care, increase funding for nursing home and dementia care specialists, and pushed for a plan that covers fewer people with a higher price tag.

The People’s Budget made historic investments to help communities that are grappling with crumbling roads, potholes and flood damage, which was once again rejected by Republicans.

Gov. Tony Evers’ original budget proposal championed innovative solutions, promoted a fair economy and expanded opportunities for families and communities.

For too long, the progress of our state has been hindered by Republican tax giveaways that leave families paying more for less.

Let’s not settle for the broken Republican status quo. Let’s invest in our state and restore Wisconsin’s reputation as a place where the next generation wants to live, work and raise a family.

Our state, our communities, and our families shouldn’t settle for anything less than the change they voted for last fall.

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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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