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The People’s Maps Commission: By the People and For the People

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 July 2020
in Wisconsin

voting-2020-538The People’s Maps Commission has an important role in re-drawing Wisconsin’s electoral maps and fixing our broken partisan gerrymandering system. State residents have until July 31st to apply to be a member.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - When representatives of the original colonies gathered to determine the formation of the United States they took the bold step of putting the trust in the hands of its citizens, establishing the United States as a Democratic Republic.

From an early age, we learn the importance of the right to vote and our responsibility to participate in democracy as American citizens. After all, democracy can only happen when people choose their elected officials at every governing level, from the town hall to the U.S. Capitol.

Yet, as with all nations throughout history, the thirst for power overcomes the core belief behind the original intent. Once elected into office to serve the people, many politicians want all the power they can grab and do all they can to protect their power. This is why we must have the People’s Maps Commission to uphold the principles of a Democratic Republic, in which our country was founded on.

scott-walker-signs-voteridThroughout our country’s history, people in power have politically disenfranchised marginalized communities in obvious ways, such as misleading voters on issues or passing laws that make it difficult or impossible for some citizens to vote.  People who have historically been deprived this right have the greatest understanding how valuable the vote is.

Partisan gerrymandering is one of the greatest detriments to truly having a democracy that works. States are obligated to redraw electoral districts after every census. Population shifts over a decade make it logical to adjust lines so districts are evenly represented. In the past, self-serving politicians learned, through trial and error, how to manipulate the district maps in such ways that people of color would be disenfranchised. Eventually, the courts ruled, that drawing district lines to disenfranchise people of color was unconstitutional. This ruling didn’t completely stop partisan gerrymandering, though; it’s just become much more sophisticated and diabolical.

Partisan gerrymandering has become easier for politicians and data experts to determine how people lean politically and draw district lines in such a way that makes the incumbent unbeatable.  This practice diminishes your voice in government and completely defeats the purpose of a representative democracy if politicians can count on winning no matter how poorly they represent us.

In 2009, I co-authored legislation and held a public hearing as Chair of the Assembly Elections and Campaign Reform Committee to fix this manipulative practice, but unfortunately it didn’t pass. In this legislative session, I supported legislation to create a non-partisan redistricting process, and also introduced legislation to establish a constitutional amendment for non-partisan redistricting reform.

Most recently, during the State of the State address, Governor Evers announced the creation of the People’s Maps Commission, which will consist of 9 people in Wisconsin, excluding politicians or lobbyists, to draw the next legislative maps in 2021. Just last week, the Governor released the official details for the People’s Map Commission application and the selection process. The members of the Commission will be chosen by the Selection Panel, which includes 3 retired judges.

jeff-smithThe Commission will hold 8 hearings, one in each congressional district, to hear directly from experts, stakeholders, elected officials and the general public. Following the hearings, the Commission will apply the U.S. Census data to draw the maps. Once these maps are created, the Legislature will then decide to accept the non-partisan Commission’s maps or draw their own. The People’s Maps Commission will help fix our broken partisan gerrymandering system and put an end to politicians picking their voters.

The Majority Party, blinded by the power they hold, hired a bunch of slick lawyers to draw electoral maps for them instead of using a nonpartisan commission. They even signed secrecy pledges to prevent the public from seeing the maps! We need an open process to create fair maps and end map manipulation for good.

Non-partisan redistricting reform is not a partisan issue – it’s a people issue. We all deserve a government that works for us and represents the values of its citizens.

The deadline to apply for the People’s Maps Commission is July 31st. If you’re interested in applying, you can do so by visiting govstatus.egov.com/peoplesmaps.

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New Legislation Would Fix Unemployment Benefits Problems

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, 17 July 2020
in Wisconsin

unemployment-wi-wkowBills would roll back barriers to Unemployment Insurance (UI) imposed during decade of misguided anti-worker legislation.


WEST POINT – Republicans spent years putting in place hurdles that hardworking Wisconsinites have to navigate in order to receive Unemployment Benefits that they have earned. What is worse, during a global pandemic, Republicans have spent more time on political name-calling than acting to address the challenges that the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is facing today, too many of which stem from the obstacles that the GOP have created. Wisconsinites deserve more than empty promises and political games.

With the unprecedented circumstances that our state is facing, the legislature should be working to alleviate some of the pressures on DWD and help them process claims faster. DWD has already increased staffing, added call centers, and streamlined systems, but there is more that we can do. That is why Wisconsin Legislative Democrats announced a package of legislation to remove Republican-implemented restrictions and barriers that will allow DWD to ensure Wisconsinites can access their earned benefits faster.

jon-erpenbachI am happy to be the lead on two bills in the package:

LRB 6254 - The current definition of “suitable work” creates challenges for claimants. This bill reinstates DWD’s authority to determine by administrative rule what constitutes suitable work a claimant must accept if offered, and what labor market conditions to review based on the number of weeks that the claimant has received benefits.

LRB 6256 - Several laws enacted over the last decade have restricted DWD’s ability to increase access to unemployment insurance when appropriate. This bill expands DWD’s authority to promulgate rules that provide waivers for work search and job registration requirements.

I will also be a sponsor of legislation to remove the punitive ban on Unemployment benefits for Wisconsin workers who receive social security disability (SSDI).

These bills are a part of a package that will help Wisconsinites access the resources they need. In the 100+ days since the declared public health emergency started, GOP legislators have only met one time to pass a band aid fix to the problems that our state is facing, while making statements acknowledging that more needs to be done. Now is the time for Republicans to live up to that promise and pass meaningful reform to our unemployment system. I also hope that the Governor will call us into a special session to pass these bills as soon as possible.

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A Trip Worth Taking Right Here

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 July 2020
in Wisconsin

trempealeau-co-bikesWe can enjoy all of the great things Wisconsin has to offer, opportunities to go outdoors and explore in these summer months, while staying safe and social distancing.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Sometimes it seems like we forget what a beautiful state we live in. It’s easy to do when we’re so accustomed to the beautiful, great outdoors surrounding us. Thousands of years ago glaciers carved our northern region and left behind rich soils and minerals and an iconic landscape.

While we may sometimes forget what we have right down the road from our front door, out-of-state visitors have flocked here for decades to escape their own flat or treeless landscape. Over the years, thousands have built their summer homes in northern Wisconsin because of the breathtaking natural beauty and recreational opportunities. But we tend to just drive by the natural landscape and forget how lucky we are. Many of us plan our vacations traveling to other states because it’s a chance to get away from work and explore someplace new.

This year is different, though. COVID-19 has changed how we plan our vacations and interact with others, where we go and how often we go anywhere. Fortunately, we have all we need right here in Wisconsin.

If some Wisconsinites flew to distant places in the past, they’re staying closer to home this summer. If they booked a hotel, they’re now looking at other options like camping in a tent or renting an RV. If they went to a waterpark before, they now feel safer social distancing on a river or lake in their own kayak or boat.

COVID-19 has forced many to look at vacation through a different lens. I’ve heard RV sales are through the roof, and kayaks and boats are hard to find because they just can’t build them fast enough for the demand this year.

There are plenty of ways to enjoy the summer while being responsible and practicing social distancing during the pandemic. And what better place is there to live than in the state where the rest of the nation would come to unwind if they could?

great-river-road-wiWisconsin has over 2,500 miles of hiking trails and 66 state parks. Here in Wisconsin, we’re framed by two great lakes and the Mississippi River. We have over 15,000 lakes and countless streams and rivers meandering through Wisconsin making it a great place to fish, kayak and canoe.

We have Door County, which is nationally renowned for its beauty surrounded by Lake Michigan. If you drive north to the south shore of Lake Superior, you’ll be amazed by the immensity of the largest freshwater lake in the world. And, while you’re there, enjoy some fresh fish from any of the many fisheries around the lake. And don’t forget the wild rice!

There are still ways we can support local Wisconsin businesses while staying safe. If you’re up in Hayward, check out the giant musky, then pick up and enjoy some of that tasty, fresh toffee in the area. Check in with a nearby supper club to enjoy Wisconsin’s infamous Friday fish fry or a local brewery to try creative, new beer.

jeff-smithAnd, of course, there’s also a lot to enjoy right here in western Wisconsin, including the most beautiful drive on Highway 35, which runs through the 31st Senate District, stretching from Prescott all the way south through Platteville, known as the Great River Road. The Great River Road has been rated in national reports to be the most scenic drive in America, which you may not have known because we live it every day. You’ll know it when you take the time and plan your trip on the Great River Road along the Mississippi River. Stop at all the markers and read the historical significance of the river to our predecessors.

So, while some may feel bummed that they couldn’t go to that faraway city or destination, this may be the time to rediscover Wisconsin. We can remind ourselves what we have right here all around us. Take a slow trip and stop at all the unique and interesting places along the way; you might be surprised at what we have missed by leaving. Wisconsin is worth the time. Wisconsin has it all.

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Student Debt and our Future

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, 08 July 2020
in Wisconsin

uwgb-studentsOur kids need an education to get ahead, but the resulting debt can tarnish the degree's value, grow bigger than you thought due to overly burdensome interest payments, and stunt the growth of the economy for all of us. Find out more.


MADISON - Most of us have to take on some debt at some point in our lives, whether we take out loans to purchase a car or to help us become homeowners. Oftentimes, people borrow with clear expectations, understanding the whole process. Student loans are different and for many reasons.

Student loan debt has become a national crisis amounting to $1.6 trillion in total student loan debt in the United States and $22 billion right here in Wisconsin, according to the Department of Education.

Earlier this year, Governor Tony Evers signed Executive Order #67, which established the Task Force on Student Debt. The Task Force was formed to better understand the student loan crisis and find solutions to provide relief to Wisconsin borrowers. In May, I was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force, fortunate for the opportunity to bring along my personal experience helping my daughters navigate the student loan system and my professional experience as the former Vice-chair of the Financial Institutions Committee and Vice-chair of the Higher Education Committee.

Chaired by the Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld, the Task Force includes a group of experts from financial institutions and members of state government. The Task Force also includes diverse representation from the UW System, the Wisconsin Technical College System, Tribal colleges and universities, and for-profit educational institutions.

seniorsBefore the Task Force on Student Debt officially met, Secretary Blumenfeld, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB) Secretary Connie Hutchison held listening sessions throughout Wisconsin to hear directly from student loan borrowers about their experiences. Common themes surfaced at these listening sessions: the need for borrower education and consumer protections; the realization that student debt is a multi-generational issue, impacting students’ parents or relatives; an understanding that student debt affects other finances; and acknowledging the confusion and frustration of the borrowing system.

These themes became wholly apparent in the four Student Debt Task Force meetings we’ve had since May. Our meetings consist of eye-opening testimonials from student loan borrowers along with presentations from leading researchers in the field of student debt and experts who’ve implemented various policy initiatives in other states to help borrowers.

In only the first four meetings, I’ve learned that student loans are unlike any other loan and they are incredibly complicated. The confusion can begin even before a student enters college when they fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which helps students understand their federal student aid eligibility. More often than not, students and parents fill out the FAFSA or other financial aid applications trusting the system will favor the student because, after all, college is about setting up the student for a successful future. Right?

Unfortunately, in many cases, there isn’t anyone advising or answering questions for the person filling out financial aid applications. Many factors contribute to borrowers feeling overwhelmed by the amount of debt they’ve taken on. Student debt can tarnish the degree if the borrower earns less than expected, the debt can grow bigger than expected or the payment plan doesn’t relieve the debt with over burdensome interest payments.

jeff-smithAlso, for those who think the student debt crisis only impacts folks in metropolitan areas, they’d be wrong. In a presentation from the Student Borrower Protection Center, we learned that nearly 20% of Wisconsin’s rural population holds student debt with a 12% delinquency rate, meaning they’ve missed one or more loan payments.

From what I’ve learned in the first several meetings, it’s obvious Wisconsin has a student debt problem that needs fixing. The task force has four remaining meetings where we’ll continue learning about student debt and break down potential solutions to support Wisconsinites. Our discussions will result in a report which will include policy recommendations to be passed along to Governor Evers for consideration.

As a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Student Debt, it’s clear that much depends on how we, as policymakers, come together with solutions that affect America’s future potential.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Governor’s Task Force on Student Debt, please visit LookForwardWI.gov.

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Patriotism: Protecting the Health of Americans

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, 01 July 2020
in Wisconsin

coronavirus-mask3-jennifer-anistonAmericans can express their patriotism and respect for their fellow citizens during this public health crisis by wearing a face mask.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - As we move through a year that has already been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we think ahead to when we can resume normal activities, be part of community gatherings and celebrate holidays, like Independence Day.

Independence Day invokes strong feelings about patriotism and freedom. Many Americans use this time of year to celebrate the holiday and express these feelings, whether it’s in the form of yard displays, fireworks or even red, white and blue clothing.

Patriotism is celebrated during this holiday, but what does it mean and what makes someone patriotic? Is it wearing red, white and blue, flying the American flag or watching the fireworks during this time of year? These traditions can help any American feel patriotic for a day, but how can we continue to show our pride for our country and respect for our fellow Americans?

One way to show our admiration for our country is by simply wearing a face covering to protect the health of those around us. This is one of the easiest and greatest opportunities we all have to support our state and country in a unified manner. Wearing a mask is one simple step we can take to protect our fellow citizens and avoid the spread of a disease that impacts our health, economy and every other aspect of life.

covid19-masks-hiltonheadIn the past few months, we’ve become accustomed to social distancing and other public health practices to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Although some restrictions have been eased, it’s important to remember we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic and we need to take certain precautions.

Public health experts have emphasized one of the best ways for us to limit the spread is to wear a mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges individuals to wear cloth face coverings when in public to prevent community spread of the contagious virus. In fact, the CDC website offers valuable information on how to properly wear and wash a face mask and even provides directions on how to make a cloth face mask.

jeff-smithI wear a mask when I venture out in public. If I happen to be carrying the virus even without showing symptoms, I could pass it onto someone else just by speaking to them or even breathing near them. It’s not worth the risk to be in public without a mask and potentially infect others.

Unfortunately, the public health recommendation that masks be worn in public has strangely become a partisan issue. It appears that many would rather excuse themselves from wearing a mask because our president refuses to wear a mask, political allegiance and the appearance that it’s unpatriotic.

Similar to the small safety measure of a face mask, many things have become twisted to be viewed as a partisan issue. When the pandemic first started impacting Wisconsin and we had the “Safer at Home” plan in place, we heard some residents proclaim their freedom was taken from them.

However, I understood, as did the majority of Wisconsinites, some sacrifices would have to be made to get through this crisis and grow stronger from it. Similar to breathing in dangerous carcinogens, which we do all we can to avoid, our health is at risk due to COVID-19, even though it could have been easily prevented. We can be good citizens of our state and country by simply wearing a mask to lower the chance of passing on an infectious disease.

As we head into Independence Day weekend, I ask that you consider what you can do to be a good citizen. If you haven’t done so already, start wearing a mask to protect members of your community. Pay attention to where your red, white and blue clothing or the fireworks you just bought are made. Buy local and American-made products.

Patriotism isn’t just the annual display of colors and fireworks. We can celebrate our patriotism every single day by being thoughtful citizens and respecting the people all around us.

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