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Be the Change We Need

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, 03 June 2020
in Wisconsin

george-floyd-protest-mdsn-wprCommunities across the country are coming together to raise awareness of the racial inequities that exist in America. We all have a responsibility to make a difference moving forward.


MADISON, WI - In the months since Wisconsin has been impacted by COVID-19, we’ve all thought about the day that our lives will begin to return to normal. It’s an understandable thought to have. After all, the pandemic has forced us to make changes in nearly every aspect of our lives.

But this calls into question, what does “normal” really mean?

Our country is reeling in the tragic death of George Floyd, another Black man whose life was taken too soon. Communities across the country have come together to mourn, listen, and raise awareness of the systemic inequities causing traumatic suffering for people of color in our country.

This is a wake-up call for all of us. Even after we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not be comfortable with a society that normalizes racial prejudice and injustice. We must find the resolve to do what is needed in pursuit of a more equitable environment. Together, we must challenge the normalcy of racism in our country.

george-floyd-protest-eau-claireThere are many Americans who have a difficult time believing racism still exists in our country. From stereotypes broadcast in the media, horrific acts of violence or the disparities impacting communities of color, it’s clear our country still has a racial divide.

In fact, the ongoing public health crisis provides a striking example of the ways racism still impacts communities of color. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, as of May 31st, 25% of Wisconsin residents who died due to COVID-19 were Black, even though this group makes up less than 7% of the state’s population. Public health experts have attributed the disproportionate number of deaths in the Black community to health and economic disparities.

We need to ask ourselves how many more times must we talk about this with little or no action to show?

For decades, politicians have been aware of racial disparities in America; yet, it seems our country’s leaders either deny it completely or only talk about how terrible it is without taking meaningful action. After seeing the upsetting video of the murder of George Floyd, I knew that my words would be inadequate. Once again, politicians’ thoughts, prayers and empty promises aren’t enough. This time, we must make our words matter. We need systemic change now.

Like so many other deaths of Black men and women that should have never happened, words didn’t save George Floyd. For as long as our country has existed, we’ve ignored brutal injustices that occurred in America. Possibly because it’s often easier for those of us with white privilege to look away. This time we can’t look away. We can only move on with heavy hearts and determination to make change.

We all have a responsibility to make a difference. On Sunday, I participated in a moving vigil held for Mr. Floyd with more than 300 other concerned citizens from the Eau Claire area. We heard from a woman who used to live in Minneapolis who remembered George Floyd as someone who looked out for her and others. Eau Claire Police Chief Matt Rokus answered questions people had regarding police training and equipment. Local officials spoke of how horrified they were when they saw the video. Together, we talked about what we can do as a community to change the status quo.

jeff-smithI can assure you, as a leader and as an ally, I am committed to working toward an equitable future. As an ally, I will listen, take a step back and let others speak and always make myself available to learn. I will allow myself to feel uncomfortable while confronting racism engrained in our country.

In my role as a state senator, I’ll continue this mission, working with my legislative colleagues to advance policies to prioritize equity and ensure there are not unintended consequences that would negatively affect communities of color.

It’s time we speak up and act. Returning to normal leaves people, and entire communities, behind. Remember, all lives don’t matter until black lives matter. It’s our responsibility to make the world a better place and it starts with each and every one of us. Do your part to move Wisconsin forward.

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Erpenbach Calls for Senate to Remove Unemployment Insurance Barriers

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
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 28 May 2020
in Wisconsin

unemploymentRepublicans put into place more than a dozen new hurdles in just eight years that Wisconsinites have to jump over in order to receive the benefits they have earned. Time for political games with people's lives is over.


West Point – In December 2014 an audit was performed on the Wisconsin Unemployment System. The audit found that in FY 2013-2014, 1.7 million calls to the call centers, which was 60.2% of the total calls, were blocked because the queue was full. The audit showed significant issues and vulnerabilities in the process, which should have sounded the alarm for Republican leadership, but they took no action to modernize the system.

Fast forward to 2020, during a global pandemic that has resulted in historic unemployment levels, and Wisconsinites are now forced to pay the price for Republican inaction. Unfortunately, instead of taking steps to modernize the system – that was not built to handle the challenges we are facing today - Republicans have spent the last decade doing everything possible to make it harder to get unemployment benefits. The non-partisan Legislative Council compiled a list of changes to Unemployment under Republican control. It shows that instead of working to improve access to benefits that Wisconsinites have earned, Republicans would rather assume fraud and create tripwires for Wisconsinites who work for a living.

scott-fitzgeraldl-stands-behind-walkerRepublicans put into place more than a dozen new hurdles in just eight years that Wisconsinites have to jump over in order to receive the benefits they have earned. One wrong step, and the claimant has to go down a long road of investigations, eligibility questions and fact finding, which only prolongs the process. These excessive policies have resulted in frustration and delays for too many Wisconsin workers.

The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is facing enormous challenges and have done everything in their power to navigate these unprecedented times. They have been fielding millions of calls a week, are continuing to increase their capacity and hours to keep up with demand, have blocked attempted identity-fraud, and are doing everything within their power to provide service to Wisconsinites during this public health emergency. The Department has proactively worked to improve the system while navigating patchwork laws and are working around the clock to get Wisconsinites the benefits they deserve.

Meanwhile, my colleagues across the aisle have resorted to finger pointing and blaming a Department that informed them of the challenges they were facing years ago. Today at 11:00am the Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform will hold an informational hearing on the unemployment system to discuss the challenges of the program, difficulties people are experiencing, how DWD has responded and how to move forward. I ask my Republican colleagues to take this time to turn the mirror on themselves and to work to remove legislative barriers that are hindering DWD from more effectively doing their job.

jon-erpenbach-radioWe have work to do — it’s time both sides of the aisle to come together and pass meaningful legislation that will provide long-term relief to workers, students, families, and seniors. It’s likely that today’s hearing will go longer than Republican leaders have allowed the Senate to work since this pandemic started. Their delay has already cost Wisconsin $25 million of our federal dollars, and their legislation did far too little to remove the legislative tripwires that are preventing Wisconsinites from receiving the benefits they have earned.

I have been listening to my constituents who are looking for help with their unemployment and I believe our jobs as legislators should go beyond giving input from afar. Getting these benefits can be the difference between being able to afford groceries, pay rent, and survive during this pandemic. Now is the time to come together and get work done.

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Restoring Trust in Trying Times

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, 27 May 2020
in Wisconsin

covid-19-protest-madisonSen. Smith writes about the role and responsibility of government. While facing this current public health, we must remind ourselves of all the good our government can do serving its people.


MADISON, WI - At times, there is a real disconnect between science and politics in our country. But, in the case of how we handle a pandemic, it can be dangerous.

For decades, we’ve been fed the philosophy that government can’t be trusted. Don’t get me wrong, too many politicians throughout history have brought that on by corrupt and often selfish behavior. Problems within government can become sensationalized and people begin to think that is the standard rather than the exception. It begins to impair our judgement of government and the important role it has in our lives. For every problem reported on by the media there are scores of examples how innovative solutions are found.

wi-senate-swearing-inThe doubt we may have for irresponsible political leaders, initiates a pattern of distrust in government as a whole, causing skepticism of government officials who possess the expertise to make decisions in the public interest. Dangerously, the distrust of government can spill over into the world of science, influencing opinions of public health. It’s clear this is happening today with just how easily a deadly virus has been twisted into a political football.

This pandemic has affected our lives at every level. It forced us to take another look at the role of government. We have a chance to reevaluate how the economy is driven, how education is provided, where we get healthcare and even how we socialize. With all that to consider we may also reshape how we are governed or, at least, how we perceive government.

Wisconsin has a rich history of being an innovator for solving government’s biggest issues. In 1911, Wisconsin passed the first Worker’s Compensation Program. During the Great Depression, Wisconsin created the first Unemployment Insurance program in 1932 and our nation’s Social Security system in 1934.

When people lost their savings, their homes and their futures, Wisconsin stepped up as an innovator during our nation’s most difficult times. The federal government, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, started the New Deal to put people to work, resulting in an amazing network of roads, parks and connectivity for many who needed it. New agencies and programs were established out of necessity to support farmers, young workers and families.

This period saw the consolidation of one-room schoolhouses, which resulted in a revolution of educated and successful entrepreneurs and scientists elevating America to become the envy of all the world. The government supported these aspirations by returning the investment Americans contributed. School districts and elected school boards of our peers were formed to govern and make decisions that we trusted would be in the best interest of our children.

Our government also increased healthcare accessibility and affordability through the Affordable Care Act and BadgerCare Program. Veterans are covered through the Veterans Administration as a benefit for their service. Medicare was adopted for seniors, which we pay into throughout our lives so we can retire with less worry. Again, those programs are what we do for each other and for the benefit of society – it’s what we expect from government because we invest in it.

jeff-smithSome of us don’t think twice about these programs until we need them. This current crisis has forced many to file for unemployment insurance or apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for the first time in their lives. While we each strive to support ourselves and our families, we are grateful to have these government programs during emergencies.

That’s why, when so many have found they need assistance, government may be rediscovered as a partner to wade through this uneasy time.

Now is the time to rethink the role of government, not simply as an entity working against us, held in disdain by so many, but a representative body contributing to society. At times, I understand some of us haven’t felt the government and politicians lived up to their expectations. The responsibilities of our government must reflect the priorities of the people. To achieve this, we must restore trust and remind ourselves all the good our government can do serving its people.

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Jeff Smith: Disappointment and Opportunity

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, 20 May 2020
in Wisconsin

congress-unproductiveAlthough the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision to lift the Safer at Home Order was disappointing, we have an opportunity to make Wisconsin stronger while we continue to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.


EAU CLAIRE - Disappointment and opportunity may not always belong in the same sentence, but when addressing conflicts they often work together. We can be disappointed, but we have to consider the opportunity before us to move forward and be better.

This is how I felt about last week’s Wisconsin Supreme Court decision to lift the Safer at Home order. Although we’re left feeling disappointed, we must consider the opportunities ahead to get through this crisis.

In a previous session, the Legislature passed legislation to give the Secretary of the Department of Health Services (DHS) the authority to respond to a public health emergency. During this pandemic, Republican leaders filed a lawsuit requesting the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturn the Safer at Home order. Ultimately, the court determined the DHS Secretary cannot call for a Safer at Home order without first going through a legislative rule-making process. To put that into perspective, think about firefighters showing up at your home to extinguish a fire, but they can’t start without the city council convening to determine if they can turn on the water.

Oddly, the decision allows our county health officers to introduce an order at the local level, the very law Republicans claim the DHS Secretary cannot use. Many local health departments issued their own Safer at Home orders, but last Friday, Attorney General Josh Kaul warned local health departments that the Supreme Court’s ruling may affect local health departments’ decisions. Shortly after that, numerous county health departments rescinded or rolled back their orders, leaving Wisconsin even more confused during a crisis.

alma-main-stIt’s hard to know exactly where to find the best information now that Republicans left us in the lurch during a global pandemic. Seek the guidance of public health experts, like our local health departments, to know what to do and how to do it safely.

It’s all the more disappointing to know that all of the sacrifices we’ve made and the work public health officials have done is now jeopardized without these safeguards in place. Wisconsin was turning the dial under Governor Evers’ Badger Bounce Back Plan. Republicans asked the Supreme Court to flip the switch without a plan in place. More people will be sick, economic impacts will be more severe and recovery will take much longer.

The 4 Justices who delivered the majority decision ignored the law. In fact, Justice Brian Hagedorn argued in his dissent that the people of Wisconsin did not empower the court "to step in and impose our wisdom” on "proper governance during this pandemic" adding "they left that to the legislative and executive branches." He went on to state that "today's decision may or may not be good policy, but it is not grounded in the law."

jeff-smithI agree. We are living in an era of conservative justices playing politics and legislating from the bench for the benefit of a few rather than the public interest. COVID-19 hasn’t disappeared because lawyers and politicians want the world to return to what they consider to be normal.

The Safer at Home order put us in a good place to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Each of us has an opportunity to protect our communities. We know how staying safer at home, practicing social distancing, washing our hands and only traveling when necessary has worked to protect others. Also, wearing a mask protects those around you in case you are carrying the virus without your knowledge.

At a recent roundtable discussion, my colleague, Representative Bob Kulp (R – Stratford), spoke about creating a “better normal.” Throughout this unprecedented time, we’ve experienced disappointment. We’ve realized that we weren’t prepared for the ramifications of a public health crisis. We’ve seen how the lack of investment to support healthcare workers, expand broadband or strengthen our public health infrastructure has affected our response to this pandemic.

This disappointing realization brings new opportunity to draw a fresh perspective and evaluate what it will take to make Wisconsin stronger. I look forward to this opportunity and hope it draws us all closer together to create, not a new normal, but a better normal.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - Supreme Corruption

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 15 May 2020
in Wisconsin

rebecca-bradley-walkerMADISON - After the outrageous decision by the right wing majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court to lift “Safer at Home,” we noted that there still is another case before the Court on this same issue. And guess what? The lead plaintiff is a major GOP donor, and he maxxed out to Justice Rebecca Bradley, as we explain here:

Conservative Justice Got $20K Contribution from Individual in Second Stay-at-Home Suit

We were also so disgusted by Chief Justice Roggensack’s “regular people” comment about the meatpackers in Green Bay that we checked out her statement of economic interest to see “regular” she was. Here’s what we found:

Roggensack Has at Least $295K+ in Investments

By the way, if you want to see financial relationships and how wealthy some of our other state elected officials are, just click here:

Statements of Economic Interests

Our Data Analyst, David Julseth, just posted statements of economic interests filed with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission as of May 2020. These statements cover calendar year 2019. This is the only place that the public can view them without first submitting a request form to do so!

matt-rothschildI hope you find these postings useful.

And I’d love to hear from you, so please email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you’d like.

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

****

P.S. If you like the work we’re doing, please make a tax-deductible gift today to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. We’d really appreciate it. Just click here. Thanks!

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