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Wisconsin: America is Best When Labor is Strong

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 September 2019
in Wisconsin

electrical-workersSen. Smith talks about his upbringing in Eau Claire and the impact of organized labor in the community. Leaders before us worked to put protections in place for workers, but there’s still more to do.

EAU CLAIRE - Another Labor Day has come and gone. Summer is beginning to wind down and we’re taking our last chance to fish or camp for the season. Children are reflecting on their summer and eagerly anticipating the new school year.

This time of year is also an opportunity to reflect back on my upbringing in Eau Claire and remember the hardworking families in my community. I think about the great strides made in the 20th century because of organized labor. Unions knew at the core of their mission, that nobody should live to work. We should be able to work, so we can live a comfortable life.

Growing up on the north side of Eau Claire, I had a pretty ordinary childhood. My mother worked hard to raise seven children and my father opened his window cleaning business and ran the business for decades. It was common for families to have one parent working outside the home and one parent in the home.

jeff-smithFamilies in our neighborhood were lower-middle income level by today’s standards. I grew up near the Uniroyal factory. We weren’t too far from the paper mill, and Presto was just a couple of miles north. Many of the kids I grew up with had parents who worked in one of these places. Their parents could support their family because they earned union wages and benefits. It was at the height of a comfortable working class that made America work.

Many of the families were able to afford fishing boats, camping trailers and cabins on the lake. My neighbors were able to spend more time doing the things they enjoyed with their families. These were all things my family couldn’t afford.

The union jobs in the community provided my neighbors an opportunity to have a comfortable lifestyle and build the middle class. These jobs allowed families to own cabins in the resort areas of northern Wisconsin. It was common for a family to take two weeks off for family vacation in the summer and a week off for deer hunting.

None of this would’ve been possible if it weren’t for the courage and foresight of organized labor in the early 20th century that advanced worker’s rights in America. Federal legislation, including the Occupational Safety & Health Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and Labor Relations Act supported workers, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions. The Social Security Act was revolutionary, putting protections in place for citizens of all ages. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers and unions to discriminate against individuals based on race, national origin, religion or gender.

Although there has been tremendous progress for worker’s rights, there is still more we must do for workers in our country. Today, too many families need multiple jobs to get by. According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 13 million Americans that have more than one job. Also, based on U.S. Census data, women are more likely than men to have a part-time job to support themselves and their families.

Union jobs guaranteed most workers would have a comfortable future after retirement. The decline of unions and well-paying jobs in our country, force workers to consider how they’ll retire without a pension or 401K plan to supplement their Social Security.

There are steps we can take to support everyday hardworking men and women. We should begin by increasing the minimum wage, restoring prevailing wage, implementing paid family and medical leave and repealing the “Right to Work” law. Governor Evers included all of these proposals in the 2019-21 Biennial Budget, but they were deleted entirely by Republicans.

Oftentimes, we forget the impact of organized labor in our own community. The leaders before us worked tirelessly to improve working conditions and living standards for all. We can’t fall behind. As we push forward, let us remember our hardworking leaders and the example they set to support our neighbors. Remember, we all do better when we all do better.

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Wisconsin: Kiddos and Mental Health

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, 28 August 2019
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsAfter a visit to Northwest Journey and the Menomonie School District, Sen. Smith writes about the importance of mental health funding for our children.

EAU CLAIRE - We always want what’s best for our children. We want our children to be happy, comfortable and safe. If we could provide all the tools for our children to succeed, why wouldn’t we?

The urgency for mental health funding is not going away. We need to face it head on. You’d think an issue affecting so many people would lead us to come together to find solutions on this important issue. What is the biggest hurdle we face?

It all comes down to funding. Without proper funding it’s very difficult for families, school districts and community agencies to afford the resources and professional staff needed to treat mental illness. As lawmakers, it’s our job to address the serious issues affecting our communities. We have many funding responsibilities as legislators. The welfare of our children must be the most important.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve had the privilege of meeting professionals who deal directly with mental healthcare for our children, or “kiddos,” as the professionals call them. I recently visited Northwest Journey, a care center for school-age children in crisis. I learned about the incredible services offered at the organization. The professionals spoke about their passion to help children overcome their doubts and achieve a bright future.

The stories I heard and read were heartbreaking, but encouraging to think of a child’s potential, if given the resources to succeed. One of the children wrote, “A year ago around this time I thought I didn’t have a future but I can take a step back and see that my future holds an endless amount of possibilities.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise to most that families in crisis are less likely to have the means to afford private services or even private insurance. Northwest Journey is able to offer these critical services through the Medicaid program, which is managed by the state and provides assistance to families in-need.

If Republicans would’ve expanded Medicaid, organizations like Northwest Journey would have the potential to do so much more for their clients. This is our money that we’ve already paid to the federal government. I don’t understand why we would fund other states’ Medicaid programs, while ignoring the critical needs of our own children right here in Wisconsin.

There’s more we must do to support our children, besides expanding Medicaid. Prior to meeting with professionals at Northwest Journey, Senator Patty Schachtner (D-Somerset) and I learned about similar challenges Menomonie School District faces relating to providing mental health service. You see, our schools are woefully short of counselors and psychiatrists to help children in crisis.

Since 1993, Republicans imposed revenue limits on school districts. This dramatically restricted each district’s ability to fund our schools. Incremental increases based on 1993 education funding levels while using a broken funding formula has been disastrous for Wisconsin schools.

School districts have made deep cuts just to afford core curriculum, forcing mental health services onto the chopping block. Republicans cut $38 million in school mental health aid from Governor Evers’ budget, which would’ve funded more mental health professionals and programs.

School funding and how the formula works (or doesn’t work) has been debated for years. And, like so many other important issues, Republicans haven’t done anything about it.

jeff-smithOur children are relying on us. All children will be affected in some way, even families who aren’t directly affected. No matter the circumstances, we all walk the same path, breathe the same air and rely on the same democracy. We are all one community.

You can do your part by contacting legislators in your area. Ask them if they believe a child’s well-being is the most pressing priority. If so, tell them you will be holding them accountable based on their decisions. Those actions need to result in more success stories like those children at Northwest Journey who have found hope in their future.

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Wisconsin: The Politics Behind Gun Violence Inaction

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, 21 August 2019
in Wisconsin

las-vegas-shootingSen. Smith talks about legislation to expand the background check requirement for all firearm purchases as a way to fight against gun violence.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - I can’t imagine the horror victims go through when face to face with an active shooter while in a place of worship, school, shopping center or night club. How do families cope with the news of a loved one being murdered by a domestic terrorist, coworker or significant other? Or the news of a loved one who took their own life?

A few weeks ago, in a neighboring town, a young man shot and killed his mother, brother and nephew before driving to the home of a young woman he may have planned to abduct. He shot the parents of this young woman before killing her and himself. The family didn’t know the shooter before this happened, but his own family may have been aware he was dangerous.

Would a background check have saved those victims? We can’t be certain. Would a temporary law enforcement firearm removal order, also called a “red flag law,” stop this horribly tragic event? We’ll never know.

As a gun owner, I firmly believe in an individual’s right to own a firearm. I also believe gun violence prevention is long overdue. Countless lives have died in vain from our state and our nation’s inaction on gun violence.

Sadly, policymakers seem frozen with indecision when it comes to gun safety. We are trapped in a cycle of unexpected tragedies like El Paso, Dayton or Lake Hallie followed by the expected “thoughts and prayers” and then inaction by leaders to do anything to stop the cycle from happening again.

A Marquette Law School poll conducted in March of 2018 showed 81% of people favored background checks, with only 18% opposed. In the same poll, 56% of Wisconsinites supported assault-style weapon bans and 40% opposed the ban. More recently, a NPR poll conducted in February this year showed 65% of Americans believed a high-capacity magazine ban would reduce gun violence.

Polls consistently show people from all walks of life and political views favoring universal background checks. Wisconsin is ready for commonsense gun violence reforms, so why aren’t Republican lawmakers?

Pro-gun lobbying groups like the NRA use the 2nd Amendment as the reason for inaction. They use it to tie the hands of Republicans who might be willing to do something about gun violence.

Our Constitution has stood the test of time while our country has evolved. Take action now to stop the cycle of gun violence with commonsense reforms, and let the Constitution do its job. If the NRA wants to explain why simple background checks are wrong, or why they believe the founders thought it was necessary to have high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons when drafting the 2nd Amendment then let them try.

For decades, gun rights have been a wedge issue. It’s near the top of the list among single-issue voters. With that being the case, it isn’t any wonder why politicians do nothing. After all, when we are divided, those in power keep power.

jeff-smithBut, not everyone is so easy to predict on this issue.

Last week the Task Force on Suicide Prevention held a hearing in Eau Claire. It lasted over 7 hours, most of it being agency reports. The public who attended, and stuck around long enough, got their chance to testify.

A gun shop owner from Dane County came to tell us about the Gun Safe program he started with other shop owners. It allows anyone in a mental health crisis to temporarily store his or her weapons in a gun shop safe until the crisis passes.

A Republican lawmaker mistakenly thought the gun shop owner would be opposed to a Red Flag Law. The shop owner surprised the lawmaker by saying he was in favor of a properly worded law to help responsible gun owners make the right choice in a crisis. It was refreshing to hear such a thoughtful response. It reminded me that we should never make assumptions of where people may stand on any issue.

We can own guns responsibly and still demand action for gun violence. We’ve gone too long without commonsense solutions to fight against gun violence. The time to act was long ago, but the opportunity to act still exists.

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Democracy Campaign: Evers Bows to WMC

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, 16 August 2019
in Wisconsin

tony-eversProgressive critiques Governor, Republicans, gun laws, and the NRA.

MADISON - When I saw that Gov. Evers was speaking to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, I decided to take a look at his talk. And I was horrified to find out that he complimented WMC, which has done so much damage to our state over the last nine years. Here’s my critique of the governor’s talk:

Evers Bows to WMC

matt-rothschildThis week, we also took a look at the money that legislators have hauled in recently, and we discovered that the GOP’s haul was twice as big as the Democrats’:

Republican Lawmakers Led Fundraising in First Six Months of 2019

And in a follow up to our post last week on the NRA in Wisconsin, we noted that the Republican Senators who were dodging the issue of gun laws so studiously were also recipients of the NRA’s largesse:

GOP Senators Dodging Gun Law Questions Got Election Support from NRA

Thanks for taking a look at our offerings this week.

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Republicans Leave Small Family Farms Behind

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 Friday, 16 August 2019
in Wisconsin

high-voltage-lines-farmsTrump's trade wars, tariffs, send farmers rushing to find new markets without additional assistance from the state.

WEST POINT, WI - It’s no secret, small family farms are struggling in Wisconsin. There are a variety of issues that have impacted this downturn, and it’s more important than ever that we are paying attention and coming up with solutions to help alleviate the pain that our agriculture industry is experiencing.

On August 12, Governor Tony Evers sent a letter, addressed to President Donald Trump, urging him to end the unnecessary and irresponsible trade wars that are having a severely negative impact on our farmers. The appeal followed a letter sent on May 30 from myself, along with my Democratic colleagues, addressed to the United States Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer with the same request- end the trade war. Unfortunately, no Republicans signed the letter.

jon-erpenbach-radioThe trade wars, which were started due to the inflated ego of our President, who has proven his dangerous lack of understanding on how tariffs work, has contributed to the devastation of too many farming communities. While he exclaims that we are “winning” trade wars, the reality is that farmers, manufacturers, and consumers in America are paying the price. The trade war will only continue to drive up costs, bankrupt farmers, and result in Wisconsin losing thousands of jobs.

Overnight, Republicans destroyed trade relationships, at the same time that the Wisconsin agriculture industry is stressing the importance of dairy exports. By damaging our trade relationships, the federal government’s short-sighted policies are forcing some farmers to depend on government aid, or to sell their cows. They deserve better.

They deserve better from Republicans on both the federal level and in Wisconsin. Recently, the Wisconsin Diary Task Force 2.0 released their report, which studies issues affecting the dairy industry and makes recommendations. Historically, the task force’s recommendations have been successfully implemented, and I am hopeful that our legislators will continue to work towards reducing obstacles for farmers and implementing recommendations to help the agriculture industry.

However, recent actions of my Republican colleagues have me concerned. While reviewing the report, a few recommendations sounded familiar. Just one example was Wisconsin’s role in recognizing the importance of exports, because it reflected a recommendation Governor Evers put in his budget six months ago.

In keeping with the importance of exports to Wisconsin dairy, Governor Evers’ budget proposal recommended the development of the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports (WIDE). WIDE would seek to bring together stakeholders to pursue an increase in dairy exports, through increasing analysis of state and international agricultural markets, facilitation trade missions abroad, and recruiting international buyers to visit Wisconsin. While Democrats voted for the proposal, Republicans opted to delete the provision from budget deliberations and put forth no alternatives to address the need for dairy export initiatives.

Unfortunately, due to the President’s tariffs, this task will be an even greater challenge for farmers. Wisconsin Dairy exports saw a 5.5% decline in 2018, compared to the previous year, and WIDE was intended to reverse that trend. Now farmers are rushing to find new markets without additional assistance from the state.

Between the president’s attacks on economic security, increasing risks of unpredictable weather, and Republican inaction to fund critical programs, including mental health care for farmers, it is apparent that more needs to be done to rebuild the industry that built our state. Every day more and more farms are shutting down, and while there is not a single, simple solution, inaction is not the answer. Our farming communities deserve to have a fair opportunity to succeed, and the time to act is now.

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