Tuesday January 28, 2020

Forward with Education & Reason

News Feeds:

Progressive Thinking

Discussion with education and reason.

Subscribe to feed Latest Entries

Every Conversation Sparks a New Idea

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 January 2020
in Wisconsin

tom-sieber-peopleThis week’s column describes how the discussions in western Wisconsin help Sen. Smith craft new legislation to help all of the state. This is the second of three columns detailing reflections from 2019 and what the Senator is looking forward to in 2020.

BRUNSWICK, WI - The past year pushed me to learn and grow as a leader. As I spent time with my family over the holiday season, I reflected on the value of collaboration, a lesson learned in 2019. I thought about all the conversations I had with others, and how accomplishments were possible from the time spent learning from others.

We’ve collaborated with Democrats, Republicans, local leaders, industry experts and others to introduce 24 new bills. However, I don’t use this number as a measuring stick for our progress through the year, it is a reflection of the discussions I’ve had with folks throughout the district.

Every conversation sparks a new idea. The best ideas come from advocates understanding a certain issue or professionals who have expertise in a specific field.

jeff-smithI appreciate hearing from constituents who contact my office directly, but I also want to meet people where they’re at, whether that’s coming home from work or heading to a community event. In the last year, I routinely parked my pickup truck along roads throughout the district and invited folks to “Stop ‘N Talk” about the issues they’re facing or things they’d like to see changed.

After Governor Tony Evers introduced his 2019-21 budget, I held 8 budget town halls from Black River Falls to Ellsworth and Alma to Eau Claire to discuss Wisconsin’s priorities. Folks consistently said they wanted to properly fund our public schools, fix our roads and expand Medicaid, which would provide healthcare coverage to more than 3,000 individuals in counties throughout the 31st Senate District.

As the year progressed, I prioritized meeting with constituents of diverse backgrounds, including farmers, teachers, students, town leaders, county board members, tribal members and many more. These meetings resulted in new ideas, innovative investments and inspired much of the legislation I introduced.

This fall, I had the chance to speak with local farmers on a milk hauler route ride along. The challenges farmers face are just as diverse as the solutions needed to help. These conversations with local farmers provided me with valuable insight for offering new bills to support small family farms, farm succession planning or help with sustainable agricultural practices.

Throughout the year, I visited local school districts, meeting teachers, reading children’s books with elementary students and participating in a high school civics classes. These visits remind me of the valuable role our schools have in preparing children for Wisconsin’s future workforce and ensuring our schools and teachers are well supported. As a result of these visits, I introduced legislation to make it easier for rural school districts to hire trained, qualified teachers by allowing retired teachers come back to the classroom.

In 2019, I also introduced two bills to address Wisconsin’s healthcare workforce shortage. Earlier in the year, I toured Gundersen Tri-County Hospital in Whitehall and learned about the consequences of the nursing shortage and how it affects the quality of care in rural communities.

Over the summer, I joined commuters on City of Eau Claire bus routes to listen to the issues that matter most. This experience motivated me to introduce legislation to recreate the Chippewa Valley Regional Transit Authority.

As Wisconsinites prepared for hunting season, I introduced legislation with my Democratic colleagues to allocate funding for CWD research, testing and carcass disposal sites.

During the gun hunting season, I toured CWD testing kiosks with Senator Schachtner and met hunters and scientists concerned about the growing spread of CWD. These conversations reinforced the need for these preventative measures to stop the spread of CWD and preserve Wisconsin’s hunting heritage.

I’m looking forward to meeting more advocates and introducing new bills to support Wisconsinites in 2020. However, we won’t be able to address the most critical issues or have meaningful accomplishments without non-partisan redistricting reform. Next week, I’ll be writing about my 2020 priorities and the need for fair maps.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Senator Jeff Smith: Lessons Learned in 2019

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 Thursday, 26 December 2019
in Wisconsin

new-year-happyThe Senator from western Wisconsin shares lessons learned in 2019 and his hope for cooperative shared government. He’ll be writing about 2019 reflections and his hopes for 2020 for the next three weeks.

BRUNSWICK, WI - This time of year offers an important opportunity to reflect and be grateful for the experiences we’ve earned. It’s been an honor serving as your state senator this year. As I returned from my last Madison trip of 2019, I had so much to think about, including the lessons learned, accomplishments made and what to look forward to in 2020.

For the next three weeks, I’ll be writing about my 2019 reflections and what drives me to serve the 31st Senate District. This past year created so many opportunities to learn from advocates, constituents and my legislative colleagues.

When this year began, I knew this would be a year of learning for myself and the entire legislature. After all, this was the first year Wisconsin had shared government since the 2007-2008 session, when Republicans controlled the Assembly, Democrats controlled the Senate and there was a Democratic governor.

I cringe when people call shared government divided government. Democracy is supposed to be messy, it’s supposed to be deliberate. Putting aside our ambitions and doing our part in the democratic process isn’t about division, it’s about finding unity.

In 2018, before officially taking office, I attended a legislative forum with area leaders. During the forum, I explained the reality of the situation: to get a committee hearing scheduled or a bill passed, I’d need support from Republicans, like the senator I was sitting next to. The Republican senator quickly replied, letting me know my help would be needed to prevent their bills from being vetoed. This optimistic conversation gave me hope of a cooperative environment within the Capitol.

jeff-smithHowever, my initial expectations fell far short of what happened this year. Stripping the Governor and Attorney General of power during the Lame Duck Session set a bad precedent and an uncooperative tone. The state senate only met 9 times in 2019, without bringing up important policy proposals, including Medicaid expansion or closing the dark store loophole. Less Senate floor sessions isn’t a bad thing if committees are thoroughly vetting policy and producing quality legislation. But this hasn’t been the case.

This year, I became the Ranking Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Financial Institutions and Revenue, a responsibility I take very seriously.

During the final Committee hearing of the year, we were scheduled to debate and vote on three bills relating to labeling dairy and meat products. These bills stem from farmers’ concerns for consumers not understanding the labeling for plant-based foods and imitation animal products. I understand we aren’t saving lives or farms with such legislation, but it’s something we can agree on that may help famers know we care about protecting Wisconsin’s proud agricultural legacy.

Under these bills, a grocer could be imprisoned if they sell products that are labeled as milk, cheese or meat if they aren’t produced by a mammal or come from an animal. Before we voted on these bills, I introduced amendments to remove the bill’s imprisonment penalty. Typically, in committee, we discuss and vote on the amendments and pass the bills with or without the amendments. Instead of following this procedure, the Republican Committee Chair ruled he wouldn’t even consider a vote on the amendments.

Even a member from his own party spoke against this process. Additionally, Senator Risser, the longest serving legislator in the nation, stated “I can safely say that if it has happened, it is a rare occurrence. The Chairman’s failure to allow deliberation of amendments perverts the very nature of committee meetings, to scrutinize legislation before it is sent to the full Senate for final review.”

This entire session, I’ve tried to say we have shared government to acknowledge the need for bipartisanship, but it feels more like divided government. Despite setbacks in 2019, I will renew my optimism for the good government concept of cooperation in 2020.

I’ve met advocates who have inspired my hope and lifelong endeavor to continue learning. My office has become my classroom where I learn from people of all backgrounds and identities. In next week’s column, I’ll share how conversations with others and lessons learned resulted in accomplishments over the last year.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

It's Cold Outside for Our Furry Friends

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, 18 December 2019
in Wisconsin

dog-winter-snowThe Senator talks about looking out for our vulnerable furry friends. He works with a constituent to learn about unattended tethering,  and introduces legislation to prohibit this harmful practice.

BRUNSWICK, WI - While it’s not officially here yet, the winter season has come to western Wisconsin. Snow has fallen and temperatures have dropped close to zero. During these winter months, my family’s two dogs enjoy exploring the outdoors. But, as the days get even colder, you’ll find the dogs spending more time inside near the wood burning stove in our family room.

Not all animals find winter so enjoyable, especially if they’re unable to warm up indoors. I recently learned the dangers for animals when kept outside for extensive periods of time. Even their furry coats aren’t enough to keep them warm as their body temperatures drop and their paws freeze.

As a legislator, I’ve come to learn the value of an advocate’s voice, while meeting community members and activists, and hearing their stories. These conversations are important reminders to look out for those who are vulnerable, including our furry friends who can’t speak for themselves. Our voices have power – we must speak up to take care of others.

jeff-smithIn 2009, I introduced the Commercial Dog Breeders Licensure Bill, as a State Representative. This bill, enacted by Governor Doyle, created a licensure process and stronger regulations for puppy mills. The passage of 2009 Act 90 was an incredible accomplishment, but I quickly learned the work to protect dogs didn’t stop there.

During the 2018 campaign, I met Becky who previously worked as a rural mail carrier. While on her route, she came across too many dogs who were permanently chained or tethered in a yard. Becky even saw dogs who were chained for such a long time that their collars became embedded into their skin.

She noticed other signs to indicate a dog has been chained for long periods of time. The area around the dog is a hardened dirt patch, and typically, the dog doesn’t have any shelter, if any. Of course, with little-to-no social interaction with others, these dogs become very defensive of their territory, aggressive and can be dangerous to humans. According to the animal welfare advocacy group, UnChain Wisconsin, tethered dogs are nearly three times “more likely to bite, with children almost always being the innocent victim.”

Too many dogs are permanently chained year-round. People often find themselves in unfortunate places in life and don’t know what to do with the dog they adopted. Some owners forget about the responsibilities or a family member loses interest in the pet. Whatever the reason, the dog becomes victim of circumstances brought on by poor judgement. This neglectful practice heightens the risk for entanglement, dehydration, starvation, heatstroke, frostbite, trauma, disease and death.

The United States Department of Agriculture condemned unattended tethering, defining the practice as “inhumane.” Despite their opposition and advocacy against this practice, little has been done to stop it. Many Wisconsin municipalities don’t have ordinances to prevent these abusive practices or they don’t have the resources to enforce it. The responsibility is left to neighbors and friends to intervene, which isn’t always easy or successful.

Throughout the past year, I worked with Becky and others to develop the “Unattended Tethering” bill to prohibit these harmful practices and provide appropriate shelter for dogs. Specifically, the bill will prohibit owners from tethering their dogs during extreme weather or under unsafe conditions, ban tethering to treadmills or training devices and prohibit owners from leaving dogs unattended in a motor vehicle under life-threatening circumstances.

After years of working with dog owners, Becky rescued some dogs from these dangerous circumstances. However, she wanted to advocate for these animals, who have no voice, in a different way. Her experience and advocacy moved this policy proposal forward. During the holiday season, I encourage you to advocate for others, like Becky. Be sure to look out for others who may not be able to advocate for themselves and find a way to use your voice to get involved and to help.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Next President Should Not Hide Behind Justice Department Policy

Posted by Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert lives in Howard and is a Partner in the Green Bay Progressive. Mem
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 14 December 2019
in Wisconsin

whitehouse-crimals-lkkWe need the Congress to specifically state in law what many of us have always taken for granted - that no one, including the President of the United States, is above the law.

GREEN BAY, WI - Like many patriotic Americans, I believe that no one is above the law, not even the President. However, with the rampant corruption and pending impeachment of Donald Trump, the ambiguity of whether or not a sitting President can be indicted is currently being debated.

Presently, the Constitution is silent on whether a president can face criminal prosecution, the U.S. Supreme Court has not directly addressed the question, and the U.S. Justice Department has a decades-old policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Therefore, criminal charges being brought against Trump, regardless of the severity of his crimes, just aren’t going to happen.

The thought of a criminal residing in the White House sickens me, and I would hope it would be troublesome for everyone. Therefore, in order to keep crooks from occupying 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, in the future, voters must do a better job of vetting Presidential candidates.

In addition, we need the Congress to specifically state in law what many of us have always taken for granted - that no one, including the President of the United States, is above the law or has the right to obstruct justice by ignoring a lawful subpoena in an effort to cover his/her crimes. Every American deserves to be assured of this fundamental principle of our government.

I would hope that all candidates for President will show he/she will follow the law and has no crimes to hide by supporting such a clarification in law.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Wisconsin Democrats Introduce Bills to Protect Property Taxpayers

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, 12 December 2019
in Wisconsin

school-bus-kidsLegislation attempts to reverse the increasing bill for the costly school choice and voucher programs at the expense of public schools.

MADISON - Property taxpayers have a hidden cost on their bills this month. According to the Department of Public Instruction, this hidden fee will cost the 27th Senate District $3.1 million, and upwards of $95.6 million statewide. If left unchecked, this fee – voucher schools – will increase year after year without oversight or authority.

This week Democrats introduced legislation to give the power back to taxpayers, instead of making them blindly foot the increasing bill for the costly school choice and voucher programs at the expense of public schools. Representative Sondy Pope (D-Mt.Horeb), Representative Dave Considine (D-Baraboo), and I introduced legislation to freeze the number of participants in the 3 main voucher programs and require teachers in the voucher programs to be licensed. Additionally, our bills will limit the voucher to lesser of the current payment or the school district’s general aid per student, and limit voucher payments to no more than tuition charged. Additionally, Senator Janet Bewley (D-Mason) introduced legislation to require a referendum before a district faces increased property taxes from vouchers taking away aid.

These proposals would ensure that property taxpayers don’t lose more to voucher operations than they would receive in state general aid per student, would ensure that voucher operations don’t take in more from taxpayers than they would have received in tuition, and would give the power back to taxpayers to decide how their tax dollars are spent.

school-meeting-crowdThis is not the first time that Democrats attempted to increase transparency and accountability this year. In Governor Evers’ budget proposal, he included several of the same proposals that we have reintroduced today. However, Republicans on the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) removed all provisions aimed at increasing the standards of voucher programs on their first vote.

Voucher school operators, on average, takes $2,618 more per student than the general aid a public school district receives. In 97% of districts statewide, property taxpayers would pay more per student to voucher schools than for their public schools, and although general aid is designed to limit the cost of public schools to property taxpayers, homeowners are on the hook for their increased taxpayer contributions to voucher programs.

Additionally, many private schools in the voucher programs charge significantly less in tuition than the voucher payments. In those cases, private schools make more from school district property taxpayers than they would have received in tuition. Choice schools often funnel these tax dollars to statewide lobby organizations that are designed to demand more from taxpayers without oversight. In other words, these voucher schools are draining resources from public schools, while profiting at property taxpayers’ expense.

Our public schools are already tragically underfunded, and taxpayers are forced to raise their own taxes through referendums in order to keep their doors open. Taxpayers deserve full transparency when it comes to the unreliable voucher programs, and the legislation that we introduced this week is a step in the right direction.

As avid supporters of public education, we are proud to work alongside our Democratic colleagues to fight back against the bad policies and burdens that taxpayers have to endure under Republican leadership. These bills are common-sense proposals that allow property taxpayers to choose whether or not they shell out hundreds of millions of dollars without oversight or authority.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes
Tweet With Us:


Copyright © 2020. Green Bay Progressive. Designed by Shape5.com