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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 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)
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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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We Are All One 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, 22 May 2019
in Wisconsin

affordablecareState Senator writes about the issues that bring people together. It’s important that we don’t let politics get in the way of doing what’s right.

MADISON, WI - This past week, I met with several healthcare leaders from around the state. Dentists, dental hygienists, physicians, nurses, social workers and others discussed a whole gamut of healthcare topics.

Each professional was unique, but the message was the same – we need Medicaid expansion. It’s been a long eight years for our health care professionals while they watched 37 other states fully expand Medicaid. It should be no surprise that taking back our money from the federal government was their number one request.

We need to listen to the professionals’ recommendations. Let’s set aside the partisanship and expand Medicaid. Playground politics is a dangerous game when it prevents people getting the care they need.

Wisconsin has lost $1.6 billion since 2009 because we haven’t accepted full Medicaid expansion. Wisconsin spends $3.5 billion on Medicaid annually. Wisconsin would dramatically decrease the amount we spend on health care by expanding Medicaid. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, before Minnesota expanded Medicaid in 2013, they typically spent $4.9 billion. Now Minnesota only spends $61 million because they took the expansion.

We all face health challenges at some point in our lives. We’ll need to access oral healthcare, address an addiction in the family or find long-term care for a loved one or ourselves as we age. That’s why, according to a recent Marquette Law School poll, 70% of Wisconsinites support Medicaid expansion. Some issues are so paramount they surpass partisanship. Medicaid expansion is one of them.

clean-drinking-waterAnother issue that brings people together is water. We have never been so divided politically, but important issues like water unite all of us. Neighbors and strangers stand together for clean water, despite the choice of political yard signs. We’ve seen enough “divide and conquer” politics. It gives me hope to see people unite around important issues like keeping our water clean.

school-kidsThe same goes for our public schools – citizens of all political stripes work together to support local schools. When restrictions like revenue limits undermine our school districts, citizen groups often campaign for referenda to fill gaps in school funding and meet the needs of our students. Seeing neighbors and strangers with potentially contradicting political views accomplish shared goals give me hope there is a chance to do what’s right.

Communities hit with natural disasters also see an incredible effort to work together. Disasters such as spring floods bring hundreds of people together to protect everyone’s homes and businesses. Strangers are willing to step up, fill sandbags and provide comfort. It’s in these life-or-death situations we find ourselves standing shoulder-to-shoulder working for what truly matters. In other words, when faced with shared challenges, we have shared values.

Medicaid expansion is another chance for neighbors and strangers to pull together right now to do what’s best for everyone. It may not be your contaminated well water, your school district’s referendum, your house in the floodplain or your child without health care. But we are one community. We care about one another.

jeff-smithMaking the right choices doesn’t have to depend on political affiliation. After all, everyone pays taxes. Each tax dollar isn’t put into separate pots for Republicans, Democrats or Independents. The money we paid into federal and state programs belong to all of us. We can’t let politics get in the way for doing what’s right.

Contact your legislators today. Call the members on the Joint Finance Committee, who are reviewing the budget and making crucial decisions that will affect each of us. Tell them to stop prioritizing their own political ambitions and jeopardizing health care access. Demand we come together to accept our Medicaid expansion money now.

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Your Government: Knowledge is Power

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 May 2019
in Wisconsin

capitol-night-wiscThe powerful keep the powerless from knowing the truth. When we see injustice and the spread of misinformation, we need to stand up to it.

MADISON - How many times have you heard the expression, “Knowledge is Power?” I heard it from an unexpected source last week during one of our public hearings in the Senate Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection Committee.

Who could disagree with the statement that knowledge is power? In fact, when someone used that line representing the conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, I thought it might be an opportunity to find agreement. The person testified in favor of a bill (Senate Bill 179) to force gas stations to post a sticker on each gas pump stating the tax being charged per gallon.

I asked the woman testifying if she also supported transparency regarding Governor Evers’ budget provision to post on each homeowner’s property tax bill the amount of tax money used for voucher schools. It seemed the perfect time to ask if we could agree that taxpayers should also have the knowledge so they can have the power. The woman refused to answer my question. Knowledge shouldn’t be limited because “limited knowledge is limited power.”

The same week Republicans said “no” to Medicaid expansion, they sent a flurry of anti-choice bills through committees. Senate Bill 174, called “A Woman’s Right to Know” also received a public hearing in our committee. Doctors are supposed to know the facts and patients trust their recommendations because they are based on years of medical knowledge and expertise.

SB 174 forces a doctor to inform a woman she may be able to reverse the process after taking a drug to chemically induce an abortion (despite lack of scientific evidence). So, I guess, it’s really just a woman’s right to know rhetoric rather than what is right. This would be “Wrong Knowledge is Wrong Power.”

jfcphotoWhat most people may want to know is that while Republicans were removing Medicaid Expansion from the budget they were passing bills to misinform women about important healthcare decisions. Here are the facts. Wisconsin has an opportunity to save $324.5 million, provide healthcare for 82,000 more residents and lower health insurance premiums for people with private insurance by 7-11% if we expand Medicaid. It’s a no-brainer. It all comes down to whether we put people before politics.

REAL knowledge IS real power. If we’re going to follow that philosophy, then we should be honest and consistent. If we really believe in knowledge and how citizens should be empowered, we should be forthright about our intentions behind our actions.

jeff-smithIt takes trust. Trust between legislators and the public. We can’t build trust when the information provided is not complete or is outright wrong.

Knowledge happens from firsthand experience, fact-based information and trustworthy sources. One or all of those things need to happen if knowledge is transformed into power. Then there is the power side of the equation. What sort of power? Where is the power applied? How is the power applied? That’s when things can get really sticky. Power can corrupt, and if power is the goal then the knowledge can also be corrupted to attain that power.

Too many times we’ve seen the powerful keep the powerless from knowing the truth. The facts are there for those that want to learn, but it takes effort on everyone’s part. In my office, one of my staff members has a quote from Edmund Burke near her desk that says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” When we see injustice and the spread of misinformation, we need to stand up to it. That is the true purpose of the “power” behind the statement knowledge is power.

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Valuing Our Voices on 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, 08 May 2019
in Wisconsin

school-meeting-crowdSen. Smith writes about key initiatives in Gov. Evers’ budget to make our communities healthier, including Medicaid expansion, lead testing and abatement programs, and investments to the Women’s Health Block Grant.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - During the past two months, I traveled throughout the 31st Senate District and met with constituents to hear their thoughts on the budget introduced by Governor Tony Evers. I joined Governor Evers at listening sessions in Eau Claire, Oshkosh, Kenosha, Superior and sat alongside Joint Finance Committee (JFC) members in River Falls for a public hearing. These were opportunities to listen to the comments and reactions from hundreds of Wisconsinites.

We’re now on to the next step of the budget process. Despite what the Republican JFC members heard from men and women at hearings in Janesville, Oak Creek, River Falls and Green Bay, they’ve decided to start from scratch, disregarding the vast support for “The People’s Budget.” They refused to consider the long-term impacts these political actions have on Wisconsin’s children and women. It’s time we pay attention and speak up louder – we must make sure the needs and voices of all Wisconsinites are valued.

While meeting with constituents in the 31st Senate District and joining Governor Evers at the budget listening sessions, one thing was clear: Wisconsinites support Medicaid expansion. They back Governor Evers’ proposal to accept federal funds to expand healthcare access for 82,000 people in our state. Folks understand the value of Medicaid expansion, which would save our state $324.5 million.

By leveraging state funds, we would see an additional $1.6 billion in new federal funding to invest in local programs and services that address Wisconsin’s most concerning health needs. From that investment, there would be $106 million going directly towards the counties that I represent, including Buffalo, Pepin, Trempealeau, Pierce, Eau Claire, Chippewa and Jackson. A significant portion of these funds would be used to improve health outcomes for women and their newborns by extending postpartum coverage for a whole year, rather than the current 60 days.

We must make sure that Wisconsin’s children continue to grow up in a healthy community. That’s why I strongly support Governor Evers’ proposal to invest $52 million in programs to improve lead testing and abatement. It’s shocking to know that children in Wisconsin have elevated lead levels in their bloodstream that are higher than the national average. In fact, Buffalo County has higher rates of lead poisoning than in Flint, Michigan, according to the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

jeff-smithI was encouraged to see that the Governor included $2 million in the budget towards preventing childhood lead poisoning in the counties that I represent. It's vitally important for the JFC to add this to the budget. These investments are necessary to ensure our children have access to clean drinking water, which will contribute to their intellectual and developmental growth.

The “People’s Budget” commits to strengthening women’s healthcare by restoring Women’s Health Block Grant Funding. These grants are directed to local public health departments and health clinics to provide essential services, including pregnancy testing, cervical cancer screenings, perinatal care, STI testing and treatment and general health screenings.

The restoration in grant funding is incredibly important to make sure access remains available for women that need it. Under the previous administration, the block grant funding was cut by 10%, according to the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health. This resulted in five Planned Parenthood clinics, including one in Chippewa Falls, to close their doors on approximately 3,000 women. These clinics did not provide any abortion services, rather they were open to provide critical primary care. These closures were politically motivated. Investing in women’s health initiatives isn’t about politics, it’s just plain common sense.

Republicans shouldn't play politics when it comes to the health and well-being of Wisconsin women and children by not expanding Medicaid. Although the listening sessions are over, it’s not too late to raise your voice to advocate for these programs in the “People’s Budget.” The Joint Finance Committee will begin voting on the budget on Thursday, May 9th. Soon they will be making their decision to include Medicaid expansion and determining the fate of programs to support women and children.

Call the JFC co-chairs, Senator Alberta Darling at (608) 266-5830 and Representative John Nygren at (608) 266-2343 or a JFC member from the list that can be found here:

Let them know you support these health care investments. Encourage your friends and family to get involved. This is an important time – let’s make sure all of Wisconsin’s voices are valued.

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Mental Health is Real 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, 01 May 2019
in Wisconsin

depression-suicidebygunSen. Smith highlights the challenges Wisconsin faces in addressing the mental health needs of communities.

MADISON - So much can be said about mental health and yet so little has been done. We all know someone struggling with mental illness. So few receive the help they need.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been at eleven budget listening sessions. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive about Governor Tony Evers’ budget. Time and time again, many of the conversations I have with attendees is about mental health.

Some people are born with mental illness, some form destructive habits after experiencing traumatic events. Despite the causes, we fail to treat the seriousness of the issue.

Last week, I attended a briefing by the Children’s Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators tasked with finding ways to help our children get the care they need. The briefing was about the importance of early childhood mental health consultants. Before we can crawl we are susceptible to mental illness. It takes a keen eye to spot it and it takes early intervention to treat it.

Childhood trauma can lead to serious mental illness. Children are resilient, but they struggle with communicating their needs. As parents, grandparents, teachers and child care professionals, we all play a part in identifying mental health needs. Excessive worrying, problems concentrating, extreme mood changes, avoiding social activity, changes in sleep activity, substance abuse, and hyperactivity are just a few indicators of mental illness.

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 individuals will be affected by mental or neurological disorders. Two-thirds of those with mental illness will not seek help due to the stigma associated with the disease.

For those who do decide to seek treatment, there is a serious lack of qualified professionals in Wisconsin. According to a study done by the Wisconsin Policy Forum in 2018, 55 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties has a significant shortage of psychiatrists, and 20 counties have no psychiatrists at all. Compounding the problem, the average age of psychiatrists in Wisconsin is 50 years old.

jeff-smithIf someone needs mental health treatment, it is covered by insurance thanks to a law I helped pass in 2008 called the Mental Health Parity Bill. That was a good start for treating mental illness, but very little has been done since.

Governor Evers’ budget, developed by listening to the people of Wisconsin, makes big investments for mental health treatment -- especially for kids. Schools will receive $44 million in categorical aids over the biennium for mental health professionals like nurses or counselors. He also adds $14 million for grant programs to help schools districts collaborate with community health organizations for mental health services.

The Governor also makes critical investments at our state treatment facilities. He adds 24 new beds and 58 new staff positions at Winnebago Mental Health Institute. He adds 14 new beds and 50.5 new staff for Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center. He adds 58 new beds and 34 staff to the Wisconsin Resource Center so inmates can receive the treatment they need.

For low-income individuals, the Governor invests $37 million for crisis intervention services and $23 million for postpartum care. Additionally, for substance abuse treatment, the Governor proposes creating three “hub-and-spoke” models designed to help regional hospitals refer patients to treatment centers, physicians and social service agencies.

We have a lot of work to do, especially for substance abuse challenges. Opioids and meth continue to ravage our state. Treatment alternative and diversion programs are a great way to keep people focused on healing from addiction rather than being locked up for it. The Governor adds an additional $2 million in grant funds for the program.

No one is immune to mental illness. Too many times we’ve seen people take their own lives because they didn’t get the help they needed or the pain was too unbearable. The illnesses we can’t see on an x-ray or in a blood test are the hardest to overcome. Mental illness is real and “toughing it out” isn’t how to handle it. We owe it to all those suffering to do whatever we can to help them through the hardest times in their lives.

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Waupaca County Joins Effort to Ban Gerrymandering

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Monday, 29 April 2019
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voter-primariesPressure grows Statewide for referendums, as 72 percent of Wisconsinites want to ban gerrymandering, including 63 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Independents.

MADISON - On April 16 the Waupaca County board became the 46th county board to pass a resolution urging our state legislators to ban gerrymandering in Wisconsin and to adopt nonpartisan redistricting.

Waupaca is conservative territory, and the passing of the referendum there is yet more confirmation that this is an issue that’s popular across the board. A Marquette Law School poll earlier this year showed that 72 percent of Wisconsinites want to ban gerrymandering, including 63 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Independents. Like Waupaca County, which Donald Trump carried with 63 percent of the vote, 34 of the 46 Wisconsin counties that have passed this resolution went for Trump in 2016.

The momentum keeps building. In addition to Waupaca County, three other county boards passed the resolution this month: Buffalo County, Iowa County, and Fond du Lac County.

What’s more, on April 2, county-wide referendums passed by overwhelming margins in La Crosse County and Vernon County. (Also that day, the Town of Newbold, near Rhinelander, held a referendum on the issue, and it passed with 69 percent approval.)

Here are the eight counties that have passed the referendum so far, along with the lopsided votes in favor:

  • Dane: 4/1/2014, 82% in favor46 Counties Have Passed Fair Maps Resolutions
  • Eau Claire: 11/6/18, 74% in favor
  • La Crosse: 4/2/2019, 77% in favor
  • Lincoln: 11/6/18, 65% in favor
  • Outagamie: 4/3/2018, 72% in favor
  • Sauk: 11/6/18, 72% in favor
  • Vernon: 4/2/2019, 71% in favor
  • Winnebago: 11/6/18, 69% in favor

This is one of the most underreported stories about grassroots activism in Wisconsin.

This powerful effort is the result of some great coordinated organizing by Citizen Action Cooperatives, Common Cause in Wisconsin, the Fair Elections Project, Grassroots North Shore, Indivisible, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Our Wisconsin Revolution, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Wisconsin Voices, and a few other groups.

matt-rothschildIt’s also the result of some inspired leadership by Lincoln County board member Hans Breitenmoser, who galvanized the county-by-county effort. And it’s the result of years of talks, all around the state, by former State Senators Tim Cullen and Dale Schultz (Cullen was Majority Leader for the Democrats at one point, and Schultz was Majority Leader for the Republicans).

Last, but by no means least, it’s the result of spontaneous organizing by local citizens who are just sick and tired of the rigging of our political system!

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Earth Day Should Be Every 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, 24 April 2019
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earth-dayIn honor of Earth Day, Sen. Smith highlights the importance of taking part in efforts to combat climate change. Now more than ever, it’s important to pay attention to the environment around us for future generations to enjoy.

MADISON - It’s been eight years since anyone in our executive branch of government uttered the words “climate change.” Thankfully, Governor Tony Evers brought science, common sense and the term climate change back to Wisconsin.

Since the 1970s, Wisconsin Governors have shaped our nation’s conservation legacy. In my office, over my desk, hangs an iconic poster from Governor Gaylord Nelson’s campaign. The man from Clear Lake was ahead of his time. He did all he could to raise awareness that the earth is worth protecting.

gaylord-nelsonThis week we celebrated Earth Day. From recycling to burning less fossil fuels, we already felt responsible to preserve and protect our world from our destructive behaviors in 1970, when Earth Day was recognized. It was Governor Gaylord Nelson who created the concept of Earth Day as a reminder to us all that we need to do our part.

The 1970s was a decade marked with milestone environmental changes for our country. President Richard Nixon proposed the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, Congress passed the Clean Water Act and amended the Clean Air Act. At the same time, oil companies were conducting research about how burning fossil fuels affect our climate.

I recently read a story from Scientific American about research conducted by InsideClimate News staff. They spent eight months pouring over documents and interviewing Exxon scientists and federal government officials.

The article described how researchers determined that Exxon knew of climate change since July 1977. James Black, Exxon’s senior scientist told the company’s management team, “In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels."

In a more recent article from The Guardian in September 2018, they described how Shell predicted climate change effects too. Analysts at Shell predicted a disappearance of specific ecosystems or habitat destruction, an increase in runoff, destructive floods, an inundation of low-lying farmland, the need for new sources of freshwater to compensate for changes in precipitation and global changes in air temperature would drastically change the way people live and work.

frac-sand-spill-wiscWestern Wisconsin and our state as a whole is not immune to the effects of climate change. What was considered flooding that should only occur once every hundred years is now happening annually in Wisconsin. Our country is experiencing fiercer tornados and hurricanes and long droughts out west are creating dangerous fire conditions. Globally, we are experiencing stronger and more frequent earthquakes and tsunamis.

Like cigarette companies that knew the health effects of smoking, oil companies knew that burning fossil fuels would harm our planet. The damage may be irreversible. Just like quitting tobacco, we need to change our habits. It takes everyone to pitch in if we are going to make a difference.

It’s encouraging to see so many municipalities adopt the Paris Climate Agreement even if the White House pulls the United States out. Even our Governor is pitching in by including big changes in his budget proposal for reducing our carbon footprint here in Wisconsin. Governor Tony Evers’ budget includes a provision setting a goal of 100% carbon-free electricity generation in Wisconsin by 2050. He also proposes using the Volkswagen emissions settlement funds for purchasing new public buses and installing new electric car charging stations.

We can all play a part. We must all play a part. As I continually say, if we err when making decisions on education or health care or transportation, we can fix it. But if we poison our water, air and earth, we cannot fix it. Think about how we leave this earth for generations to come. Every day needs to be Earth Day!

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Passing the Baton

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, 17 April 2019
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senate-scholar-programSen. Smith writes about learning opportunities like the Senate Scholar Program and internships that provide young people with the skills to take the baton from the older generation.

MADISON - The number of times I’ve heard people say, “We need to help young people engage in our community,” or “We need more young people in politics” is so common I won’t even venture to guess. It’s almost inevitable someone will say something like that at every meeting I attend.

It really hasn’t changed. As someone who grew up through the 1960s and 70s, adults regularly complained about young people engaged in peace, love and rock ‘n roll. Adults were sure the next generation was a lost cause and young people couldn’t care less about their community.

And I’m sure the generation before had the same concerns for their children.

Of course, their fears weren’t founded in fact. My generation was inspired by the generations before even if we didn’t admit it. As a Baby Boomer, I took lessons from the “Greatest Generation” – the ones who made it through the Great Depression and World War II.

Our democracy depends on each generation inspiring the next. Our patriotism becomes stronger through each generations’ contributions to our country.

senate-scholar-lara-boudinotSome have heard me say this before; we’re the surrogates for young people. They will take over when they’re ready. Just like my generation and every generation before, we’re caretakers for the next generation. The new generation is creating its own identity. Careers are established, families are grown and communities are transformed. That’s how it's always worked.

Our greatest responsibility is what we leave for our next generation. How do we create new opportunities and be good stewards of our natural resources? How will future generations judge our actions? Like anyone, we’ve stumbled at times in this race, but all that really matters is if we can hand off the baton without losing too much ground.

Last week, we hosted a group of students as Senate Scholars at the State Capitol. Several times each year, high school students across Wisconsin participate in this week-long program to learn more about state government.

Depending on what’s going on during the week, students become familiarized with all the different processes in the Capitol. They get an opportunity to staff the Senate floor when we’re in session, visit the Governor’s residence and go through the lawmaking process with mock legislation. They learn about the media, legislative staff, lobbyists and legislative agency support staff.

jeff-smithI crossed paths throughout our busy week with a young man named Michael, a Senate Scholar from Eau Claire. It wasn’t until Thursday, I was able to spend some time getting to know him and find out what he learned during his week-long experience.

Michael was inquisitive and attentive, learning all he could about the state government process. This young man’s visit to my office renewed my hope for our future generation. Like so many young people I meet, this experience left me with real certainty that our youth will be ready to lead when the time comes.

If you are a 16-18 year old high school student, or your son or daughter wants to learn more, I strongly encourage you to consider the Senate Scholar Program. Check out the website at to learn more about program eligibility requirements and the curriculum.

Dr. Tammy Wehrle, the Legislative Education and Outreach Officer for the Senate is an incredible asset for the Senate. She can help answer questions about the program. You can reach out to her at 608-261-0533 for more information.

If you're looking for a more in-depth look at the state legislature, we offer unpaid internships to college students and recent graduates. Interns have a chance to research policy and provide information to constituents. They also have the opportunity to attend committee hearings and participate at events in the district. Visit to learn more about this program or to apply.

Opportunities like the Senate Scholar Program and internships give our next generation a glimpse of how government works. Our hope is for students participating in this program become the future leaders of our state and nation. I’m confident we will be in good hands if we keep supporting and building up our next generation through learning opportunities as Senate Scholars and interns.

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Paying Again Through Referendum

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, 10 April 2019
in Wisconsin

school-closedSen. Smith writes about public education and the impact of referenda in funding local schools.

MADISON - Last Tuesday was a big election day for Wisconsin. It was an even bigger election day for public education. Many Wisconsin school districts were able to pass crucial referenda to keep operating, some weren’t so lucky.

Some school districts are one bad referendum away from closing. We cannot educate our children on political whims alone, we need assurance from the state that education funding is a priority.

high-schoolUnfortunately, lurching from one referendum to the next has become the norm for school districts, but it hasn’t always been like this. Don’t get me wrong, K-12 funding has always been a matter of friction between political philosophies for decades, but agreements have been reached.

Disagreements came to a head in 1993 when the state adopted a school funding formula that capped revenue for districts at the level they were at that year. As a compromise, the state also promised to fund 2/3 of the total cost for educating our children.

The twenty-six year old formula is complicated, and it’s influenced by many different factors. The two most important factors are student enrollment and total property valuation within the district. Thus, if a district’s enrollment is bursting at the seams plus their property values are low, they receive a larger per pupil subsidy than a district with decreased enrollment and high property values.

Over the years, this formula has proven to fall short of our constitutional obligation to provide an equitable education to all children in Wisconsin. We live in a time now when one bad election turnout can force schools to close.

Politicians who support the current funding system would often say that voters could determine their support for their schools through referendum. That thinking seemed logical to some when referenda proved terribly difficult to pass. As state funding has been cut, schools are struggling to meet the needs of the communities. Referenda have become the only option to keep up.

Since 2011 the rate of success in passage has been overwhelming. In 2011 39 referenda passed while 31 failed. In 2014 80 passed while 38 failed. In 2018 141 passed and only 16 failed! Just last week 44 of 59 referenda questions passed.

jeff-smithOften political debate is about the obligation of government and how we manage the money every citizen pays through taxes. Will we cut funding or pay more for roads or libraries or even law enforcement? The state budget comes up for renewal every two years. It gets nearly all the attention from your leaders at nearly every level of government.

Municipalities, counties and school districts need to know what they can expect so they can plan their own budgets. Citizens want to know if their taxes will rise and if they can depend on good roads or their summer vacation to a state park. Even contractors pay attention because they want the work that comes out of building projects and road construction in the budget. It’s a big deal. So much depends on the priorities of politicians who find themselves in a position to make these decisions.

Parents, teachers and children want to know if their school is going to open next year. Annual referenda is not a consistent way to fund public education. Referenda should be a tool school districts can use to enhance their already good, properly-funded schools.

There isn’t nearly enough space here to describe the connection that education has to the success of everything in our society. Without state funding, without funding approved in referenda, how do we fund schools? Do we have to hold annual fundraisers just to keep the doors open? Should we continue to rely on this unreliable system for our children’s future?

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State Building Commission: Leaders or Followers?

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, 03 April 2019
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uwec-campusSen. Smith writes about the budget process and the role the State Building Commission plays in approving Gov. Evers’ capital budget requests. We need bipartisanship throughout the budget process to support Wisconsin’s future.

MADISON - As leaders and policy makers in Wisconsin it is our job to ensure that our state government and operations run smoothly. Our agencies must be funded properly, people must be paid and projects should be moving forward in a timely fashion. It doesn’t need to be complicated. There are processes in place that have worked for decades.

The process begins with the presentation of the budget proposal from Governor Evers in the administrative branch to Wisconsin’s legislative branch. The legislative process is headed by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC), a 16-member bipartisan group of legislators, which reviews and makes recommendations based on the Governor’s budget proposal. These recommendations are then voted on by all members of the legislature before returning to the governor for his or her approval. Sounds simple, right?

Often overlooked in this process is the approval of the Governor’s capital budget requests by the State Building Commission. This commission is made up of the governor, a 6-member bipartisan group of legislators from the Senate and Assembly, and one private citizen appointed by the governor.

The commission is responsible for the state’s building program by approving and managing construction and improvement projects for our state buildings that play a vital role for communities throughout Wisconsin. The legislative members of the commission vote on building funding proposals and share their recommendations with JFC for final approval of the capital budget requests.

budget-hearingMembers of the State Building Commission have a history of working closely with each other to make sure these major projects go smoothly. It was always one place where partisanship did not usually blind the needs of progress.

For instance, during the early years of the Doyle administration (when the Republicans controlled both houses as they do today) the State Building Commission worked together and approved capital projects without any political ambitions getting in the way. The Commission was instrumental in funding key projects to support our higher education and healthcare facilities. That was 2003 and 2005. This is 2019.

On March 18th and 19th, the State Building Commission subcommittees met to vote on the capital requests from agencies to be included in the budget. All members of both subcommittees voted unanimously on the requested projects. However, something happened in the next 24 hours and the Republicans had a change of heart.

The commission began to vote on each individual item on the list. One by one, the votes were taken and each vote ended the same. While the two Democratic legislators, Governor Evers and the private citizen voted to approve each item, the 4 Republicans voted “no” on important projects, including the renovation of Phillips Science Hall at UW-Eau Claire. The tie meant no action taken. Thus, these projects are left in limbo and will be sent to the JFC without the Building Commission's recommendation.

This hasn’t happened before. The locked step negative vote really signals a change and raises a lot of questions. Is there any hope that our legislature can really work together in this shared government? Can the elected legislators in the Republican caucus stand up against the leaders that don’t have their constituents’ best interests at heart? How will this affect the budget process moving forward?

After Governor Evers introduced “The People’s Budget” on February 28th, we heard the usual rhetoric from opposition leaders referring to it as a non-starter. It’s a shame that partisan politics is getting in the way of the historical investments Governor Evers proposed. Improvements in our state’s infrastructure should be an issue that we all rally behind. Previous State Building Commissions worked together to approve projects that have made positive impacts in our local communities. We’ve seen the powerful result of compromise in the past. Now it’s time to be the leaders we were elected to be for the future of Wisconsin.

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Nygren Wrong on State Budget

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
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wisconsin-koch-industriesState Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay responds to Rep. John Nygren’s column on the State Budget in the Marinette Eagle Herald.

GREEN BAY, WI - To hear Rep. Nygren tell it you would think Governor Evers’ budget should be dismissed because it isn’t Republican enough. In truth Governor Evers’ budget is a responsible budget, moderate in its approach and reasonable in its effort to work for all of the people, not just corporations and the wealthy.

Under Walker and the Republicans, the state budget grew by leaps and bounds. Yet we saw embarrassingly little progress on fixing our roads, lowering health insurance costs, or dealing with the public school funding crisis. Despite controlling all branches of state government, Republicans also failed to deliver on Walker’s promise to create 250,000 jobs.

2015-budgetThey did, however, cut billions in taxes for corporations and the rich and while committing over $3 billion of your tax dollars to Foxconn which so far has failed to live up to any of its promises. They also rolled back important environmental protections that protect our air and water and managed to drive down wages for workers by opposing any effort to increase the minimum wage and by repealing the law that would help close the gap in pay between women and men.

For those who like to cry socialism anytime someone suggests ideas to help low-income and middle-class families improve their standard of living, it’s easy to suggest that dependence on government is the problem while ignoring that it’s nearly impossible to raise a family on Wisconsin’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

So it should come as no surprise that our new governor has a lot on his plate.

When he campaigned for governor, Tony Evers did so on some very basic but important promises: Get our fair share of federal MA funding to expand and lower the cost of health insurance.

As governor, Scott Walker refused to take our share of federal MA money because he was running for president. Now that he’s gone we should accept the MA money. Doing so would bring back hundreds of millions of our federal tax dollars making it possible to help families who earn too much to qualify for BadgerCare but not enough to afford their own health insurance. Unfortunately, Republicans in Madison are still opposed.

Close loopholes that help the rich and corporations and provide a real middle-class tax cut.

diane-hendricksThe Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit has done nothing to create jobs but has been very good at taking money out of everyone else’s pockets and giving it to a bunch of rich billionaires and millionaires, many of whom also happen to donate to Republican campaigns. Under the M&A credit billionaires like Diane Hendricks get a check from the state each year averaging $2 million.

Governor Evers’ budget leaves the Agricultural Tax Credit in place but ends the handouts to the billionaires and millionaires, using the savings to cut taxes for the middle class.

teaching-studentsSave our public schools.

Under Walker, the Republicans cut over $1 billion from our public schools. Governor Evers is committed to restoring that funding. Unfortunately, Rep. Nygren and the Republicans seem willing to accept “failing schools” as the status quo in our state, instead preferring to subsidize a second, unaccountable private school system with taxpayer dollars.

Fix our roads and highways.

No one wants to raise taxes. But after eight years of neglect and borrowing to the point that nearly 25 cents of every dollar raised for transportation goes to pay debt rather than fix our roads, something needs to be done. In a truly bi-partisan, Governor Evers adopted part of a Republican plan that Rep. Nygren himself supported but which Republicans now oppose.

This is just the beginning of the budget process. But if the Republicans’ lame duck session and their actions since are any indication of what’s to come it is going to be a very long process indeed. After eight years of neglect, the voters said it was time for a change. It’s past time for Rep. Nygren and the Republicans to admit this fact and start working with Governor Evers for the good of all the people of our state, not just their wealthy friends.

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State Government: The Budget Mosaic

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 Thursday, 28 March 2019
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wisc-capitol-domeIt’s important to understand the budget from afar, but we learn even more from looking closer to see how everything connects.

MADISON - Connecting dots can be very satisfying -- when it all clicks together our eyes get big, our jaws drop and we become stunned with our newfound knowledge.

The bigger the conclusion, the more satisfying the result. For legislators, much is the same for comprehending the state budget. Pouring over the details and reading the documents line-by-line can be dull, very dull. But when things start to click and make sense, it’s all worth it.

Governor Tony Evers listened to the experiences and values from many different people and put together a budget that represents a large mosaic - tiny little pictures that make up a larger picture. There is value in viewing the mosaic from afar, but there can also be a benefit peering closely at one of the small pictures within to see how it all connects.

meeting-crowdThe other day, when giving a presentation about the budget at one of our listening sessions, a retired assistant district attorney chimed in about criminal justice changes in the state budget. He was concerned about forgetting the seriousness of some crimes. He stressed that sometimes incarceration is the only safe place for some criminals.

This gentleman had a point - we will never stop all crime. Some crimes are so heinous the guilty need to be locked up from society. Most often, criminals are the product of many factors. Without a good education some may be more at risk of committing a crime. Some grew up in a family stuck in a cycle of violence. Others still may have grown up in a good family, but struggle with mental health.

If we address the ailments of society head on, we have the best chance at fighting crime before it happens. Helping people with addiction and mental health issues get access to affordable and high-quality health care can help. Or fixing our broken school funding formula can help schools better educate at-risk youth. There’s no shortage of opportunities to help society heal.

Just as we think of numerous ways to address a single facet of the budget, let’s now talk about a single issue in the budget and how it affects all different aspects of our society.

It’s hard to go a day as state senator without hearing how broadband internet expansion can help Wisconsin prosper. I was encouraged to see Governor Evers include nearly $100 million in additional broadband funding in his budget. That’s more than double the amount we’ve spent on broadband in the last 5 years combined!

The budget also defines broadband as speeds that can download content at least 25 megabytes per second (mbps) and upload content at 3mbps. That’s also the Federal Communications Commission’s standard of broadband.

Farmers will be able to connect to learn more about best practices, find new opportunities to sell their products directly to consumers and file reports. Kids will be able to do their homework and research at speeds that keep up with the rapidly advancing world. Patients and doctors will be able to use telehealth screenings. Broadband is the difference that makes our communities stronger. Agriculture, education and healthcare all need broadband access.

internet-ruralLike rural electrification, rural broadband access is critical if our small cities, villages and towns are going to thrive and continue to exist. And, like rural electrification, government has a role. Broadband expansion is expensive and most service providers don’t believe there are enough profits to justify the cost in rural areas. They need incentives to expand into underserved communities.

The biggest difference between rural electrification and rural broadband expansion is the benefits to all for connecting more people. Every single person or business that connects to the world wide web not only gets access to the world’s largest repository of advice and information, but they also become a contributor for everyone else in the world.

Now, those are two prime examples of how multiple budget matters connect to affect citizens across all spectrums of life in Wisconsin. The budget is a moral document -- it lays out our values and offers us a glimpse of how everything we do in state government is connected.

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“You be the Judge of the Budget”

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, 20 March 2019
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crowdSen. Jeff Smith will hosting nine budget listening sessions in northwestern Wisconsin in March and April.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - Ever since my two daughters were young and able to ice skate, I attended their figure skating practices and competitions. I’ve respected the work and dedication these young women put in for such an incredible sport. I became so interested that I started volunteering as the announcer for the Eau Claire Figure Skating Club competitions.

Competitive figure skating is mostly a solo sport. This changes however on the last day of the competition when many of the athletes get the opportunity to skate as a team. Synchronized skating has become a standalone competitive sport which adds that special team element to the skills they honed as solo artists. It's on that final day that I'm the announcer at the rink and introduce each team.

I’ve learned to appreciate the countless hours these young skaters put in with their coaches to perfect their spins, jumps, speed, and coordinating it all to music. Watching the perfect figure skating routine is the final product of hours of practice and countless falls and mishaps. There’s so much more than the few minutes the judges get to see on the ice including rivalry, high emotions, tears, and clashes in practice or the locker room.

I’ve found that description rings true for politics as well. There’s plenty of competition in the legislature as well as high emotions, disagreements, and tears at times. Certainly, it’s a rivalrous atmosphere with passionate individuals vying over sensitive issues.

At the end of the day, the young figure skaters put aside their craving for individual recognition to create a perfectly synchronized skating routine. I’m always amazed when they come together and create something great.

Just like a skater putting together a routine, Governor Evers put in his time practicing and training to perfect what he called the “People’s Budget.” Throughout this process, the Governor asked the people what he should include in his budget. To get suggestions, he hosted listening sessions in Superior, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Wausau.

As you can imagine, everyone has different ideas to move Wisconsin forward. Governor Evers embraced these diverse opinions and so do I. In the budget development phase, Governor Evers heard Wisconsin residents echo a few common ideas. Much of the suggestions revolved around affordable health care, roads that don’t bust up our cars, fully-funding public schools, and reforming our criminal justice system.

jeff-smithI will be hosting nine budget listening sessions to discuss Governor Evers’ biennial state budget proposal. I need you to be the judge for the Governor’s work on the People’s Budget, so please join me at one of the locations below.

Each budget listening session is from 5:30pm - 7:00pm and open to the public. Here are the details of our events:

· Thursday, March 21st: Whitehall - Whitehall Memorial High School

· Friday, March 22nd: Ellsworth - Ellsworth High School

· Monday, March 25th: Eau Claire - Joint Listening Session with Rep. Jodi Emerson - L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library

· Thursday, March 28th: Holmen - Joint Listening Session with Sen. Jennifer Shilling and Rep. Steve Doyle - Holmen Public Library

· Thursday, April 11th: Durand - Durand City Hall

· Monday, April 15th: River Falls - Joint Listening Session with Sen. Patty Schachtner - River Falls Public Library

· Thursday, April 18th: Alma - Alma High School

· Tuesday, April 23rd: Menomonie - Joint Listening Session with Sen. Patty Schachtner at the Shirley Doane Senior Center

· Date is TBD: Black River Falls - Location is TBD

For more information, check out my website or Facebook page. I look forward to seeing you at one of these events. If you can’t make it to one of our listening sessions, please call, write or email me with any feedback about the budget.

The synchronized routine of 132 legislators trying to work together on the budget has just begun. It won’t be easy, but we rely on you to be the judge of how we work together.

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Sen. Smith Celebrates Women’s History Month

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, 13 March 2019
in Wisconsin

women-3genAs we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s make a better effort to celebrate the women in our lives says Senator.

MADISON - Last week we welcomed the beginning of Women’s History Month – a time for us to celebrate women's achievements, honor women's history and reflect on the work that still needs to be done. At an early age, I was most inspired and influenced by the women in my life. I’m fortunate to have these relationships throughout my life. Women have motivated me in so many different ways and have shaped me to be the person I am today.

I met my first best friend, Linda, when my family moved into my childhood home near Eau Claire. As kids, social norms taught us boys were supposed to play with boys and girls with girls. Despite these norms, and the taunts from the other kids in school, Linda and I played together.

Linda’s friendship taught me the importance of questioning social norms. If we had listened to the others in our classroom, I would’ve missed out on many memories, a great friendship, and an even greater lesson. Our friendship taught me to have more trust and faith in women.

Time and time again girls were at the top of our class. I learned to respect the efforts and work of the girls around me, especially the times when I fell short.

As I grew older, I continued to develop new friendships with the young women in my high school, which I still treasure to this day. In my adult life, that never changed. It was always clear to me that women in my life were motivated and knowledgeable in so many different aspects.

This includes the most important women in my life - my wife, Sue, along with our daughters, Emily and Sarah. They’ve pushed me to be well-rounded and inspired me to be who I am today. Whether it be at home, at the office, or even in the campaign to get elected as Senator, I’ve seen how the women around me stay committed and get things done.

From early on, I learned the importance of working with women and trusting women. Without these relationships I wouldn’t be as aware of the diverse life perspectives in my community or the importance of listening to others while I’m serving as State Senator.

In the first week of Women’s History Month, I had the opportunity to participate in the “Status of Girls” presentation organized by the bipartisan Alverno College Research Center for Women and Girls. This was an eye-opening presentation highlighting disparities between girls and boys in Wisconsin, from increased rates of poverty and abuse to disproportionate cases of cyberbullying and mental health diagnoses. It was concerning to learn how these issues don’t just stop when a girls becomes an adult, but they are issues that continue to impact a woman as she grows older.

jeff-smithI looked around the room at the presentation and realized that I was only one of two men present in a group with more than twenty attendees. I found this rather odd. Shouldn't more of us be concerned about the issues affecting more than fifty percent of our population? Why was there such little representation from men at this presentation on the status of Wisconsin girls – a key demographic that makes up 11% of our state’s population?

I understand that we all have busy schedules and a lot of things going on in our lives; however, we must remember to value the concerns and experiences of others, including the girls and women of our state. I’ve learned so much growing up with strong women all around me. These relationships are a reminder for me to stand up, support others, and advocate for issues that may not personally affect me. As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s make a better effort to celebrate the women in our lives by developing new friendships, connecting with others and strengthening the voices around us.

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First Glance at Governor Evers’ Budget

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, 06 March 2019
in Wisconsin

tony-evers-budget-2019Sen. Smith reviews the policies included in Gov. Tony Evers’ first budget, presented to the Legislature last Thursday, including broadband expansion, nonpartisan redistricting reform, education and transportation funding, and Medicaid expansion.

MADISON - Governor Tony Evers presented his first budget to the Legislature on Thursday evening last week. It was a uniquely crafted budget. It contained encouraging policy for Wisconsin’s future. And many of the Governor’s budget provisions were long overdue.

The Governor’s comments highlighted his goal to present the people’s budget to the Legislature: “It’s about creating a Wisconsin that works for everyone — a Wisconsin for us. This isn’t the Tony Evers’ budget, the Democratic budget, the speaker’s budget, or the Republican budget — this is the people’s budget. And it’s one that we crafted together.”

This was a very unique budget address. During the Governor’s speech, he presented a video about the process he used for developing the people’s budget. The video showed footage of public budget listening sessions throughout December in Green Bay, La Crosse, Wausau and Milwaukee. This was the first time a new Governor hosted listening sessions while crafting his budget for introduction.

Much of the budget was exactly what the Governor laid out in his campaign, but there were many policies he included that were from the feedback he received at the listening sessions. Governor Evers’ budget was specially crafted from a uniquely collaborative process.

Many of the different policies in the budget were encouraging for Wisconsin’s future -- for years we’ve seen devastating cuts to public schools, our universities, unsustainable borrowing and a Wisconsin that has lagged behind while the nation recovered. New ideas are needed if we are going to make Wisconsin a national leader again.

The Governor’s plan to add $78 million for broadband expansion grants is a massive increase from the $16 million adopted in the previous budget. Broadband expansion is arguably one of the most important budget provisions for our rural communities.

The Governor also defines broadband speed as 25 megabytes while downloading and 3 megabytes while uploading. This change will ensure rural communities truly receive “broadband” internet so we can fully participate in the digital age and not be left behind.

Nonpartisan redistricting reform was also included in the Governor’s budget. We need to look toward the future. Voters should choose their elected officials, not the other way around. This proposal is supported by a wide margin of citizens. It was no wonder the Governor included it in the people’s budget.

For years, Republicans have stripped away essential voters’ rights in Wisconsin. The Governor’s inclusion of automatic voter registration is a good first step for reversing the undemocratic policies of the last 8 years and starting a new chapter of voter rights expansion in Wisconsin.

There were additional provisions in the Governor’s budget that are long overdue.

When Governor Evers served as the Superintendent of Public Schools, he offered his Fair Funding for Our Future plan time and time again. Each time, Republicans punted on fixing the inequalities in our school funding formula. Republicans put politics first and kids last. Our children have suffered far too long from inaction. Now is the time to finally fulfill our constitutional duty to provide equal public education across Wisconsin by accepting the Governor’s plan.

jeff-smithFour budgets in a row, the Republicans kicked the can down the road by irresponsibly borrowing our way into a transportation crisis. Although I have reservations about some aspects of the Governor’s transportation plan, I do give him credit for finally offering ideas to fix the problem.

Since 2014, Republican ideology prevented Wisconsin from joining 37 other states to expand Medicaid, costing Wisconsin $1.1 billion in additional health care funding. It’s a no-brainer to finally accept the Medicaid expansion money for Wisconsin.

This is just the start -- we have a long way to go before the budget bill becomes law. The Governor’s unique way of crafting his budget deserves praise. His forward-looking budget is a sight for sore eyes. It’s great to finally see a budget include many of the things we’ve been waiting far too long see.

Republicans plan to dismiss the people’s budget outright. As we continue this process, Republicans and Democrats will need to look past old ways of saying “no” to each other and find new ways to say “yes” for Wisconsin.

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You Really Believe That?!?

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 Sunday, 24 February 2019
in Wisconsin

woman-surpriseOur Laura Kiefert introduces her new blog with a piece about the crazy things you’ll hear if you actually talk to one of the Trump believers who hang out at our senior centers and listen only to Fox "News".

GREEN BAY, WI - There’s a person who has played an important role in my life whose beliefs regarding politics and religion differ from my own. I am a progressive, liberal Democrat. She is not. We had previously agreed “not to go there”. However, last night, we did. What she told me left me wondering, “How in the world could anyone possibly believe such ridiculous shit?”

Among the beliefs she revealed were:

  • Planned Parenthood intentionally performs abortions in order to harvest and sell baby body parts for large profits.
  • Baby body parts that aren’t sold are cannibalized by Democrats who support abortion.
  • Hillary Clinton has had 57 people shot in the back of the head to cover up the Clinton’s crimes.
  • George H.W. Bush was executed years earlier and the coffin at his recent funeral was empty.
  • George W. and Jeb Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama were served indictments at the funeral and are already being held at Guantanamo Bay, which was currently rebuilt to accommodate them.
  • All the above were served indictments at George H.W. Bush’s funeral. Sightings of these people, including Obama’s recent attendance at the basketball game in Durham, N.D. were staged using body doubles.
  • Hillary and Bill Clinton are the worst criminals ever in American history.
  • The only mainstream media that can believed is Fox News and any facts provided by anyone aligned with the Democratic Party are fake.
  • Trump is a Christian who attends church regularly.
  • The Democratic Party is evil and full of haters.
  • Trump is a brilliant businessman who has made billions of dollars and has never filed bankruptcy.
  • Republicans won’t cut Social Security or Medicare, they just need to cut Welfare and Food Stamps for the overwhelming number of people who need to get a job, who don’t deserve it, and who either sell or give what they get from government programs away.
  • Although she lives on Social Security, gets Medicare and lives in a rent assisted senior building, she firmly opposes Socialism because she doesn’t want the government involved in her life.
  • Trump is much smarter than Democrats think and he has a plan in place to take down the entire “Deep State” that includes the CIA, the FBI and Nation Security, all who have been complicit in covering up the Clinton crimes.

While looking on the Internet for information to repudiate her, I ran across several YouTube videos published by a Psychic Medium named Utsavo that elaborated the claims we had discussed, as well as claims of aliens, UFO’s and multiple conspiracy theories. I concluded that must be her main source of information. See:

laura-kiefertI texted her thirteen links to reputable sources with facts disputing the above outrageous assertions, which I assume she never bothered to open. She responded with a simple text, “I vote for whoever I feel will benefit me personally.”

I’m left wondering why people believe such stupid shit.

I suppose since we both strongly identify with opposite sides of the political spectrum, we each think the other is willfully ignoring the facts and firmly believes our own facts are true and the other’s are false. We both probably think the other is either ignorant, ill-informed disingenuous, or nuts. At first, I thought she was trying to yank my chain. Numerous times I asked things like, “Are you kidding me”, or “You can’t be serious” or “Where did you get that?”

Her responses were were all in the affirmative. “Yes” or “You betcha” or “ I sure do.” To say the least, I was flabbergasted by her admissions and I admit by the end of our conversation I had concluded she had taken a head-first dive off the crazy bridge into the Looney River.

I am a person who relies heavily on science. I read a lot, question everything, and base my beliefs on facts, reason, critical thinking and common sense. It’s impossible for me to comprehend why anyone wants to disagree with science or what is obviously true and instead trust psychic tabloid nonsense.

I know there are people that trick themselves into believing that the facts aren't relevant and the modern media landscape seems to be amplifying the retreat from facts. Therefore, making it harder and harder to determine what the real truth is. I understand we now live in a world where people promote red facts and blue facts, and these biased motivated-reasoning processes fuel political conflict. But, blocking out information we disagree with, through social media echo chambers, reading partisan news, or only surrounding ourselves with friends who agree with us, just leads to promoting conspiracy theories that makes matters worse.

So, I’m done with making arguments to convince others to stop drinking the Kool-aid. It’s a waste of time and I think it’s more probable that talking about these issues cause people to double down and become even more stubborn and radical.

Bottom line, there are people who will believe what they want to believe and disregard the rest. The problem is when people dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts their opinion, the result is, well, the Trump Administration.


Read more of Laura's blogs at

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