Thursday September 29, 2022

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Protecting Our Watersheds for a Better Future

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, 14 September 2022
in Wisconsin

wetlands-wiOur rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands can only sustain us if we remain committed to caring for them. Jeff Smith writes about our connection to water sources here in Wisconsin.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Since humans have inhabited the Great Lakes region, waterways have been an integral part of travel, trade, farming and culture. Our shallow lakes supplied First Nations people with the wild rice that played an essential role in their culture and diet. Rivers provided a travel route for diplomacy and trade among cultures, allowing for the transportation of fur, timber and trade goods. Streams and wetlands provided homes to an amazing variety of plants and wildlife.

This month, the River Falls Preservation Committee is hosting a traveling exhibit from the Wisconsin Historical Society. The exhibit, entitled “Great Lakes Small Streams: How Water Shapes Wisconsin”, is geared towards adults and secondary school students, and will be housed in various locations until October 29th (see below for details).

Wisconsin boasts plentiful groundwater and a great expanse of surface water, from the lakes Michigan and Superior to the Mississippi river and the network of rivers, streams, wetlands and lakes in between. The U.S. Geological Service estimates fifteen percent of Wisconsin is covered by groundwater, the fourth highest by area in the United States.

lake-michigan-shoreWe cannot take this resource for granted. Our rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands can only sustain us if we remain committed to caring for them.

Climate change has taken its toll nationwide, as we see in headlines daily. As drought conditions ravage the American West, I have gained a renewed appreciation for all our water continues to do for us in Wisconsin. Not only does water hydrate us, it also sustains wildlife, fosters our recreation economy, generates energy and waters our crops and livestock.

kewaunee-harbor-familyWisconsin has historically been a leader in pioneering conservation practices. In the early 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built an erosion control demonstration in the Coon Creek Watershed that proved to be wildly successful and served as an example nationwide. Conservationists used measures such as terracing to shore up land and reduce the soil erosion that was obstructing the area’s rivers and streams.

Early land surveyors in Wisconsin mapped around five million acres of wetland statewide. The development of Wisconsin’s agricultural economy spurred settlers to drain much of these wetlands, driving wildlife from their habitat and opening land up to rapid erosion.  Since that time, local water conservation departments as well as private groups work hard to restore these habitats, essential to the survival of so many of our native species.

Our water sustains a broad variety of wildlife throughout the state. The Wisconsin Wetlands Association estimates 75 percent of Wisconsin’s wildlife depend on wetlands at some point in their lives, and 30 percent of Wisconsin’s rare, endangered and threatened species depend on wetlands for survival.

Not only do healthy rivers provide opportunities for recreation, they also play an important role in regulating ecosystems. This week, I’ll be touring some of our local trout streams. Local conservation groups continue to do an amazing job restoring habitats, benefiting not only trout but whole ecosystems.

Water has been a big part of Wisconsin’s renewable energy efforts. According to the Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin has over 120 hydroelectric dams. Hydropower was Wisconsin’s first renewable energy resource, stretching all the way back to 1882, when the world’s first hydroelectric power plant was built on the Fox River in Appleton.

jeff-smithFor all these reasons and more, it is essential to Wisconsin’s future prosperity that we retain our strong connection to our water and all it provides to us. I encourage you to get outside this fall and appreciate how blessed we are with an abundance of water.

The exhibit will be on display in the City Hall Atrium during business hours through Sept. 16th and at the River Falls Bacon Bash from 10-4 on Sept. 17th, also in the City Hall Atrium. Resources for teachers and more information on other locations/times available here: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Event/EV8679

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Student Loan Forgiveness Can Strengthen Our Communities

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, 07 September 2022
in Wisconsin

uwgb-studentsJeff Smith writes about student loan debt forgiveness and how it will give students and graduates a break to boost the economy and offer our kids and grandkids new opportunities to thrive.


MADISON - Most of us take on debt at some point in our lives, whether we take out loans to purchase a car, become homeowners or pursue business endeavors. In an ideal world borrowers have a clear understanding of the terms of the loan and its repayment.

When it comes to college loans, however, our system is far from ideal. Several years ago, I was honored to serve on the Governor’s Task Force on Student Debt. At our meetings, I repeatedly heard from many student borrowers that their loans were uniquely complicated. Just as everyone’s financial situation is different, students face complex and challenging circumstances when it comes to student debt repayment.

On August 24th, President Biden announced his student loan forgiveness plan. The President’s plan would forgive $10k in student loans, or up to $20k if the student’s financial need qualified them for a Pell grant during their time in school. Borrowers are eligible for loan forgiveness if they make less than $125k annually as an individual.

This announcement comes as the cost of higher education has never been greater. For decades, tuition rates have skyrocketed across the board, dramatically outpacing inflation and reducing the affordability of higher education. Student aid is often the only option for those without the family resources to pay directly.

woman-living-aloneAccording to the U.S. Department of Education, student debt has reached $1.7 trillion, with a staggering $23.2 billion owed by borrowers in Wisconsin. Right out of college, students are facing large monthly payments and mounting interest rates. This often results in graduates leaving their home communities, not by choice, but because they need higher-paying jobs to make ends meet.

There has been a lot of talk about how this program will effect individual borrowers, but fewer conversations about what this means for our communities more broadly. Student loan forgiveness is part of a holistic approach to bolstering our recovery from the economic slump brought on by the pandemic. The Paycheck Protection Program was created to keep local businesses afloat and ensure that folks retained their livelihoods, we invested in our local businesses and the future of our communities. Over $787 billion went out to businesses nationwide, and as of now, over 95% of these loans have already been forgiven.

We can continue moving forward in this economy with student loan forgiveness. Providing relief to student borrowers helps keep wealth in our local communities. This is not only beneficial for the borrower personally, but also strengthens our community as a whole.

jeff-smithSue and I are proud to have raised our two daughters right here in western Wisconsin, and I want all of Wisconsin’s children to have that same opportunity.

Young families are our future. Local businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. Graduates of our Wisconsin universities shouldn’t have to move to Minneapolis or Chicago for better-paying jobs and brighter opportunities. All of our young people should have the chance to build a life here.

By forgiving some of the debt owed by college borrowers, we free them to start families, grow businesses, invest in the local economy and start preparing for retirement. Instead of devoting a large chunk of each paycheck to out-of-state loan servicers, this money can be spent right here in our local community. Student loan forgiveness offers us another level of investment in our communities and businesses that are still recovering from the pandemic.

We still have very important work to do to ensure that our high school graduates have a strong path to a successful career, wherever that path may take them. However, loan forgiveness is an important first step in working towards a more affordable, effective higher education system.

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America is Best When Labor is Strong

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 31 August 2022
in Wisconsin

electrical-workersWith Labor Day just around the corner Jeff Smith writes about the importance of organized labor and unions for our communities.


BRUNSWICK, WI - As Labor Day weekend approaches, summer is beginning to wind down. We’re taking our last chance to fish or camp for the season. Children are reflecting on their summer and eagerly anticipating the new school year.

This time of year is always an opportunity to reflect back on my upbringing in Eau Claire and remember the hardworking families in my community. I think about the great strides made in the 20th century because of organized labor. Unions knew the core of their mission is that nobody should live only to work. Every American’s job should provide them with the stability to live a comfortable life.

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

working-women-aflcioFamilies in our neighborhood were lower-middle income by today’s standards. I grew up near the Uniroyal factory. The paper mill was close and Presto was just a couple of miles north. Many of the kids I grew up with had parents who worked in one of these places. Their parents could support their family because they earned union wages and benefits. That era was the height of a comfortable working class that made America prosperous.

Many of the families were able to afford fishing boats, camping trailers and cabins on the lake. My neighbors were able to spend more time doing the things they enjoyed with their families because of their union wages and benefits. My family was not supported by these union wages and benefits and so we did not have the same opportunities.

The union jobs in our community provided my neighbors a chance to feel secure in their lifestyle and build Eau Claire’s middle class. They allowed families to own cabins in the resort areas of northern Wisconsin. It was common for a family to take two weeks off for a family vacation in the summer and a week off for deer hunting.

unemployment-great-depression-jobsNone of this would’ve been possible if it weren’t for the courage and foresight of organized labor in the early 20th century that advanced workers’ rights in America. Federal legislation, including the Occupational Safety & Health Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and Labor Relations Act supported workers, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions. The Social Security Act was revolutionary, putting protections in place for citizens of all ages. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers and unions to discriminate against individuals based on race, national origin, religion or gender.

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

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

jeff-smithThere are steps we can take to support hardworking men and women. We should begin by increasing the minimum wage, restoring the prevailing wage law, implementing paid family and medical leave and repealing the “Right to Work” law.

We often forget the impact of organized labor makes in our communities. Union members before us worked tirelessly to improve working conditions and living standards for all. We can’t fall behind.

As we push forward, let us remember working people and the example they set. Economic growth must benefit all Americans, not only the wealthy. Our future prosperity depends on standing up for the economic interests of working families.

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Women’s Equality 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 August 2022
in Wisconsin

women-3genThis upcoming Friday, August 26th, is Women’s Equality Day in the United States. As we celebrate the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, we also recognize there is more work to be done for equality and women’s rights.


BRUNSWICK, WI - This Friday, August 26, we celebrate Women’s Equality Day and the 102nd anniversary of the 19th Amendment. I personally know and work with so many women that are influential leaders and work hard for a better Wisconsin, and I find it difficult to imagine a time when women were barred from participating in our democracy and so many other elements of our society.

Twenty states and territories extended voting rights to women prior to the ratification of the 19th Amendment through their own legislative processes, but Wisconsin was not among them. In 1884 Wisconsin women were allowed to vote on school matters, but a short five years later the State Supreme Court rescinded this small democratic participation. For the next thirty years, the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly would try twenty-one times in various manners to enfranchise women, but they all would fail.

After failing on the state level in many places around the nation, women suffrage leaders and organizations started to focus on a constitutional amendment – no easy task. Yet in May of 1919, U.S. Representative James R. Mann (R-Illinois) proposed a resolution to approve the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which was then sent to the states for ratification.

On June 10, 1919 Wisconsin and Illinois voted to ratify the amendment, but Wisconsin became the first state to approve it when Illinois was forced to vote again a week later due to a clerical error.

It took another fourteen months for the required three-fourths of the states to ratify the Amendment, and it was by no means a popular piece of legislation. The last state to ratify, Tennessee, hinged on the vote of one anti-suffragist, who nonetheless voted in support after hearing from his mother.

Eight days later, on August 26, 1920, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the 19th Amendment. A few months later over eight million women across the nation cast their ballots for the first time.

It’s important to note that while the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, many women of color would wait decades to be able to exercise their right to vote due to oppressive poll taxes, literacy tests and other barriers.

voter-us-electionsIt took decades and a lot of personal sacrifice on behalf of the suffragists for women to have the right to vote in the United States. Leading suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, from Ripon, Wisconsin, spearheaded the “Winning Plan” to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1916. She went on to create the League of Women Voters, which for over one hundred years has been focused on increasing voter participation in our democracy.

On Women’s Equality Day we celebrate how far we have come, but also acknowledge all we have yet to accomplish. In 1984 women began to outpace men in turning out to vote in presidential elections, and that gap continues to widen.

As women continue to own more of the share of the vote, voting accessibility becomes increasingly important to keep women exercising their hard fought voting rights. Every absentee voting change and every early vote change disproportionately affects women.

jeff-smithVoting rights are fundamental for all people to own a stake in their democracy, but we can’t ignore the other societal issues plaguing women in our country. Reproductive rights, pay equity and gender bias are some of the issues that must be addressed to bring about true equality.

We can and must do better for women. Huge strides in advancement over hundred years ago should give us the courage to take the big steps today for equality. I hope you will join me in celebrating Women’s Equality Day with reflection and renewed action for the rights of women across Wisconsin.

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Fix the System with Final-Five Voting

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, 17 August 2022
in Wisconsin

voter-us-electionsSen. Jeff Smith writes about Final-Five Voting, how it works and how it can improve our current political system.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Last week, Wisconsin voters showed up to vote on Primary Election Day. Nearly 26% of Wisconsinites over the age of 18 turned out to vote in the August 9th election– the highest in 40 years. The fact that just a quarter of eligible voters showed up and it’s considered a record turnout really says a lot about our electoral system.

General elections typically see greater turnout, of course. But by the time we even get to the general election, we’re left with two candidates selected by a small percentage of the population. Moreover, these candidates are usually on opposite sides of the political spectrum, leaving very little room for compromise on the campaign trail.

People are tired of the status quo and want to see this broken system fixed. They want to know their elected officials are working for them. Politicians should be held accountable for their job performance.

We can accomplish this through Final-Five Voting.

Final-Five Voting will reform the electoral process to ensure candidates are listening to voters and actually delivering on their promises. This session, I introduced legislation with a bipartisan group of legislators to establish the Final-Five Voting process for U.S. Senate and Congressional elections in Wisconsin.

There are two key changes to implementing Final-Five Voting. First, all candidates run on a single ballot, regardless of party affiliation. Currently in a primary election, a voter must choose to only vote on a Republican or Democratic portion of his or her ballot— as we saw last week.

Under the Final-Five model, all candidates are listed together. Voters then select their favorite candidate. When the votes are tallied, the top-five candidates advance to the general election, no matter which party they represent.

The second key change happens during the general election, when voters are asked to rank their choices of the top-five. Voters pick their favorite, just like always. If they want to, they can pick their second choice, third choice, and so on using a ranked-choice voting ballot. The first-place votes are then counted. If one candidate gets over 50% of the vote, the election is over and that candidate wins.

If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the votes are counted again once the last-place candidate is eliminated. If your first-choice candidate was eliminated in the first round, your single vote is transferred to your second-choice. This method repeats until one candidate gets over 50%, which could happen in the second round or after four rounds.

Think about what could happen if all candidates, regardless of party, were on the same ballot and had to go through the Final-Five voting process. Candidates would be required to engage in civil debate and appeal to a broader audience. I doubt we’d see the same extreme gridlock and political attacks that are all too frequent today.

Despite what some may think, Final-Five Voting does not push all candidates to become more moderate. In reality, it creates an opportunity for voters to hear a diverse array of ideas and candidates can proudly stand behind their platform. I know many of us can agree how refreshing of a change this would be.

jeff-smithI’m excited to hear support for Final-Five Voting from my constituents. Many of them have seen how polarizing our elections have become and the damage that’s done to our democratic republic.

Here in western Wisconsin, there’s a local grassroots organization in Pierce County working to inform neighbors about Final-Five Voting. You may see volunteers at the local fair or farmers’ market; stop by and learn more!

The November General Elections are a few months away, but sadly, many electoral decisions were already made last week during Primary Day. Final-Five Voting promotes engaging policy discussion, which is what voters want to hear.

Our democratic republic doesn’t work without citizens getting involved. The more voices and perspectives that participate in our political process, the better.

Final-Five Voting makes sure our leaders are truly working for the people they’re running to represent … I think this is an idea we can all stand behind.

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