Thursday January 27, 2022

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CWD’s Unchecked Spread to Western 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, 17 November 2021
in Wisconsin

deer-huntingSen. Smith writes about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), which threatens Wisconsin’s white-tailed deer herd. It’s critical we make investments on testing and transmission prevention to save Wisconsin’s hunting heritage.


EAU CLAIRE - It’s pretty common to read about something that happens somewhere else and assume that it doesn’t affect you. Something could happen hundreds of miles away, and you think it could never happen to you.

That’s what it was like when Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was first recognized in captive mule deer in Colorado. That was during the 1970s. Even after CWD was discovered in wild herds in 1981 in Colorado, I’m sure you didn’t think twice about it since it was so far away. In the 1990s, CWD spread to captive herds in Saskatchewan, Canada. By 2000, CWD was found in Oklahoma and Nebraska. The first time CWD was found to infect white-tailed deer was in 2001 in South Dakota. Still, this seemed far away and easy to put out of our minds as something that was someone else’s problem.

Wisconsin had its first confirmed case of CWD in 2002. Even when CWD spread to 21 states, including Wisconsin, it still felt far enough away—nothing to be concerned with. Reality does hit home though when it’s found in your own backyard. For years, CWD was considered a “southern Wisconsin issue,” but it is spreading at an exponential rate through western and northern Wisconsin. A couple years ago, cases were found in a deer farm in Eau Claire and deer later escaped from that farm. About a mile from my own home a deer killed by a car was tested and found to have had CWD. Just last week, a buck on a deer farm in Eau Claire County tested positive for CWD.

CWD is here and it should concern all of us. It’s an always-fatal, transmissible neurological disease affecting cervids, such as deer, moose and elk. CWD causes changes in a deer’s appearance, behavioral abnormalities and death. CWD is classified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), and is similar to mad cow disease in cattle. No cases have been confirmed in humans.

CWD is transmitted directly through animal-to-animal contact, and indirectly through contact with objects or environment contaminated with infectious material (including saliva, urine, feces, and carcasses of CWD-infected animals). We know how CWD is spread, so there’s a lot we can do to reduce the risk of transmission and prevent the demise of deer herds in areas that haven’t yet been infected.

deer-huntersIt’s important that we stay on top of the spread of CWD in Wisconsin. The white-tailed deer herd has always been an integral part of Wisconsin’s great hunting heritage, contributing to our local economies and tourism industry. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been studying this disease in partnership with scientists and biologists around the country. But, they need help from hunters to better understand the issue and identify ways we can slow the spread of CWD.

Hunters can submit samples at kiosks around the state to be tested for CWD. Testing will help the DNR track if, when, where and how the disease is moving, and alert hunters if their deer is infected. CWD spreads through prions that can live in soil and plants. Carcasses left in the woods can spread the disease long after the death of a deer, which is why it’s important for hunters to dispose of deer carcasses at one of the disposal sites in Wisconsin.

jeff-smithLike anything else, it costs money to study and learn about CWD. CWD tests are free to hunters, but the sampling kiosks, carcass disposal sites and personnel needed to test the deer still cost money. The down payment we make now on testing and transmission prevention efforts is a small price to pay compared to the immeasurable amount we risk losing if we delay action on CWD.

This year, I’ve once again introduced legislation with Rep. Katrina Shankland (D – Stevens Point) to address CWD. Each year in the past, we’ve been ignored. Maybe it’s still too far away for some people to worry. I just hope that when the choice is made to finally fund the resources needed and take action, it isn’t too late.

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Voters Win with Fair Maps

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 November 2021
in Wisconsin

mccabe-talks-peopleSen. Smith writes about why it’s important for Wisconsin to have a non-partisan redistricting process.


MADISON - Politicians have made it awfully hard to be trusted. I’ve heard it myself; citizens assume that politicians are corrupt and are “all the same.” From Congress to the state legislature, the will of the people seems to be ignored, and those elected to office haven’t seemed to change their ways.

Voters are cynical of the political system, and the redistricting process does little to restore their confidence. It’s hard to reassure citizens when they believe every legislator’s goal is to create a district that gives them a political advantage. Wisconsinites overwhelmingly agree that legislators shouldn’t be the ones drawing their own districts. It’s easy to understand how corruption can take hold of a system, in which the people who benefit are allowed to make their own rules. That’s like saying that only quarterbacks should write the rules over how the defense can play.

mining_wisconsin_senateWhen I call for fair maps, I mean what I say: elected officials shouldn’t draw districts to guarantee an advantage for any political party. Voters should choose their elected officials. Instead of throwing up our hands and saying there’s nothing we can do, I want you to know there are things we can do and it starts with people like you.

The People’s Maps Commission (PMC) was a good starting point for citizens to get involved in the redistricting process. It’s the blueprint we must continue to work off of to ensure redistricting is fair and works for Wisconsinites like you.

The PMC is a non-partisan commission tasked by Governor Evers to draw new legislative and congressional districts in the open, with Wisconsinites’ involvement. In January 2020, Governor Evers signed Executive Order 66 creating the People’s Maps Commission—that was the governor’s only role in the process. Three retired, nonpartisan judges were chosen to select the nine PMC members. The judges opened up the application process to any Wisconsin citizen of voting age. They reviewed hundreds of applicants and selected nine diverse members, making sure there was a member from each congressional district.  No lobbyists, elected officials or political party officials were allowed on the PMC.

Once the PMC members were selected, they began meeting to learn as much as possible about how legislative and congressional districts are designed. Then the Commission hosted public hearings to learn from you and your neighbors. Of course, these hearings were held virtually, which may have allowed for even more participation.

Once the PMC held the public hearings, they opened a portal on their website for Wisconsinites to draw their own maps or learn more about the process. Again, hundreds of citizens took advantage of this opportunity. This transparent process was the complete opposite approach from what Republicans took back in 2011 when they manipulated maps behind closed doors, without your input. After the PMC ended the period for public input, they introduced maps as an alternative to the ones the Republican Majority created for themselves.

jeff-smithThere are misconceptions that the Majority Party wants you to believe. They’d like you to think the PMC maps are the Democratic Party’s maps. Second, they claim my Democratic colleagues and I support the PMC process because it gives us a political advantage. These statements are unequivocally false. First of all, the PMC maps still give Republicans an advantage in the number of legislative seats they can hang on to. But, more importantly, it’s the principle behind the PMC process that matters. Voters should choose their elected officials – not the other way around.

Wisconsinites deserve to hold legislators accountable when they fail to represent the People, which hasn’t been the case in over a decade. In the five elections following the 2001 redistricting, majority leadership changed hands in one or both houses three times (2006, 2008 and 2010) because voters made it happen. Since the 2011 redistricting, there hasn’t even been one election where a majority was close to falling. This shows how egregiously gerrymandered the current maps are and why we need a nonpartisan redistricting process.

You should have the power over your elected officers, not the politicians owning the power over you. That’s when you, the voter, wins.

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The Future of Wisconsin is Now

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 November 2021
in Wisconsin

vote-47-mbSen. Jeff Smith writes about last week’s public hearing on the GOP redistricting plan. During the public hearing, it was abundantly clear that Wisconsinites oppose these gerrymandered maps.


MADISON - Wisconsinites deserve fair maps. I’m sure you’ve heard me say this once, twice or maybe a hundred times over the last few years. The redistricting process is well underway, and I hope you’re paying attention because what’s happening now will determine the direction of our state for decades to come.

Every ten years political districts must be re-drawn based on Census data. Assembly, senate and congressional district lines are adjusted to accommodate population shifts and to ensure each district has approximately the same number of citizens. There are three Assembly districts in each Senate district and Wisconsin has eight U.S. Representatives. It all sounds simple until you realize the district lines are drawn by legislators who will benefit by staying in power.

Many of us would agree that politicians shouldn’t pick who they want to represent. Other states have found a way to make the process fairer by having a nonpartisan commission draw the maps. Seems like a sensible decision that would be less likely to be corrupted by power-hungry politicians.

The Majority Party in the Legislature has yet to relinquish the power of drawing their own district lines. Back in 2011, Republicans controlled majorities in both houses and the governor. They took full advantage of their opportunity to gerrymander our state and hold legislative majorities for the next decade.

wi-dist-maps-currentWell, here we are again—another decade and another chance to get district lines done fairly. Unfortunately, Republicans introduced another set of maps back in October that are just as gerrymandered – if not worse – than the ones they passed in 2011. There was a public hearing held just last week on the proposed maps; during the hearing, the Republican authors even admitted to using the 2011 gerrymandered maps to draw manipulated district lines and protect their incumbents.

The good news is Wisconsinites turned out in a big way to oppose Republicans’ gerrymandered maps. Wisconsinites lined up, crowded the hallways and filled overflow rooms to have their voices heard. As a member of the committee, I was inspired to hear from constituents who made the long drive, waited all day to speak out against these maps. After nearly nine hours, ALL of the citizens who testified opposed the gerrymandered maps.

The gerrymandered maps will soon be voted out of committee and passed by the Majority Party. Like any other bill, the governor has the right to sign or veto the legislative and congressional redistricting plans. Governor Evers has indicated he is likely to veto a redistricting plan if it’s anything like the gerrymandered maps we currently have.

Before Republicans even introduced their maps, lawsuits were filed from both sides. Republicans are confident the Wisconsin Supreme Court will allow them to gerrymander our state again. Democrats filed in federal court and hope the federal court will step in to help Wisconsin have fair maps.

jeff-smithThis is a critical moment in our state history. It was obvious that last decade’s gerrymander would have ramifications long after the maps were approved. Republicans have clung to power and continually reject any attempts to adopt a more equitable process.

The People of Wisconsin spoke loud and clear during last week’s public hearing: we must reject these gerrymandered maps. I hope the Republican Majority honors Wisconsinites’ demands and goes back to the drawing board. If Republicans get their way with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it will be another decade and then another decade and another and … forever. One person, one vote is in jeopardy.

The gerrymandered Majority has no fear of voters, so I’m worried they’ll ignore Wisconsinites once again. I have seen it time and again, gerrymandered districts make legislators unaccountable and lazy. This is simply unpatriotic. We are at a crossroad right now that will determine if Wisconsin will be held hostage by one party, or the People of our great state will have their voices heard. It’s all happening now, so make sure you’re following along.

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Restore the Voice of Wisconsin Conservation Congress

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, 27 October 2021
in Wisconsin

fishing-flyThe Congress allows citizens to advise the DNR Board on issues affecting hunting, fishing and conservation practices in Wisconsin.


EAU CLAIRE - The best policies come from citizens themselves. Subject matter experts, hobbyists or trained professionals are the best advisors lawmakers have when proposing new bills.

The Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) may just be the best example of how policies can be introduced and adopted by citizens’ own initiative. Established in 1934 by the State Conservation Commission – the predecessor to the Natural Resources Board (NRB) – the WCC allows citizens to share their input with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

In 1972, Governor Patrick Lucey signed legislation that legally recognized the WCC. Under Wisconsin State Statues, “The conservation congress shall be an independent organization of citizens of the state and shall serve in an advisory capacity to the natural resources board on all matters under the jurisdiction of the board.”

There are five board members from every county chosen each spring to participate in the Conservation Congress. During the spring meeting, held simultaneously in each county, any citizen present is given a ballot with proposed policy measures for the DNR. This is where Wisconsinites can discuss ideas and express their opinions about what happens in our woods and waterways. It’s often the first place lawmakers look when crafting new bills. Since the 1930s, the WCC guided the Natural Resources Board in their decision-making based on how citizens voted at the spring meetings. It can’t get more democratic than that.

wi-assembly-hearingThe process by which the WCC works is exactly how policies should be developed in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, during last week’s public hearing in the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Small Business and Rural Issues, we realized that many current legislators are ignoring this formula and dismissing citizen involvement altogether. Recently, lawmakers hastily introduced a package of bills affecting hunting, fishing and conservation practices; soon after, they rushed to hold a public hearing.

Dozens of Wisconsinites and advocacy groups testified during the six-hour long hearing. When the National Turkey Federation testified with concerns about one bill that would affect the turkey hunting season, I asked if they’d been approached and consulted by the bill authors. They said they had not. I asked the same question to members of Trout Unlimited who shared their concerns regarding a bill that increases the stock of brook trout in Lake Michigan; they also responded in the negative.

This went on all day. It became evident that the bill authors had no regard for what Wisconsin sportsmen and women really cared about. The only group, as it turned out, that was consulted and registered in favor of all the bills came from Kansas. Even the Wisconsin Conservation Congress was taken by surprise by this package of legislation they did not ask for.

jeff-smithThis is all very troubling, but I can honestly say I’m not too surprised. We should’ve seen the writing on the wall when back in 2011, the Majority Party passed legislation that essentially prevented conservationists from directly offering rule revisions to the NRB. 2011 Act 21 created an 18-step process that can take two-three years to complete. This has made the rule-making process so difficult that Conservation Congress meetings rarely adopt rule changes in even years of the biennium.

Despite these changes, I still attend the meetings in my county because I trust the discussion to be honest and sincere. I also introduced a bill to reinstate the power of the WCC. As we’ve seen this year, there are people, like Fred Prehn, who don’t respect our democratic processes or Wisconsin’s conservation record. We can avoid bad policies and protect Wisconsin’s natural resources by restoring the voices of the WCC. The Senate must also act and approve Governor Evers’ appointment to the NRB.

The best legislators are wise enough to consult with citizens who know best how a policy will affect the state. No one should think they know all they need to know simply from their own experiences. That’s not to say that all advice given is perfect right away, but it’s all part of the process. The Wisconsin Conservation Congress has worked well for Wisconsin – and it’s what we need today to preserve our natural resources for the next generation of Wisconsinites.

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Stop and Talk

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 20 October 2021
in Wisconsin

farmer-wicornSen. Smith writes about his “Stop & Talks”, one way he uses to get out and have conversations with residents throughout the 31st Senate District.


EAU CLAIRE - For many, a favorite thing to do this time of year is taking a drive to enjoy the natural beauty of our state. I often mention how fortunate we are in Wisconsin to have such a beautiful landscape all year-round, particularly now when the fall colors really draw attention and attract driving tours.

When asking folks to meet with their legislator, it’s understandable why they’re not too thrilled. Most people would prefer to be out-and-about, enjoying the beauty Wisconsin has to offer. When elected officials schedule office hours or listening sessions, it’s not always convenient for folks. Usually they’re scheduled in the town hall during business hours when people are at work. It always bothered me when I scheduled office hours and sat there alone waiting for someone to show up. It even felt like I was hiding while people drove by without knowing their elected representative was inside for them to talk to.

That never really sat right with me. Elected officials should be more accessible to their constituents. It should be as convenient and easy as possible for you to connect with your legislator. We should be where you are.

That’s why I constructed a 6 foot sign for the top of my 1999 Dodge Ram that I can fold down when driving, but then lift up for drivers to see when I’m parked in a place that they can easily pull into. It’s your chance to Stop and Talk.

jeff-smithAlthough I’m not able to schedule mobile office hours every day, or even every week, I enjoy this way of connecting immensely. Even though I thought—like most of us—that I knew how to listen, I’ve honed my listening skills even more since being parked near the side of the road talking with constituents.

Life teaches us that building relationships is vitally important. Whether it’s with family, colleagues or friends, relationships make life better. But relationships rely on trust. And that’s where listening skills are necessary. If we only have conversations so we can be heard, then we’re missing something. Nobody is 100% correct on everything; we can learn a lot from others if we really listen.

When asked what I enjoy most about my job as a Senator, the answer is always the same: listening to people’s stories. I’m so privileged that people will share their most personal life stories with me. Some stories bring tears while others bring smiles. When I listen and learn from a personal story, we build that trust that forms a relationship. Even if it’s brief, it is a relationship that impacts me as I work with my colleagues, vote on legislation and as I grow as a person.

If you haven’t yet seen me on the road or wonder when and where the next Stop and Talk might be, here’s how it works. I used to do Stop and Talks during my free time at the spur of the moment, but then there were many people who commented saying they wished they had known where I would be. Or they’d say they saw me, but were unable to stop because they were on a tight schedule.

Now we do a better job of scheduling when and where I’ll be with my truck. The pandemic in 2020 impacted our ability to connect with people, but with vaccinations, face masks and social distancing, I’m out crisscrossing the district to hear from you.

The best way to know when and where I’ll be is by following me on my Facebook page @SenSmithWI. I’ll usually post when and where I’ll be a couples days in advance. Otherwise, when you’re on that drive through western Wisconsin enjoying those fall colors, stop by when you see my big, red truck and share your thoughts. I look forward to listening to you.

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