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Out of the Long Shadow of 2020

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, 30 December 2020
in Wisconsin

mdsn-state-street-capitolSen. Smith remembers the projects accomplished in 2020 and thinks forward to the work that still lies ahead.


MADISON - During this time of year, we take time to reflect on the previous year and try to focus on the good things that happened. Even in 2020 there must have been some good things, right?

We all know it’s difficult to focus more on the good moments, than the bad. I often think about knocking on doors or holding mobile listening sessions in the district. I’d have a great day of conversations with folks who were friendly and respectful. It’d be just one conversation that didn’t go well, that would continue nagging at me. That may be why most of us never make it as professional golfers or placekickers in the NFL.

Well, 2020’s negative moments will cast a long shadow over the positive ones. But, there’s still plenty to be grateful and optimistic for in the year ahead.

On January 22nd, Governor Tony Evers delivered the State of the State address. He reflected on the bipartisan accomplishments made in 2019 and the goals set for 2020. Most of us listening were blissfully unaware of the health crisis looming toward us. Despite COVID-19 setbacks, Wisconsin worked towards important goals announced during last year’s State of the State Address.

tony-evers-democratic-govGovernor Evers consistently prioritizes educational opportunity on every level, whether it’s for our children in K-12 schools or the students pursuing a college degree. During the State of the State address, Governor Evers announced the creation of the Task Force on Student Debt to understand how we can make college more affordable. I proudly served on this Task Force over 4 months, learning from experts about how we can achieve this goal. In August, the Task Force released policy recommendations, which could be introduced next session as legislation to help Wisconsinites.

In 2020, Governor Evers hoped to find ways to better support our family farms and rural communities. The Governor announced a three-pronged approach during the State of the State Address to help our agricultural industry. Under this plan, Governor Evers introduced a legislative package, created the Office of Rural Prosperity and established the Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity. Two weeks ago, the Commission released their report, which will help build more resilient rural communities in Wisconsin.

voting-dropboxDuring the 2020 State of the State Address, Governor Evers also announced the People’s Maps Commission, to ensure Wisconsin’s redistricting process is independent and nonpartisan. A decade ago, Republicans manipulated the maps so heavily in their favor. This broken system has prevented many policies from being passed, even if they’re supported by most Wisconsinites, like Medicaid expansion.

The People’s Maps Commission is currently holding public hearings to get input directly from Wisconsinites to create the next set of maps. These hearings will wrap-up and the Commission will introduce fair maps for the Legislature to approve in 2021. There’s already a lot to look forward to next year.

We can also look forward to what comes next to improve broadband access in Wisconsin. The pandemic revealed how essential access to true high-speed broadband is in today’s world. Last year, Governor Evers established the Broadband Access Task Force and I introduced the “Better Broadband” bill package to tackle this issue in our state’s rural areas.

jeff-smithUnfortunately, like all the other 42 bills I introduced, these bills didn’t receive a vote or even a public hearing in this hyper-partisan environment. Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald commented this legislation was a “good idea,” on the senate floor, but still tabled it anyway. In 2021, I plan on re-introducing this legislative package. I also look forward to the work that comes out of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access next year.

This year, we faced unprecedented challenges. We offered solutions that were rejected, but every day is a new day. Hopefully, we can look back and find a way to improve in the New Year. We must find ways to break the cycle of anger and distrust we’ve sunk into.

Let’s carry over only the good into 2021. For the sake of our nation and our children, it’s our responsibility to find the goodness we wish to build on.

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Winter in Wisconsin

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, 23 December 2020
in Wisconsin

icefishingIce fishing to snowshoeing, cross country skiing to snowmobiling, Wisconsinites have many options to choose from to enjoy the outdoors while also preventing the spread of COVID-19.


MADISON - Winter is a season to celebrate, although some lifelong Wisconsinites may disagree because of the snow and freezing temperatures. The change of season and anticipation of the first snowfall can be joyous. Maybe, after months of green grass and empty treetops, a white blanket of snow brightens our view once again.

Winter is a truly magical season. Rather than being stuck in the house, there is a whole new world outdoors to enjoy, especially here in our beautiful state. We’ve grown accustomed to making the most out of any situation in 2020. This season won’t be any different. But, we can still celebrate Wisconsin’s role in pioneering some of the most well-known winter activities. We can also enjoy all that Wisconsin has to offer during these winter months, even while following proper precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19.

When I was a youngster living on the north side of Eau Claire, and wasn’t building snow forts or sliding down the big hills with friends, I’d sling my skates over my shoulder and hike down to the city park. The park’s skating rink was full of friends and a bonfire to warm us up. If we were feeling really ambitious, we’d catch a ride to Half Moon Lake to punch holes in the ice and take our chances at hooking some fish to bring home.

jeff-smith-ofcOnce I reached my teen years, my dad bought a snowmobile. We spent many days and nights exploring the trails. Once I was able to drive and load our machines up, we rode trails that took us through woods and up hills that I’d never been before. While downhill skiing came later for me, it added to my love of winter. When I got a wood burning stove in my home, I had even more reason to love winter.

The list of activities one can do on a Wisconsin winter day is endless. The outdoor recreational opportunities in Wisconsin have continued growing since I was young. It’s more common than ever to strap on a pair of snowshoes and hike the trails. Cross country skiing has become one of the most popular sports for so many and put Wisconsin on the map.

The American Birkebeiner has become one of the most extraordinary events in the nation and it takes place right here in Wisconsin from Cable to Hayward. An event first held in 1973 with 35 skiers has now become a classic. In a good snow year, it’ll attract thousands from all over the world. With varying lengths and difficulties, it’s a race for anyone who can manage a pair of skis.

Earlier in our state’s history, Wisconsinites developed the concept of snowmobiles. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Wisconsinites experimented with modified winter snow machines – like bicycles, sleighs and even Model T Fords. Eventually snowmobiles, as we know them now, caught on as a fun winter activity, as well as a dependable form of winter transportation.

With nearly 15,000 lakes in Wisconsin, and fishing an obsession for so many, winter isn’t a time to give the fish a break. In fact, for some, it’s the time of year to get serious. Once the ice is thick and safe to walk on, there will be holes drilled, tip-ups set and shanties dotting the ice.

Although the Birkebeiner, snowmobiling and ice fishing traditions will be different than in years past, there are still many opportunities to be outdoors, enjoying the season safely with members of your own household.

Hikers can enjoy the trails throughout the beautiful Driftless landscape. With a pair of snowshoes, anyone can walk these snowy trails and enjoy the fresh beauty of the winter scenery. These activities give an entirely different perspective of the wonders of our Wisconsin.

If you find yourself dreading the coming of winter, think again. Wisconsin is truly a wonderland of all seasons. You’ll find the lake, hills and trees you admired in the summer will thrill you all over again in the winter. Bundle up and enjoy Wisconsin all over again.

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Budgeting to Reflect the Will of the People

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, 16 December 2020
in Wisconsin

amstuck-and-othersSen. Smith writes about the budget process and People’s Budget listening sessions hosted by Governor Evers. Wisconsinites need to know they can get involved and advocate at every stage of the process.


MADISON - It’s often said that a budget is more than just a fiscal document, it’s a moral document. While Wisconsin leaders work on creating and approving a new budget, we must make sure our state budget reflects the values we share as a state. You have an opportunity to get involved and advocate at every stage of the budget process, beginning with the People’s Budget listening sessions.

Two years ago, Governor Evers scheduled budget listening sessions around the state to hear from people like you while preparing his first budget. Hundreds of people showed up for each session and were divided into groups based on policy topics of interest. I attended most sessions and was duly impressed by the great discussions that took place. The Governor made it around to each discussion so he could personally hear from the public. In the end, this helped Governor Evers deliver the People’s Budget, which truly reflected the will of the People.

Two years have passed and it’s time again for the Governor to present us with another budget proposal. This year, as you can imagine, it’s impossible to responsibly schedule in-person budget-listening sessions. But this hasn’t prevented the Governor from holding listening sessions to help craft the next People’s Budget. Although the listening sessions have been held virtually this year, they’ve proven to be very productive.

Each budget listening session focused on different topics. The first session, held on November 17th, focused on healthcare and public health, which is certainly appropriate while living through a global pandemic. On December 2nd, the listening session centered on the environment, infrastructure and economy, topics incredibly important to create a safe and sustainable future for generations to come. In 2020, during America’s reckoning of systemic racism, it only made sense for Governor Evers to hold a budget listening session on Criminal Justice Reform, which took place on December 8th.

Throughout the budget process, Governor Evers and your elected officials want to know your budget priorities as they debate over how available funding will be spent over the next two years. The government is responsible for creating a budget that invests in our public schools, infrastructure and unemployment insurance system. The budget also supports the work of firefighters and law enforcement, our healthcare system and more.

These are the most basic examples that most people may agree need to be included in the budget, but determining other budget priorities can get difficult, especially while we’re in the midst of a public health crisis. It’ll be a challenge for Governor Evers to produce a budget prioritizing support services Wisconsinites need while addressing the global health pandemic.

Think of the state budget process similar to the way you manage your household budget. You consider the income you’re expected to receive each month and the necessities you must pay for.  While budgeting, it all comes down to balance. If you’re able to balance your budget, you can make it another month. If you have more coming in than going out, you might say you’re winning the battle. But, if you owe more than you have coming in, you have to look for ways to cut expenses.

jeff-smithBudgeting isn’t much different for the government – unlike the federal government, Wisconsin must balance the budget. Shared goals exist, such as bringing in more revenue, in case of unforeseen emergencies. But, unlike your own personal budget, government leaders have many different views and interests that impact budget priorities.

Last month, I met with Governor Evers to discuss budget priorities for residents of the 31st Senate District. We had a productive conversation about investing in rural broadband expansion, the UW-Eau Claire Science Hall, groundwater protections, CWD testing and much more. It’s clear Governor Evers is listening to the needs of Wisconsin residents, whether he’s having one-on-one conversations or at a budget listening session.

There’s still time to have your voice heard while Governor Evers continues to craft the next budget. The final People’s Budget listening session is happening on Wednesday, December 16th and it will focus on education and our schools. Submit public comment or register for the listening session here: https://evers.wi.gov/Pages/BudgetListeningSessions.aspx.

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Fend for Yourself Unless Republicans Do Their Jobs

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, 09 December 2020
in Wisconsin

wisconsin-senateThe COVID-19 relief package introduced by Governor Evers to support Wisconsinites through this pandemic was introduced in mid-November, and the Republican-led Legislature still hasn’t acted on it.


MADISON - The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our lives significantly, killing nearly 4,000 Wisconsinites, devastating our economy and leaving us in a hard place to recover.  After more than 230 days since the State Legislature met, Governor Tony Evers stepped up, once again, to provide relief for Wisconsin families.

On November 17th, Governor Tony Evers released a COVID-19 legislative relief package. Governor Evers’ plan dedicates $466 million to COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, vaccination distribution and support for hospitals. The relief package prohibits foreclosures and evictions through 2021. The proposal also makes necessary improvements to the state’s outdated unemployment insurance system. These changes protect our essential workers and streamline the process to expedite unemployment insurance payments at a time when Wisconsinites need it most.

coronavirus-small-businessWe must pass this COVID-19 relief package. For eight months now, the Republican-led Legislature refused to meet and pass additional COVID-19 relief measures. So far, much of our state response has depended on the federal government. With the federal CARES Act ending on December 31st, Wisconsin can’t afford to waste any more time.

Since Governor Evers was elected, Republican legislative leaders have made it their mission to prevent Governor Evers from getting the job done. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t do anything to change that. Even from the beginning of the outbreak, Republicans filed lawsuits and supported efforts to make it harder to control the outbreak. Most recently, immediately following the release of the Governor’s proposals, incoming Senate President Chris Kapenga (R – Delafield) said “he didn’t see any reason for the Legislature to act at all.

Last week, Wisconsin had a record number of deaths due to COVID-19. On the same day, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) shared a dangerous assortment of ideas that would hinder our state’s response to COVID-19.

Republicans propose forcing teachers and state workers to work in-person while penalizing school districts for distance learning. The Republicans’ proposal would limit the ability of our local health departments to make decisions to keep their communities safe. Additionally, Republicans propose removing Governor Evers and public health officials’ ability to oversee vaccine distribution and the allocation of federal relief funding. These responsibilities belong to the Governor, but Republicans hope to seize control. Republicans also suggest penalizing Department of Workforce Development employees while they’re trying to process unemployment insurance claims in one of the toughest challenges the agency has faced.

After Assembly Republicans shared these proposals, the incoming Senate Majority Leader, Devin LeMahieu (R – Oostburg) said Senate Republicans have “no plan to immediately meet.” If you feel like we’re headed into our own version of the Hunger Games, you’re not alone. Constituents are left to fend for themselves while the CARES Act deadline is quickly approaching. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, Republicans have demonstrated they’re unwilling to show up for work.

Legislators are still being paid, even though the Legislature hasn’t met for eight months. Republicans demand teachers return to in-person instruction, but they’ve said the Legislature won’t be meeting until next year. While waiting for Republicans to call an extraordinary session, I’ve taken the initiative to hold public conversations on social media, respond to constituents and offer ideas to fix the unemployment crisis and help schools survive through the pandemic.

jeff-smithPartisan gerrymandering put us in this difficult position we find ourselves in today. Republicans manipulated Wisconsin’s maps almost a decade ago during the last redistricting process. The Majority Party created districts that lean so heavily in their favor they’ve stopped listening to you. They’ve ignored pleas to expand Medicaid, implement commonsense gun safety measures, improve broadband access for rural Wisconsin or fix the unemployment insurance system.

Your voice matters; it’s the responsibility of your elected officials to listen and work for you. Earlier this year, Governor Evers established the People’s Maps Commission, a non-partisan redistricting commission, tasked with creating fair districts for Wisconsin. Right now, the People’s Maps Commission is holding public hearings and accepting testimony. Now is your chance to share why fair maps are important to you while the Commission prepares new legislative district maps.

Pay attention and speak up because your future and our democracy are at stake.

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Now Is Not the Time to Get Sick

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, 02 December 2020
in Wisconsin

covid-19-n95-maskIn recent weeks, we’ve heard promising news about a COVID-19 vaccine, but it’s still critical we stay alert to protect ourselves and our loved ones.


MADISON - We’re finally reaching the point where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. In recent weeks, scientists released encouraging updates regarding effective COVID-19 vaccines. Reports indicate the potential vaccines have more than 90% efficacy, meaning they get the result they expect from their drug. Time to celebrate? Let’s hope so. Time to give thanks? Absolutely!

Our medical professionals deserve our appreciation for battling this pandemic and working diligently to develop vaccines to save lives. Although we still have more questions to be answered and vaccine doses yet to be produced, we might all breathe a little easier knowing this nightmare may soon be over.

We’ve received promising news, but we must still remember we’re not completely out of the woods. Most of the U.S. population isn’t expected to have access to a vaccine until spring, which means we need to make smart decisions to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

With help on the way it may be natural to convince yourself to relax and take chances. But, as I heard one doctor say following these exciting announcements, “Now is not the time to get sick.” Throughout the upcoming holiday season, we should all know the small sacrifices we make now will be worth it in the long run.

coronavirus-ventilatorCOVID-19 proved to be just as bad as scientists predicted. Since March – in just 9 months – over a quarter million Americans died. At the start of the pandemic in the United States, our country’s east and west coasts faced the brunt of the impact. However, more recently, states in the Midwest have experienced a shocking spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

In Wisconsin, 65 of our 72 counties have "critically high" COVID-19 activity levels; the other counties still have “very high” activity levels. Our hospitals in western Wisconsin are nearing capacity and our healthcare workers are overwhelmed. Nearly 90% of hospital beds in Wisconsin are in use. This means if someone came to a hospital, even for a reason unrelated to COVID-19, such as a heart attack or car accident, there’s a chance the hospital wouldn’t be able to accept and care for the patient. In Wisconsin, 3,307 people have died due to COVID-19, representing the tragic toll COVID-19 has had on so many families and communities across our state.

For those who have survived COVID-19, some are still suffering prolonged symptoms, affecting one’s quality of life. Scientists and doctors have discovered damage to the lungs, heart, liver and even the brain. Long-term complications from COVID-19 include heart inflammation, lung function abnormalities, depression, difficulty concentrating and more.

This information should remind us to continue staying alert and safe. It’s not worth taking any risks right now. Stay home, unless absolutely necessary. If you have to be out in public, wear a mask and practice social distancing. These simple preventative actions demonstrate our respect for one another, even at a time when this country is so divided. We know our country can heal from divisive politics and injustices by working together to overcome this pandemic.

jeff-smithWe have an opportunity to get through the pandemic stronger than ever. Whether it’s through the international effort to find an effective vaccine or the bipartisan group of Midwestern governors in unison calling for residents to stay safe over Thanksgiving.

Too often, I still hear some people say they’re unafraid of COVID-19 and don’t believe they’ll suffer if they catch it. I hope they’re right, but any of us can pass it to others who may get really sick and have serious complications. We must follow the recommended precautions, not because we fear for our own health, but we’re concerned for the health of others.

So I’ll say it again: now is not the time to get sick. We are so close to finally having a solution to battling COVID-19. Let’s see this through together without any more unnecessary deaths from this horrible disease

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