Thursday December 1, 2022

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The Work for Wisconsin Must Continue

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 April 2022
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inSen. Smith writes about what motivated him to enter into public service and the potential for Wisconsin’s future once we work past the politics.

MADISON - When I think about Wisconsin’s future, I can’t help but think about my family’s past. This might sound backwards, but I think many others may feel the same way.

I reflect back on the opportunities my father had in starting his own window cleaning business; or the hard work that my wife and I put in to build our home from the ground up in Brunswick; or the cherished memories my daughters made growing up, caring for our many animals on our hobby farm.

This is the past that I think so fondly of. I entered into public service to preserve the values we share as Wisconsinites and ensure more families have the same opportunities my family was fortunate to have. I carried this mentality every drive down to Madison, every bill I introduced and every vote I took.

When it comes down to it, I believe many of my legislative colleagues feel the same way. The sad thing is politics is more divisive than ever before, which hindered attempts to move meaningful policies forward. I know this isn’t news to you, but it’s worth talking about.

Why don’t your legislators solve problems we all know exist? I’ve pointed this out time and again, but now that the legislative session ended, we’re faced with the stark reality that there’s still a lot of unfinished business to take care of.

We should have accomplished a lot more this legislative session. Wisconsinites shouldn’t have to wait until next year to see the results their leaders were already elected to deliver. Now, it becomes even more important to look ahead at what needs to be done.

While it does seem like we’ve made some progress toward connecting rural Wisconsin to the rest of the world, we could do much better. Fiber to every home is within our grasp right now. We have the funds to expand broadband statewide and I’ve introduced legislation to do so. Maybe next year?

Many families are still struggling with rising healthcare costs in our country. We can do a lot here in Wisconsin to make healthcare more affordable just by expanding BadgerCare. Wisconsin has lost out on billions of dollars already from the feds. There really is no logical reason that we haven’t done this already—just politics. Maybe next year?

jeff-smithI’ve often been asked if marijuana will ever be legalized in Wisconsin. This is a perfect example of short-sighted politics. While neighboring states have legalized medical marijuana and some are now regulating recreational marijuana, the Republican majority made sure we didn’t even have public hearings on the subject. Maybe next year?

We have so much we can – and must – do to protect Wisconsin’s natural resources, starting with our drinking water. PFAS has been found in municipal wells from all corners of our state. These dangerous manmade chemicals can be detected with testing but it can be expensive. Politics has stymied the DNR from doing more and adopting measures to ensure communities have clean drinking water. Maybe next year?

Deer hunting has a long illustrious history in Wisconsin, attracting hunters from around the country. That’s why we must stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Every session I join other colleagues in introducing bills to address CWD but we have yet to make progress and the disease continues to spread and cause great concern. Maybe next year?

We know we must invest in our K-12 schools and our children’s future. Instead Republicans are bent on putting your public money in private education. Public education is meant for everyone. Legislators should stop pilfering public dollars for private special interests. Maybe next year?

In the legislature, only a handful of senators in the Republican majority control what gets done, which explains the lack of progress on these critical issues. You deserve better.

There’s incredible potential for our state’s future. Together, we can create opportunities for Wisconsin families and businesses if only we can see past the politics and power grabs. With solutions within our reach, we can and must do better.

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Reflecting on the Positive

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 April 2022
in Wisconsin

wisconsin-senateJeff Smith writes about some of the most memorable highlights from the many committees he's served on during his first term as state senator.

MADISON - There are times when it’s a good idea to take a breath and reflect on your accomplishments. Now, that the legislative session has ended I’ve had a chance to do just that. Oftentimes, it’s easy to dwell on the challenges and disappointments we experience, but I know my first term as your state senator has been rewarding.

Holding this office has created opportunities to learn so much about so many things. I’m sure it isn’t for everyone, but I really enjoyed the time spent with a farmer educating me on soil science or ABATE motorcycle enthusiasts explaining to me how policies passed in Madison affect their rides.

Some of the most memorable highlights over the last few years have come from serving on the many committees I have the good fortune to be a part of.

lacrosseharborTake the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, for starters. Little did I know how much this group of good people do for the preservation of and enhancement of the Great River Road. If anyone needs an emotional lift, take a drive along State Highway 35, and know how hard volunteers have worked to maintain the beautiful landscape. We take so much for granted but nothing happens in a vacuum.

Studying the ins and outs of broadband access has been enlightening. Access to high-speed broadband was a priority from the get-go, but it became even clearer during the pandemic. It’s been rewarding to take the lead on this issue especially when it became clear how critical it is to be connected. My assertive approach to broadband led me to being appointed to the Broadband Stakeholders group coordinated by the Public Service Commission.

My staff may not always appreciate it, but whenever there’s an opening on a task force or committee I’m eager to step forward. This has led to a very diverse portfolio for my office. I’ve always enjoyed learning how things work and this job really allows that to happen.

When the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change needed senate representation I was eager to fill that vacancy. It’s obvious that this is an issue that’s going to be confronting us for a long time and it’s exciting to learn from experts what can be done to protect Wisconsin’s natural resources.

drugaddicts-youngServing on the State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (SCAODA) has been eye opening. It is here that we’re presented with statistics that only verify what most of us already know: substance abuse is a serious issue in Wisconsin. SCAODA helped me understand potential legislative proposals that, if adopted, could save lives and make serious positive impacts on Wisconsin families.

Speaking of where we can save lives, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force does incredibly valuable work. Formed by Attorney General Josh Kaul, the people serving on this task force are miraculous. I have learned so much I did not understand before. I am hopeful we will bring forth important life-saving legislation from this work.

jeff-smithAs a legislator it can seem fairly useless at times to introduce legislation since the majority Party refuses to consider any bills drafted by the minority Party. Despite this obstacle, I’ve introduced 120 bills during my first term to protect Wisconsinites’ right to vote, support students and local schools, ensure clean drinking water and more. Feeling ignored can be discouraging, but representing west central Wisconsin definitely has its highlights that make it worthwhile.

There’s so much more to be thankful for in my first term and there is just not enough space here to elaborate. But I do want to express gratitude to my team. When faced with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, we managed to help more than 350 constituents with their unemployment insurance claims. That was simply an amazing demonstration of dedication and compassion when people needed us the most.

Whew! There really is much to be proud of.

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Civil Conversations: The Key for Change

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, 30 March 2022
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inJeff Smith writes about the origin of his mobile office hours known as “Stop & Talks.” It’s always been important to be accessible to the people you are elected to serve and he's glad to be hosting more of Stop & Talks now that the weather is warming up!

BRUNSWICK, WI - It’s always been my top priority to be accessible to the people I was elected to serve. In my four years serving in the State Assembly in the 2000’s, I scheduled town hall listening sessions as often as I could. My office arranged listening sessions at town halls, libraries and other public spaces during times that were open in my schedule, which often meant during the work day.

Occasionally a constituent would come in and share his or her thoughts, but it was quiet for the most part. More often I would sit alone inside a building and out of sight; it made me wonder if there was a better way to connect with the people I was elected to serve. I brainstormed for a while and realized curbside listening sessions worked better for everyone on the move. (This was way before curbside became a thing during the pandemic).

I got to work on the plan. I still had my old Dodge pickup that I used for my small business. All I needed was a sign for my neighbors to know that I was there, ready to listen. And that’s just how my Stop & Talks got started.

The 2011 redistricting process radically changed the makeup of the district. Having lost the Assembly seat and faced with a nearly all-new gerrymandered district I had one more reason to rethink how I interacted with folks and made myself available to my community.

Over the years, I was still unable to break through the heavily gerrymandered district and be re-elected to the Assembly, but my Stop & Talks were well received and appreciated by all those who stopped by. My only regret when I first started this method of connecting with voters was that I hadn’t had the opportunity to conduct these mobile office hours when I was an elected representative.

Now, as the elected State Senator representing the 31st Senate District covering all or most of Eau Claire, Dunn, Pepin, Pierce, Buffalo, Trempealeau and Jackson counties, it has been my pleasure to park my pickup at busy locations where constituents can easily find me, prop up my sign and have conversations with my constituents. In our northern climate, it’s obviously a seasonal activity and the pandemic caused me to shut it down for too long but I’m excited to be back at it again.

jeff-smithI’ve been part of some incredible conversations over the years. It’s a privilege to have people feel they can open up to me on the side of the road. There have been tears and hugs and occasionally some tough conversations.

What the “Stop and Talk” has taught me is that we’re not naturally good listeners. I’m constantly reminding myself to begin the conversation by listening and wait for the moment when the person talking might expect a response. Having these conversations, I think, really helps the new friends I make, as well as myself. Everyone who’s stopped has contributed to my own personal growth and has made me a better public servant.

It’s important for me to be approachable and that’s why my Stop & Talks work. I think it’s made some people, who might otherwise be uncomfortable in a more formal setting, willing to approach their state senator with their thoughts.

We are more alike than we appear to be—Wisconsinites want much of the same things. Economic and physical security, educational opportunity for our children, clean drinking water, affordable housing, living wages, accessible and affordable healthcare, and a life that allows time to enjoy what this beautiful state has to offer.

Once we actually have respectful conversations like I have on the side of the road, we can make progress toward understanding each other. This opens the door for the prospect that we can work together and preserve the freedoms that our great democratic republic was created to offer.

I hope to visit with you soon. Stop and talk.

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National Agriculture Week: Recognize the Farmers Who Feed You

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 March 2022
in Wisconsin

farm-familySen. Jeff Smith writes about farmers’ contributions to our state and how the legislature must support them.

BRUNSWICK, WI - The distinction of my hometown as the center of the dairy industry was always a matter of pride for me growing up. While I didn’t understand how milk pricing worked yet, all that mattered was that Eau Claire was the center of the milk industry and played a big role in determining the price of milk.

The ‘Eau Claire Rule’ was established as part of the New Deal in 1937. Since we were America’s Dairyland it made sense that the further you were from Eau Claire, the more you paid for milk. However, the eventual establishment of huge corporate farms in southern and western states allowed them to charge more for their milk. It wasn’t until 1997 that a federal judge agreed with farmers that the rule depressed prices in the Midwest while raising prices for farmers elsewhere, and the rule was abandoned.

I tell that story, not because of an unfair rule, but because being America’s Dairyland is still something to be proud of. Dairy products from Wisconsin are the envy of the world. We may take it for granted, but Wisconsin cheese is a special delicacy you can’t find anywhere else.

It would seem obvious that a top responsibility of the state legislature would be to support an industry that’s treasured throughout the agricultural world. Yet, politicians have watched from the sideline as we lose hundreds of dairy farms. In 1978 nearly 48,000 dairy farms in Wisconsin each milked an average of 65 cows. There are now about 6,500 dairy farms milking an average of 200 cows.

There are many reasons Wisconsin is losing our dairy farms, including aging farmers and their children choosing other paths to follow. But we’ve also ignored the need for policies that protect and encourage dairy producers to thrive in Wisconsin.

A prime example of this legislative dysfunction is the inability to do something as simple as pass dairy labeling bills. Session after session, a bill that would define milk as coming from a mammal rather than a plant, stalls in the legislature. I imagine if you were to ask some legislators they might say “we ran out of time.” Hogwash, I say.

When majority party leaders want something that will make the headlines, they pass it so fast your head will spin. No, the real reason the milk labeling bills are in limbo is because they politicians failed to prioritize our farmers in America’s Dairyland.

jeff-smithI’ve heard directly from farmers about the everyday challenges they face. During National Agriculture Week we must commit ourselves to policies that will support our farmers today and for generations to come.

Too many farmers need to work off the farm just so they can have health insurance, for instance. Smart legislation to make healthcare more affordable for Wisconsinites, like Medicaid expansion, would be huge for farmers.

Dairy farmers, in particular, depend on migrant labor. Creating a driver permit for migrant workers would help our farmers and make our roads safer.

Climate change has affected farmers in negative ways because of increased flooding and warmer temperatures. That’s why cover crop rebates, flood resiliency and more support from UW Extension agents is necessary in the ag world today.

In today’s world, being connected is critical to success. That’s why bills like mine to run fiber to every farm and every household in Wisconsin matters. If we want the next generation to work and live in rural Wisconsin, they must have reliable, high-speed internet. Who wouldn’t want to live where they can enjoy the beauty of Wisconsin—if only they could thrive here?

There are a lot more farmers among us than we realize. Simple policy fixes can have dramatic effects for farmers. These ideas are examples of bills that were offered this legislative session, but ignored or forgotten by the majority party.

Our farmers are there for us each and every day. We need to support them just as much as they support us. Farmers put food on our tables. What better way can we say ‘thank you’ than to take simple steps for our hardworking farmers?

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A Rural Blueprint for Our Future

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 March 2022
in Wisconsin

farmer-wicornSen. Jeff Smith writes about his Rural Development Plan, a comprehensive package of legislation designed to create opportunities for our rural communities.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - Thirty-six years ago, my wife and I built our home from the ground up in Brunswick, a rural part of Eau Claire County. We both grew up in the area and didn’t think twice about leaving. Before we started laying the foundation of our home, we started with a blueprint showing how to achieve our dream home. Months went by and our vision became reality.

The hard work that went into our home was well worth it. Our home became my office where I grew my business. It’s where my wife and I rested after we put in a hard day’s work. It’s where we raised our two daughters and built our future together.

As senator, I’ve been working on another type of blueprint—and it’s one for Wisconsin’s future. For the last four years serving the 31st Senate District, I’ve listened and learned about ways to make rural Wisconsin thrive.

I’m proud today to unveil my Rural Development Plan. It’s a comprehensive package of legislation designed to create opportunities for our rural communities. Through statewide broadband expansion, workforce development initiatives and fair funding for our K-12 schools, we can make rural Wisconsin a place where families and businesses want to call home.

5gGovernor Evers has already shown us what’s possible for Wisconsin. During his first term, the governor championed broadband expansion, creating a Broadband Access Task Force and making the largest broadband investment in state history during the ‘Year of Broadband Access.’ The governor restored two-thirds funding for our local schools and targeted support to address regional workforce challenges.

Despite the pandemic, Wisconsin has a record-high surplus, all-time low unemployment rate and our state’s general fund has the largest positive balance in state history. Governor Evers continues to build a strong economy that works for all Wisconsinites and my Rural Development Plan builds off the governor’s success.

We have the money and now’s the time to make the investments. In May 2021, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin estimated the full cost of broadband expansion to be between $700 Million and $1.4 Billion. Knowing this and the strong point our economy’s at now, we can make statewide broadband expansion happen.

Imagine how this could boost our communities, ensuring all homes and businesses in rural Wisconsin are connected to high-speed internet. It will connect our rural producers to urban consumers, enhance educational opportunities for students and help elderly residents stay in their homes.

My Rural Development Plan also includes five other bills to exponentially expand broadband and ensure every penny is spent wisely. These bills improve internet affordability, strengthen consumer protections and help farms get connected first.

The top priority I hear from constituents is broadband, but workforce development is a close second. My Rural Development Plan creates the Freedom to Learn program which offers free tuition for students enrolled at a technical college or at one of the two-year UW campuses. Even though we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, there’s still more we can do.

Student debt shouldn’t affect our ability to get skilled workers into the workplace—this proposal is a commonsense way to help Wisconsinites gain new skills and be more successful.

jeff-smithIt’s well known that our public schools are the heart of any community, especially in rural areas. Preserving rural America means preserving public education. For years, we’ve known the school funding formula is flawed. We’ve kicked the can down the road for too long. We have the money and we owe it to our kids to finally fix the problem. That’s why the Rural Development Plan uses Governor Tony Evers’ Fair Funding for Our Future plan to do the right thing for rural schools.

I put a lot of work into building my family’s home years ago and I’ve never regretted it. In western Wisconsin, we have something special: a welcoming community, strong work ethic and a beautiful landscape. Rural Wisconsin has much to offer. If we want to preserve our way of life while attracting and retaining future generations, we must make the investments today.

The blueprint is done—now it’s time to build.

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