Thursday January 27, 2022

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Family Fun at the Fair

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, 04 August 2021
in Wisconsin

fairgoersSen. Jeff Smith writes about all of the fun activities families can enjoy at a local county fair.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Summer is all about family fun. It’s the season with plenty to do outdoors. Family vacations are planned around national parks and monuments. Campgrounds fill up and lakes are busy with boats, kayakers, anglers and swimmers.

With everything going on and the many places to visit, it can be easy to overlook what’s happening right in your own backyard, including your local fair. County fairs are held across the state offering fun times and entertainment for your entire family.

Not all fairs are alike; some have midway rides and games, some have musical events and other shows. Other fairs keep it as simple as possible with demonstrations, displays, animal showings and food. Oh, the food. Fair food may not make the list for your healthy diet, but it’s certainly hard to resist.

My own family has made terrific memories thanks to our county fair. We were a 4-H family, so my daughters entered projects in woodworking, food preparation, natural science and more. Every year we had animals at the fair and it taught my daughters the important value of responsibility because they had to keep their area clean and care for their animals. My family got to the fair early and left late each day.

For current 4-H members, the fair is still the culmination of a year of hard work. They built connections, learned new things and worked on skills that will be judged during those few days in the summer heat. During the course of the year, they may have honed their shooting skills with an air gun or bow and demonstrated they know how to shoot safely. Their very special project made from wood might win them a blue ribbon. Youngsters can show off the relationship they’ve built with their animals over the last year. It’s so rewarding to see young people with their horses, not to mention all of the other animals, including cats, dogs, exotic animals, sheep and goats.

When some think of a county fair they think of the typical farm experience: showing cattle or hogs. Of course that’s a big part of it, but there’s so much more. From shooting sports and playing piano to showing your dairy cow and shooting a rocket into the air, there are plenty of activities for kids to enjoy at a county fair.

jeff-smithIn my experience, I’ve been lucky enough to assist in our county fair even after my daughters graduated. It never gets old seeing the excitement of youngsters bringing in their projects. Every year there are creative projects I’d never seen before. When interviewing kids about their taxidermy mounts, they tell the story of their hunt with their parent or mentor. It’s always special – and you can share in their special moments at the fair.

At this point of the summer many, if not most, county fairs have come and gone until next year. But county fairs are the precursor to the state fair. The Wisconsin State Fair begins August 5th and runs through the 15th. Champions in every category from every county have the chance to be entered in the state fair and be judged one more time. It’s also your chance to experience fun and sample new food with fellow Wisconsinites.

Maybe your summer included travels to distant and amazing places. After all, we have so much natural beauty throughout this great country. You may have spent your summer relaxing on one of Wisconsin’s beautiful lakes or at the local pool socializing with neighbors and friends.

Let’s face it, football is on the horizon and that means fall is right around the corner. Visiting the fair might be your last chance to enjoy summer in Wisconsin.

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The Facts About the Birds and the Bees

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, 28 July 2021
in Wisconsin

bee-pollinatorSen. Jeff Smith writes about the crisis impacting pollinators, which threatens the crops farmers grow and harvest.


MADISON, WI - Where does our food come from? It’s a question we think of a lot while grocery shopping or sitting down for a meal with our family. Of course, the answer is our farmers. Farming is hard, but satisfying work. They play a critical role in feeding the world and they rely on climate conditions for a productive crop. Farmers are also aware of pollinators’ essential role in helping them do their job.

Pollinators include many species of birds, bats, butterflies, bees and even small mammals. Over 100,000 animal species play a role in pollinating over 250,000 flowering plant species in the world, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Insects are the most common pollinators. Pollinators play an important role, especially when it comes to the way our food chain works.

Without these natural partners, our food supply would be at risk. One-third of all food produced for human consumption is dependent on pollinators. While we do have domestic pollinators, over 80% of pollinators are wild. Honey bees alone pollinate 80% of all flowering plants and approximately $10 billion worth of food crops in the United States each year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Alarmingly, bee populations and other pollinator species have dropped significantly in recent years. There were nearly one billion monarch butterflies in the United States 25 years ago; now the population stands at approximately 34 million. In 2015 – in just one year – there was a 40% loss of honey bee colonies in the United States. Wisconsin is home to the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, which saw an 87% decline over a 20 year period and became the first bee to be granted protections under the Endangered Species Act in 2017.

Declining pollinator populations are happening for a number of reasons. While parasitic mites can cause a colony to collapse, poison is equally devastating. Private landowners are stepping up to halt the destruction and restore the population of pollinators. In western states, farmers found that rest-rotation grazing creates better habitat for pollinators over pastures with no livestock grazing. More prudent use of fertilizers and insecticides can also make a difference.

Climate change also threatens pollinators’ existence. Adopting climate change mitigation policies is critical and urgent for so many reasons. The risk of pollinator extinction (and loss of food sources, as a result) should certainly motivate us to slow and reverse climate change.

While we may feel there are some causes of the pollinator crisis that are out of our control, there are things we can do to improve the situation. I’ve teamed up with other legislators to introduce the Pollinator Protection Bill Package, which can move us in the right direction on this important, but often overlooked subject.

jeff-smithSenate Bills 455, 456 and 457 aim to limit harmful insecticides and raise greater awareness among Wisconsinites about the crisis devastating pollinator ecosystems. SB 455 protects pollinators by limiting insecticide use near pollinator habitats located on land maintained by the Department of Natural Resources. SB 456 returns decision-making about acceptable pesticides back to the local municipality or county. Currently these local subdivisions are prohibited from adopting such protections – this bill is one way to protect nearby pollinator habitats.

SB 457 prohibits a person who sells or provides plants from labeling or advertising the plant as being beneficial to pollinators if the plant has been treated with and contains a certain concentration of insecticides that are hazardous to pollinators.

These bills deserve immediate action in Legislature before this crisis worsens. We know that over 75% of our flowers and 35% of the crops we eat need to be pollinated, but we’re losing significant populations of pollinators every year. We must act immediately to avert a situation that could become irreversible.

We’ve shown in the past we’re capable of correcting mistakes to save valuable natural resources. We can look up at the eagles to remind ourselves what we can do when we’re determined to fix a problem.

So, where does our food come from? Start with pollinators.

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A Workforce for Everyone

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, 21 July 2021
in Wisconsin

working-poor-hurtsSen. Smith shares his personal story as a small business owner and describes Governor Evers' continued efforts to strengthen Wisconsin's workforce in our post-pandemic recovery.


EAU CLAIRE - Long before I entered politics, I worked in the private sector. From an early age, I was needed for my father's business to mop floors, empty trash and eventually clean windows. As high school graduation approached, my father sat down with me and laid out why he wanted me to forgo college and continue working with him, hoping someday I'd buy the business from him. Thus, my future, as owner and manager of Bob Smith Window Cleaning, was set.

Things went pretty well as I put in long hours and hired reliable help. When I first started it was only myself and my father, and he had no interest in growing the business. Hiring and managing employees was a risky undertaking for my father. I would learn what he meant as time went on.

It's a huge responsibility when a small business hires anyone. There are insurance costs and payroll expenses. Each employee I hired was representing me when I couldn't personally be at each worksite, so it was necessary to build trust. But as time went by and business grew, it became more and more difficult to have a working relationship with each employee the way I would've liked. It became evident that entry-level pay needed to be worth it for anyone to want to work in the service industry where their work may go unappreciated. Over twenty years ago I began paying $10 an hour to attract good help. Ten years ago, after a long career in the service industry, I sold my business.

I tell you all this for perspective as we hear from so many employers that they can't seem to find enough workers. Recently, I heard a Republican colleague tell an audience that they noticed a "help wanted" sign at a gas station offering $10 an hour. This anecdote came up while my colleague was arguing against pandemic unemployment benefits. My colleague shared this story as though $10 was a great wage and people should flock to apply. Keep in mind $10 an hour doesn't cover an average month's rent along with basic living necessities for most families.

working-womanIt isn't a new phenomenon that finding help in the service industry is difficult, and it seems to only have gotten harder. Low wages are one but not the only reason “ we find ourselves facing a workforce shortage. We know the lack of affordable child care, forced many parents“ especially women “ to leave the workforce during the pandemic to care for their children. Other barriers including broadband access, reliable transportation options, and affordable housing have only compounded the issue at hand.

Some employers and politicians have been quick to blame the unemployment insurance system workers have paid into for the labor shortage. The fact is there are not enough workers for our growing economy thanks to Governor Evers and President Biden. Workers fled Wisconsin over the past ten years because Wisconsin was one of the slowest states to recover from the Great Recession and Republicans passed anti-worker legislation at every turn. Now they wonder where all the workers are.

Wisconsin is back to pre-pandemic unemployment levels as our economy continues to improve. The recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment estimates for June showed that Wisconsin added 10,700 new jobs.

jeff-smithAlthough Wisconsin's unemployment rate is lower than the national average, Governor Evers remains focused on building our workforce back stronger than it was before the pandemic. Last week, Governor Evers directed $130 million toward workforce development. Together, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation are developing a workforce innovation grant program. DWD will be partnering with local workforce development boards on a worker advancement initiative. The agency will also roll out a worker connection program that will provide workforce career coaches for Wisconsinites.

I'm hopeful that Governor Evers' initiative will continue strengthening Wisconsin's workforce. More still needs to be done in our pandemic recovery. Do your part by getting vaccinated and encouraging your loved ones to do the same. We've come a long way since the pandemic first came to Wisconsin and there's nowhere else to go, but forward.

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The Budget is Just the Beginning

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, 14 July 2021
in Wisconsin

art-fair-on-square-Sen. Jeff Smith provides an overview of the budget process and what was included in the 2021-23 budget signed by Governor Evers last week.


MADISON - Like many households and businesses, the state operates on a budget. We have a biennial budget in Wisconsin, meaning it begins July 1st of each odd numbered year and ends June 30th of the following odd numbered year.

The budget supports much of what many families and individuals count on in their everyday lives. It will determine the conditions of your local roads, and whether your school district can afford to hire staff, repair a roof, or upgrade their computers. The budget supports our local governments with human services, law enforcement and fire protection. If a state budget isn’t approved in a timely fashion, a domino effect occurs delaying budgets for all Wisconsin counties, municipalities and school districts.

You can think of the budget as one big bill. Unlike most other legislation, the governor introduces the budget bill, the Legislature changes it and the governor signs it into law. In the spring, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) held public hearings around the state to hear residents’ thoughts on the budget. I listened in on these hearings and saw Wisconsinites testify one after another in support of Governor Evers’ budget to help Wisconsin bounce back from the pandemic.

The JFC then voted on the budget. Despite Wisconsinites’ support for many of the budget provisions, the Committee’s Republican Majority gutted 380 proposals including BadgerCare expansion and critical investments in our K-12 schools.

Whenever any other bill reaches a full vote of the Assembly and Senate, it will receive up or down votes based on the merits of a single proposal and it’s pretty easy to determine one’s stance on it. That’s not always so easy with the budget. There’s so much included in the budget bill, which makes it highly unlikely that anyone can be completely happy with every proposal and expenditure. I’m certainly never completely satisfied.

That’s exactly how I felt when the Senate passed the budget on June 30th. The budget was a missed opportunity in many ways and didn’t go nearly as far as we could with the surplus we have. But with so many Wisconsinites still recovering from the pandemic, I knew families needed relief, even if it wasn’t how I would do it.

The bulk of the budget will help middle class families with historic tax breaks and additional education funding. The budget strengthens our caregiver workforce and supports hospitals that serve a large number of Medicaid and uninsured individuals. Counties and municipalities will get the road funding they need.

It was a good budget, but it could’ve been better. Like any other bill that comes to the floor, there are opportunities to introduce amendments. And that’s exactly what we did. We tried to restore BadgerCare expansion, fix our broken school funding formula and offer a tax cut for lower income earners. Unfortunately, as members of the legislative minority, amendments introduced by Democrats are typically rejected. The majority leader habitually stands to reject our motions, which his members obediently follow. All of our ideas are then tabled without debate.

The governor signed the budget with partial vetoes. The budget fell woefully short in many areas but Governor Evers knew the budget needed to pass or we’d risk losing $2.3 billion in additional federal relief for our K-12 schools.

wi-senate-swearingMy Democratic colleagues and I worked with the governor to identify where changes could be made to make the budget better. In the end, Governor Evers signed a budget that provides one of the largest tax cuts in state history, delivers historic broadband investments and frees up more dollars for local K-12 schools. On the same day he signed the budget into law, the governor announced he’ll be allocating an additional $100 million in federal recovery funds to invest in Wisconsin classrooms.

It's challenging for lawmakers to find bipartisan solutions, even when citizens of all political leanings are asking us to find ways to get along and get things done. Although this isn’t the budget I would’ve written, I only hope this is the stepping stone to collaborate and do more for the People of Wisconsin.

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This is Our Shot to End the Pandemic

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 July 2021
in Wisconsin

covid-19-vaccinationIt’s important that more people get vaccinated to keep moving our state in the right direction. Sen. Smith shares information about the COVID-19 vaccine and where Wisconsinites can get their shot.


MADISON, WI - Independence Day is a holiday always filled with many treasured traditions and memorable events. Unfortunately, last year we missed out on many of our favorite ways to celebrate America’s founding – grilling out with friends and family, watching fireworks in a nearby park or lining up on a parade route. We sure were able to do things a lot differently this 4th of July.

Back in March, President Joe Biden predicted our lives would look a lot more normal by the 4th of July. Honestly, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard that. At that point, there was still a limited supply of vaccines available and not all American adults were eligible. Since the spring, President Biden’s Administration has worked hard to expand eligibility, manufacture and distribute doses and get more shots in arms.

Thanks to Governor Tony Evers’ leadership, Wisconsin has consistently ranked one of the top states in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. Just last week, the state passed a notable milestone: 50% of Wisconsinites have received at least one vaccine dose! Here in western Wisconsin, residents have showed up to get their shot. More than 50% of residents in Eau Claire and Trempealeau counties have received at least one dose, with neighboring counties closely catching up. This united effort is what it will take to protect our communities and help our state and economy continue to recover.

While more Wisconsinites get vaccinated, it’s important that we understand we’re still not completely out of the woods yet. COVID-19 variants are emerging and spreading throughout the United States. The Delta variant now accounts for one in four new cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But, the good news from the CDC is that the vaccines “offer protection against most variants spreading in the United States.”

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Scientists and public health experts developed the vaccine using medical research that has been around for decades. The vaccines went through all required stages of clinical trials and continue to undergo intensive safety monitoring, according to the CDC. The vaccines have shown to keep people from getting and spreading COVID-19. Every shot administered gets us one step closer to defeating this virus.

Everyone over the age of 12 is now eligible to get their vaccine, and it’s easy to make an appointment to get your shot. There are many places you can go to get your free COVID-19 vaccine, including your neighborhood pharmacy, your local health department or your doctor. The easiest place to learn where you can get your vaccine is by visiting Vaccines.gov.

The WI Dept. of Health Services outlined a number of resources and programs that are offering support to help you get vaccinated. Free child care is available while parents and caregivers are getting vaccinated. Participating businesses are also offering rewards for getting a vaccine and protecting the community.

We have many reasons to celebrate the 4th of July – Americans’ resiliency is just one of them. The last year and a half has been incredibly challenging. We were apart from our friends, family and neighbors for months. We changed our normal routines and missed out on big life events. Many of us lost loved ones. Despite the challenges and tragedy Americans endured, we found ways to persevere. This is what America is all about.

jeff-smithGenerations before us experienced immense hardship. They lived through devastating wars, social injustice, economic depression and overwhelming uncertainty as to what the future holds. Americans have always found a way to overcome disasters, and this pandemic is no different. The vaccine is our ticket out of the pandemic and to get through to the other side.

I got vaccinated because I knew it was one small way to protect my community and help America bounce back. There are many personal reasons why it’s important to get your vaccine. If you haven’t already, now is your chance to get your shot and ensure we can build a better American future. As citizens have been throughout our country’s history, we’re united in this effort to move America forward.

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