Saturday August 13, 2022

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Time is Now for Affordable Health Insurance

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, 01 December 2021
in Wisconsin

affordable-care-actSen. Smith writes about the open enrollment period happening now for health insurance. It’s easy, safe and affordable for families looking for health insurance through the federal marketplace.


Staying on top of your health is key to a good quality of life. Although, it can be cost prohibitive if you have to pay out-of-pocket for routine checkups or visits to a clinic. That’s where health insurance comes in. Even then, for some, the cost of a good health insurance policy can be out of reach.

Health insurance became a benefit provided by many employers to attract and retain loyal employees. Not all workplaces are offered that benefit though. Particularly for workers in jobs near or just above minimum wage, health insurance used to just be a dream. Workers lived precariously hoping they would stay healthy and nothing catastrophic would occur.

For millions of Americans who were living on the edge, things changed dramatically with the Affordable Care Act. It opened up affordable options that simply weren’t available in the past. An online visit to HealthCare.gov, now allows Americans to explore their options and choose the best plan, saving a lot of money and worry. Plans offered on the marketplace cover the ten essential benefits, including emergency services, prescription drugs and pediatric services.

In 2020, Governor Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Office of Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) partnered to launch WisCovered.com to make it even easier for Wisconsinites to find affordable healthcare coverage. By visiting WisCovered.com or calling 2-1-1, people can get connected with free, expert help. The experts are real people that can help Wisconsinites navigate coverage options and determine if they qualify for health insurance at a lower cost or if they’re eligible for BadgerCare. This expert help is available in English, Spanish and Hmong.

There’s an enrollment period every year, and we’re in the middle of it right now. The enrollment period opened November 1, 2021 and ends on January 15, 2022. During this limited time, all Wisconsinites are eligible to get enrolled in one of the health plans available on the federal marketplace. Some Wisconsinites may be able to find plans for $10 or less per month. Those who already have insurance through the marketplace can also renew, change, or update their plans during this period. If you visit WisCovered.com and sign up by December 15th, your coverage will begin January 1st.

jeff-smithMany Wisconsinites will benefit from lower rates and more insurance options in 2022. Rates on the individual market, which include plans available on Healthcare.gov, will be lower in 2022 compared to those in 2021. Many Wisconsinites can also find more insurer options than ever before.

This year’s rates continue the trend we’ve seen in the last few years of lowered health insurance costs, thanks to the Wisconsin Healthcare Stability Plan (WIHSP). According to OCI, “the development of WIHSP was a bipartisan effort to keep rates low for consumers every year since its implementation.” Governor Evers fully funded and expanded WIHSP in the 2021-23 state budget to keep healthcare costs affordable for working families across the state.

Additionally, OCI reported in 2019 that, “Wisconsin's health insurance marketplace saw a premium rate decrease of 4.2%, compared to an estimated 10% increase consumers would have faced without the program in place. In 2020, rates were an additional 3.2% lower than in 2019, and 2021 rates are 3.4% lower than those in 2020.”

There are many good options available for Wisconsinites to find affordable health insurance. With all the information out there, it’s very important to be aware of scams during the open enrollment period. Wisconsinites should be cautious if they receive robocalls or unsolicited sales calls from individuals offering to sell health insurance over the phone. OCI recommends WisCovered.com or the United Way’s 2-1-1 line as the most secure, reliable way to find coverage.

Finding affordable health insurance has never been easier thanks to the resources created by Governor Evers’ Administration. Navigators are available to you at no cost, so why not make the most of these resources now?

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Support Small Businesses this Holiday Season

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, 24 November 2021
in Wisconsin

business-small-openSen. Smith writes about Small Business Saturday and the many different ways Wisconsinites can support their neighbors and local businesses this holiday season.


EAU CLAIRE - Over the last ten to fifteen years, we’ve seen an amazing resurgence of entrepreneurs and small home-grown businesses. Something seems to have occurred to make us realize that fun and quality shopping isn’t necessarily in malls. Sure, it’s still pretty fascinating that so many stores can be under one roof, but something was always missing. It was the personal identity of a small business—going into a shop that you won’t find in every city and every mall. That small business that only exists in your town. That shop owned by your own neighbor.

Whether it's a unique restaurant or a boutique, if it’s one-of-a-kind, it is special. It just makes me smile thinking of the now flourishing main streets that had once been written off—seeing people walking the sidewalks, enjoying the day and helping the local economy.

If there is an economic driver for any local community; it’s entrepreneurship. Of course, some locally-started businesses grow so they have multiple locations, but they’re still part of your community. This is where it all begins and it’s something we can be proud of.

There are some really common places to find small businesses to support. Farmers’ markets have become popular everywhere, for instance. It’s a great place to find goods that are fresh and grown within just a few miles of the spot you buy it.

bar-patronsOne of the most noticeable growths in Wisconsin has taken place in the local breweries. It’s not just your corner tavern anymore, but now you can choose from one of the dozens of taps that were brewed right there in the same locale. Often, the choices change with the season or even week to week. Wineries have also found a home in western Wisconsin. You can drive through the field where the grapes are harvested and walk into the shop to taste amazing homegrown wine.

When you’re shopping for unique gifts, you can’t beat the locally produced goods sold in main street shops. So many talented people all around you produce beautiful jewelry, wood-turned bowls, artwork and so much more.

To showcase the talent and amazing local options, Small Business Saturday was embraced as an alternative to Black Friday. This year, on November 27, you should consider spending your day and holiday money supporting your local businesses. It’s a great way to show support to your neighbors and keep your money working in the community. It can be a nice feeling knowing that your dollars stay in western Wisconsin. Talk about paying it forward.

Small Business Saturday was created by a major credit card company. They obviously recognized the opportunity as more people were stepping away from big box stores. Now, credit card companies even register small businesses across the country to help highlight them for the holiday season. Everyone is on board for small business.

Even though there is just one dedicated day to supporting small businesses I want to remind you that they’re here every day. Your hardworking neighbors keep the economic gears turning year-round so their community can thrive. From retail to service industry, small business needs you as much as you need them. That includes your local artists and your local repair shops.

jeff-smithAs someone who worked, managed and owned a small service business for most of my life, I can tell you the reward is great, though the work is hard. Owning, working and supporting small businesses develops community and forms lifelong bonds. I know I will always be attached to the folks I worked with and for. That’s the spirit of local small business.

You can share in that special feeling of community when you visit local businesses in your community. Take your time to get to know who works there. Listen to their stories. It’s worth it. You may grow your circle of friends even in a time when we’ve faced so much adversity. Get out, enjoy and share.

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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)
User is currently offline
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)
User is currently offline
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)
User is currently offline
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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