Wednesday May 12, 2021

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Democracy at Work

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, 11 November 2020
in Wisconsin

voting-2020-538Although Americans may have different reactions now that the election is over, it’s important that we continue having conversations to move forward together.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - And, just like that, Election Day has passed! What a relief for all of us. At the end of an election season, you may feel overwhelmed with emotion; we feel excited, relieved and disappointed all at the same time.

As someone who has run multiple campaigns, I can tell you it isn’t easy on candidates when it’s all over. It can be a terrible blow when you lose, but even when you win, there can be a sudden drop in energy. A candidate can feel like they’re racing at 100 miles per hour in the final weeks and, win or lose, the day after the election is like hitting a brick wall. It can feel like everyone and everything has come to a stop and you don’t know what to do with all the energy.

For so many of us, Election Day couldn’t have come soon enough; we want nothing more than to have a respite from politics. Having been hammered for months with ads, mail and calls, election season can be discouraging and exhausting. Receiving election results can be just as stressful. Nobody gets what they wished for 100% of the time – there are both wins and losses among the candidates or ballot initiatives you supported. But what’s important is we have the right to have our voice heard through our vote. This is democracy at work.

wi-fair-mapsWe must keep the momentum going after Election Day by holding our elected officials accountable. We can’t forget why we had an election in the first place. We must continue conversations about how we move our nation, state and communities forward.

It’s important to remind successful candidates of the responsibilities to serve everyone, not just those who voted for them. We should expect civility among our elected officials.

The Wisconsin Legislature still has not met or passed legislation for over 200 days. This record is embarrassing and shameful, especially while so many have struggled to meet their daily needs during this pandemic. But every day is a new day, and we have new opportunities to change this course of inaction into action. It starts with elected officials fulfilling promises they made during a grueling campaign season.

Think about what you heard from candidates while they were on the campaign trail. Did you hear a candidate talk about expanding access to high-speed internet service? Then don’t let your legislators forget, because the need continues to grow. Did you hear a candidate say we should fix the unemployment insurance system, so those who need support can get it quicker? Remind them we can make these fixes right now before things get worse.

jeff-smithDid a candidate campaign on supporting our public schools to weather this pandemic? I’m sure most candidates suggested this was a priority for them. We must remind them these are all still top priorities to move Wisconsin forward. Don’t let your elected officials forget.

As we near the end of 2020, COVID-19 remains a major hurdle.  Lives are being lost, families are isolated and we are all looking for the end of this crisis. It wasn’t until this pandemic did we realize just how difficult life can be and how important public health is to our society.

COVID-19 turned into a political football this election. Public health is no game. It showed us just how dangerous it can be to trivialize a global pandemic for political purposes. Moving forward, our leaders must take COVID-19 seriously and reach across the aisle to find progress.

As winter nears and the holidays are approaching, families will be staying indoors. We will have to get creative to celebrate the holidays we look forward to all year long without risking the lives of our loved ones. Working together as a community to stop the spread is a perfect way for us to heal wounds left over from a vicious campaign. Let’s care for each other. Let’s learn how to earn a living, pursue an education and govern together during this pandemic so the America we are so proud of can unify as one.

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Raising Awareness of Domestic Violence

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 November 2020
in Wisconsin

domestic-violenceSen. Jeff Smith writes about our responsibility to show our support and share resources for survivors, while working to find long-term solutions to address this issue.


MADISON - A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet virtually with two community leaders representing domestic violence awareness organizations in Wisconsin. Every October, we recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month to bring attention to this issue and better understand the impact domestic violence has in our communities.

After having this conversation, one of the key takeaways I took from it was that we must continue raising community awareness about domestic violence even past the nationally-recognized Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence can happen every day. In fact, domestic violence affects more than 12 million people every year.

Although October has passed, we’re responsible to continue the conversation and raise awareness throughout the year. In doing so, we’re working to support survivors and find long-term solutions to address this problem.

Domestic violence isn’t limited to a certain age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, or socioeconomic status. We know anyone can be affected by domestic violence; however, a large majority of victims are women, and offenders are often male. It’s also important to remember it occurs in higher rates among marginalized communities, especially among American Indians and Alaska Natives than other groups.

Importantly, domestic violence doesn’t only appear within marriage; it can appear in all types or stages of a relationship. When discussing domestic violence, many use the term “Intimate Partner Violence” interchangeably to help others better understand the many different facets or signs of domestic violence.

Not all domestic violence leaves a visible mark. Domestic violence can come in the form of physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, cultural, spiritual, or digital abuse. This type of behavior is intended to maintain control or power in the relationship.

jeff-smithFor decades, the cries of victims went unnoticed or ignored. Victims were, and are often still, wrongly blamed for the abusive situation. Blaming victims has resulted in the silence of victims. It was and sometimes still is considered a private matter that shouldn’t be interfered with. Despite continued awareness of this issue, domestic violence is still very prevalent within our local communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of our lives, but it has affected victims of domestic violence even more and in such a complicated way. When schools closed and we began to isolate in our homes, it meant victims were likely trapped with their abuser for longer periods of time with no relief. The aggressor may have even become more agitated under the pressures the pandemic has wrought, such as financial stress or fewer opportunities to find relief from this stress.

In September, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article, calling Intimate Partner Violence “a pandemic within a pandemic,” stating victims were trapped with their abusers and were unable to connect with helplines. According to this article, domestic violence hotline calls dropped by 50% due to the inability of victims to escape the abuser to make a call.

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Please note, this weekly column contains sensitive information regarding domestic violence, which may be triggering for some readers.

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Search for Truth During an Election

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 October 2020
in Wisconsin

vote-47-mbFrom the disinformation we read on social media to the “issue ads” we see on TV, it’s important that we do our research and stay vigilant before casting our ballot.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - As we approach another Election Day, we all feel the heat from both major political parties as they do all they can to get their voters to show up for their candidates. Many voters – if they haven’t already – will stop answering the phone to avoid robocalls. Mailboxes will be filled with full-sized glossy cards and TV ads will play one after another, either celebrating or desecrating a candidate. After November 3rd, we’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief that it’s all over, at least until another campaign cycle comes around.

While we may all tire of the incessant campaign calls and mail, we should be mindful of who’s responsible for creating and funding the messages we’re consuming every day. As American citizens, we have the awesome right to vote and participate in our democracy. But, with this right comes the responsibility to do our research and understand the motives of each candidate.

Most of the campaign advertisements you see don’t come from candidates directly. The fact is, many of these advertisements appearing on TV or in the mail are usually paid for by organizations you’ve never heard of before. These advertisements are paid for by donors hiding behind laws that protect them from disclosing who they are.

jeff-smithLike many Americans, I believe that any effort to sway your opinion should be disclosed and open to public scrutiny. After all, if someone is paying for ads disparaging someone – or praising someone for that matter – then they should have to make public who they are and why they believe what’s being said. And, of course, voters shouldn’t automatically believe every word they hear or read just because it’s dramatically presented in a colorful ad. But the laws, as they currently stand, give most special interest groups a pass from disclosing who’s really behind these campaign messages.

If the ad doesn’t say “vote for” or “vote against,” these are considered “issue ads” rather than campaign ads, which means a report doesn’t need to be filed disclosing the ads’ donors. This is different for candidates, who are obligated to file finance reports listing their donors, the donor’s address and even their occupation and employer.

When most people think of campaign finance laws, they think of all the money donated by individuals and how it’s spent. But, by far, the most money spent during an election is from outside groups who use loopholes, like “issue ads” to hide in the shadows. In fact, many of the behind-the-scenes groups are temporary organizations formed only for this one purpose and during one campaign cycle.

All voters should know the purpose of the message and who’s behind the curtain pulling the levers. Creating a non-partisan redistricting commission and public awareness behind “issue ads” are the most needed reforms to keep our democracy strong.

Now, of course, social media has elevated campaign claims to a whole new level of dishonesty with minimal effort to reveal who’s responsible for the spread of misinformation. For the most part, we are very trusting people, which makes it difficult to question claims, even if they’re exaggerated or simply untrue. This all leads to a greater burden on each of us to fact check what appears on our newsfeed or find proof to back up a statement.

Day after day, we’re fed disinformation that can sway our decisions or lead us to misbelieve. On top of the persuasive campaign rhetoric during this time of year, there are efforts to prevent Americans from voting. Some elected leaders even go to great lengths to place hurdles in voters’ way or find ways to throw a ballot out. Despite these efforts, I’m confident that each Wisconsin voter will have their ballot counted. If voting early, remember to have a witness signature, mail your ballot early or turn it into your polling location by November 3rd.

In the final week before Election Day, stay informed and vigilant. You have the power to silence the special interest groups by voting and having your voice heard. Vote early or on Election Day, but VOTE!

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A Real Halloween Threat

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 October 2020
in Wisconsin

covid-19-protest-madisonLegislative Republicans continue supporting plans to dismantle Governor Evers’ efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, even while Wisconsin is experiencing a spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.


MADISON - Halloween is typically a time we enjoy spooky things. We find ways to get scared, whether it’s a haunted corn maze or horror flick.  This year, however, it seems like we’re living in a scary movie with no clear happy ending in sight. What’s even scarier is we don’t have the leadership to help us through this horrific time.

In the beginning of the year, we watched COVID-19’s rampage through countries like China and Italy. In America, the President downplayed the seriousness of this crisis, predicting we wouldn’t be as affected here.

tony-evers-talksBy mid-March it became obvious, after seeing New York hit by the virus that we needed to take precautions here in Wisconsin. Governor Tony Evers wisely announced measures to keep us “Safer at Home” to try and avoid a serious spread. Around the same time, our frontline health workers worried they weren’t properly prepared for what might be coming, especially with a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment. We also saw businesses laying off thousands of workers, which quickly overwhelmed Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance system.

In mid-April the Legislature passed the COVID-19 Relief Bill, which allowed Wisconsin to accept the CARES Act funding from Congress. This was the first and only time Republican lawmakers acted on COVID-19 prevention efforts.

On April 21st, Republican lawmakers ran to the State Supreme Court to rescind the “Safer at Home” order, claiming individual freedoms were being trampled by a public health order that was in place to protect us. An hour after the Supreme Court overturned the “Safer at Home” order, we saw taverns full of patrons celebrating their ‘freedom’ to spread this highly-contagious virus.

After the Supreme Court ruling, local health departments were forced to scramble and pull together their own plans, even though there was another court case to limit local governments’ ability to act. Fortunately, a federal judge struck that suit down on July 21st and allowed local jurisdictions to implement and enforce their health plans.

During the end of July, we experienced widespread COVID-19 cases in rural counties. COVID-19 positives were soaring among young adults. Governor Evers announced Emergency Order #1, requiring face coverings over our nose and mouth while in public, indoor places. Despite the dangerous spike in cases, the Majority Party refused to call the Legislature into session to focus on additional COVID-19 relief.

Throughout September, with students returning to campus and our state experiencing COVID-19 fatigue, Wisconsin saw yet another spike in cases. To protect one another, Governor Evers issued Emergency Order #3 to limit indoor gatherings to 25% of capacity. On September 23rd Republicans finally met in the Capitol, but it wasn’t in the interest of the Wisconsin People – they met to hear campaign rhetoric for President Trump from his Secretary of State.

Around this same time, Republican lawmakers vocally supported efforts by a conservative think-tank to sue the Governor to end the mask requirement in Wisconsin. Fortunately, the judge struck down their attempt, citing the Legislature’s ability to put an end to Governor Evers’ emergency order.

Republicans continue shelling out taxpayer money to fight against popular, commonsense public health policy, when all they have to do is convene the Legislature and vote them down. Republican lawmakers have cost taxpayers more than $400,000 on legal assaults against the Governor instead of putting together a plan to stop the spread of COVID-19.

jeff-smith-ofcLast week, lobbyists challenged Emergency Order #3 in court, ultimately winning their case. At the same time, Republican lawmakers on the Joint Committee for Review on Administrative Rules took the first step to strike this emergency order down, all the while having no plan to ensure the safety of Wisconsin residents.

Most recently, on Monday, October 19th a judge restored Emergency Order #3, which will go a long way to help Wisconsin slow the spread of COVID-19.

It’s been 6 months since the Legislature passed the COVID-19 Relief Bill. Wisconsin is the nation’s hotspot for COVID-19. As of October 16th, we’ve had 166,186 positive cases and 1,574 people die from COVID-19. Governor Evers is doing what he can to stop the spread – we are long overdue for legislative Republicans do the same.

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Who Will Care for 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, 14 October 2020
in Wisconsin

disability-oldCountless constituents and healthcare professionals are urging the Legislature to expand Medicaid. We can allow 80,000 more people access to health care and improve our caregiver workforce.


MADISON - We live our lives with much uncertainty. We can never be sure our plans will work out perfectly, and we may have to adjust due to unforeseen events. It could be weather changes, mechanical problems, an illness or accident that may change our entire life. But, even with uncertainty hanging over us like a cloud, we plan and move ahead.

Most of the time, plans are kept and we live another day healthy and free of worry. If things go as we plan, we will live a long and healthy life. But even as we approach our later years we won’t be able to do the things we once did for ourselves and we’ll need help. Many of us see this with our own parents or elderly neighbors; they need caregivers. It could be us or the people we care about; it could be at our homes or at a care facility; no matter who or where, professional caregivers are critical for our communities.

Like a lot of other things, the COVID-19 pandemic has pulled back the curtain to reveal the weaknesses of our healthcare system, including a caregiver shortage. This profession is in crisis; like so many other essential workers, caregivers have been left behind. It’s important that we recognize the shortfalls that currently exist for Wisconsin’s caregiver workforce. Understanding these barriers will help us know what we need to do to support caregivers and strengthen this essential workforce.

Less funding and more complicated systems have forced many who would have otherwise considered a healthcare position, caring for the elderly or clients with disabilities, to reconsider purely for financial reasons. When such highly skilled people are able to find work in other professions that pay livable wages with benefits who can blame them for looking out for their own families’ needs?

Governor Tony Evers recognized the shortage of professional caregivers as a crisis, particularly as we enter an era of increased need brought on by the aging baby boomer generation. This awareness resulted in Governor Evers creating the Task Force on Caregiving in 2019, which was asked, “to analyze strategies to attract and retain a strong direct care workforce and to assist families providing caregiving supports and services.”

After months of meetings with stakeholders throughout Wisconsin, the Task Force presented their findings and recommendations in the “Wisconsin Caregivers in Crisis” report to Governor Evers in September.  During the course of their meetings, the Task Force found the caregiver workforce is “in a state of perpetual turnover” due to low-wages, despite the many open positions that are available.

jeff-smithWhen the turnover of professional direct care workers is so dramatic, it becomes a truly dangerous situation for many clients who need and deserve consistency in their care. When speaking with constituents with special needs, a top concern is that they are continuously training new caregivers.

The Task Force’s report provides a comprehensive list of proposals intended to address this crisis and better support caregivers. The list details approaches to broadly address Wisconsin’s caregiving needs by focusing on five key strategies: invest in tools to help family caregivers; reform direct care workforce rates; expand benefits for the caregiving workforce; improve outreach to Wisconsin’s untapped workers and better connect caregivers and people in need of care through a Home Care Provider Registry.

While reading the report, the proposal that really caught my eye – which could be easily implemented to help Wisconsinites – is Medicaid Expansion. Over the course of the legislative session, we’ve already heard a lot about the advantages of expanding Medicaid. Now we know, Medicaid expansion would help solve some of the big problems our state’s caregiver workforce is facing. Specifically, the report concluded caregivers could earn more money and “allow an additional 60% of caregivers to obtain health insurance,” all the while improving caregiver retention.

This session, I’ve heard from countless constituents and healthcare professionals urging the Legislature to expand Medicaid. We can bring tax dollars back to our state from the federal government, allow 80,000 more people access to health care and improve our caregiver workforce. Twenty-nine states have already expanded Medicaid – it’s time Wisconsin does too.

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