Thursday December 1, 2022

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Biden’s Economic Boom is Strong for Wisconsin

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, 02 February 2022
in Wisconsin

milw-city-workersSen. Jeff Smith writes about the significant steps we’ve made to boost our economy and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic since President Biden was sworn in.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Nothing comes easy. I’m sure you’ve heard that before from a parent or teacher when you encountered unexpected obstacles while trying to get something done. I have to remind myself of that with almost every project I take on. Patience and persistence can become your greatest asset when facing challenges like these.

It’s no different in the world of politics. When important issues need to be addressed, you’ll always run into different sets of challenges. But once a project is complete or new policy is adopted we quickly forget how hard it was to get there. It’s so easy to take for granted something that didn’t even exist just a short time ago. With that in mind it’s necessary to reflect on the good things that we’ve recently accomplished as we consider the challenges in front of us.

If you’re following the news, you know a lot of focus has been on the fact that Congress can’t seem to agree on voting rights, the filibuster rules and issues, like accessible child care and college affordability. But let’s remember all that’s been accomplished since the beginning of 2021.

Faced with a spiraling economy brought on by a pandemic, the Biden Administration needed to make big things happen. Not the least of which was to improve access to COVID-19 vaccinations as quickly as possible. Despite divisive political rhetoric and some initial reluctance, more than 200 million shots were given in 2021.

When you consider where we were a year ago following the shocking attack on our nation’s capital, who would have thought President Biden would have been able to move us forward at all? It seemed unthinkable at the time that he would pass the largest American investment package or the largest infrastructure bill in history—but he did.

At the beginning of the pandemic the national unemployment rate was at 15% but by getting over 6 million Americans back to work, it’s now below 4%. In Wisconsin, it’s even better. Thanks to Governor Evers’ leadership, we’re at a record-low 2.8% unemployment rate.

Last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released projections indicating the state general fund balance will have a $3.8 billion surplus at the end of the 2021-23 biennium; this is nearly $2.9 billion more than we expected in June 2021. Governor Evers announced his plan to invest this surplus to provide a $150 refund to every Wisconsin resident, provide $131.8 million in targeted tax relief to caregivers and families and invest almost $750 million in our schools.

jeff-smithDespite elevated inflation, Americans’ incomes were higher in 2021 than they were in 2019 and 2020. In addition, in just one year our country has made real progress in cutting the unacceptably high rate of child poverty in America by 40%. We are building critical infrastructure for our children today and for future generations of Americans.

Although there are still many challenges we must still address, we’ve made significant steps thus far to boost our economy. This “Biden Boom” has been particularly strong for American workers, who have access to better-paying jobs and are seeing their wages grow. It makes me excited to see what the next three years bring after what we’ve seen in just the first year.

Governor Evers has faced obstructionist politics in Wisconsin, but he has been able to show real progress with genuine leadership, patience and persistence from his office. While Republicans fiddle with unreasonable and politically-motivated bills, Governor Evers continues to conduct a full orchestra of policy to keep Wisconsin moving. It’s not a fluke that we have record low unemployment and historic budget surplus projections.

It’s easy to dwell on the headlines, but don’t let them bury the success stories happening around us. There will always be politicians who choose to spend their time chasing unicorns. In the meantime, true public servants are making sure we come out of this pandemic stronger than ever.

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It’s On Us to Invest in Innovation

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, 26 January 2022
in Wisconsin

wind-farm-wiSen. Jeff Smith writes about the new ideas and strategies that will help us build more resilient communities and a sustainable future for Wisconsin in the 21st Century.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - The 20th Century was an amazing time for technological advancements. For instance, people had been trying to fly for centuries, but in 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright made it happen. That was just the beginning. A dozen years later airplanes were being used in World War I.

In the decades following, airplanes became a regular part of our lives because of commercial flights. And, of course, Americans began circling the planet in space by the 1960s and on the moon in 1969. This goes to show what we can do in a relatively short time with innovative ideas and a motivation to achieve great things.

We’re seeing a new spark of innovation in the 21st Century to build more resilient communities and a sustainable future for Wisconsin. Like the innovators of the past, leaders today are taking charge to identify new ideas and best strategies to improve life as we know it – and the stakes couldn’t be any higher.

Inventors introduced technologies that were ahead of their time, motivated by fame, cost savings or simply, to benefit the common good. Take the electric car, for example. If you do a little research you’ll find an interesting history of electric vehicles that goes back to the mid-19th century. By 1923 the company, Detroit Electric, had their car traveling 25 MPH with a range of 80 miles. Unfortunately, electric cars weren’t a commercial success back then because of the cost. In 1923, a Ford Model T were less than $300 while electric vehicles were ten times that cost.

Today, many innovators are focused on protecting our shared future. Scientists at the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that if we don’t take the necessary steps to cut human carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, it will be too late. Reversing the damage already done is a big challenge and may even be impossible. Putting a stop to further damage is something we can do. We just have to be motivated.

As policymakers, we’re often asked if the cost of inaction outweighs the initial investment. In this case, we can’t afford to delay our response any longer.

Economists at one of the world’s largest insurance providers, Swiss Re, estimates the world economy will lose $23 trillion by 2050 because of the effects of climate change including heat waves, flooding and drought. With climate changes repercussions we’re already experiencing, we will continue seeing losses in agricultural production, more spread of disease and the destruction of coastal cities due to rising water levels. That’s an economic reality, one that will affect all of our pocketbooks.

jeff-smithI’m not writing this to scare you, though it should — it’s about motivating all of us. What does it take to be motivated to preserve the planet and way of life we enjoy? Will it be financial savings for you? Maybe your motivation is to protect your family’s health. You may be motivated by a deep passion for environmental conservation. Whatever it may be, now is the time for each of us to discover that motivation and act.

In November, I introduced the Forward on Climate legislative package with Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine). The package includes twenty-two bills to create good, family-supporting jobs, reduce inequality, and fight climate change through Wisconsin-centered policy. Many of the bills I’m lead author of will enable Wisconsin farmers, businesses and families to implement innovative practices to address climate change on the local level.

One proposal establishes a sustainable agriculture grant program to support our farmers in developing inventive conservation measures to slow down the pace of climate change. Another bill would help homeowners make sustainable upgrades to their property to reduce carbon emissions while building long-term savings. I’m also proud of the proposal to create climate-focused scholarships to prepare the next generation to be the innovators and leaders we’ll need.

Procrastinating or expecting someone else to fix this problem is unacceptable. Certainly for policymakers, we must act now. Our motivation should be clear as day. We must vow to protect our state, our nation and its citizens. No excuses.

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A Lesson on Equality

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, 19 January 2022
in Wisconsin

mlk-flagSen. Smith writes about the life work of Dr. Martin Luther King and how it influenced his own thoughts on the meaning of equality.


BRUNSWICK, WI - What does equality mean to you? It’s a question on most Americans’ minds as we come together to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in communities across America, including Eau Claire. For this year’s MLK Day Celebration, we’re asked to reflect on his life’s work and the meaning of equality.

Dr. King championed the issue of equality as an activist during the Civil Rights Movement. He advocated for the “full realization of the American dream … A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.”

When considering what Dr. King said, we understand there’s so much more to achieving equality than removing the shackles of slavery. Working toward Dr. King’s vision of the American Dream requires us to understand historical barriers that prevent equitable advancement opportunities in our country.

Dr. King identified the realities of inequality throughout many aspects in American life, including obvious economic inequalities. The “necessities” of our everyday life–healthcare, a good-paying job, basic human rights–can be lost or unattainable for some because of policies adopted by political leaders. While some policies deliberately widen the gap of inequality, some policies may be an oversight with unintended consequences. Either way, policies that harm Americans, and adversely affect groups one over the other, must be addressed.

That was the intent, of course, when slavery was finally abolished. And yet, we know equality wasn’t achieved because of this one act. Another hundred years of oppression toward African Americans followed because some leaders and those in positions of privilege weren’t willing to be equal with their fellow Americans.

Equality happens only when opportunities are present for all, not just those privileged at the top. We can still have diversity in what we do and how we live. Equality means that no family should suffer in poverty. It should mean that nobody should be homeless or struggle with inadequate housing.

As Dr. King raised his own credibility on the national scene, he was able to also raise the consciousness of a nation. He earned the trust of Americans through his diplomacy and insistence of a non-violent movement. Despite being arrested thirty times, he never bowed to violent measures and found other ways to prevail.

While his first goal may have been to stop Jim Crow laws, he expanded his own advocacy after his success following the March on Washington in 1963 to include equal housing, fair wages and voting rights for all U.S. citizens regardless of one’s skin color.

jeff-smithSo, what is your image of equality? Most of us have lived with the privilege of not knowing oppression or the lack of opportunity to better ourselves. Personally, I know I live with this privilege because I haven’t experienced discrimination firsthand.

It takes critical thinking to recognize policies don’t always present the best outcomes for everybody. It takes even more for each of us to openly admit that we could do better to lift up our fellow citizens. Equality must be a reality in our daily life in order to live the life we thought this country was designed to deliver. A free and equal education system, food security, affordable housing, guaranteed livable wages and access to voting for all eligible citizens—these are just some of the necessities that make us truly equitable.

Dr. King proclaimed in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ... Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

We know this speech well; we’ve heard these words many times and understand the powerful meaning behind them. Achieving equality–the American Dream for all citizens–has been slow to come, but I believe we can head in the right direction. Only together can we fully get there, closer to true equality.

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Protect Wisconsin from PFAS

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, 12 January 2022
in Wisconsin

pfas-contamination-testSen. Smith writes about how chemicals known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are impacting our groundwater. We know that testing is essential to identify PFAS contamination, understand the extent of the issue and act to limit exposure to these harmful chemicals.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Protecting the quality of food we eat, air we breathe and water we drink should be a top priority. It’s what we need to survive.

We’ve seen over time that inadvertent mistakes have been made that threaten access to these essential resources. In some cases, corporate greed poses short-term profits for some and long-term health impacts for all. Without the proper research and intervention, we can face serious consequences for decades–and generations–to come.

Sometimes neither business nor government leaders are aware of environmental dangers for years until patterns of illness or death appear. An example I often reflect on is the near extinction of the American bald eagle. For decades, environmentalists were puzzled at the eagle populations’ rapid decline. Then researchers discovered the correlation between the widely-used chemical DDT as a mosquito pesticide and eagles’ endangerment.

At the peak of the problem it was rare to even spot an eagle; I know, because I was a child when this was happening and got excited any time I saw one of these majestic birds flying overhead. Since Congress banned DDT in 1972, the resurgence of the eagle is one of the most amazing environmental success stories of the last several decades.

This is what’s currently happening with Wisconsin’s groundwater because of chemicals known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). PFAS are also referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down naturally in the environment and can stay in one’s body for long periods of time. These chemicals produced in laboratories are used in products like food wrap, stain resistant carpeting, non-stick pans and water repellant clothing. PFAS are dangerous because they’re in so many products and they’re hazardous to humans, having been linked to certain cancers, liver damage, decrease in vaccine efficacy and more.

One product specifically highlights the widespread threat of PFAS: firefighting foam. As effective as the foam is in controlling a fire, it was found to be just as effective at contaminating our groundwater. After a fire incident, the foam was just washed off a road or airport runway entering into the ground. Eventually it was bound to end up in the groundwater. With approximately 97% of Wisconsin communities (equaling 70% of the state’s population) dependent on groundwater for their water supply, this really is an alarming situation that we cannot ignore. It won’t go away on its own.

Groundwater testing is essential to identify PFAS contamination, understand the extent of the issue and act to limit exposure to these harmful chemicals. Some communities have tested and found their wells to be contaminated; they’ve started taking action.

jeff-smithI had the opportunity to tour the wells in the City of Eau Claire where they found PFAS in seven of their sixteen wells last year. They knew they couldn’t wait for politicians in Madison to fix the problem, so they implemented an impressive solution on their own. Eau Claire acted quickly and efficiently, but it will take serious action at the state and national level for the risk of PFAS to dissipate.

The federal government does not set groundwater standards—this happens at the state level. Wisconsin has fallen behind our neighbors in Minnesota and Michigan; they have already begun widespread testing. In 1983, Wisconsin led the nation in groundwater protection by passing the Comprehensive Groundwater Protection Act, which remains widely supported to this day. Since then it has been used to set groundwater standards for 138 chemicals in Wisconsin—but PFAS isn’t one of them.

Just last week, the Department of Natural Resources held a public hearing about proposed rules to implement groundwater standards for PFAS. Since declaring 2019 the “Year of Clean Drinking Water,” Governor Evers’ Administration has been hard at work to ensure Wisconsinites have safe, clean drinking water now and forever. Although the public hearing passed, continue to pay attention and advocate for stronger water protections. It’s up to us to ensure our children can live in a state where they don’t simply survive, but thrive.

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It’s Our Democracy if We Choose to Keep It

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, 05 January 2022
in Wisconsin

trump-insurrectionSen. Jeff Smith writes about challenges that have arisen threatening our rights as citizens in a democratic republic. As Americans, participation by the people is key to holding onto our democracy.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Abigail Adams once wrote, “May the foundation of our new constitution be Justice, Truth and Righteousness. Like the wise Mans house may it be founded upon those Rocks and then neither storms or tempests will overthrow it.” These words are worth revisiting during times when the core idea of democracy is challenged. In her letter, Adams expressed concern that outside forces or forces from within could challenge our country’s founding principles that were granted by the U.S. Constitution. Sadly, we’ve experienced this concern in recent times.

trump-insurgentsOne year ago this week, on January 6, 2021, the nation was rocked by the vicious attack on the U.S. Capitol. American citizens, angered by the election result, decided democracy wasn’t working for them, so they chose violence in an attempt to overthrow our government. It seemed as if we were heading toward an autocratic government–a system in which one person or group holds all the power, without the participation, or sometimes even the consent, of the people. The 2020 Election results shook our fragile democratic republic to the core.

Participation by the people is key to holding onto our democracy. There are plenty of examples throughout history showing the value and importance of voting. As Susan B. Anthony famously said, “Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” Participation by casting your vote is the most powerful tool to a civilized society that rules itself. Participation by force of violence is not, in any reasonable thinking, how we achieve liberty and equality for all citizens.

Maybe democracy is just misunderstood by some. It’s really a simple premise: the majority of votes cast by its citizens determines who wins, like scoring points to win a game. When the all votes are counted, the person with the most wins. No question, no debate. No matter how disappointed someone may be that their favorite lost, we move on and prepare for the next contest. It may mean reconsidering our positions, the leader we trusted to deliver for us or it may even mean questioning our own beliefs. However losing affects you, be grateful we live where we’re free to have a voice and can have open debate that can change minds and hearts including our own. Then the next opportunity we have at the ballot box, we can learn and grow from the last election—because we still have free elections.

voter-us-electionsThe 2020 election was conducted fairly, safely and securely thanks to the hard work of Wisconsin’s election officials, National Guard members and poll workers. As a former town official myself, I learned how elections work. Each polling place is managed by clerks, election officials and trained volunteers who are serious about their election responsibilities. Even after the 2020 election, votes were recounted and audits conducted and the results were still the same.

So much has happened since January 6th to help our country move forward, but feelings of bitterness and resentment still remain. The misinformation out there has only intensified these feelings. This is hurting Americans’ faith in our democratic process, and our country as a whole.

jeff-smithThe Senate Committee on Elections I serve on is chaired by someone who spent twelve years as a county clerk overseeing Wisconsin elections. Senator Kathy Bernier (R–Chippewa Falls) has pushed back on the conspiracy theories that have been perpetuated by those who think they may benefit from doubting elections. Senator Bernier said recently, "We have a great system here, and no one should falsely accuse election officials of cheating."

The danger of sowing distrust in elections was demonstrated on January 6, 2021. I fear for the future of our government—one that is by the people and for the people—if something doesn’t change, especially in the important year ahead. Our republic was founded on the premise it will only continue as long as the people keep democracy alive. Benjamin Franklin was asked "What kind of a government have you given us?" he replied, "A democracy, if you can keep it." It’s our job as Americans to do just that.

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