Wednesday February 28, 2024

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What To Do When Voters Want Something Else

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, 17 May 2023
in Wisconsin

univ-student-voteSen. Smith discusses the recently introduced Republican shared revenue proposal that would take this important tool out of the hands of local governments.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Have you ever seen a child throw a fit when they are losing a game? They may argue that the rules are unfair, they may change the rules or even flip the game board over and stomp off. I’ve witnessed that behavior, and the best way to respond is to ignore it and continue to move forward with the rest of the game. The only person they hurt is themselves and they must learn to accept that you cannot always win and have your best day.

Some adults, it seems, never learned that lesson. Maybe that type of behavior was accepted in their childhood, and their caregivers made excuses for them when they threw fits. When they didn’t make the starting lineup, instead of trying harder they blamed the coach. When a call didn’t go their way, they blamed the referee.

I’ve heard people refer to what goes on in our legislature as “playground politics” because it can be so petty and childish.

After the election last month in which a progressive candidate won a Supreme Court seat, there was plenty of lamenting from the supporters of the runner-up and indeed, from the candidate himself, who proved to be a very bad sport in his “concession speech.”

But a few weeks later Republican strategist Cleta Mitchell spoke to donors in Nashville about the results in Wisconsin. Her answer to the poor showing of this conservative candidate was not that conservatives should adjust their message or policies. No, she suggested instead that Republicans find new ways to suppress the vote of those who disagree with them.

Because young voters are showing up in record numbers, she complained that polling places were located too close to college dormitories and we should do away with early voting and same-day registration. This is nothing new – we heard similar takes from Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Bob Spindell referring to suppressing votes in Milwaukee. If they don’t win, their strategy is to make it more difficult for their opponents to vote.

In many states, voters are able to put initiatives on the ballot by petition. For instance, Michigan voters didn’t need to wait for their elected legislators to accept a fair method of drawing legislative district lines. They made it happen themselves through a grassroots effort and put the measure directly on their ballot. When asked to vote directly on the issue, Michigan voters were overwhelmingly in support of nonpartisan redistricting and roundly rejected gerrymandering in what’s called a binding referendum.

In Wisconsin we do not have the ability to put measures directly on the ballot through grassroots initiatives. However, many communities have passed advisory ballot referenda to gauge how voters feel about various issues. You may have recently had the opportunity to make your voice heard on subjects like abortion rights, fair maps or marijuana legalization in one of these advisory referenda.

These subjects have garnered overwhelming support from voters, which almost always come out with nearly 70% in support of redistricting reform and decriminalizing marijuana. Yet nothing changes in Wisconsin, because we have a fringe group of legislators clinging to power and ignoring your voice in the Legislature.

jeff-smithIf you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ve heard me talk many times about the need for more funding for our local communities, often referred to as “shared revenue.” In his budget, Governor Evers included a robust plan to get local communities the money they need to fund essential services.

But as usual, Republicans have a different plan.

In their recent introduction of a bill to “fix” shared revenue, rather than giving local communities the reins, Republicans have attached many strings to the increased funding going to municipalities.

One of these stipulations? Communities would no longer have the opportunity to place referendum questions on the ballot. Once again, when the answer does not fit their way of thinking they just want to remove your voice from the equation. Your opinions are making them look bad. How much of our freedom to speak is going to be lost before we have no voice at all?


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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What’s On the Chopping Block?

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, 10 May 2023
in Wisconsin

wisconsin-senateSenator Smith discusses several key programs Republicans eliminated from the Governor’s budget and the importance of the Governor’s proposed investments to Wisconsin’s future prosperity.


MADISON - Last week the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, made up of 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats, were supposed to begin deliberating on the Governor’s biennial budget proposal. Instead, in a 12-4 party line vote, Republicans’ first action was to remove the vast majority of Governor Evers’ proposal. No deliberation, just flat out dismissal for the third time since Governor Evers became Governor.

This is no surprise. Republican leaders promised they’d gut the Governor’s budget only minutes after he first presented it in February, before a single legislator had even seen the budget document. Blind partisanship out the gate.

I don’t think anyone expects 132 legislators to agree on 100% of any budget bill. That’s why we have listening sessions, committee hearings and floor sessions – to hear from each other and the public and to hash out differences of opinion.

In our present political environment, it’s become standard procedure that anything suggested by a Democrat is ignored or dismissed out of hand without even the slightest consideration by Republicans. It’s sad this has been the fate of the Governor’s budget for a third time in a row.

One provision that’s been unceremoniously stripped from the budget is paid family and medical leave. Paid leave is a boon to our economy – it helps families care for sick kids, aging relatives and to get themselves well enough to keep working. If Wisconsin women participated in the labor force at the same rate they do in countries with paid family and medical leave, we would have an estimated 22,000 more workers in the state and $158 million more in wages earned statewide.

But 62% of Wisconsinites do not have access to even unpaid family and medical leave under federal law. The Governor’s budget contained provisions to provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for Wisconsin and expanded eligibility for the program to include unexpected loss of child care.

After a one-time startup cost of $243 million from our $7 billion budget surplus, the program would become self-sustaining through payroll contributions. Funding this program is critical to ensuring Wisconsinites welcoming a child into their lives or caring for loved ones at home don’t have to worry about their jobs or struggling financially while temporarily away from work.

Another provision the Joint Finance Committee stripped from the Governor’s proposed budget was marijuana legalization. Polls and referenda have shown again and again how popular medical marijuana legalization is with Wisconsinites across the political spectrum. In 2019, the Marquette University Law School poll found over 80% of Wisconsinites support the legalization of medical marijuana.

But with legalization stripped out of the Governor’s budget, Wisconsinites will need to keep crossing the border – any border – for pain relief. Just this past year, Illinois estimated they collected over $36 million in taxes from Wisconsinites travelling across state lines to purchase marijuana. It’s past time we listened to our constituents and legalized medical marijuana.

These were only two of the 545 items Republicans stripped from the Governor’s budget proposal. Some of the other changes included:

·         Passing on the $1.6 billion in savings we’d get from the federal government for fully expanding Medicaid in Wisconsin

·         Failing to close loopholes that enable manufacturers to get out of paying taxes to the tune of $400 million

·         Deleting $1.2 billion worth of tax relief for middle class families

·         Eliminating PFAS standards for drinking water, surface waters and groundwater

·         Cutting $800 million allocated to fully expand broadband in Wisconsin

·         Eradicating $576 million in additional funding for local governments in shared revenue

Governor Evers’ budget does the right thing for Wisconsinites and for Wisconsin’s economy. Tossing out reasonable proposals without serious consideration is shortsighted and disingenuous. When reasonable suggestions are dismissed without consideration, the process is broken.

jeff-smithWe Democrats in the Wisconsin Legislature have become sadly accustomed to seeing any legislation we introduce languish without a hearing. But the Governor has a power that no legislator has: the veto.

Our system of government has been designed with checks and balances. If Republicans in the Legislature continue to operate in this high-handed, non-collaborative and partisan way for the third time in a row, they should fully expect to see the Governor’s veto pen this time around.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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We Have Become Uncomfortably Numb

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, 03 May 2023
in Wisconsin

guns-school-shooting-knoxvilleSenator Smith writes about the pressing issue of gun violence, and how time and again we have failed to take action on this life-or-death issue.


MADISON - There are many issues that grab headlines. Too often the hot topics hold our attention for a day or two and then are relegated to the back pages or disappear entirely. These are the issues that typically compel us to come together to act as a community.

Sometimes the issues are manufactured, like Congress’ struggle to raise the national debt ceiling that dominated headlines in the past week. This issue is like a bobber in the water – it pops up, Congress acts and it disappears for a while, only to pop up again next budget cycle. Congress has a knack for choosing to end the drama at the last possible moment. They get more headlines for saving the day on a near-crisis that they themselves created.

sandy-hook-motherBut some issues we become galvanized about are very real and affect us every day. These day-in, day-out issues are ubiquitous, and each time they come up, we become a little more numb, beginning to accept these as commonplace occurrences. We don’t have general consensus on a solution, so it increasingly feels that we aren’t going to do anything about it, leaving it to the next generation to fix.

Maybe the most obvious of these issues is gun violence. Yes, every mass shooting dominates the headlines, but then quickly fades from our consciousness, at least until the next shooting. It’s a horrible cycle of nonstop news coverage for one, maybe two days, which then promptly fades into the background. We’re so numb that we expect a new shooting every week. It’s not about when – it’s about where the next shooting will occur.

school_shooting_sandy_hook_121215It has become so commonplace that the leading cause of death for American children and adolescents ages 1 to 19 is gun violence. The public has shown overwhelming support for measures such as tightening background checks, banning assault rifles and passing extreme risk protection legislation to prevent individuals undergoing a crisis from hurting themselves or others. But Republicans and even some Democrats are so beholden to the gun lobby they refuse to act. In fact, recently instead of addressing gun violence, Republicans have introduced legislation to create an honorary official state gun.

emily-breidenbach-hunter-scheelLike so many others I was shocked and brokenhearted to hear of the two officers that were shot and killed in Cumberland over Easter weekend. Not only was it shocking that such a horrific thing could happen in a small city in northern Wisconsin, it was devastating to contemplate the chance this tragedy could have been prevented.

The family of the shooter, who also lost his life, reported that he had terrorized family members and made statements that he would shoot any police officers who pulled him over. They knew he had two guns in his vehicle and could have pursued an extreme risk protection order if it were allowed under the law.

las-vegas-shooting2-2017The idea of an extreme risk protection order is to stop situations like this one from occurring by preventing individuals from accessing deadly weapons while they are undergoing a mental health crisis. This legislation has been introduced several times, but has received not even a public hearing. Not one Republican has signed on to this legislation as a sponsor.

If we had passed the Emergency Risk Protection Order bill we have introduced every session, it could prevent tragedies like this from happening. It can protect the police, the family and the person struggling with mental health crises. Unfortunately, it is easier to ignore action if those in charge know the issue will fade away, at least until the next tragedy occurs.

The next generation will need to pick up where our generation has failed to take action. In the meantime, they will continue to participate in active shooter drills at schools, praying all the time they’re not the next victims of one of these deadly attacks.

jeff-smithMany solutions, including extreme risk protection orders, are right in front of us. But it takes concerted and dedicated work to get the ball rolling in the right direction. This requires a focus that goes beyond the moment, keeping the issue at the forefront of our minds even when it’s not plastered across the headlines.

From what I can tell, Generation Z has had just about enough of our generation punting on the issues that will affect them the most. Young people are some of the strongest voices in advocating and voting for change. If our generation refuses to take action, we should be prepared to get out of the way.

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The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Life-Saving Emergency Services: Who Pays?

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 April 2023
in Wisconsin

emtSen. Smith writes about the shortage of funding for emergency medical services, and how increasing the shared revenue formula will meet this need to provide life-saving services in the most critical cases.


MADISON - When you call 911, you expect with rock-solid confidence there will be someone to answer the call. You also expect help is on the way. Confidence in the midst of a catastrophe is taken for granted every day.

What many people don’t know is how it all works on the back end. It takes dedicated people and immense resources through shared revenue to local municipalities to get injured and sick individuals to a place they can be treated.

It’s not supposed to matter where you are located. You should expect someone trained in emergency medical services (EMS) to show up when you call.

But increasingly it does matter where you are as more villages and towns struggle to provide emergency services. There are two major reasons for this: lack of personnel and lack of resources and funding.

ems-vehicles-ixoniaIn most cases, attracting workers to any public service job is a challenge, but recruiting workers into emergency services presents unique challenges. It takes a special kind of person who can respond to the scene of an emergency and calmly apply their training in a high-stress situation.

Emergency responders have varying levels of training. First responder training is considered a bare minimum for emergency responders, but some providers have higher levels of certification. EMS responders have more advanced training and achieve a certification that allows them to deal with more complicated cases, such as spinal injuries. A paramedic has even more training, and can deal with a wide variety of life-threatening situations that require more intensive emergency treatments.

Each of these professions take time and money to learn, and there is a serious shortage of interested people willing to serve in these critical roles. Often in rural areas, emergency responders are volunteers, but even so, training costs money. Education takes time, which means paying workers for their time while training, even if they won’t be full-time professionals such as you will find in cities. Equipment is costly too. An ambulance can cost anywhere from $180,000 to $300,000, and I’m sure you’ll want that ambulance fully equipped if you’re the one calling.

With ever-mounting costs and an acute shortage in trained personnel, some smaller municipalities have turned to cities for help. Towns contract with city services to answer their calls, which cuts down on costs, but outsourcing this job to the city results in longer lag times from when the call comes in to when the ambulance arrives. I have heard of instances where it has taken 20 or 30 minutes or even an hour before an ambulance showed up to some rural calls. Worse than that, I have heard some people tell me that when they called they were told an ambulance was not available.

In many cases, minutes or seconds are crucial to saving a life. If service is not provided in your own town, it can be quite a wait for a response that may be coming from a city 30 miles away. To make matters worse, the closest hospital might be an hour away. In highly time-sensitive cases you may need a helicopter to get there, which is costly in both time and resources.

jeff-smithI’ve heard from countless constituents about their struggles with access to emergency medical services. These problems are the inevitable consequences of underfunding our local units of government for years.

We can provide additional funding through increasing the shared revenue formula. Governor Evers’ 2023-25 state budget includes increasing the amount of shared revenue for local communities, with some earmarked specifically for emergency services.

I’ll be coming to communities around the 31st Senate District in the coming weeks to talk about the Governor’s budget and how shared revenue funding will help our communities serve residents. Please keep an eye out for when I’ll be in your community. You can see dates on my website as they are scheduled at linktr.ee/sensmith. I look forward to hearing from you.

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The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Mental Healthcare is Vital for Thriving Communities

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 April 2023
in Wisconsin

behavioral-healthSenator Smith writes about how we can respond to our mental health crisis with services that improve outcomes for patients and support safe and healthy communities.


MADISON - Overcoming the stigma of mental illness has long been our single greatest challenge in meeting health needs. The brain is the busiest and most complicated organ in our bodies and certainly the least understood. There’s no way to fix this problem here in one column, but I want to emphasize the importance of combating the stigma associated with mental health struggles.

The good news is that the healthcare conversation has been increasingly responsive to mental health challenges in our communities. Now when we fill out intake forms at the doctor’s, we are asked questions to give doctors insights into both our physical and mental well-being.

Governor Evers recognized this need when he declared 2023 the Year of Mental Health in this year’s State of the State address. With many shootings occurring weekly around the country attributed to mental health crises, the urgency of addressing mental health struggles is an overwhelming problem.

depression-suicidebygunFortunately, Congress took steps to improve access to mental health resources, like implementing the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, move us in the right direction. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can now call 988. Trained personnel answer this hotline 24/7 and they are there to connect you with life-saving resources.

There is more we can do. By state law, counties are designated with the primary responsibility for the treatment, well-being and care of unserved people with mental illness. If someone is diagnosed with a mental illness and needs treatment but is not covered by private insurance, the county steps in.

Programs administered by our county human services departments are required by statute to provide the community support programs that offer intensive care for adults that might otherwise need institutional care. They also provide emergency mental health services for those in crisis and adult protective services for the elderly and at-risk adults who are survivors of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Counties are the frontlines for our work to help those struggling with mental health, but the funding for our counties is critical to this end. Counties receive their funding through shared revenue payments to fulfill mental health care responsibilities.

mental-health-womanUnfortunately, state financial support for counties has been stagnant while the needs have only grown. For instance, funding for Adult Protective Services has been frozen since its inception in 2006, while counties’ spending on these mandated services has grown. Pepin County reported that their spending on Adult Protective Services has more than doubled from 2010-15 ($22,567) to 2016-20 ($48,043). When state funding doesn’t come through, counties have to deal with the shortfall.

Another challenge has been even finding enough professionals to provide these services. It has become clear that we need more social workers, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. We have not adequately incentivized graduates in those fields.

jeff-smithThe Governor’s budget addresses shortfalls in these fields. These provisions support the employment of trainees in mental health fields, establish mental health training programs for school district staff, and prohibit health insurers from denying coverage for behavioral and mental health performed by qualified mental health trainees.

What we need right now is the political will to pass a budget that gives counties the funding they need to provide mental health services and addresses the provider shortage. These budget provisions are essential to providing care and ensuring we are taking a comprehensive approach to healthcare by addressing all of our healthcare needs.

Mental healthcare is good for our communities. Let’s make sure we fully fund the Governor’s budget so we can provide it.

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