Thursday January 27, 2022

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Climate Change Solutions

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 March 2021
in Wisconsin

frac-sand-spill-apSen. Smith writes about the policies developed by the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change included in the budget, such as innovative flood mitigation strategies and proposals to help our farmers.


MADISON - We’re all familiar with Isaac Newton’s well-known law of physics that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Although specific to the science of physics, we can still apply the law’s same concept to many other aspects of our lives. We know our daily actions impact others. One person’s bad behavior has repercussions that can affect many others.

Climate change is a perfect example of Newton’s law playing out. Extreme weather events – caused by climate change – are a result of irresponsible decisions made by wealthy fossil fuel energy corporations. Today, these weather events are causing farmers to lose their livelihoods, displacing families from their homes and posing greater risks to all Wisconsinites’ health and public safety.

Despite the problems caused by some bad actors, I believe there are more citizens motivated to react to the climate change crisis and be a part of a solution to make our communities cleaner and safer. Following the logic of Newton’s law, we know the environmental sustainability efforts we take today will have far-reaching benefits for generations to come.

As a member of the Governor’s Climate Change Task Force, I’m proud to see the initiatives developed by the Task Force and included in Governor Tony Evers’ budget to respond to the climate crisis. We must act immediately and make the bold investments necessary to build more resilient communities. It’s our responsibility to ensure our state is livable for our children and grandchildren.

Governor Tony Evers established the Climate Change Task Force because he understands the importance of taking action on the climate crisis. Like so many other Wisconsinites, he knows that ignoring the problem will only make matters worse.

The Climate Change Task Force released the Task Force Report in December 2020. Task Force members developed the report after months of public hearings with a diverse group of stakeholders. The report includes fifty-five climate action solutions across nine different sectors, including agriculture, transportation, energy and education.

Governor Evers doubled down on his commitment to address the climate crisis by including thirty-five solutions from the Task Force report in his 2021-23 budget. His budget makes critical investments to mitigate the effects of climate change while also strengthening our rural communities.

flood-wi-roadThe Governor includes numerous policies in his budget aimed at preventing more extreme floods, which have become a growing problem here in western Wisconsin. He proposed creating a flood resilience plan, which would help restore historical wetlands in flood zones and regulate development on existing wetlands. Governor Evers’ budget invests more than $30 million to help build more resilient roads and infrastructure to prevent flooding disasters. The budget also includes an innovative first-of-its-kind program to help Wisconsinites purchase flood insurance.

jeff-smithFloods and other natural disasters caused by climate change have made it a lot harder for farmers to run their businesses. The Governor’s budget will help protect farmers from extreme weather events and give farmers tools to be a part of the solution. The budget establishes several grant programs to make it easier for farmers to transition to more environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. The Value-Added Agricultural Grant Program, specifically, provides education and technical assistance to produce value-added agricultural products, such as organic farming and best grazing practices.

The Task Force Report includes policies grounded in climate justice and equity. Climate change disproportionately impacts low-income families and communities of color. Governor Evers’ budget creates the Office of Environmental Justice to help design climate policies that reduce emissions and pollutants that typically target these marginalized groups. The budget also establishes a technical assistance grant program to assist municipalities and tribal nations in developing a plan to be carbon-free by 2050.

Despite the irresponsible mistakes of some bad actors, we have opportunities right here in Governor Evers’ budget to begin responding to the climate crisis. Our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are depending on us to act ambitiously today. The steps we take now will ensure they have a safer and healthier world to live in.

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This is the second column in a two-part series about the climate change impact in Wisconsin.

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The Climate Change Problem

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 March 2021
in Wisconsin

flood-wi-fieldSen. Smith writes about the impact climate change is having on Wisconsin and, more specifically, our rural communities. This is the first in a two-part series about climate change.


MADISON - Cynicism runs rampant in our society and has very dangerous consequences. There are some indisputable facts that we all live with; for instance, we age every day, the earth revolves around the sun and we have 365 days in a year. We all experience this, so there shouldn’t be a debate.

So, why are there doubts about climate change? We experience more extreme weather events more often than ever before. We see it and we feel it. These changes affect our lives in many ways and raise questions about our future.

Governor Tony Evers recently appointed me to the Climate Change Task Force to replace recently-retired Sen. Mark Miller (D – Monona). The Task Force is made up of farmers, business leaders, conservationists, tribal leaders and a bipartisan group of state legislators. Since 2019, the Task Force learned how climate change is impacting Wisconsin. From personal experience and what I’ve learned so far from the Task Force, it’s clear we’re heading further down a dangerous road if we don’t act quickly and boldly enough on the impending climate crisis.

Many can point to the news of the California wildfires or the freezing temperatures in Texas as examples of climate change. But, there is an accelerating pattern of extreme weather events happening here in Wisconsin that calls on us to realize how serious we should be taking climate change.

Flooding, for example, has become much more frequent and destructive in western Wisconsin in recent years. Higher groundwater levels are a result of our climate’s rising temperatures. Rising temperatures in addition to increased rainfall contribute to these flooding disasters. Scientists expect temperatures to get warmer and rainfall events to increase, which will only make flooding more common and more severe in our rural communities.

Extreme weather events caused by climate change have significant economic and public health implications. In the last twenty years, weather disasters cost Wisconsin $100 billion in damages. According to the Wisconsin Hazard Mitigation, there is an estimated $40 billion worth of Wisconsin homes and businesses within a 100-year floodplain. Floods are known to ruin farmers’ livelihoods, displace families and create significant public safety hazards.

flooding-east-river-gb-wbayFloods are the deadliest natural disaster in the United States. Floods also pose dangerous long-term health repercussions. Floods carry contaminated groundwater from nearby CAFOs and expose households to mold contamination, which can lead to upper respiratory infections.

We’re seeing climate change in our own backyard, and yet many refuse to believe this reality. I believe those who perpetuate the “climate change is a hoax” myth are motivated by profit, especially the very wealthy fossil fuel energy corporations. They fear losing billions if we move toward making responsible, sustainable energy decisions.

jeff-smithIt reminds me of the way the tobacco industry paid their own researchers to lie about the fact that their products were killing people. It took decades for scientists and doctors to finally convince enough people that tobacco companies were lying about purposely adding addictive, carcinogenic ingredients just so they could get rich.

What could be the possible motive of climate research scientists who warn us about climate change? It isn’t profit. Our public universities, like the University of Wisconsin, house the foremost research facilities and experts in the world. Their motivations are purely professional and driven by science in their discipline. Whether they prove or disprove a theory doesn’t change their wealth or status in society. They’re motivated to make our world a better place.

According to NASA there’s consensus among scientists that climate change is the result of human behavior. Humans are responsible for deforestation and burning fossil fuels at an alarming rate, which have increased CO2 levels and made our planet warmer.

Humans have caused much of the problem, but we’re able to find solutions. It starts with admitting our problem and being accountable. Then it’s up to us to do our part. We must set aside the short-term need for profit and embrace the long-term need for survival.

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Building Momentum to Vaccinate More Wisconsinites

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 March 2021
in Wisconsin

covid-19-vaccination-65Sen. Smith writes about Governor Evers’ Administration’s ongoing efforts to get more Wisconsinites vaccinated.


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives in one way or another now for almost a year. It’s been a tough year for so many reasons; we’ve been disconnected from people in our lives, and sadly many Americans are burdened with grief over the loss of a loved one. In February, we surpassed a grim milestone that many of us never thought was possible just twelve months ago: 500,000 of our fellow Americans are dead from COVID-19.

The staggering number of lives lost to COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on our communities. Here in Wisconsin, we lost more than 6,000 of our neighbors and community members. In contrast to these tragic statistics, the number of vaccines administered thus far provides hope to ending this nightmare.

Last month, Governor Tony Evers announced Wisconsin administered more than one million vaccines since the state began receiving doses in December 2020. The vaccine is a critical tool in our fight against COVID-19. Fortunately, there’s been a downward trend in the number of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Wisconsin since the vaccine became available. Governor Evers’ Administration’s continued efforts in building statewide partnerships and developing public health infrastructure made this vaccine achievement possible.

Wisconsin is currently one of the top-ranked states for administering COVID-19 vaccines to eligible populations. In fact, vaccine providers in Wisconsin’s western region leads the state’s effort to vaccinate the public. More than 50% of Wisconsinites over the age of 65 have been vaccinated. This is incredible progress. As the Federal Drug Administration approves more vaccines and more doses become available, more eligible populations will be able to get vaccinated.

Last week, Governor Evers and the Department of Health Services announced new groups that are eligible to receive the vaccine. On March 1st, vaccine eligibility was extended to education and child care staff, some public-facing essential workers, and facility staff and residents in congregate living settings. The groups previously eligible for a vaccine – including frontline health care personnel, long-term care facility residents and adults sixty-five and older – will still be prioritized over this new group.

Now that more populations are becoming eligible to receive the vaccine, DHS launched a COVID-19 scheduling website on March 1st. This website will update residents for knowing when and where they can get vaccinated and how to schedule an appointment.

Last week, Governor Evers made an exciting announcement about the launch of four new community vaccination clinics in the state. Currently Wisconsin has one community vaccination clinic in Rock County to help get shots in people’s arms as quickly as possible. The new community vaccination clinics will be located in La Crosse, Racine, and Marathon Counties, with the last clinic split between Douglas and Barron Counties. These clinics are expected to open within the next two months.

jeff-smithWe’re all anxious to return to our normal lives; it may be frustrating when vaccines aren’t immediately available for everyone. It’s never easy to wait for something so life-changing, like the COVID-19 vaccine. But the only way to ensure safe and proper distribution is through an organized effort like we’re seeing. Imagine the chaos if it wasn’t organized. After all, the goal of vaccinating a nation is immense when you consider the manufacturing, distribution and scheduling of appointments for over 300 million citizens.

When you become eligible, make an appointment. I’m over the age of sixty-five and am scheduled to receive my second shot. But I know life will still not be back to normal until we reach herd immunity. We must still wear masks and follow other public health precautions so we limit our risk of infection and prevent the spread to others. Momentum is building and more vaccines are coming.

Sometimes it takes a calamity, like this pandemic, to make us stronger and pull us together. I appreciate all of you even more. I’ll be so happy to be close once again when we’re all safer thanks to the diligent work of the scientists and frontline healthcare workers who have come through for all of us.

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Proven “Pot-ential” for Rural 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, 24 February 2021
in Wisconsin

marijuana-hemp-dairy-farmers-wiSen. Jeff Smith writes about Governor Evers’ budget proposal to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin, sharing information about the positive impact it could have on the state’s economy and agricultural industry.


MADISON - Governor Evers’ 2021-23 budget will enable Wisconsinites to bounce back from the pandemic stronger than ever. His budget includes initiatives, like marijuana legalization, that will get our economy back on track and create new opportunities for our rural communities.

My colleague, Senator Agard (D – Madison) often says the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it’s illegal. I agree; marijuana prohibition does more harm than good. Marijuana legalization will create a safe product for consumers, while opening doors for farmers and entrepreneurs to get involved in a controlled market.

Wisconsin is already lagging behind other states–even our own neighboring states–to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. Thirty-six states already legalized medical marijuana. Fifteen states, including Michigan and Illinois, already legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Minnesota’s top lawmakers and Governor are pushing for legalization too.

Wisconsin should take advantage of the same opportunities our neighbors have by legalizing marijuana. In doing so, we can plant the seeds, so our state can grow to be more equitable and successful. Marijuana legalization will deliver a better future for Wisconsin.

Marijuana legalization would have a positive impact on Wisconsin’s economy and help us recover from COVID-19. Governor Evers’ budget taxes marijuana similar to the way alcohol is taxed. This policy would create new business opportunities and generate an estimated $165 million in revenue. Almost $80 million from marijuana sales would be reinvested throughout the state through the Community Reinvestment Fund. The Fund would even direct $34 million to sparsity aid to support our small, rural schools.

marijuana-wi-presentMarijuana could be a boon to Wisconsin’s agriculture industry. Our greatest weakness in agriculture is the average age of farmers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of farmers nationally is 57.5. Young people are saddled with student loan debt, they need broadband to stay connected and raise their families and land prices are through the roof. It’s hard for our kids and grandkids to even consider farming without offering some hope to make a living.

Marijuana legalization offers hope to a beleaguered group of youngsters who want to come home to run the family farm. According to the U.S. Agriculture Census, a small but significant rise in young farmers preceded the 2018 Hemp Bill passage. Young farmers are cultivating hemp and can cultivate marijuana while also milking cows, baling hay or fixing up those old barns throughout the countryside. We need new farmers and marijuana could draw them in.

Our neighboring states are generating new income for farmers. In 2020, Illinois sold $1 billion worth of marijuana and Michigan sold $440 million. Wisconsin farmers can grow high-quality safe products for consumers while accessing a new market of opportunity.

Marijuana legalization has broad support across the state. According to a Marquette Law School Poll done in 2019, 60% of Wisconsinites support marijuana legalization. When it comes to medical marijuana legalization, an overwhelming 83% of Wisconsinites are supportive.

Medical marijuana legalization will ensure there is a safe product available for individuals with chronic pain or other illness. Medical marijuana has shown promising results to manage a variety of debilitating symptoms for diseases, such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy, Crohn’s or cancer. Medical marijuana is considered a great alternative for opiates. In fact, studies have indicated that states that legalized medical marijuana have seen a reduction in opioid-related deaths.

jeff-smithI’ve never had the desire to use marijuana, but I do recognize how it has been vilified for decades, often considered more dangerous than alcohol. Like alcohol prohibition, laws against marijuana possession have led to an overburdened justice system and unregulated market.

There’s much to be said about the ethics of marijuana legalization. Medical marijuana seems like an easy choice to ease others’ suffering. It’s almost certainly safer to regulate the manufacture, distribution and sale of recreational marijuana, than the unknown origins of what many are using now.

Times and attitudes are changing. But still, the most dangerous thing about marijuana right now is that it’s illegal. Wisconsin needs to catch up to our neighboring states and create a safe market for marijuana. This plan makes sense – it’s about time Wisconsin acts on it.

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What the Budget Says About Us

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 February 2021
in Wisconsin

high-voltage-lines-farmsSen. Smith writes about the budget investments announced by Governor Evers to support communities all across Wisconsin.


MADISON - Budgets are necessary to keep us on track, lay out our priorities and work toward what we want to accomplish. Every two years, the Governor introduces a budget that reflects the values of our state. The state budget is a moral document just as much as it’s a financial map for the years ahead. When state leaders approve the budget, we’re showing the world who we are and what we stand for.

At a time when America was building back after the social and economic crisis of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” I consider these words as the golden rule for our state’s budgeting responsibility.

Governor Evers appears to already be following the golden rule set by President Roosevelt. Governor Evers introduced his 2021-23 budget this week, but he set some impressive goals in previous weeks that should make Wisconsinites proud. The Governor’s budget will go a long way toward supporting our small businesses and critical industries, making healthcare more affordable and helping communities across our state recover from the pandemic.

The budget aims to address many of the issues that were apparent long before the pandemic but were made even more visible in the past year, including Wisconsin’s agricultural crisis. The Governor prioritized rural prosperity efforts last year and is, once again, committed to strengthening Wisconsin’s essential industry. His budget proposal invests $43 million to support our farmers, provide additional mental health resources and create partnerships throughout the food supply industry. More than $28 million of this investment will go toward expanding agricultural market opportunities, supporting new and innovating farming practices and strengthening our agricultural workforce.

marijuana-farmer-jobsGovernor Evers’ budget supports our rural communities in many other ways. He proposed legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, which would generate an estimated $165 million in revenue for our state. This would go a long way to boost our economy and even help our rural schools with additional sparsity aid. Marijuana legalization would provide greater oversight over producers, processors and distributors. The evidence available also shows states that already legalized marijuana experienced a reduction in opioid-related deaths.

Governor Evers’ budget focuses on making health care more affordable for Wisconsinites across the state. He adopted policies in his budget to lower prescription drug costs and provide greater access to mental health resources. Specifically, the Governor proposed capping insulin co-pays at $50 and providing more oversight over the pharmaceutical supply chain. In addition, Governor Evers directed more than $150 million in the budget to improve Wisconsinites’ access to quality mental and behavioral health services and treatment.

The Governor understands the importance of investing in the industries and workforce that care for Wisconsinites from an early to old age. In the 2021-23 budget, Governor Evers directed $140 million in his budget toward a new initiative to address quality, affordability, access, and equity for childcare in the state. Additionally, Governor Evers targeted more than $600 million to strengthen Wisconsin’s long-term care infrastructure and support the direct care workforce and family caregivers.

jeff-smith-ofcBefore Governor Evers introduced the budget, he declared 2021 the Year of Broadband Access and announced $200 million toward rural broadband expansion investments. This last year really showed us how every household relies on being connected to their workplace, school and healthcare provider. I hope we really can make this the year of broadband access.

Governor Evers’ budget reflects the priorities of the People. These priorities must echo our state’s motto, “Forward.” They must uphold the ideals our country was founded on, asserting we’re all equal under the law and that we have the same access to opportunity. The budget must help us create a more equitable state by removing racial and socioeconomic barriers and systems that deny success.

The budget will represent who we are as a state, whether we’re a state looking out for one another or whether we’re a state leaving too many behind. I choose the former and I hope you do too.

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