Thursday May 23, 2024

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Can't or Won't Release HSHS Funds?

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, 22 May 2024
in Wisconsin

healthcare-family-drSen. Smith sets the record straight on misinformation floating around about why Republicans on Joint Finance continue to stall the release of $15 million in already-approved money to address the health care crisis facing the Chippewa Valley.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Social media can be a useful tool. We can easily share pictures and stories with friends and family. It can be used for business applications from marketing to educating the public. And there is no doubt that we can search for answers to problems and questions we may have.

But social media can also be a tool to deceive or confuse followers. By now most of us know to be leery of what we see on Facebook, Instagram and other media. It can be bothersome, but it is always best to question what someone may claim in a post, especially if it seems too good to be true or too horrible to believe.

That’s why I do what I can to provide background that readers can search for themselves so they know where I get my information from and I didn’t just make it up.

chippewa-valley-hshsThe shocking hospital closures we have seen here in western Wisconsin seemed to open the door of opportunity to false information and rumors. Not unusual when we are desperate for answers; especially when your health is at stake.

I’ve seen and heard comments regarding the actions taken in the Capitol on the hospital closures that are simply ludicrous and harmful. When we should be joined together in solving this problem, it has become another opportunity for some to make it political.

I don’t want to accuse my own colleagues on the other side of the aisle of purposely spreading falsities. I’d rather believe that it’s ignorance or a simple misunderstanding.

There were two bills introduced by Republicans – Senate Bill 1014 (SB 1014) which restricted funding for the closure crisis. Senate Bill 1015 (SB 1015) transferred $15 million to the Joint Finance Committee to release to area health care providers. The Governor vetoed SB 1014 so we won’t be restricted for responding to the crisis. He also partially vetoed SB 1015 and signed the $15 million into law. The funding is currently awaiting release from the Joint Finance Committee. Republicans control the Joint Finance Committee with 12 members while Democrats have 4.

I’ve heard outrageous claims that the Joint Finance Committee cannot release funding because of the Governor’s vetoes. That’s flat-out false. The Joint Finance Committee has released money countless times after Governors partially veto bills. The $15 million was passed into law.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has already requested the funds and the Joint Finance Committee is refusing to act. Instead, they offer excuses and try to blame the Governor.

Instead of restricting the funds for only emergency room construction, the Governor’s veto allows area health care providers to use the funding for all of the following:

a. Increase Emergency Department Capacity/Service

b. Expand Urgent Care Services

c. Expand Inpatient Psychiatric Unit

d. Expand Inpatient OB/GYN Services

e. Expand Mental Health and/or Substance Use Services

f. Expand or Establish Hospital-Owned and Operated Ambulance Service

Republicans know they are wrong and they don’t want to hear the truth. Instead of releasing the money from the Joint Finance Committee like they’ve always done, they manufactured their excuse and are doubling down on restricting the money for this crisis. All of this after Gov. Evers called for them to meet twice to no avail.

jeff-smithThey know they are wrong and it couldn’t be more evident than how they acted on the Senate floor last week. When I attempted to speak on their misguided attempt to override the Governor’s veto, I was ignored and Republicans immediately voted despite numerous objections. This is yet another example of Republican refusing to acknowledge the truth.

Now, Republicans have chosen to ignore the desperation felt over the closures, and they've chosen to weaponize this for their campaigns. As Senator Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) said last week, this is, “the last gasp of a gerrymandered majority.”

We will need to wait until after the election for the legislature to do the right thing. New, more competitive maps will produce a legislature that will listen. In the meantime, Republicans are leaving the rest of us in the Chippewa Valley to fend for ourselves.


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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Honoring Our Teachers

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, 15 May 2024
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsSenator Smith asks everyone to thank our dedicated teachers by sharing his personal experience and discussing the importance of our educators.


MADISON - Last week we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week. Summer is approaching as students and teachers look for a successful close to the school year. Now is the time to thank our teachers before everyone moves on to new summer adventures.

Wisconsin’s K-12 schools are the cornerstone of our communities. Our teachers are tasked with building up our kids so they can reach their full potential. It’s our responsibility to ensure teachers have the support to help all Wisconsin students.

Long before I served in the senate, my wife chose a career as a teacher. When our first child was born she let me know that I’d be responsible for volunteering in our daughter’s classroom when she reached school age. I understood the importance of our teachers as a former student, but little did I realize what an important job my wife and other teachers had day-in and day-out.

I volunteered as much as the school would allow. Gaining an understanding of the needs of our schools, kids and teachers, I helped organize as an active participant for the passage of an important referendum in the late 1990s.

jeff-smithIt didn’t stop there. I created a parent advisory committee that’s still involved with the Eau Claire School District. My activism in education morphed into engagement in the Wisconsin Parent Teacher Association Board, the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and an appointment to the Governor’s Task Force for Educational Excellence.

Years spent learning about how Wisconsin’s public schools prepare kids for the future has given me the perspective and appreciation for our teachers. As former students, each of us can see how teachers make a difference for our kids in the classroom and beyond. Our society as a whole depends on talented teachers rooted in our communities and serving families.

Challenges for teachers and our schools continue, especially when it comes to the recruitment and retention of quality teachers and staff. Finding teachers is hard, but keeping them is even harder. Housing, inflation and worker shortages are making a difficult job impossible for school administrators who are trying to piece together a crew of top-notch teachers.

I’ve seen the work and commitment my wife had outside of the classroom. Long hours preparing, bringing the challenges of individual students home with her and continually pushing students to be their best selves is the kind of work teachers don’t get paid for. It takes special people to go beyond. Acknowledging these difficulties deserves attention and appreciation for those who do it for our kids.

school-bus-kidsThe conversation about how we fund our schools has fallen by the wayside as we’ve invested more into education, but we need to keep discussing the inequities that exist in our school funding formula. Some teachers get more and some teachers get less – it all depends on how much property value is within a school district. It should depend on how difficult it is to educate the students. It’s wrong to pump money into a broken system, especially into a failed voucher school program. We can’t lose focus of our constitutional requirement to fund our schools equitably.

Another significant challenge schools are facing is the cost of special education. Students with special needs often require extra attention and resources to ensure their success and make sure no student falls behind because of a disability. Working around and through these challenges to help students learn is as varied as each individual student. More focused and tailored education is required to get each cohort of students ready for the world as adults.

Special education is costly and schools are trying to absorb the costs. Teachers are the ones faced with the challenges, and they are the ones who lose when special education costs ratchet up each year. It’s unfair and we need to figure out solutions to help. It takes a village of dedicated people to confront these problems and keep our schools strong.

Our teachers deserve our respect and they need our help. If there’s one thing you can do before summer, it’s acknowledging the challenges facing our educators and thanking them for their dedication to their honorable profession.


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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A Golden Opportunity

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, 08 May 2024
in Wisconsin

broadband-map-northwoodsSen. Smith highlights the important role study committees play in drafting legislation for the upcoming session, and he invites members of the public to consider applying to serve on one before the May 17 deadline.


MADISON - Study committees are formed during the spring of election years after the legislative session ends to investigate new issues that surface in Wisconsin or to examine old issues that may need a refreshed look to keep up with current events. This is usually a bipartisan process geared toward enlisting experts and community stakeholders to play a direct role in introducing legislation.

Joint Legislative Committees (JLC) are made up from legislators of both houses. Often, the topics each committee brings up are issues that are difficult to resolve in the regular course of business during the session and they require further investigation. The end goal is to recommend legislation for introduction in the upcoming session.

This year, the committees, along with their assigned Chair and Vice-Chairs, were just approved, which means they are now looking for individuals from the public to serve on the committees. This is your opportunity to volunteer.

The nomination form for study committee membership applications is now live on Legislative Council’s website, as well as links to each committees. This list links to the committees’ websites, which will be updated with meeting information once the committees start their work. Currently, they list the scope, chair and vice chair, and the JLC staff for the committee.

According to JLC, study committees generally meet from three to six times during the summer and fall and ultimately report their recommendations, in the form of bill drafts, to the full Joint Legislative Council for approval and introduction in the next legislative session. Committee meetings usually begin mid-morning and continue through the entire day.

Here’s a list of the approved committees assembling this year:

  • Study Committee on Emergency Detention and Civil Commitment of Minors
  • Study Committee on the Future of the University of Wisconsin System
  • Study Committee on Recodification of Battery Statutes
  • Study Committee on the Regulation of Artificial Intelligence in Wisconsin
  • Study Committee on Sandhill Cranes
  • Special Committee on State-Tribal Relations

This is a finite list and there are plenty of other issues that people believe are important that didn’t get approved by Republican leaders. I submitted a request to study hospital closure regulations so Wisconsin can be better prepared for a situation similar to what we experienced with HSHS earlier this spring.

While some important topics were not chosen, topics like, “the Future of the University of Wisconsin System” sound very ominous based on the attacks Republicans leveled against the UW System earlier this session.

jeff-smithJoint Legislative Council Study Committees have been the last refuge for bipartisanship in the legislature and I hope these topics do not turn into something other than honest and open dialogue to improve our state rather than tear it down. Either way, these study committees need dedicated and passionate people to serve on them this summer and fall.

This is a golden opportunity for civic engagement. These committees dive deep into issues that matter to everyone in our state, and the result of their work is usually concrete legislation that has more thorough vetting and public input than many of the other 1000-plus bills we see during the course of our two year legislative session calendar.

Do you feel like you would bring a unique perspective to any one of these committees? If so, please apply today so you may be considered for membership. The deadline to apply is May 17th. Feel free to contact my office for more information or if you have specific questions by calling (608) 266-8546 or emailing This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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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Here to Serve 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, 01 May 2024
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inSenator Smith lets readers know about the services available through his legislative office and encourages folks to call with any concerns or issues they may be having with any state agency.


MADISON - It may not come as much of a surprise to anyone who knows how much I enjoy talking with folks, but I especially enjoy the conversations I have during my roadside Stop & Talk events. People from every walk of life will stop by to say, “Hi.” Some are happy to see me, while others have very specific ideas or complaints about our state government, or are just stuck trying to find help.

There are common themes that emerge through the conversations, like an overall lack of confidence in our government, or a feeling that our state just doesn’t get how to help everyday people in meaningful ways. People often ask, “So, what can we get done?” So what is it that I (and my staff) can do for you?

A lot of times the answer varies, especially if it has to do with new legislation being proposed. Other times, I or someone on my staff, can work directly with a state agency to find a solution. A legislator, and his or her office, is meant to serve the constituents of the entire district they’re elected to represent. From listening to your ideas and answering your questions to navigating state agencies or understanding who to get in touch with in the local or federal government to help.

Whenever I’m at the Capitol, the 31st Senate District office is a busy place serving the needs of nearly 180,000 people. We operate as a team. My name may be on the door of the office, but we work together to come up with solutions for those needing help. We respond to your phone calls and emails to share helpful resources. Team Smith also researches policy issues or potential legislation. Bill ideas often come from constituents who are facing difficult situations that need law changes to fix their problems.

As an example, earlier this year, we got a call from someone who was having trouble getting a realtor license finalized to start his business selling homes. Immediately, one of my staff called the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS). Within a few hours, the issue was resolved and a business license was issued the next day. It’s not always that easy or swift, but in most cases, there’s someone we can call at any department to get to the bottom of an issue.

This story highlights just one aspect of our service. This is the type of work we do that doesn’t make the headlines the same way that political disagreements and new bills do.

We have contacts in every department and if we don’t know the answer to your question off the top of our heads, we can find someone who does. We also connect with community organizations and nonprofits serving western Wisconsin and we can usually enlist them to help with taking care of a loved one or helping to find affordable housing. If my office can’t help directly, we’ll know someone who may be able to.

jeff-smithAs a legislator, I can’t step in to help with a constituent’s court case or legal proceeding. And realistically, a bill I introduce can’t become law at the snap of my fingers (no matter how hard I may try). It takes time for an idea to work its way through the legislative process, but it’s my job to work with my colleagues – on both sides of the aisle – to have your ideas heard in the Capitol.

Many times, it’s simply connecting with constituents at the farmer’s market or at one of my Stop & Talks that will lead me to an issue I had no knowledge of before. Whether you see me at a Stop & Talk, have a contact card on your doorstep, or prefer to give my office a call, we are here to help.

How about you? Do you have an issue we might be able to resolve? Just send us an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call us at (608) 266-8546. Certainly, don’t shy away from approaching me in person when you see me around. I’m here to serve whenever you see me, no matter where it might be.


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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The Power of the Purse

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 April 2024
in Wisconsin

jfcphotoSenator Smith details the role and responsivities of the Joint Finance Committee, and how politics is getting in the way of its work for the people of Wisconsin.


MADISON - In a recent column, I wrote about legislation that went unfinished. Many of the issues that were mentioned were ignored from lack of concern by the majority party or for purely political reasons. There are still ways to get things done, even if the full legislature has adjourned. Case in point: The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) and all of its unfinished business.

JFC consists of 16 members; eight members from both houses of the legislature. Any and all considerations of spending must go through and get the approval of the JFC. Committees are able to meet, hold hearings and vote even after the legislative session comes to an end.

Sometimes JFC will make specific decisions that were undecided by the legislature and Governor at the time when a bill was passed into law. But, the lion share of their work involves vetting appropriation bills during the legislative process to create new laws and state programs. As the Legislature’s finance committee, they control the “purse strings” for the legislative branch of government.

One of the most important advantages of holding the majorities in the legislature is the control of the JFC. Whoever holds the majority assigns the number of seats each party can occupy. The Republicans hold that advantage by a 12 to 4 margin.

Because our government must function all year round, our agencies must be fully funded to fulfill their obligations. It is normal for agencies to submit requests of funding to JFC for all sorts of reasons at any time of the year. Needs don’t always follow the same calendar that the legislature follows.

What shouldn’t be the case is allowing a 16-person committee to derail laws by not funding them, even if they were passed by the entire legislature and signed by the Governor. No committee should have that much power.

What is more alarming is that it only takes one person on a 16-member committee to essentially veto a funding decision anonymously for any reason. It’s happened numerous times with the Department of Natural Resources. Stewardship purchases have been held up because one member doesn’t like it. It offers the public no reason for denial and no chance for debate. Where’s the transparency?

assembly-wi-robin-vosIt can be quite a helpless feeling when the only thing stopping important actions from occurring is illogical political disputes over funding. Even the Governor is left waiting and hoping JFC will complete the job after the entire legislature passed the bill and the Governor signed it into law.

The Governor took an action, which he had only tried once before when he called for JFC to meet and take up the already approved $125 million for PFAS cleanup and the $15 million for the Chippewa Valley healthcare crisis. On April 16th Republican JFC members didn’t bother showing up because they were in Washington, D.C. at a fundraiser.

Republicans wanted to strip the DNR of its power to actually go after the polluters who are responsible for PFAS poisoning. The Governor vetoed that bill and now they refuse to release the much needed funds to communities that need to clean up their water.

jeff-smith-2022As far as the Chippewa Valley Healthcare funding, the Republicans continue to complain about the Governor vetoing their attempt to restrict the funding to emergency room capital costs. The Governor agrees with our providers who want more flexibility to pay for more staff or other services beside emergency costs.

If JFC would release the $15 million that was passed into law, the Department of Health Services could immediately consider grant requests from our local providers to begin filling the gaps left by the departure of HSHS.

Weaponizing JFC to undermine the legislative process and co-equal branches of government is flat-out wrong. Clean drinking water and immediately helping with the HSHS hospital closure crisis should transcend politics and put the power of the purse back in the public’s hands.


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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