Monday December 5, 2022

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Big Steps Forward for Broadband Expansion

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, 20 July 2022
in Wisconsin

internet-in-rural-areasSen Smith writes about Governor Evers’ visit to the Town of Cross in Buffalo County last week and the efforts his administration has taken to expand broadband in Wisconsin.


Town of Cross, WI - I enjoy being out and about in the community and listening to the issues that are on folks’ minds. No matter what corner of the district I’m in, one of the top issues I hear over and over again is broadband access.

We’ve long known the importance of broadband expansion, but the COVID-19 pandemic certainly stressed the urgency of connecting all homes and businesses to reliable, high-speed internet.

This was the main topic of conversation during a community meeting held last week in the Town of Cross near Fountain City. Governor Tony Evers came to this meeting to hear firsthand from residents the importance of expanding broadband, specifically in Wisconsin’s rural areas.

The location of this meeting wasn’t chosen at random. Governor Evers’ Administration recently awarded the Town of Cross $2.1 million through the Broadband Expansion Grant Program. This grant award will help to connect nearly 230 addresses in the Town of Cross by the fall.

broadband-town-mtg-crossThanks to the hard work of local residents and broadband stakeholders and Governor Evers’ efforts, a town of less than 400 people will now have faster access to internet services. We had a lot to talk about and celebrate during last week’s meeting with Governor Evers, local officials and residents.

Communities in every region of the state have benefited from the historic investments delivered by Governor Evers since he took office in 2019. More than 387,000 homes and businesses now have new or improved access to these services because of state and federal funds allocated by the governor.

Governor Evers is a leader on this issue and has been for years, prioritizing broadband expansion efforts in new ways. In addition to the $300 million investment the governor made toward improving broadband access, he’s brought experts, stakeholders and community leaders together to consider new approaches in closing Wisconsin’s digital divide.

In 2020, the governor created the Task Force on Broadband Access and followed this up by declaring 2021 the Year of Broadband Access. These announcements set the stage for productive conversations and deliverable results.

After the work accomplished by the Task Force in 2021, they released a report focusing on key areas to reach the shared mission of improving broadband accessibility, affordability and adaptability in Wisconsin.

Last week, there was more exciting broadband news: the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access released their second annual report, providing an update on the Administration’s most recent progress.

Building off last year’s work, the Task Force focused more specifically on “the structural network advancements necessary for local and regional planning work to be conducted, as well as a tool kit or resources that would benefit the work,” according to the 2022 report. The Task Force plans to meet these objectives through active network building, community alignment and available resources, including support from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal.

The 2022 annual report included great examples of how the Task Force saw these objectives already met in communities within Wisconsin, including in Buffalo County’s Town of Cross. They included the Town of Cross as a case study to demonstrate the extraordinary potential of strong public-private partnerships, like the one established between the town and the local internet service provider, Cochrane Cooperative Telephone Company.

jeff-smithThe case study detailed the process, which in the end, proved successful for the Town of Cross and its residents. Before the Town of Cross even applied for the grant through the American Rescue Plan Act Broadband Access grant cycle in July 2021, they surveyed residents to assess the needs for improved broadband access and received a 70% response rate.

With this level of support, they applied for grant funding and received $2.1 million, which will help to construct a 51 mile fiber network across 37.7 square mile area.

This story goes to show all that can be done with strong partnerships, key investments and dependable leaders. I am proud to represent the Town of Cross and the many other communities in the district who have developed innovative approaches to improve broadband access.

These are strong steps forward, but I can tell it’s only the beginning.

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Summer Adventure Awaits

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, 13 July 2022
in Wisconsin

door-county_bikingSen. Smith writes about the many opportunities Wisconsinites have to explore the state this summer.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Summer is the time to get outdoors and travel, and there sure are plenty of opportunities to do so right here in Wisconsin. Wisconsinites know this all too well, but it’s exciting to know out-of-state travelers are getting in on the fun.

Last year, there were 102.3 million visitor trips to Wisconsin, according to the Department of Tourism. Like nearly all other industries, Wisconsin’s tourism industry was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in 2020; fortunately last year’s tourism numbers show a positive step forward.

The total economic impact of Wisconsin tourism in 2021 was $20.9 billion – this is a 21% increase from 2020! Tourism surged in all 72 counties, helping small businesses and local communities across the state. I have a feeling 2022 is going to be even better for Wisconsin tourism and there are ways you can help make that happen.

Here’s how you can help: start planning a trip of your own in our beautiful state. Whether you want to stay close to home or travel to the opposite side of the state, there are plenty of exciting adventures awaiting.

We’re fortunate to live in western Wisconsin, which I regard as one of the most beautiful areas of the state – if not the whole country. In the 31st Senate District, we have multiple state parks to go hiking and camping, including Merrick, Perrot and Kinnickinnic. If you enjoy fishing, this area is the right spot for you; trout streams can be found throughout the Driftless Region or you’ll find anglers along the Mississippi River. Canoeing, birding and biking are some more activities you can take advantage of in this region.

If you’d rather not spend all of your time outdoors, you’re still in luck in western Wisconsin. Our region has a plethora of things to do, such as visiting historic landmarks, stopping at a local brewery or winery or attending a local festival. The options are endless!

As an Eau Claire County resident my whole life, it’s been exciting to see the arts community develop in this area thanks to investments made by our community. In Eau Claire and surrounding communities, you’ll find beautiful handmade artwork or be able to hear incredible work by local musicians.

As much as we love western Wisconsin, I understand the urge to explore new parts of the state. Unlike many of our Midwestern neighbors, all Wisconsinites have a little something to brag about. Each region of Wisconsin is unique and has something different to offer.

jeff-smithOne of my favorite areas to visit with my family is the Lake Superior region and communities in Northern Wisconsin. Similar to western Wisconsin, the Northwoods is truly breathtaking with its forests, rivers and trails. If you visit Northeastern Wisconsin, you’ll be close to Lake Michigan and you could even visit historic Lambeau Field where we’ll cheer our state’s team on in the fall.

If you choose to visit Southeast Wisconsin, you’re probably thinking of stopping in Milwaukee, our state’s biggest city. With its many fests, restaurants and sports teams, I’m sure you will find enough to stay busy.

Southcentral Wisconsin is another picturesque area of our state, including our state Capitol and the beginning of the Driftless region. Located near many farms, this region offers delicious, fresh food that all can enjoy.

Each county in Wisconsin has something very special to offer. Even if you’re able to visit all regions this summer, I guarantee you’ll be returning soon to finish your adventure checklist and try out different fall and winter activities.

Now that you’re thinking of all of the fun places to travel next, you’re probably wondering how to plan your trip. Well, you’re in luck. Travel Wisconsin is our state’s one-stop shop for all information to create your itinerary. They have countless ideas on what to do and where to stay in areas all over the state. Visit TravelWisconsin.com to get started.

Make memories with your friends and family this summer. Be safe and enjoy the many adventures Wisconsin has waiting for you.

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The Traditions that Unite 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, 06 July 2022
in Wisconsin

4th-cedarburgSen. Jeff Smith is back, writing about Independence Day and the celebratory traditions we share that unite us as a nation.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Celebrations on the 4th of July bring back many fond memories. Whether it’s eating ice cream or having a family barbeque, waving the American flag at a parade or watching the fireworks at night, Americans have treasured traditions to celebrate this holiday.

Many of us can reflect on our own childhoods and think about the many different ways we celebrated Independence Day with our friends and family. As we got older, we made sure to share these traditions with our own children.

Tradition is important for any culture or nationality because it helps people better understand their past and preserve their customs. In the United States, we celebrate Independence Day to remember the history of our country and honor the meaning of independence for all Americans, which provides unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This week, especially, I am thinking a lot about what it means to be an American. As Americans, we’re fortunate to live in an incredibly diverse country where we can celebrate our commonalities and differences. This is a strength of ours and helps us consider our country’s past, present and future.

It may not seem so now, but the Continental Congress’ decision to vote in favor of independence was radical at the time. Following this decision, the Constitution was created and our democratic republic, the form of government that exists today, was established. Despite these revolutionary changes, many groups, including Native people, enslaved persons, and women, were excluded from the decision-making process and subjugated.

Our country’s history is uncomfortable, yet it’s something we must learn and grow from. Generations of Americans before us have done just that and our country has improved because of it. One example to think of is the expansion of voter rights in our country. At a time early in our country’s founding, only white, male landowners were able to vote. Through persistent advocacy, more groups gradually gained the right to vote.

When we think about the United States’ future, we must think of our past. To this day, one’s right to vote and access to the polls are still issues debated on and subject to change by politicians. And that’s not the only right at this time that’s at risk. Americans will protect the rights we have because we remember the time in our country’s past when these rights didn’t exist.

Americans have overcome a lot – together. We can think back to the challenges and sacrifice that generations before us experienced, but we know the United States is the country we are today because of citizens’ shared commitment to be better. We know it’s possible to create new opportunity and preserve our freedoms because we’ve seen Americans before us do just that.

While we have fun traditions that we participate in to celebrate our country’s independence, like family barbecues or fireworks, there’s a lot to be said about the traditions that we observe year-round that are unique to us as Americans.

We carry on the American tradition of civil dialogue over our disagreements. We continue the tradition of inclusivity and working to make this country one where all succeed, not the privileged few. We stay focused on the great American experiment founded on the principles of a democracy.

jeff-smithI understand it often feels like there is more that divides us, as Americans, than what unites us. Independence Day is an important reminder of the values we do share as Americans, but it’s critical we remember this throughout the year.

Think back to a memory or your favorite 4th of July tradition. Share this with a neighbor or stranger in your community. Once we start having more of these conversations, it will be easier to see what our country means to us all.

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The Work for Wisconsin Must Continue

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, 13 April 2022
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inSen. Smith writes about what motivated him to enter into public service and the potential for Wisconsin’s future once we work past the politics.


MADISON - When I think about Wisconsin’s future, I can’t help but think about my family’s past. This might sound backwards, but I think many others may feel the same way.

I reflect back on the opportunities my father had in starting his own window cleaning business; or the hard work that my wife and I put in to build our home from the ground up in Brunswick; or the cherished memories my daughters made growing up, caring for our many animals on our hobby farm.

This is the past that I think so fondly of. I entered into public service to preserve the values we share as Wisconsinites and ensure more families have the same opportunities my family was fortunate to have. I carried this mentality every drive down to Madison, every bill I introduced and every vote I took.

When it comes down to it, I believe many of my legislative colleagues feel the same way. The sad thing is politics is more divisive than ever before, which hindered attempts to move meaningful policies forward. I know this isn’t news to you, but it’s worth talking about.

Why don’t your legislators solve problems we all know exist? I’ve pointed this out time and again, but now that the legislative session ended, we’re faced with the stark reality that there’s still a lot of unfinished business to take care of.

We should have accomplished a lot more this legislative session. Wisconsinites shouldn’t have to wait until next year to see the results their leaders were already elected to deliver. Now, it becomes even more important to look ahead at what needs to be done.

While it does seem like we’ve made some progress toward connecting rural Wisconsin to the rest of the world, we could do much better. Fiber to every home is within our grasp right now. We have the funds to expand broadband statewide and I’ve introduced legislation to do so. Maybe next year?

Many families are still struggling with rising healthcare costs in our country. We can do a lot here in Wisconsin to make healthcare more affordable just by expanding BadgerCare. Wisconsin has lost out on billions of dollars already from the feds. There really is no logical reason that we haven’t done this already—just politics. Maybe next year?

jeff-smithI’ve often been asked if marijuana will ever be legalized in Wisconsin. This is a perfect example of short-sighted politics. While neighboring states have legalized medical marijuana and some are now regulating recreational marijuana, the Republican majority made sure we didn’t even have public hearings on the subject. Maybe next year?

We have so much we can – and must – do to protect Wisconsin’s natural resources, starting with our drinking water. PFAS has been found in municipal wells from all corners of our state. These dangerous manmade chemicals can be detected with testing but it can be expensive. Politics has stymied the DNR from doing more and adopting measures to ensure communities have clean drinking water. Maybe next year?

Deer hunting has a long illustrious history in Wisconsin, attracting hunters from around the country. That’s why we must stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Every session I join other colleagues in introducing bills to address CWD but we have yet to make progress and the disease continues to spread and cause great concern. Maybe next year?

We know we must invest in our K-12 schools and our children’s future. Instead Republicans are bent on putting your public money in private education. Public education is meant for everyone. Legislators should stop pilfering public dollars for private special interests. Maybe next year?

In the legislature, only a handful of senators in the Republican majority control what gets done, which explains the lack of progress on these critical issues. You deserve better.

There’s incredible potential for our state’s future. Together, we can create opportunities for Wisconsin families and businesses if only we can see past the politics and power grabs. With solutions within our reach, we can and must do better.

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Reflecting on the Positive

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, 06 April 2022
in Wisconsin

wisconsin-senateJeff Smith writes about some of the most memorable highlights from the many committees he's served on during his first term as state senator.


MADISON - There are times when it’s a good idea to take a breath and reflect on your accomplishments. Now, that the legislative session has ended I’ve had a chance to do just that. Oftentimes, it’s easy to dwell on the challenges and disappointments we experience, but I know my first term as your state senator has been rewarding.

Holding this office has created opportunities to learn so much about so many things. I’m sure it isn’t for everyone, but I really enjoyed the time spent with a farmer educating me on soil science or ABATE motorcycle enthusiasts explaining to me how policies passed in Madison affect their rides.

Some of the most memorable highlights over the last few years have come from serving on the many committees I have the good fortune to be a part of.

lacrosseharborTake the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, for starters. Little did I know how much this group of good people do for the preservation of and enhancement of the Great River Road. If anyone needs an emotional lift, take a drive along State Highway 35, and know how hard volunteers have worked to maintain the beautiful landscape. We take so much for granted but nothing happens in a vacuum.

Studying the ins and outs of broadband access has been enlightening. Access to high-speed broadband was a priority from the get-go, but it became even clearer during the pandemic. It’s been rewarding to take the lead on this issue especially when it became clear how critical it is to be connected. My assertive approach to broadband led me to being appointed to the Broadband Stakeholders group coordinated by the Public Service Commission.

My staff may not always appreciate it, but whenever there’s an opening on a task force or committee I’m eager to step forward. This has led to a very diverse portfolio for my office. I’ve always enjoyed learning how things work and this job really allows that to happen.

When the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change needed senate representation I was eager to fill that vacancy. It’s obvious that this is an issue that’s going to be confronting us for a long time and it’s exciting to learn from experts what can be done to protect Wisconsin’s natural resources.

drugaddicts-youngServing on the State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (SCAODA) has been eye opening. It is here that we’re presented with statistics that only verify what most of us already know: substance abuse is a serious issue in Wisconsin. SCAODA helped me understand potential legislative proposals that, if adopted, could save lives and make serious positive impacts on Wisconsin families.

Speaking of where we can save lives, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force does incredibly valuable work. Formed by Attorney General Josh Kaul, the people serving on this task force are miraculous. I have learned so much I did not understand before. I am hopeful we will bring forth important life-saving legislation from this work.

jeff-smithAs a legislator it can seem fairly useless at times to introduce legislation since the majority Party refuses to consider any bills drafted by the minority Party. Despite this obstacle, I’ve introduced 120 bills during my first term to protect Wisconsinites’ right to vote, support students and local schools, ensure clean drinking water and more. Feeling ignored can be discouraging, but representing west central Wisconsin definitely has its highlights that make it worthwhile.

There’s so much more to be thankful for in my first term and there is just not enough space here to elaborate. But I do want to express gratitude to my team. When faced with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, we managed to help more than 350 constituents with their unemployment insurance claims. That was simply an amazing demonstration of dedication and compassion when people needed us the most.

Whew! There really is much to be proud of.

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