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Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 02 August 2023
in Wisconsin

covid-19-vaccinationIn the past few years, the efficacy of vaccines has been disputed and has sparked much debate, scientific or otherwise. The most effective remedy to disinformation is the truth, and the best way to make informed healthcare decisions for your kids is by consulting your pediatrician.


MADISON - With over three years between us and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to imagine a world in which vaccines are uncontroversial. In the past few years, the efficacy of vaccines has been disputed and has sparked much debate, scientific or otherwise.

But this marks a distinct recent change in the American public’s attitude towards vaccination. According to the Pew Research Center, in February of 2022, 29% of U.S. adults say they have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the best interest of the public. That’s down from the 40% who said they had confidence in medical scientists as recently as November 2020.

Since early in the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a marked decrease in trust in medical professionals, most prominently in Republicans.

It’s not surprising this issue is complicated, given the abundance of information we’re bombarded with every day – some from credible sources, others perhaps not. The real difference is in how we evaluate the efficacy of vaccines and how we consult scientific evidence to do so.

healthcare-family-drThe history of protecting against diseases like smallpox through mild exposure has been demonstrated in Asian and African cultures going back in some cases to as early as 200 BCE. In the late 1700s, English physician Edward Jenner traced milkmaids’ immunity to smallpox back to previous exposure to the related virus cowpox.

Even with the primitive methods used back then, inoculation proved far safer than risking exposure. Only one to two percent of people died from the procedure, as opposed to the up to 30 percent of people who died from being infected with smallpox.

The political weaponization of vaccine disinformation is dangerous. Often those questioning vaccines’ effect have not consulted the experts. But according to an overwhelming majority of experts, vaccines save lives.

We’ve seen the result of this here in the Wisconsin State Legislature. Just this spring, Senate Republicans moved to block a recommendation from the Department of Health Services requiring (with exceptions) that seventh graders be vaccinated against meningitis, among other things.

Meningitis is a highly transmissible seasonal virus that can have potentially fatal and unpredictable outcomes for infants, including hospitalization. It can cause severe inflammation of small airways in the lungs and even pneumonia in children younger than one year old.

jeff-smith-2022The Advisory Council on Immunization Practices, a group of experts that advise the Center for Disease Control, have recommended that students get vaccinated against meningitis since 2005.

DHS’s recommendation was sent to the Senate for a vote, but apparently Republicans in our State Senate didn’t want to be seen voting against the advice of public health experts. Instead of simply voting it down, they referred it back to a committee. It still has not had a hearing, and I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Meanwhile, vaccinations for children are still lagging behind, and it’s our children who may pay the price.

The CDC has released updated information on routine childhood vaccination and routine adolescent vaccination. Children are the most vulnerable to disease, and even if they don’t show symptoms, can spread disease to family members. Getting routine immunizations back on track before our children return to school will save lives.

The most effective remedy to disinformation is the truth, and the best way to make informed healthcare decisions for your kids is by consulting your pediatrician.


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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How Do We Achieve Fair Political Maps?

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 July 2023
in Wisconsin

wi-fair-mapsRep. Deb Andraca and Sen. Jeff Smith write about the opportunity Wisconsin has to create an independent redistricting model to ensure that voters can choose their elected officials, rather than political parties choosing their voters.


MADISON - Allowing politicians to draw their own districts is like allowing a fox to watch over the chickens. So why do we keep doing it? Those in charge of changing districts are the foxes, and they like it just the way it is.

It’s hard to blame politicians entirely. It’s just too tempting for foxes to draw lines that keep themselves in power.

It’s often said the goal of the minority party in the legislature is to get in the majority. The goal of the majority is to govern. But what if the majority fails to govern? The voters will make a change, right? Not if the majority are the ones determining district lines.

Being in the majority is a powerful thing. The majority determines rules of conduct, creates committees and assigns legislators to chair committees. Like air traffic controllers, committee chairs decide which bills advance out of committee and which bills die before the public ever has an opportunity to advocate for or against them.

we_wisconsin_senateIt’s no surprise majority party committee chairs give preference to their own party. It’s extremely rare these days for a bill authored by a member of the minority to even receive a public hearing, much less a vote. In the Assembly last session, less than 2% of the minority party’s bills got a hearing.

The majority’s most powerful ability is drawing their own districts to stay in power. Elections are supposed to be how the public changes the status quo, but by using sophisticated computer modeling, a party can draw maps that almost guarantee their position in the majority for the foreseeable future. That’s called gerrymandering.

janet-protasiewiczWith such an incentive for majority legislators to pursue their own best interests, often the courts must intervene to prevent them from cynically doing just that. Starting August 1st, for the first time in 15 years the Wisconsin Supreme Court (SCOWIS) will no longer be controlled by conservatives. We expect a legal challenge filed to end gerrymandering. If it’s found to be unconstitutional, SCOWIS may opt for more competitive maps.

With all we know about how damaging gerrymandering is to our democracy there’s no excuse for doing this again in 2030 when new maps are drawn. We have an opportunity to follow in the path of states like Michigan, take the power away from the foxes, and return it to the people of this state where it belongs. A properly trained independent commission could be the answer.

Since 1980, Iowa has used an independent commission to draw maps. It’s been the model for other states to adopt similar, more contemporary versions of independent redistricting.

More recently, Michigan residents passed a binding referendum to create an independent system which works for the public rather than politicians. There’s a lot to learn from Michigan as well as Iowa when it comes to what works and what doesn’t. The Michigan commission even compiled a “Lessons Learned” report which describes their process and how to avoid any pitfalls.

It’s time to create a Wisconsin Model of independent redistricting that works for our particular dynamics and diversity. We can learn much from other states and cities with independent redistricting models, but we aren’t Iowa, nor are we Michigan. We do have the same need to modernize how we draw district lines so voters can choose their elected officials instead of political parties choosing their voters.

jeff-smithComputer programs draw maps in minutes, utilizing oceans of data to form perfectly gerrymandered maps. Information is collected about your purchasing habits, groups you belong to, if and where you attend church, your interests and your profession. This data collection isn’t going away, but we can harness it to form competitive districts that motivate candidates to win your vote based on their values, rather than their political affiliation.

deb-andracaIt’s time we learn the lessons from Iowa, Michigan, California, Maryland and other states who removed the foxes from the henhouse and drew maps free of interference from politicians. Such an important part of our democracy should be protected from the self-interest of legislators. A Wisconsin model of independent redistricting, protected under our Constitution, is our goal. It’s time we get these foxes out of the henhouse once and for all.

by Senator Jeff Smith and Representative Deb Andraca

***

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.

Representative Andraca was elected in 2020 to serve the 23rd District in the State Assembly, which includes the Northern suburban Milwaukee communities of Bayside, Brown Deer, Fox Point, Mequon, Thiensville, River Hills, and Whitefish Bay.

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Enabling Everyone for Equality of Access

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, 19 July 2023
in Wisconsin

disability-studentsSen. Smith writes about the Americans with Disabilities Act, which sought to ensure that all Americans have access to public spaces by creating accommodations for those with disabilities.


MADISON - The definition of disability is a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses or activities. That definition covers many conditions that might be considered a disadvantage. Being limited by blindness or by using a wheelchair may be some of the first things that come to mind, but barriers are not just physical or visible and are sometimes hard to detect. Many people face barriers in their lives to access things others take for granted, and you may never know that person is right next to you.

July is Disability Pride Month, marking the anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Like other communities, disability advocacy groups struggled to gain the same freedoms the majority of us never think twice about. On March 12, 1990, sixty activists slipped out of their wheelchairs and crawled up the steps of the Capitol to demonstrate the need for fair access to public spaces.

This collective action was later dubbed the “Capitol Crawl.” Over 100 people were arrested for civil disobedience that day. It was a dramatic and effective demonstration which brought this issue to the attention of many, increasing the visibility of individuals with disabilities. These action of these activists spurred a solution that led to greater access to an independent life for those with abilities that may diverge from the norm.

The concept of Disability Pride is based around reworking negative narratives and biases which often affect our perceptions of those with disabilities. Disability Pride counters the social stigmas and ableism that pervades our society.

Instead, Disability Pride honors the contributions people with disabilities have made to our society. It breaks with the traditional perception of people with disabilities as shameful or burdensome and instead celebrates the incredible diversity of all that people are able to accomplish.

People are only considered to have disabilities because our society presumes a “normal” person is able to engage in certain activities. When someone is not able to engage in an activity others consider “normal,” they are considered to have a disability.

disability-workerBut what if we changed our physical spaces and our society to embrace the diversity of abilities each of us has? Once we look at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for people with disabilities, we can build a world in which we all have access to living our most independent life.

For instance, someone in a wheelchair wants access to a building but is unable to use stairs to access the entrance. Under the ADA, public buildings are constructed with ramps so those using wheelchairs can access those spaces. Or someone with a learning difficulty wants to live independently in their own home. While years ago the medical establishment would expect that person to live in a communal home, they now can access care which allows them to live independently and support themselves.

Even audiobooks can be viewed as a social intervention, giving folks access to media they’d otherwise be unable to access. After the ADA, many of these solutions are taken for granted, but before the law was passed it was not always so.

jeff-smithLike any freedoms, they come with costs and are always at risk. Recently, ballot drop boxes came under attack by election conspiracy theorists harnessing misinformation to call our elections into question. We’ve made tremendous strides in access to the polls for those with disabilities, from Braille ballots to curbside voting. The least we can do is ensure that people with disabilities, who just as much as any of us depend on our elected officials to represent them, have unrestricted access to the ballot box.

We must be vigilant in protecting everyone’s access to public accommodations, from restaurants to parks and schools to elections. After all, it was over two and a half centuries ago that our nation declared “All men are created equal.” That tenet should and must remain at the center of how we create and structure public policy.


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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Making the Best of a Bad Hand

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 12 July 2023
in Wisconsin

assembly-wi-robin-vosGov. Evers signed the budget last week, exercising his partial veto to modify the most harmful provisions added by Republican legislators. Our lack of political compromise is driven by gerrymandering and the resulting lack of electoral accountability.


MADISON - The big news in Madison last week was the Governor signing the budget. The even bigger news was how he did it. The Governor put his veto pen to work on 51 areas of the budget. Most notable was his veto of the tax cuts for the wealthy that Republicans crammed in at the very end of the process. Governor Evers’ veto prevents Wisconsin from wasting a surplus, but many opportunities remain unaddressed and crises continue to loom.

evers-budget-signThe Governor plays two roles in the budget process; 1) he introduces a budget to the Legislature, 2) he signs the budget into law, vetoes it completely or tries to improve it through line-item vetoes. The line-item veto can’t fix something as fundamentally flawed as this budget, but it can remove terrible policies and add more funding if done creatively.

Governor Evers (D-Wisconsin) has introduced three budgets to the Republican-controlled Legislature. All three times, Republicans unilaterally rejected his budget, deciding to do it on their own. It’s not the smartest or most collaborative way to start a process in which the Governor gets the final say.

wisconsin-senateIf Republicans invested half the effort into working with the Governor as they do working around him, they’d save themselves a lot of work, the taxpayers a lot of money and newspapers a lot of ink. It’s common practice now for Republicans to pass bills that split funding from policies for big-ticket items (as we saw in the shared revenue bill.) Republicans have also incorporated a process to retain funding through supplemental appropriations (a fancy way of saying hold back funding) so they can dole the money out as they choose. Through the last 4 ½ years, Republicans have consistently done everything possible to forego bipartisanship.

This year, Republicans plowed ahead once again and dropped a pile of garbage on the Governor’s desk. It was so bad even Republicans voted against it. I, like many others, hoped the Governor would veto the entire budget to impel Republicans to govern like adults instead of grudgingly undermining the Governor like children.

Politics can be petty, ugly and downright bizarre at times. But the opportunity to stand face to face with a person who is worlds apart from you philosophically and find solutions to a problem can spark something great. Our nation and state have accomplished great things when we’ve worked together.

Intense political pressure is usually the catalyst for legislators across the political spectrum to work together. It doesn’t happen often, but it can have a beautiful effect.

We’ve seen overwhelming public pressure for over a decade now, but nothing changes. What gives? Republicans took a year-long vacation during the pandemic. Meanwhile, worker shortages were and continue to be exacerbated by lack of child care options, and schools have been starved for funding so badly that their fates hinge on voters’ willingness to raise their own property taxes.

The core issue in our lack of political compromise is electoral accountability. I’ve no doubt Republicans safe in 70% and 80% Republican districts have no desire to work with a Democratic Governor. In last fall’s election, though, the majority of Wisconsinites overwhelmingly supported the Governor as well.

Republicans control 2/3 of the Senate districts and nearly 2/3 of the Assembly districts, mostly through a process we call “gerrymandering.” When district lines are changed to make very Democratic or very Republican districts, we all lose.

jeff-smithIn this political tug-of-war between Legislative Republicans and our Democratic Governor, remember who cowers behind gerrymandered maps and who represents the will of the voters across the state. The truth about this budget is that Republicans made their bed. Governor Evers merely tucked them in.

There’s good news on the horizon. Starting this August, Republicans won’t have a majority of conservative Supreme Court Justices to serve as a backstop for their gerrymandered majorities in the Senate and Assembly. We should be encouraged that fair maps for our state could be one of the first things the new court takes up this fall.

New fair district maps would bring accountability back to government and help people sleep at night knowing compromise can happen no matter what political party controls the levers of power in Wisconsin.

###

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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How to Turn a Surplus into a Deficit

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 05 July 2023
in Wisconsin

wisconsin-senateLast week, Republican members of the Wisconsin Legislature passed a budget that blows a massive hole in our state’s future budgets while including a tax giveaway for the wealthy.


MADISON - There are many ways to view the budget approved by the Republican majority last week: lost possibilities, squandered opportunities, tax breaks for the rich … take your pick.

Going into this spring I was genuinely excited by the possibilities before us. With a projected surplus totaling nearly $7 billion, we could have tackled challenges we weren’t financially able to in the past.

Democrats and Republicans agreed on raising shared revenue for all municipalities in a separate bill the week before, funded in the budget. Unfortunately there’s not much else to celebrate.

Republicans dominate the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) with 12 members compared to 4 Democratic members. The JFC controls what’s in the budget they send to the full Legislature for a vote. (A big thanks to those 4 members who valiantly argued for common-sense measures for working families.)

Knowing we had a record surplus to start with there were so many opportunities.

executive-moneyWe could have invested in the Child Care Counts program, which buoyed the child care centers that parents depend on to nurture their children’s development and allow parents to work. Governor Evers proposed $340 million to keep funding Child Care Counts, but Republicans zeroed it out, telling working parents and child care providers alike that they would rather give tax breaks to the rich than invest in our kids and keep parents working.

Those fortunate enough to live near our western border can escape to Minnesota via the $400 million bridge funded in this budget. Let’s just hope those people come back.

hemp-farmer-wiscThere are plenty of reasons to cross that bridge. Minnesota recently repealed marijuana prohibition (another measure Republicans struck from Governor Evers’ budget). In the past year Minnesota also joined 15 other states with a paid family leave program like the one Governor Evers included in his budget.

We could have started a Paid Family Leave using a portion of the surplus. Future funding would come from a payroll deduction and become self-sustaining in just a couple years. Similar to Workers’ Compensation, it would have been insurance available in case of an unexpected illness or while caring for a family member. But JFC Republicans removed this provision as well.

school-kidsFor twenty-plus years we’ve heard the excuse that we couldn’t make public school funding equitable because we didn’t have the funds to lift the low-revenue districts to match high-revenue districts. We have the funds now, but instead of fixing the formula that has drained our public schools for 30 years, Republicans are celebrating funneling more funding into private voucher schools.

The biggest tax cut in state history will go toward padding the bank accounts of the very wealthiest Wisconsinites. If their plan survives the veto pen, Republicans get significantly closer to the flat tax scheme their wealthy friends are drooling about.

jeff-smith-2022This tax cut reduced the number of tax brackets from four to three. The lowest rate (single workers earning less than $13,810) would be 3.50%, down from 3.54%. The middle two brackets (4.65% and 5.30%) will be combined ($13,810 to $304,170) and dropped to 4.40%, while anyone making over $304,170 will drop from 7.65% to 6.50%. Republicans call this a 15% drop for high-end earners and 17% for everyone else.

To put it another way, if you earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year you pay $32 less in taxes. If you earn $50,000 to $60,000 a year you pay $165 less. If you earn over $1,000,000 in a year you pay an average of $30,286 less.

This tax scheme blows a $2.471 billion hole in future budgets while failing to use that record $6.9 billion surplus for the benefit of all Badgers. Will you be able to use your $30 or even $200 to fix your road? Will that tax break they’re giving you change your life or even pay for one week of child care?

We could have done so much more if Republicans worked with the Governor. Republicans did the worst thing they could possibly do – they threw away opportunities and turned our hard-earned surplus into a deficit.

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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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