Tuesday July 16, 2024

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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)
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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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School Safety Office on Life Support

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 April 2024
in Wisconsin

sandu_hook_victimsSenator Smith writes about the work of the Department of Justice Office of School Safety and their role for protecting our schools across Wisconsin.


This legislative session could’ve been better, but there was one glimmer of hope. The Office of School Safety (OSS) at the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) was a bright spot for lawmakers this past session.

In February 2018, the Parkland, Florida school shooting occurred. The nation was shocked once again by yet another tragic and horrific school shooting. 17 children were killed that day and another 17 were injured with wounds and horrific memories they will carry for the rest of their lives.

sandy-hook-motherIn less than a month after Parkland, Republicans and Democrats in Wisconsin from the Senate and Assembly came together and passed 2017 Assembly Bill 843, which was signed into law by then Governor, Scott Walker (R). Throughout the years of senseless violence, this was the one of the few times we’ve seen swift and responsive action against gun violence. The newly created OSS was funded with $100 million for a grant program geared toward helping schools make updates and perform training for school district personnel. Sadly, though, only one full time position was created to staff the office in its infancy.

Fast forward to spring of this year, and now, the OSS is run by 14 full time staff and they are doing incredible work to keep schools safe. However, the funding for the OSS was set to run out in December of last year, so we needed to act fast to keep the OSS afloat. Thankfully, strong bipartisan support from lawmakers helped Assembly Bill 1050 pass through both houses of the legislature and it was signed into law by Governor Tony Evers (D) as 2023 Wisconsin Act 240 on March 28, 2024.

While providing the OSS with the funding they needed to stay in operation was a step in the right direction, it essentially just puts a Band-Aid on the problem. The bill funds the OSS until September 30th, 2025. Normally, we could all agree this was a great action by the legislature and we could laud our efforts, pat each other on the back and say it was a job well done. While Wisconsin sits on billions of dollars in surplus funding, it feels like less of a win and more like putting the program on life support.

jeff-smith-2022Since 2020 when the 24/7 “Speak Up, Speak Out” tip-line started at the OSS, staff have responded to over 10,000 contacts in Wisconsin schools, including 196 tips concerning planned school attacks. Additionally, there were 223 tips for guns and other weapons from schools that resulted in violence intervention and prevention situations for schools. Countless school district personnel and local law enforcement professionals have utilized the OSS for protecting our schools.

It should come to no one’s surprise when most people were shocked to learn the OSS has only been funded until September next year. The work they are doing is making a serious impact for Wisconsin schools and their achievements have been remarkably quiet. Quiet is good, but we need to make sure people know how important their work is for all our students, school professionals and our communities as a whole.

The Office of School Safety is an excellent service and it deserves more than short-term funding offering no guarantees after Oct 1, 2025.  I fully expect Gov. Evers to include more funding for this program next year when we begin the budget process in earnest leading up to its final approval in June.


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 People’s Work Undone

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 April 2024
in Wisconsin

assembly-wiSenator Smith writes about how the local elections last week paint a different picture about Wisconsin’s finances and the inaction by Republicans to invest in our local governments.


MADISON - Last Tuesday the 2nd of April was the spring election. It was clear based on the referenda questions on ballots throughout Wisconsin that something isn’t right. Headlines throughout the past year proclaimed Wisconsin had a record surplus, but our ballots painted a different story of our state’s finances. It begs the question, what didn’t get done?

Decisions are made in town halls and municipal board rooms that determine how funds from the state, or collected through property taxes, are spent. Ever since the state capped how much local governments can raise in taxes, it falls on the state to make sure municipalities have the resources to meet their local needs. The passage of the two constitutional amendments on the ballot last week adds additional pressure for the state to adequately fund elections administered by our local municipalities.

school-meeting-crowdBut those weren’t the only referenda questions on the ballot in many places. School boards across the state have struggled to keep up due to the legislature failing to properly fund public education. There were 91 school referenda questions on ballots this spring. While the legislature sits on a $4 billion surplus, school districts are asking their local taxpayers to help them scrape by.

Our state’s surplus didn’t appear out of nowhere. It’s revenue that will come in thanks to a healthy economy and after all expenses are covered. It comes from taxpayers like you. It raises the question why there should be any need to force local governments to ask for more from you and why the legislature quit working before winter turned to spring.

Wisconsin has a two-year legislative session. On the first day of our current session, a calendar was presented by the Republican leaders. We were scheduled to work through April 11th of this year, but Republicans gaveled out the Assembly in February and the Senate followed suit March 12th.

It would’ve been nice to report that we ended early because we accomplished so much and solved every concern facing Wisconsinites. But that’s far from the truth.

Shortchanging public schools isn’t the only way the majority party failed you. Republicans refused to consider real solutions to the childcare crisis families are experiencing. Yes, the governor signed their tax credit for parents, but that falls woefully short of solving this issue. PFAS continues to go unchecked because Republicans wanted to strip the DNR of any real enforcement power over the polluters. We did nothing to protect women’s reproductive health or guarantee paid family medical leave.

jeff-smithSome bills made it through one house but did not get a vote in the other house. Here is a partial list of such bills.

·         Assembly Bill 51 which would’ve allowed DACA individuals (or lawfully present immigrants) to be appointed as law enforcement officers. We are suffering a shortage of corrections officers as well as sheriff deputies and police officers and this bill would’ve done a lot to help.

·         Assembly Bill 102 would’ve expanded the eligibility for the Veterans and Surviving Spouses Property Tax Credit. Currently, the disability rating is 100% for qualification. This bill lowered that to 70%.

·         Assembly Bill 129 was aimed at closing a loophole in state statute relating to sexual assault by a healthcare provider.

·         Assembly Bill 419 was meant to create an online carbon calculator for farmers to help them adopt best practices while also being compensated for their efforts.

·         Assembly Bill 567, the “Monday Processing” bill would’ve allowed clerks to begin processing absentee ballots on the Monday before the election to make Election Day go smoother and end earlier. Instead Republicans made it harder for election workers with the constitutional amendments they put forward mentioned above.

·         Senate Bill 155 hits home here as it would’ve enforced closure notifications for nursing homes or community-based residential facilities. We will likely introduce something similar next year to include hospital closures as well.

There were several bills recommended through bipartisan efforts, but were ignored from various task forces on Human Trafficking, Child Obesity and Truancy.

Every bill that failed this session must be reintroduced next session. So much was left undone, while efforts to make it harder for municipalities were accomplished throughout. Although this legislative session was a bust, we can do better. It may just take a better crop of legislators to get the job done instead of hanging it up early next time around.


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

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Inexcusable

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 April 2024
in Wisconsin

emtSenator Smith sets the record straight on the need for Republicans in the legislature to release $15 million from the Joint Finance Committee to Chippewa Valley health care providers.


EAU CLAIRE - On February 28th Governor Evers signed Senate Bill 1015 into law. This bill moved $15 million that had been targeted for HSHS to expand behavioral health services into a new fund for helping with the HSHS closure. The bill was brought to the floor and passed with overwhelming bipartisan support after the announcement that HSHS was closing two regional hospitals.

In their haste, Regional Republican legislators introduced a second bill, Senate Bill 1014, to restrict the $15 million only for emergency department capital improvements, despite local health care providers asking for flexibility with funds to address staffing and for a whole host of other urgent needs.

Since the bill fell short of what we needed to address the crisis, Representative Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire) and I introduced amendments to incorporate the on-the-ground information we were hearing so we could take full advantage of the $15 million. Admittedly, $15 million is not going to truly fill all the gaps from two hospitals and 19 clinics being closed, but it was what the Republican majority was willing to offer.

It is a good thing Governor Evers was listening to local health care providers too. He vetoed Senate Bill 1014 that unnecessarily restricted the money. Thanks to the Governor’s action, area health care providers can now use the $15 million to expand emergency departments, urgent care services, OB care, mental health treatment and other urgently needed services left behind since HSHS’ closure.

That’s what happened, despite what Republicans might be saying. Now, Republicans are so upset about screwing this up that they are withholding the $15 million.

chippewa-valley-hshsWhile my Republican colleagues make excuses, we’ve waited over a month for them to release the $15 million to DHS. The current red herring excuse to distract from their inaction is that the money will go outside of Eau Claire and Chippewa counties, despite the request from DHS explicitly prioritizing Eau Claire and Chippewa counties.

Investments outside of our two counties isn’t needed, as evident by the fact that Oakleaf has already begun purchasing four clinics in Cornell, Ladysmith, Menomonie and Rice Lake. The most pressing needs are in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties – that’s why the Department of Health Services is requesting the Joint Committee on Finance to release the $15 million to help our communities.

jeff-smithWhile Republicans refuse to release $15 million for our communities, the ripple effect in our region is being noticed. Rusk County, one of Wisconsin’s most impoverished areas, recently approved $1.6 million to purchase a clinic and is now leasing it out to Oakleaf. Everyone is pitching in, but Republicans are noticeably absent with the $15 million already approved.

We’ve also seen local news stories reporting that the hospital closures have dramatically affected EMS services. It was reported that Sacred Heart took in roughly 150 ambulance deliveries each month that the remaining hospitals are having to cover. If Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee release the $15 million, this could really help fill the gap for local EMS providers.

Mayo is at capacity and Marshfield Clinic is hanging on by a thread based on their recent bond rating report. We can’t let Republicans play games with the $15 million that could go a long way for a new partner or existing providers to invest in critical health care needs.

Republicans need to stop making excuses, stop playing politics and release the $15 million. The lies and partisanship are inexcusable for the crisis facing the Chippewa Valley.


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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