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Consider the Source Before Giving Your Trust Blindly

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, 29 November 2023
in Wisconsin

high-voltage-lines-farmsSenator Smith writes about bipartisan legislation to ensure local control of Wisconsin’s electric grid, and what is true and not true about Right of First Refusal (ROFR) legislation.


MADISON - I receive hundreds of emails a week about a variety of issues. Some are original and informed, while others are auto-generated form emails. Certain advocacy groups have a history of harnessing misinformation and outrage to drive such emails.

In my time as an elected official, I’ve learned a lot about what advocacy groups to trust. Every background information memo received from advocacy groups must be combed over closely to understand why they want me to support or oppose legislation. Trust goes a long way in politics, but verification is equally important.

Recently, at a public hearing of the Senate Committee on Utilities and Technology, we held a public hearing on Senate Bill 481 (SB 481). Testimony at that hearing clearly demonstrated the importance of trust in politics. SB 481 has to do with allowing Wisconsin’s existing electric utilities to have the first opportunity to expand and enhance our current energy infrastructure and for them to be regulated by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, our state’s utility regulators. The nickname for this bill is the “Right of First Refusal,” or ROFR (pronounced ROW-fer) for short.

This legislation was introduced last session, and advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity leveled unproven claims unsupported by facts. This group notoriously sounds and looks like a grassroots group, but it’s funded by wealthy corporations. They’ve used baseless attacks on good bills, because there’s money to be made for out-of-state, unknown corporations. These corporations want to take control of our electric distribution infrastructure, replacing trusted providers who have served Wisconsin for decades.

Before the recent public hearing, folks across the state were getting emails and seeing social media ads saying this bill would increase electricity rates. Trusting this information, folks put their names on form emails declaring their opposition to the bill and demanding we vote “no.”

family-worried-billsUnfortunately many people gave their trust without verifying the source or the accuracy of this information. Throughout the hearing we heard conjecture and “free-market” political ideology that managed to convince people, without evidence, to believe rate increases are inevitable.

During the hearing, my colleagues and I repeatedly asked opponents of this bill for hard evidence backing up their claims. Oddly, the only documentation used as proof was that rates have increased 10% over the last decade. They offered no evidence that the increases were linked to policies like these.

Legislation like ROFR has been passed in other states, so there should be evidence, but these individuals couldn’t provide documentation because rate increases didn’t happen.

Building transmission lines and associated infrastructure for the 21st century is expensive. It gets more expensive when delays and missteps occur, as we’ve seen in other states where the bidding process was too loose and left to oversimplification. This bill prevents unnecessary costs and preserves what little control our state has in developing reliable and affordable energy infrastructure.

jeff-smithDo we want to be at the mercy of out-of-state “one size fits all” entities? It’s happening in other states, but Wisconsin doesn’t need to be added to that list. When we invest in local companies, we invest in companies that are more responsive to our local needs.

ROFR is a bipartisan effort to preserve Wisconsin control in our energy infrastructure. We don’t encounter this kind of bipartisan agreement every day, and it says a lot about the aim of this bill and how it will help Wisconsin.

It’s wise to investigate all sides of an argument before handing over your trust. There is plenty of information at your fingertips. Every bill proposed has a public analysis done by the Legislative Reference Bureau, a legislative nonpartisan service agency.

Before posting misinformed comments or signing your name to emails someone else has composed for you, take the time to look up the bill and ask questions of the bill’s authors. You can always count on my office to give you details and relevant information whenever you as a constituent contact me about an issue.

Trust must constantly be earned and reaffirmed to be lasting and meaningful, and that’s as it should be. Your trust is important – don’t give it up too easily.


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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CWD Continues to Spread Through Western Wisconsin

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 November 2023
in Wisconsin

deer-in-fieldSen. Smith writes about the history and science of Chronic Wasting Disease spreading through deer herds in Wisconsin and new legislation he’s introduced to support programs needed to control the spread.


EAU CLAIRE - As deer season opens and Wisconsinites flock to the woods to sit in tree stands for their yearly ration of venison, conversation turns not just to hours spent outside, but also about the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The story of CWD is a gruesome one. Similar to Mad Cow Disease, CWD causes abnormalities in an animal’s appearance and behavior before inevitably leading to its death. In the 1970s, wildlife veterinarian Beth Williams noticed odd lesions on the brains of necropsied deer and elk and identified them as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. The first signs of the disease are difficulties in movement, leading those with a more dramatic turn of phrase to call them “zombie deer.”

CWD is an always-fatal transmissible neurological disease affecting cervids like deer, moose and elk. It’s transmitted directly through animal-to-animal contact and indirectly through contact with objects or environments containing contaminated material, like carcasses, saliva, urine or feces. CWD spreads through what is called a “prion,” a protein that can trigger normal proteins in the brain to fold abnormally. Prions can live in soil and plants, and carcasses left in the woods can spread the disease long after an animal’s death of an animal. No cases have yet been found in humans, but there are documented instances of the disease making the jump to other primates.

After CWD’s discovery in 1978, it spread quickly. In 1981 it was found in wild herds in Colorado. In the nineties it was found in captive herds in Saskatchewan. By 2000 CWD was found in animals in Oklahoma and Nebraska. In 2001, the first recorded instance of CWD infecting a white-tailed deer occurred in South Dakota.

Wisconsin had its first recorded case of CWD in 2002. At first the disease affected herds in southern Wisconsin, CWD made its slow, inevitable way up to our area of western Wisconsin starting with two cases in Eau Claire in 2018 and spreading to animals in Dunn, Buffalo and Trempealeau counties.

Recent data from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) show that CWD continues its spread.  Just last month a wild deer tested positive for CWD in Trempealeau County. So far this year, two deer have tested positive in Eau Claire County. In 2022, there were six confirmed positives in Senate District 31: one in Eau Claire County, one in Dunn County and four in Buffalo County.

This is troubling because many of these cases are in deer from wild populations. If left unchecked, CWD will spread faster, kill more deer and threaten our ability to preserve Wisconsin’s deer hunting legacy.

It’s vital that we stay on top of the spread of CWD in western Wisconsin. Otherwise, these numbers could skyrocket, as has happened in many counties to the south. Successful management of the CWD epidemic depends on research, testing and disposal.

jeff-smithResearch into the issue has been ongoing since Beth Williams first observed CWD back in the seventies. Recent research has yielded best practices for wildlife management and limiting the spread of CWD. If you’re hunting this season, you can help us better understand the scope and shape of the CWD epidemic. The DNR, in partnership with biologists and scientists across the world, have been collecting data about the spread of CWD. Currently, hunters can submit samples for free testing at kiosks across the state (find one near you here).

Many Wisconsin hunters are already doing what they can to contribute to the long-term health of our deer herds. But sampling kiosks, carcass disposal sites and personnel all cost money. This week, I’m once again introducing legislation focusing on CWD research, testing and disposal with my colleague Representative Kristina Shankland (D-Stevens Point). This legislation provides vital funding and gives direction for our state’s response to this widespread health hazard.

The down payment we make now on testing and transmission prevention efforts is a small price to pay compared to the immeasurable amount we stand to lose if we aren’t vigilant about CWD. The white-tailed deer herd has always been an integral part of Wisconsin’s hunting heritage, contributing to our local economies and tourism industry. I’m proud to re-introduce legislation to keep our herds healthy for generations to come.


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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Safeguarding Reproductive Health Care for All

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 November 2023
in Wisconsin

women-healthSenator Smith writes about the urgent need to remove politics from the equation and leave reproductive health care choices up to each individual.


MADISON - Since the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) passed their ruling reversing Roe v. Wade in 2022, doctors and women have been treated like criminals for providing and accessing reproductive health services. In Wisconsin, a controversial law passed way back in 1849 went back into effect, with devastating impacts on our state.

This provoked a groundswell of opposition across Wisconsin. Recent election results, not only in Wisconsin but across the country, have made it clear that women will not be pushed aside. Local areas have passed non-binding referendums in support of abortion rights.

women-1849Governments shouldn’t decide if women decide to have children. Here in the State Senate, my Democratic colleagues and I attempted to get a statewide advisory referendum on the ballot to ask voters whether the 1849 ban should be repealed, but Republicans blocked it. They don’t want to hear from their constituents that they’re doing the wrong thing.

But we haven’t given up on your rights. A recently-unveiled package of three bills, authored by my colleagues Senator Kelda Roys (D-Madison) and Representative Francesca Hong (D-Madison), would restore the power of individuals to make their own pregnancy decisions.

The first of these, LRB-4729, would repeal many of the stringent requirements which have been placed on abortion procedures which make it more difficult for those seeking reproductive health care.

women-3genThe current prohibition against prescribing medication abortion via telehealth is one such restriction. Drugs such as mifepristone are prescription medications shown to be safe and effective in the first ten weeks of a pregnancy.

In the wake of the pandemic we’ve successfully implemented telehealth services, but currently this safe, effective medication can only be prescribed in person. This legislation would give pregnant people the option to consult with a doctor via telehealth and pick up their prescription from the pharmacy.

It adds abortion services to insurance coverage, removes mandatory parental involvement and striking the requirement for doctors providing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital at least 30 miles away. (The admitting privileges requirement is based on faulty information regarding the risks of abortion procedures, and has been held unconstitutional by the courts.)

There are many facilities out there, funded by public dollars, offering so-called “pregnancy counseling services.” These facilities represent themselves as legitimate medical clinics, providing pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling and resources, but rarely if ever suggest abortion as an option.

wisconsin-senateBut many of these facilities omit information or even provide false information to patients. Their real aim is to prevent people who are pregnant from accessing abortion in a timely manner while promoting an abstinence-only approach to contraception.

Some groups falsely claim, for example, that condoms are ineffective or that hormonal birth control has dangerous side effects. Sometimes these organizations use manipulative tactics to get pregnant people to delay real counseling or medical care until it’s too late for a legal abortion.

The current Wisconsin law allowing for these practices undermines the doctor-patient relationship and informed consent process by controlling the information doctors can provide to patients. This harms patients and undermines trust in our health care system.

jeff-smith-2022Public money should not be used to subsidize disinformation or coercion. LRB-4892 would ensure that pregnancy counseling facilities receiving public funding provide information on all options available, including abortion. This bill would protect public funds from being misused to impair the right of pregnant people to receive truthful counseling.

It’s a patient’s right to receive medically accurate information from their health care provider. LRB-0382 affirms the obligation of health care providers to provide medically accurate information to patients. “Medically accurate” information is defined as information supported by “peer-reviewed medical research conducted in compliance with accepted scientific methods.”

Government interference in any person’s right to make their own health care decisions is simply wrong. Voters have made this loud and clear in recent elections. We must remove politics from this equation and leave these important choices up to each individual.

Only sound science and medical ethics should drive health care policy. Tell your representatives to stop trying to control your destiny.


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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Eat Your (Local) Vegetables!

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, 08 November 2023
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_farm_windmillSen. Smith writes about the “Invest in Agriculture, Grow our Future” package of bills that provide support for farmers while making it easier for Wisconsin consumers to access healthy, local food.


MADISON - Wisconsin’s proud agricultural history has been a part of our identity as a state for centuries, and it will remain an integral part of our state’s future. As a State Senator who represents farmers and agricultural producers across much of western Wisconsin, I’m delighted to join my colleagues in supporting legislation designed to boost our agriculture industry. This bill package – “Invest in Agriculture, Grow our Future” – focuses on harnessing the power of our farms and local agricultural producers to contribute to the ongoing health of our communities.

potato-farmerWhen consumers have affordable access to fresh, local farm products, they are less likely to rely on processed foods for the majority of their diet. Access to healthful food is a key aspect of ongoing physical health and preventative healthcare. What’s more, local production of food reduces how far food needs to travel to get to your kitchen table, meaning fresher food and a reduced carbon footprint.

The best place for our local, fresh foods is our schools. For years, Wisconsin has successfully managed a farm to school program to connect schools with nearby farms to provide children with locally-produced ingredients for their school meals. One of these bills creates a “farm to fork” program to expand to eligible non-school entities that have cafeterias. It also directs grants for expanding farm to school programs, prioritizing school districts with a high percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under federal law.

The best place to go in your community for locally-grown produce is your local farmer’s market. In order to help more people access the nutritious and local food produced within their own communities, another bill we proposed provides credit and debit processing equipment and services to farmer’s markets and farmers who sell directly to consumers.

These programs will include the ability to process EBT transactions so those who receive public assistance have access to healthy food. Research shows that food assistance programs have twice the impact on households in rural communities than they do in urban communities. While it’s hard to gauge the exact dollar amount, state-supported farmer’s market food assistance (EBT) programs infuse at least twice and perhaps as much as ten times more federal dollars into our local economies, based on similar programs in Michigan and Iowa.

In a wealthy country, no one should go hungry. Yet over 38 million people across the nation suffer from food insecurity, including 427,380 Wisconsinites. Another bill in this package provides grants to food banks, food pantries and other nonprofit organizations to purchase Wisconsin food products, benefiting food-insecure Wisconsin families while contributing to our local agricultural economy.

The flip side of food production is food waste. In 2020 to 2021 the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported food waste made up 20% of the trash headed to our landfills, 14.5% of which could have been consumed (this has increased twofold since the last study, conducted in 2009). That’s 294 pounds per Wisconsinite.

To turn this problem into a solution, another one of our bills creates a food waste reduction grant program designed to redirect surplus food to hunger relief organizations and compost the remaining food waste.

jeff-smithFarmers don’t usually get into farming to manage a business – it’s a deep-rooted desire to bring forth products from the land. The business side of the farm can be challenging and often isn’t the primary skill set of hardworking farmers, whose focus is on the land. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) helps farmers manage their businesses, farm succession and mental health support. The demand for assistance from DATCP is outpacing capacity, so one of our bills increases funding to add additional staff.

The future of agriculture is dependent on careful stewardship of our land. To that end, we’ve included a bill in this package to educate and assist farmers who want to transition to organic farming, adopt more efficient grazing practices and invest in new sustainability practices.

By supporting the programs and initiatives in these bills, we can help address hunger, support our local agricultural producers and reduce our overall carbon impact. It’s a win-win-win for all of Wisconsinites.


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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Ban the Bans

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 November 2023
in Wisconsin

movie-to-kill-a-mockingbirdSen. Smith discusses the dangers of censorship and the vital importance of libraries to the cause of intellectual freedom.


MADISON - “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. All titles you may remember from a high school literature syllabus. Yet each of these books have been banned – and in some cases, burned – in the United States.

In October we commemorated Banned Books Week, amidst an increase in attempts at banning books across the nation. In places like Menomonee Falls, certain books have been challenged as being inappropriate and therefore unworthy of inclusion in the library’s catalog. This year, the American Library Association (ALA) has recorded 26 attempts to ban books in Wisconsin and attempts to censor more than 1,900 titles nationwide. This is the highest number of books since they first started collecting data twenty years ago.

This coincides with state legislatures attempting to restrict access to materials across the country. Right here in Wisconsin, a bill was recently circulated for co-sponsorship to require school libraries and public libraries disclose to parents and guardians within 24 hours a list of the materials their child has checked out from the library.

school-tutor-readingAs it stands, if a parent or guardian is concerned about the material their child is accessing through the library, they can request that information. These are reasonable accommodations so parents can provide guidance if they believe their child needs additional context for the content they are reading or consuming.

But automatic notifications disclosing what books your kid is checking out is not the way. On a very practical level, it would be hard for libraries to develop such systems without funding. Libraries are expected to develop these programs using the financial and personnel resources they already have.

The larger concern is the role of privacy in freedom of speech. Privacy has long been a concern of the American Library Association, and has historically included the privacy of youth. Privacy is included in the “Library Bill of Rights,” drafted in 1939. Article VII states, “All people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use.” In their publication “Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights”, the ALA clarifies, “The right to privacy includes the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others …. ALA and its members recognize that children and youth have the same right to privacy as adults.”

school-meeting-crowdBook bans and legislation like this are products of the manufactured culture wars we see erupting around the nation. They create a “chilling effect” on speech where, fearful of consequences, people choose for themselves to self-censor what they access or write, diminishing the quality of public discourse and decreasing intellectual freedom.

This past month, my colleague and friend Representative Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire) introduced a bill intending to contribute to the ongoing intellectual freedom of our great state by banning book bans. Freedom of speech is one of the founding principles of America, and we must all get behind efforts to protect it. I think we can agree that not all books are for everyone, but it isn’t up to anyone to tell others what they can or cannot read.

jeff-smithI am in total agreement with Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, when she says, “These attacks on our freedom to read should trouble any person who values liberty and our constitutional rights. To allow a group of people or any individual, no matter how powerful or loud, to become the decision-maker about what books we can read or whether libraries exist, is to place all of our rights and liberties in jeopardy.”

From a favorite and trusted author of so many wise words, Theodor Seuss Geisel: “The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Let’s not stand in the way of learning and going places we cannot otherwise reach without the wonder of the written word.


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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