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With Broadband, Strong Connections Build Strong 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, 09 November 2022
in Wisconsin

internet-appsThis week Senator Smith writes about the challenges and opportunities for broadband expansion throughout Wisconsin.

BRUNSWICK, WI - It’s truly amazing the technological strides we’ve made in the past century. Many communities in western Wisconsin were among the last in the state to be hooked up with home electric service in the 1930s. The miles of infrastructure needed to reach these homes was significant, and considered not profitable by electric companies at the time.

Today we have similar issues with broadband. Technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and Wisconsin must stay competitive. Access to fast, affordable broadband is critical for parents to work, kids to keep up on their schooling and businesses to thrive. Broadband must be treated as a public utility, like electricity, water and gas.

broadband-town-mtgThe first issue we’ve faced is knowing where to build the infrastructure. The lack of precise data showing where we need broadband construction muddies the issue. We can’t expand broadband to the areas that need it most if we don’t know who has service and the speed they receive.

Wisconsin initially used broadband surveys produced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to determine levels of coverage. The FCC’s broadband surveys are broken down into census blocks. For their purposes, a census block is considered covered with broadband if even just one house in the block could have broadband.

In cities, a census block can be as small as a couple city blocks, but rural census blocks can span for miles. This produces a map that shows where broadband might be, rather than where broadband is, therefore grossly overestimating the coverage in rural areas.

In response to the FCC’s flawed maps, Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission gathered its own data. According to that data, the estimated number of Wisconsinites lacking internet grew substantially, from 400,000 to 650,000. With the right data, we will not only know where to expand broadband throughout the state, but we will be able to lay out infrastructure more efficiently.

Public-private partnerships are working to leverage investments for attracting broadband development in our rural areas. This works only in some areas though. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must balance the cost of connecting outlying homes and businesses with the amount of customers willing to pay for service. ISPs generally look for at least a 50% “take rate”, the percentage of residents willing to sign up for service, in order to consider it profitable to install broadband infrastructure.

high-voltage-lines-farmsNo matter what we do to persuade private companies to develop broadband infrastructure in our rural communities, companies still determine which homes are worth connecting by focusing on profitability. Public investment can remedy this. Instead of using taxpayer-funded grants on projects that make private companies more profitable, we should be using those funds in the most hard-to-reach areas. That’s the whole point of public investment.

Fiber optics are the way to go, providing fast and reliable internet service that can keep up with the pace of modern life. In the past, I’ve sponsored “dig once” legislation. This bill allows local governments to require empty conduit lines be installed in the right-of-way during highway and road construction. After the conduit has been installed, ISPs may easily add fiber optics without digging up the right of way a second time. This concept provides an efficient way to slash the cost of running fiber optics by 90%.

jeff-smithHere in SD 31, the Town of Cross in Buffalo County is a shining example of what can happen when neighbors come together to develop broadband infrastructure in their community. Residents surveyed their neighbors to determine need, and then approached the town board with their findings. This year, the Public Service Commission awarded Town of Cross $2.1 million in State Broadband Expansion Grant funds. When completed, the service is estimated to provide fast broadband service to 229 addresses.

As we invest more resources into broadband expansion, we need to take a hard look at where that money is going. The public deserves input on how and where we add broadband service. We’re not quite past the finish line yet, but if we empower our communities as we did with rural electrification, I’m confident that we can get all of Wisconsin connected.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - Gov Race Smashes $$$ Record

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Friday, 04 November 2022
in Wisconsin

2022-gov-raceMADISON - Obscene amounts of money have been flooding into the race for governor here in Wisconsin.

This money has shattered the old record, with more than a staggering $100 million being spent here on this race. Here’s our post on it:

Spending in Wisconsin Gov Race Smashes Record

For the details on the biggest donors to the campaigns of Gov. Evers and Tim Michels, see these items:

See Evers’s Largest Contributors
See Michels’s Largest Contributors

2022-outside-moneyAnd for a glimpse at the biggest spenders by the outside “independent expenditure” groups, see this posting:

Outside Spending Hits Horrifying New High

Enough already! We need to put a limit on all this spending because it’s not only splattering our screens with mud, it’s drowning out our voices.

Here at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, we’ll press forward on this crucial issue of campaign finance reform.

You can count on that!


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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Know Your Rights on Election Day

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, 02 November 2022
in Wisconsin

votingThe 2022 General Election is next Tuesday, November 8th. Whether you vote early, by mail-in absentee ballot or on Election Day, it is important to know your rights when it comes to casting your vote.

BRUNSWICK, WI - We are days away from another big election – more people will be voting in-person than in recent years. Bustling polling locations, filled with voters and hardworking election staff and volunteers, are always a heartwarming sight.

If you can’t vote in-person on Election Day, you have options. You can still early vote in-person at your municipal clerk’s office until Sunday. You can also request a mailed absentee ballot until 5pm on Thursday. Be sure your mail-in absentee ballot arrives to your polling location by 8pm on Election Day.

As the Ranking Member of the Senate Elections, Election Process Reform and Ethics Committee, I’ve long been focused on preserving voting rights. Everyone, regardless of political party preference, deserves a voice in our democracy. I’ve made this a signature issue of my time in the State Senate.

jeff-smithEven before 2020, I’ve pushed to clarify Wisconsin electoral rights. The first bill I introduced as State Senator in 2019 was the Voter Protection Act (VPA). The VPA would’ve allowed automatic voter registration, increased penalties for voter suppression, deception and intimidation and provided an easy-to-read Voter Bill of Rights. I’ve introduced this bill twice in four years, but Republicans have not scheduled a public hearing. In the last two years, as more doubt has been shed on our electoral process, we’ve seen increased attempts to chip away at our voting rights.

veteran-olderIt shouldn’t be a fight to preserve voting rights. They were hard-won through our Democratic Republic’s history. Despite the attacks, voting remains an unalienable right born from our Constitutional Convention. The silver lining of enfranchising new people over the course of history has been seeing the enthusiasm, empowerment and vindication of the principles on which our country was founded.

It’s only recently that we’ve seen a departure from expanding voter access. Over the last 12 years, Wisconsin has seen more politically-motivated attempts to block people from voting than ever. We’ve been witnessing the slow and continual degradation of our representative democracy. Everyone wants their side to win, but what is gained if we’ve lost sight of what we’ve built?

Democracy’s fragility was seen firsthand on January 6th, 2021 when the plot to overthrow the election narrowly failed. It led to introspection for many, sparked anger in others and emboldened some.

vote-47-milwaukeeNovember 8th will be our first big Election Day since November 2020. Voters not only need to be informed about who they are voting for and how to vote, but now it’s more important than ever to know your voting rights.

vote-poll-workersClerk staff and polling location volunteers do an amazing job during every election. They are unsung heroes of our democracy. They’ve always been under the microscope of election observers, and this election will be no exception.

Observing the election process is a great opportunity to understand how seriously our election officials take their jobs and how it all works. The privilege to witness democracy in action is good for transparency and alleviating any doubts about the process. Voters shouldn’t be surprised to see observers at the polls. This year, there may be more than usual. In recent news, the Republican Party of Wisconsin announced more than 5,000 observers to watch over elections – three times more than usual.

trump-jan6-qanon-shamanVoters must know observers are not allowed to harass, intimidate or interfere with voters or polling location staff and volunteers. If you or someone you know is a victim of intimidation or discrimination during the voting process, you can report the information to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice by calling 1-800-253-3931. Likewise, if you witness corruption or efforts to commit fraud during the voting process, you can report the activity to officials at the U.S. Western District Court by calling 1-608-264-5158, or by calling your county’s District Attorney.

You will have important choices to make on Tuesday, November 8th, but also be aware of your rights. When you go to vote, I hope you will also take the time to thank local polling location workers for their hard work and commitment to our electoral process.

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Continuous care benefits the health of our communities

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, 26 October 2022
in Wisconsin

healthcare-family-drThe freeze on disenrolling patients from Medicaid will end when the federal public health emergency does. If you are a BadgerCare patient, it is important that you make sure your contact information is correct to ensure continued health coverage in the months to come.

MADISON - The events of the past several years have shown us again and again the importance of quality, affordable and accessible healthcare. In those first uncertain days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The law contained a “continuous care requirement,” offering expanded federal funding for Medicaid if states put a freeze on disenrolling Medicaid recipients for the duration of the public health emergency.

Since January 2020, the federal public health emergency has been renewed 11 times. Most recently, it was extended for an additional 90 days, now lasting through at least January 11th, 2023. The Department of Health has committed to giving the states 60 days’ notice at the time that they decide not to extend the public health emergency.

Still, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have begun warning states to prepare for an eventual return to pre-pandemic eligibility rules. States have 12 months following the declared end of the public health emergency to transition back to pre-pandemic operation, called “unwinding”.

coronavirus-nurse-tiredFor the past years, as we’ve endured a massive public health emergency, continuity of coverage helped to curtail the worst effects of the pandemic. When eligibility standards do return to pre-pandemic levels, the Department of Health estimates that up to 15 million Americans will be disenrolled between Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

While some will lose health insurance because they no longer qualify, the Department estimates that almost half of those that will lose health insurance will be disenrolled for purely procedural reasons. If you are covered through BadgerCare, check today to ensure that your contact information – address, phone number and email – are correct in the ACCESS web system so that the state can inform you of any changes to your coverage. You can check your current contact information here:

BadgerCare recipients are required to report any changes to their income, assets, medical expenses, household size or new employment to the state within 10 days. These can also be reported in the ACCESS web system. Any changes you make will not impact your eligibility for BadgerCare until the end of the public health emergency, so do not worry that you will be disenrolled without warning.

After the public health emergency has ended, but before making any changes to your coverage, agency staff will ask for an update on your current situation. Ensure that your contact information is correct and sign up to receive emails and/or texts from BadgerCare to stay informed about the status of your eligibility.

Some of the changes we made to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic showed us ways we can provide better coverage for Wisconsinites going forward. In response to the successful utilization of telehealth programs to provide folks with coverage remotely, the Wisconsin Legislature recently passed legislation requiring Medicaid to cover telehealth procedures under certain circumstances.

Another opportunity to maximize our positive impact on healthcare outcomes is Medicaid expansion. While the majority of states have accepted Medicaid expansion, Wisconsin has not. A recent poll commissioned by the American Cancer Society found that 70% of Wisconsinites support expanding BadgerCare.

jeff-smithBy refusing Medicaid expansion, Wisconsin is turning down well over a billion dollars in federal funding. This funding would be a game changer in Wisconsin’s healthcare system, money that could be used to reimburse providers fairly and provide additional support for needy populations. I will continue to advocate as your State Senator for expanded access to healthcare for all, including continued investment in telehealth and Medicaid expansion.

The best way to reduce the spread of disease and ensure community health is to keep folks enrolled in health insurance. If you are covered by BadgerCare, please make sure that your information is correct, and check in with friends and family to make sure that they’re covered too. When a member of our community is able to access quality healthcare, it improves community health across the board.

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Hitting Pay Dirt in the Driftless Region

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, 19 October 2022
in Wisconsin

wi-driftless-regionWith our strong history of soil conservation, Wisconsin has many opportunities to fund innovative approaches to soil health, yielding dividends for our communities while ensuring the bounty of our lands for generations to come.

BRUNSWICK, WI - Recently in northern and western Wisconsin, farmer-led watershed councils came up with an innovative way to measure the soil health of their lands: the “Soil Your Undies” challenge.

Farmers across the region buried pairs of tighty-whities in the spring and let the soil decompose them for a couple of months to determine the potent power of their dirt.

As with any science, the ecology of soil is dependent on a huge range of factors. Maximizing yield while maintaining future productivity has been a primary focus of farmers and agricultural experts since early settlers first converted wilderness to farmland.

The history of soil science in Wisconsin is, well, old as dirt. The first-ever soil map made in the United States was drawn of Wisconsin back in 1882 by geologist T.C. Chamberlin. That map and the many to follow reflected Wisconsin’s incredible geological diversity and agricultural potential.

In the Driftless Region, the soil attracted farmers who saw the beauty and future in Wisconsin’s varied topography. They cleared, flattened and plowed ridgetops, setting livestock to graze on steep land which could not be leveled for planting.

These modifications to the land had lasting consequences. Annual yields of crops meant regular tilling, which broke up root structures and reduced water absorption and filtration. Topsoil washed down slopes and filled local waterways with sediment, carving deep and narrow channels where wide rivers once meandered lazily.

Starting in the 1930s new generations of farmers and ecologists grew increasingly concerned by the stark changes agricultural practices brought to the region. Brand-new agencies like the Soil Erosion Service pioneered early soil and water conservation practices such as runoff management. Their success paved the way for similar interventions across the country.

Many of these took place on the state and local level. In 1977 the Wisconsin legislature created the Farmland Preservation Program. This program created local resources to aid farmers in preserving farmland and provided tax relief for farmers participating in agricultural conservation practices.

Soon the federal government also got involved. Just eight years later in 1985, Congress passed the Conservation Resource Program (CRP) which allowed farmers to enroll their land for 10-15 years at a time while receiving annual rental payments to restore highly erodible cropland to permanent vegetation.

These sustainable practices pay off years down the road. A recent example comes from the aforementioned “Soil Your Undies” challenge. In Pierce County, a pair of underwear buried in a field that had been in CRP for nearly forty years decomposed to nothing but waistband after just two months.

As these programs demonstrated their efficacy, many additional state, local and federal programs emerged to further incentivize farmers to use regenerative practices on their lands. Increasingly, farmers who participated in such programs realized their ongoing benefits, and these interventions were more and more widely used.

jeff-smithI see a lot of room for further innovation. Wisconsin is poised to be a shining example of how to continue pioneering soil conservation interventions. One of these opportunities to tackle ecological problems in a holistic way is putting more carbon into our soils.

Last legislative session I introduced Senate Bill 776, creating a grant program for farmers who use certain sustainable practices. These included developing conservation management plans for capturing carbon in our soils and providing concrete ways for farmers to implement these practices.

Wisconsin must continue its investments in soil health. By working in partnership with farmers, conservationists and the community at large, we will ensure our soil continues to support us and our beautiful ecosystems for years and generations to come. And you don’t even have to bury your undies to appreciate it.

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