ICYMI: Sen. Smith: Republicans Leaving Hospitals in the Lurch

Jun 11, 2024

ICYMI: Sen. Smith: Republicans Leaving Hospitals in the Lurch

MADISON, Wis. — Yesterday in the Cap Times, state Senator Jeff Smith slammed Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee for making excuses and withholding funding for hospitals while western Wisconsin faces a drastic health care shortage. Republicans on the GOP-controlled JFC have falsely claimed for months that they cannot release already-approved crisis funding for western Wisconsin hospitals, making clear that they are more interested in scoring political points than supporting Wisconsin families.

The Cap Times, Opinion: Republicans leaving hospitals in the lurch

By: Sen. Jeff Smith

The shocking hospital closures we have seen here in western Wisconsin seemed to open the door of opportunity to false information and rumors. Not unusual when we are desperate for answers — especially when your health is at stake.

I’ve seen and heard comments regarding the actions taken in the Capitol on the hospital closures that are simply ludicrous and harmful. When we should be joined together in solving this problem, it has become another opportunity for some to make it political.

I don’t want to accuse my own colleagues on the other side of the aisle of purposely spreading falsities. I’d rather believe that it’s ignorance or a simple misunderstanding.

There were two bills introduced by Republicans: Senate Bill 1014, which restricted funding for the closure crisis; and Senate Bill 1015, which transferred $15 million to the Joint Finance Committee to release to area health care providers. Gov. Tony Evers vetoed SB 1014 so we won’t be restricted for responding to the crisis. He also partially vetoed SB 1015 and signed the $15 million into law. The funding is currently awaiting release from the Joint Finance Committee. 

Republicans control the Joint Finance Committee with 12 members while Democrats have four.

I’ve heard outrageous claims that the Joint Finance Committee cannot release funding because of the governor’s vetoes. That’s flat-out false. The Joint Finance Committee has released money countless times after governors have partially vetoed bills. The $15 million was passed into law.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has already requested the funds and the Joint Finance Committee is refusing to act. Instead, they offer excuses and try to blame the governor.

Instead of restricting the funds for only emergency room construction, the governor’s veto allows area health care providers to use the funding for all of the following:

• Increase emergency department capacity/service.

• Expand urgent care services.  

• Expand inpatient psychiatric units.

• Expand inpatient OB/GYN services.

• Expand mental health and/or substance use services.  

• Expand or establish hospital-owned and operated ambulance services.

Republicans know they are wrong and they don’t want to hear the truth. Instead of releasing the money from the Joint Finance Committee like they’ve always done, they manufactured their excuse and are doubling down on restricting the money for this crisis. All of this after Evers called for them to meet twice, to no avail.

They know they are wrong and it couldn’t be more evident than how they acted on the Senate floor last week. When I attempted to speak on their misguided attempt to override the governor’s veto, I was ignored, and Republicans immediately voted despite numerous objections. This is yet another example of Republicans refusing to acknowledge the truth.

Now Republicans have chosen to ignore the desperation felt over the closures, and they’ve chosen to weaponize this for their campaigns. As Sen. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, said last week, this is “the last gasp of a gerrymandered majority.”

We will need to wait until after the election for the Legislature to do the right thing. New, more competitive maps will produce a Legislature that will listen. In the meantime, Republicans are leaving the rest of us in the Chippewa Valley to fend for ourselves.


State Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Brunswick, is the Senate Democratic assistant leader.