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As I See It

As I See It

Wisconsin's longest running daily commentary, a daily tradition since 1971.

There are some who say our system of justice is not tough enough. But, perhaps, for some criminals, it is too tough. Like most states, Wisconsin has a law that allows for the early release of criminals from our prisons who are elderly, or sick or dying. But the law is hardly being used. Even though doing so could save taxpayers millions of dollars per year. There are some 1200 prisoners in Wisconsin aged 60 or older. The cost of housing each of them is estimated $70,000 a year. But last year, under Wisconsin's early release program, only six prisoners were freed before they had served their full sentence. Even though it is generally agreed much of the state's elderly prison population is not much of a risk to commit new crimes. Early release programs were designed to address prison overcrowding, to save money, and to avoid costly litigation alleging inadequate medical care behind bars. One reason we aren't letting the sick and dying out early is because the law says only those who were convicted since the year 2000 can apply for early release. That means some of the oldest and sickest prisoners can't even be considered for early release. Wisconsin should revisit this law, and make it easier for the sickest and most elderly to apply for early release, regardless of how long ago the crime was committed. That could save taxpayers millions, while posing little danger to the public.

Comment

There is a way to make this work. But this isn't it. The city of La Crosse has declared a snow emergency, or as they call it, a snow disposal period, for the third time this month. Presumably that is because with alternate side parking season over, and Mother Nature still blanketing us with snow, cars need to be moved to make way for snow plows. But compliance has been poor, with many simply ignoring the orders. That isn't surprising, because this whole directive is a mess. The city should only declare a snow emergency if it is actually going to send out the plows, which it did not during the previous declarations. The city's order is also confusing. We are told to park only on the even side of the street on even numbered days for 24 hours, except for an exemption from 9pm to midnight when we are supposed to move our cars. In order for compliance to improve, the city needs to have people sign up to receive a text to alert them to the snow emergency. While compliance is poor, that may be ok with La Crosse police, seemingly eager to maintain current alternate side parking rules. The city will consider doing away with alternate side parking in favor of snow emergencies, meaning we would only have to move our cars when we are told rather than every night for months. But it also means less revenue for La Crosse police, who could point to the poor compliance during these April declarations as a reason to keep alternate side parking in place. Snow emergencies work in other cities, and it can work in La Crosse too. But first City hall needs to get on the same page, and deliver a consistent easy to understand message for that to happen.

Comment

Its time to go back to the drawing board. Reaction to a planned multi-million dollar expansion of the La Crosse Center has been mixed at best. The objections seem to be not the pricetag, but to the design of the building. Designers made the first priority of the expansion taking advantage of the adjacent Mississippi River, with not just windows, but a building which juts out into Riverside Park. But few seem thrilled with the architectural renderings. It looks to some like a giant spaceship has landed there. But more importantly, the design looks significantly out of place. Much work has been done to maintain the historical look of La Crosse's downtown. Downtown business owners have been hampered by City Hall in efforts to spruce up their businesses. Just look at the fight over Grounded Coffee simply wanting to change the entrance. Or those behind new downtown hotels who had to change their plans to make the new buildings better fit in with the historic feel of the downtown. Now they are willing to look past those requirements to redesign a building much bigger than that coffee shop or hotel. The city is right to ensure consistency in the look of downtown, and to highlight the historic old buildings which have maintained their old time look. The city needs to do the same with the La Crosse Center, and select a design that fits in, rather than looking like a big spaceship.

Comment

Usually when something doesn't work, you try another way. Not so with snow emergencies declared by the city of La Crosse. Earlier this month, perhaps for the first time, La Crosse declared a snow emergency. That means people have to move their cars to make way for snow plows. Unlike the typical alternate side parking, drivers need to move their cars not just overnight, but for 24 hours, parking on the even side of the street on even numbered says, and vice-versa. That didn't work, as few people complied with the order. Police wrote more than 300 warnings to people who didn't move their cars in just a four hour period, even though the snow plows were never sent out to clean up from that storm. The city promised to work on clarifying the snow emergency rules, perhaps even considering adopting snow emergency rules over the traditional alternate side parking next winter, meaning we would only have to move our cars when we are told. But before those rules could be rewritten, Mother Nature struck again. But even though clearly there is confusion about snow emergency rules, La Crosse again instituted a snow emergency, meaning drivers have to avoid one side of the street for a full 24 hours. That order is in place until this afternoon. You'd think city hall would have learned its lesson the first time. They need to go back to the drawing board to clarify just how to comply with snow emergency declarations before declaring another one.

Comment

Monday - April 16, 2018 9:03 am

Time for winter to give other seasons a turn

Written by

Dear Winter: Please go away. Leave us alone. You have outstayed your welcome. Perhaps, Old Man Winter has become forgetful, unaware the calendar says April. That he first showed up in November, some five and a half months ago. That isn’t fair to spring, or summer or fall. The other seasons want their turn to shine. We want to play golf, to wear shorts and sandals. We just want to be outside. To enjoy fresh air. Without winter. So please leave. Take a break. You have worked hard this season. You must be tired. We are certainly tired of you. You are making us cranky. So pack up your cold, your wind, your snow and your sleet. And don’t come back anytime soon. LEAVE US ALONE! On behalf of the entire upper MIdwest, thank you.

Comment

Normally when you spend money, you know what you are getting in return. Not so when it comes to settling sexual harassment claims against Wisconsin state employees. The State Department of Administration has finally, after open records requests from the media, tallied what taxpayers spent to settle sexual harassment claims. The numbers are staggering. Over the last decade, taxpayers in Wisconsin have spent at least $523,000 to settle sexual harassment complaints against state employees. The payments range from $65,000 to $100,000. That total number is no doubt higher, because state agencies are also able to settle claims on their own. But even in the era of the #metoo movement, Wisconsin state government is not being very open about the behavior of those whose salaries we pay. Our lawmakers in both parties prefer to refuse to release the full complaints and findings about discrimination. As taxpayers, we should be able to easily learn when any state employee behaves so badly it costs us money. They shouldn't be covering it up. But we also shouldn't be on the hook for someone else's bad behavior. If a state employee harasses a co-worker, they should be fired, any any financial penalty should come from their pockets, not ours.

Comment

Thursday - April 12, 2018 9:00 am

Ryan likely tired of herding cats

Written by

Perhaps he couldn't take it anymore. Perhaps he is afraid of losing the House of Representatives to democrats in the November election. Either way, who can blame Paul Ryan for his decision not to seek re-election as a member of Wisconsin's Congressional delegation. Ryan has confirmed Washington's worst-kept secret that he would not run in November. Ryan has served in the United States Congress since 1998. He has had a stellar political career, serving as the top Republican in the house since 2015, after serving as Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 elections. Ryan's rise helped bring political prominence to Wisconsin. But ever since Donald Trump won the presidency, Ryan's job has gotten much more difficult. He has had to try to be the bridge between President Trump and leaders of his party. It has been the equivalent of herding cats. All while enduring personal insults hurled at him by the President. A thankless and difficult job for certain. In some ways, Ryan seems a throwback in politics. Willing to think for himself, and take on big issues facing this country, even if it meant taking on members of his own party. He was civil, even with those with whom he disagreed. I guess that doesn't cut it any more in today's politics.

Comment

Wednesday - April 11, 2018 6:01 am

Big money in politics? More like huge

Written by

We hear a lot about big money in politics. But just how big? Candidates for a U.S. Senate seat from Wisconsin are raking in huge amounts of money in their bid to win election, and we are still 7 months from the election. The latest campaign finance report filings show Republican Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson has raised more than $1 million in just the first three months of this year. But that is a pittance compared to what his rich supporters have spent. Outside groups have already spent more than $9 million either to support Nicholson or to attack her opponent, incumbent Senator Tammy Baldwin. Much of that money has come from just a few. The Koch brothers have kicked in about $5 million, while Illinois businessman Richard Uihlein has spent $4 million to try to get Nicholson elected. This is unprecedented for a U.S. Senate campaign. Outside groups have spent more than four times as much on negative ads against Baldwin than against any other U.S. Senator. Clearly we don't like this level of spending, and all the attack ads they finance. 88% of La Crosse county voters said yes in the recent referendum asking if big money should be taken out of politics. Because Wisconsin's U.S. Senate seat should not be available to the highest bidder.

Comment

Tuesday - April 10, 2018 9:00 am

Sometimes politicians do the right thing

Written by

Sometimes, our politicians show some common sense. Such is the case with a new state law that took effect last week in Wisconsin. At issue is the ability of Wisconsin cities to accept donations from their citizens. The fight to change the law began in Green Bay, when the Optimist Club there offered to build a concession stand and restrooms in a city park. For free. Parents of kids who play league baseball games at the park, some of them excavators, carpenters and concrete layers by trade, volunteered to donate all the time and materials necessary to build the park. It would cost the city nothing. Except for all the red tape. State law requires private organizations to go through the city's bidding process to build on government-owned park land. Even though there would be no city money involved, the project would still have to go out for bid. That made no sense. So some state lawmakers from the Green Bay area authored legislation exempting the need to go through a bidding process if 100% of the material and money is in the form of donations. Governor Walker has now signed this legislation into law. As a result, many parks will benefit from the work of volunteers at no cost to taxpayers. It makes sense to get rid of this unnecessary red tape, and let good people do good work at no cost to taxpayers.

Comment

Monday - April 9, 2018 9:09 am

Bigger changes needed in UW System

Written by

Big changes are coming to the University of Wisconsin System. But perhaps even bigger changes are needed. Wisconsin’s public schools of higher education are in the midst of merging the state’s two-year schools with the four-year campuses. UW-Barron County, for example, will become part of UW-Eau Claire. The implementation of that plan is now being delayed to provide more time to determine how the new system will work. Meanwhile, some UW schools, like UW-Stevens Point, are considering eliminating more than a dozen liberal arts degrees in an effort to be more efficient. That is touching off a left vs right debate about the value of a liberal arts degree, but it should not. Plenty of other schools in the UW System will continue to offer majors in English, Art History, and other liberal arts fields. In fact, wouldn’t it make sense if each of the 26 campuses that make up the UW System didn’t all offer the same degrees? Let UWL be the school where phys ed and sports medicine is the specialty. Let Madison specialize in law, Stevens Point engineering, and so on. Have one school in the system be the school for certain subjects. The best programs and teachers can be centered there, rather than being scattered throughout the state. It makes sense, and it sure would save taxpayers money. If we are going to reorganize the UW System, now is the time to do so from top to bottom.

Comment

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