As I See It

As I See It

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

Wednesday - July 19, 2017 9:00 am

Kudos for more work to end opiod epidemic

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It took five months, but they finally got it done. Governor Scott Walker called a special session of the legislature back in January to tackle the problem of opiod addiction in the state. This week, Walker finally signed 11 bills into law, all designed to prevent and treat opiod abuse, a growing problem in Wisconsin. These new laws, coupled with similar legislative efforts in recent years, show Wisconsin is committed to trying to end the problem. The good news is that all of these bills have bipartisan support. Governor Walker is right when he says “this is an issue that has no boundaries and there should be no boundaries when it comes to fighting it.” Walker signed four of those bills into law during a stop in Onalaska on Monday. Those bills allow school officials to administer Narcan to prevent an ovedose, as well as the development of schools for recovering addicts. Other bills the Governor signed into law allow for the involuntary commit of drug addicts. These bills, part of the Heroin Opiod Prevention and Education effort, now total 30 in the past three years. It is good to see that Wisconsin is working to get to the root of the problem of drug addiction and not simply trying to arrest its way out of the problem. It is good to see lawmakers from both parties working together to get this done. And it is good to see Wisconsin be a national leader in the fight against opiod addiction. Unfortunately, despite all this effort, we are only now beginning to make a dent in this public health crisis.

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Tuesday - July 18, 2017 9:01 am

La Crosse likes to say no

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La Crosse has a long history of saying no. Whether it is a baseball stadium or a new road, development deals, or a roundabout, or even a lower speed limit, many in La Crosse like to proudly stand in the way. Our airwaves are routinely filled with callers who don't like to hear of things new or different. And they are not bashful in their criticism. Apparently some would prefer things never change. But change has been a good thing. Just look at what has happened in this town in the last 25 years. The riverfront, formerly a grain elevator, is now a gem. Many people didn't like the deal the city inked to build the new Riverside Center buildings along the river, but more than 1000 people work there in jobs that didn't previously exist. The debate over the roundabout, the motorcycle crash notwithstanding, saw many people tell the DOT what they should do with their money. The growth of La Crosse's downtown has been remarkable in recent years, with nearly every storefront filled. More people than ever are living in downtown, and it has become much more vibrant and a convenient place to live. Downtown has grown so much in fact, that some are talking about the need for a return to paid parking to accommodate all those shoppers. That sounds like something we should say no to.

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It may sound crazy on the surface. And it no doubt is a longshot. But it also may be the answer to a number of problems in Wisconsin. Rep. Melissa Sargent has introduced legislation calling for the legalization of marijuana in the state. Not just medicinal marijuana, but full-blown recreational use of pot. Sargent has introduced similar bills in the previous two legislative sessions. Both failed to get so much as a hearing. With republicans firmly in control in Madison, this bill, although introduced, likely will again not be given a hearing. There will be no opportunity for lawmakers to even discuss it. But why not? As we have seen in Colorado and elsewhere, legalized pot is big business. That means money for the state coffers. Lots of money. Last year, Colorado collected $200 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales. Wisconsin collected $0. With Wisconsin lawmakers hopelessly stuck on how to plug the hole in the state’s growing transportation budget deficit, $200 million would provide a lot of solutions. This is more than just changing the law. It is a huge economic stimulus package. Attitudes have changed about pot. The latest Marquette Law School poll shows 59% of Wisconsinites favor legalizing recreational marijuana use. Then why won’t our elected officials even be willing to talk about it?

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The rift between La Crosse police and the county's judicial system continues to grow. Police have become increasingly frustrated with local judges, suggesting openly and publicly that our judges are soft on crime. A recent arrest magnifies that growing rift. Police arrested an Onalaska man this week who is being charged with dealing crack cocaine. The same man who was arrested for the same crime before. Twice. He was arrested in 2012 for cocaine possession with intent to deliver. He was sentenced to three years probation, although he was released from that sentence within a year. He was arrested again in October of last year, charged with conspiracy to deliver cocaine and heroin. He is scheduled to stand trial on those charges next month. Police argue too many people like that, some charged with more serious crimes, are being let off easy by La Crosse judges. It is easy to understand the frustration of local police, who no doubt are frustrated having to arrest the same people over and over, yet they continue to be given second chances by the courts. But it is not cut and dry. Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and maximum sentences established by lawmakers. But the public airing and ribbing of the local judges isn't likely to solve the dispute. These conversations should be held, but in private, to avoid a public spat. Perhaps a beer summit is in order. Because we all share the same goal, of keeping our community safe. How best to do that is the goal that needs to be realized, rather than bashing our courts to anyone who will listen.

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Today is July 13th. Two weeks past the deadline for passing a new state budget in Wisconsin. The new budget was due June 30, but two weeks later the state is still no closer to finishing the document. In fact, they still aren't even close. The key budget committee hasn't met in weeks, and the only discussions seem to be in the form of bickering, all of that behind closed doors. Meanwhile, local school districts and local governments across the state are still wondering how much state aid they can get. If a new budget isn't passed soon, more road projects in the state could be put on hold. The key fight remains over transportation, with a wide divide remaining over whether to pay for road work with more borrowing, or a new revenue stream such as a gas tax increase or higher vehicle registration fees. Governor Walker has talked about asking President Trump for ten times more transportation money, but that seems unlikely, given that Trump has proposed slashing the federal transportation budget by more than 10 percent. The bottom line is our lawmakers in Madison need to stop bickering and start finding solutions to the $96 million hole in the transportation budget. Their only job as lawmakers is to pass a state budget, and they are already two weeks late. Even Illinois has passed a new budget. Imagine if you were two weeks late meeting a deadline at your work. Would you even still have a job?

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Wednesday - July 12, 2017 9:01 am

Ban fundraising during budget talks

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Governor Walker has been busy raising money. He is a politician after all. Walker has not yet officially announced his intentions to seek a third term as Wisconsin's governor, but the amount of money he has raised makes it clear he plans to run again. Walker announced this week he has raised $3.5 million in the first half of this year, with more than $2.4 million cash on hand, more than he had four yearss ago. The problem with that is the pledge that Walker made as a candidate on the campaign trail. He promised not to raise money as governor from the January introduction of the budget until it is signed into law. Walker has repeatedly broken that pledge, to the tune of millions of dollars. Walker was right when he said politicians shouldn't be walking around with their hands out while crafting a state budget. That leaves them open to special interests, glad to write the checks in hopes of getting their pet projects included in the state budget. Walker and lawmakers in the senate and assembly should not be allowed to conduct fundraisers while the budget is in front of them. They should make decisions over what to include in the budget based on what is best for the people of Wisconsin, not based on who writes the biggest check.

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Wisconsin remains the only state in the nation where drunk driving is not a crime. And despite the repeated efforts of some lawmakers, that is not likely to change anytime soon. In Wisconsin, it seems getting a drunk driving ticket is almost considered a right of passage. Those caught first time drunk driving are given what is the equivalent of a parking ticket. It doesn't even rise to the level of misdemeanor, much less a felony. Senator Alberta Darling and Rep. Jim Ott have repeatedly introduced legislation to toughen Wisconsin's drunk driving laws. So far, the only bills to gain approval of a majority of lawmakers have been baby steps. During the last legislative session, lawmakers made a fourth drunk driving conviction a felony. So much for three strikes and you're out. Penalties also increased for those with seven, eight or nine offenses. But that is a lot of chances for those who choose to drink and drive. Now, Darling and Ott are focusing on increasing penalties for second offense drunk drivers, but the political reality is that there is not support among fellow lawmakers to get tougher on first time offenders. Is it any wonder we have so many drivers in La Crosse and elsewhere getting picked up for their fifth, or eighth, drunk driving offense? Maybe if we did more than slap people on the wrist when they get caught a first time, they would wise up and avoid a second time.

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Voting is a very private matter. Our voting records are kept secret. We never have to tell anyone who we voted for. We don’t even have to vote at all. But now, the federal government thinks states should hand over the confidential information of voters. The newly-formed Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is demanding Wisconsin and all other states release to them our sensitive voter information. Our dates of birth, partial social security numbers and even our political preference all would be publicly released to the federal government if Wisconsin were to comply. Many states have refused, and the leaders of the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly have written letters to the state Elections Commission urging the agency to refuse to turn over this confidential information. But Governor Walker has not taken a public stand on whether he will stand up to the federal government, like our neighbors in Minnesota have done. Walker should make it clear that Wisconsin won’t release our voter records, that to do so is banned by state statute. The last thing we need now is even less confidence in the integrity of our elections.

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Friday - July 7, 2017 9:03 am

Stakes suddenly higher for new road budget

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The cost of not fixing Wisconsin's roads just went up a lot. Wisconsin lawmakers remain unable to reach a deal on a new state transportation budget, the main sticking point in being able to pass a new state budget. Now there is word that a major Taiwanese company, Foxconn, is considering building a new plant in Southeast Wisconsin, potentially creating as many as 10,000 jobs. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos points out that company may not choose Wisconsin if the state doesn't repair roads in that area. The company would need better roads to ship all its products, but highway repair and construction on that stretch of I-94 has been delayed by state funding woes. The inference is that those 10,000 jobs aren't going to happen without a sustainable funding plan for our roads. Vos has taken the unusual step of enlisting help from the state's business community, and special interest groups. He has written to them, asking how they would close the shortfall in Wisconsin's transportation budget. But it isn't the job of the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association, or Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce to come up with a transportation budget. That is the job of Wisconsin lawmakers, particularly leaders like Vos. Appealing to outside groups for help isn't exactly a vote of confidence that lawmakers are anywhere close to getting that deal done. If they want those 10,000 jobs, they better reach an agreement soon.

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Thursday - July 6, 2017 9:12 am

Keep your hands off our craft beer

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Things sure have changed in the beer industry. For the better, most would argue. Rather than having just two choices for a cold malted beverage, we have thousands. It is a craft beer revolution. Just walk through any liquor store. The wall of beers many have never heard of stretches the length of the store. People’s tastes have changed. Besides just brewing delicious beers, many have their own tap rooms, where people can sample or buy those beers straight from the tap. And that has some in Wisconsin upset. Some of our lawmakers are thinking of punishing these craft brewers by imposing new regulations on them. Even going so far as to create a new state office. The Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement. Its mission? To close down the tap rooms offered at so many craft breweries all across the state. But these craft breweries are putting people to work, and growing. The number of breweries in Wisconsin has nearly doubled just in the past five years. Nobody outside of a few politicians in Madison is clamoring for a new state office to regulate what or where we drink all these delicious mixtures of hops and yeast. The people of the state have already spoken on this one.

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