As I See It

As I See It (349)

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

Tuesday - September 15, 2015 12:00 am

We deserve to know the condition of our railroad bridges

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What kind of shape are La Crosse's railroad bridges in? The truth is, we have no idea. It is a growing concern in light of the increased shipments of volatile crude oil through our community. But the current rules seem to allow the rail lines which travel over those bridges to keep information about their safety to themselves. U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is urging railroad companies to provide more information to municipalities about the integrity of their bridges. The response by the Canadian Pacific rail line is essentially, “Trust us.” Rail lines are required to inspect the bridges they travel across each year. But railroads are not required to share that information with the Federal Railroad Administration. And they are not required to make that information available to the public. That is despite the fact that communities throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota are at risk for potential disasters involving crude carrying rail cars. The risk is growing. The number of trains carrying crude oil in the United States has grown from just over 10,000 in 2009 to more than 400,000 this year. Communities along the route deserve to know what type of condition their railroad bridges are in. It is those communities which would have to respond in the event of a potentially explosive derailment. Railroad companies should be required to not only inspect their bridges each year, but also to be forthcoming about their condition.

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Thursday - September 10, 2015 12:00 am

Lawmakers still intent on gutting open records laws

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It seems they just don't learn in Madison. Just weeks after being publicly rebuked for proposing gutting Wisconsin's Open Records laws, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos isn't giving up on the idea. Vos still seems hell-bent on allowing lawmakers to avoid having to comply with the open records laws, and would prefer to have them keep all their communications shielded from the public. The latest twist would be to pass a bill to give the legislature and its lawmakers exemptions from the law by making their communications subject to legislative rules, rather than the open records laws. Basically, this effort would allow lawmakers, not state law, to determine what is a matter of public record. It was troubling when lawmakers first tried to amend the state budget to shield lawmakers from open records laws. It is even more troubling that given the unprecedented level of opposition from both conservatives and liberals, that Vos still isn't giving up. Clearly he is willing to try anything to exempt lawmakers from the same open records laws that apply to other government officials in the state. He is willing to try any tricks, including another sneak attack. It seems no matter how much the public tries to tell Vos this is a bad idea, he still isn't ready to give up trying anyway possible to ram this through.

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Thursday - September 3, 2015 12:00 am

Mutual aid agreement to benefit all of La Crosse County

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Good things can happen when people, and communities, work together. That's why there is much excitement about a new mutual aid agreement being developed among fire departments in La Crosse County. The plan still awaits formal approval, but it appears destined for passage, and that is good news for all of us living in La Crosse County. Passage of this agreement means better protection for La Crosse County residents. Because once this deal is done, La Crosse firefighters can help fight fires in Onalaska or other communities, without first having to figure out whether we have a deal with them. No money changes hands, and issues of legal liability are covered. If they need a tanker in a neighboring community, La Crosse can send one, and quickly. That means faster response times, and that means less potential for disaster. Of course, La Crosse will not only be providing help, but potentially receiving it from neighboring communities as well. This cuts through all the red tape to benefit everyone in La Crosse County. That is a big deal. It may also be the first step toward a more regional fire service, which could save taxpayers money. This historic agreement is to be applauded, as our politicians finally figured out a way to work together, without just worrying what is in it for them.

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Tuesday - September 1, 2015 12:00 am

Wisconsin gets failing grade on standardized testing

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If Wisconsin education officials were to be given a grade for administering standardized testing in the state, they better hope the grading is done on a curve. Wisconsin students earlier this year took what is called the Smarter Balance Exam, which was aligned with the federal Common Core standards. But after just one year, and amid technical problems and cost overruns, legislators have chosen to abolish the Smarter Balance Exam after just one year. In fact, the scores from this only test weren't even counted by educators. Now, the state is looking to replace the Smarter Balance Exams, and has submitted requests for proposals from a number of test vendors. But even as the new school year is now underway, the state still hasn't settled on what type of test will be administered this year. Whatever test is chosen, students in Wisconsin schools will have taken three different standardized tests in the last three years. Meanwhile, teachers and administrators are being left in the dark over how to develop their curriculum to ensure students are ready to take this test. Wisconsin educators and lawmakers have failed to come up with a test that provides useful information for determining how well our students are learning, and therefore have failed our children as well.

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Tuesday - September 1, 2015 12:00 am

Incomplete police chase data raises suspicions

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It seems the public's mistrust of police is at an all-time high. Most of the time, that mistrust is misplaced. But sometimes people have reason to be suspicious of law enforcement. That may be the case in Wisconsin, and it has to do with the reporting of police chases. State law mandates that all police chases are to be reported to the state, but a media investigation suggests the reporting isn't all that accurate. Gannett Media used public records to compare the state's database with federal records, and found that the state records are incomplete at best. Using state statistics, the number of police chases being reported are about 50% less. Between 2002 and 2013, at least 28 deaths resulting from high-speed crashes have not been counted in Wisconsin's chase statistics. Part of this is because individual police departments have failed to properly report statistics on high speed chases. But the state is also to blame. The State DOT and State Patrol oversee this reporting program haven't released current numbers since 2007, even though the reports are supposed to be updated every two years. In light of the increased tensions between police and the public, these numbers should be reported accurately. We don't need to give people another reason to suggest police cannot be trusted.

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Thursday - August 27, 2015 12:00 am

No take-backs on city approval of DOT plans

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The city of La Crosse and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation haven't exactly seen eye to eye lately. In fact, the dispute over the best design for the renovation of Exit 3 on La Crosse's northside has become rather contentious. That may be because the city seems to want things both ways. Three years ago, the city council cast a vote approving the DOT's plans for the reconstruction of the northside entrance to the city. But now the city wants to take that approval back. The La Crosse council will vote next week whether to rescind its approval of the DOT's plans. The DOT would rather work with the city, but admits it is rather late in the game to make any significant design changes. What would the city gain by now disapproving of the DOT's plans? The DOT is under no requirement to change the plans to suit the city's wishes. It is the same reason the council decided, wisely, not to spend a quarter million dollars to come up with new designs it likes, given that there is no guarantee the state would bend to the city's wishes. Drawing a line in the sand now would only further strain relations. This project is already behind schedule, with the DOT blaming the city for those delays. The fact is the city said yes to the DOT's plans years ago. The DOT then began the planning process. We can't just take it back now, and expect the state to be ok with that.

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Friday - August 21, 2015 12:00 am

Cheers to reducing burdens on craft brewers

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Beer has long been a big business in Wisconsin. But lately, much has changed in the beer industry. While the big brewers have seen their market share dropping, craft brewers have seen a surge in sales. But while the beer industry has been changing, the rules governing the industry have not.These craft brewers have been burdened by all these regulations, and a number of lawmakers are trying to fix that. U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin stopped in La Crosse yesterday to discuss pending legislation that would lessen the burden on craft brewers in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Legislation Baldwin has sponsored, The Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, would modernize the regulations for the growing number of craft brewers. This legislation would exempt the majority of these craft brewers from complex bonding and bi-weekly tax filing requirements. This would lessen the regulatory burden on these breweries, which continue to grow and hire more people. Given the growth of the craft brew industry, we should make sure government is not standing in the way of their continued success, and Baldwin's bill would do just that.

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Thursday - August 20, 2015 12:00 am

Debate over deflategate over-inflated

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Much is being made of the proper inflation of footballs. This was brought about by the alleged cheating of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is accused of deflating footballs during a game last year to gain a competitive advantage. It seems we are spending a lot of time, and money, fighting over how much pressure should be in an NFL football. Which got me thinking, this could only happen in football. Take a look at the other pro sports, and it seems this would never be an issue. In basketball, all the players use the same ball for the entire game. And if it is not inflated properly, it doesn't bounce. In baseball, dozens of balls are used in each game. If one gets thrown into the dirt, the umpire tosses the pitcher a new one. But somehow when the ball is hit, which presumably does more to scar a baseball than a throw in the dirt, but the ball is put back in play. In golf, each player supplies their own balls, and they can use whatever brand is paying them to play it. In hockey, it seems nothing can be done to alter the puck, which is used for the entire game. While in tennis, pro players are offered a handful of tennis balls to choose from, and they can use whatever one has the proper bounce to suit their game. It seems among the pro sports, Deflategate could only happen in football, and that is a good thing, because the whole controversy is becoming rather over-inflated.

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Thursday - August 20, 2015 12:00 am

Wisconsin vets should report all animal abuse

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They say a dog is man's best friend. But that friendship is not always recripocated. Some people who own dogs fail to treat them properly. It is not believed to be a widespread problem, as most people love their pets and treat them accordingly. But there are those who mistreat or abuse their dogs. Just ask anyone who works for an animal shelter. They have too many stories to tell about the abused animals which they rescue or are surrendered to them. But in Wisconsin, there is little that can be done about it. That's because Wisconsin is among the states which do not require veterinarians to report cases of suspected animal abuse. Vets are required to notify authorities if they suspect a dog has been used for fighting, but there is no requirement that people who abuse their dogs, or leave them malnourished be reported to authorities. That would change under a bill being authored by Wisconsin State Senator Fred Risser. His legislation would require veterinarians to report any suspected cases of abuse to police or animal control. Mistreating animals is a serious crime, and our vets are in the best position to detect such abuse. We shouldn't limit our concern to a dog used for fighting. We need more comprehensive laws so that any animal owner who abuses an animal in any way be held responsible.

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Wednesday - August 5, 2015 12:00 am

Immunity laws prevent justice for all

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It is important to have rules. But it is also important those rules be enforced fairly and consistently. That is not the case in Wisconsin. That is because too many people are granted immunity from the state's laws. Wisconsin currently has 35 individual immunity laws on its books. These are laws that protect a certain segment of our society from wrongdoing because they were successful in lobbying the legislature to protect them. They cannot be held responsible for their mistakes because of the immunity laws. There may be more of these immunity laws coming. A bill currently pending in the Wisconsin legislature would absolve owners of campgrounds, and their employees, from almost all responsibility for injuries they cause while running their business. If this bill passes into law, if you get sick from swimming in their dirty water, or cut yourself on a jagged edge, you would have no recourse. Such immunity laws practically encourage those with immunity to act recklessly. Why take precautions? After all, you have immunity. Some immunity laws make sense, but only when they protect both sides. For example, Wisconsin employees who are injured on the job are barred from suing their employers. That's why we have Worker's Compensation laws, so workers hurt on the job can get relief. But many of these other immunity laws simply leave those harmed with no recourse. Our system of justice should ensure justice for all, not just the privileged few.

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