As I See It
As I See It

As I See It

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

Thursday - January 18, 2018 8:59 am

Embattled WI lawmaker should show decency, step down

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The controversy over sexual misconduct allegations continues to dog the Wisconsin legislature. Milwaukee state representative Josh Zepnick is accused of sexual misconduct by two women, but vows to remain in office, and is even making plans to run for re-election. Zepnick stands accused of drunkenly kissing two women against their will, in 2011 and in 2015. Zepnick initially said he did not recall the incidents, but now says he remembers parts of the 2015 incident. But like many who stand accused of sexual harassment, the Milwaukee democrat insists the reported details are inaccurate and exaggerated. He even refers to himself as a “punching bag” and says he's not sure how fair that is. It seems plenty fair. What isn't fair is Zepnick's ability to retain his Assembly seat. Party leaders have stripped Zepnick of his committee assignment and refused to allow him to caucus with party leaders. They have called for him to step down, but clearly Zepnick has no plans to do so. And as he indicated, may even run for the office again. I'm confident if he does try to retain his seat, voters in his district will prevent that. But if Zepnick had a shred of decency, he would apologize to his accusers and step down from public office.

Comment

Here we go again. After passing a series of recent stop-gap spending bills to keep the federal government operating, a potential government shutdown looms once again. Because our lawmakers have been unable or unwilling to develop long-term strategies for federal funding, the next deadline is coming up again on Friday. And once again, it appears republicans and democrats are far apart in efforts to reach a deal. And this time, reaching even a temporary funding measure will be difficult. Democrats are threatening to insist on dealing with the so-called Dreamers through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Getting a deal on DACA will likely be difficult, especially given President Trump's recent comments about people entering the U.S. from certain “s-hole” countries. On top of that, there are wide disagreements about a disaster aid package for Texas, Florida and other places devastated by hurricanes. Lawmakers in Washington are also at odds over a children's health insurance program called CHIP. They generally agree on the need for a long-term authorization of the program, but disagree over how to pay for it. So here we are, facing yet another possible government shutdown, all because Congress refuses to adopt a long-term budget, they only real requirement of their jobs. Most likely, if we're lucky, we'll see Congress just kick the can down the road one more time.

Comment

Tuesday - January 16, 2018 10:33 am

No more flashing lights at crosswalks

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The quest to help people safely cross the street has taken many forms. Cities paint white lines to denote safe crossing points at intersections. In La Crosse, they used to want us to grab red flags and hold them above our heads when we entered a crosswalk. But the most effective method of helping people safely cross the street are those flashing yellow beacons. Walk up to the intersection, push the button, wait for the light to flash, and safely enter the crosswalk. It doesn’t matter where you are from, you know how the work. And they do work. Drivers are much more likely to stop for a pedestrian when lights are flashing. But it doesn’t sound like we will be seeing any more of these effective devices anytime soon. The Federal Highway Administration is telling American cities not to install any more of the flashing crosswalk lights because of a dispute over who owns the rights to them. Existing lights will apparently be allowed to stay. These lights are the most effective tool we have for safely crossing streets. Washington needs to get this sorted out, and soon. Pedestrian safety depends on it.

Comment

Technically, the race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court is non-partisan. In reality, the race has become one of the most partisan of any election in the state. Just look at the big money the special interests have poured into recent races. In the 2016 Supreme Court contest, candidates spent over $4 million trying to win election. Much of that money comes from special interest groups which don’t have to disclose their donors, leaving voters in the dark about who is trying to control the balance of power on the state’s highest court. It is odd then, that candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court typically refuse to discuss their views on any pending or possible cases. They often say they can’t comment on any cases because it could taint any possible case that comes before them. But as voters, it would be helpful if we knew where they stand on important issues. We could make a more informed choice at the polls. We would know how they feel about the issues important to us. We don’t need to put a “D” or an “R” next to their name on the ballot, but it would be a lot easier than trying to follow the money and see what groups are so willing to spend so much to support them.

Comment

It has become an issue seemingly everywhere. Sexual harassment in the workplace. It is happening in politics, including in Wisconsin. But the state still hasn't properly figured out how to deal with it. At the Wisconsin state capitol, Rep. Josh Zepnick faces claims from two women who allege he kissed them against their will. Zepnick has been stripped of his committee assignments, and is no longer allowed to caucus with party leaders. But he remains in office. And there is no policy in place for how to deal with that. Zepnick is not alone. Records show there have been at least four complaints of sexual harassment in the Wisconsin Legislature over the past decade. Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse initially insisted reports of sexual misconduct among members of the legislature or their staff be kept private. She and others now seem willing to consider making the reports public, while keeping names of victims private. As voters, and taxpayers, we have the right to know when our politicians are behaving badly. Now we are learning that while the Wisconsin Legislature provides sexual harassment training to its new members, that training is not mandatory. In light of the allegations, that training should be mandatory. It is important that our lawmakers get this right, and that means no longer sweeping sexual harassment claims under the rug.

Comment

Thursday - January 11, 2018 9:20 am

STABLE GENIUS Act makes sense

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Shouldn't we know about a candidate's fitness for public office? Certainly when it comes to those vying to become President of the United States. President Trump's mental fitness has been called into question by some. And now, one member of Congress has crafted proposed legislation which would actually require major party presidential candidates to undergo a physical and mental health exam, with the findings to be released to the public. The name of the bill is the Standardized Testing and Accountability Before Large Elections Giving Electors Necessary Information for Unobstructed Selection Act. The title may be a little long, but it has a clever acronym. The Stable Genius Act. That's because in the wake of criticism of his behavior, president Trump has declared himself a stable genius. But where is the proof of that? The author of this legislation is right. Those running for the nation's highest office should be willing to prove they have the physical and mental stamina for the job. This bill may be a jab at President Trump, but the fact is American voters should be able to access the health records of those who want to lead this country. This may sound like a joke, but the reality is our current system is seriously flawed.

Comment

Imagine being able to get from La Crosse to Chicago in just three hours. It sounds like you will have to keep imagining it, because there is now little chance that high speed rail service will connect the cities. At the start of the decade there was hope of high speed rail from Chicago to the Twin Cities. Much of the money to pay for it was offered to Wisconsin in the form of a federal grant, $810 million worth. But Governor Walker turned down the federal money, and now the project seems to have lost support in Minnesota as well. The heads of the Minnesota Senate and House Transportation Committees have put the brakes on spending any more money studying the feasibility of high speed rail. About $1 million has been spent on the study, but lawmakers objected to accepting another federal grant to pay for the remainder. They cite Wisconsin's objection to the project, saying it is a waste of tax dollars to study the feasibility of high speed rail if Wisconsin says no to the new form of travel. But Governor Walker isn't going to be in office forever, and with our crumbling roads and faster speeds, high speed rail remains an attractive option. It seems, when it comes to high speed rail, the midwest is missing the boat.

Comment

Sometimes, those we elect to office deserve our praise. Not often, but sometimes. So, kudos to our state representatives in Wisconsin. They are actually working together to solve a problem. Our state senators and representatives have crafted legislation that would give our first responders legal immunity when treating animals at emergency scenes. In a sign of just how bad the opiod crisis has become in this state, trained police drug dogs are increasingly at risk of getting sick when their handlers make drug arrests. Police dogs trained to hit on drugs, are sometimes getting a hit of those drugs. One Wisconsin officer told lawmakers her dog, Bane, wolfed down a cinnamon roll during a drug raid. She was afraid her dog might overdose if the pastry was tainted. More officers are carrying the anti-overdose drug Narcan in case they have to use it on their dogs. Lawmakers are holding public hearing on the legislation that would allow EMT’s to treat sick drug dogs. The bill has bipartisan support, and is moving quickly toward a vote. It is sad that our police dogs are in danger, but good to see our lawmakers cut through the red tape and do the right thing.

Comment

We have been calling for years for changes to Wisconsin’s youth prison system. Finally, Governor Walker is on board with the idea. Walker has endorsed the call of democrats in Madison to shut down the troubled Lincoln Hills School for boys and establish a series of smaller youth facilities throughout the state. That is the Missouri model we have long supported. Establishing more facilities will keep these kids closer to their families, and improve the chances of rehabilitation. It reduces the well documented stress on guards at Lincoln Hills, where fears of a revolt were met with shackles, pepper spray and isolation. The plan further calls for turning Lincoln Hills into an adult prison which focuses on drug and alcohol treatment. These are good ideas, which could not only reduce prison overpopulation, but also save taxpayers money. The question is what took so long? The Governor’s call for change comes six years after Walker was first notified of problems at Lincoln Hills, and three years after the FBI began its investigation into allegations of abuse there. Maybe this is an election-year gimmick by the Governor, but it is good that much-needed changes are finally coming to Wisconsin’s youth prison system.

Comment

Wisconsin lawmakers have crafted legislation in recent years to make life easier for landlords, and harder for tenants. The city of La Crosse, which used to require landlords register their properties and have them regular inspected by the city, has ended that after mandates from the state. Now lawmakers in Madison are again trying to make it easier for landlords to do business in the state, while reducing protections for tenants. A bill authored by Rep. Rob Brooks could end up leading to victims of abuse being evicted from their homes more quickly. Under current law, Wisconsin courts can block the eviction of domestic abuse victims and other tenants who are waiting to get help through an emergency assistance program. Brooks' bill would put a five day limit on those court-imposed holds. Really? Get beat up by your boyfriend and get an eviction notice? This puts victims in harms way. This bill doesn't stop there. It also would make it harder for people to force landlords to accept pets by claiming they are emotional support animals. Suffering from PTSD? Fido has to go. This legislation is part of a growing trend of pro-landlord, anti-tenant legislation. It seems there are plenty of legal protections in place for Wisconsin landlords. Where is the legislation that protects the tenants, especially those who suffer abuse or need a pet to help them make it through the day?

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