You are the owner of this page.
A4 A4
Columns
Walters: Counting down to Capitol 'chaos'

Why did the veteran Republican state Senate leader predict Capitol “chaos,” as the Legislature struggles to end its two-year session?

Because everywhere Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald looks, he faces demands to schedule Senate votes on “just one more thing” before the session adjourns.

That pressure comes from Republican Gov. Scott Walker, special-interest groups and their lobbyists who know they only have days left to get their pet bills passed, and his fellow Republican legislators.

The reason for the pressure is simple. All bills not passed by both Assembly and Senate, and signed into law by the governor, die when the Legislature adjourns. All those great ideas legislators and lobbyists have that don’t become law must wait until next year.

Fitzgerald may also be forced to soon put out a fire he started, if he decides to ask his fellow GOP senators to name a new administrator for the state Elections Commission by March 9.

The Fitzgerald-led Senate voted to fire the current administrator, Michael Haas, although commissioners say Haas still has the job. But Fitzgerald has said, since the job is vacant, the Senate has a duty to make a new appointment.

Overall, it will be crunch-time “chaos,” Fitzgerald told a Wisconsin Counties Association conference last week.

Consider just what Walker—the leader of the Republican Party that controls the Legislature—wants it to approve before lawmakers go home to begin to campaign for Nov. 6 elections, including the governor’s bid for a third term:

  • $100-per-child tax credit check mailed to parents before Nov. 6. Those checks, and a one-time August back-to-school sales tax holiday Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin agreed to last week, would cost the state treasury $172 million.
  • A 10-bill package of changes to food stamp and other welfare programs that would stiffen work or job training requirements, impose asset limits and make other changes opposed by Democrats.

The Assembly will soon act on this package, teeing it up for Senate approval.

  • Giving Kimberly-Clark, which recently said it plans to close two Wisconsin plants and lay off 600 state workers, the same 17 percent tax credit for each job saved that is being offered Foxconn for every new Wisconsin job that firm creates in Racine County.
  • Creating a $50-million rural development fund.
  • A $200-million reinsurance plan to subsidize costs for individuals buying health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Although Walker has said $150 million of that would come from the federal government, Fitzgerald and others question how the state would come up with the remaining $50 million.
  • Changing health insurance laws to require coverage of those with pre-existing conditions.
  • Closing juvenile prisons and replacing them with regional facilities or programs run by counties.

Vos said he hopes to soon announce a plan developed with county officials to move most juveniles from prisons to local facilities.

Then, consider some changes that special-interest groups and their lobbyists are pushing Fitzgerald to act on:

  • Tesla wants to be able to sell cars directly to drivers—a change likely to be blocked by Wisconsin’s car and truck dealers.
  • The rent-to-own industry wants weaker regulations—a push that almost passed two years ago in that Legislature’s final-hours crush.
  • Landlords want an Assembly-passed bill limiting the authority of local governments to inspect properties with no violations of health or safety codes. It would also strengthen landlords’ eviction powers.
  • Developers want to be able to fill in some small wetlands without having to get state Department of Natural Resources permits.

Because this change is a top priority of Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, a compromise version of it has a good chance of passing.

  • Business groups want to prohibit local governments from enforcing minimum wage and other labor laws.

Fitzgerald won’t have to deal with one other controversy, however. A bill requiring closed or “dark” retail stores to be assessed for property taxes similar to the assessments of open stores is dead.

But even after Fitzgerald and Vos adjourn the legislative session, they still have one more big worry: Will the U.S. Supreme Court toss out or uphold legislative district boundary lines Republicans drew in 2011?

The justices could order new districts drawn before the November elections. If they do, new chaos.


Our_views
Thumbs up/down for Monday, Feb. 12

To the snow “emergency”. A chemical spill is an emergency. So is a house on fire or reports of a kidnapped child. An incoming missile—also an emergency. But as for snowfall, that’s more like a “situation” or an “event.” Public officials frown on people calling 911 for

nonemergencies, yet local governments routinely declare snowfall an “emergency” and sometimes for routine amounts. Officials undermine their own efforts to distinguish emergencies from annoyances by attaching “emergency” to common weather occurrences. If their goal is to get people to move their vehicles off the street to assist snowplows, officials should focus on enforcing laws prohibiting on-street parking during snow events. By issuing more parking tickets, officials will get people’s attention.

To naming winter storms. A winter storm sounds more menacing when it has a name, and that’s probably why The Weather Channel decided in 2012 to start naming these storms. It’s a ratings ploy more than anything else, but some people erroneously believe these

names—last week’s snowflake explosion was dubbed Winter Storm Mateo—come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA names hurricanes, and those beasts earn their monikers. But NOAA refrains from naming winter storms in part because a winter storm’s impact varies so widely, a spokesperson said in 2012 regarding The Weather Channel’s naming policy. But it could be worse. The Weather Channel could start naming every day, such as Cloudy Joe for that day after Mateo. We’re all looking forward to Sunny Sandy sometime later this week.

To hiring full-time staffer to fight opioid abuse. It’s a sign the region has a drug problem when local governments hire someone to coordinate responses to the opioid epidemic. We’re glad Rock and Walworth counties combat this scourge rather than look the other way,

which some communities have done. There’s no single fix for this problem, though some people, including addicts, say the region lacks access to treatment and related resources. Officials have expressed optimism that a growing awareness of the dangers of prescription drugs along with efforts to curb their distribution will begin to have positive effects. But the emergence of the powerful synthetic opioid Fentanyl, often made in the labs of China and other foreign nations, presents a new challenge. Law enforcement detected this drug in every Rock County overdose death last year, suggesting ending this epidemic won’t be as simple as ending prescription drug abuse.

To another tech company coming to Janesville. The city isn’t Silicon Valley and has nothing like a Facebook or Google campus, but the Gray Goose building on North Academy Street is becoming a tech hot spot, recently landing a Michigan tech and telecommunications

company with plans to hire nearly 50 workers. CCI Systems plans to occupy the building alongside another tech firm, Foremost Media. The development comes in the wake of a report ranking the Janesville-Beloit area as the fifth-best small city in the U.S. for growth in high-tech exports. A swooning stock market has triggered some doubts about the economy’s health, but the economy is strong in Janesville, where residents can find plenty of evidence of business expansion.


Columns
Skenazy: 'Modern Loss' digs deeper into death

What does it take to get 200 New Yorkers out on a cold winter night?

Death.

“You have shared your stories,” author Rebecca Soffer told a standing-room-only crowd at a hip Brooklyn bookshop, “and brought other people out of their own isolation after loss. Have a good time!”

The people in the crowd cheered. After all, they were here to launch “Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome,” a book based on the revolutionary and wildly popular Modern Loss website. Both are edited by Soffer. She and co-author Gabrielle Birkner are both moms, and they became all too familiar as young adults with the topic they have focused on.

Soffer’s mom died in a car accident, and shortly thereafter, her dad died of a heart attack. Birkner’s dad and stepmom were murdered in a home invasion. The two attended a weekly meeting called “Women with Dead Parents,” and in 2013, they launched their site, featuring personal essays on every aspect of grief, including inheritance, ambivalence and sex after death (here on earth, that is).

The site and book scoff at platitudes and dig deeper. But they also manage to make readers smile.

“I lost my mom 10 years ago, and Christmas was very much her thing,” Marisa Lee, a social entrepreneur, told the crowd. Her mom made such a huge deal about Christmas—“lights everywhere and lots of baby Jesuses”—that once she was gone, Marisa hated the holiday. She’d hole up with her godparents, which is what she was doing one Christmas when she fell down their stairs and broke her arm.

“Now I’m stuck. I’m on Percocet. I can’t drag myself anywhere,” said Marisa. So she was a sitting duck when her childhood best friend brought over cookies and the application for eHarmony, a dating service.

Reluctantly, Marisa agreed to meet up with some guy from Green Bay, Wisconsin, but at the last minute decided to cancel—until her friend insisted that would be rude. So she went on the date, and a year and a half later, “to once again make Christmas something (she) actually enjoyed,” that’s the day he asked her to marry him.

Michael Arceneaux, a journalist and author, suffered a very different loss. “Most people ask, ‘When did you first know you were gay?’” he told the crowd. “I knew I liked boys when I was 5.” But at 6, he knew something else: His uncle had just died of something called “AIDS,” and everyone in his family was calling his uncle a terrible word—a word for people just like Michael.

“I could never shake that feeling that ‘to like boys’ meant ‘to die,’” said Michael. “It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I really wanted to conquer that fear.” And somehow, he finally did.

His parents have yet to fully accept him, and he was talking to his 8-year-old niece recently. “She made a joke about a gay person, and I said, ‘Oh, beloved, we don’t say that.’” After gently explaining why, he hung up. The girl called him right back and said, “Uncle Mikey, I am so sorry. I don’t care if you’re gay. I miss you. Come home for Christmas.”

Not that every story at the book party ended with Christmas, but they did all end with hope. Then Soffer asked those in the audience whether they would like to try their hand at summing up their losses in “Six-Word Memoirs”—an idea created by the online magazine Smith.

A man who looked like a truck driver stood up. “I never saw her smile again,” he said.

“I’ll see a heartbeat someday,” said a woman in the crowd.

“Through the noise, purpose was born.”

Sometimes, purpose is born through the internet, too. And now, through a surprising new book.