Wisconsin Republicans who continue to largely dismiss Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ call to pass gun safety legislation introduced a series of bills Tuesday designed to bolster mental health services in the state, a move they said was not in response to recent mass shootings.
Evers has called for the GOP-controlled Legislature to pass universal background checks and a “red flag” law that would establish a process to take guns away from people determined to be a threat to themselves or others. But Republican legislative leaders have instead emphasized the need to improve mental health services.
“If I did have the answer or if any other legislator had a clear answer to this issue, we would have already implemented it,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, adding that Congress should play a role. “It’s frustrating, I think, because every time one of these incidents happened we kind of wring our hands and say ‘What can we do?’”
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, a Democrat, said lawmakers should do “everything possible while respecting Second Amendment rights” when it comes to combating gun violence. He said Democrats will introduce universal background check and “red flag” bills and hope to receive bipartisan support.
“I don’t think anybody in our country right now can ignore gun violence and mass shootings,” Hintz said.
Fitzgerald told reporters he didn’t support a universal background check law on gun sales because that would mean registering firearm sales. He said “there is always going to be a constituency who vote Republican and ... they are going to be opposed to it.”
However, he said he would be open to expanding the types of offenses in which the people charged could have their guns taken away. Wisconsin law already allows for taking weapons away from people under a domestic violence restraining order or injunction.
Neither Fitzgerald nor Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who appeared together at a forum Tuesday, named the background check or “red flag” bills as priorities for the remainder of the legislative session.
Vos repeated that he did not want to take away Second Amendment rights and said he wanted to focus on topics that will bring Republicans and Democrats together such as water quality, increasing adoptions and suicide prevention. Fitzgerald said he wants to work on criminal justice reform and issues facing the state prison system.
Last week, Evers called on Republicans to pass the bills. Evers and Vos were scheduled to meet Wednesday, while a meeting with Fitzgerald had not yet been scheduled, said Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff.
Vos said last week that he hoped to find common ground with Evers on mental health issues, which he called the “real problem.”
On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Tittl, chairman of the Assembly’s mental health committee, was the latest Republican to refuse to answer questions about whether he supports a universal background check. And he said a package of mental health bills that he and other Republican lawmakers and advocates unveiled was part of a yearslong push to improve mental health services and not a response to the shootings this month in Texas and Ohio that left 31 people dead.
Tittl noted that he first served on a legislative task force on mental health in 2013.
“We have cared all along about mental health,” Tittl said. “This is not a reaction at all to any of the shootings. This is basically a reaction to what we’re working on.”
The bills would make grants available for mental health centers and nonprofits across the state as a way to ensure services are available; provide a $100,000 income tax deduction for psychiatrists and double for those in more rural, underserved areas to entice more of them to work in Wisconsin; and update standards and practices for psychologists.
Those who spoke in support of the measures at a Capitol news conference included a person who said he has been battling mental illness for more than 25 years, the leader of the state Boys & Girls Clubs and the head of a Painting Pathways Clubhouse that provides mental health services.
Milton High School senior Danielle Cramer has spent a lot of time at the school pool.
So as a swim team captain, she was impressed by the updated pool, which reopened Monday for swim practice after months of renovations.
“It feels like home, but it’s like a new home,” Cramer said.
“We didn’t know if we would even have a place to practice or host our senior year meet, so having it be a reality is awesome.”
Stephen Schantz, school district building and grounds supervisor, said crews have worked on the project since the school board approved it in January.
The pool has new walls, floors and a new ventilation system. The previous HVAC system was original to the more than 50-year-old pool and was beyond repair, Schantz said.
The Rock County Public Health Department also notified the school that the pool wasn’t skimming water correctly, and district officials realized quickly that the project was necessary, Schantz said.
He said the district was determined to have the pool ready by mid-August.
“It’s a long time coming,” he said Monday. “Getting the kids back in the pool today was the goal from day one.”
The renovations are part of the $59.9 million facilities referendum that voters passed April 2. The project was not supposed to exceed $881,000, and the total cost was around $814,000. The savings will be used for high school renovations, Schantz said.
The pool will be used by high school teams for the next two years. A new pool on the east end of the high school is also part of the referendum.
After the new pool is constructed, the old pool likely will be converted for other athletic uses. Construction hasn’t yet begun on the new pool, which is slated to open in fall 2021.
Until then, pool users are happy with the renovations.
“The facility is 100% improved from what it was before,” said Milton High School swim coach Lindsey Hassenfelt. “I think the environment is just brighter, and there seems to be a lot of positive energy.”
Schantz said the pool is “leaps and bounds” better than before, and he hopes the community enjoys using it.
“It’s a clean, safe, healthy environment for these kids and every other user of this pool that comes in here,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Milton girls swim team is happy to be home.
“It’s really special,” senior Caroline Burki said. “I’ve grown up using this pool, and I’m glad I get to spend my senior year here.”
Her coach agreed.
“Six months ago, they didn’t know if they would have a place to practice to start the year,” Hassenfelt said. “To be back in their home facility at Milton High School is a big win for this team.”
The good news: Two years into a five-year plan, the Janesville School District has met 15 of its 22 goals.
The bad news: Meeting the remaining seven goals will be a challenge.
On Tuesday, the Janesville School Board heard an update on the district’s “promises,” which are an ambitious—some said improbable—set of five-year goals in five areas: finance, academics, school culture, safety and relationships.
School board members said they were generally pleased with the progress schools were making. Tuesday’s meeting took the form of a workshop, during which board members met with department heads in charge of each promise subject.
Superintendent Steve Pophal said he was most impressed with the work done on this goal: “90% of graduates will complete career-ready indicators as detailed at redefiningready.org.”
The percentage of students who met the goal rose from 62% in 2017 to 84% at the end of the 2018-19 school year, a jump of 22%.
Redefining Ready is a national initiative of the American Association of School Administrators. The organization looked at hundreds of studies on the qualities that make high school students ready for college or the workplace.
To be considered “career ready,” a student must know which career cluster he or she wants to be in and must meet two or more of these criteria: 90% attendance rate, workplace learning experience, an industry credential, a course that gives the student high school and college credit in the career cluster, two or more organized co-curricular activities, or 25 hours of community service.
Another success is the completion of this academic goal: “90% of graduates will successfully complete an Advanced Placement, industry credentialed or dual-enrollment credit class.”
At the end of the 2018-19 school year, 91% of students had reached that goal, up from 75% in 2017.
Other goals the district has met include having all staff participate in professional development during the school year, maintaining a balanced budget and developing a teacher pay model that helps recruit and retain staff.
The district has had mixed success on other promises, such as “90% of third-graders will read at or above grade level.”
When the promises were made, 58% of third-graders could read at grade level. That number dropped slightly and then rose again to 58%.
However, the numbers also show that 43% of third-graders could read at grade level at the start 2018-19 school year. Over the course of the year, that number climbed to 58%, and that’s significant, Pophal told the board.
Other results included:
Result: Two years ago, about 76% of students met that goal. That number fell slightly and then rose to 77%. The district started a new math curriculum in the 2017-18 school year.
Result: Two years ago, about 51% of students met the criteria. By the end of the 2018-19 school year, the number had increased to 57%.
To be considered “college ready,” a student must have a GPA of 2.8 or higher and meet one or more of these criteria: a score of 3 or better on an AP exam, a C or better in an AP course, a C or better in a dual-credit English or math course, or meet all four college-ready benchmarks on the ACT exam.
Tim Joseph Barry Jr.
Dale Robert Brockway
Steven Robert Consigny
Dolores M. Cox
Juanita M. Grady
Richard Thomas Schwartz
Hazel Marie Simonsen
Terrence V. “Terry” Thompson
Elizabeth A. Vaenoski
Responding to pressure from businesses and growing fears that a trade war is threatening the U.S. economy, the Trump administration is delaying most of the import taxes it planned to impose on Chinese goods and is dropping others altogether.
The announcement Tuesday from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative was greeted with relief on Wall Street and by retailers who have grown fearful that the new tariffs would wreck holiday sales.
The administration says it still plans to proceed with 10% tariffs on about $300 billion in Chinese imports—extending its import taxes to just about everything China ships to the United States in a dispute over Beijing’s strong-arm trade policies.
But under pressure from retailers and other businesses, President Donald Trump’s trade office said it would delay until Dec. 15 the tariffs on nearly 60% of the imports that had been set to absorb the new taxes starting Sept. 1. Among the products that will benefit from the 3½-month reprieve are such popular consumer goods as cellphones, laptops, video game consoles, some toys, computer monitors, shoes and clothing.
The administration is also removing other items from the tariff list entirely based on what it called “health, safety, national security and other factors.”
Separately, China’s Ministry of Commerce reported that top Chinese negotiators had spoken by phone with their U.S. counterparts, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and planned to talk again in two weeks.
The news sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average soaring more than 400 points in mid-afternoon trading. Shares of Apple, Mattel and shoe brand Steve Madden, which stand to benefit from the delayed tariffs, led the rally.
Speaking to reporters in New Jersey, Trump confirmed that he had decided to delay the tariffs, which could force retailers to raise prices to avoid the economic pain that could result during the holiday period.
“We’re doing (it) just for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs could have an impact,” the president said.
Trump has repeatedly argued that his tariffs are hurting China, not American consumers. But by delaying higher tariffs on consumer goods, Trump is tacitly acknowledging that his import taxes stand to squeeze American households, too. Tariffs are taxes paid by U.S. importers, not by China, and are often passed along to U.S. businesses and consumers through higher prices.
Jay Foreman, CEO of the toy company Basic Fun, said he’s pleased that the 10% tariffs have been delayed for products like his until December.
His company, based in Boca Raton, Florida, had already set prices for the holiday season and would have had to absorb the impact of the tariffs. Foreman said he is considering layoffs this fall to offset his higher costs and noted that despite Trump’s reprieve, tariffs remain a severe threat.
“We were relieved,” he said. “But does that stop the volatility and instability? No.”
Together, the news of negotiations and tariff delays provided at least a respite after weeks of heightened U.S.-China trade tensions. The relief might prove only temporary, though, if the tariffs eventually take full effect and Beijing retaliates against U.S. exports.
The Trump administration is fighting the Chinese regime over allegations that Beijing steals trade secrets, forces foreign companies to hand over technology and unfairly subsidizes its own firms. Those tactics are part of Beijing’s drive to become a world leader in such advanced technologies as artificial intelligence and electric cars.
But 12 rounds of talks have failed to produce any resolution. Frustrated with the lack of progress, Trump raised the tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports from 10% to 25% in May and said Aug. 1 that he would impose 10% taxes on an additional $300 billion on Sept. 1.
On Sunday, economists at Goldman Sachs downgraded their economic forecasts, citing the impending tariffs on consumer goods. And economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch have raised their odds of a recession in the next year to roughly 33%, up from about 20%.
“We are worried,” Michelle Meyer, head of economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, wrote Friday. “We now have a number of early indicators starting to signal heightened risk of recession.”
Goldman said the tariffs on China have increased uncertainty for businesses, which will likely cause them to pull back on hiring and investing in new equipment or software. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods have also weighed down stock prices, which could depress spending by wealthier Americans, Goldman found.
“It’s pretty clear that the problem with (Trump’s) tariff tactics is it’s bad for the economy,” said David Dollar, a China specialist at the Brookings Institution and a former official at the World Bank and U.S. Treasury. “You try to use the weapon but then you get blowback on your own people.”
Despite the exchanges between the U.S. and Chinese negotiators, the prospects for negotiations remain dim. A substantive deal would require China to scale back its aspirations to become a tech superpower. And relations between the countries have been strained by mistrust.
The best possible outcome, Dollar said, likely would be a “mini-deal” in which China agrees to buy more American products and narrow the gaping U.S. trade deficit with China. In exchange, perhaps the United States would lift some sanctions on the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which the U.S. sees as a national security risk.
So far, Trump’s tariffs have failed to get President Xi Jinping to yield to the U.S. demands.
“I don’t think we’re any closer to a deal,” said Scott Kennedy, who analyzes China’s economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think there will be any deal during the Trump administration.”
The decision to delay the tariffs “shows that the two economies are interdependent and that interdependence benefits many Americans” by providing affordable goods, Kennedy said. “It’s not so easy to penalize China or disengage.”