Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials
Posted September 11
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 5
With DACA ending, Congress needs to do its job
On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan told Journal Sentinel opinion writers and reporters that Congress needs to replace the Obama administration's program aimed at protecting some 800,000 young immigrants from deportation and to otherwise fix what is essentially a broken immigration system. He also said he hoped President Donald Trump would give Congress the time it needs to make that fix.
On Tuesday, Trump gave Ryan and his fellow legislators their deadline: March 5, 2018. And he urged them in a tweet.
We think ending the DACA program is a mistake. The Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy offered security for children who had been brought into this country through no decision of their own. Leaving them hanging by announcing an end before a new system is in place is cruel.
But we agree with Trump on this: It is now up to Congress to act, and we urge it to act quickly. Young immigrants deserve the protection that the DACA program provided and that's offered in several legislative pieces before it now, including the bipartisan DREAM Act of 2017.
As Ryan told us Friday, "A lot of these kids don't know any other home but this country so I think it's something that Congress needs to get on top of and fix." He also said the fix should be done "humanely" and could "give people some certainty and peace of mind."
He argued that the president held a similar view on the need to protect so-called DREAMer kids, and on Tuesday, the president said this: "I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents." Still, he added, "we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws."
Ryan said his problem with DACA was with the way it had been implemented: It's Congress' job to provide legislation that would implement such a program, not the administration's.
On Tuesday, Ryan said in a statement, "It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president's leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country."
OK, so do it. It's not like this is a new issue or a surprise or that there is an absence of legislation. There are several bills in Congress now. And there is overwhelming public support for such legislation, as The Washington Post noted Tuesday, citing a Pew Research poll from November.
The problem is that Congress has failed time and again to fix the immigration system, something Ryan acknowledged in his Tuesday statement. It has had plenty of opportunities. Ryan says he would prefer to reform the system in a piecemeal fashion rather than in a large bill that would collapse under its own weight.
So here's your chance, Mr. Speaker: Start with DACA. There are bills awaiting action, popular support for the program and a six-month deadline. Congress, do your job.
Wisconsin State Journal, Sept. 10
GOP keeps borrowing for roads to get by
Credit the Legislature's Republican-controlled budget committee for keeping two vital road projects on pace in south-central Wisconsin: the reconstruction of Highway 151 (Verona Road) south of Madison's Beltline, and the expansion of Interstate 39-90 from Madison to Beloit.
Unfortunately, top GOP lawmakers agreed to borrow more than $400 million over the next two years to help make that happen. And they cut $79 million for state highway rehabilitation while delaying some big projects in southeastern Wisconsin.
Overall, the state's road system — already one of the worst in the nation — is expected to further deteriorate under this state budget, according to state Department of Transportation predictions last year that were based on status quo funding.
Gov. Scott Walker is the main impediment to better roads. He has refused to raise the state gas tax or vehicle registration fee, even though they've been flat for the last decade. He also has ignored suggestions from his own DOT for modernizing the state's revenue stream to reflect changing technology.
The closest the budget committee came last week to trying to fix an ongoing funding gap between transportation needs and stalled revenue is a $2.5 million study of open-road tolling on major highways, and higher fees on hybrid and electric vehicles.
Tolling the interstates could bring in tens of billions of dollars over time for better roads, with more money coming from Illinois tourists and over-the-road trucks.
But for the next two years, Republican lawmakers are planning — yet again, and largely at the governor's direction — to punt the state's transportation funding shortfall into the future.
Attracting lots of attention is a higher state fee on hybrid and electric vehicles. Republicans on the budget committee voted last week to double the state charge on hybrid vehicles from $75 to $150, and to increase the fee on electric vehicles from $75 to $175. The state fee for cars that run solely on gasoline would stay at $75.
The higher fees on battery-powered vehicles, which run partly or entirely on electricity, would bring in just $8.4 million over 18 months, under the budget committee's plan. The new revenue would come from a few thousand electric vehicles and about 70,000 hybrids that tend to be more popular in urban counties.
Some critics say the new fee is targeted at liberal Madison and Milwaukee, where hybrid and electric vehicles are popular. But the county with the third highest concentration of such cars is conservative Waukesha County.
Moreover, the DOT projects that, over the next decade, the number of electric vehicles will increase to 200,000, while hybrids will jump to 140,000. That would bring in more than $30 million a year from the higher fees, but it also would further erode state gas tax revenue.
So overall, the Republican-run Legislature hasn't come close to fixing its chronic road funding problem. The governor has decided the political advantage of saying "no" to any new taxes or fees affecting most drivers is better than properly maintaining a modern road system for our economy.
The transportation budget heading to the governor's desk once again dodges fiscal responsibility in favor of political expediency.
The Journal Times of Racine, Sept. 10
Permanent license revocation for OWI repeaters
The facts, as laid out in an Associated Press report published Sept. 4 in The Journal Times, are shocking and horrifying.
Wisconsin Department of Transportation data shows that one-third of the state's 221,576 drunken-driving convictions in 2015 — the most recent data available — were repeat offenders. Put another way, the 221,576 repeat offenders were more than twice the population of Green Bay.
About 52,000 convictions were for a third offense.
Nearly 2,800 were for a seventh offense or more.
We have nearly 2,800 people in this state not taking seriously the idea that they could kill somebody because they won't ask somebody else to drive, despite having been informed at least six previous times by the state's judicial system that it's against the law.
Wisconsin is the only state, for example, that treats a first offense as a traffic ticket rather than a criminal charge. Efforts to toughen drunken-driving laws have largely failed amid concerns about increasing court and incarceration costs and pushback from lobbyists.
Driver's licenses can be revoked, but only for limited periods that generally range from several months to three years.
The last bill before the Wisconsin Legislature instituted permanent revocation at five or more offenses. No groups registered against it, the Tavern League supported it and the Assembly passed it on a voice vote, a procedure used for noncontroversial legislation. The Senate's transportation committee passed the proposal but it never got a floor vote in that chamber. State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, the bill's chief Senate sponsor then, is trying again this session.
Wanggaard says the state has to do something to curb repeat drunken driving and he doesn't know what else to try "short of locking them up and throwing the key away." He says drunken drivers must face consequences for their actions because "it doesn't take much and somebody's dead."
Wanggaard's bill, SB 135, would require the DOT to permanently revoke the license of a person who meets either of the following requirements:
1. The person has committed four or more OWI offenses.
2. The person has committed two or more OWI offenses and has two or more "qualifying convictions." A qualifying conviction is 1) a conviction for certain homicides that involve the use of a motor vehicle or 2) a conviction for certain felonies involving the use of a motor vehicle.
A person whose operating privilege is revoked under this bill is not eligible for an occupational license. After 10 years of the revocation period have elapsed, the person, however, may apply for reinstatement of his or her operating privilege under certain conditions, up to and including no felony convictions and participation in a treatment program.
We're with Sen. Wanggaard on this one. We've had it with the idea that you can repeatedly drive drunk and get your license back after as little as three years. Let's start taking licenses away for 10 years and see if the message gets through.
We'd like to see lifetime revocation after a certain number of offenses, because some people are living examples of being "powerless over alcohol," which you may recall is the first of Alcoholics Anonymous' 12 steps to recovery.
Wisconsin's beer-brewing history, and the culture of social drinking it has spawned, must no longer be intertwined with a wrist-slap attitude toward drunken driving. We cannot ignore the greatly increased potential for fatalities of letting someone drive drunk.
Wisconsin, we must get repeat drunken drivers off the road for as long as we possibly can.