Wisconsin State Journal, June 2
Smart legislation still needed for DUI
Not even close.
The Legislature's latest bill to address drunken driving is, at best, a baby step in the right direction.
The state Assembly just approved a bill requiring 30 days in jail for anyone who causes an injury by driving drunk. The bill also seeks a month behind bars for commercial drivers who hurt someone while driving with a blood-alcohol content as low as half the normal limit.
Thirty days in jail will get some people's attention. And if your job is to operate a semi-truck, you shouldn't be drinking at all before climbing behind the wheel of a big rig.
But that won't do it. What's really needed to change Wisconsin's drunken-driving scourge is stricter penalties across the board — on first-time as well as repeat offenders.
In addition, Wisconsin needs more treatment for alcohol abusers, and more courts that specialize in drunken-driving cases. A small increase in the state's teensy beer tax can pay for the higher costs of incarceration and intervention combating addiction.
Wisconsin should require ignition locks in the cars of all convicted drunken drivers. The devices prevent vehicles from starting if they detect alcohol on the breath of drivers.
Wisconsin should allow police checkpoints. Other states have reported success at stopping and deterring drunken drivers by targeting trouble spots.
Periodically pulling over and assessing the condition of every driver would get to the heart of why so many people still drive drunk: They don't think they'll get caught.
Just as important, Wisconsin needs to change its beer- and booze-binging culture. This may be the hardest step of all. Yet it holds the most promise.
Alcohol is ubiquitous across Wisconsin. It's sold at seemingly every grocery, drug and convenience store. It's offered in unlimited quantities at social gathering, community and sporting events.
Moderate alcohol consumption is fine. In fact, it's healthy. But Wisconsin's many modest and responsible drinkers need to take a stand. We need to discourage excessive drinking among our friends and in our neighborhoods so it's no longer viewed as normal and OK.
Not every proposal to crack down on drunken driving makes sense. The National Transportation Safety Board, for example, recently called for lowering the threshold for drunken driving from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.
That's certainly an aggressive approach. But it's also unjustified because it would target drivers who aren't the problem — a woman, for example, who weighs less than 120 pounds and consumes a single drink. Not even Mothers Against Drunk Driving has endorsed such a low threshold.
Wisconsin should focus intently on those who drive after drinking large quantities of alcohol. They're the ones putting so many innocent people's lives at risk.
Voters should demand sweeping action this legislative session — and a higher alcohol tax to pay for it.
Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, June 2
Keep Stewardship fund strong
Despite our reputation as a "purple" state closely split between Republicans and Democrats, the Nelson-Knowles Stewardship Program is one initiative that has had bipartisan support through the years. It was created in 1989 to preserve natural areas and wildlife habitat, among other goals, by using public money to protect pristine areas from development and preserving them for future generations.
Protecting our most beautiful natural areas from bulldozers is something most of us agree with. Anyone who has spent time in the Chippewa Flowage or some other protected areas understands that once they're compromised, there's no turning back. The fact the program is named for Gaylord Nelson, a former Democratic governor, and Warren Knowles, a former Republican governor, indicates the goals of the Stewardship Program are nonpartisan.
However, last month the Legislature's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee voted to cut Stewardship funding from $60 million a year to $47.5 million in 2013-14 and bump it up to $54.5 million in 2014-15. The committee also called on the Department of Natural Resources to put at least 10,000 acres of state land up for sale by mid-2017, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
This funding cut wouldn't be the end of the world. Still, the fact Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature are poised to cut state income taxes by as much as $750 million over two years would suggest there is enough wiggle room to at least hold harmless the amount spent to protect our most precious land from development.
Fortunately, Walker seemed to agree in comments he made last week in Milwaukee.
"I would prefer ... to have something at, or at least close to, what I had," Walker was quoted in the Journal Sentinel.
Walker also said he believed many lawmakers and the public don't believe they have adequate access to the land the state buys, although the Journal Sentinel said a report by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau earlier this year found nine out of every 10 acres in the program are open to hunting.
If public access is an issue, that should be addressed. We've heard plenty about obesity and dwindling numbers of young people taking up hunting that lawmakers should encourage people to get out and enjoy the majestic beauty our state has to offer. At the same time, if we are to adequately protect these areas, public use can't be unlimited. Some areas should be guarded against excessive human encroachment.
But even more important is to protect such areas from condominiums and other development that are hard to resist when huge amounts of money and talk of jobs and "economic development" get tossed about, especially in some parts of our state where local residents aren't exactly awash in money.
Striking a balance between environmental protection and growing jobs is a constant tug-of-war that requires careful thought and planning by our leaders. But identifying areas of our state worth protecting for the future and spending up to $60 million a year to help make that happen is a vision Nelson and Knowles shared, and so should our current leadership.
Wausau Daily Herald, June 2
Entrepreneurs needed in Wisconsin, even if they fail
It is no small thing to start a business. The hours are long. The risk is enormous; most new businesses fail. And if an enterprise you've started and poured yourself into does not take off, it can feel like a kind of personal rejection.
In fact, you could say it takes a kind of pioneer spirit to make a new business succeed — and to keep your entrepreneurial spirit alive if your first (or the second, or third) ideas don't quite take off. But that spirit is something we ought to have here in Wisconsin, isn't it? Our state last week turned 165; our frontier past really is not so distant.
But our state lags others when it comes to creating new businesses. A report this year by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation put Wisconsin near the bottom of the nation for entrepreneurship. That is a serious obstacle to job growth.
In a recent interview with the Daily Herald Media Editorial Board, Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance, noted that in general, states with the most new firm creation also have the most job growth. These states also have the most firms that go out of business.
The lesson? "It's good to try and fail," Berry said.
There is a familiar litany of barriers to entrepreneurship in Wisconsin. Taxes are too high; regulations are too burdensome. Capital is hard to come by. The population is aging.
All of these things are real. And yet there's a cultural component here, too. To too many people, the idea of starting a new business seems like something out of reach. That's despite local efforts like Wausau's business incubator, the Entrepreneurial and Education Center, which provides resources and education for all sorts of would-be startups. And it's despite efforts to talk up entrepreneurship by politicians and other officials.
Have you ever had a big idea — a daydream, even — about a business you could start? What stopped you from putting it into practice? What would it take to make it something you would seriously pursue?
If you did start a business, how did you do it? What helped encourage you? What do you know now that you wish you'd known then?
Obviously, entrepreneurship won't be for everyone. The risk, the hours — those who succeed at starting a small business are those who have nothing short of a genuine passion.
But we need more people who will give it a try.
"Clearly we need to champion people who are starting out ... to stick out their neck and take risks," Berry said.
No doubt there are specific policies that can help encourage that. But a big component of that is about culture. That's something that can be a benefit to all of us.