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Editorials
On the road to guns in schools PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 20 January 2016 17:54

Is it too much to ask that weapons-permit holders obey Wisconsin’s sensible law banning guns in the hands of civilians from school grounds and buildings?

Changing gun-free zones, including schools, to guns-welcome zones is a priority of the National Rifle Association and the political action committees that support it, so it comes as no surprise that a bill has been introduced in the NRA-friendly Wisconsin Legislature that would allow guns on school grounds.

What does come as a bit of surprise is the creative rationale for the proposed law change. The sponsors, Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) and Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), say it’s needed to keep people with permits to carry concealed guns out of jail.

Under current law, weapons permit holders could be liable for arrest for a felony if they have a gun in their vehicle when they take their children to school. Said Brooks, “When they drop off their kids, pick up their kids, I don’t think they realize they’re breaking the law.”

Ignorance of the law doesn’t usually cut it as a defense. See how far it gets you to tell the police officer who pulls you over for speeding that you didn’t know the limit was 15 mph in a school zone. 

The Brooks-Lazich bill would amount to a signed excuse for ignorance of the current law or for negligence in the failure of some gun-permit holders to remember they’re carrying, say, a Smith &Wesson .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol with a 15-bullet magazine under the seat of their car when they drive onto school grounds.

Wisconsin’s concealed-carry law asks very little for the privilege of carrying a gun besides passing a rudimentary training course and having a felony-free criminal record. Is it too much to ask that holders of such permits obey Wisconsin’s sensible law banning guns in the hands of civilians from school grounds and buildings?

It seems it should take more than a wish to accommodate the convenience of gun permit holders to justify writing a law, and it turns out there is more to this one. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that “Brooks said he was offering the bill because he would feel terrible if there were a school shooting and parents and teachers told him afterward they didn’t have a chance to defend themselves because of state law.”

The comment suggests that the legislation is also intended to help achieve the gun lobby’s goal of getting guns inside of schools, which is borne out by a provision in the bill that would let school boards decide whether guns can be carried in classrooms, gyms and other areas inside of school buildings.

The notion that putting more guns in more places makes Americans safer is animated by the Rambo-dream scenario of an armed citizen stopping a San Bernadino type of assault-rifle massacre by dispatching the shooters as they do their evil work.

The more likely scenario involving civilians engaging in gun battles with criminals is shooting bystanders and adding to the loss of innocent lives.

New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, one of the many respected law enforcement officials who are saying that America’s gun problem is too many guns rather than, as the NRA preaches, too few, pointed out recently that even police officers trained as marksmen have trouble consistently hitting targets with handguns. The idea that a graduate of one of Wisconsin’s cursory concealed-carry classes is qualified to shoot in defense of children and teachers in schools cannot be taken seriously.

Of all places, schools should be safe havens  from guns and the tragedy they can wreak, intended or accidental. That’s why so many local governments and states, with strong support from the public and educators, have declared schools gun-free places.

Following the NRA playbook, a bill to end gun-free status for Michigan schools has been introduced in that state’s legislature. A survey by one the nation’s most respected polling organizations found that 70% of the people of Michigan oppose allowing guns in schools. There is no reason to believe public opinion in Wisconsin would be any different.

Nothing good for Wisconsin can come from the Brooks-Lazich guns-at-school bill. It should be withdrawn from this legislative session, which would give Brooks time to consider whether getting guns into schools is really an achievement he wants on the record of his first term in the legislature representing Ozaukee County.

 
The fight to know PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 16:13

Even after an open-government win, there is no reason to believe politicians won’t try again to steal the public’s right to know

In a democracy, it is assumed that government functions in full view of the public—no secret meetings, no hidden documents. 

But in the Wisconsin state government’s version of democracy, open government cannot be assumed.

In a democracy, citizens should not have to fight for their right to know everything about the government that spends their tax money and makes decisions that affect their lives.

But in the Wisconsin state government’s version of democracy, citizens do have to fight to protect that right—because government officials are trying to destroy it.

In Wisconsin, the right to know is a fight to know.

The latest evidence of that is the decision by the state Public Records Board to allow emails, text messages, Facebook posts and other electronic communications of government officials to be kept secret.

The decision itself was made virtually in secret in a meeting of the board last August that violated the state open meetings by being held without the required public notice.

The public didn’t know electronic government communications could suddenly be hidden, but the Walker administration certainly did. The very next day it announced that it could not provide text messages sought by a Madison newspaper under the open records law because, in keeping with the Public Record Board’s decision, they had not been saved.

That was convenient, to say the least. The messages were about a Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. loan that is an embarrassment to the Walker administration. The owner of the company that got the taxpayer-funded loan, a donor to Walker campaigns, defaulted and was found to have given the state false information.

Yes, Wisconsin citizens do have to fight for the information that belongs them, and they are. They sent nearly 2,000 emails last week demanding that the Public Records Board revoke its action. And under this withering public condemnation, the board did just that on Monday.

This is a win for open government and citizen activism that is worth celebrating, yet the fact that this battle had to be fought is a sad reminder of the ethical void that seems to exist in this state concerning democracy’s imperative to be open.

It was less than seven months ago that citizens had to go through the same exercise to defend access to government records. Then it was the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee  using a budget amendment to put severe limits on open records. That attempt to hide government communications was also withdrawn in the face of furious public criticism.

The mystery here is what constituency the politicians who attempt these thefts of the public’s right to know think they are serving. The outcry against them has crossed political lines, voiced by Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Voters may be polarized on many issues, but not on the issue of open government. 

Elected officials of both parties have also criticized the moves to hide records, including Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel. Among Ozaukee County’s representatives in the Legislature, however, silence has prevailed.

Where exactly do State Senators Duey Stroebel and Alberta Darling and Reps. Rob Brooks, Dan Knodl and Jim Ott stand on the repeated attempts to deny citizens information about their government? 

Those citizens need an answer. They’re involved in an ongoing battle to protect their right to open government, and they need to know who their allies, and their enemies, in that fight are.

 
The uphill battle for manufacturing jobs PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 January 2016 21:42

An impediment to Port Washington in replacing lost jobs is that it is located in Wisconsin, which is mired in the bottom third of the states in job creation

Ouch! That hurts. The City of Port Washington got a kick in its economy around Christmas time that it didn’t see coming. A letter arrived among the tax payments and other city hall mail informing the city that Manitowoc Cranes will shut down its Port Washington plant this year with a loss of 80 jobs. 

When the city’s economic development committee visited Manitowoc’s Port Washington operation several months ago, everything was upbeat and there wasn’t a hint that anything was amiss. 

It’s not that the lack of notice matters much. The city couldn’t have done anything to save the jobs. The Port Washington plant is a tiny outpost in Manitowoc Cranes’ manufacturing empire that includes plants in Manitowoc, Wis., Pennsylvania, Indiana, Arkansas, Mexico and South America and generates billions in annual revenue. Eighty jobs don’t mean much to the company, but they certainly do to Port Washington. 

These are manufacturing jobs with good pay and benefits held by employees represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union. They are the kind of jobs that for many years were the backbone of Port Washington’s economy and contributed a strong blue-collar-worker component to its diverse society.

Hundreds of such jobs have been lost in the last 20 years, of which the still mostly empty plants of Bolens, Simplicity and other departed companies are sobering reminders.

By rights, Port Washington, well located for transportation of materials and products and offering first-rate municipal services, should be attractive to manufacturing companies. The community’s good schools and a still reasonably-priced real estate market help employers attract workers.

Unfortunately, one of the main impediments to restoring a strong manufacturing base is beyond the city’s control. The impediment is that Port Washington is located in Wisconsin, which is mired in the bottom third of the states in job creation. In the last five years, while private jobs increased by 11.2% in the country,  they grew by only 7.6% in Wisconsin. That was less than in the neighboring states of Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa, as well as Ohio.

We were promised so much more. The Walker administration, frequently repeating the slogan “Wisconsin is open for business,” touted its successful campaigns to curtail the influence of public and private worker unions, weaken business regulations, reduce business taxes, soften environmental restrictions on business and spend taxpayer dollars on loans to businesses through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) as surefire job builders. 

The jobs data confirm they weren’t, and it has been suggested that the consequences of the Walker agenda—including a bitterly polarized state population, education at all levels strained by reduced funding, highway maintenance and construction deferred owing to the failure to raise revenue for infrastructure—have created an environment that is a turn-off for investment in Wisconsin.

WEDC offers a telling measure of the state’s job-creation cluelessness. The corporation, created to replace the state Department of Commerce, has been plagued by mismanagement and accurately accused of throwing away taxpayer money in low-interest loans to failing businesses and to existing businesses that had ample resources for commercial credit, all with little, if anything, to show in new jobs.

None of that helps Port Washington replace its lost jobs, of course, but the city does have a good story to tell prospective employers as a progressive community that would be a fine home for their operations and for their workers—and the city’s economic development advocates should keep telling it.

They can also mention that there will soon be an enormous building available in the industrial park that would be ideal for manufacturing very large construction cranes.

 
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