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Spring forward into the dark PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 March 2017 17:04

What this politically polarized country needs is the tonic of an honest, enthusiastic, bipartisan action by Congress to improve the lives of the people of America.

Obviously, it won’t be health care, since one political party views Trumpcare as a curative medicine, while the other considers it a deadly poison.

The issue that should bring the two sides of Congress together for a brief burst of unified service to the nation is daylight saving time. Surely Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, can agree that their constituents should be spared the twice-a-year irritation of this foolish and pointless clock-setting ritual.

Damning testimony in a congressional hearing could be given by citizens of a northern latitude state such as Wisconsin. They would merely have to report what the March 12 spring-ahead DST adjustment has accomplished. 

The clock reset gives residents dark mornings. It forces commuters to drive to work in the dark and school children to wait for the bus in the dark. It provides more light in evenings, which is worthless this time of year except for those who consider it a plus to be able to shovel snow in daylight.

Studies have identified other effects: a spike in traffic crashes following the start of DST; reduced worker productivity; an increase in heart attacks, strokes and depression; a $147 million cost to airlines to cope with schedule adjustments.

Yes, but isn’t it worth putting up with this negative baggage to save energy? It might be if the clock changing really did reduce electricity demand, as DST was touted to do, but it doesn’t.

Changing clocks to reduce energy consumption is a century-old practice, so it has been studied ad infinitum. The current consensus of those studies is that, at best, DST has no effect on energy consumption. One frequently cited study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that it actually increases usage of electricity. 

Congress sets the dates for clock changing—and managed to make the effects more pernicious by adding a month to daylight saving time in 2007. States have the right to opt out, but only Hawaii and Arizona have done so, though many state legislatures have considered bail-out bills. Federal repeal would settle the matter.

Daylight saving time in the U.S. dates to World War I, when it was tried on the premise that it would reduce the need for electricity-producing coal, more of which could then be devoted to the war effort. 

Farmers are frequently blamed for being the instigators of DST, but it turns out they deserve credit for getting rid of it the first time around. It was abandoned after the war, according to Michael Downing, author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time,” in response to a revolt of the farm lobby, which said the manipulation of the hours of sunshine conflicted with milking and crop harvesting schedules. 

The U.S. has been stuck with DST without interruption since Congress codified it in 1966 in spite of the absence of evidence that it is beneficial to its citizens. A possible explanation for Congress sticking with it is that an influential special interest group likes it. The retail lobby, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says having more light in the evening causes people to buy more in stores. 

So it seems daylight saving time is not about decreasing energy consumption—it’s about increasing shoppers’ consumption.

Acting in a way perceived to be inimical to shopping may be daunting, not to mention un-American, for some members of Congress, but they should look at daylight saving time as an opportunity for senators and representatives of both parties to earn their profiles in courage by working together to relieve America of a silly clock-setting mandate.

A cloud over government transparency PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 08 March 2017 19:20

The people of Wisconsin should be told less about the actions of their elected officials.

That message is implicit in bills in the state Senate and Assembly that would repeal the state law requiring that meeting minutes, ordinances and budgets of municipalities and school districts be published in newspapers.

The bills would allow local governments to satisfy public notice requirements by posting the information on their own websites.

This legislation would make it harder for citizens to get information about their government and would be a setback for the transparency that is an essential element of democracy.

Newspaper publication of public notices, required by law in every state as one of the checks and balances of government, ensures an independent source of easily accessible government information—a permanent, unedited record of the actions of public officials.

Citizens should not have to search for this information on websites controlled by government agencies. It should be presented, as it is now, on the pages of the newspapers most citizens rely on for information about their elected governments.

Acting to reduce the availability of government information to the public is hard to defend, thus supporters of killing the newspaper public notice requirement have had to resort to the argument that it will save the taxpayers money.

Newspapers are paid to publish government minutes, budgets and ordinances. The rates are set by the state Department of Administration as part of detailed regulations that also specify the typestyle and size of the printed notices.

The payment rates, substantially less than commercial advertisers pay for newspaper space, barely cover the cost of processing and printing the information. 

In newspaper public notices, taxpayers get good value for expenditures that represent a tiny fraction of government budgets.

When Port Washington aldermen passed a resolution late last year supporting legislation to end the newspaper public notice requirement, it was in character for city officials who have often appeared insensitive to the public’s right to know about the actions of their elected representatives. 

The aldermen who urged state legislators to relieve them of the requirement to publish meeting minutes in Ozaukee Press, the city’s official newspaper, were the same Common Council members who held an unprecedented series of closed meetings from which the public and press were excluded in 2016. 

The meetings were mostly about the subject that has ignited strong public opposition, the proposed Blues Factory development on the lakefront, and were frequently followed by unanimous votes in favor of the development with little public discussion.

In a letter to the editor published in last week’s Ozaukee Press, Ald. Bill Driscoll exaggerated the potential savings of eliminating the newspaper public notice requirement by more than 50% and made dubious claims about declining newspaper readership (as does State Sen. Duey Stroebel in a letter in this issue of the Press).

Surveys have shown that Wisconsin residents depend on newspapers for information about government more than any other source. Circulation of community newspapers—those most affected by the proposed public notice change—remains robust. 

Readership of Ozaukee Press, the largest paid circulation community weekly in Wisconsin, is steady or growing in all of the communities the newspaper serves. In Port Washington, more than 75% of the households are reached by Ozaukee Press.

The Press, which devotes significant staff time and newspaper space to comprehensive coverage of local government in the communities it serves, is the primary source of public knowledge of local government issues in Ozaukee County. 

The official record of government activities, including the complete text of ordinances and budgets, belongs where citizens go to get information about their local government—in newspapers. Ending that is bad public policy that would erode open government. The public should not stand for it.

Let state law banning guns at schools stand PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 01 March 2017 17:59

Is the convenience of people who carry concealed guns more important than the safety of students, local control of schools and the views of a majority of the public?

The answer should be obvious, but State Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) doesn’t seem to get it. He and State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) introduced legislation last year that would force school districts to allow guns on school grounds.

The bill did not advance in 2016 and it is not clear what its prospects for passage in the current legislative session are. Given the demonstrated influence in the Legislature of the NRA gun lobby, whose agenda calls for eliminating gun-free zones such as schools, anything is possible. 

Sensible existing state law forbids guns carried by civilians, including concealed-carry permit holders, on school grounds and in school buildings. Most school districts have policies reinforcing that ban.

The Brooks-Lazich bill would weaken the state law and limit school districts to restricting firearms only in school buildings where classes are taught. Concealed-carry permit holders would be allowed to have guns on school grounds and, apparently, at school facilities not physically part of school buildings, such as athletic fields, stadiums and fieldhouses.

One purpose of the bill is to relieve conceal-carry permit holders of the risk of violating the current law by driving onto school grounds with guns in their vehicles. This would be a convenience for armed citizens that could come at a price. Schools and their grounds are gun-free zones for a simple reason: The presence of guns is a safety risk.

Since 2007, according to data gathered by the Violence Policy Center, shootings by concealed-carry permit holders have caused 898 deaths in America that did not involve self-defense. The toll includes 139 deaths caused by permit holders in 29 mass shootings.

What is disturbing about the bill, besides its effect of introducing deadly weapons into children’s environments, is that it steps on local control of schools. Brooks has described the bill, which is misleadingly named the “Wisconsin School Zone Empowerment Act,” as “empowering school boards to develop conceal-carry policies,” but in fact it would deprive elected boards of power—the power to declare their school grounds off limits to guns, an authority the public supports. 

A survey conducted by the highly respected Marquette University Law School polling organization last year found that 65% of Wisconsin residents oppose allowing concealed-carry permit holders to have guns on school grounds.

The current state law makes possession of a gun on school grounds or in school buildings a felony. The Brook-Lazich bill would reduce the crime of taking a gun into a school building to a misdemeanor, and would extend the privilege of carrying guns on school grounds to not only holders of permits issued in Wisconsin, but those from other states as well.

When the bill was introduced a year ago, it drew criticism from a number of school officials. Recently, opposition to the bill has been voiced in the Grafton School District by the public, as well as by school board members.

A parent told the school board at its Jan. 23 meeting that the bill endangers children’s safety and raises “the risk of deadly accidents.” Board member Clayton Riddle urged the board to “vehemently oppose” the legislation for taking away local control. At a meeting last week, board member Julia McNally called for a resolution opposing the bill. The board will consider sample resolutions at its next meeting.

Other school boards that object to “empowerment” that weakens their ability to keep their students safe should follow Grafton’s example and get ahead of this misguided legislation.

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