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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

By The Associated PressSeptember 10, 2019

The Capital Times, Madison, Sept. 10

Legislative Republicans created a ‘lame-duck’ mess that must be cleaned up

Wisconsin needs a chief law enforcement officer who is fully empowered to do his job. Yet, Attorney General Josh Kaul is hamstrung by legislative Republicans.

In the fall of 2018, the voters put their trust in Kaul, a Democrat, to serve a four-year term as attorney general. Legislative Republicans did not like the result, so they conspired to disempower Kaul with “lame-duck” legislation that has effectively blocked his authority to settle legal disputes that past attorneys general — Democrats and Republicans — were able to resolve.

Now, in order to settle any lawsuit involving the state, Kaul must seek approval from the Republicans who control the legislative Joint Finance Committee.

That’s cumbersome, inefficient and absurd. Yet, that’s the mess we’re in. Efforts to resolve more than a dozen lawsuits have been stalled. One, according to Department of Justice staff, involves a “matter of tremendous importance to the state.”

Joint Finance Committee Democrats have had enough.

″(It) should be abundantly clear to Wisconsinites that Republicans did an incredibly sloppy job in their rush to pass the lame-duck laws last year,” said state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, a Milwaukee Democrat who serves on the committee. “Instead of Wisconsin’s duly elected attorney general being able to act in our state’s best interests, we have legal gridlock and the legislative Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. They took unprecedented action to strip powers from Gov. Evers and AG Kaul and are just now realizing they’ve made a mess of our state’s government.”

Committee Democrats are proposing a simple fix: go back to normal. By repealing the changes made during the lame-duck session, the traditional authority of the attorney general, the authority that voters elected Kaul to exercise, will be restored.

“Wisconsin trusts the attorney general to do his job, but Republicans continue to stand in his way,” said state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point. “Republicans desperately passed lame-duck laws in the dead of night that they aren’t able to live up to and now they are postponing settlements and putting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars at risk.”

It is time to clean up the lame-duck mess.

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The Journal Times of Racine, Sept. 9

E-bikes will ease congestion in national parks

Accommodating the crest in popularity of e-bikes, the Interior Department last month agreed to open the gates and allow them on trails in national parks and other public lands across the country.

E-bikes, which combine pedal-power with battery-driven small electric motors, previously had been classified as motor vehicles and were restricted to park roadways.

The Trump administration order, signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, was a bow to senior citizens and others who want to ride a bike but may not be able to because of physical fitness, age, disability or convenience.

It’s a good change — or at least a good chance to take a trial run and see how it meshes with other park visitors at the nation’s 400 parks and other recreation areas.

It also reflects the soaring popularity of the small, quiet, typically low horsepower e-bikes, that can go as fast as you can pedal, but typically cut out the electric assist at 20 mph or 28 mph. For riders, that usually means getting an assist on uphill climbs or extending the length of their bike outing so they can cover more ground.

Aging baby boomers — and, in some cities, commuters — have taken to the e-bikes and made them the fastest growing segment of the bike sales industry. Sales of e-bikes, which cost $1,000 to $2,000 or more, jumped 72 percent last year to $144 million, according to news reports.

Not everyone was humming along with the park change, however. Outdoors and hiking groups, along with horse-riding groups, opposed the change that will allow e-bikes on trails where previously only regular bikes and hikers had been allowed.

While that may briefly interrupt the solitude of the hiking experience, the change could also disperse some of the heavy visitor traffic and congestion on roads in national parks by allowing e-bikers to take to trails where they previously could not venture.

In Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine, for instance, the new directive will allow e-bikes on the 57 miles of carriage paths with stone bridges that meander through the park and were constructed and funded by industrialist John D. Rockefeller, who owned a summer home there and donated the land.

That will open new vistas for visitors in Bar Harbor and hopefully do the same in other parks across the land, spreading out the millions of people who flock to — and sometimes overwhelm — national parks and providing a better outdoor experience as they take in the beauty of the nation’s mountains, lakes and forests.

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Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Sept. 8

Trump should listen to swing state voters on guns

The latest Marquette Law School poll should serve as a warning to President Donald Trump and encourage more Republicans to support reasonable limits on guns.

Trump is trailing his top Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, by 9 percentage points — 42 percent to 51 percent — among registered voters in Wisconsin, a crucial swing state in the 2020 election. And based on several questions about gun control in the statewide survey, the Republican president’s inaction on mass shootings isn’t helping his re-election chances.

According to the Marquette poll released last week:

— 81 percent of respondents in Wisconsin favor “red flag” laws, allowing police to take guns from people who have been found by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others.

— 80 percent support expanded background checks on private gun sales, including at gun shows.

— 57 percent support a ban on assault-style weapons.

More Republicans across the country are embracing sensible gun laws in the wake of massacres in Ohio and Texas. Wisconsin’s senior senator should, too. He’s in an ideal position to make a difference.

Congress returns to Washington this week with gun legislation at the top of its agenda. The Democratic-controlled House has already passed universal background checks. But without a strong push from the president for sensible laws to help deter mass shootings, they stand little chance of getting through the GOP-run Senate.

So what is Trump waiting for? He said he wanted stronger background checks after last month’s horrific mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which killed more than 30 and injured dozens in less than 24 hours. But after the National Rifle Association objected, Trump wimped out.

The president must show some courage.

Trump said he supports “red flag” laws, allowing family and in some cases police to petition the court to take guns from individuals who pose extreme risk. But now that some gun groups and lawmakers are opposed, the president is waffling again.

Trump has favored a ban on assault weapons in the past. But now he claims there’s “no political appetite” for a ban. That’s not true. Wisconsin is hungry for banning military-style guns, which helped the El Paso and Dayton killers maximize their carnage. The Marquette poll showed 57% support, compared to 40% in opposition. And a national poll shows most Republicans favor such a ban.

Congress should start with consistent background checks and build from there. The Marquette poll found sweeping support in Wisconsin for universal checks on private gun sales. Among Republican voters, support was 74%. Virtually all independents — 94% — favor such legislation. So do 81 percent of rural voters, 76 percent of conservatives, and more than half of “very conservative” voters, according to the Marquette poll.

Our wishy-washy president needs to show some resolve. His top priority is re-election. And for that to happen, he’ll need to win Wisconsin.

Voters here won’t like to hear that Trump signed a resolution in 2017 making it easier for mentally ill people to get guns. They won’t like his big talk, followed by inaction, as mass shootings tear apart innocent lives nearly every two weeks, including this summer near Chippewa Falls.

Trump should finally buck the NRA and side with the vast majority of voters in Wisconsin and across our nation who want stronger gun laws to deter the senseless slaughter.

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