There are many important issues that the State Assembly will be dealing with in the next term. Here are my views on some of these issues. I will be expanding on these and related items on the blog section of the website in the days ahead.
We made significant progress on tax reform in the last session of the legislature by passing Act 10 and other bills. As a result, many citizens actually saw their property taxes go down for the first time in years. However, taxes are still too high in Wisconsin. We need to continue to work to cut waste and inefficiency in our state agencies, using our state revenue and resources as wisely as possible. We also need to explore expanding user fees, especially for out of state residents, then removing the corresponding items from the tax rolls. I will continue to look for ways to save money and help our state government to operate more efficiently.
The penalties for certain serious crimes should be increased. For example, we have an ongoing problem with drunk driving in Wisconsin. In the last session of the Legislature I introduced Assembly Bills 207 and 208. AB 207 would have made first offense operating while intoxicated (OWI) a crime at blood alcohol levels of .15 and above. Currently, first offense OWI is treated as a municipal citation. AB 208 would have made third offense OWI a felony and increased the felony level by one higher category for each offense beyond the third.
While neither bill passed, I plan on reintroducing versions of these bills in the next session. Additionally, I plan on introducing a bill that would require first time offenders to appear in court. Under current law a first time offender can simply send his or her lawyer before the judge without having to confront the seriousness of his or her actions.
Repeat drunk drivers present a danger on the roadways for everyone. Those who cannot resist the temptation to drink and drive should receive longer prison sentences and – at some point – should lose their driving privileges altogether.
All children deserve a quality education. I supported the expansion of school choice in the last session of the legislature and will support further expansion in the future. It is a proven method to help students reach their full potential and to improve high school graduation rates.
I support reforms introduced in the last session of the legislature to reward our best teachers with merit pay and making it easier to fire teachers for serious misconduct on the job.
As an avid fisherman who greatly appreciates our beautiful Wisconsin landscape, I strongly favor efforts to reduce pollution and preserve resources. Invasive species are a major problem on the Great Lakes. I favor closing the Chicago sanitary canal in an effort to keep Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan. This is as issue that will have to be worked out mainly between the Federal Government and the state of Illinois.
It’s also important to remember that protecting the environment involves costs and sometimes difficult choices. As measures come before the legislature, I feel it’s our responsibility to keep citizens thoroughly informed about the costs and the benefits of these measures and the likelihood that the desired results will be achieved.
I do believe that it’s possible to achieve economic growth and protect the environment at the same time. I voted in favor of the mining bill introduced in the last session of the legislature because it would have provided for significant job growth in northern Wisconsin and included substantial environmental protections.
We have incredible natural resources in our state and it’s important that everyone have access to them. This holds particularly true of stewardship lands which have been acquired with taxpayer dollars. One of my bills signed into law in the last session requires the Department of Natural Resources to produce maps of all lands in Wisconsin acquired with stewardship funds, which provide information on the activities allowed on these lands. The maps are now available on the DNR website (http://dnr.wi.gov/org/caer/cfa/LR/Stewardhip/mapping.html) and hard copies will be available in the near future.
Our health care system in the United States is the finest in the world. I oppose efforts to manipulate it like the Federal Government is planning to do. The fact is over 90% of the residents of Wisconsin have some form of health insurance and some of those who don’t refuse it by choice.
The efforts at health care reform should not be to destroy our present system, but to improve it. In the last session of the legislature, we passed a bill that allows health savings accounts to be tax deductible at the state level. There are also efforts underway by health care providers to keep better track of patients’ visits to emergency rooms and to prevent doctor shopping to illegally obtain drugs.
While we have room for more improvement in our health care and health insurance systems, I believe we are on the right track and I am hopeful that our federal government will repeal “Obamacare” next year.
This is an issue that extends well beyond the borders of Wisconsin, but also an issue that we must deal with right here. Conservation is part of the solution. That alone will not ensure an ample supply of energy at a reasonable price into the future, nor will an unrealistic belief that renewables alone will solve the problem.
I believe we need a balanced approach. Fossil fuels will continue to provide a large portion of our energy needs into the foreseeable future. Much progress has been achieved in developing cleaner fuels like natural gas and cleaner burning coal. Also, I feel that nuclear energy must continue to play an important role in generating electricity.
Wisconsin is currently under a self imposed mandate to produce 10% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2015. That mandate has been largely met by our state’s utilities. I do not favor increasing that percentage because of the high cost of sources like wind, as well as some of the health problems experienced by those living near wind turbines.
Supporting the Troops
As a Vietnam veteran who spent three years in the U.S. Army Security Agency, I am very sensitive to the issues facing military veterans. The state should continue to make every effort to assist veterans in the transition back to civilian life and to support them in their future endeavors.
COMMON SENSE ISSUES
There are many issues that the Legislature has faced, or will be facing in future terms that require action. These include:
Unfortunately, the voter I.D. passed by the Legislature in the last session is currently held up in court. However, it seems likely the law will eventually be ruled constitutional by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Even when the law is approved, more needs to be done to assure honest elections. I favor ending same day registration and will introduce legislation to accomplish that in the next session. The right to vote is one of our most precious rights. Voters must be confident that the system is fair and that their vote is not being cancelled by someone else’s cheating.
Recall elections should be reserved for misconduct in office. I favor such a Constitutional amendment.
Resolution of this issue obviously lies primarily with the federal government. We should not add to the problem in Wisconsin with policies that encourage illegal immigration. For example, I think it was a good idea for Wisconsin to stop granting drivers licenses to people who could not prove they were in the United States legally.
Effective mass transit helps to decrease pollution and conserve energy. However, in order to work, the transit lines have to “go somewhere”. At some point, the revenues the systems generate have to cover a significant part of the operating costs. I do not support ideas like the high speed train between Madison and Milwaukee because of the large subsidy that would have been required to operate it. The fact is that for most people, traveling between the two cities their automobiles would have been faster and less expensive.
I am always willing to listen to your concerns about these or any other issues that come before the legislature. You can write, email or call to express your views or to seek assistance, if you are having a problem in dealing with a state agency.
Obviously there is no way to please everyone, but at least I can listen and I do value your input.