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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

January 28, 2019

The Capital Times, Jan. 23

Wisconsin should speed up legalization of marijuana

Five years ago state Rep. Melissa Sargent rejected the backward thinking of those who seek to maintain a failed “drug war” and announced: “The facts clearly show that legalization is right for Wisconsin and that the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it’s illegal.”

Since then, the Madison Democrat has led the legislative fight to legalize marijuana for recreational and medical use. She has done so for all the right reasons.

“Adults choosing to use marijuana in the safety of their own home is a matter of personal liberty and freedom,” said Sargent, who argued that legalization would save time and money for law enforcement. She noted that responsible regulation and taxation of marijuana sales would raise needed revenues for the state. And, she said, legalization would address the stark racial disparities when it comes to marijuana-related arrests in Madison and across Wisconsin.

“With limited resources, and an overextended prison system, it is not sustainable to continue imprisoning people for these offenses,” explained the state representative. “It is a travesty that we are putting millions of taxpayer dollars into victimless crimes when we should be doing the exact opposite: creating revenue and letting our police officers focus on keeping peace in our neighborhoods.”

The Capital Times, which for decades has supported efforts to decriminalize and legalize marijuana use by adults (as part of our broader opposition to the drug war), has editorialized before in support of Sargent’s initiative. But progress has been frustratingly slow. Former Gov. Scott Walker, a robotic conservative who failed to keep up with evolving thinking regarding criminal justice issues, stood in the way of progress. So did Walker’s Republican allies, who controlled the Legislature.

Now that Walker is gone, newly elected Gov. Tony Evers is sending at least some of the right signals. But the key word at this point is “some.”

Evers said: “At the end of the day, do I favor legalization? Yes.” He added that, if a bill fully legalizing recreational marijuana were to secure the support of the Legislature, “I personally would sign that bill.”

So the governor is on the right side of the issue. Yet for now, Evers said, his budget is likely to include just “a first step around medical marijuana.” Newly elected Attorney General Josh Kaul said that he, too, is on board for medical marijuana.

That’s good. But that’s not enough.

It is absurd that Wisconsin is stumbling around in the “first-step” stage on these issues, when states across the country have recognized that legalization is the right response if we are serious about economic and social and racial justice.

We recognize that Evers still must deal with a recalcitrant Legislature, where Republican dead-enders like Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald continue to call most of the shots. Vos has signaled some openness to removing barriers to medical marijuana but, for the most part, these “leaders” are phoning in their responses from the 1950s.

They are out of touch not just with Wisconsin but, increasingly, with their own party.

For some years now, there has been a restlessness regarding marijuana issues within the Republican Party and the conservative movements that Vos and Fitzgerald claim to represent. While overall support for legalization of marijuana in Wisconsin tops 60 percent, according to recent Marquette Law School polling, Republican support for legalization is now over 40 percent and moving steadily in the direction of 50 percent. A number of Republicans at the federal level have stepped up as advocates for medical marijuana and for allowing states to set their own courses when it comes to legalization. In a several states across the country, Republican legislators have stepped up as sponsors of legalization proposals. David Flaherty, a former Republican National Committee member from Colorado (which recently legalized marijuana), has now said: “It’s politically advantageous right now to be a Republican supporting marijuana.”

We agree. And we think that Evers should push harder on this issue in hopes of building a bipartisan movement for sensible legalization of marijuana sales, purchases and use by adults. At the very least, the governor should step up efforts to organize a statewide advisory referendum to determine whether Wisconsinites favor not just medical marijuana but full legalization. Evers said during the 2018 campaign that he wants such a referendum — as a tool for prodding legislators to consider the issue — and we think the governor should make it a priority to get a proposal on the ballot as quickly as possible

We have no doubt that a referendum would win strong support from the voters. How strong? Last fall voters were offered an opportunity to weigh in on marijuana legalization and decriminalization, as well as medical marijuana, in referendums that appeared on the ballots in 16 Wisconsin counties and two cities. Every one of the county and city advisory referendums passed. Seventy percent of Milwaukee County voters backed a proposal to end the state prohibition on marijuana and signaled that they favor regulating its distribution and taxing sales to provide revenues for the state. In Dane County, 76 percent of voters favored legalization of marijuana for adults.

Sargent plans to keep rallying co-sponsors for her legalization legislation. We hope that Evers will help her to do so because Sargent was absolutely right when she said that, on this issue, “the public is ahead of the Legislature.”

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Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 23

Solar farm deserves PSC approval

Wisconsin gets more than half of its electricity from burning coal, which spews greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to a warming planet and more severe droughts and storms.

Wisconsin badly needs to generate more clean and renewable energy instead.

So it’s easy to endorse plans for a large solar farm in southwestern Wisconsin. A dozen landowners in western Iowa County, about 60 miles west of Madison, have agreed to host a 300-megawatt solar facility, generating enough electricity to power more than 70,000 homes.

That’s a lot of energy — drawn directly and efficiently from the sun. Instead of digging coal from the ground in other states, shipping it here by train and burning it to exacerbate climate change, Chicago-based Invenergy and two Wisconsin utilities want to position 1.2 million solar panels across 2,700 acres.

The proposed Badger Hollow Solar Farm would be one of the largest of its kind in the nation, and save Wisconsin consumers millions of dollars over time, according to Madison Gas and Electric and WE Energies. The utilities plan to purchase half of the solar panels, which have fallen in price, once they are installed.

Some neighbors worry about impacts on their properties and quality of life. That’s understandable. The Driftless Area in southwestern Wisconsin features rolling hills and natural beauty.

The state Public Service Commission should ensure the panels are set back a reasonable distance from property lines. The PSC also should require the developers to plan ahead for the replacement or removal of solar panels when they wear out in 30 years.

While some of the concerns of neighbors may be valid, those worries must be weighed against the larger needs of our state and society. A report last fall by the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change warned that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are altering the planet faster than thought and could cost tens of trillions of dollars in damages if ignored.

The proposed solar farm would help reduce Wisconsin’s heavy use of coal and other fossil fuels, while encouraging further investment in clean energy.

Solar panels are less intrusive than wind turbines dotting the skyline. They also will benefit farmers. The developers of Badger Hollow plan to pay landowners some $1.8 million a year in rent. In addition, Iowa County government will get about $700,000 a year in shared utility revenue, while three host towns will share $500,000. On top of that, the developers have offered to replace lost property tax revenue for local schools, technical colleges, fire and ambulance districts.

That’s a lot to like from a clean and quiet energy source that won’t pollute the planet with harmful emissions. The PSC should give this worthy project its OK.

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The Journal Times of Racine, Jan. 23

Don’t reduce big NFL games to this

During Super Bowl XXXII, the story goes, Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Gabe Wilkins refused to go back into the game after sustaining what appeared to be a minor injury. LeRoy Butler, a Packers team captain that season, implored Wilkins to suck it up and put the team first, telling him: “Gabe, this is only the Super Bowl, let’s play.”

The Super Bowl is the objective every season for more than 1,600 players and hundreds of coaches; they put in long hours, and endure considerable physical pain, to get there.

Determining which two teams get to the big game shouldn’t come down to a mind-boggling no-call by the game officials. Or the flip of a coin. But that’s what happened Sunday in the NFL’s conference championship games.

Every football fan who spent weekends in recent years saying “Well, I think he caught the pass, but I just don’t know anymore” has a clear idea of what pass interference is, and sending the would-be receiver sprawling just before the ball arrives — as Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman did to New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis late in Sunday’s NFC game — is definitely pass interference. It’s the worst officiating decision we’ve seen in an NFL game, and we saw the ending of the “Fail Mary” game between the Packers and Seattle Seahawks in 2012.

Stunningly, the seven men in striped shirts inside the Superdome on Sunday did not see what we saw. No penalty was assessed on the play, and the Saints kicked a go-ahead field goal early rather than running time off the clock and kicking one late.

The non-call had nothing to do with the Saints’ defense’s inability to stop the Rams getting into field-goal range to force overtime. Nor did it have anything to do with Saints quarterback Drew Brees throwing an interception in overtime to set up the Rams’ winning field goal. But the non-call definitely made a difference in the game.

We’ve also got a bone to pick with the NFL’s overtime rules, which a few years ago changed from “first team to score wins” to “first team to score a touchdown wins, but if the team with the ball first kicks a field goal, the other team then gets a shot at scoring.”

In Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, after a series of fourth-quarter comeback drives directed by New England Patriots veteran Tom Brady and Kansas City Chiefs rising star Patrick Mahomes, a coin toss determined which team would receive the ball first in overtime. Mahomes and the Chiefs offense never got back on the field, as the Patriots won the toss and Brady drove the Patriots to the winning touchdown.

That strikes us as unfair, especially having watched so many college games in recent years go to overtime.

In the college game, each team gets the ball 25 yards from the end zone; if one scores more points than the other in its turn, the game is over. But the key, to us, is that each team gets a turn, making it more like extra innings in baseball.

Considering the fact that, in the NFL, penalty yardage is determined by where the pass interference occurred and the result could be a 40-yard penalty, we propose that coaches be allowed the right to challenge a call or non-call when pass interference is suspected. We have to believe that if the officials had taken another look at Robey-Coleman smashing into Lewis, they would have realized that pass interference should have been flagged and then reversed their egregious no-call.

We’d also like to see the NFL further modify its overtime rules to something more closely resembling the college rules. We think each team should have possession of the ball in overtime, especially in the conference championship games.

Because to paraphrase LeRoy Butler, it’s only the Super Bowl. Let them play.

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