- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 26

A new spring for renewable energy

Wisconsin’s renewable energy landscape has been pretty much frozen for the last five years, especially when it comes to wind farms. While neighboring states have been blossoming with wind development in recent years, Wisconsin has become almost a “black hole” of development, according to one renewable energy advocate.

And it shows: Wisconsin ranks ninth among 12 Midwest states in a ranking released Tuesday of jobs in the clean energy sector - including energy efficiency, renewable energy and biofuels. Where Wisconsin has about 25,000 people employed in clean energy jobs, Illinois, which ranks first in the Midwest, employs 112,000 people in clean energy jobs. Apparently, Gov. Scott Walker’s invitation a few years ago to Illinois companies to move north wasn’t extended to the renewable energy industry. Too bad: Wisconsin workers could use those jobs.

But just as spring is breaking up the ice around Wisconsin, there are signs that a thaw is coming for renewable energy. The state, and in particular the Public Service Commission, should do all it can to hasten that warming.

Among the signs: The Journal Sentinel’s Thomas Content reported that nearly 50 turbines could be built over the next year or so in Lafayette County east of Platteville in southwestern Wisconsin, and Emerging Energies of Wisconsin is proposing to build 44 large wind turbines in St. Croix County in western Wisconsin. Other projects may also be developed.

EDP Renewables, a global renewable energy company based in Spain, is looking to build the Lafayette County wind farm in 2017 after completing preparatory work this year. The project, valued at about $200 million, would generate up to 99 megawatts of electricity, or just barely under the threshold that would require it to obtain a permit from the PSC.

Meanwhile, regulatory agency is taking yet another look at the $250 million St. Croix County wind farm, which has been on the drawing board for more than five years. A PSC permit to allow the project to proceed was challenged in court, and St. Croix County Judge Edward Vlack last summer sent the case back to the commission for more work.

The project has raised concerns among neighbors that need to be addressed. But we hope that the PSC, after a thorough vetting, finds a way to move this and other projects forward.

Renewable energy (including wind farms) is one tool that can help mitigate the effects of climate change, which is real and becoming more urgent, despite the wishful thinking of some who think they can just close their eyes and it will all go away. And yes, this applies to many of the candidates who are now (and will be for months to come) assaulting voters around the state, as well as to Gov. Scott Walker and the state Legislature, which took steps to restrict wind farm construction during Walker’s first term. In fact, it was the Walker administration’s and Legislature’s disdain toward climate change that essentially put wind farm development into the deep freeze.

Not all is bleak: Wisconsin has done relatively well on energy conservation and Wisconsin utilities have met a goal of already built enough to comply with Wisconsin’s law requiring 10 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable power sources.

But wind power development among our neighbors is booming, up 45 percent in five nearby states compared with growth of 3 percent in Wisconsin, according to an analysis of market data from the American Wind Energy Association.

And that 10 percent renewable energy goal is pretty anemic, given the challenge of climate change and new federal goals for renewable energy. State government (including the PSC) needs to step up its game. It will mean new jobs for Wisconsin workers as well as the state doing its part to meet a serious global threat.

Here’s hoping for a new spring for renewable energy.

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Wisconsin State Journal, March 25

Courts paint phony picture to justify fees

Even the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., with paintings by Rembrandt and Van Gogh, allows flash photography.

The gallery did a test, flashing a camera light at a painting every 4 seconds more than 1 million times. They found little difference in how the pigments reacted compared to the gallery’s normal and carefully controlled lighting.

Yet here in Wisconsin, county clerks of court still claim that taking pictures of court records risks damage to the original documents.

Needless to say, a traffic accident report is not the Mona Lisa. And criminal complaints aren’t drafted by Leonardo da Vinci.

So banning citizens from snapping images of court records with their cellphone cameras is absurd. Not even famous paintings are granted such protection.

The real issue is money. County clerks of court generally charge $1.25 per page to copy court documents, as required by state law. The excessive fee - more than 12 times higher than what federal courthouses charge - brings in more than $800,000 a year statewide, according to The Associated Press.

The gouging should stop. The Legislature should repeal the state law requiring this exorbitant rate.

Court records belong to the public, after all. Citizens shouldn’t have to pay steep fees for copies of what’s already theirs. Citizens pay taxes to create those paper records, and providing access to them in a convenient way is part of the job of public officials.

USA Today Network-Wisconsin just surveyed the state’s 72 county clerks of court about fees. The newspaper group found 24 of 31 clerks who responded said they ban photography of court records because of preservation or financial concerns.

That’s a needless and unjustified barrier to public information. It also wastes staff time and paper if court officials are copying documents that citizens could have snapped with a camera instead.

No change in state law is needed for local court officials to allow photography of paper and electronic records. Former Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen advised court officials more than a year ago not to charge people who use their own digital devices, such as cameras and scanners, to copy court files.

Local clerks should embrace technology while respecting the public’s right to information about criminal and civil cases that concern them. The public deserves open and inexpensive access to what is happening in local courts.

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La Crosse Tribune, March 27

Bill offers protection for crime victims

Reporting a crime can be a stressful experience - an experience that only adds to the stress of being the victim of a crime.

That is especially true for the victims of sexual assault. Too often, sexual assault goes unreported. That can be especially true on college campuses, where underage drinking can be involved.

With all the complexities of deciding whether to report a sexual assault to authorities, why make the possibility of receiving a ticket for underage drinking a reason not to report an assault?

Thankfully, that’s no longer an issue in Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker signed the sexual-assault amnesty bill last week. The legislation grants immunity from underage-drinking citations for those involved in reporting a sexual assault - whether it’s the victim or a friend who is willing to summon the authorities for help.

When the legislation was introduced in January, Attorney General Brad Schimel said: “Victims of sex crimes already have a tough decision to make when deciding whether or not to involve law enforcement. This common-sense bill breaks down another barrier to deciding to report to law enforcement and seeking medical attention when an underage person falls victim to sexual assault or assists a friend who has been assaulted.”

Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, who co-authored the bill, said the law will help protect victims of sexual assault.

“This bill would ensure students who have been the victims of a sexual assault or related crimes, while under the influence of alcohol, would not be charged for underage alcohol consumption,” Billings said. “This legislation also provides that students would not be subject to certain actions by the UW Board of Regents, such as eviction from student housing. In these scenarios, a student should be offered help without harmful repercussions.”

A variety of statistics underscore the problem of sexual assault on campuses.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that about one in four women is sexually assaulted during her college career.

In a 2014 report, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics states that about 80 percent of rape and sexual assault victimizations of students aren’t reported to police.

As Billings said: “This law moves our state in the right direction, changing the relationship between students and law enforcement, and allowing students to feel secure in reporting sexual assaults on campus.”

A citation for underage drinking at the time of an assault is nothing more than a gotcha for a vulnerable victim or the bystander who wants to offer assistance.

This legislation helps remove at least one of the barriers to a victim reporting a crime that too often goes unreported.

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