- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 28

Hold parents accountable for underage drinking

A state appeals court ruled this week that local “social host” ordinances aimed at curbing underage drinking don’t apply to private residences because such ordinances are tougher than the state statute covering such behavior. We think the ruling is a mistaken reading of the statute, and that the state Supreme Court and the Legislature need to ensure that parents who serve drinks to kids or allow drinking on their premises are held accountable.

Underage drinking remains a scourge across the country. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, by age 15, about 33 percent of teens have had at least one drink, and by age 18, about 60 percent of teens have had at least one drink. The institute also reported that in 2015, 7.7 million young people ages 12 to 20 reported that they drank alcohol beyond “just a few sips” in the past month.

And it noted that: “5.1 million young people reported binge drinking … at least once in the past month” that “1.3 million young people reported binge drinking on 5 or more days over the past month” and that more teens use alcohol than cigarettes or marijuana.

Parents who allow kids to drink at parties in their homes are only abetting such behavior, sending a signal that underage drinking is acceptable in certain settings. A glass of wine at dinner is one thing. Hosting a party at which kids get drunk is quite another. The argument that the kids would do it anyway and a home is safer than a car or a park is only an excuse. The consistent message from parents and authorities should be that underage drinking is never acceptable.

In the case at hand, a Fond du Lac County parent was fined $1,000 for holding a high school graduation party where underage guests were caught drinking in 2015. In the ruling, two of three appellate court judges said that Fond du Lac’s ordinance was invalid because the state “statute does not penalize social hosts for conduct in private residences.”

The third judge disagreed with that conclusion (although he would have invalidated the ordinance because of another issue), arguing that the portion of the state law that reads, “No adult may knowingly permit underage persons to consume alcohol on premises owned by the adult,” clearly was meant to apply to homes, despite the meaning of “premises” in other subsections of the same law, the Journal Sentinel reported.

We think the third judge got it right, and the other two are splitting hairs. The state Supreme Court could fix that through a reinterpretation of the ordinance, as could the Legislature by writing more precise language for the law. We encourage both bodies to do that. We also encourage local governments to make any necessary adjustments to their laws to avoid future problems.

Teens and parents need to understand that underage drinking is unacceptable, and that they will be held accountable.


The Janesville Gazette, Oct. 25

The law, not protesters, is in charge

In sending five deputies to the pipeline protests in North Dakota this month, the Rock County Sheriff’s Office is continuing a long tradition of law enforcement agencies coming to each other’s aid in times of crisis.

The deputies entered a volatile situation. Hundreds of protesters have encamped south of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation to try to stop the construction of a 1,170-mile oil pipeline through Morton County. While the pipeline would travel through private property, tribal members argue it would disrupt sacred grounds and threaten drinking water supplies.

There was simply no way the Morton County Sheriff’s Office could control this crowd on its own. It asked Wisconsin for 40 deputies to assist, and area residents should be proud of Rock County answering North Dakota’s call.

But the controversy apparently proved too much for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, which called back 10 deputies sent there after one week. The original plan was to rotate three teams of deputies during a three-week period, but that didn’t fly among Madison’s activists.

Sheriff Dave Mahoney said the decision to remove the deputies came after talking with “a wide cross-section of the community who all share the opinion that our deputies should not be involved in this situation,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Among those arrested at the site was Madison Alderwoman Rebecca Kemble, who had traveled to Morton County with a copy of a Madison City Council resolution declaring solidarity with the pipeline protesters.

Madison being Madison, it felt a moral obligation to pick sides.

Not to diminish this nation’s history of mistreatment of Native Americans, but we feel that a law enforcement agency should stay above the fray of political calculus. Law enforcement’s job is to uphold the law, not to consider whether the law’s application is just or fair.

Because the pipeline would traverse through private property, protesters have been trespassing to try to make their point. For law enforcement to ignore property rights would send a message that complaining loudly matters more than the law itself.

One of the ironies of this situation is that the pipeline, which would transport crude oil extracted from the Bakken Formation, would reduce dependence on rail transport, another favorite target of activists. There is validity to concerns about rail transport safety, but many activists are so obsessed with righting the world’s wrongs that contradictions often undermine their rationale for complaining in the first place.

We want to believe the Morton County Sheriff’s Office would be among the first to come to Rock County’s or Dane County’s aid should these regions, God forbid, ever require outside help. Other agencies came to Janesville’s aid in the early 1990s when the Ku Klux Klan held rallies here, even though residents of those communities might not have agreed with law enforcement efforts to keep the peace while the KKK spewed its hate.

Amid a riot or some other disturbance, law enforcement agencies cannot afford to make their support contingent on a political position. Peaceful outcomes depend on the law and government’s commitment to enforcing it.


Kenosha News, Oct. 27

Early voting grows in popularity

Both major political parties are now promoting the virtues of early voting. We think that’s a welcome change.

In the past, in-person early voting has tended to be more popular with Democrats than Republicans, since it was more likely to be available in urban areas that tended to have more Democratic voters.

The Republican-dominated state government passed laws last session limiting early voting, but a federal judge struck down those restrictions in July, saying that the limits unfairly benefited Republicans. Had he not, early voting in Wisconsin would not have begun until Oct. 24.

With the restrictions lifted, early voting began in late September in some Wisconsin municipalities and early in October in others. Among the first cities to start were the Democratic strongholds of Madison and Milwaukee, but the Republican National Committee claims it has boosted early voting turnout significantly in the Republican strongholds of Washington, Waukesha and Ozaukee counties.

We’ve long believed that making voting more convenient should increase voter participation, and we’re glad to see both parties embracing the new rules.

And we encourage voters to take advantage of the rules. By casting their ballots early, voters can relieve any anxiety they may have about the weather or transportation on Election Day, Nov. 8. They also reduce some of the potential for crowding at the polls, which has been known to happen, especially for presidential elections.

If you have any doubts about having the right form of ID required to vote, casting your vote early makes it more likely you’ll have time to resolve the problem if there is one.

More and more states are permitting early in-person voting along with traditional mail-in absentee ballots, and in some states - Colorado, Florida, Iowa and North Carolina - early voters are expected to make up at least 45 percent of the total ballots cast. The Associated Press estimated that up to 40 percent of all votes nationally will be cast in advance of Election Day. That’s up from 35 percent in 2012.

It’s not odd to vote early; it’s becoming more routine all the time.

Voting early is not an indicator of your political preference. Some states report how many voters from each party have voted early, but that would be impossible in Wisconsin, because voters here do not register a party preference.

The more people who vote early, the less likely it is that other voters will have to stand in long lines on Election Day.

Early voting is part of the orderly election process that we value in this country. We recommend it.

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