- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 8

Expand broadband across Wisconsin

The best thing state leaders can do for Wisconsin’s rural economy this year is commit more attention and resources to high-speed internet.

That message came through loud and clear during the fall election campaign, when dozens of candidates for the statehouse from across south-central Wisconsin met with the State Journal editorial board, seeking our endorsement. Voters were stressing the need for faster digital connections so local businesses could sell products around the globe, so schoolchildren could do their homework, and so farmers could operate high-tech equipment, the candidates told us.

Republicans and Democrats alike said they were committed to the effort. Now it’s time for them to deliver.

Gov. Scott Walker recently proposed increasing funding for faster internet, called broadband, by $35.5 million. That would be on top of $16.5 million already committed. The state money will help encourage private investment and maximize $570 million from the federal Connect America Fund II that’s supposed to bring high-speed connections to 230,000 homes and small businesses across mostly rural areas of Wisconsin.

Broadband allows fast internet browsing, online commerce and video streaming that businesses need to sell products, and students need to access modern educational tools.

For example, some school districts offer students access to online sites from home that track and challenge each student in reading and math, adjusting the lessons to their abilities. Teachers get instant reports on each child’s online activities and performance.

AT&T;, CenturyLink and Frontier have secured federal dollars to help improve and provide fast internet to large swaths of the state. The companies also are investing money of their own. AT&T; told State Journal business editor Larry Avila last week it invested about $835 million in Wisconsin between 2013 to 2015 for communications infrastructure.

Increasingly, companies are extending broadband to remote areas using wireless technology and existing cellphone towers.

It’s not just a rural issue. Parts of Dane County still have weak and unreliable internet. And Madison officials are trying to provide fiber-optic internet service to more low-income residents.

President-elect Donald Trump has talked about rebuilding America’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure. He should add broadband to the list.

Rural voters, especially in Wisconsin, were key to helping Trump win the White House. If the Republican president-elect truly wants to help rural economies and promote job growth, keeping the Connect America Fund going strong will be key. So will including broadband in any federal building plan.

Gov. Walker rejected millions of dollars in federal funding for broadband years ago. That was a mistake.

But with Republicans running Washington, the governor appears much more inclined to accept federal help.

That’s good. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Wisconsin needs strong digital connections across the state to succeed in the global marketplace and to keep and attract more young people in smaller towns and cities.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 7

Walker’s leadership key in fight against heroin

Gov. Scott Walker has it right: Heroin addiction is a public health crisis in Wisconsin, and state officials must ramp up efforts to respond more urgently and effectively to a killer that takes hundreds of lives each year. His leadership will be key in making that happen.

The governor is off to a good start: Last week, he called for a special session of the Legislature and issued executive orders aimed at implementing recommendations from a report on the crisis issued by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette). It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the necessary thing to do: This challenge requires an all-out, coordinated effort from federal, state and local officials, and Walker’s initiative offers a great starting point.

Walker rightly noted that addressing the issue will stem a public health problem and help the state’s economy. “If we get this right, we can get those men and women back in the workforce,” he said in a speech Thursday.

Walker also on Thursday ordered the state Department of Health Services to apply for up to $7.6 million a year in federal funding to fight the drug, the Journal Sentinel reported. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin had pushed to get that anti-addiction money included in the broader federal law and wrote to Walker last month to urge him to make use of it in Wisconsin. As Baldwin noted, this is a bipartisan issue requiring a bipartisan response.

The crisis is real: According to a USA Today Network-Wisconsin report, heroin’s death toll rose for the ninth straight year in 2015, and “the total of 281 deaths was triple the number killed by heroin in 2010. Meanwhile, the number of total opioid deaths - which includes heroin and prescription opiates - topped the number of Wisconsin traffic deaths for the third straight year.”

State Attorney General Brad Schimel, who launched a “Dose of Reality” campaign in 2015, has called heroin abuse the “biggest challenge that we’ve faced in law enforcement in public safety in a quarter-century.” And it’s a statewide challenge that afflicts rural and suburban areas just as much as it does the state’s urban centers.

But it’s not just heroin: that deadly drug is intimately linked to prescription painkillers. The DOJ reports that four out of five heroin addicts start by abusing prescription painkillers and that “70 percent of people who are addicted to prescription opioids got their first pills, not from a street dealer, but improperly from a family member or friend.”

Those familiar with the crisis recognize that dealing with heroin means also dealing with the prescription painkiller crisis. It’s time everyone came to that same realization and joined the fight against all opioid addiction.

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La Crosse Tribune, Jan. 8

DNR actions harm state’s great legacy

It’s amazing how quickly things can disappear in Madison.

The Wisconsin Idea? It disappeared in what we were told (falsely) was a drafting error. Magically, it reappeared once folks blew the whistle.

Eliminating citizen protections for attending open meetings and obtaining open records from government? That was quietly proposed on a holiday weekend - and magically reappeared before the fireworks started on the Fourth of July two years ago.

Now, the state’s Department of Natural Resources has decided to strike any reference to climate change from its website.

While it seems ridiculous to deny the truth, we’re not holding our breath about the prospects of such references to science and fact magically reappearing on the DNR website.

We’re far more concerned about the potential disappearance of clean water, protected wetlands, flowing streams and other natural resources that our state - for decades - took such pride in.

And this nonsense of removing references to climate change from the DNR website indicates the state seems far more interested in spin and politics than protecting our resources.

From Aldo Leopold to John Muir to Gaylord Nelson, we have such a strong heritage of protecting the environment in Wisconsin. And why not? It’s absolutely gorgeous - especially in our Driftless Region.

Our natural resources help explain why so many people come to our state for vacation - hunters, fishers, hikers, tourists.

It’s also a key factor in our quality of life - and a wonderful selling point as we try to recruit and retain talented people to our state’s workforce.

The Legislative Audit Bureau and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have both cited the DNR for poor performance when it comes to enforcing operating standards of large-scale manure producers such as huge dairy farms.

Standards don’t matter if they are not enforced.

When it comes to our clean water, there’s absolutely no excuse to leave compliance to chance.

That’s why people are so worried about the impact of high-capacity wells.

It also explains the uproar last month when the DNR proposed a reorganization that, on the face, gives more power to consultants and contractors when it comes to obtaining permits.

In a column published in the Dec. 4 Tribune, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp insists that “we are not ‘giving away the environmental store.’ ” She also promised that “none of these changes will diminish, relax or loosen the laws, rules or standards currently in place on our commitment to upholding those standards.”

We plan to keep those words on our website, because the citizens of Wisconsin - just as they did with the Wisconsin Idea and the open meetings/open records fiasco - need to keep a close eye to make sure that Secretary Stepp and the DNR live up to her words.

We constantly hear about all the paperwork and hassle involved with government regulation - especially in connection with the environment.

The truth is, nobody wants to have regulation until we need it. By then, it can be too late.

Once our natural resources disappear, there’s no easy way to assure that they can magically reappear.

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