February 11, 2016

Wisconsin drivers can speed up only where posted

File photo

File photo

New speed signs are now posted in some locations in the state, but others are still being installed.

Department of Transportation officials urge motorists to be aware of the legal maximum speed, and also be watchful of workers sprinkled on Wisconsin roads installing new signage.

“They are still installing those in certain areas of the state,” said Steve Olson at the DOT. “Most of them are up and people will probably be noticing them as they drive this weekend. So they’ll see where it’s posted and then the new speed limit will of course be 70 mph.”

Also, Olson said drivers need to obey the law, which Governor Scott Walker signed on May 20, 2015. The faster speed is not allowed in many areas of the state — depending on the road, the weather, and other factors. “We’re asking motorists to remember that in certain instances 70 mph may even be too fast; for example, in work zones or when they’re encountering any kind of inclement weather.” And, he says drivers need to move over to make room for those installing the new signs.

Olson said workers are putting up 470 signs along a total of roughly 800 miles of interstate designated for 70 mile-an-hour speeds.

Kind critical of funding cuts to UW, aims to protect ‘Wisconsin Idea’

UW-Madison campus (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

UW-Madison campus (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Nearly half of Wisconsin’s 13 university campuses are located within U.S. Representative Ron Kind’s congressional district. The La Crosse Democrat is critical of deep funding cuts to the University of Wisconsin System, as proposed in the two-year state budget. He said he spends a lot of time on those four-year campuses. “I’m meeting with the students, the faculty, the professors, the chancellors … they’re already telling me, story after story, of the inability to recruit the talent on these campuses or hold on to them.”

The entire UW system is facing many changes, including tenure policies and more than $250 million in funding cuts in Wisconsin’s new budget.

AUDIO: (:47) When researchers leave the colleges, they take millions of federal research dollars with them, Kind said.

When researchers leave the colleges, Kind said, they take millions of federal research dollars with them. As a result, the entire UW System will suffer, including its reputation and educational opportunities for students. Kind is fed up with “deep draconian cuts.” He said, “It took many, many years to build up the reputation and the quality of our education system; it doesn’t take long to destroy it. That’s what this debate is about right now.”

Ultimately Wisconsin citizens make the final choice, Kind said, when they go to the voting booth.

The Universities of Wisconsin La Crosse, Eau Claire, Stevens Point, Platteville, River Falls, and Stout are located in the 3rd Congressional District. Two-year campuses in Marshield and Richland are also in that district, as well as 15 technical colleges.

Meanwhile, the 3rd district congressman has moved to protect and commemorate the “Wisconsin Idea.”

The Wisconsin Idea is the principle that the University of Wisconsin should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom. Kind has introduced a resolution to protect that idea. “The efforts earlier this year with the governor in his budget to roll that back right now I thought sent all the wrong messages and would lead us in a very bad place as a state.”

Back in February Governor Scott Walker attempted to change the century-old mission statement, but it has since been removed from his budget. Kind said if Wisconsin gets a reputation of de-valuing education, it will be tough to overcome, leaving the state less competitive for economic growth and job creation. “For many, many years in Wisconsin we’ve developed a very good reputation when it comes to the quality of higher education, of our education system generally, and now is not the time to go backward because it will be tough to recover from that.”

AUDIO: (:28) Though the Wisconsin Idea has not been changed, Kind argues his motion is not a moot point.

Though the Wisconsin Idea, ultimately, has not been changed, the La Crosse Democrat argued his motion is not a moot point. Kind said it’s important to have a greater discussion so this type of proposal does not come up again.

Kind introduced the resolution at the federal level, he says, because it’s a good idea nationwide. U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore have co-sponsored the resolution.

Opting out of standardized school tests

Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt

Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt

A bill at the Capitol makes it easier for parents to opt out of having their kids take certain statewide tests at school.

Under the measure, schools would be required to send a letter to parents once per year — listing all scheduled state-mandated standardized tests, explaining the purpose of the exams, and detailing how to opt out.

Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) is the bill’s (SB-193) author and Assembly Education Committee chair. He says current law is confusing. “What I want to do here is lead the districts down the path of being more open with what it is they’re doing. Take the mystery out of it.” Thiesfeldt says schools would need to explain to parents why their kids should be taking the tests.

Dan Rossmiller is with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. He says the measure would need to be amended. “Complying with these notification requirements could be costly or burdensome. I like Senator Farrow’s suggestion about posting these on the Internet.” He says, “We note in our testimony that the budget bill itself contains at least four new notification requirements that schools must provide to parents or guardians.”

Thiesfeldt says he’s not trying to get rid of standardize testing. He says he’s aiming for clarity and tightening up inconsistencies in the process.

Members of the Senate Education Committee heard testimony on the proposal at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Mosquito season is under way

File photo

File photo

The mosquito population is expected to boom in the next week or two, according to Susan Paskewitz, professor of entomology at UW-Madison. Recent rain is a factor and mosquito trapping is an indicator.

“Just this week, in the traps coming in, you can see in some areas the numbers are really starting to pick up.”

Mosquitoes can transfer the West Nile Virus, though Paskewitz said Wisconsinites have a “remote risk” of being infected.

“Luckily Wisconsin has not been one of the states that has had kind of major epidemic outbreaks. Right across the border in Illinois, Chicago has had several years with recurent problems. But we haven’t faced anything like that yet, but it is always a concern.”

AUDIO: (:58) Paskewitz suggests you eliminate or reduce the amount of standing water around your property to keep mosquitoes at bay.

Those blood-sucking insects can be annoying — and gross.

“When mosquitoes bite people they are injecting saliva in, and so that’s really what your body is responding to … that introduction of new proteins and other molecules into your system and your body responds to that right away.”

It’s true, Paskewitz said, some people are more attractive to mosquitoes than others. It could be related to one’s diet, skin bacteria, perspiration, body temperature, or color of clothing.

Help keep mosquitoes out of the area by eliminating or reducing standing water on your property, including from clogged rain gutters, bird baths, and spent tires. Avoid bites by wearing long sleeves and pants and using a mosquito repellent.

There are about 55 types of mosquitoes in Wisconsin, Paskewitz said.

Opponents decry changes to long-term care

(PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

(PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Stephanie from Waukesha has a 22-year-old son with medical issues. She said Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens rely on the state’s long-term care system for elderly and disabled people. “We need to know the systems will still be there and continue meeting their needs. We need to be listened to and heard by our elected officials and have them respond appropriately by removing long-term care from the proposed budget.”

She was one of several advocates meeting in Madison Tuesday in their effort to join forces and explain to lawmakers the necessity for leaving the state’s long-term care system alone, with no changes. Advocates want IRIS to continue to exist as a separate Medicaid waiver program.

Julie Burish of Brookfield is a member of the grassroots group called Save Iris. She said the proposed changes need to be removed from the budget and discussed at length — as separate legislation, if necessary — while including all the stakeholders in the conversation. “Let’s pull this out; let’s give it the light of day; let’s treat it with the respect that we all deserve; and let’s bring everyone to the table and let’s come up with something that’s gonna work for us and it’s gonna work for Wisconsin and that we can all be proud of.”

Burish said IRIS is a valuable, cost-effective program giving people greater control over their lives in their own homes. Republicans on the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee have said they have significantly improved the governor’s original plan.

The “grassroots coalition of parents and self-advocates” met in the capital city Tuesday to lobby their lawmakers.

JFC approved big changes to the programs in late May, but less severe than what Governor Walker had proposed. The budget-writing committee has not yet finished the budget, which needs to be approved by the full legislature before the governor reviews it and signs it.