November 27, 2014

Officials aim for zero fatalities on Wisconsin roads this holiday weekend

Wisconsin traffic deaths

Wisconsin traffic deaths as of 11/25/14

Traffic safety and law enforcement officials aim for zero preventable deaths on Wisconsin roads through the Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Fewer hours of daylight, unpredictable deer crossings, and changing weather conditions can create driving challenges this time of year. Sgt. Dave Harvey with the State Patrol says drivers need to pay attention, slow down, buckle up, drive sober, and maintain a safe following distance.

“When roads get congested, when traffic increases, a lot of times that’s one of the things that may suffer,” he says. “People give up that normal following distance that they have and that’s problematic when there are problems as far as traffic slowdowns or traffic even coming to a stop.”

Too many fatalities on Wisconsin roadways do not have to happen. Harvey says it’s OK to enjoy an adult beverage over the holidays, but do not drink and drive. “Alcohol is a factor in about 50 percent of fatal crashes, and that’s something that’s really under people’s control.” Harvey says, “Planning ahead and just making sure people do have safe drivers behind the wheel is an easy way to address something like that and hopefully drive those numbers down.”

Last year, 11 people died in Wisconsin traffic crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend from Wednesday evening through midnight the following Sunday.

Before your trip, Department of Transportation officials suggest drivers check the 511 Travel Information System for the latest on road conditions and possible delays.

Black Friday deals come early

2013 Capitol Christmas tree (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

2013 Capitol Christmas tree (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Black Friday is around the corner, but holiday shopping is already under way.

Black Friday traditionally begins on the Friday after Thanksgiving. This year, many stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day, and several retailers are offering deep discounts an entire week earlier than usual.

“Part of the reason for that is Thanksgiving is very late,” says Madison College retail expert Betty Hurd. “So, depending on where it falls on the calendar … sometimes there’s almost six weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas and it’s as narrow as four weeks. We’re in the most narrow.”

Hurd says pre-Black Friday sales aim to expand that narrow shopping season.

The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales this season to increase by 4.1 percent to $617 billion. That’s higher than last year’s 3.1 percent increase.

Hurd says the increase could be partly attributed to the ease of shopping online and the ability to plan ahead with mobile apps. “So, you can go and get a Black Friday app very easily and download it and then you have access to the Black Friday ads. So, you can do a tremendous amount of pre-shopping, which is really awesome, and be able to apply your strategy.”

Also, Hurd says, people are generally feeling better … about the economy, employment, lower gas prices, and shopping incentives like free shipping.

Madison attorney points to benefits of immigration reform

White House

White House

Individuals, businesses, and the economy would benefit from President Obama’s executive order on immigration. So says Quarles & Brady immigration attorney Grant Sovern.

The Madison lawyer notes millions of undocumented immigrants working in the United States without legal authorization would temporarily get that permission under Obama’s action to delay deportation. “And this will be huge for them; it will also be huge for employers who have employees who might have worked there for eight or ten years. The employees have been worried about their own status, the employer may not even know about them.”

Sovern says high-skilled immigrants are needed to fill STEM jobs — science, technology, engineering, and math. He says foreign workers become researchers, engineers and entrepreneurs. They create ideas and jobs that might not otherwise exist. He says giving them a work visa is a “net gain” to every part of the economy.

“In Wisconsin with our great university system we’ve got all sorts of spin-off companies and efforts and researchers who are coming up with great new ideas, but we don’t have an immigration system that supports great new idea companies or individuals.”

Governor Scott Walker and other Republicans want to file a lawsuit to stop Obama’s plan, saying it amounts to amnesty and it’s illegal. In Florida last week during the Republican Governors Association, Walker said he’d take it “to the courts,” which he said is better than a government shutdown.

Milwaukee immigrant rights’ group — the League of United Latin American Citizens — estimates up to 24,000 Wisconsinites are eligible for work permits and protections from being deported.

New Wisconsin State Capitol Christmas ornament unveiled

Capitol_Christmas_Ornament 2014

Wisconsin State Capitol Christmas Ornament 2014 depicts the Assembly chamber. (Submitted photo)

The program began in 2004. Each year, the souvenir focuses on a specific aspect of the state’s historic Capitol building. The 11th annual ornament features a replica of the Assembly chamber, its large mural, and Civil War mascot Old Abe above the speaker’s chair looking over the chamber.

Cate Zeuske is the ornament designer and former state Treasurer. “We wanted the largest mural — the first and largest mural — it’s 37 feet across. To me, it’s the favorite in the state Capitol,” she says. “It’s called, ‘the State of Wisconsin: its past, present, and future’ and I think it really does capture our rich history.”

AUDIO: Zeuske talks about the mural on the wall of the Assembly chamber, above the dais.   :30

Zeuske believes this limited edition decoration will be a keepsake. Only 1,900 ornaments were purchased. She notes, the goal is to promote and educate others about the beautiful and historic state Capitol building, rather than just raise money. That’s why the $16 price tag hasn’t increased since 2005.

It’s a labor of love for Zeuske, who volunteers her time. All proceeds go to the State Capitol Restoration Fund. “That’s a fund that is used to be able to purchase things perhaps outside of state government that may be retained for historic value in the Capitol or to give the public an opportunity to really view and experience the state capitol.”

Just recently, a glass perch was constructed up inside the Capitol dome to offer visitors a bird’s eye view of the rotunda using some of those funds.

Wisconsin State Assembly Chamber (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Wisconsin Assembly Chamber (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Since 2004, more than $50,000 has been raised for the fund through the sale of the collector’s item.

Zeuske hopes to continue the tradition for at least a few more years. She explains, the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Capitol building comes in 2017. So, she says, it seems like a good time to mark the milestone.

All the ornaments are made in America by the Chem Art Company of Rhode Island, the same company that also produces the annual White House ornament. The Capitol keepsake is set in a special gift box, in which buyers will find some historical information about the Wisconsin landmark. It sells for $16.

The 2014 state Capitol ornament is available for purchase at the Wisconsin State Capitol Information Desk, the Wisconsin State Historical Society Gift Shop and online store, and the Wisconsin State Veteran’s Museum. They are also on sale at the Monona Terrace Gift Shop, Orange Tree Imports in Madison and Tis the Season Gift Shop in Middleton.

Walker criticizes Obama on immigration reform at RGA

Governor Scott Walker (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Governor Scott Walker (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson, file)

Governor Scott Walker is in Florida for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. He says immigration reform has always been a “political tool” for President Obama.

“If he was serious about it … he would have dealt with it when he had the House and the Senate. This has been a political tool for this president all along. He brings it out when it comes up the time to get him elected or someone else elected when he thinks it serves him well.”

Obama is expected to sidestep Congress and sign an executive order to protect from deportation millions immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. Republicans say it’s unconstitutional and amounts to amnesty.

Walker explains how the president enacted ObamaCare without overwhelming support, and could have done the same thing with immigration reform if he was serious about it.

“I think it is a cynical ploy to try drawing attention away from the huge successes Republicans had connecting with the American people one state at a time and looks what’s happening. Instead of talking about the huge things we have on the agenda, we’re talking about immigration.”

Walker says immigration reform is important, but the vast majority of Americans would much rather hear about the economy, taxes, energy, education, welfare, and securing the border.

The panel, with four other Republican governors, also discussed Common Core academic standards and Medicaid health care programs for the poor.