Janesville Gazette, June 17
State becoming an island of pot prohibition
As Michigan and Illinois move toward permitting sales of recreational marijuana, Wisconsin finds itself without a strategy to handle its status as an island of pot prohibition.
There likely will be consequences for the state on this issue, especially for law enforcement agencies having to confront Wisconsin residents crossing state lines to acquire weed legal in other states.
Republican leaders have been vocal critics of Gov. Tony Evers' proposal to decriminalize marijuana possession, but they so far have failed to offer an alternative plan except to maintain the status quo. Sorry, lawmakers, but ignoring the changes beyond our borders won't make them go away.
And let's hope Wisconsin doesn't end up treating marijuana like it did margarine. To protect the dairy industry, the state in 1895 banned the sale of margarine colored to look like butter. As margarine gained popularity in the 1960s, many Wisconsin residents traveled to Illinois to acquire the stuff. The ban proved out of touch with consumer preferences, and it was repealed in 1967.
Marijuana isn't margarine, of course, but there's a lesson to be learned. Market forces don't care about laws. If there's a demand for something, people will seek it out. Wisconsin residents could go to Illinois to buy pot as soon as 2020 under the bill passed by the Illinois Legislature last month and sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his signature. Under the bill, nonresidents would be allowed to possess up to 15 grams, or half an ounce, of pot.
Meanwhile, Michigan is continuing to debate permitting marijuana sales after residents passed last year a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana. A Wisconsin Watch report showed how a reporter could easily obtain pot edibles from an outlet called BlazeMichigan, which provides a "gift" of marijuana with the purchase of two used books for $65. Pot sales are still banned in Michigan, so businesses having been exploiting loopholes while waiting for Michigan to approve pot sales. But it won't be long before Wisconsin residents have a plethora of options for acquiring legal weed.
How will Wisconsin respond to a flourishing pot tourism industry in Illinois and Michigan? Will law enforcement set up checkpoints at the border to crack down on residents bringing weed back to Wisconsin? That would seem like a huge waste of resources.
Or will law enforcement agencies simply look the other way, conceding the impracticality of marijuana possession laws? We wouldn't want that, either.
The Legislature and Evers should figure out a workable and enforceable pot policy, reconciling Wisconsin's pot laws with looming legalization in nearby states.
Wisconsin residents aren't going to wait for the Legislature's permission to buy pot in neighboring states. The sooner lawmakers accept this reality, the sooner they can enact sensible marijuana policies.
The Journal Times of Racine, June 17
Making Wisconsin 'the Silicon Valley of water'
"The Silicon Valley of water."
Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
Turning Wisconsin into just that is the goal of the University of Wisconsin System's launch of a Freshwater Collaborative, which would bring together its 13 campuses into a first-of-its-kind research hub focused on water topics. Individual campuses would distinguish themselves as expertise centers in specific fields, come up with solutions, train the next generation of researchers and possibly recruit more students amid a decline in enrollment, the Wisconsin State Journal reported June 10.
Whether the launch begins July 1 or later is in the hands of the Legislature; System officials say they cannot start the initiative without money from the 2019-21 budget, which last week moved from the Joint Finance Committee to the full houses of the Senate and Assembly for a vote. The proposal calls for $10.7 million in the 2019-21 budget biennium to fund the first portion of the $27.6 million, six-year plan for the Freshwater Collaborative.
But there appears to be bipartisan support of such an initiative, as the state's Democrats and Republicans recognize that everyone, whether living in a rural location or urban, needs clean drinking water, and that problems obtaining and maintaining that exist throughout Wisconsin.
Rural corners of the state are tainted by pollutants from agriculture, several areas including Madison are grappling with emerging chemical contaminants and Milwaukee faces a lead pipe crisis.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers declared 2019 the "year of clean drinking water" and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, formed a task force to study water quality.
Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, co-chairman of the Legislature's budget committee, has expressed concern about drinking water wells in his district that are contaminated by a group of highly toxic synthetic chemicals commonly known by the acronym PFAS.
And UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone said state Sen. Alberta Darling, Joint Finance co-chairwoman, told him that the Freshwater Collaborative is "too good to wait until the next budget cycle."
Wisconsin's geography — with the Mississippi River bordering the state's west side and Great Lakes bordering its north and east portions — positions itself to be a leader in research on water science, economics, technology and entrepreneurship.
"The University of Wisconsin System has an unfair advantage when it comes to water and we need to take advantage of that," Mone told the UW System Board of Regents at a meeting earlier this month. UW-Milwaukee would spearhead the 13-campus collaboration.
By 2025, the program aims to enroll 1,000 new undergraduate students and 400 new graduate students, attract between $10 million and $15 million in new research funding from federal and private agencies, hire 100 new faculty and researchers and create 650 new jobs.
Val Klump, dean of UW-Milwaukee's School of Freshwater Sciences, said about a third of the money requested would go toward scholarships for undergraduate students and another third to hiring faculty and staff. The rest would go toward marketing, recruitment and office staff overseeing the collaboration.
Those numbers aren't final, of course, as the spending hasn't been approved. Which is good, because we're not sure that as much as one-third of the money should go to marketing, recruitment and office staff.
But the idea is promising, for Wisconsin and beyond.
"The whole idea is to recruit more students to Wisconsin and to offer them something unique to the nation," Klump said.
This is an opportunity for the State of Wisconsin, through the UW System, to become a research and innovation hub for water management. The Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers should seize that opportunity.
Kenosha News, June 16
A higher ed partnership to help students enter the workforce
What's the point of a college education?
Some would say the answer is to get a job and find a career.
Others would say a college education helps people become well-rounded, informed citizens able to learn and grow.
Both answers are correct, though some feel there's too much of the second answer and not enough of the first answer taking place in colleges today.
College presidents are listening to those people. And they have banded together in an effort to educate students who fit both answers.
The Higher Education Regional Alliance is a partnership of the two-year and four-year colleges and universities in the region in an effort to address the needs of today's workforce.
"Our bold goal (is) to significantly reduce skills and talent gaps in southeastern Wisconsin by increasing the employment rates and number of post-secondary graduates in the region," University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone wrote last fall.
To do this, Mone said schools are "accelerating credentialing, building a database to compare talent needs with academic programs, and identifying new educational programs to meet the needs of business, industry and communities."
Our local college leaders have embraced this initiative as well.
"There will be a shared commitment to the value of education," University of Wisconsin-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford said recently during a meeting with Carthage College President John Swallow and Gateway Technical College President and CEO Bryan Albrecht.
The goal is simple: Colleges will work closely with business leaders to train and graduate students ready to step into skilled jobs that are going unfilled right now because of the skills gap.
In addition, two-year schools will work hand-in-hand with four-year institutions to smooth out any necessary transitions from one to the other.
And finally, the schools will create programs that can fast-track students, lessening their time and school and getting them into jobs quicker.
However, these aren't apprentice programs. As Mone notes, schools still need to graduate students who will be able to adapt and grow with the times — not simply those ready to step into a job that may be obsolete in 10 or 15 years.
"There is a need to focus on lifelong learning and equity that includes social sciences, humanities and the arts," Mone wrote. "These are the areas that develop career resilience and skills that last a lifetime (and that can't be replicated by machines): critical thinking, empathy, curiosity, persuasion, collective problem-solving and creativity.
"Our future economic health, social welfare, capacity to accelerate innovation and build prosperity depend on strong partnerships like HERA. This is our opportunity —and responsibility — to impact generations."
We couldn't agree more. HERA is to be applauded for working to help students enter the workforce prepared for the jobs of today as well as the jobs of tomorrow.