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SMRT bus launches pilot program between La Crosse and Tomah
 10.02.17

There’s a new option for traveling between La Crosse and Tomah.

The Scenic Mississippi Regional Transit program launched service in Monroe County on Monday with the creation of the the Green Line, a pilot program that will take residents in Tomah to La Crosse and back twice daily.

Charlie Handy of the La Crosse County Planning Department hopes to keep the service to Tomah after the end of the pilot period and to expand the number of routes.

“Eventually we’ll have three routes, morning, evening and noon,” he said. “We have to purchase a few more vehicles yet to do that, but this first route, this pilot project, is something that will run until the first of the year and see how it goes.”

Peter Fletcher of the Regional Planning Commission hopes the program continues after the pilot program is over.

“The pilot’s set up right now for the first three months to sort of see how it goes, to see what kind of reaction we got and the kind of ridership and also to learn things about what the service will be,” he said as the project was announced at the Tomah VA Medical Center. “It’s just great to be able to expand this to the I-90 corridor. Currently we’ve been serving kind of south and east of La Crosse and it’s a great opportunity to pick up more riders and just more interest in SMRT. Today is the first day ... and hopefully it won’t (end).”

The SMRT bus system has run in Crawford, Vernon and La Crosse counties since 2013.

It’s a public transportation service designed for commuters, elderly, disabled residents, the public and potential tourism-related travel.

The cost to ride is a $3 for a one-way fare, $25 for a 10-ride punch card and $80 for a month pass. The buses have a 26-passenger capacity, are handicapped accessible, have free WiFi, are air-conditioned and have bike racks that can carry four bikes.

The new SMRT Bus stops in Tomah include the VA Medical Center, Industrial Park and downtown Tomah.

SMRT Bus stops locations in La Crosse include: the South Side Shopko, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Western Technical College, Viterbo University, Gundersen Health System, Mayo Clinic Health System and downtown La Crosse.

Victoria Brahm, VA Medical Center director, is pleased the VA is able to be part of the program.

“There are a lot of sponsors that supported this in the La Crosse, Tomah, Sparta area, but one really cool thing about this is it’s one of the federal, state and local initiatives that everyone’s worked together to accomplish,” she said. “So we’re really proud to be able to house the bus here, but more than ever we’re just happy for our employees and for the community at large that will be able to expand with this Green Route.”

Brahm believes it will benefit everyone.

“I am so excited about it because there are veterans that want to come here and that already go to our La Crosse Clinic on another line, but they’ll be able to come in for $3 with WiFi, and ... this will also benefit employees as well,” she said. “I think it will be great for the city of Tomah because of all the stops it does with Toro and Walmart and all of those areas. So I think it will really help in a rural area like this and it’s really nice, luxury riding ... it’ll be like taking the train to Chicago.”


Iconic Wisconsin Blue Book sheds 300 pages, no longer blue
 Marc Wehrs
 10.02.17

The latest edition of Wisconsin’s Blue Book is, well, not blue.

The marble gray cover is the first of many noticeable changes to the iconic biennial compendium of all things state government, which came out last week and is being distributed in the Capitol on Monday.

Compared with its predecessors, the tome is much slimmer — 677 pages compared with 973 pages in the 2015-16 version — has noticeably larger font and poorly cropped photos of lawmakers.

The Blue Book was first published in 1853, as a 100-page pocket-size reference guide for the Assembly, and it has been produced biennially since 1885. The Legislative Reference Bureau has produced the book since 1966. It has grown to nearly 1,000 pages a year of including statistical tables, many of which have been removed from the latest volume.

LRB chief Richard Champagne wrote in the new edition that it is intended as an “introduction to Wisconsin state and local government, but not necessarily as the primary source for this information.”

“We live during a time of unparalleled access to information,” Champagne wrote. “More information about state government, and more timely information, can be accessed through the Internet than could ever be assembled in one volume by a team of researchers. The 2017 Blue Book recognizes this fact.”

The book still contains legislator biographies, but doesn’t produce “information that is dated or that can be obtained more easily and accurately elsewhere.”

According to a synopsis on the back cover: “The 2017-18 edition marks a new step in the Blue Book’s evolution as a vital resource for learning about the State of Wisconsin.”


Crime-and-courts
La Crosse man given community service for putting nails in driveways
 10.02.17

A La Crosse man who earlier this year admitted throwing roofing nails onto driveways of residents who supported Republican candidates after someone stole his lawn sign supporting a Democratic candidate must serve 1,440 hours of community service.

Sellers

Martin Sellers, 59, also was ordered Monday to pay $5,000 restitution after pleading no contest to two counts of disorderly conduct in La Crosse County Circuit Court. Circuit Judge Ramona Gonzalez stayed a six-month jail sentence. 

Five homeowners on Lincoln Avenue, Ward Avenue, Elm Drive and Springbrook Way for three years reported nails in driveways. 

Sellers said he periodically targeted driveways of homes that displayed signs supporting Republicans “out of anger for the political system,” according to La Crosse police reports. One homeowner stated the vandalism resumed after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

A homeowner who installed a surveillance system caught Sellers’ vehicle on camera. One victim reported having to replace four tires on his car.


Regents to adopt free speech resolution, set up punishment
 
 10.02.17

Democrat represents Wisconsin’s 76th Assembly District.

MADISON, Wis. — University of Wisconsin System leaders are set to vote on a policy that would punish students who interfere with campus speeches and presentations, getting in front of a Republican bill that would require them to crack down on disruptions.

The Board of Regents is set to vote on the policy Friday during a meeting at UW-Stout. The policy reaffirms the system’s commitment to free speech but states students and other members of the “university community” may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to “express views they reject or even loathe.”

“Exploration, deliberation, and debate may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even most members of the university community (or those outside the community) to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed,” the policy states.

Under the policy, students twice accused of engaging in violent or other disorderly conduct that disrupts others’ free speech would be subject to a disciplinary hearing. If found responsible, he or she would be suspended for up to a semester. A student found responsible of disrupting others’ free expression for a third time would be expelled.

The policy comes as conservatives fear right-leaning speakers aren’t treated the same on campus as liberal presenters.

UW-Madison students in 2016 shouted down and traded obscene gestures with ex-Breitbart editor and conservative columnist Ben Shapiro. The University of California-Berkeley cancelled an appearance by right-wing firebrand Milo Yiannopoulus last month. Four protests have turned violent on that campus and in the nearby city in recent months.

The UW policy mirrors a Republican bill moving through the Legislature. That measure would require that students found to have twice disrupted someone’s freedom of speech would be suspended for a semester. A third offense would mean expulsion. UW institutions would have to remain neutral on public controversies.

The Assembly passed the bill in June but it hasn’t gotten a hearing yet in the Senate. UW System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said the policy does “have similar elements” to the bill but as the system’s oversight body the regents preferred to develop a policy. She didn’t elaborate.

State Rep. Chris Taylor, a Madison Democrat who voted against the bill in the Assembly, said the system seems to be pandering to GOP lawmakers. She said the definitions of disorderly conduct and disruption are too vague and could result in suspensions or expulsions for students who shout even “Yes!” or “No!” during a speech.

“I’m swearing a lot reading the policy,” Taylor said. “It’s horrible. The result is killing the First Amendment. This is just going to make university students afraid to speak out.”

The regents also are expected to vote Thursday on a new policy on hiring chancellors. The new language calls for releasing the names of only two or three finalists, rather than semi-finalists; developing system staff to step into leadership roles; more aggressively recruiting non-academic candidates.

The state budget Gov. Scott Walker signed last month prohibits the regents from considering only people who have been faculty members, been granted tenure or have terminal degrees for system president and university chancellor and vice chancellor positions.


Moses


Democrat represents Wisconsin’s 76th Assembly District.


Sellers


Handy