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La Crosse committee OKs smoking ban in parks, new rules for food trucks

A move to ban smoking in La Crosse city parks and another to prohibit food trucks from parking in front of brick-and-mortar restaurants without permission both moved forward Tuesday after a pair of votes by a city committee.

The La Crosse Judiciary and Administration Committee voted 4-1 to approve an ordinance banning the use of all tobacco products in city parks.

Under the proposed ordinance, which goes before the La Crosse Common Council for approval next week, people would not be able to have any lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe or any vaping devices in the city park. There is an exception in the ordinance that allows the city or a private entity renting the park to designate a specific smoking area; however, the area must be at least 50 feet from picnic areas, sports fields or food vendors and the area would need approval by the city’s parks director.

Jay Odegaard, Director of La Crosse Parks, Forestry and Recreation

Parks director Jay Odegaard said the ordinance would improve the experience of park-goers.

Seventy-three percent of La Crosse County residents surveyed in 2013 favored tobacco-free parks, beaches and playgrounds; and a similar 2018 7 Rivers Health Initiative survey found 96% of people favored tobacco-free playgrounds.

Banning tobacco limits exposure to secondhand smoke and reduces litter from cigarette butts, which are not biodegradable.

“I feel real strongly that this is going to be an improvement not only environmentally and socially, but also financially for our department,” Odegaard said.

Parks staff members spend about 20 hours per week picking up cigarette butts, he said.

Council president Martin Gaul cast the sole dissenting vote.

Food trucks

The committee unanimously approved an ordinance to limit where food trucks can sell their food, requiring them to get permission to park within 150 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Proponents of the ordinance said it struck a good balance of giving food trucks space to sell their wares and preventing them from blocking their brick-and-mortar competition.


“I eat at food trucks all the time. I love them. I think they are an importance piece of downtown, an important piece of the city, but we also want to find a good balance,” said former council member Jacqueline Marcou, who introduced the ordinance before leaving the council in April.

The ordinance requires food truck owners to get written permission from every restaurant within 150 feet of where they set up shop.

“Although we want food trucks and they bring a ton of foot traffic downtown, we also want to protect the brick-and-mortar,” Marcou said.


The ordinance makes the rules fair throughout the city, rather than singling out downtown, said Downtown Mainstreet Inc. executive director Robin Moses.

“We’re just looking for it to be fair throughout the city, to not have there be no rules downtown where there are rules for the rest of the city,” Moses said.

The rules are consistent with other communities in the area, she said.

“In downtown, if you were to look at each restaurant, it does still provide areas in the downtown district where food trucks to be able to be there and to flourish,” Moses said.

It also balances being respectful to brick-and-mortar restaurant owners who have made significant investments in their locations and bring in people to downtown, she said.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

A stop sign is seen through raindrops on a windshield Tuesday on La Crosse’s South Side. The forecast for Wednesday, the first day of May, calls for more rain in the morning with rain stopping and cloudy skies in the afternoon.

La Crosse division chief facing child porn charges to retire in June

A La Crosse Fire Department division chief who was charged in March with possession of child pornography will retire in June after more than a month on administrative leave.


Francis Devine, 52, the department’s division chief of training, notified the city of La Crosse this week that he intends to leave the department June 22 and his decision was accepted by La Crosse Fire Chief Ken Gilliam.

“The city of La Crosse Fire Department holds all of our members to high standards as role models for the community and stewards of public trust,” Gilliam said in a statement. “The department does not takes these responsibilities lightly, and we will continue to expect only the highest professional conduct from our members consistent with our mission and values.”

He added that the department does not wish to interfere with the criminal justice system and will not issue any further statements about Devine.

Devine was charged March 20 with possession of child pornography in La Crosse County Circuit Court and placed on administrative leave.

A Wisconsin Department of Justice investigator received a cyber-tip March 17 from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to the complaint. Investigators traced Devine through his IP address and discovered four pictures of naked children and another of a child whose age is unknown.

There was no evidence that Devine viewed child pornography on his cell phone or while at work, according to the complaint.

Devine is free on a $5,000 signature bond and will be back in court May 8.

La Crosse County Circuit Court felony cases in April
La Crosse County Circuit Court felony cases in April

Dems say Trump agrees on $2 trillion infrastructure goal (copy)

WASHINGTON — In a rare moment of bipartisanship in polarized Washington, President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders agreed Tuesday to work toward a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to rebuild roads, bridges, provide clean water and extend broadband coverage — but they put off the thorny matter of how to pay for it.

Both sides seemed determined to show a willingness to work with the other, even as tensions between the White House and congressional Democrats intensified with the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report into Russia meddling in the 2016 elections. Democrats have multiple investigations of the Trump administration underway and Trump’s White House is strongly resisting them.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said there was “good will in the meeting” — a marked departure from the last White House encounter between Trump, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which ended with Trump walking out in a huff. At Tuesday’s more muted meeting, by contrast, Trump at one point offered to share his Tic Tacs with Pelosi and she accepted, a Democratic aide recounted.

“We did come to one agreement: that the agreement would be big and bold,” Pelosi said.

Schumer added that: “In previous meetings, the president has said, ‘If these investigations continue, I can’t work with you.’” But this time, Schumer said, “He didn’t bring it up.”

Schumer said the two sides agreed that infrastructure investments create jobs and make the United States more competitive economically with the rest of the world. Most importantly, Schumer said, “we agreed on a number.”

“Originally, we had started a little lower. Even the president was eager to push it up to $2 trillion, and that is a very good thing,” Schumer said.

Pelosi and congressional Democrats had asked for the meeting with Trump to discuss launching an ambitious building program that’s a top priority for the party and has been a rare area of potential bipartisan accord with Republicans. Trump, too, has long promised a big infrastructure plan.

When Democratic lawmakers emerged, they said Trump agreed that infrastructure investments should go beyond roads and bridges and water systems to also include broadband.

Democrats also put the onus on Trump to come up with a plan for how to pay for the package, and said they would meet again in three weeks, when the president will present his ideas. They noted that a bill is unlikely to pass the Senate “if we don’t have him on board.”

Trump, at one point, said he liked the number $2 trillion because it sounded better than $1.9 billion, according to a Democrat who spoke about the meeting on condition of anonymity.

The nation’s top business groups and labor unions support increasing the federal gasoline tax, currently 18.3 cents a gallon. It was last raised in 1993.

The meeting included a dozen congressional Democrats and numerous administration officials.

Before the meeting, senior aides seemed intent on setting low expectations. Asked whether Trump supports raising the gas tax, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said “this president is the guy who lowers taxes.”

Mick Mulvaney, the president’s acting chief of staff, said he hoped the conversations with Democrats would go well, “but if they don’t it would not surprise me.”

More than one “infrastructure week” already came and went over the past two years with nothing to show for it. Still, advocates for an infrastructure package boost see a narrow window for action.

“I think a deal can be had if everybody is willing to put their battle axes away for a period,” said former Republican Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, who served as chairman of the House’s transportation committee for six years.

Committees in both chambers of Congress have started to lay the groundwork for an infrastructure bill through hearings, with Democratic lawmakers hoping to have legislation ready for consideration by June or July.


Evan Vucci, Associated Press 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., talks with reporters Tuesday after meeting with President Donald Trump about infrastructure at the White House in Washington.

Todd Sommerfeldt / ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Khris Middleton looks past Boston's Jaylen Brown on Tuesday. Middleton had 28 points and seven rebounds in the victory.

ACLU files class-action seeking parole opportunities for inmates convicted as teens

Wisconsin’s parole system violates the Constitution by creating life-without-parole sentences for people who committed heinous crimes as juveniles, who instead should be offered meaningful opportunities for release by demonstrating maturity and rehabilitation, according to a federal class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday by the ACLU and two prominent law firms.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Madison, contends that the state parole system “fails to provide this meaningful opportunity; thus, by ostensibly creating a life-without-parole sentence, it violates the U.S. Constitution.”

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU Foundation of Wisconsin and lawyers from Quarles & Brady and Foley & Lardner, along with two other lawyers, on behalf of five men who were all convicted as teenagers of the adult crime of first-degree intentional homicide or attempted first-degree intentional homicide and have been denied parole despite multiple attempts.

The lawsuit does not ask that the convictions the men received be overturned or invalidated.

Instead, they ask that the state Parole Commission give them, and more than 120 others like them, “a meaningful opportunity to obtain release as of their parole eligibility date, based on the constitutionally mandated standard of demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”

Only a “minuscule” number of parole-eligible juvenile lifers have been paroled during the past 15 years, the lawsuit states.

“Wisconsin’s parole system unnecessarily keeps people behind bars who are no longer the impulsive children who committed serious crimes, but are mature, reformed adults with real contributions to make to their families and their communities,” Larry Dupuis, legal director for the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “The constitution requires that they be given a chance at redemption in the free world.”

The U.S. Supreme Court, the lawsuit contends, “has held that it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles, even those who commit heinous crimes, to life without parole, except for the ‘rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.’”

Absent that finding, states must offer those who offended as juveniles a “meaningful opportunity” to seek release “based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”

Members of the Wisconsin Parole Commission and the state Department of Corrections “consistently deny release on parole to juvenile lifers who demonstrate unmistakable maturity, rehabilitation and reform, and a low risk to public safety, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”

The lawsuit states that the state Parole Commission also violates the Sixth Amendment by relying upon facts that were not concluded by a jury or admitted by the defendants at the time of their conviction in order to add to their sentences.

“Wisconsin’s parole system unnecessarily keeps people behind bars who are no longer the impulsive children who committed serious crimes, but are mature, reformed adults.” Larry Dupuis, ACLU legal director