State News: Solar on Schools Project, Raised Retirement Age, ‘Tougher on Crime’ Bills

Wisconsin Schools Asked to Plan for Solar Projects

The Solar on Schools program is asking K-12 schools in the state to consider installing solar panels as part of their energy mix and wants to attract 100 schools during the next four years to install the renewable energy source. 

The program is a joint venture between the Couillard Solar Foundation in Deerfield and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association in Custer. Cal Couillard, president of Couillard Solar Foundation, said his experience in making solar power part of a company that he owned in 2016 is what inspired his effort to help Wisconsin schools. 

“I realized at that point that solar power is more than just green environmentally – it was actually green monetarily, and that it made 100 percent financial sense to install,” he said. 

Couillard has been involved in a program called Solar For Good, which helps nonprofit organizations with the cost of installing solar energy. From there it morphed into the idea of assisting public schools to become more green. 

“We started getting schools contacting us, and we thought about it a lot, and said, ‘If we’re going to make this transformation over the next 10, 20, 30 years away from burning fossil fuels, we have to get the schools involved because it’s the children’s future that’s involved here.’”

Bill Would Raise Retirement Age for Some Public Workers

The minimum retirement age for teachers and thousands of other public employees in Wisconsin would be raised from 55 to 59 and a half under a bill that received a hearing Wednesday in a state Senate committee.

But the plan could face tall odds this year, with a divided state government putting the brakes on many bills and time running out on this legislative session. A similar bill died in the Legislature two years ago when Republicans controlled all levels of state government.

The changes in this year’s bill would apply only to workers who are younger than 40 when the bill passes. It also would not affect people who are designated as “protective” employees, such as police officers and firefighters.

Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) said it’s aimed at updating the Wisconsin Retirement System and bringing it more in line with the rest of the workforce.

“This is acknowledging that people are living longer, and they’re working longer,” Stroebel said at the bill’s hearing. “It’s about cost, and it’s about fairness.”

State Lawmakers Clash over GOP’s ‘Tougher on Crime’ Bills

State Assembly lawmakers clashed Thursday over a set of proposals that would increase criminal penalties in Wisconsin, with opponents raising concerns about the cost of increasing the state’s already-over-capacity prison population.

Several bills in Republicans’ Tougher on Crime package, which was unveiled earlier this month, were subjects of concern during a meeting of the Assembly’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

One proposal in the package would require the state Department of Corrections to revoke individuals’ extended supervision, parole or probation and send them back to jail if they commit a crime while on extended supervision, parole or probation. 

Sen. David Craig (R-Big Bend), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the GOP-backed plan is in response to crime in Milwaukee and other southeastern Wisconsin communities. 

“I continue to see news story after news story about repeat offenses, and the repeat offenses are becoming more and more aggravated and more and more serious, and people are dying,” Craig said during committee testimony. He said some individuals have been given “too many chances.”

Democrats on the committee, including Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison), pushed back. She argued that the best way to reduce crime is to provide formerly incarcerated individuals with support and services in the community. 

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