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Candidates discuss health issues in Wausau


(Editor's Note:  You may listen to the entire forum.  It is posted in four parts below the photo.)

WAUSAU, WI  (WSAU)  Several candidates for the Wisconsin State Assembly discussed health issues Tuesday in Wausau.

Healthy Marathon County hosted their Candidate Forum On Health to find out where the candidates stand on health-related issues.  Alcohol, tobacco, and nutrition were the subjects, and questions ranged from obesity prevention to penalties for driving while intoxicated.

There were no major disagreements among the candidates, but several minor differences in how to address each problem.

All candidates showed support for eliminating the current exception allowing parents to buy their minor child alcoholic beverages in public establishments.  Candidates also agreed that changing the law to allow police to conduct sobriety checkpoints on the highway is not as effective as present increased patrol efforts and questioning if checkpoints violate everyone's constitutional rights in addition to penalizing everyone to catch a few people.  

Candidates were also in favor of making drunk driving penalties more uniform.  Right now, penalties for intoxicated use of a snowmobile or watercraft is less severe than operating a car on the highway.  An audience question asked about making first-offense drunk driving a criminal charge.  Most candidates favor making the second or third offense a felony instead of the fourth OWI law we have now.

When asked if they would support raising the price of alcohol to pay for alcohol education, Jim Maas was against raising the alcohol tax.  Mandy Wright pointed out that the last time the beer tax was raised in Wisconsin was 1969.  Pat Snyder said he would consider the tax, but only if it goes to a segregated fund for alcohol education and not to the general fund.  Paul Knoff said, "Nobody here will commit to raising taxes" noting that kind of comment would be used against them in the campaign.

All candidates felt that five percent of the tobacco tax should be used for anti-tobacco use education.  They also agreed that all tobacco products should be taxed at the same uniform rate. Right now, products like flavored tobacco aimed at younger users is taxed at lower rates.

Candidates also agree they would not support any effort to repeal Wisconsin's recent law banning smoking in bars and restaurants, saying it has been a huge success.

The subject of obesity brought out several ideas with no disagreement.  Mandy Wright believes good nutrition and exercise should "focus more on education than legislation."  Pat Snyder would like to see education for parents and their fast-paced lives, too, since he believes too many family meals are picked up the drive-thru window.  Elizabeth Riley says it's time to bring fitness back.  Dennis Halkoski agrees saying "TV with the X-Box, that's their life" adding children need more physical and brain activity.  Paul Knoff also mentioned successful Farm-To-School and School-To-School programs where schools get locally grown nutritious food from area growers and even grow some themselves such as they do in Granton, where he serves on the school board. Candidates also agreed better food labels would be good for everyone.

The event was held at UW Marathon County's Center For Civic Engagement.