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View from around the state: Ready or not, changes are on the way

Wisconsin residents will see some changes this year, some of them new and others cyclical.

Among the new is the smoke-free workplace law that takes effect July 1.

Years in the making, the law ensures that people won’t be required to inhale carcinogens in a confined space as a condition of their employment because smoking will be banned in nearly all indoor locations outside of homes. The law also includes stadiums, so Lambeau Field will be smoke-free next football season.

People with three drunken-driving convictions in the last five years are on notice that they’ll be charged with a felony if it ever happens again. In the past they’d be facing a misdemeanor until their fifth conviction, but a slight tightening of the law changed that.

On a more familiar note, the midterm elections in November will allow voters to elect a new governor as Jim Doyle decided against seeking a third term. U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, is running for another six-year term, and U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, is facing opposition in the 8th District, one of the few hotly contested congressional seats in the nation.

It won’t be long before U.S. census takers disperse around the country for the official count of Americans that takes place every 10 years as specified by the Constitution. An accurate count helps ensure that congressional districts and state legislative districts are drawn for equal representation in Washington and Madison.

That’s another reason why the November elections will be so important, because we will be electing the men and women who oversee the redrawing of those district lines.

In one of the more bizarre twists of 2010, Congress let the federal estate tax lapse as of Friday — but then the tax is scheduled to return at a higher rate next Jan. 1. A Wall Street Journal report last week said the situation has been giving estate planners fits.

The report said families were making decisions to keep loved ones on life support until Friday so they would not die before the tax expired — because for the wealthiest individuals, as much as half of their estate would have been taxed. The dilemma arises from an estate-tax law Congress passed in 2001 that has a sunset provision. The current Congress has displayed no interest in repealing the sunset, and so the estate tax is due to return to 2000 levels at the end of this year.

Of course, one of the biggest changes of the year will be in the overhaul of the health-care system. It’s still uncertain how that will unfold.

These are just some of the changes on the horizon. Ready or not, here they come.

— GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE

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