Appleton Post-Crescent, Nov. 29
Gov. Scott Walker's BadgerCare decision helps some poor Wisconsinites, hurts others (editorial)
Since when did it become OK to help some poor people while hurting those who are even poorer?
That's what Gov. Scott Walker has suggested.
Walker made an earlier decision to allow only the poorest of the poor on BadgerCare, starting at the first of the year. Those who were above the poverty line — but still awfully poor — were kicked into the Obamacare exchanges and will have to get insurance on their own.
But when the Obamacare website disaster came to light, Walker made the smart decision, pending legislative approval, to allow more than 70,000 people to stay on BadgerCare for an extra three months. It's good to give them time to sort through the mess.
Now Walker wants to hold off on the other side of the deal, too. He thinks 80,000 truly poor people — those below the poverty line — should have to wait for BadgerCare coverage until April to make up for letting the others stay.
So the people who won't get health coverage are the ones Walker says need it the most. It doesn't make sense.
We hope our leaders don't turn into Scrooges this season. Let's make this right and cover everyone through March, even if it costs $23 million to protect the neediest of the needy.
After all, we found $100 million in the budget for a property tax cut, so there's room for this, too. The latest surplus estimate was $759 million.
County executives from Fond du Lac, Outagamie and Winnebago counties have begged the governor to reconsider his BadgerCare plan.
"We implore you to take common sense steps to see that every Wisconsin resident has the opportunity to obtain reasonably priced health care coverage," they wrote.
The governor has made difficult decisions to get the state on solid financial ground, which weren't easy. Now he and the Republicans have an easy decision to make.
Show us where your priorities lie and don't let these Wisconsinites fall through the cracks any longer, even for three months.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dec. 3
Let people be heard: Approve referendum on redistricting
Republican leaders in the state Legislature haven't listened to anyone else on redistricting so why not go to the ultimate voice, the voice of the people? Maybe if that voice is loud enough, GOP leaders will realize that the state really does need to change the way it creates legislative districts.
A referendum proposed Tuesday by freshman Assembly Democrats would do just that. The proposed referendum, targeted to the fall 2014 ballot, asks a simple question: "Do you favor adoption of a nonpartisan system for redistricting of legislative and congressional districts in this state?"
We think most people in the state would say yes and would favor creating a system that bars legislators from handpicking their own voters, as the current system allows them to do. Media organizations — including the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board — and civic organizations and good-government-types have been pounding away at this idea for months. So have Democrats in both houses and even some Republicans, such as state Sen. Mike Ellis of Neenah.
Last May, Democrats introduced legislation based on a system used in Iowa for decades. Assembly Bill 185 and Senate Bill 163 would turn over the job of drawing district lines to the state Legislative Reference Bureau, with continued oversight by the Legislature. It's a sound system that would create more politically competitive districts and could reduce the tendency in both parties to cater to their extremes.
But Republican leaders Rep. Robin Vos in the Assembly and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald in the Senate remain flatly opposed to reform. Neither bill received a public committee hearing, and a motion to move AB185 to the floor was rejected on a party-line vote.
And why not? It's in Vos' and Fitzgerald's political interests to keep things as they are. Under the current system, they've been able to create districts that give the GOP a relatively safe edge in the Legislature. It's a system that favors the ideologically pure and incumbents. To be sure, when Democrats were in the driver's seat in the Legislature, they had just as little interest in changing the system.
But it's shortsighted and anti-democratic. One of the strengths of the American system is that it generally balances competing interests against each other and often forces them to meet in the middle to find common ground if they want to get something done.
Wisconsin's redistricting system instead has in recent years resulted in districts in which politicians "are looking over their shoulders" to the extreme elements within their parties, as Rep. Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire), one of the sponsors of the proposed referendum, told us Tuesday. They have to do that to make sure they survive the primary, which serves as the only real election in too many districts.
Wachs said that Eau Claire was once split into two districts that included some of the rural areas around the city. After lines were redrawn, one 60% Democratic district encompasses the entire city, surrounded by what he called "red districts."
Ellis has said he favors a hearing on AB 185. Gov. Scott Walker has said he is open to a discussion on the merits.
Vos and Fitzgerald steadfastly refuse to hold that discussion, apparently afraid that the house of cards they've built could come tumbling down.
They argue that the people do decide now, that legislators acting as the people's voice are the best judges of how lines should be drawn. But they conveniently ignore some key facts. The largely secretive, partisan process in 2011 ended up costing taxpayers $2.1 million. It created a bitter political fight. It gave voters gerrymandered districts that, as a whole, left them with fewer choices, with zero competitive House districts and very few competitive districts in either the state Assembly or state Senate (15 of 99 in the Assembly; three of 33 in the Senate). It also resulted in an election in which more Democratic votes than Republican votes were cast in Assembly races, yet the GOP took 60 of the 99 seats.
No, partisan redistricting is nothing new. But that's hardly an argument to maintain it. Too often in the past, redistricting has been challenged and ended up in the courts, costing taxpayers real money.
Legislative leaders are not acting as the voices of the people. They are acting as agents of their parties intent on promoting and expanding their power. That constitutes a conflict of interest.
End that conflict and turn the process over to a nonpartisan group with general legislative oversight. Such a system has worked elsewhere. It will work here. At the very least, approve the referendum and let the people's voice be heard.
Wisconsin State Journal, Dec. 4
State lawmakers are again second-guessing Wisconsin's online database for court records.
They should just leave CCAP alone. The free and popular website is working well after years of planning, input and some adjustments.
If certain court records are being misunderstood or misused by the public, as some lawmakers contend, the answer is to provide more information, not less.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, made news this week by suggesting the public website popularly known as CCAP should hide more of its data from public view.
"If you were charged and found not guilty, I think after a certain period of time that shouldn't be on CCAP," Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
That sounds reasonable. But hiding records that show not-guilty verdicts could mask other problems affecting the public, such as over-aggressive prosecutors.
And if a suspect is exonerated at trial, hiding that information could make it harder for the wrongly accused to demonstrate innocence to potential employers or landlords. That's especially true if lots of news coverage of the charges still pop up on Internet searches.
Vos and other lawmakers fear bogus charges or long resolved lawsuits may unfairly tar the reputations of innocent people. Maybe.
But state leaders should have more faith in the public to understand that not-guilty verdicts mean a person is presumed innocent. In fact, the CCAP website — wcca.wicourts.gov — emphatically states as much. It also includes a prominent disclaimer to employers, warning them it's illegal to discriminate against job applicants who were arrested or charged in the past unless a conviction substantially relates to the job being sought.
If those explanations on CCAP aren't prominent or clear enough, make them bigger and simpler so they're perfectly understandable.
But don't scrub Wisconsin's online court database of so much information that the site becomes inaccurate by omission. CCAP already keeps confidential such documents as adoptions, juvenile delinquency, child protection, termination of parental rights, guardianship and civil commitments.
Wisconsin's court system has carefully balanced privacy rights with the public's right to know. Hastily upsetting that delicate balance would be a mistake.