Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. May 2, 2021.

Editorial: Officials should show their work

Everyone remembers those math worksheets from elementary school. You know, the ones where you had to solve problem after problem, showing you knew how to perform the arithmetic involved.

When you got to higher grades and the problems became more complex, the sheets had another instruction from the teacher: “Show your work.” You had to prove you weren’t just using a calculator to do the work for you.

City officials would be well advised to follow that instruction. When you make a claim or a decision, show residents how you arrived at that conclusion. Show your work.

Two recent cases illustrate the need for the city’s elected and administrative officials to do a better job on this count. The decision on brush site fees was one. The plans at first called for a hike from 50 cents per bag of yard waste to $2 per bag. That’s a fourfold jump.

Residents said they wanted to hear how the city arrived at the proposed figure. Council members didn’t have all the information they wanted, either. Councilwoman Kate Beaton had to ask for projections for site expenses and revenues from the proposed fees.

The primary concern was the sudden rise in the cost. On April 27 the council backtracked, setting a fee of $1 per bag. It was a 9-1 vote and the fees will begin in mid-May. Officials also gave financial projections, saying the site will probably run a deficit.

The other event was the hiring of Dr. Jeneise Briggs as the city’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator. The position will serve both the city and county. In announcing the hire, Interim City Manager Dave Solberg said there is “much work to be done as we strive to create a more inclusive community.” His statement needed more. Remember, this wasn’t an off-the-cuff comment. It came from a press release he had plenty of time to prepare.

In what ways does he believe the community needs to be more inclusive? What does he hope to accomplish? Questions also remain about what precisely Briggs’ authority and role will be. Given that this is a position for both the city and county, what’s the breakdown on compensation and the chain of command to which she’ll report?

Some read Solberg’s comments as an indictment of Eau Claire, a claim that the community itself is racist. We don’t believe that’s the case. A more nuanced description serves better, and we think there’s an example of that from Vice President Kamala Harris.

In a recent interview, Harris said she does not think America is racist, but that it does have racism in its history and continues to struggle with it. The presence of racism in American history is undeniable. Slavery, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, Jim Crow laws and many more examples give testimony to that fact.

It is also unquestionable that racism remains a challenge in our country. But specific events are distinct from the nation itself. In the same way, incidents in the Chippewa Valley are distinct from the communities themselves. Are there racists present? Yes. Are they representative of their communities as a whole? We don’t believe so.

By presenting material detailing how the decision on yard waste fees was made, the city could have made a stronger argument for the initial proposal. At minimum, council members wouldn’t have had to ask for information they should have already had in hand. Would the $2 fee have led to some protests? Of course. But the city would have been in a far better position to defend it than it was the first time it was discussed.

Showing your work in government means one other key thing: you understand that you must sell the community on the direction you wish to go. Elected officials remain beholden to the people. Government is a sales operation as much as it is leadership. Explaining how you reached a decision is an easy way to demonstrate that you know you cannot simply dictate an outcome when taxpayer dollars are involved.

We don’t believe either decision was made in bad faith. But we do believe both could have benefited from officials better showing their work

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Kenosha News. May 3, 2021.

Editorial: Legislature attacks a handful of teenagers

Another bill to nowhere.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos., R-Rochester, said last week he would push ahead with a bill to ban transgender athletes from competing in women’s or girls’ sports in Wisconsin.

Vos knows that the legislation is going nowhere — Gov. Tony Evers has already said he would veto it.

A group of athletes, coaches and advocates are calling on the NCAA to take a more strident stand against states that adopt laws banning transgender athletes from competing in organized sports.

But it’s part of a cookie-cutter package of legislation that Republicans are mounting in more than a dozen states around the country under the guise that they are protecting female-born student athletes from being disadvantaged by having to compete against student athletes who are born male but who are undergoing treatment to transition to female.

That drive has been successful in some states — including Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota, Idaho and, most recently Alabama.

To look at it, you would think that all of a sudden there has been a surge of boys and young men signing up for testosterone suppression therapy or even gender reassignment procedures just so they can win a letter on a girls’ team.

That ain’t happening.

And, frankly, we don’t see it happening anytime soon — if ever.

What we see here is Republicans in state after state churning out the same legislation not to protect young women athletes, but to stir up their base and rile its fears over an issue that has been a non-issue. Just for a few votes.

Even more distasteful, they are doing it by targeting a very small minority — transgender males in high school — who have very little political clout or sympathy for the struggles they are going through.

For years, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association has set and enforced policies over student participation in high school athletics for school districts around the state.

Six years ago, the WIAA adopted a policy on transgender participation in high school sports. Under that policy, which commits to ensuring that transgender students have opportunities to participate in WIAA-sponsored athletics, students who are born male but self-identify as being female (MTF), have to have a calendar year of medically documented testosterone suppression therapy. They must also provide documentation to their school from a physician or psychologist that affirms their consistent gender identification and expression; provide medical documentation of any hormonal therapy, sexual reassignment surgery or counseling; and provide documentation from friends, family, teachers and others that demonstrate the student’s consistent gender identification and expression. The school then makes a decision.

Then, of course, the student must make the team through tryouts. That’s quite a gamut.

Rep. Vos and state Republicans would supplant that involved procedure with a simpler one: No way.

So how many male-to-female student athletes would this impact?

WIAA Deputy Director Wade Labecki says that since the WIAA implemented its transgender participation policy, he believes the association has had four inquiries about MTF in the past six years. Three, he said, involved swimmers and one from another sport. Labecki said he did not know if any of those instances resulted in a MTF transgender student athlete making a high school team or participating in a WIAA sanctioned event.

The WIAA oversees policies for roughly 80,000 to 85,000 student athletes during the course of a year. About 41% involve participants in girls’ or women’s sports — or about 32,800 a year.

Over the course of six years that would total 196,800 female participants.

Those possible four MTF transgender athletes over that span would then represent an infinitesimal number.

Small wonder then, that Labecki says the issue of transgender student athletes “has not been brought to us as a concern” by school districts across the state.

Do we really need Vos and his Republican colleagues to bring the full weight of the Legislature to attack a handful of teenage transgender athletes and deny them the opportunity to participate in high school sports? Have we no shame?

If that situation changes over time and this becomes a pressing issue — and not just a bully pulpit for Republicans to rile up their conservative base by attacking a very small minority — then the Legislature can come back and look at this.

Until then, it should just let the WIAA do its job and let it be.

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Wisconsin State Journal. May 2, 2021.

Editorial: An easy way to improve our elections: Allow absentee ballots to be processed the day before

Of all the voting-related proposals being floated at the statehouse, one measure absolutely must pass.

The Legislature should allow local election workers to process absentee ballots the day before an election. That way, piles of early ballots — either mailed in, dropped off or filled out in person before Election Day — won’t delay the results.

Late tallies in recent elections have needlessly caused distrust of Wisconsin’s election system. That was especially true last fall, when more than half of Wisconsin voters, 1.9 million, cast absentee ballots during the pandemic, in large part to avoid catching COVID-19.

Remember the “ballot dumps” in the early morning hours of Nov. 4? That wasn’t fraud or anything suspicious, as then-President Donald Trump and others on the losing end of the vote falsely alleged. It was local clerks and their staffs diligently and professionally finishing their preliminary counts. It took a lot longer than necessary because local election officials weren’t allowed to process the unprecedented volume of absentee ballots in advance. Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states that forbids poll workers from getting a head start.

The presidential results in Wisconsin were aggressively challenged and irresponsibly bashed for weeks, with the late tally of absentee ballots in Milwaukee a bogus yet prime target.

Allowing clerks to process early ballots the day before future elections would go a long way toward dispelling similar falsehoods and doubt. And the idea has strong bipartisan support.

Top Democrats such as Gov. Tony Evers and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett favor the fix. So do prominent Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu. Even our conspiratorial U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, appears on board.

Yet the path through the Legislature has been slow and uncertain, with a bill failing to become law last legislative session.

That can’t happen again.

Critics worry that processing absentee ballots a day early might lead to “whisper campaigns” about who is ahead. They fear that might influence voters.

But the bill guards against that: Election officials could only process the ballots by removing them from envelops and feeding them into machines. They would not be allowed to tabulate who was ahead or won until after the polls close on Election Day. In fact, “anyone who acts in a manner that would give them the ability to know or provide information about the vote totals” could face a criminal penalty.

The public could watch the ballots being processed. Additionally, “tamper-evident security seals in a double-lock location” would protect machines and votes. Feeding ballots into machines a day early would be optional for local municipalities, and the Elections Commission would have to approve any request to do so.

The governor included the measure in his budget, but non-fiscal policy doesn’t belong in the state’s spending plan. So advancing it on its merits through the Legislature is a better path.

Sen. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, has included the proposal in Senate Bill 214 with some related provisions. A public hearing is expected soon, which is encouraging. But if SB 214 bogs down, the most important part of the bill — early processing of ballots — should be split out and stand on its own to help ensure passage.

Wisconsin’s election system has withstood unprecedented scrutiny over the last year, yet public trust has eroded. Eliminating this extra task for local clerks — on top of everything else they do on Election Day — is a simple yet significant way to smooth and improve our democracy.

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