Wisconsin State Journal, Oct. 22
Bipartisan health bill is best option
Congress appears to have enough votes to pass a bipartisan health care agreement, allowing more Americans to keep their insurance while giving states more flexibility with federal rules.
Just one problem: Republican leaders — including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville — don’t seem willing to allow a vote on the sensible proposal.
Ryan is operating under an informal and partisan rule in which the Republican majority in the House refuse to bring any bill to the floor for action unless most GOP House members support it.
Ryan has so far been dismissive of a proposal authored by Sens. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, and Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat — even if their bill clears the Senate.
The proposal, which U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and dozens of other senators from both political parties have co-sponsored, would continue subsidies to low-income Americans who otherwise couldn’t afford the health insurance they’ve been receiving under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Republican President Donald Trump has sent conflicting signals on the proposal. But presumably he will sign just about anything that reaches his desk, allowing him to claim a rare victory in Washington.
That means Congress should start moving this responsible, short-term health care fix to the finish line.
Alexander and Murray’s proposal would keep America’s health care system functioning with some needed consistency. They propose a two-year extension of subsidies under the ACA that pay for discounted premiums for low-income people.
Trump recently ended the subsidies, creating more risk and cost for insurance companies as well as millions of Americans who receive coverage through the ACA’s individual market. Those citizens now face higher cost and fewer — if any — options for coverage if Congress fails to act.
Continuing the subsidies would deter hikes in premiums and preserve some of the insurance plans offered to individuals under the ACA. Alexander and Murray’s bill also would allow more people to buy less comprehensive insurance while speeding the process for governors to seek waivers from ACA rules.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, who met with the State Journal editorial board last week, guaranteed that Alexander and Murray’s bill would pass the House if Republican leaders allowed a vote.
We don’t doubt that. The bill already has enough votes to survive a filibuster and clear the Senate if all Democrats join a dozen Republicans who say they’ll vote “yes.”
Speaker Ryan should drop his fruitless effort to repeal Obamacare. Instead, he should lead the House to a pragmatic solution both political parties can support.
The Janesville Gazette, Oct. 15
Keep police video under Open Records Law
An Assembly bill to restrict the release of body camera recordings would undermine the main rationale for equipping police officers with video devices.
Many communities have called for police to wear body cameras in the wake of allegations of excessive force. While many police chiefs agree the cameras create more transparency and help build public trust, the Assembly bill could have the opposite effect, preventing police from adequately responding to allegations of misconduct.
To be sure, the cameras more often than not exonerate police and prove allegations to be false, as happened in 2014 when the Janesville Police Department released video showing its officers trying to subdue an uncooperative theft suspect. The video shows police acted properly and used only as much force as necessary, despite some contrary claims.
Police organizations have voiced support for the Assembly bill, but they’re mistaken in their belief that the Wisconsin Open Records Law, which provides a “balancing test” for determining whether a record should be released, cannot be properly applied to video.
Under current law, departments can use technology to redact images and audio in video that officials decide should not be public, such parts of a video that would identify a sexual assault victim. Each department can use its discretion on whether recordings should be made public, and it’s important departments retain this discretion. Under existing law, members of the public who disagree with a decision to withhold parts of a video or other records can file an action in court.
The bill under consideration, AB-351, stipulates video could be released in situations involving death, arrest, injuries and searches, but it would prohibit the release of a recording depicting a location where someone “may have a reasonable expectation of privacy.” There’s a way around this provision, but it would be cumbersome for both police and requester: Police would have to obtain written permission from people, such as crime victims, depicted in the video.
As the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council noted in its written testimony to the committee studying this issue, there might be times when it’s in the public interest to release recordings involving, for example, allegations of police misconduct inside a home. “Besides creating considerable additional work for law enforcement, these requirements completely fail to acknowledge the public’s right to know about the actions of police in certain critical situations,” wrote Bill Lueders, president of the council.
The Janesville Police Department was among the first in the state to adopt body cameras for officers. Police Chief David Moore, in an interview with The Gazette, expressed skepticism about the bill, agreeing provisions blocking a video’s release are unnecessary and that current law already allows police to withhold or redact parts of a video revealing sensitive information.
“We’ve had good success applying the balancing test (to video),” he said. “I’m comfortable processing the videos the way we have been.”
Moore’s views on open records probably put him in the minority among police chiefs, but his assertion that video can be regulated under the same rules governing paper documents counters claims that law enforcement lacks the time, tools or ability to manage open records requests for video.
Moore noted some aspects of the bill are good, namely provisions requiring departments to form policies and train officers for using body cameras and handling video recordings. Some departments use body cameras inconsistently, and body camera practices vary widely between departments.
Body cameras are a new technology, and there’s certain to be new and unanticipated consequences surrounding the release of video and the public’s reaction to it.
But Wisconsin has a long history of siding with the public interest, especially regarding public’s access to government records, and legislators should not allow this fear of the unknown to upend the state’s tradition of making government as transparent as possible.
Green Bay Press-Gazette, Oct. 21
TitletownTech: Packers, Microsoft partnership a ‘game changer’ for greater Green Bay
That was the description used the most on Thursday to define TitletownTech — the partnership that the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft Corp. are embarking upon.
The software giant is teaming up with one of the NFL’s most iconic teams to build a technology and innovation center in the Titletown District. The development would help established and emerging businesses through technology, as well as provide capital for new ventures.
When two world-renowned brands team up to foster economic development and advance digital technology in this type of partnership, it gets people’s attention.
“We believe as a company that TitletownTech is a game changer for this region,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft.
“I think that this is a ... game changer for the area, for the region, not just for northeast Wisconsin but for the state of Wisconsin,” said Peter Zaehringer, vice president of economic development for the Greater Green Bay Chamber.
Consider this: When Zaehringer travels to recruit businesses and talent to the area, he’s competing with about 3,000 other communities. Those communities all tout their schools, cost of living, quality of life, that they’re all great places to live.
But not many of them have identifiable brands like the Packers and Microsoft in their communities.
When you mention those two entities, people start to listen. Then you can talk about the great quality of life we have here, the relatively low cost of living, the great schools, a rejuvenated downtown and excellent health care centers.
You can then talk about the established companies here — nationally and internationally known businesses like Schreiber Foods, Schneider National, Georgia-Pacific; the four-year colleges that include a medical college partnership and plans for a STEM center; the smaller-scale innovative developments, like in the Rail Yard district with the planned technology accelerator; the well-known hospitals and clinics, the roads, rails, port and airport. The type of amenities that you find in metropolitan cities but on a smaller scale. You can compete against these other similarly-sized communities.
“I cannot wait to get on the airplane and market this to the East Coast and to the West Coast,” Zaehringer said Thursday. “People will take this seriously simply because of the partners that are behind this and the quality of mentorship and curriculum that will be provided in that location. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Nor could we.
In order for greater Green Bay to be a resilient community, it needs this type of commitment, investment and diversity. It can’t rely on only one sector of the economy, like tourism, to carry us. It needs the manufacturing, health care, service and technology industries, as well as the tourism industry.
Instead of watching the best and brightest young adults from northeastern Wisconsin leave for better opportunities, we can keep them here.
Thursday’s announcements came on the heels of a visit by AOL co-founder Steve Case, who awarded a $100,000 grant to a Green Bay company as part of his Rise of the Rest pitch competition. It’s an effort to create more jobs and attract entrepreneurs to regions like this.
The Packers and Microsoft are to be congratulated. Not only is each company investing $5 million in TitletownTech, they’ve pledged to donate all profits and capital returns from the TitletownTech Venture Capital Fund to philanthropy and economic development.
In other words, the success of their venture will breed more success in greater Green Bay, northeastern Wisconsin and the whole state.
As Brad Smith said, the truly vibrant, healthy and successful communities have a few “crown jewels,” Smith said.
This partnership is that crown jewel.