- Associated Press - Monday, March 13, 2017

Wisconsin State Journal, March 12

The fight for open government is more important than ever

The state has fewer people enforcing environmental standards and is seeking fewer fines against polluters.

Twenty-two hospitals across Wisconsin haven’t offered emergency contraception to rape victims, as required by law.

Administrators were slow to disclose a hazardous liquid oxygen spill at the King Veterans Home near Waupaca and lied about providing a report on the incident to a concerned citizen.

The State Journal reported that news and so much more over the last year by filing open records requests with various units of government.

It’s a reminder of how vital transparency rules are to keeping elected officials and bureaucracy open, honest and accountable for their actions and spending.

Today is the start of Sunshine Week, when journalists across the country celebrate the public’s right to know what government is doing. We’ll be highlighting the importance of Wisconsin’s open records and meetings law, as well as the federal government’s Freedom of Information Act.

President Donald Trump is calling the free press an enemy of the American people. He’s outraged by the leaks and disclosures of information that he had praised when someone else was in the White House.

Being president isn’t a perk for the privileged. It’s a huge responsibility that demands integrity, dignity and discipline. Open government laws aren’t optional. Along with a free press, they are absolutely essential to democracy.

And you don’t have to be a journalist to find out what’s going on. Anyone can file a request for documents or attend a public meeting. A sample open records request can be viewed at go.madison.com/recordsrequest.

The good news is that state agencies in Wisconsin are responding more quickly to public requests since Gov. Scott Walker ordered improvements a year ago, according to today’s front-page article by State Journal reporter Matthew DeFour.

That trend must continue, with governments at all levels - including the president__being forthright about the people’s business.

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Beloit Daily News, March 11

Why independence is worth preserving

Political interests keep grasping for judicial control.

Those whose values in good government include an ethical, fair and independent judicial branch as a check on politicians should tell the governor and legislators to remove a provision in the Wisconsin budget prepared by the Walker administration.

For the second time the governor is trying to kill the independence of Wisconsin’s Judicial Commission and place it under the direct control of Supreme Court justices.

The commission is where complaints against judges go, including any complaints against justices of the Supreme Court. The commission handles about 500 complaints annually. It can reprimand or seek disciplinary action against judges if it finds misconduct. In recent years the commission has found evidence of misconduct by Supreme Court justices themselves - once when Justice Annette Ziegler was found to have a conflict of interest in a particular case, and again when Justice David Prosser put his hands around the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley during a dispute. Maybe that explains the effort to grab control of the Commission.

Over several election cycles the Wisconsin Supreme Court has become more and more politicized. Outside groups - affiliated with the partisan political parties - have been spending enormous sums to elect the court that suits them. The danger in that was on full display during Supreme Court proceedings related to John Doe investigations sparked by political activities in the post-Act 10 recall elections. Cases came before the Supreme Court in which some of those under investigation had spent millions of dollars to elect the very justices sitting in judgment. Those justices were asked to recuse themselves. They did not, and then rendered judgments favorable to their campaign benefactors.

Bought-and-paid-for justice?

Maybe so. Maybe not.

But a reasonable person clearly might suspect the fairness and independence of the judiciary had been compromised.

And no one - Republican, Democrat or Independent - should want that perception to take root among the people.

So here we are again, with another proposal buried in the governor’s budget to undercut the independence of the Judicial Commission and place it on a leash held by Supreme Court justices increasingly elected in thinly-veiled partisan fashion.

Yet another way, in our view, modern politicians and their well-heeled benefactors are trying to extend partisan control over all branches of government to weaken constitutional checks and balances.

This also is worth pondering. Budget bills are supposed to be about fiscal matters. Policy and governmental structure and function considerations are supposed to be handled separately, on their individual merits. Governors and legislative leaders of both parties have tried to slide items into the budget that would not pass on their own. That’s not good government, no matter what party a governor represents.

Candidates always condemn the practice of sneaking policy matters into budget bills - Walker said so when he was a candidate. But then, as office-holders, governors of both parties eagerly violate their own pledges.

Most importantly, every citizen of Wisconsin should stand on the side of judicial independence. We still believe - perhaps naively, in these days of ugly partisan tribalism - that citizens are best served by judges who do not choose sides but rather apply the law as fair-minded referees committed only to justice.

An independent state Judicial Commission serves that cause. Leave it alone.

___

The Journal Times of Racine, March 12

Moving people from addiction to productivity

Rapid action by both Gov. Scott Walker’s opioid task force and the state Legislature - in an era of sharp divisions in the Capitol, 11 opioid-related bills are moving swiftly through the Legislature with bipartisan support - is a reflection of the seriousness of the situation and a desire to help addicts immediately.

According to a USA Today Network-Wisconsin report, heroin’s death toll rose for the ninth straight year in Wisconsin in 2015, and “the total of 281 deaths was triple the number killed by heroin in 2010. Meanwhile, the number of total opioid deaths - which includes heroin and prescription opiates - topped the number of Wisconsin traffic deaths for the third straight year.”

State Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, crafted 11 bills based on recommendations from the governor’s opioid task force. The package includes proposals that would grant legal immunity to people who overdose, allow school workers to administer overdose antidotes to students and require the University of Wisconsin System to open a school where high school addicts can continue their education during recovery. Other measures would allocate $5.5 million more over the next two years for treatment programs and four additional state drug agents.

Earlier this week, a Senate committee heard testimony on a bill that would expand limited immunity for people who receive first responder care after an overdose and on the DOJ funding proposal.

“People might argue this is enabling the behavior,” Nygren, whose daughter has struggled with heroin addiction for years, said of the bill allowing school employees to administer naloxone. “But our long-term goal is to get people into recovery and to be functioning citizens. There’s one basic fact. If they’re dead, that cannot happen.”

An amendment from Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, would extend the ability to residence hall directors on college campuses.

Sarah Butler, of Baraboo, shared her experience with addiction and recovery with lawmakers as they considered the bill to fund additional treatment and diversion programs, The Capital Times reported.

Butler, 29, was her mother’s primary caregiver as she was treated for COPD. Feeling stressed, Butler started taking her mother’s morphine. But after her mothers’ death, there was no more morphine. She replaced it with heroin.

She used heroin for about five years before she was arrested and faced prison time. She was able to enter Sauk County’s drug court instead, and has been clean for more than a year.

Her program included a sober living facility, outpatient treatment and regular meetings with a case manager.

“When I was out there using, I didn’t have much support,” she said. “When I entered into drug court that community wrapped their arms around me and gave me that support.” Butler now works two jobs and has her own apartment.

Nygren told the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee on March 2 that the package of legislation would advance his goal of saving lives, rehabilitating addicts and stopping the flow of drugs into Wisconsin.

Speaking of the flow of drugs into our state: We have no such sympathy for those who deal the opioids. Their actions are instrumental in creating the addiction and the allocation of community resources to help the addicts. We look forward to continued prosecution of the dealers.

Our sympathy begins and ends with those who show a willingness to try to master their addiction, to turn away from addiction and toward positive contributions to their communities. As Rep. Nygren put it, to get people into recovery and become functioning citizens.

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