Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. July 19, 2022.
Editorial: A lifesaving number
This Saturday marks a major day for mental health in the United States. A new, nationwide crisis hotline will go live.
The basic concept isn’t new. It’s something advocates have argued for, but never seemed to get off the ground. It should accomplish several important goals.
Let’s step back for a moment and look at the options as they are at this moment for people who are in the midst of a mental health crisis. If loved ones believe the person’s life is in immediate danger, there aren’t all that many options. Crisis lines exist, but they’re not the kind of universal coverage that’s needed.
The best known of the previous efforts is probably the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. That’s a network of crisis centers and it covers a good portion of the country, but the 1-800 number isn’t particularly easy to remember.
So people turn to the emergency number they know: 9-1-1. The problem is that mental health isn’t what that line has ever been intended to address. Dispatchers, police and firefighters certainly encounter people in mental health crises, but that’s not what their primary training addresses. That has led to some outcomes that were indisputably not in anyone’s interest.
The new 9-8-8 line will “connect callers with trained mental health counselors,” according to a recent Associated Press story. That report noted the federal government has made more than $280 million available to states. Not all of that is directly tied to the hotline, but expands into the support systems that people who use the hotline may well need. The list includes mobile crisis teams and emergency centers “similar to urgent care clinics.”
The implementation of the new line has been strikingly fast for a federal endeavor. Congress passed the bill creating a three-digit crisis line in 2020. Then-President Donald Trump signed it the same year. Now, about two years later, it’s launching.
There will be challenges. The long-term issue is funding. Projects like this often see a rush of funding in the first few years, but declining returns later. That would be an especially problematic pattern here, where funding becomes more important as more people become familiar with the new number.
Mental health statistics are notoriously hard to assess, in large part because people still view it as having a stigma attached. That really shouldn’t be the case. Studies have suggested a majority of people, perhaps a large majority, encounter significant mental health challenges over the course of their lives.
In 2020, Wisconsin released a study that showed suicide rates for residents ages 45-54 “more than doubled” between 2000 and 2017. And rates were higher in rural counties than urban ones. The overall rate was 14.4 per 100,000 residents.
The rate at which people went to emergency rooms with self-harm injuries was much higher, though. It was 69.6 per 100,000 people. And, yes, that’s controlled for the number of suicide attempts rather than, say, a chainsaw injury from yard work. Both may be self-inflicted, but the latter is clearly unintentional.
The new line could have a significant effect locally. The report found both Eau Claire and Chippewa counties to have “significantly higher” suicide rates than the state’s overall rate.
We certainly don’t expect miracles from the creation of this new crisis line. Experts expect a surge of calls when it starts up, and there will very likely be some growing pains. Creation of the line says something important though, underscoring that society is increasingly taking mental health seriously and is acting on that knowledge.
There is also value in simply having awareness of mental health challenges, which the line helps create by simply existing. We mentioned the view that mental health should somehow have a greater stigma than any other health challenge. Familiarity will help wear away that misconception.
As with so many other issues, it’s one thing to be misinformed when it’s hidden, when it isn’t someone you know. When you become aware that it’s a family member or a good friend your view shifts.
This week’s launch of the 9-8-8 line is an important step. It will help people who are loved and valued, but just can’t see it at the moment.
It will save lives.
Kenosha News. July 20, 2022.
Editorial: Prosecuting for voter mistakes
Voter fraud! Voter fraud!
Yeah, we’ve been treated to those accusations repeatedly in the two years since ex-president Donald Trump lost narrowly to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
It’s almost become white noise – endless white noise. The fact is that voter fraud is extremely rare here in Wisconsin and multiple reviews and audits have found no widespread fraud in the state or anywhere else.
Local elections clerks in Wisconsin referred only 12 cases to prosecutors related to the 2020 general election, out of 3.3 million cast.
Still, a recent news story out of Fond du Lac County caught our eye. It detailed how a Fond du Lac woman, Jamie Wells, and her husband, were in hot water and facing prosecution by District Attorney Eric Toney because they used the address of a UPS Store in Fond du Lac – and not a residential address as required by state law – when they registered to vote in the 2020 election.
The couple faces up to three and a half years in prison and maximum fines of $10,000 each if convicted. They said they have received help from relatives and expect legal bills close to $17,000.
Wells said she and her husband have used that UPS Store in Fond du Lac as their address for decades without a problem. They registered to vote using that address because they didn’t have another one to list – the couple lives in a 42-foot pull-behind camper because his work on farms take them all over the state.
In a bit of irony, given that its mostly Trump supporters who have consistently raised complaints of voter fraud, Wells said she and her husband probably lean Republican but had never been politically active, but they were motivated to vote in 2020 because they thought Trump was a better candidate.
Now, she says, she may never vote again.
Tomey has drawn heat for his decision to prosecute the couple, along with three others in the county who used UPS addresses to register to vote. Ion Meyn, an assistant law professor at the University of Wisconsin, called the cases in Fond du Lac “a real abuse of (prosecutorial) discretion.”
“Here you have a prosecutor who is taking a really tortured view, in my mind, of what this provision (in the statute) means. I just find that so irresponsible,” Meyn said.
The Wisconsin Watch news report also noted Toney was a Republican candidate for state attorney general and this spring at the Republican state convention, pushed his reputation as “one of the most aggressive prosecutors of election fraud” in the state.
We were all ready to get out the bucket of tar and a few bags of feathers over the idea of a candidate for office using the prosecution of a state couple to advance his political career over an innocent mistake on an address. That’s specially so since they are U.S. citizens and have a right to vote.
But the thing is, DA Tomey has a point. As he said in February when he first filed the charges, “Even if a person doesn’t have a stable residence, they’re still able to vote; they’re still able to register, it’s just a question of making sure you do it lawfully and not listing a P.O. Box because when you’re registering to vote you clearly don’t live at a P.O. box.”
That can be particularly important in races for local offices where the registered address determines who can vote in which races – aldermanic, school board, county supervisor, judges, village boards and even referendums. If you’ve given a UPS address as your residence, you may not be entitled to cast that ballot.
The issue is probably more widespread than most realize. In La Crosse County, the district attorney found 15 cases where people used UPS store addresses and then voted. The DA declined to prosecute saying they were a mistake and not voter fraud. “There’s no way a jury would say they intentionally did something to fool anybody.”
We agree with that. But, we also acknowledge that it’s important to discourage the use of false addresses for voter registration – whether it be UPS stores or anywhere else.
Tomey has made his point; now we would hope he would show a little prosecutorial discretion and walk away from harsh prosecution for an unintended mistake.
Racine Journal Times. July 16, 2022.
Editorial: Be careful before eliminating any energy sources
You don’t have to look far to see the impact of climate change with temperatures rising, increased fire threats in areas and droughts in other areas.
It’s right that government officials and businesses should be looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to try to do what can be done to reduce climate change.
With that said, we also need to take time to look at the unintended consequences that can occur if steps are taken too quickly.
The Midwest grid operator — the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) — warned this year that energy generation capacity in the region including Minnesota and Wisconsin could be about 1,230 megawatts short of possible peak demand. With above-average temperatures forecast, MISO said it may need to rely on imports or emergency measures to maintain the grid. The operator also warned that Wisconsin was at a high risk of possible blackouts.
Since that report came out, We Energies has said that people don’t have to worry about rolling blackouts.
Before blackouts would be scheduled, We Energies would first call for the public to decrease power use — asking customers to turn off lights as much as possible, turn off the air conditioning, that kind of thing and that’s never happened before in We Energies’ history.
It’s important to point out that if Wisconsin’s energy producers fall short of demand, power could be imported from neighboring power grids. Wind turbine power generated in Iowa could fill Wisconsin’s gaps, and vice versa. That’s thanks to the system in place through MISO.
Even though we are being told not to worry this summer about blackouts, Wisconsin Public Service Commission member Ellen Nowak is right when she said that the report should serve as a “wakeup call.”
She said, “I’m not hitting the panic button, but it is a wake-up call. I think it’s a good reality check about how the system works.” She has called for continuing to delay the retirement of fossil fuel generators.
The reason the issue of possible blackouts was brought up is the result of the closure of some power plants in the Midwest, decreasing the amount of extra power beyond anticipated peak loads that the whole grid can produce.
With that said, We Energies and Alliant Energy (which powers much of central and southwestern Wisconsin) recently extended the lives of several in-state coal plants by several years. That will help stabilize power in the state.
Two of the units in We Energies’ Oak Creek plant, located just north of Caledonia, were due to shut down in early 2023 and the other two were to close in early 2024. Now, they are due to retire in May 2024 and November 2025, respectively.
Looking to the future, a lot of due diligence should be done before those plants permanently close. There is value in having multiple diverse energy sources in the Midwest. The last thing we want to do is put lives at risk if there is not enough energy to support demand.
Wisconsin State Journal. July 17, 2022.
Editorial: Court wrong to demonize drop boxes
Banning drop boxes for absentee ballots across Wisconsin was rash and unnecessary.
And comparing them to the dictatorship of the late Saddam Hussein in Iraq is absurd and reckless. That’s what Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley just did.
Voting drop boxes were a convenient way to cast ballots during the pandemic, when the coronavirus was spreading fast and killing thousands of Wisconsin residents, especially the elderly. Many voters of all ages and political leanings found drop boxes helpful. They improved participation in our democracy with no credible evidence of fraud.
Yet an aggressive state Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision July 8, needlessly prohibited ballot drop boxes. What happened to judicial restraint? State law doesn’t specifically say anything about drop boxes for absentee ballots. So why read something into the law that isn’t there?
Bradley even suggested, in her majority opinion, that banning the secured boxes will help prevent rigged voting similar to Iraq, where Hussein won with a manufactured 100% of the vote. Her rhetoric was over the top — something you’d expect from a hyper-partisan politician, not a high-court judge.
More than 500 ballot drop boxes appeared across the state in 2020 after COVID-19 emerged as the worst pandemic in a century. The boxes enjoyed bipartisan support – including from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other Republicans. They made sense because public health officials were recommending people stay at least 6 feet apart to reduce the spread of the disease.
Election officials tightly secured the drop boxes to the ground or buildings. In Madison, they were placed outside fire stations staffed through the night. Their contents were just as safe — if not more so — than ballots dropped into mailboxes.
The drop boxes simply removed the middle man and sped up delivery. Election officials regularly checked the boxes and took them to municipal offices for safe storage. Voters didn’t have to worry about ballots being lost in the mail or delayed.
Many people didn’t even leave their vehicle to drop in a ballot. They pulled up, rolled down their window and deposited it like mailing an important bill or letter.
The end of drop boxes for ballots in Wisconsin won’t change much. Mailboxes are still conveniently located in lots of neighborhoods. And you can still drop off ballots — often curbside — to poll workers at your clerk’s office. Thanks to vaccines and other precautions against COVID, many voters are now comfortable casting ballots in person.
The court’s decision isn’t the end of democracy any more than it was a threat to fair elections.
But it’s still disappointing. Voting should be as easy as possible while still being secure. That’s what drop boxes ensured, despite former President Donald Trump’s endless and baseless conspiracy theories about voter fraud that he imagined to salve his ego.
Trump lost the 2020 election, fair and square. Recounts, audits and legal decisions have proven President Joe Biden won. The real threat to our democracy is Trump, a losing candidate who still won’t concede defeat.
Trump’s outrageous behavior in trying to reverse a legitimate election and the will of the people draws a much closer comparison to dictatorships than any of Wisconsin’s careful election procedures.
Ballot drop boxes were good for democracy. Many voters will miss them. The only positive thing about their absence will be that Trump’s cowardly apologists in Wisconsin will have one less innocuous procedure to complain about as a distraction from Trump’s failings.