Journal Times, Racine, Oct. 31

Agencies should not lax rules because of virus

The numbers won’t be added to Wisconsin’s death toll from the COVID-19 virus, but they probably should be.

They may be only a handful, but they will be real — and they’ll be due to the state’s easing of requirements for young people to hunt and to drive.

The Department of Natural Resources became the second state agency to ease licensing restrictions this month, announcing an “online-only hunter education option for youth.”

What that means is the state, at least temporarily, is dropping its requirement that all hunters under that age of 18 are required to at least attend a 5- to 7-hour “field day” of instruction and testing supervised by certified hunter education instructors.

It will go virtual — without any in-person vetting by veteran hunters of their hunting and hunter safety skills and techniques.

The DNR action came after it suspended the field day instruction last spring and was sued by a conservative pro-hunting group. It resumed the instruction during the summer, but had only processed 6,000 applicants, compared to 16,000 for in-person classes in a typical year.

We continue to have serious reservations about the effectiveness of “virtual learning” — whether it be in schools, many of which have been forced to take this route to prevent COVID outbreaks, and certainly for hunting and driving.

Last spring, the Department of Motor Vehicles became the first state agency to step through the virtual door when it dropped its requirement for an in-person road test for 16- and 17-year-olds in a “pilot program” that represented “innovative solutions to help Wisconsin address challenges created by the pandemic,” the DOT secretary said at the time.

Yes, new young drivers still have to get an instructional permit for at least six months, complete a driver’s education and behind-the-wheel training and log in 30 hours of driving with a parent or sponsor.

But the road test is not required — all you need is a waiver signed by a parent or sponsor.

The DMV said at the time 98% of applicants pass the road test on the first or second time. What they didn’t say was that about 28% of those who take the road test fail on the first effort and have to wait before taking a second test. Now they’ll be on the road.

And what the DMV didn’t say was that 16- and 17-year-old drivers continue to dominate the statistics nationwide for all crashes, injury crashes and deaths to others on a miles driven comparison. Or that their involvement in crashes is double that of the next highest group — 18- and 19-year-olds, according to the American Automobile Association.

So, yes, we’re worried that state agencies have backed away from in-person vetting of young people for both hunting and driving. The DMV says it’s a pilot program and the DNR’s relaxation of its rules is temporary through the end of December.

We can only hope that these lax rules are quick to exit. Hunter safety training and increased driver’s education training for young people have had a marked effect on safety — both in the field and on the road — over the past half century.

As one Wisconsin hunter safety instructor put it, “We still think in-person training is the way to go.”

We agree.


Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Oct. 28

Stop with the recall efforts already

Good riddance to yet another unjustified attempt to remove an elected leader from office before his or her term is over.

The latest bid to boot a politician prematurely from his post ended when organizer Misty Polewczynski of Burlington failed to file any of the 668,327 signatures she needed to force a recall election against Gov. Tony Evers, who is less than halfway through his four-year term.

State law required as many signatures as 25% of the votes cast in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Polewczynski and her supporters wouldn’t say how many they collected.

If Evers had committed a serious crime or blatantly veered the state in the opposite direction he had promised his supporters, maybe an attempt to remove him early would be justified.

But Polewczynski’s gripes included Evers’ mask mandate inside public places, which limits the spread of the deadly coronavirus. She also faulted the governor for destruction in Kenosha after a police officer shot a black man seven times in the back, triggering protests and rioting. Polewczynski is free to disagree with the governor on health policy. She is welcome to criticize Evers for taking too long to call in the National Guard (though he did so the day after Blake was shot and, he says, as soon as local officials requested help).

What she shouldn’t do is try to undermine the will of Wisconsin voters. Recalls should be rare and reserved for only the most egregious behavior.

Many Republicans wisely resisted the bid to recall the Democratic governor. Those who did support it were hypocritical. After all, Republicans had strongly and correctly objected to the attempt to remove GOP Gov. Scott Walker only a year after he was elected. Back in 2011, Democrats claimed Walker deserved an early exit for adopting strict limits on union bargaining. But that was a policy disagreement, not a serious crime, and Walker had been clashing with unions as Milwaukee County executive for years.

If anything, the recall attempt against Walker backfired. He expanded his margin of victory in the 2012 recall election, which helped fuel his 2014 reelection. It wasn’t until Walker sought a third term in 2018 that voters chose Evers.

The recent recall attempt against Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway failed, too. That’s good. Rhodes-Conway was barely through her first year of running City Hall when the recall organizer faulted her for a $40 wheel tax, which is a policy disagreement. He also faulted Rhodes-Conway for failing to protect Downtown from looting and vandalism, though the mayor condemned the “senseless destruction” and said she relied on law enforcement to decide when to engage with unruly crowds.

The State Journal editorial board didn’t support the recalls of Walker, Evers or Rhodes-Conway. And thankfully, none succeeded. If they had, they would have prompted even more attempts, distracting our leaders from doing the public’s business. Similarly, presidential impeachment should be rare, not a routine political tool employed by the most partisan voices on the left and right.

Voters can hire or fire their top leaders once every four years. Be sure to have your say now, when democracy is in action. Don’t demand a redo if the election results don’t go your way.


Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Oct. 30

Rock County needs to do better with COVID-19 testing

Community testing for COVID-19 is falling short of demand in Rock County, and it needs to get fixed.

Cars lined Sunny Lane as people waited to get tested one day last week at Blackhawk Technical College. By the end of the day, Wisconsin National Guard troops had administered 607 tests, leaving only 293 tests available for the next day, when .cars were in line at 9 a.m., two hours before testing was scheduled to begin. The testing site was scheduled to be open until 7 p.m. but closed at 2:35 p.m. when tests ran out.

How can tests run out?

Rob Balsamo is coordinator of fire and EMS at Blackhawk Technical College and now also is operations manager for COVID-19 testing being hosted by the school.

When planning for testing at the school, he asked Rock County officials for 300 tests a day. But then he saw what was happening at the testing site at Dawson Ball Fields in Janesville, where an average of 500 people were tested every day between Oct. 12 and Oct. 16.

Balsamo modified his request, asking for 500 tests a day at Blackhawk Tech.

County officials told him the state Department of Health Services had authorized 450 a day.

That’s 900 over two days, which so far hasn’t been enough. Blackhawk Tech will be hosting testing every Wednesday and Thursday through at least Dec. 10.

Balsamo said there is enough demand among residents for more testing—perhaps 1,000 or 1,200 tests a week—but he was told the limiting factor is the availability of National Guard personnel, who are running testing sites throughout the state.

Not so, says the National Guard.

“Generally speaking, it comes down to however many tests we’re allocated, we’ll execute,” said National Guard spokesman Maj. Joe Trovato.

Is there more demand for National Guard services than are available?

“No. I wouldn’t say that,” he said.

Maybe, then, it’s a lack of testing supplies?

Not that, either, Trovato said. He helped facilitate a state Department of Health Services media briefing Thursday, when the deputy secretary said there is no shortage of supplies.

Jessica Turner, public health communications specialist for the Rock County Department of Public Health, said the county has asked for more tests at Blackhawk Tech.

How many?

“As many as they can give us,” Turner said.

Medical experts agree that more testing is part of what is needed to get ahead of the coronavirus, but Rock County testing is falling short. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are surging, but not everybody who wants a test can get one.

One of the two cars in line at Blackhawk Tech last week was driven by Shirley Russell, 78, Beloit.

“I haven’t been tested, yet, and the virus has gone pretty bad in Wisconsin, so I figured I’d go ahead and do it and see if I’m OK,” Russell said.

She agreed it would be good if more tests were available to meet the demand, “but if they don’t have the stuff to test with, you’re out of luck.”

People shouldn’t be relying on luck to get tested. They should be relying on government leaders to make sure testing is available for everybody who wants it.