Janesville Gazette. March 19, 2021.

Editorial: It’s about time doors to vaccine are opened

In case you didn’t notice, Gov. Tony Evers is throwing open the doors to COVID-19 vaccine for almost every Wisconsin resident ages 16 and older starting Monday.

It’s about time.

In addition to a long list of qualifying health conditions—everything from cancer to high blood pressure—the criteria also qualify anybody with a body mass index of 25 or more. According to a calculator on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, these people have a qualifying body mass index:

Those 6 feet tall and weighing 184 pounds or more.

Those 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 174 or more.

Those 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing 165 or more.

Those 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing 155 or more.

Those 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 146 or more.

That will qualify a lot of people.

An informal survey of journalists in The Gazette newsroom, for example, shows almost all of us—even the skinny young ones—qualify under the body mass index criteria.

One of them wrote: “Somehow, I actually qualify, which is hilarious. 6-3 and 202 pounds is 3 pounds too many, apparently. Best shape of my life. Have run 197 miles so far this year.”

From another: “Absolutely, I qualify. I honestly don’t know of anybody who wouldn’t …”

Some who don’t qualify for BMI do qualify for a health condition or because of their age.

Even though they aren’t saying the state is making vaccine available to almost every Wisconsin adult, that’s what the governor and his advisers are doing.

We welcome it.

As we wrote in this space in January, Wisconsin’s handling of vaccine distribution was poor. Part of the blame belonged to the clunky phase requirements imposed at the federal level. But Wisconsin officials didn’t plan well how they would choose groups to be vaccinated and when, even though our leaders in Madison had months to come up with a scheme while the vaccines were in development.

That led to confusion and angst at the local level. Remember the controversy of Janesville teachers getting vaccinated even though they weren’t in Phase 1A?

Now, it doesn’t matter. Almost everybody qualifies.

The next challenge will be finding a place to get vaccinated, but there’s hope there, too. Several people in The Gazette newsroom have been able to schedule appointments, for example.

Mercyhealth is developing a system to register for vaccine appointments.

SSM Health Dean Medical Group-Janesville East has COVID-19 vaccine appointments available.

You can get onto a waiting list for vaccine being distributed at Blackhawk Technical College.

Walgreens and Hometown Pharmacy are taking appointments, too.

The governor promises everybody will be eligible for vaccination by May 1.

We’re pretty much there already.

___

Kenosha News. March 22, 2021.

Editorial: No stimulus money for prisoners

Whenever the federal government is handing out free money it’s bound to trigger a lot of debate over who gets what and how much.

That was probably to be expected with the massive stimulus bill, the American Rescue Plan Act, which we have already criticized as having a heavy whiff of pork.

And given the hyper-partisanship that continues to reign both in Washington, D.C. and over in Madison, we’re not surprised to see legislation to restrict who gets what. A lot of proposed bills and legislation will never see the light of day — no matter what their merits.

Such was the case this week when U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., proposed preventing federal prisoners from receiving the $1,400 stimulus checks that even now are starting to show up in Americans’ bank accounts.

Steil, who represents Kenosha County in Congress, argues the checks will stimulate nothing — and there’s a large kernel of truth there.

“Regardless of ideology or political party, we should all agree that sending taxpayer-funded checks to prisoners has nothing to do with coronavirus relief. Prisoners currently incarcerated are not concerned about covering rent or losing their job due to COVID,” Steil said. “Sending money to prisoners isn’t COVID relief and it does not help people truly struggling to make ends meet.”

Steil is probably right on that. A bump in prison canteen spending is likely not going to buoy the economy. And Steil is picking some low-hanging fruit here by aiming his bill at federal prisoners who don’t have much public sympathy or political clout.

What Steil is arguing with his bill is that the stimulus checks are a scatter-gun approach going to all Americans and are not targeted to Americans who need it most. In our view, he is likely right on that as well.

There are good arguments to be made — for instance — that a retired couple who have not lost their jobs and have been, more easily than most, able to shelter at home without economic consequences. Yet, we don’t see Rep. Steil or any other politicians drafting legislation to carve grandma and grandpa out from the herd getting the stimulus largesse. Will that retired couple cash those federal checks? Absolutely.

Some would say Steil’s proposal is part political posturing, although we believe he is since in how he wants to see the money spent. As reported, the chances of his bill getting traction in the Democratic-majority House are slim. Plus, it flies in the face of a federal court ruling last fall that ordered the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service to send previous rounds of stimulus checks to incarcerated people after they had been withheld. That decision came after a class action suit filed by prisoners who argued that, they, too were American citizens.

Perhaps more effective, if it can withstand legal challenge, is the proposal by Wisconsin legislators, including state Sen. Julian Bradley, R-Franklin, whose district includes part of western Racine County, to force stimulus checks to prisoners be first used to pay for restitution to victims of their crimes. To that we would add a garnishment for prisoners who have child support obligations.

That certainly makes some sense.

And it’s not a small amount of money — with 19,709 inmates in the state prison population, those $1,400 stimulus checks would total more than $27 million.

The GOP-controlled state Legislature is likely receptive to such a bill and Gov. Tony Evers would be hard-pressed politically to veto it. Crime victims are likely able to make better use of stimulus checks, and have more need, than state prisoners who are sheltered in place in their cells.

___

La Crosse Tribune. March 21, 2021.

Editorial: ‘Final Five voting’ merits support in Wisconsin

“In American politics, winning isn’t winning unless the other side is losing, and losing badly. This shouldn’t be. And it doesn’t have to be.” — U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher, Republican from Green Bay, and Chrissy Houlahan, Democrat from Pennsylvania, in their forward to the book: “The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy.”

The problem in American politics isn’t that the other side is losing.

The problem is that the voters are losing. Solution-based legislation is losing. Good governance is losing. Democracy is losing. Who is winning? Special-interest groups that fund the extremes and count on the gridlock of status quo to paralyze responsible governance.

In their book, “The Politics Industry,” Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter argue that – for the sake of true democracy – it’s time for voters to change the rules.

Thankfully, two state senators – Republican Dale Kooyenga and Democrat Jeff Smith — and two state representatives — Democrat Daniel Reimer and Republican Tony Kurtz — circulated a bill last month to advance a change of rules for federal elections in Wisconsin — and we fully support it.

The two-step concept calls for single-ballot primaries followed by general elections that provide an instant runoff to assure the winner actually has a majority. One of the key causes of gridlock is the politically run primary system of elections.

As we’ve seen too often in Wisconsin, legislators are often punished by their own party for supporting solution-based, bipartisan initiatives. That means the political parties and special interests will keep legislators in line with the threat of a political opponent from the political extreme of the party. Somehow, they have turned “primaried” into a verb. That may serve party leadership, but it clearly doesn’t serve voters who want bipartisan solutions.

As political science emeritus Joe Heim of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse has long argued, it reduces true competition for votes and puts the parties in control. How do we change the rules and break the party grip? The proposed legislation calls for Final Five voting: The combination of top-five primaries and Ranked Choice Voting in general elections.

Here’s how the plan would work:

Instead of voting for one party or the other in the primary, you would vote in a single-ballot primary. The top five vote-getters would proceed to the general election. Instead of one finalist per party, for example, that final five could include two Republicans, two Democrats and one independent — meaning more competition for votes.

In the general election, voters would rank those candidates one through five under a process called Ranked Choice Voting.

If the top vote-getter receives more than 50 percent as the Number 1 preference, that person is elected.

But if no candidate receives a majority as the first preference, the person who comes in fifth is thrown out of the pool under Ranked Choice Voting. The ballots that listed the eliminated candidate as the top choice are redistributed counting the second preference.

Those second-place votes will help determine the person elected from the remaining four candidates — and it’s certainly possible that the person in third place among top-preference votes would receive enough votes as second choice to leap to the top as election winner.

If enacted, this would change the rules for electing those running for federal office from Wisconsin — for Congress, for instance.

Part of the appeal would be for candidates to run a positive campaign for voter support instead of attacking opponents.

We’re sick of hired guns from other parts of the country coming here to run nasty campaigns when they wouldn’t know the Mississippi River from Coon Creek. The voting process has been enacted in Alaska and is being considered in other states, including Wisconsin.

The initiative has the support of LeaderEthics-Wisconsin.

“We believe this is a serious effort, designed to curtail some of the hyper-partisanship we are seeing in politics today,” executive director Lee Rasch said. “We are encouraged that the legislation has bipartisan sponsorship.” The proposal does not tackle the troublesome influence of money in political campaigns, but as Rasch says, this initiative is a good first step toward returning control to voters.

Democracy Found, a Wisconsin-based initiative committed to revitalizing democracy, is promoting the legislation. You can learn more at www.democracyfound.org.

___