Wisconsin State Journal, Aug. 7
Keep the names of lottery winners public
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is unwittingly demonstrating the importance of open government in a way that just about anyone can appreciate. He's behind a bill that would make the names of lottery winners secret.
Talk about an invitation to corruption.
The lottery cannot succeed without trust. People will gamble their hard-earned dollars only if they think they have a fair chance to win. If they suspect the deck is stacked against them or that the house is cheating, they'll try to get rich quick some other way.
"Trust us, someone won, and it was totally fair" isn't good enough. All it takes is one corrupt lottery official or store clerk to help his buddies take home big prizes. Such corruption has been discovered before in cases of store clerks — who get a slice of the winnings — having ties to frequent winners. Such investigations are possible because winners' names are public. When the same name keeps popping up, it gets suspicious.
Vos argues that transparency creates an unreasonable burden for winners because scammers and the media harass them. He points to Manuel Franco who won a $768 million Powerball prize. Franco claims it got so bad he had to go off the grid and couldn't come out of hiding to testify in person for the secrecy bill.
Yet neither Franco nor Vos provides specific problematic incidents of harassment. Indeed, Franco would not have received so much attention if he hadn't gone out of his way to gain exposure. He held a press conference to announce his win and spent Mother's Day handing out $200 gift certificates at a Chicago Target.
We don't doubt becoming instantly rich comes with some headaches. Some lottery winners have been preyed on. Some have lost everything. Not that the winners are blameless. Many of those cautionary tales of lost millions feature winners who didn't take reasonable precautions to protect their new wealth.
To truly understand the need for transparency, ask yourself a couple of questions: Would you buy a lottery ticket if the winners were secret? The odds are it won't be you, so do you trust all of those retailers and lottery officials with the potential power to cheat not to do so?
President Ronald Reagan said, "Trust but verify."
Transparency and the public's right to know are bulwarks against corruption. Speaker Vos shouldn't tear them down because lottery winners find it annoying.
The Capital Times, Aug. 7
What Robin Vos doesn't know about disability rights is ... everything
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has plumbed the depths of cynical gamesmanship and partisan chicanery throughout his miserable career. But the Rochester Republican hit a new low last week when he attacked state Rep. Jimmy Anderson, who uses a wheelchair, for asking if he might be able to phone into some committee meetings.
The speaker's disparaging of a colleague represents the latest in his many breaks with the traditions of civil discourse that once characterized statehouse interactions. But that is not the worst of it. Vos is sending an ominous signal to people with disabilities who speak up for themselves on the job. The speaker is rejecting the legal and moral intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As such, he must either change course or face a legal challenge that could be extremely costly to the state.
However this fiasco is resolved, it has raised serious questions about Vos' fitness to continue as speaker. It is embarrassing to the Legislature and to the state to have the Assembly being led by a vindictive charlatan who is deliberately rejecting a modest request from a colleague who seeks only to do the job he was elected to do.
Anderson, one of hardest working and most engaged members of the Assembly, has asked to be able to phone into some committee meetings because it can be physically difficult for him to get to sessions that begin early in the day. The Democratic state representative from Fitchburg has also explained that it is not healthy for him to remain in his wheelchair for long periods of time.
What Anderson is proposing is reasonable and necessary. It is, as well, accepted practice in other legislative bodies — including the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate. Notably, members of the Assembly who serve on joint committees with senators are allowed to call into joint meetings of members of the two legislative chambers.
So what is Vos thinking? The answer is that he is not thinking. He is letting his irrational partisanship get the better of him.
Remarkably, Vos has accused Anderson of "political grandstanding."
After making that absurd assertion, the speaker engaged in some actual political grandstanding by trying to present himself as the victim in a dispute with a man who has been paralyzed from the chest down since 2010, when a drunken driver smashed into the vehicle he was in. That accident killed Anderson's parents and brother.
Anderson's story of rebuilding his life, graduating from law school, starting the nonprofit group Drive Clear (which helps victims of drunken driving and works with groups like the Madison/Dane County Tavern League to "empower people to make smart decisions before getting behind the wheel") and getting elected to the state Legislature is an inspiring record of perseverance and achievement. Yet Vos had the audacity to criticize Anderson's public statements about the need to make accommodations for Americans with disabilities. "This is an unfortunate way to communicate," wrote the speaker in a letter to his colleague. "It calls into question your seriousness."
Anderson is serious. And he is right.
If Vos was serving as the speaker of the whole Assembly — rather than a crude partisan who seems always to want to pick fights with Democrats — he would have quietly and quickly worked with Anderson and other legislators to adjust the rules and set up phone connections like those utilized by state senators.
Anderson should not be forced to press this matter. Vos should have acted affirmatively to make the workings of the Assembly fair and functional for all members. That is the speaker's job. Unfortunately, Robin Vos is failing at his job.
That failure harms Wisconsin, as do the lies that Vos is telling in an effort to smear Anderson.
1. Vos claimed that Anderson did not tell him or human resources officials about his concerns. Yet Anderson said those concerns were communicated to Vos early this year when party leaders considered Assembly rules. State Rep. Mark Spreitzer, the Beloit legislator who serves as the Assembly Democratic caucus chair for the 2019-2020 legislative session, said Anderson is right.
2. Vos is trying to suggest that videotaping committee sessions would be a proper accommodation. But that's absurd. Anderson would not be able to make comments, ask questions or otherwise participate in hearings. He would be reduced to the role of a spectator.
3. Vos claimed that letting Anderson, or any other lawmaker, to call into a meeting would disrespect citizens who attend meetings. Really? A legislator who wants to hear what people have to say is disrespectful? Any reasonable person would reach the opposite conclusion.
4. Vos said that letting a member call in would "lend itself to disruptive, ineffective meetings." But doesn't the private-sector — which the speaker so frequently hails — rely heavily on conference calls and videoconferencing? Are the meetings of high-powered executives, marketing teams and corporate sales forces ineffective? Of course not. Vos is simply trying to find excuses for saying "no" to Jimmy Anderson.
"It seems like Speaker Vos is going to take every opportunity to denigrate me and act as if I'm acting inappropriately when I'm simply asking for accommodations related to my disability," said Anderson. "And so at this point I can't trust him to do the right thing and that's really frustrating. It really feels like we're moving toward having to file a lawsuit."
It does not have to come to that.
But if it does, the evidence will show that Robin Vos has been a colossal jerk.
Kenosha News, Aug. 12
There are bigger issues than straws
In the state capital, they are trying to save the world, one straw at a time.
Joining a national movement, a Madison city alderman has proposed creating an ordinance that would prohibit restaurants and bars from giving plastic straws to customers unless the customers ask.
Under the proposal by Madison Alderman Syed Abbas, restaurants would still be allowed to give straws to takeout and drive-thru customers and could give dine-in customers plastic straw alternatives, such as paper (which disintegrates), bamboo or reusable metal straws (which recently killed a woman in a freak accident). Restaurants would also be able to leave straws out for customers to grab on their own.
Even though straws account for 0.025 percent of the plastic that goes into the ocean, according to National Geographic, bans on single-use plastic straws have been called for across the nation because straws are not necessary for drinking.
"People can still drink water without a straw," Abbas said. "It's not like an impossible thing."
Based on that argument, people can walk without shoes. They can get around town without cars. They can survive without air conditioning.
In the 21st century, most of the things we do and buy on a daily basis are not necessary. Most things are a convenience.
Families often want cups with lids and straws because they help avoid a big mess when a child knocks over the cup.
And while it's a convenience for families and adults, straws are actually needed for many people who are disabled.
"There seems to be this almost shaming of people. While some disabilities might be obvious, others are less than obvious," Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund spokesman Lawrence Carter-Long told NBC Today.
"Then it gets into this almost interrogation. If you just want to get a coffee or a cold drink, do you want to give the barista your medical history? A person shouldn't be required to do that."
With that said, Carter-Long said, "If you don't need a straw, by all means don't use one. If you can use a reusable straw, that's great, please do. If you need a plastic straw, they should be made available."
It is good for people to be environmentally conscious and, by all means, skip the straw if you don't need it. But it's overreaching for cities to create straw ordinances.
There are bigger issues than straws.