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Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin
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Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

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Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. October 13, 2021.

Editorial: Hidden cameras don’t belong in schools

It’s not uncommon for the rest of the state to look at Madison and react by wondering, “What were they thinking?” But the reaction is usually prompted by the antics of state government, not a school district putting hidden cameras in a high school locker room.

The account from The Wisconsin State Journal beggars belief. School security staff found the camera setups in a coach’s office in the locker room. One was pointed toward an area in which disabled students change. Dumbfoundingly, they were authorized by the district, part of an effort to catch an employee who was believed to be sleeping on the job.

A police report on the matter indicated the cameras had been removed in June 2020, and that what security found this past January was a hollowed-out smoke detector that had previously housed one of the cameras.

Whether the cameras were in compliance with the Madison school district’s own policies can be questioned. Reports say the district allowed hidden cameras in areas where there was not an expectation of privacy, prohibiting locations such as bathrooms and locker rooms. Hidden cameras could be authorized by the district’s superintendent. While the district might want to take refuge in the fact that the cameras were in the office rather than the locker room itself, we doubt that’s of comfort to anyone who might have been in the camera’s view.

Given that the district knew in January that the cameras had been found, that parents were notified in the same month, and that it had enough time to commission and receive a $30,000 outside report on the debacle, it’s fair to question why it took nine months for the district to conclude that maybe, just maybe, it needed to change its policies. It’s also troubling that the cameras were apparently in use after a former Madison teacher was caught in 2019 planting hidden cameras in students’ hotel rooms during field trips.

The lesson for other Wisconsin school districts is clear. If your policies currently allow for the use of hidden cameras, it would be wise to rethink them now. Explicitly prohibiting the practice is not a bad idea. While there are good arguments for using security cameras inside schools, the use of hidden cameras is an invitation to lawsuits. It is a practice that invites abuse specifically because of the surreptitious nature of the cameras.

The Madison school district’s use of hidden cameras in such a sensitive location was a mind-bogglingly bad decision. The district’s own policies reflect the fact students have a reasonable expectation of privacy in locker rooms. And, as multiple court rulings attest, students never shed their fundamental rights at the schoolhouse door. Does the district have an interest in catching a malingering employee? Of course, and it’s an interest shared by the taxpayers who fund the employee’s wages. Is it reasonable to do so at the cost of students’ privacy and security? No.

Cameras in hallways and other spaces open to students and teachers make sense in many cases. Arguments in favor of such cameras for security purposes and the ability to monitor events within school walls are difficult to refute. People may well bemoan the need for such steps, but the necessity is real. And their presence in a space that is open to all is akin to the increasingly widespread use of cameras in doorbells.

Discomfort with such observation in public spaces is often more pronounced among students’ parents than the students themselves. There’s a level of familiarity among younger people with the idea of routinely being on camera, a familiarity engendered in part by the proliferation of social media and the ready access to smartphones with high-quality cameras. Those tools simply weren’t available to earlier generations, as their parallel unease with them reveals.

But nothing can justify what the Madison district did. It was nothing less than a breach of trust and responsibility. The recent move to ban hidden cameras is most likely too little, too late to stave off the legal repercussions.

Districts in the rest of Wisconsin, including in the Chippewa Valley, should take note. Let Madison’s mistakes be your warning.

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Kenosha News. October 10, 2021.

Editorial: Murder clearance rate a credit to law officers

Maybe you can get away with murder elsewhere in the country, but not so much here in the Badger State.

Data from the Murder Accountability Project, a national nonprofit which tracks homicides in the U.S. shows Wisconsin’s clearance rate on murders over the past decade was one of the tops in the country.

Wisconsin posted a clearance rate of 72% from 2011-2020, the eleventh best in the country, according to an analysis of the MAP data by the Badger Project, a nonpartisan, non-profit journalism organization. And in states that recorded more than 1,000 homicides during that period, Wisconsin ranked fourth — behind only Minnesota, Nevada and North Carolina.

In most cases that meant charges were filed by law enforcement, although “clearance” can also include cases where the offender died or extradition was not possible.

Even better, the clearance rates in Kenosha and Racine counties surpass the state percentage. Racine County had a clearance rate of 87.5% — solving 42 of the county’s 48 homicides over that 10-year period. Kenosha had a rate of 78.43% solving 40 of the county’s 51 homicides between 2011 and 2020. Walworth County had a 100% clearance rate, solving all 10 of its homicide cases.

Wisconsin’s numbers would have looked even better had it not been for the city and county of Milwaukee — and that comes as no surprise to southeastern Wisconsin residents who almost daily read news reports of mayhem in the state’s largest city.

The Badger Project analysis said Milwaukee County had a homicide clearance rate just under 64%, well below the state average. Moreover, the number of homicides there dwarf the rest of the state. According to the MAP data over the past ten years, Milwaukee County had 1,229 murders. The total for all of Wisconsin was 1,900 — meaning Milwaukee County accounts for more than 64 percent of all murders in the state.

That trend in Milwaukee is not declining — the county posted a record 190 murders last year and has already had 148 homicides so far this year and is on track to pass that this year. Clearly, there must be a concerted effort to blunt that trend.

Wisconsin’s high ranking in murder clearance rate and the even better numbers for Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties are testimony to the hard work and dedication of local law enforcement officers throughout the counties and to their determined efforts to bring killers to justice. That clearance rate can only deter murderous actions and it should help local residents sleep a little easier at night.

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Wisconsin State Journal. October 9, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t let the NIMBYs slow Wisconsin’s shift to solar

Two figures highlight just how far Wisconsin has to go to address climate change in a substantial way.

The first is 40%. That’s how much of our nation’s electricity the Biden administration hopes America can generate from solar power by 2035.

The second is 0.8%. That’s how much of Wisconsin’s electricity our state is producing from solar energy today, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Wisconsin’s solar power production is well below the national average, which is about 4%.

So we’ve got lot of ground to cover — literally, with solar panels. (Some can be mounted on roofs, too.)

We need more sunlight collectors across farm fields, on businesses and private homes. We also need fewer people objecting to clean energy because they don’t like to see arrays of solar panels near their homes or communities. They’re essentially saying, “Not in my backyard,” a common and unconvincing complaint often abbreviated as “NIMBY.”

Compare a solar farm to any other kind of power plant — coal, natural gas or nuclear — and the benefits are clear, especially for neighbors. Solar farms don’t spew pollution into the air or foul our waterways. They don’t create radioactive waste.

The proposed solar farm west of Cambridge, about 20 miles southeast of Madison, is a prime example of the opportunity solar offers, despite some loud yet limited opposition.

The Koshkonong Solar Center plans to erect sun panels on 2,400 acres west of the village on the Dane and Jefferson county lines. It will create enough electricity to power 80,000 homes — about a quarter of the households in Dane County. The exciting proposal also includes enough lithium-ion batteries to store energy until it is needed. So if the sun isn’t shining, the Koshkonong Solar Center will still have power to distribute.

Esthetic concerns for rural landscapes are worth considering. Wisconsin is rich in natural beauty that improves our quality of life and attracts tourists.

But we’ll still have vast open spaces and forests to explore even if Koshkonong and every other solar proposal being considered is approved. More important, addressing climate change will help protect that beauty — and our communities and economies — from longer droughts, deeper floods and more extreme natural disasters.

July was the hottest month on record for our planet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And the last seven Julys have been the seven hottest on record, the agency reported. That’s similar to broader trends over time, with 2020 being the second-hottest year ever measured.

The burning of fossil fuels has spewed greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an excessive rate for most of the last two centuries. The gases trap heat, contributing to higher global temperatures and more dangerous and costly storms. In Wisconsin, communities including Madison have been hit by unprecedented rain and floods.

The cost of solar energy is falling fast, with more utilities and homeowners embracing the technology. In fact, Wisconsin’s utility-scale electricity generation from solar more than doubled in just the last year, according to the EIA. The Two Creeks solar farm in Manitowoc County powered up last November, and the Point Beach solar farm plugged in last month.

When all of the solar projects coming online are included, Wisconsin’s solar generation increases to around 1.5% of Wisconsin’s total generating capacity, according to Renew Wisconsin. And the Koshkonong Solar Center, once built, will easily bump that above 2%.

So Wisconsin is making progress. Government incentives for more solar will help keep the momentum going. So will setting a price on carbon emissions. That way, the free market will transition faster to cleaner alternatives. Wisconsin still gets nearly 40% of its electricity from coal, which spews heat-trapping pollution into the atmosphere. Solar power will be cheaper and healthier for ratepayers.

That’s why the Public Service Commission should approve the Koshkonong Solar Center and similar projects, assuming thorough reviews don’t flag unforeseen problems.

Farm fields are pretty for neighboring homeowners. But if those farmers want to grow energy instead of crops on some of their land — as many farmers do near Cambridge and elsewhere — that’s their right, as long as they follow land-use laws.

Moreover, solar panels aren’t forever. They eventually wear out. And then the farmland underneath them will still be available to grow food if needed. The soil may even be better for crops, having enjoyed a break from tilling and planting. Because of no fertilizers or pesticides, it would qualify as organic. The land around solar panels can aid wildlife, including pollinators.

Wisconsin doesn’t have a shortage of farmland. In fact, the federal government still pays some farmers not to plant crops on their land.

So let the sun shine bright on more solar farms — in Cambridge and elsewhere across our state.

END

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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