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Category: State news

Poll: Climate change, budget deficit, income distribution are top concerns for Wisconsinites

Wisconsin Public Radio

A new poll of Wisconsin residents shows that climate change, the federal budget deficit, income distribution and race relations are among the top concerns heading into the 2022 midterms, although many of the same respondents felt issues were a larger problem at the national level.

University of Wisconsin-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs sent an eight-page survey to 5,000 residents between July and September 2020. Nearly 1,600 individuals from all over the state except Menomonee County responded, with a response rate of 33 percent.

The snow season is shortening in Wisconsin, forcing the snowshoe hare north in search of a landscape to blend into

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: According to data from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research, Wisconsin’s average winter temperature rose about 2 to 6 degrees between 1950 and 2018, depending on the part of the state. And in the coming years, those temperatures could rise another 6 degrees, greatly impacting the amount of snow the state sees, and the areas where snow is present for the entire winter season.

But what is really impacting the hares isn’t the amount of snow falling in Wisconsin — that has largely stayed the same, said Michael Notaro, the associate director for the Nelson Institute. It’s the amount of snowpack, or snow on the ground, that is impacting animals.

As the Earth’s temperature increases, snow melts quicker, meaning the snow season doesn’t last as long.

“In the future, as it keeps getting warmer, eventually (precipitation) is going to be more in the form of a liquid, but so far that hasn’t necessarily occurred, but (snow) is just not staying on the ground very long,” Notaro said.

More than 1,100 Wisconsin nursing home workers test positive for COVID-19, the highest weekly total of the pandemic

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: “We’re likely to see more infections, and those breakthrough infections can be quite serious,” said Patrick Remington, a former epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s preventive medicine residency program. “I think any place where outbreaks are likely to happen – and certainly long-term care facilities are places where that can happen – we should be concerned.”

Bice: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson blames LBJ and Great Society for high percentage of out-of-wedlock births

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: “Correlation does not mean causation,” said Timothy Smeeding, professor of economics and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In other words, if two variables run parallel historically, it doesn’t mean the one is causing the other.

A number of factors have contributed to the rise in out-of-wedlock births, he said.

There has been a rise in cohabitation, more permissive sexual mores, a decline in shotgun weddings, easier divorce laws, a drop in manufacturing jobs for males without college degrees and greater financial independence for women.

Ron Johnson’s decision on Senate run sets up an expensive battle to be Wisconsin’s next governor

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: “If the GOP primary becomes a three-way race, it will likely quickly become one of the most costly in the country,” said Barry Burden, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Elections Research Center.

“The funding will need to emerge quickly because the primary is only seven months away and two of the prime candidates have not even officially entered the race.”

‘We’re just a sitting duck’: UW Health pediatrician says child COVID-19 vaccination rates are too low

Wisconsin Public Radio

The American Academy of Pediatrics says in its latest report that COVID-19 cases among children have reached the highest case count ever reported since the start of the pandemic — and hospitalizations are rising across the country.

In Wisconsin, 13 pediatric patients on average are being admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 every day, according to federal data for the week ending Jan. 5. That’s a 71 percent increase from the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That number is concerning to UW Health pediatrician Dr. James Conway.

“You know we’re certainly seeing more hospitalizations in adults. But kids, we’re still worried that we’re actually on the front end of the curve,” Conway said.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson uses God in one of multiple attempts at sowing doubt over the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: Ajay Sethi, associate professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explained that “viruses like SARS-CoV-2 evolve as they replicate in a person with infection and as they spread from one person to the next. When that evolutionary process yields a strain that has a genetic make-up which is very different from the original virus, it is considered a ‘variant.’ ”

He added that “a virus is a ‘variant of concern’ if it has the potential to threaten the pandemic response in some way. It may be more infectious than other variants, cause more severe illness, not be detectable by current tests, less affected by current treatments, partially escape immunity provided by current vaccines, or a combination of these.”

Some private colleges, universities delaying start of spring semester classes, requiring vaccinations amid COVID-19 surge

Wisconsin Public Radio

Some private colleges and universities in Wisconsin are delaying the start of spring semester classes, requiring negative COVID-19 tests or vaccinations and boosters for students and employees amid a rapid surge of new COVID-19 infections. At the same time, the University of Wisconsin System says students “will return on-time and as normal” for classes starting this month.

Omicron variant drives new, faster spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Examiner

Quoted: “This current increase is being fueled by the new omicron variant, which is more infectious than delta” — until recently, the predominant variant of the virus in Wisconsin, said Ajay Sethi, an epidemiologist and faculty director of the master’s degree in public health program at the University of Wisconsin  School of Medicine and Public Health.

Wisconsin’s Endless Election Investigation Is Carrying The Jan. 6 Banner Forward

Talking Points Memo

Quoted: “This has gotten worse, not better,” said Michael Wagner, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication whose research focuses on the functioning of American democracy. “I think we had a moment a year ago to try to push the reset button on how we think about democratic elections, and instead, we kept playing.”

“It’s made it convenient for people who want to doubt the election to cling to that — and that was part of what motivated the insurrectionists,” said Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at UW-Madison.

Wisconsin budget reserves, federal funds could be factors in governor’s race

Wisconsin Public Radio

“(Evers) has resources to do things that I think were not expected and are available without him having to raise taxes to make it possible,” said Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The fact that he is basically in sole control of distributing the federal COVID relief funds means that he’s satisfying a lot of different constituencies heading into the 2022 midterm elections without paying the price of being branded as a liberal Democrat who has raised taxes to make that happen.”

UW researchers working to show perennials are profitable through new $10M project

Wisconsin Public Radio

Valentin Picasso, an agronomist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said researchers in his field have known for a long time that planting perennial crops in farm fields has a long list of environmental benefits.

The plants’ year-round presence protects the soil from erosion and helps absorb nutrients that would otherwise runoff into lakes and rivers. The forages, which are used for livestock feed, also create an environment for increased biodiversity and can even help fix carbon into the soil, mediating the effects of climate change.

“We’ve shown, in looking at long term research here in Wisconsin, that the more diversity we have in a cropping system, the more resilient it is to weather extremes like drought. And we’ve also shown that the more perennials in the system, we have more stability in production,” Picasso said.

New principal at a Burlington middle school has a background in restorative practices. What’s that mean?

Kenosha News

Noted: With a new building, the Burlington Area School District needed a new middle school principal. Nick Ryan’s the man for the job.

Before landing in Burlington, Ryan taught in Oconomowoc and Watertown. After receiving his master’s degree from UW-Madison, he ventured back to his birth state, Wyoming, to serve as an assistant principal before taking a similar job back in Watertown.

Price for grocies, gas and more are rising at a pace not seen in decades. Your inflation questions answered.

Appleton Post-Crescent

Quoted: At the beginning of the pandemic, the rate of inflation was almost zero and prices were falling, said Dr. Menzie Chinn, an economics professor at the UW-Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs.

In response, the government passed robust support packages — including stimulus checks, enhances unemployment benefits and tax cuts — to boost spending. The spending those programs created was concentrated more on goods than services, Chinn said.

“We have kind of a weird time where people have shifted more towards buying goods and we get a lot of our goods from China and abroad,” Chinn said. “So that means you have this collision, at least in the goods sector, of enhanced demand and not quite enough supply to keep up. And what happens is prices go up. Supply and demand.”

UW Expert: Child Tax Credit End Could Be ‘Devastating’ for WI Families


Wisconsin families may have received their last Child Tax Credit payment for a while, as Congress has missed its year-end deadline to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better framework.

The roughly $2 trillion package would have reauthorized the expanded Child Tax Credit through 2022. Parents received their last credit on Dec. 15, and Timothy Smeeding, professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin Madison, said to get the rest of the aid, they’ll need to file their income tax returns for 2021.

“So, there’s still another $1,500 or $1,800, depending on how old the child is, that will come to them once they file their taxes this next spring,” he said.

Sick of Wisconsin’s fractious politics? Get involved and help make the system more responsive.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: Barry Burden, director of the Election Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, notes that running for office is a remedy “as long as it is done in the spirit of genuine public service and not merely to implement a dogmatic agenda.”

He notes: Volunteering on local boards and commissions is “an underappreciated way to contribute and see what good is happening in the public sphere.”

Wisconsin’s population growth stagnated over the last year

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: In Wisconsin, there were more deaths than births for the first time since the state began keeping vital records, said demographer David Egan-Robertson of the Applied Population Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. That can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“It’s just been a complete sea change in terms of how we view the population,” Egan-Robertson said.

Why is Wisconsin a great state for great sausage? (Hint: it’s more than just German heritage)

Green Bay Press-Gazette

Noted: Jeff Sindelar, associate professor in the meat and science department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, agrees 100% with the European influence when it comes to Wisconsin’s sausage skills.

It started with people with strong meat-processing skill sets putting down roots here, but having people who wanted to purchase those foods provided a sustainable market throughout the generations.

Wisconsin was also well-positioned geographically to help carry on those traditions, Sindelar said. Being located between the large population centers of the Twin Cities and Chicago, the latter with its famous stockyards, brought railways to Wisconsin.

Economists: Supply-chain woes, pandemic drive recent price hikes

Wisconsin Examiner

Quoted: The U.S. last experienced rampant inflation four decades ago. “We have very short memories,” says Steven Deller, an economist in the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. “We don’t remember what it was like during the 1970s and early 80s, so this is unusual.”

In a recent analysis, Menzie Chinn, an economist at the UW’s Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs, writes that inflation averaged just 1.7% in the last decade, at times “raising concerns that inflation was too low.”

But while the current inflation might have first looked like the economy playing catch-up after prices tumbled early in the pandemic, it has since “overshot the trend,” Chinn adds. Big-ticket purchases — cars, appliances and other so-called durable goods — are showing the sharpest increases, Chinn writes on his blog Econbrowser. High real estate prices and rental costs have also been a factor.

Climate change could be driving record-breaking December temperatures, storms across Wisconsin

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: Jonathan Martin, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said stormy days aren’t that rare of an occurrence at this time of the year for the state.

“Even in a normal year, under perfectly normal circumstances, we’d have a nice progression of pretty stormy days, followed by a couple of clear days, followed by stormy,” he said. “But there are a couple of things that might be fueling a little bit of an extra punch for these things.”

Steve Vavrus, a senior scientist with the Nelson Institute for Climatic Research at UW-Madison, said the amount of time where tornadoes are a risk for the state is only going to grow.

“On the whole, we’re not sure how (tornadoes) are going to change in the future, whether they’re going to become more intense, less intense, more common, less common,” he said. “But in a warmer climate, we’ll start to see conditions more favorable for tornadoes earlier in the year, in April or May, and then becoming more common in the fall through November.”

Labor shortage or labor reckoning? Wisconsin stakeholders weigh in on job force changes

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: People are quitting their jobs at nearly twice the rate they did before the pandemic. And they’re not in a rush to come back, Michael Childers, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business professor, said.

“Workers are more selective and have that opportunity right now based on the job market. And that almost becomes self-fulfilling. It’s sort of this sustaining cycle that we’re in,” Childers said at Tuesday’s event.

Food prices have gone up in the last year. But Wisconsin producers aren’t necessarily being paid more

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Jeff Sindelar is a meat specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Extension. He said most of the price increases have been in fresh meat products, with more processed items like hot dogs or lunch meat seeing small price growth or none at all.

But Sindelar said the meat industry is “too dynamic” to clearly point to the factor that is driving up prices.

He said farmers are facing increased costs to raise animals. But price changes are more likely to come from the processing companies, which have a greater influence on what consumers pay for products. Sindelar travels the state to work with all sizes of meat processors, and he said they’re seeing higher production costs, too.

“Regardless of where I go, I get the same response: they can’t hire enough people, they have open positions. When they’re trying to produce products, it’s taking them seven days to produce five days worth of product,” Sindelar said. “So 20 to 25 percent more resources to produce the same amount of product as they once did.”

Mark Stephenson, UW-Madison’s director of dairy policy analysis, said mixed market signals for dairy farmers could be keeping prices from increasing as rapidly as other food groups.

“Our future markets are showing that we would expect higher (commodity) prices over the next several months. But we’ve also had a few reports that are kind of pulling back on those reigns a little bit. One of them are the stocks reports,” Stephenson said.

How your tax dollars keep Milwaukee renters in danger from faulty wiring

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: The Journal Sentinel’s findings that tax dollars are going to landlords who fail to fix potentially dangerous electrical violations are “shocking and terrible,” said Mitch, a housing law expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who legally goes by just his first name.

“It would be as if a health inspector found rats at a restaurant and said, ‘Here’s a whole bunch of government coupons that you can use to give out and make your food less expensive — never mind the rats,’” he said.

Mitch, who oversees the UW-Madison Neighborhood Law Clinic, which primarily serves low-income renters, said it’s possible to hold landlords accountable while still protecting tenants.

“We can have safe cars, and people still buy cars,” he said. “We can have regulations on restaurants, and we still have restaurants. We have regulations on banking, and we still have banks. Every industry has regulations, and it still survives.”

The ‘perfect storm’: High inflation rates hit Wisconsin businesses and consumers hard

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: “We’re learning that it’s pretty easy to turn the economy off. But it’s really hard just to flip the switch and turn it back on,” said Steve Deller, a professor in agriculture and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“What COVID has done is, among other things, it’s changed the risk-benefit calculation that workers do,” said Menzie Chinn, a professor of public affairs and economics at UW-Madison.

12 projects aimed at boosting Wisconsin’s workforce get $59.5M in federal funds

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Noted: University of Wisconsin Administration: Up to $5.7 million to create a “workforce-ready curriculum” for students who are incarcerated “to teach employable skills to students while incarcerated and continue supporting them post-release through program completion and career placement.” The program will pilot at UW-Oshkosh, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, UW-Green Bay, and UW-Madison.

Most Wisconsin school districts joined state COVID-19 testing program, but parents say testing still comes with challenges

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Greg DeMuri is a pediatric epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has also been advising the Madison Metropolitan School District on its testing program. He said it took some time to get the program up and running, but it’s starting to work well.

“It is very, very useful,” he said. “They are seeing cases there, and detecting cases, and they’re able to keep (sick) kids out of school because of it, so it’s a big asset to the schools and to the community.”

Ron Johnson says mouthwash can kill COVID-19. Manufacturer of Listerine, medical experts say there’s no evidence yet to prove that.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: Ajay Sethi, associate professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, said no one is discouraging the use of the remedies Johnson is proposing but the public should know they are not proven to be effective in protecting against COVID-19 infection.

“Things like home remedies, vitamins and supplements, new diets have been advertised to and used by people in our society for decades, centuries even, for all sorts of ailments. No one is discouraging their use, but they do not provide tangible benefit against Covid, and they are not a substitute for vaccination,” Sethi said.

Patrick Remington, a former epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s preventive medicine residency program, said the NIH relies on proven treatments.

“Simply put, the NIH and other researchers set a high bar for proving that a treatment is effective. Studies done in the lab or in animals, or clinical anecdotes play an important part in the research process, and lead to hypotheses that are then tested in rigorous, controlled trials,” Remington said.

‘Something out of communist Russia’: Sen. Chris Kapenga fights raises of less than 2% for state unions

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Noted: The union represents trade workers at University of Wisconsin campuses, prisons and other state facilities. In many cases, they make about $41 an hour, according to state records.

As with trade workers around the country, they are paid a lower wage as apprentices. They all make the same wage once they complete their apprenticeships and become journeymen.

Kathy Thompson worked for 20 years as a steamfitter for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She recently started working for the private sector because the pay was much better, she said.

Republican bill would punish universities, technical colleges for free speech violations

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Jeff Buhrandt, UW System vice president for the Office of University Relations, pointed out to the committee that state universities have always strived to promote free speech and diversity of thought on campus.

“Our current policy recognizes that each institution has a solemn responsibility not only to promote lively and fearless exploration, deliberation and debate of ideas, but also to protect those freedoms when others attempt to restrict them,” said Buhrandt.

In 2021 map fight, what’s old is new

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: The Republican resolution passed the Senate and Assembly on party-line votes, and when Republicans released their maps in October, they were pretty true to its principles.

Because of that, the 2021 map looked a lot like the 2011 map. In the world of redistricting shorthand, this is often referred to as “core retention.” But Rob Yablon, University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor, has a different name for it: “gerrylaundering.”

“‘Gerrylaundering’ is an attempt to perpetuate an existing biased map by carrying forward the existing lines with as little change as you can get away with,” Yablon said.

Wisconsin needs more therapists, but a state paperwork backlog keeps many on hold for months

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Noted: A 2019 report from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute that examined gaps in the state’s behavioral health system found that 55 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties had a significant shortage of psychiatrists, particularly of those who could provide support for both mental health and substance use issues.

Conservationists aim to protect songbird in Wisconsin as its population sees steep decline

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Staffen said it’s unclear how many Connecticut warblers have historically been found in Wisconsin. There are around 1.5 to 2 million birds worldwide, said Stan Temple, professor emeritus of forest and wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Temple noted Connecticut warblers and other species like spruce grouse and boreal chickadees are occupying the southern edge of their range in northern Wisconsin. Those forest-dwelling species are contending with habitat loss as climate change is causing those forests to shift further north. In the next several decades, the southern limits of the songbirds’ range likely will no longer include Wisconsin.

“So in the long term, assuming that climate change continues unabated, the bird is destined to disappear from the Wisconsin landscape, regardless pretty much of what we do,” said Temple.

Wisconsin’s system for paying for local government is broken. The state Legislature needs to find ways to fix that.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

What is the fairest and most efficient way for citizens to pay for police and fire protection, safe streets, libraries, parks and other public services cities provide?

This is the real question University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Manuel Teodoro indirectly raised in his recent commentary urging elimination of the long-standing practice of municipal water utilities making payments in lieu of taxes — what are known as PILOTs — to municipalities. But Teodoro is mistaken in calling for an end to PILOTs in the absence of making any other changes to how municipalities are funded.

Wisconsin health officials waiting for more data on omicron coronavirus variant

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Dr. Nasia Safdar, the director of infection control at UW Hospitals and Clinics, said she and other health care experts are wondering whether the omicron variant will be more contagious, how serious infections will be and how effective current vaccines will be in combating it. Safdar said it’s important to remember that even if existing vaccines are less effective on this new strain, they are still likely to offer some protection.

“Every decision that we make in this pandemic is going to be a trade-off between the risk and the benefit, and it’s what can one do to mitigate that risk,” said Safdar. “And of course, we don’t know how this is going to unfold fully yet. But it is a reminder that let’s do everything that we can on our end to mitigate things.”


Despite drought in southern Wisconsin, crop researchers say average yields are expected this year

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Joe Lauer, agronomy professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, reviewed historical weather data at the UW Research Station in Arlington to see how dry 2021 was. The statistics date back to 1963.

He found this summer was similar to some of the driest years the station had on record, including 1988 when the station saw some of its worst corn yields.

“In the southern two tiers of counties in Wisconsin, we had some pretty dramatic drought conditions that farmers were experiencing. And it really didn’t let up until probably the end of September,” Lauer said. “We were dry most of that time. But having said that, we seemed to get a little bit of rain … that allowed the crop to keep going.”

In his taxpayer-paid election review, Michael Gableman calls meetings with conspiracy theorists and a convicted fraudster

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: Barry Burden, the director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the people Gableman is meeting with “are all election skeptics who have bought into the big lie.”

Gableman, who last year without evidence claimed the election was stolen, has insisted he has no preconceived ideas about his review and hopes to find that the election was run properly.

“It’s hard to see how he could ever reach such a conclusion given this set of oddballs who he’s working with,” Burden said.

UW-Platteville’s student vaccination rate is the lowest in the UW System. Why?

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

This month, most University of Wisconsin campuses celebrated hitting a threshold of having 70% of students fully-vaccinated against COVID-19 with full pomp and circumstance.

They doled out nearly $500,000 in scholarships through a UW System lottery, with 70 lucky students taking home $7,000 each. Other students won t-shirts, iPads, campus swag and scholarships through campus-sponsored programs aimed at encouraging vaccinations.

But one campus in southwestern Wisconsin — UW-Platteville — fell far short of the 70% goal, illustrating the challenges officials face trying to encourage vaccination in some rural areas.

How to help children process and talk through the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: If the child may not be aware of the incident, adults can start with a general question, like, “Were kids at school talking about anything in the news today?” suggested Travis Wright, an associate professor of counseling psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

If the answer is no, Wright said an adult may end the conversation with an open invitation, like: “Great. Lots of times there are things we hear about in the news that can be scary. If you ever hear anything that makes you feel upset, please know you can always talk to me.”

In some cases, especially if it’s expected that a child will find out about the incident, adults may want to introduce the subject. Wright suggested sharing something like: “There was a parade and someone injured some people at the parade. If you hear about it, I want you to know you can talk to me about it.”