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GOP election bills; far-fetched testimony; diversifying northeast Wisconsin; effort to slow environmental rulemaking; unused COVID pills

Of note: This week we highlight coverage of the ongoing push from some Wisconsin Republicans to bolster the Legislature’s power over election administration, scale back voter access and sow doubts about the performance of election administrators. WPR’s Shawn Johnson reports on a package of GOP-sponsored bills that would ban private election grants and unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Meanwhile, the GOP-led Assembly Elections Committee invited testimony at a hearing Wednesday from Peter Bernegger, convicted of fraud in 2009, who offered little information to support his claims that Milwaukee officials illegally printed ballots for Joe Biden, Patrick Marley reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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Madison resident Mechelle Mitchell submits a ballot in the spring election Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at Tenney Park in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

GOP election bills would make Legislature more powerful and absentee voting more difficult

WPR — February 9, 2022

GOP lawmakers are pushing a package of bills that would give themselves more power over elections and put up more obstacles for voting absentee. Republicans would also ban some of the activities that took place in the 2020 election like private grants to help run elections and absentee ballot applications that were sent to millions of voters across Wisconsin. Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, is the chair of a Senate election panel that heard hours of testimony Monday on the package of election proposals. She said the steps taken to safely administer elections during a pandemic need to be left in the past. But those changes, critics argue, have a common thread: Most would either put more restrictions on the agency that runs elections or put up more barriers for voters.

Related from AP: Ex-justice’s Wisconsin election probe drags as critics scoff

Peter Bernegger is seen on Wednesday, February 9, 2022 at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Wisconsin Republicans invite testimony from a felon who claims a ‘sect’ of Milwaukee officials committed fraud

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — February 9, 2022

Assembly Republicans are  skeptical of the state’s election administrators, but some of them are putting stock in a felon convicted of fraud who claims without evidence that a “sect” of Milwaukee officials illegally printed ballots for Joe Biden in 2020. Peter Bernegger — the ex-convict who is making far-fetched claims about Milwaukee election officials — appeared for two hours Wednesday before the Assembly Elections Committee at the invitation of Republicans who are pouring $676,000 in taxpayer funds into a partisan review of the 2020 election. Bernegger’s claims are absurd, said Claire Woodall-Vogg, the executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission and a target of some of his complaints. 


Previously from Wisconsin Watch: ‘This is a charade’: GOP senator, voting experts urge Wisconsin Republicans to halt election attacks

Terrion Gonzalez, a seventh-grader at Washington Middle School in Green Bay, Wis., performs with the school’s fine arts choir during the Brown County MLK Celebration on the campus of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College on Jan. 15. Samantha Madar / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Diverse cities, whiter suburbs, dying farms: 5 ways northeast Wisconsin has changed

Green Bay Press-Gazette (NEW News Lab) — February 8, 2022

Racial and ethnic diversity is growing in northeast Wisconsin, where the number of Black, Asian, Native American, multiracial and Hispanic people increased 57% over the past decade. The population growth in Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago counties was most pronounced in the larger cities, but it also played out in smaller communities as job opportunities, family connections and quality of life considerations attracted new residents to the region. Diversity reinforces diversity. It’s simple math, experts said. When families of color move to this region and find it comfortable and welcoming, other relatives often join, and other people from elsewhere looking for a higher quality of life pack up and follow suit.

Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to give polluters more control over Wisconsin’s environmental regulations, including the ability to block recommendations made by Department of Health toxicologists. Amber Arnold / Wisconsin State Journal Archives

GOP bill would give industry more control over environmental regulation in Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Journal — February 10, 2022
Wisconsin lawmakers are considering legislation that would give industry groups and politicians more control over environmental protection. Under the Republican-sponsored bill, individuals, businesses, or members of the Legislature’s rules committee could use external “peer review” panels to halt or alter proposed administrative rules and block state scientists from even recommending health-based groundwater standards for pollutants. Tony Wilkin Gibart, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, said the bill would “hand over control of the adoption of public health and water protection to polluters.”

Related from WPR: Wausau finds all city wells contain elevated PFAS levels, will study reduction methods

Cars fill the parking lot at the Hayat Pharmacy, 807 W. Layton Ave., in Milwaukee on Tuesday as people waited to receive testing for COVID-19. Angela Peterson / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Thousands of COVID-19 at-home pills hailed as ‘game-changer’ are sitting on pharmacy shelves in Wisconsin

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — February 5, 2022

Some Wisconsin pharmacies have hundreds of courses of COVID-19 antiviral pills sitting in supply, amid a “surprising” lack of demand for the at-home pills hailed as a game-changer in treating COVID-19. Officials initially warned that supply of Paxlovid and molnupiravir, the two types of COVID-19 antiviral pills that became available in January, would be “extremely limited.” But some pharmacies have hundreds of courses of the treatments in supply and have been filling few prescriptions for the treatments, even as COVID-19 cases surged.

Related from Side Effects Public Media: Some moms look to breast milk to protect kids too young to be vaccinated

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