Wisconsin debates cash bail changes in wake of Waukesha parade tragedy — as some states ditch system entirely

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit newsroom that focuses on government integrity and quality of life issues. Sign up for our newsletter for more stories and updates straight to your inbox. Darrell E. Brooks had been out of jail for just five days when he allegedly plowed a red Ford Escape into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin in November, killing six people and injuring dozens more. 
A series of mix-ups led Brooks, 39, to be released from jail on Nov. 16 on an unusually low cash bail after a case in which he allegedly used the same SUV to run over a woman after battering her. 
As a prosecutor prepared to recommend bail, she lacked access to the results of Brooks’ risk assessment — a tool to help determine his likelihood of reoffending or failing to appear for his next court date. That information was not uploaded into a case management system, according to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, whose office has faced a torrent of criticism for its handling of the domestic violence case.   
The assessment identified Brooks as high risk and listed previous felony convictions and charges in cases involving violence, alongside a “serious persistent illness in which he is not receiving treatment for.”  
But facing an overwhelming case load, the prosecutor recommended that Milwaukee County Court Commissioner Cedric Cornwall set Brooks’ bail at $1,000 — an unusually low amount under such circumstances.

Have thoughts about jobs and opportunity in Native communities? Wisconsin Watch and Indian Country Today want to hear from you.

Reading Time: < 1 minute
What do you consider the job of the future? What is your dream job? Are you satisfied with your quality of life? 
In a collaboration convened by Indian Country Today, Wisconsin Watch is reporting on economic issues in tribal communities, and we want to hear from you. Please use this form to share details about what is happening in your community. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes, and we won’t share personal information without your consent.

Wisconsin Weekly: Complaint languishes over Republican electors submitting fake records

Reading Time: 4 minutes
GOP electors accused of fraud; Foxconn claims end; COVID clinics criticized; ballot boxes challenged; miscommunication tied to low bail for alleged murderer

Of note: This week we highlight a story by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Patrick Marley pointing out the lack of action on a complaint filed one year ago with the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The complaint involves an effort by Republican electors to cast Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes for then-President Donald Trump, although Democrat Joe Biden won Wisconsin. As in Wisconsin, Republicans in six other states that Trump lost filed paperwork trying to falsely claim Electoral College votes. The paperwork they filed is nearly identical in many cases, according to copies posted online last year by the liberal group American Oversight. Access to some stories listed in the Wisconsin Weekly roundup may be limited to subscribers of the news organizations that produced them.

Wisconsin Weekly: Wisconsin patients left waiting as omicron fills hospitals

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Hospital crisis; Capitol insurrection anniversary; GOP election scrutiny; whooping crane worries; understanding conspiracy theories

Of note: This week we highlight the Journal Times’ coverage of Wisconsin’s overflowing hospitals as the omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads rapidly across the state and country, affecting patients of all types. “America’s health care system is so strained by COVID-19 that it simply cannot care for all of the people who are sick right now — whether with coronavirus or with a severe viral infection, heart attack, stroke, car crash or other malady,” Adam Rogan reports. Nearly 95% of Wisconsin’s ICU beds were in use as of Tuesday, and more than 78% had ICUs at peak capacity, according to the Department of Health Services. About 10,200 Wisconsinites have died from COVID-19, according to the agency’s official tally. 
Access to some stories listed in the Wisconsin Weekly roundup may be limited to subscribers of the news organizations that produced them. We urge our readers to consider supporting these important news outlets by subscribing. 
Thanks for reading!

Your Right to Know: How to obtain public records: A primer

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Every time an elected official sends an email, it becomes a public record. When an employee at a government agency makes a purchase, that transaction is the public’s business. Whenever a permit or license is issued by a government authority, this is information you should be able to obtain. Steven Potter
These records, which include everything from construction contracts and meeting minutes to electronic correspondence and court filings, offer a behind-the-scenes look into how governments function. In many cases, public records contain discussions that show how and why individuals employed by city, county, state and federal agencies make decisions and spend tax dollars.

‘Evolve or die’: Wisconsin’s labor shortage could last years. Here’s how employers, workers can succeed

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit newsroom that focuses on government integrity and quality of life issues. Sign up for our newsletter for more stories and updates straight to your inbox. This piece was produced for the NEW News Lab, a local news collaboration in Northeast Wisconsin. Microsoft is providing financial support to the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation and Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region to fund the initiative. To understand how Wisconsin’s labor shortage has transformed the jobs market, look no further than an Oct.

Wisconsin Watch’s best photos from 2021 capture moments of elation, contemplation and joy.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit newsroom that focuses on government integrity and quality of life issues. Sign up for our newsletter for more stories and updates straight to your inbox. In mid-November I spent a week in the dark media room attached to courtroom 4B of the Dane County Courthouse in Madison. Shooting through the thick glass with my long lens, I documented the trial of a Stoughton woman who had been accused of abusing a child in her care. Her case was similar to others Wisconsin Watch has been reporting on for years, as part of our investigation into the controversial diagnosis of “abusive head trauma,” chronicled in our series Flawed Forensics.

Wisconsin Weekly: GOP state senator: ‘No one should falsely accuse election officials of cheating’

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Election system targeted; higher ed hurdles; COVID death toll; subsidizing danger; rural skepticism around Biden spending   

Of note: First, a quick update from Wisconsin Watch’s business team: We’re just $9,987 away from reaching our goal of raising $20,000 to meet a match from NewsMatch by midnight on Dec. 20. If reading Wisconsin Weekly — or our in-depth coverage of issues like the environment, justice, education and health — bring value to you, please consider donating today. 
Now, back to the news. This week we highlight our coverage of bipartisan pushback against the role of some Wisconsin Republicans in a nationwide push to contest the audited and verified results of Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss, investigate state and local election systems and shift more power over elections to Republican-controlled legislatures. State Sen. Kathleen Bernier, the Republican chair of the Senate elections committee, is joining independent election experts in criticizing a campaign to discredit the bipartisan Elections Commission that Republicans created under former Gov. Scott Walker, Brenda Wintrode and Jim Malewitz report for Wisconsin Watch.

MATC broadens access for Milwaukee students amid historical inequities, dropping enrollment

Reading Time: 12 minutes
Four INN newsrooms spent several months reporting on community colleges in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and Minneapolis/St. Paul for the project Broken Ladder. The participants — Borderless Magazine, BridgeDetroit, Sahan Journal and Wisconsin Watch — explored the barriers facing community college students, who are often immigrants and people of color. Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch
Jasmin Treske had planned to go to college after graduating from South Milwaukee High School. She picked out classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and attended orientation, but the looming financial commitment spooked her.

At Wisconsin Watch’s News414, help is on the way!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

When a powerful storm knocked out power for days across Milwaukee in August, vulnerable residents faced a multi-pronged disaster. The outage left thousands without air conditioning during the hottest stretch of the year, while food spoiled in the refrigerators of people who already had trouble affording groceries. 

Connecting residents with credible information about power outages, finding cooling centers and free meals and replacing spoiled groceries became critical. Wisconsin Watch and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS) sprung into action through News414, a service journalism collaboration that delivers actionable information to traditionally underserved residents. 
Reporters quickly published and repeatedly updated a list of resources and answers to common questions on the NNS website and in a News414 Facebook group that now has 700-plus members. That information was widely read and shared online, including by service agencies that serve vulnerable populations. Recognizing that some residents lacked internet access — particularly during the power outage — we also texted the information to about 1,300 people, inviting them to connect with a reporter if they had additional questions or problems. 
Several residents who rely on state food assistance told us that they didn’t know there was a way to apply for replacement funds for spoiled groceries — until we told them.

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

Reading Time: 4 minutes
The Republican chair of the Wisconsin Senate elections committee on Monday urged members of her own party to halt their attempts to discredit the bipartisan elections system they created and to oust the state’s top official. The moves began after President Joe Biden’s narrow victory over Donald Trump in Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential race. “We have a great system here, and no one should falsely accuse election officials of cheating,” Sen. Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, said at a state Capitol event organized by Washington, D.C.-based Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR), a nonprofit that works with Republican and Democratic elections officials nationwide. “The misinformation and disinformation that has been perpetuated is very frustrating to me.”
Bernier, who oversaw elections for 12 years as the Chippewa County clerk, accused some Republicans of spreading falsehoods about Trump’s 2020 election loss to “jazz up” their political base. And she called on former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to finish his partisan review of the election soon — to limit the damage to the Republican Party and Wisconsin’s democracy.