Here and Now #1538 - Full Episode

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Here and Now #1538 - Full Episode

Premiere Date: 
March 17, 2017

Wisconsin elections commission administrator Michael Haas talks about illegal voting during the presidential primaries last spring, Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher and youth advocate Jeffery Roman talk about the state's troubled youth prisons and AARP Wisconsin federal advocacy director Lisa Lamkins talks about her concerns with the GOP American Health Care Act.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

I'm Frederica Freyberg. Tonight on "Here and How," a "first look" at the problems facing the Wisconsin Election Commission and confusion surrounding dozens of 17-year-olds illegally voting in last year's election. We'll "look ahead" at the ramifications of the proposed American Health Care Act for older people through the lens of the AARP. After that a "closer look" at the ongoing investigation surrounding Wisconsin’s juvenile detention centers at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. That's "Here and Now" for March 17.

 

Announcer:

Funding for "Here and Now" is provided, in part, by Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

A "first look" this week at illegal voting in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Election Commission report released this week shows that there were more than 60 cases of 17-year-olds illegally voting in the spring presidential primary. The confusion centered around whether 17-year-olds could vote in the primary if they turned 18 by the November general election. In 21 states and the District of Columbia they can, but not in Wisconsin. More than 29 counties reported 17-year-olds casting ballots, a huge surge compared to previous elections. Those cases have been turned over to county prosecutors. Some have decided not to file charges. Some sent letters of reprimand and some counties are still considering charges. Joining us this week is Michael Haas, Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator. Thanks for being here.

 

Michael Haas:

Nice to be here.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

How did you learn that these 17-year-olds had voted?

 

Michael Haas:

Well, we initially learned on election day. We started to receive calls. Questions from either voters about whether or not they could vote or from clerks about what was going on at the polls. Eventually our statewide voter registration database requires clerks to enter voter participation for everybody who votes, and then their voter registration would indicate their date of birth and that's how we can use that data to detect whether or not they're eligible to vote.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

So how unusual is this?

 

Michael Haas:

Well, it's a first for Wisconsin. As you mentioned, some states allow 17-year-olds to vote at the presidential primary and that's why it's a little bit unique. The thought was or the theory was if I’m going to be 18 at the time of the November general election, I should be able to vote at the primary. So this is pretty unusual.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

And describe how you think it happened that these 17-year-olds thought this was okay here.

 

Michael Haas:

Well, I think a couple things happened. What we were hearing is that there were things on social media. Some campaign supporters were pushing this theory, because it was allowed in some other states, I believe in Iowa, one of our neighboring states. And so that just grew through social media. I think some of the 17-year-olds showed up at the polls then and were pretty insistent that they could vote. As you may recall, it was a pretty high turnout for that presidential primary and some of the poll workers I think felt a little bit overwhelmed and thought this was plausible and they allowed them to vote.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, that brings up a couple of questions. I guess the first, is more education required, both for voters and for election workers at the polls?

 

Michael Haas:

I think that's a fair point. When we train, we start with the basics, that one of the voter qualifications is you need to be 18 to vote. We haven't really gone to the next vote of you can vote if you're 17 or 16, it would seem to -- but, as I said, when you're poll workers and you have a line in front of you and you're trying to move people through, they don't always have time to check exactly what the rules are. And absolutely for the voters, especially for a presidential primary, it's something we should be emphasizing more.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

With voter ID, is an election worker, will they now be required to look at that age?

 

Michael Haas:

It’s a good point. Under the photo ID law, -- the age is something that is marked on the voter registration form when somebody registers to vote and they sign, they certify that they're qualified to vote, including being 18. The photo ID law is very specific. The poll workers are to look at the photo, the signature, the name and to ensure that the photo ID is not expired but they do not look at the birth date at that stage.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

Can 17-year-olds in Wisconsin register to vote if they are going to be 18 by election day?

 

Michael Haas:

Absolutely. We encourage them to register as long as they will be 18 at the time that they vote. Then they can register while they're 17.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

That does seem a little confusing.

 

Michael Haas:

It could be, yes.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

It also shows the careful work that election officials have to do and meanwhile I understand the governor's proposed budget would cut some positions in your commission. How many and what might that mean?

 

Michael Haas:

Well, the proposal is to reduce our staff by four. To put it into context, the elections agency in the state of Wisconsin has used federal funds for the majority of its budget for over ten years now. Those federal funds are expiring. And so the governor's budget proposal does include transferring most of those positions that are federally funded to state GPR funds, which is great for the agency. It's great news because it puts us on a more stable funding platform going forward. But the governor's proposal also is to fund 16 of those federally-funded positions rather than 22. Our commission met this week and directed our staff to continue to advocate with the legislature to try to reinstate six of those positions. We have 31 total positions in our agency. So it's a significant reduction for a small size agency. I would also note that in this current budget our staff was reduced by four. So in total that would be ten fewer positions out of about 35 originally.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

So seems like you have a lot to do and fewer people to do it with.

 

Michael Haas:

Exactly. Both the Legislature and Congress continue to require more of elections administrators, both at the state and local level, and that takes staff and resources to be able to accomplish those things.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

We need to leave it there. Thank you very much.

 

Michael Haas:

Thank you.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

New information this week on the American Health Care Act. The house budget committee voted 19-17 to advance the bill. That vote comes on the heels of the Congressional Budget Office reporting that 14 million people would lose insurance under the GOP plan in the first year. And in ten years that number would rise to 24 million. Last week, when we interviewed expert Donna Friedsam and asked her for her winners and losers in the ACA replacement plan, she said she'd need to wait for the CBO scoring to be definitive. Well, she got back to us and here is her list of winners and losers.

In the winners column, people who are younger, healthier, higher income and those who live in areas with lower insurance premiums. Generally our expert says, urban areas. Also winners? Higher-income people who will see $16 billion in tax cuts. The losers in the plan include lower-income and older people between ages 50 and 64, people with significant health conditions and those in areas with higher insurance premiums, generally rural areas. In the mixed column, expert Donna Friedsam says the Congressional Budget Office projects insurance premiums will decline after 2020, but the costs she says appear to decline because of lower benefit policies that have higher deductibles and narrower networks. Also mixed? CBO scoring projects the proposed plan would cut the federal deficit by $337 billion over the next decade. This occurs due to a 25% reduction in federal Medicaid spending and reductions in tax credits for lower and middle income people to buy insurance.

Despite the large number of people projected to lose health insurance under the new GOP plan, House Speaker Paul Ryan defended the CBO report, which also shows a reduction in the deficit by $337 billion in ten years. Ryan says, quote, this report confirms that the American Health Care Act will lower premiums and improve access to quality, affordable care. CBO also finds that legislation will provide massive tax relief, dramatically reduce the deficit and make the most fundamental entitlement reform in more than a generation.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

And now a "look ahead" to the hard lobby against the American Health Care Act from the AARP, which is worried about how the plan treats the elderly. Joining us now is Lisa Lamkins, the Federal Advocacy Director for AARP Wisconsin. Thanks for being here.

 

Lisa Lamkins:

Glad to be here.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

So how unusual is this hard lobby on the part of AARP?

 

Lisa Lamkins:

A lot of times AARP will express our concerns about pieces of legislation or we'll hope for tweeks but in this case we really are vehemently opposed to the American Health Care Act. It does nothing but increase cost, increase risk, really make health insurance unaffordable and unattainable for older Americans.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

So if premiums for older Americans between 50 and 64, but particularly at the upper range of 64, are allowed to be five times that of policies for younger people, what does that mean to a 64-year-old?

 

Lisa Lamkins:

It is huge. I think this is one of the things when we talk about this. What it really amounts to is an age tax. This is something that the federal government is imposing simply because someone is older. You take an average 64-year-old making a little over $26,000 a year. Right now they would pay about $1700 a year in premiums. Under this new bill that would be closer to $14,000 in premiums. That's huge.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

So do you suspect then that there will be a number of people who will just forego coverage?

 

Lisa Lamkins:

Absolutely. You know, the Republicans are talking a lot about access to coverage. But access does not make something affordable. I really like the analogy too of we all have access to luxury goods right now. I could go down and buy a super expensive car. But I can't because I can't afford that. And unfortunately we're looking at a group of people who really will not be able to afford such egregious increases in their health insurance premiums.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

So is the message the AART is trying to send to Washington being heard, do you know?

 

Lisa Lamkins:

I think it is. AARP is getting a lot of good press, a lot of attention. This is a message that really resonates because so many people are impacted by it. We are talking about older, low-income Americans, people in rural areas. People are worried. You're looking at 50 to 64-year-olds who are thinking, 'Gosh this is a point in my life when I really need insurance. What will happen if it's $15,000 a year?"

 

Frederica Freyberg:

At 65 though, that one year older than the age we've been talking about, people can go on Medicare and the president has vowed not to touch Medicare. But you see that this bill leaves the door open to turning it into a voucher program. How does it do that?

 

Lisa Lamkins:

Well, one of our concerns is under the American Health Care Act it actually does away with some funding. There's been a tax on higher-income Americans, a little bit extra added tax on wealthier people that has been funneled to Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund. So it's actually extended the life of Medicare. This bill does away with that extra money coming into Medicare. So we're concerned that if the solvency of Medicare is worsening, that just leaves Medicare open to those who already want to gut and change the program.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

And so it's not something in this particular plan that talks about that, turning it into a voucher kind of program, but it's just the concern on AARP's part that it could lead to that.

 

Lisa Lamkins:

Right. Well, and they wouldn't be able to do it under sort of the rules of this particular bill, but it's very well-known that Speaker Ryan, HHS Secretary Price would like to turn Medicare into that voucher program. And that would frankly be disastrous for the millions of people in America who rely on Medicare.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

And then what about Medicaid as that affects the elderly population?

 

Lisa Lamkins:

A lot of people don't think about it, but in looking at this overhaul to Medicaid, which is a ginormous cut and would wreak havoc with the program, older people depend on Medicaid for long term care. For nursing home care, for home and community based services, for those things that help older people and people with disabilities, actually, with things like eating, bathing, dressing, medication management. All of that is covered by Medicaid. If the cuts that happen as part of the American Health Care Act, then those services just will not be there for the people who are really and truly depending on it.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

Will Wisconsin be treated differently in all of that because we did not take the expansion?

 

Lisa Lamkins:

You know, it's going to be really interesting to see how that actually shakes out. I think the Medicaid issue is one where we're hearing from governors, where governors including Governor Walker, are saying, "Hey, let's move slowly. Let's take a look at how we make this happen." Right now they're looking at doling out these block grants based on the number of people who are enrolled in Medicaid. Well, Wisconsin’s Medicaid population didn't increase hugely because we didn't take the expansion. So I think the actual details of what that's going to look like is going to be one of the biggest parts of this whole health care debate.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

Thanks for joining us, Lisa Lamkins.

 

Lisa Lamkins:

Thank you.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

In tonight's "closer look," the FBI is investigating prisoner abuse, child neglect and sexual assault at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile detention facilities north of Wausau. And conditions there are the crux of a class action lawsuit. But in a newspaper column this week, Wisconsin Secretary of Corrections says he's made it his mission to fix the problems from top to bottom. Jon Litscher joins us now and thanks very much for doing so.

 

Jon Litscher:

Well, thank you. It's good to be here and it's good to talk about the changes that we have made at Lincoln Hills, Copper Lakes, because I believe that some of your opening comments are the result of the past. And that's dwelled on, the issues of the past. And we're excited about making the changes to make this environment a safe and secure environment and an educational setting that can be respected by the youth.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

And so you say those are conditions of the past, but, again, that investigation is ongoing. But describe for me some of the changes that you have made since you became secretary.

 

Jon Litscher:

Well, first of all, even before I became secretary, I must say this because I think it's important. At the agency level, Division Administrator Paquin was appointed as the new Division Administrator of Juvenile Corrections, along with the Assistant Division Administrator Shelby McCulley. Both of them also took as their mission the complete change, the reorganization and the review of all policies, procedures and activities at Lincoln Hills/Copper Lakes. Management was also changed then at Lincoln Hills/Copper Lakes to bring in an individual that had a fresh set of eyes and a fresh philosophy in dealing with youth and dealing with the employee groups that are there. But some of the more specific issues that we dealt with is, first of all, is that we -- we're expanding both the mental health and the medical health services for the youth that are there. I emphasize the mental health because many of these young people are coming from lives that have had challenges, both challenges physically and mentally, academically, whatever area you want to say. And as a result they need assistance and they need help and we were committed to giving them that additional assistance. We completely revised our student complaint process, where that an individual youth that is at Lincoln Hills/Copper Lakes can feel confident that if he or she has a complaint against a staff person or some programmatic issue, that their complaint, number one, will not be reviewed by line staff, but by administrative staff directly. Why that is important? Because it builds confidence from the youth that there would be no retaliation for any type of complaint that would be made. Also, other issues that we have done as far as putting body cameras on our youth counselors. Why is that important? Because it deals with the interaction with the youth themselves such that there's a record, such that there is a -- not only a verbal record, but a video record of what kind of exchange that took place in there. And I could expand, but I’ll allow you to ask a question first.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, I do want to ask this. The ACLU lawyers say that people were fired and new leadership came in, like what you've described. But they say solitary confinement, mechanical restraints and pepper spray continue to be used? What is your response to that?

 

Jon Litscher:

Well, as part of our entire process there, we are working very diligently to reduce the use of what I would call restraints, restrictive housing and, well, pepper spray or OC, as we call it in the institution. The fact of the matter is that those are still aspects that we use because part of the problems of the past has been physical altercation or integration with these young people. That assists us in diminishing that. But what's more important than that is the fact of the retraining of our youth counselors in the aspects of positive proper use of force, understanding there's a trauma that's usually associated with these young people, so training in trauma-informed care and adolescent brain development and deescalating techniques and motivational interviewing to deescalate situations. These are all training mechanisms we implemented. Why? Because we want to reduce the outside uses of what would be seen as, using your terminology, pepper spray, but it's what we call O2 spray -- or OC spray, I’m sorry, but also the use of restrictive housing and restraints. So I will never say we are going to eliminate those because in some aspects from a pure safety standpoint, they may be necessary. And why may they be necessary? Because it decreases the need for any kind of a physical interaction between staff and youth and we think that's problematic. So we use other types of aspects to help and assist in behavioral issues.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

Just briefly in the few seconds left, some people are calling for these institutions to be shut down altogether. What's your response to that?

 

Jon Litscher:

Well, I think that that would be unwise. You're never going to stop the need for society saying some youth need to be removed and put in some type of a situation that betters them educationally, betters them program-wise and hopefully betters them as an individual and then return to their communities to be productive individuals.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. We need to leave it there. Secretary Litscher. Thanks very much.

 

Jon Litscher:

Thanks very much.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

The ACLU lawsuit calls to end the use of solitary confinement, restraints and pepper spray on juvenile at the detention facilities. Others want to close down Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake altogether. Among them, Jeffery Roman, with an organization called Youth Justice Milwaukee, which is holding a summit on juvenile justice issues next week. He joins us from Milwaukee and thanks very much for being here.

 

Jeffery Roman:

Thanks for having me.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

Wisconsin’s Corrections Secretary says he cares deeply about the young people at these facilities and is working to fix the problems there. What is your response to the work that has been done on the part of the state to address concerns?

 

Jeffery Roman:

Sure. While we thank Secretary Litscher for the work he's putting forward to curb some of the things that are happening at Lincoln Hills. Youth Justice Milwaukee believes that those are short-term solutions and you can't put -- you can't piecemeal solutions or put band-aids over problems that need to be fundamentally changed. So our juvenile justice system needs to fundamentally change and be changed from the top down. We believe that it's an outdated, punitive, discriminatory system for our young people. And to the extent that we can, we want to make sure that we are working with the state, Secretary Litscher, our partners at the county and community to make sure we are putting together alternatives so we don't have to send young people to Lincoln Hills.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

In fact, you would like those facilities to be shut down?

 

Jeffery Roman:

Absolutely. Yeah. Our long-term goal of Youth Justice Milwaukee is to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lakes because again we believe they are outdated systems that are punitive versus rehabilitative for young people. However, we believe we can't just close them overnight. We understand that there are things politically, socially things that are happening that will prevent us from overnight closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lakes. However, we can begin to start having critical conversations about what needs to be in place instead of sending young people to being incarcerated. So we are actively working with our county and partners to begin to reimagine what a continuous support services and alternative to incarceration for young people.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

You would like to see community-based solutions, but where do you sentence the violent repeat offenders?

 

Jeffery Roman:

Sure. We understand and we know that there will be some individuals, some young people who need to have some level of secure placement for their own safety and for the safety of the community. Our stance is not that those places should not exist. Our stance is for those young people who need to have additional and advanced level of secure placement for their safety and safety of the community, that there are better alternatives to sending them hours away from their families, from their communities. Instead of having very large institutionalized institutions where you have beds for 100 plus young people, we believe that closer to home alternatives, secure placement options, where there are no more than eight, maybe ten, maybe 15 at the very top, and that those institutions are full of wrap-around supports from community and that they are full of more cognitive behavioral therapy kind of approaches, trauma-informed approaches so that we are really working with our young people to be rehabilitated so that they can be restored to their communities instead of recidivating back into the system three, six, nine, twelve months later down the road.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

Meanwhile the facilities are still in place up north and the FBI continues its investigation. What do you hope they find?

 

Jeffery Roman:

Well, we hope that they find or at least bring to light more that the system that we currently have in place for young people is outdated and punitive. And that the priority needs to be on restoring, rehabilitating our young people. We also hope that with the investigations that it really forces our state, our governor, Secretary Litscher and our county and our judges particularly to really start to think about what's happening to our young people in those institutions and what we can do here at home to better rehabilitate our young people.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

And toward that, you are holding -- or Youth Justice Milwaukee is holding a summit next week. What is that about?

 

Jeffery Roman:

Sure, so Youth Justice of Milwaukee, first we are a broad-based campaign. We are a coalition of individuals, young people who have been either incarcerated or have been in detention, their families, their parents. And community and national advocates who are working across the country and across the community to make sure that there are alternatives to incarceration for young people. So the Youth Justice Summit is really about engaging the community and having an opportunity for these issues to really come to light and to really organize and mobilize the community in what the community-based response should be to those issues. So you'll see we have a number of national speakers coming who have demonstrated how communities have been able to organize and mobilize and change policy to fundamentally transform their juvenile justice systems in their communities and really leave us with some lessons learned in those communities. That's what the day is about. We'll have a number of workshops. I'm particularly excited that we're going to have some young people who are going to be able to tell their stories, their experiences and talk about things that they've seen and they've experienced inside and outside of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lakes. That's really what it's about. It's really a community engagement tool and we're looking forward to the community really being engaged starting next Wednesday.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Jeffery Roman, thanks very much.

 

Jeffery Roman:

Thank you. Thank you so much.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

A quick programming note. Wisconsin Public Television and Radio in partnership with Wisconsin Vote will bring you the State DPI Candidate Debate on Friday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m. Incumbent State Superintendent Tony Evers will face challenger Lowell Holtz, the former Whitnall School Superintendent in the election on April 4. Again, that debate is Friday, March 31, at 7:00. And finally tonight a "look ahead" to next week. We examine Governor Walker's budget and the impact it could have on education in one rural school district. And next week the first Marquette University Law School poll since President Trump took office. That's next week on "Here and Now." I’m Frederica Freyberg. Have a great weekend.

 

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