Tag Archives: access

Planned Parenthood: Ryan lies about access to health care in Wisconsin

During a CNN town hall meeting last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan told a patient who relies on Planned Parenthood that she would have many other places to go for her health care if he is successful in kicking Planned Parenthood out of the Medicaid program.

However, ending funding for preventive care at Planned Parenthood would devastate essential health care access among the country’s and state’s most vulnerable populations — most prominently in Paul Ryan’s own back yard.

If Paul Ryan really wanted women to get the health care they need, he would not propose ending Planned Parenthood’s ability to serve 50,000 people in Wisconsin, leaving most of them without another provider.

As a part of the pubic health network in Wisconsin, no one knows better than Planned Parenthood the lack of access people in our state already face. We have been unable to identify alternative health care providers who are able to absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients in Wisconsin — including in Paul Ryan’s own district.

In 73 percent of the counties PPWI serves, there is not a provider who could absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients. In those rare communities where there are other community health care providers, many would be unable to meet our patients’ need if Planned Parenthood could not provide care.

In fact, more than 6,000 people living in Speaker Ryan’s own district rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment and birth control. On behalf of these patients, we ask Speaker Ryan where these people go for health care? Community based health centers like Planned Parenthood are critical for especially vulnerable patients without easy access to other providers.

Even with Planned Parenthood’s continued care, there is a tremendous unmet need for health care in Wisconsin and in Speaker Paul Ryan’s own district. In Ryan’s district specifically, STD rates, teen births, poverty, infant mortality and unemployment rates are all higher than the state average. We’ve been hearing from leaders, partners and patients across Wisconsin, including those in the Speaker’s district. What they all know is ensuring continued access to a trusted and affordable community health care provider like Planned Parenthood is something we should all agree is important to help keep our communities safe, healthy and strong.


Public’s trust was abused over police videos

On Aug. 14, after a night of unrest prompted by the fatal police shooting of a black man, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said his review of body camera video of the incident proved the officer had acted appropriately.

“The individual did turn toward the officer with a firearm in his hand,” Flynn stated, later saying the man, 23-year-old Sylville Smith, “was raising up with” the gun.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said a still photo he was shown from the video “demonstrates, without question, that (Smith) had a gun in his hand.” In fact, Barrett declared, the officer “ordered that individual to drop his gun, the individual did not drop his gun.”

This purportedly exculpatory video itself was not promptly released, despite requests from Barrett and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that this occur. It still has not been released. But we know now that public officials did not give an accurate account of what it shows.

Bill Lueders, Your Right to Know columnist
Bill Lueders, Your Right to Know columnist

We know that because, in mid-December, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm filed criminal charges against Dominique Heaggan-Brown, the former Milwaukee police officer who killed Smith. (Heaggan-Brown was fired over an alleged sexual assault shortly after the shooting.)

According to the criminal complaint charging the officer with first-degree reckless homicide, Smith held a gun as the officer fired his first shot. Smith, struck in the arm, pitched the gun over a fence and fell to the ground. The officer then fired a second, fatal shot to Smith’s chest.

“A review of the body camera video from (both officers at the scene) confirms that at the time of the second shot, Smith was unarmed and had his hands near his head,” the complaint says.

A 2014 state law governing investigations of police shootings requires that gathered materials be released if a decision is made not to file charges. The law is otherwise silent as to whether and when these materials are released.

Barrett has renewed his call for release, while Flynn has weighed in against this. Chisholm told me his office will not release this evidence prior to its use in a criminal proceeding.

In this case, I believe, it is already too late to restore confidence in the integrity of the process. Flynn’s representations about the video were at best misleading, and Barrett’s statements suggest he was misled, as was the public.

The whole point of outfitting police with cameras, at taxpayer expense, is to ensure truthfulness and enhance accountability. That did not happen here. And many more months may pass before the video is released.

Other jurisdictions have more enlightened policies. In Chicago, for instance, videos of police shootings are normally released within 60 days, and posted online.

In the legislative session that begins in January, there will likely be renewed efforts to establish consistent state policies regarding police body cameras; a bill to do so in the last session went nowhere.

Now is the time, in the wake of this regrettable case, for the citizens of Wisconsin to insist that the video records they are paying for are not kept secret, or used to mislead them.

Records show Trump released tax returns when he stood to gain

Donald Trump won’t publicly release his income tax returns but records reveal the New York businessman turned them over when it suited his needs.

The Associated Press is reporting that Trump provided his returns when he stood to make a profit, needed a loan or when dealing with legal matters.

The news service reports that Pennsylvania gaming regulators were given at least five years’ worth and eight boxes full of Trump’s tax documents.

Also, Nevada, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana and other state gaming officials had access to multiple years of Trump’s returns.

And large banks that lent Trump money over the years have obtained Trump’s returns.

In all cases reviewed by The Associated Press, each person, organization, company or government office that has seen Trump’s tax returns is barred from discussing their full contents by professional or legal restrictions.

So the public still knows little about Trump’s more recent finances.

At a press event today in Waukesha, Wisconsin Democrats plan to call on Trump to release his tax returns.

An announcement from Hillary Clinton’s campaign said the event at noon at the Waukesha DNC headquarters would involve Democratic supporters, including state Rep. Mandela Barnes.

In the debate earlier this week, Clinton questioned whether Trump’s tax returns might reveal that he has paid little or no taxes. Trump said he was “smart” for not paying federal income taxes in some years.

Documents first reported on by Politico show Trump didn’t pay any federal income tax during at least two years in the early 1990s because he lost more money than he earned.

Other documents show he didn’t pay any federal income taxes in 1978, 1979 and 1984.

Trump has repeatedly refused to release his tax returns citing an IRS audit, but the IRS and tax experts have said an audit doesn’t bar Trump from making the documents public.

Since 1976, every major party nominee has released the returns and Clinton has publicly released nearly 40 years’ worth.

Trump’s tax returns would reveal his charitable contributions. The AP has reported that there is little record of substantial personal philanthropy from Trump.

The returns would also reveal how much Trump earned from his assets, helping someone work back to an approximation of his net worth to compare to his own estimation.

Security issues keeping Planned Parenthood’s Appleton clinic closed

Planned Parenthood says an Appleton clinic that provided access to abortion services will remain closed due to security issues.

The clinic was one of three Planned Parenthood facilities providing such services in the state. The remaining two are in Milwaukee and Madison.

Services at the Appleton clinic temporarily were suspended last fall due to staffing issues. The clinic remained closed following the shooting at a Colorado clinic in November as Planned Parenthood conducted a security review.

Last November, a gunman at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic killed three people and injured nine. The man faces 179 felony counts, including murder and attempted murder.

“The security issue became paramount,” said Chris Williams, COO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

Planned Parenthood conducted an evaluation of building security and security protocol and determined “the Appleton facility was just not going to be able to meet the stringent … approach that we need to take,” said Williams. Similar reviews were conducted at facilities in other parts of the country.

Another Planned Parenthood facility in the city, where patients can access health care services other than abortions, will continue to operate.

Williams said there are constant threats against Planned Parenthood sites and the clinic in Appleton, over the years, has been the target of “numerous threats and acts of violence.”

Teri Huyck, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said, “This was a tough decision to make.”

She said Planned Parenthood is “doing everything we can to minimize the impact on our patients,” some of whom might have to travel 200-300 miles to the Milwaukee or Madison clinics.

Such assistance may require help with travel costs and overnight says.

Williams said about 600 patents went to the Appleton North clinic in 2014.

He said the cost to upgrade security at the facility was about $300,000 — two times the assessed value of the building.

DNR board approves land swap with Walker donor

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s board on Aug. 3 approved a land swap with one of Gov. Scott Walker’s key donors.

The DNR proposes giving Elizabeth Uihlein 1.75 acres along Rest Lake in Manitowish Waters in exchange for 42.7 acres Uihlein and her husband bought within the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.

Uihlein wants the Rest Lake frontage so a condominium complex she owns will have lake access.

DNR officials came up with the swap approach after drawing criticism for a proposal to sell the parcel to her for about $110,000 less than what one appraiser valued the land.

Uihlein and her husband donated nearly $3 million to Walker’s presidential super PAC and a nonprofit group that helped promote his presidential bid.

The board — a seven-member panel appointed by the governor — made the decision during a meeting in Ashland.

Property purchase

The DNR board during the meeting also approved buying nearly 1,000 acres along the Chippewa River for $2 million.

The property is located just northeast of Durand in Dunn County in the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area. It includes 18,000 feet of shoreline on the river’s south bank. Northern States Power Company, now known as Xcel Energy, has owned the land since the early 1970s.

The sale is still subject to approval from the Legislature’s finance committee and the governor.

A timeline in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 27 on a legal challenge by abortion providers to a Texas law requiring doctors performing the procedure to have “admitting privileges” at local hospitals and clinics to meet hospital-grade standards. The court struck down Texas’ law. This is a timeline leading up to decision day.

• July 2013 — The Republican-led Texas legislature passes and Republican Governor Rick Perry signs the law known as H.B. 2, putting new requirements on abortion providers. State officials say the law is intended to ensure the health and safety of women.

• September 2013 – Before the law is enforced, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers challenge the measure. They assert that certain provisions, including one related to doctors’ “admitting privileges” — a type of formal affiliation — at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic, are aimed at decreasing the abortion availability in the state.

• October 2013 – A U.S. district judge sides largely with the challengers, blocking the admitting privileges provision.

• March 2014 – The New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, a regional federal appeals court covering Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, reverses the lower court and permits much of the law to take effect.

• April 2014 – Whole Woman’s Health and other abortion providers bring a new complaint against Texas, citing the effect of the law’s implementation and the number of clinics that have closed. The challengers focus on the admitting-privileges requirement and regulations governing clinic facility standards.

• August 2014 – A U.S. district court judge declares the admitting privileges and clinic requirements an unconstitutional burden on women’s access to abortion.

• October 2014 – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit intervenes to allow implementation of both new regulations, but the U.S. Supreme Court blocks part of the order so that the mandate that clinics meet hospital-grade standards does not go into effect.

• June 2015 – After considering the full merits of the challenge, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reverses the district judge’s decision, finding the judge should have deferred to the legislature’s stated health and safety goals. The appeals court also says most of the lawsuit should have been barred because the legal issues it raises already were addressed in the case filed by Planned Parenthood.

• June 2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote puts a temporary hold on the 5th Circuit’s ruling while the justices consider whether to hear the challengers’ appeal. That action blocks the provision regarding hospital-grade standards from taking effect.

• September 2015 – The abortion providers challenging the Texas restrictions ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their appeal of the 5th Circuit’s ruling.

• November 2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the challenge by abortion providers to the Texas restrictions.

• February 2016 – Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a supporter of abortion restrictions, dies at age 79, leaving the court shorthanded and evenly divided with four liberals and four conservatives.

• March 2016 – The U.S. Supreme Court hears 85 minutes of oral arguments in the case, known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The court’s four liberal justices indicate they believe the law intrudes on a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. The four conservative justices express doubts about claims by abortion providers that the law forced numerous clinics to shut down.

Wisconsin reacts to Supreme Court ruling against anti-abortion law

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-3 on June 27 that Texas’ anti-abortion law is unconstitutional. Here’s reaction from Wisconsin:

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore: “I am thrilled by today’s Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. This case is certain to have a significant and positive impact on women throughout the country and I applaud the Court for standing on the side of women. Laws like Texas’ H. B. 2, a measure which made access to abortion care nearly impossible for many women, are simply ideological attempts to take away a woman’s right to make choices about her own body and future.
“Without a doubt, this case will affect other states attempting to pass, or that have already passed, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider laws (commonly known as ‘TRAP laws’). As we saw with 2013 Wisconsin Act 37, requiring doctors to have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital and subjecting women to intrusive and medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, Wisconsin has not been immune to its share of TRAP laws. In the last year alone, Gov. Scott Walker signed two different bills with the goal to defund our state’s Planned Parenthood centers. These health clinics are vital to the well-being of our communities, with many low-income families depending on their life-saving services.”

Teri Huyck, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin: “This landmark ruling is an enormous victory for women and families in Wisconsin and across the nation. We applaud the court’s ruling affirming that abortion is a decision that should be between a woman and her doctor and a decision that should be made without politicians interfering. Yet today’s victory does not undo the past five years of damage and restrictions already written into law. No woman or doctor should be punished for receiving or providing essential medical care. We will continue to fight restrictions on safe, legal abortion on behalf of our patients in Wisconsin.”

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach: “The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to protect a woman’s right to access reproductive health care in Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstedt is essential for our sisters, wives, mothers and daughters. Reproductive health care is basic health care for women. Texas passed laws that place barriers for many women seeking health care which violate the principles of the state and U.S. Constitution. Protecting access to reproductive health care where it is threatened is essential. I am so thankful there are those that continue to work for the basic rights of women in this country.”

One Wisconsin Institute executive director Scot Ross: “This decision protecting the rights of women is a powerful reminder of why courts matter. Women have the right to safe and legal abortion services and the underhanded attempts by politicians in Texas and here in Wisconsin, like Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican legislative cohorts, to strip away those rights have been ruled to be unconstitutional. A majority of the the U.S. Supreme Court sent a clear message to politicians that they ought to cease and desist with their attempt to interfere where they have no business. Women ought to be able to make their own healthcare decisions with their families and their health care providers, period.”

• Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life: “In effect, the Supreme Court has decided that the abortion industry will continue to reign unchecked as mothers are subjected to subpar conditions, not only in Texas and Wisconsin, but around the country. Despite this disappointing decision, we at Wisconsin Right to Life will continue our work to offer hope to women. The abortion industry peddles death, but we in the pro-life movement offer life.”

State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa: “The court’s ruling today is an incredible victory for women’s reproductive rights and a setback to the Republicans’ unrelenting war on women. The now-unconstitutional provisions of this Texas law would have required physicians who provide abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, and would have also imposed regulations requiring clinics that provide abortions to become ambulatory surgical centers. Medical experts say that these two provisions would provide no medical value and will actually harm women by delaying access to medical care.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos: “Today the court has put women’s health and safety on the back burner for the profits of Planned Parenthood and abortion providers. I’m disappointed and frustrated with the decision as it disregards the intent of the law, which is similar to what we approved in Wisconsin. The admitting privileges requirement is intended to protect women’s health. We must ensure women have access to safe health care no matter where you stand on the issue.”

State Sen. Chris Larson: “The Supreme Court has powerfully reaffirmed a woman’s constitutional right to make her own decisions about her health, family, and future, no matter her zip code. Our neighbors – in Wisconsin and across the country – have the freedom to plan when they want to start a family and a right to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies. Draconian laws, like this and others pushed by legislative Republicans across the country, limit health care options and the opportunity for a woman to protect her health.”

Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action: “We are proud of and thankful for Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel for defending our law and the women in our state. It’s beyond unfortunate that five unelected and unaccountable lawyers in black robes put our law and our women in danger.”

State Rep. Melissa Sargent: “I trust women to make their own healthcare decisions. The decision to end a pregnancy is deeply personal and should be made by women with the support of the family, faith and healthcare provider not by politicians. As we take time to celebrate this incredible win for access to reproductive care we must keep fighting for all women in Wisconsin — today, tomorrow, and for as long as it takes.”

Attorney General Brad Schimel: “Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a Texas abortion law is disappointing and undermines the respect due to policy makers. Wisconsin is defending a similar law in a case before the Supreme Court and we expect a decision in the near future.”

State Rep. Chris Taylor: “This ruling is a great one for Texas women, as well as women in Wisconsin. I call on legislatures around the country, including our own right here in Wisconsin, to stop attacking women and to start working to reverse the damage done to women’s access to reproductive health care. Women have the right to control their personal, private health decisions without intrusion by politicians.”

Editor’s note: This report will be updated with added reaction from the state.


Ruling restores access to accident report data

A Wisconsin court of appeals ruling put to rest some of the questions over what information must be withheld under the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. Its recent decision ends years of confusion in a way that squares with the state’s traditions of openness — and with common sense.

The DPPA was enacted more than two decades ago to restrict the release of personal information from DMV records. It was never meant to prevent police from releasing basic information in accident reports and other law-enforcement records.

But that was how the law was interpreted in much of Wisconsin. In recent years, following a federal court ruling in an Illinois case, concerns over liability have led some law enforcement agencies to heavily redact (blackout) reports before releasing them—limiting their news value and hampering public oversight of police.

In its May 10 decision, Wisconsin’s 3rd District Court of Appeals held that accident reports need not be redacted to comply with the DPPA, because state law expressly mandates their disclosure. Personal information obtained from other sources and merely verified with DMV records may also be released.

I was one of the attorneys, along with Bob Dreps, who represented a newspaper that filed the lawsuit that led to this ruling. The case was brought by the New Richmond News against the city of New Richmond.

Congress passed the DPPA in 1994 after a television actress was murdered by a stalker who obtained her home address from a local DMV. The law’s intent is clear: DMVs, with their vast repositories of personal information, cannot disclose that data except for one of 14 “permissible uses.” The same restrictions apply to other agencies that use DMV data.

But then, in 2012, the village of Palatine, Illinois, was threatened with liability for printing vehicle owners’ personal information — obtained from DMV records — on parking tickets placed on car windshields. The Palatine case caused some police departments in Wisconsin to start redacting records, prompting the New Richmond News to file suit.

In the end, reason won out in Palatine. The courts ultimately ruled that disclosing personal information on parking tickets was allowed because the police department used the information in carrying out its functions — one of the 14 “permissible uses.”

Reason should also win out in Wisconsin, although this may not happen right away. Whereas the court of appeals ruled accident reports must always be accessible, it also concluded that personal information obtained from DMV records and incorporated into incident reports can only be disclosed if doing so serves a function of the police department — a question the case was remanded to the circuit court to resolve.

The public has a legitimate right to law enforcement records, which are of little value if scrubbed of names and addresses. How can the public know if laws are enforced equally and appropriately if the identities of the people involved are obscured?

Ideally, the common-sense approach adopted by the court of appeals will serve as a blueprint for addressing the questions that remain—without further litigation.

This is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council — (www.wisfoic.org — a nonprofit group dedicated to open government. Dustin Brown is an attorney at Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.

In the sunshine: Open records and open government

Journalists come to their profession motivated to serve the public good, protect the public welfare and strengthen the Fourth Estate.

Chief among our concerns as reporters, editors and publishers is safeguarding open records and open government. We cannot have good government without an open government, without government that operates visibly, in the sunlight.

James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution, wrote “consent of the governed” requires that the people be able to “arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Each March, for Madison’s birthday, we celebrate Sunshine Week. Journalists and others who work in media, along with our press associations, watchdog organizations and civil liberties groups, trumpet the value of transparency and warn against the damage that society suffers without it, such as during the dark days of the notorious Nixon years.

Sunshine Week dates to Sunshine Sunday in 2002, which came in response to efforts to carve up one of the strongest public records laws in the country and create new records exemptions in Florida.

By 2005, the sunshine movement had gone national.

Keeping government in the sunshine is not a left or right issue or a partisan matter. For proof, look to the Open Government Traveling Show making its way around Wisconsin. To present 90-minute programs on the open records law, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists are joining with the liberal Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and the Center for Media and Democracy and the conservative MacIver Institute for Public Policy and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

Representatives of those groups, as well as Madison attorney April Barker, are traveling March 15–17 to La Crosse, Eau Claire, Wausau, Green Bay, Appleton, Sheboygan, Waukesha and Janesville to talk about the freedom of information and protecting public access to government records. The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism also is involved.

In Wisconsin, we’re fighting to protect our laws from an administration that’s shown a blatant disregard for the public’s right to know.

We united last summer to defeat an overhaul of the state public records law, dodging a sneak attack on open government that Republicans launched as we celebrated the country’s independence.

Yet, we must remain vigilant because attacks on open government continue in Wisconsin.

Remember, every citizen in our participatory democracy has an inherent right to access government meetings and public records. Open and accessible government is vital to establishing and maintaining the people’s trust and confidence in lawmakers and other elected officials. Without such knowledge, the people are powerless.

For Sunshine Week, we encourage you to share a pledge with your elected officials and appointed clerks who keep government records:

  • Government meetings must be properly promoted and open to the public.
  • Government agencies or departments must accept, as a minimum, information requests by phone, mail, over the counter or online.
  • Information requests must be responded to promptly.
  • Government departments and agencies must keep a log of information requests.
  • Governments must post on-site and online records that are likely to be the subject of repeated requests, including contracts that exceed $5,000.

Sunshine Week is for all of us to celebrate. Catch some rays.