MADISON — The Evers administration has, for now, dropped its plan to publicly list the names of Wisconsin businesses with reported COVID-19 cases.
But we’ve seen this movie before. Gov Tony Evers and his power-grabbing bureaucrats have had trouble with the truth since the Democrat took office.
As Empower Wisconsin first reported a week ago, the Department of Health Services was planning to name names as early as last Friday. Businesses with two or more coronavirus cases would be made public, sources with inside information told Empower Wisconsin.
Mainstream media outlets — the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal — reported on the DHS plan days later. They couldn’t bring themselves to acknowledge that Empower Wisconsin (“a conservative media outlet”) broke the story.
On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Journal reported that DHS has “shelved plans to post names of businesses and other places connected to at least two cases of the coronavirus after business groups and Republican lawmakers pushed back against the idea.”
The Journal Sentinel also noted what sources told Empower Wisconsin last week, that media outlets filing open records requests could force DHS to release the information. That would be a remarkable change of pace for an administration not known for its transparency.
It’s an administration that is known for bending the truth, and for being anti-business and politically vindictive. That’s why we suspect that Team Evers will do all it can to mark Wisconsin businesses with a Scarlet C, exacting more damage on the economy with limited benefit to the public.
It took more than a day, but DHS finally responded last week to Empower Wisconsin’s multiple requests for comment.
“We have no immediate plans to list businesses with COVID-19 positives on our website; however, we are always striving to give Wisconsinites and their communities the information they need to protect themselves from COVID-19,” DHS spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt wrote in an email.
She went on to write, what Empower Wisconsin “may be referencing is a series of open records requests from journalists we are working through.”
“We have received hundreds of requests for records, including emails, relating to businesses that our records custodians and legal team are currently working through to determine what we legally must withhold,” Goodsitt wrote. “As you know, this is an incredibly time consuming process as records custodians and attorneys must review every document (there are hundreds of thousands) and redact private or protected information.”
Just one problem with DHS’s response: the agency’s left-wing pals in Dane County contradicted it.
“We have been working on an internal policy for public notification of businesses that have cases linked to them — but the State announced on the webinar yesterday that starting next week (this week) they would be publicly posting businesses with outbreaks…” wrote Bonnie Koenig, Environmental Health Services supervisor for Public Health Madison & Dane County in an email.
It’s clear in Koenig’s communication that DHS was planning to post the names of businesses with “outbreaks,” so the local health department’s internal policy will be “revised to align with state consistency.”
DHS also did not receive “hundreds of requests for records” on businesses with COVID-19 cases. The USA Today Network (Look MJS! More attribution) found in an open records request that DHS received 16 requests seeking such information.
Goodsitt told the newspaper that she meant to say “hundreds of records.”
The Journal Sentinel noted that it has filed multiple requests with DHS for information on COVID-19 outbreaks at businesses. Sources last week told Empower Wisconsin the newspaper was one of the principle media outlets seeking the records.
The Green Bay Press Gazette — part of the Milwaukee newspaper’s same corporate family — sued Brown County, alleging officials there violated the state’s open records law “when they blacked out names and locations from public records listing 93 workplaces that are, or have been, subject to health investigations because multiple employees tested positive for coronavirus.”
Kurt Bauer, CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in a letter to the governor last week wrote that the DHS plan carried the potential of spreading false information that will “damage the consumer brands of Wisconsin employers, causing them to incur a significant amount of financial losses and reputational damage.”
“Spreading this highly-suspect information may also encourage local public health officials to take unnecessary and economically damaging actions by enacting regulations based on tenuous legal authority,” Bauer wrote.
He pointed out what DHS should know, that COVID-19 has a long incubation period, and that many who get it are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.
“As such, it is nearly impossible to know with certainty the exact location where individuals spread and contract the illness.”
So releasing the information would be punitive. But the Evers administration, as we’ve learned, is not above punitive actions and political pettiness.
DHS is the same heavy-handed agency that had no plans to lock down the state — until it locked down the state a few days later.
The same administration that secretly recorded a meeting with Republican leadership also has failed to communicate its restrictive executive orders while constantly changing the goalposts of those orders.
Team Evers may have relented for now on its blacklist plan, but the past is prologue in Tony’s house.
Read WMC CEO Kurt Bauer’s letter to Gov. Tony Evers here.