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Capital City Sunday: Unemployment crisis, social media regulations & county restricitons

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The state has yet to pay more than 720,000 unemployment claims as the coronavirus continues to shatter the economy.

Officials at the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) said they’re having trouble processing them because of outdated tech systems and not having enough staff to get through the massive influx of claims. 

Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and other Republicans are calling on DWD to hire additional staff or open up call centers 24/7 to deal with the unprecedented number of people filing claims. 

“They had no plan in place to address the onslaught coming their way and now they are asking themselves, what do we do now,” said Rep. Nygren. 

DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said part of the holdup is DWD needing to review more information on applications people have submitted because of extra requirements and hurdles added to the unemployment process by Republicans during the Walker administration. Nygren argues those reforms are necessary to catch fraud in the system.

“Those steps that were taken in 2014 when we were in an era dealing with 2 billion shortfall in unemployment insurance fund and we had low unemployment where fraud was definitely the focus, yet here we are with an estimated 15% unemployment.”

Data released by the DWD included unemployment rates broken up by county. While rates hovered between two and three percent in March, the April numbers reflect skyrocketing unemployment across the state. In the southwestern counties, unemployment rates ranged between 11 and 18 percent.

Social Media Restrictions

After President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting social media companies, political science experts believe it will lead to more misinformation.

President Trump signed the order days after Twitter called two of his tweets "potentially misleading.” The president said the move was to defend free speech. 

UW-Madison Political Science Professor Michael Wagner said regulating free speech will be difficult, given First Amendment rights. 

“How Trump’s actions end up being dealt with by those who will actually enforce rules remains to be seen and it’s possible there will be less protection for social media companies,” said Wagner.

The order comes as President Trump continues to battle media companies as they struggle with the growing problem of misinformation. The president has regularly accused sites of censoring conservative speech.

Wagner also said these regulations could lead to even more misinformation on controversial issues that Trump tweets about from his personal account with over 80 million followers, the POTUS account has 30 million. It could also impact the election, said Wagner. 

“If people are persuaded, they should not trust safe measures of voting or voting by mail and we lose faith in a system based on this, that’s a deeply troubling sign.”

SAFER AT HOME ORDERS

Some local health officials are rescinding their stay-at-home orders as attorneys and groups warn restrictions could face hurdles in the wake of a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision invalidating a statewide mandate.

The Wisconsin Counties Association is one of those warning counties some orders could face legal ramifications. 

Currently, 21 state and local Wisconsin public safety and health officials, including Governor Evers and members of the state elections commission, are being challenged in a lawsuit that claims these orders are unconstitutional.

“When counties looked at what they’ve already done without a backing of state law or local ordinance, it brought into question if it could be enforced,” said Mark O’Connell, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Counties Association. 

O’Connell said he is working with other stakeholders and health officials to pass an ordinance that would avoid these types of legal challenges to give more authority to public officers. 

“It would allow local health officers to engage in whatever is appropriate to maintain the health and safety of the public,” said O’Connell. 

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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