Brian Dake

Rancorous, Partisan Start for Kavanaugh High Court Hearing

The week of hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination began with a sense of inevitability that the 53-year-old appellate judge eventually will be confirmed, perhaps in time for the first day of the new term, Oct. 1, and little more than a month before congressional elections.

However, the first of at least four days of hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee began with partisan quarreling over the nomination and persistent protests from members of the audience, followed by their arrests.

In Kavanaugh’s own statement at the end of more than seven hours of arguing, the federal appeals judge spoke repeatedly about the importance of an independent judiciary and the need to keep the court above partisan politics, common refrains among Supreme Court nominees that had added salience in the fraught political atmosphere of the moment.

“A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written. A judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent,” he said.

Kavanaugh also promised to be “a team player on the Team of Nine.”

The Supreme Court is often thought of as nine separate judges, rather than a team. And on the most contentious cases, the court tends to split into conservative and liberal sides. But justices often do say they seek consensus, and they like to focus on how frequently they reach unanimous decisions.

 

Public Comment Period Open on Suggestions for UI Changes

The Department of Workforce Development is encouraging the public to submit comments  about the state’s Unemployment Insurance program to the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council.

The Council is taking public comments on suggested changes to the state’s UI laws through November 16, 2018. The comments will help form the Council’s legislative agenda during the following year.

Comments may be submitted by email to UILawChange@dwd.wisconsin.gov or by mail to:

Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council
Attn: Janell Knutson, Chair
P.O Box 8942
Madison, WI 53708

The Council comprises employer and employee representatives who meet monthly to recommend law changes and analyze legislative proposals that affect the state’s UI program.

For more information on the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council visit: https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uibola/uiac/.

AAA Sees U.S. Average Gasoline Price Dipping to Around $2.70

Steady oil prices and the end of strong summer demand should start pushing gasoline prices down.

The auto club AAA predicts that the national average will drop 14 cents to $2.70 a gallon this fall.

The current average of $2.84 is up 46 cents from a year ago, but down from the peak national average of $2.96 a gallon in May. AAA says motorists in the West and in Pennsylvania and Connecticut pay even more – over $3.

Relief could be coming. Benchmark U.S. crude is around $69 a barrel – that’s up sharply from a year ago but down $5 a barrel since early July.

Also, refineries are expected to switch in mid-September to winter-blend gasolines, which are cheaper to produce than summer blends.

Governor Declares Statewide State of Emergency

Recovery efforts continue in communities across Wisconsin, following recent storms that have caused widespread flooding in many parts of the state and generated at least two tornadoes on Tuesday evening. The tornadoes, which touched down in southwest Fond du Lac County near Brandon and north of Kiel near the Calumet and Manitowoc County lines, downed trees and power lines, while also damaging multiple buildings. No injuries were reported.

Governor Scott Walker on Wednesday declared a State of Emergency for all of Wisconsin, which directs state agencies to assist local governments in their response to the flooding and allows the Wisconsin National Guard to be called to active duty by the adjutant general if requested.

Several parts of the state have experienced torrential rainfalls in the past two weeks with some areas receiving more than 14 inches of rain. This has caused lake levels to rise in Dane County and pushed portions of the Kickapoo and Baraboo rivers to record levels. An additional half inch of rain could fall on parts of the state late Thursday night.

Private property owners should report flood and storm damage by calling 2-1-1 or 877-947-2211. Make sure to document damage by taking pictures and speak with your insurance agent.

Several roads throughout the state remain closed due to standing water or because of damage caused by flooding. Drivers are urged to check 511wi.gov for current road closure information.

Canada Rejoins NAFTA Talks

Canada’s top trade negotiator praised Mexico’s trade concessions on autos and labor rights on Tuesday as she rejoined NAFTA talks, while U.S. lawmakers warned that a bilateral U.S.-Mexico trade deal would struggle to win approval in Congress.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Mexico’s “difficult” concessions to the United States on Monday would pave the way for productive talks this week as all three countries race toward a Friday deadline for a deal to modernize the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

“These concessions are really going to be important for workers in Canada and the United States,” she told reporters after meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Freeland, who later met with Mexican officials on Tuesday evening, said she is due to dig into detailed discussions with Lighthizer on Wednesday.

After being sidelined from the talks for more than two months, Freeland will be under pressure to accept terms the United States and Mexico worked out on a trade deal announced on Monday.

One of the main sticking points for Canada in the revised deal is the U.S. effort to dump the Chapter 19 dispute resolution mechanism that hinders the United States from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to eliminate the mechanism.

Other hurdles include intellectual property rights, such as the U.S.-Mexico 10-year data exclusivity for biologic drug makers and extensions of copyright protections to 75 years from 50, all higher thresholds than Canada has previously supported.

If a deal is not reached with Canada, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the Trump administration intends to proceed with a separate trade agreement with Mexico.

The Mexican government has also taken that position, even as it says it wants a trilateral deal. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is keen to sign the agreement before leaving office at the end of November.

A trilateral deal would need only 51 votes in the Senate, while a bilateral pact would need a far more difficult 60-vote threshold, Republican Senator Pat Toomey said.

Five Key Takeaways from U.S.-Mexico Trade Deal

The United States and Mexico agreed on Monday to a sweeping trade deal that pressures Canada to accept new terms on autos trade, dispute settlement and agriculture to keep the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the White House was ready to notify the U.S. Congress by Friday of President Donald Trump’s intent to sign the bilateral document, but that it was open to Canada joining the pact. Here are some of the main issues at the heart of the negotiations:

  • The new deal requires 75% of the value of a vehicle to be produced in the United States or Mexico, up from the NAFTA threshold of 62.5%. The higher threshold is aimed at keeping more parts from Asia out, boosting North American automotive manufacturing and jobs.
  • The United States and Mexico agreed to a 16-year lifespan for NAFTA, with a review every six years that can extend the pact for 16 years more, providing more business certainty.
  • Mexico agreed to eliminate a settlement system for anti-dumping disputes, NAFTA’s Chapter 19. The move, sought by the United States, puts Canada in a difficult position because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had insisted on maintaining Chapter 19 as a way to fight U.S. duties on softwood lumber, paper and other products that it views as unfair.
  • The new deal will keep tariffs on agricultural products traded between the United States and Mexico at zero and seeks to support biotech and other innovations in agriculture. It lacks a previous U.S. demand to erect trade barriers to protect seasonal U.S. fruit and vegetable growers from Mexican competition.
  • It contains enforceable labor provisions that require Mexico to adhere to International Labor Organization labor rights standards in an effort to drive Mexican wages higher.

 

State Launching $1.9 million Campaign to Attract Veterans

The state of Wisconsin is launching a $1.9 million effort to convince military personnel and their spouses to relocate to the state when they transition to civilian life, Gov. Scott Walker announced Friday.

The campaign is part of $6.8 million state lawmakers approved earlier this year for marketing to attract potential workers to the state. An initial campaign targeted millennials in the Chicago-area earlier this year. That effort expands to other Midwestern cities this fall and the state targets alumni of higher education institutions in Wisconsin as well.

“As our dedicated members of the military prepare to return to civilian life, they are looking for the best place possible to start a new career, raise a family and enjoy an outstanding quality of life. We are going to make a strong case that Wisconsin can meet all those needs – and more,” Walker said in a statement.

The veteran campaign includes sending a delegation of Wisconsin officials to military bases in California, Washington, North Carolina, Hawaii, Missouri, Texas, Georgia, Germany and Japan. The governor’s office says the state is the first to partner with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring our Heroes program. The delegation will be attending Hiring our Heroes’ summits at each base, starting with Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in California on Wednesday and Thursday of next week.

Other elements of the effort include a paid media campaign that will run through June 30, 2019. Social media posts targeting transitioning veterans, geo-targeted digital ads around bases the delegation is visiting and print and online ads in publications targeting transitioning veterans and their spouses are all included in the paid media campaign.

A section of InWisconsin.com, the state’s talent attraction website, will be dedicated to info for veterans. The Department of Workforce Development is also adding a military occupation code search tool to its WiscJobsForVets.com website to help veterans find jobs matching their skillsets.

Imposter Scam: Fake Utility Calls

Imposter scammers are posing as a local utility company in order to demand money for supposed late payments or required upgrades. Wisconsin residents should be on the lookout for threatening calls about their gas or electric accounts and hang up on anyone who demands an immediate payment on behalf of the local utility provider.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s (DATCP) Consumer Protection Hotline has received more than two dozen reports in the last 24 hours from Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) customers about these phony calls. The crooks threaten call recipients with disconnection of services unless an immediate payment is made, and some of the scammers mentioned a work order number, truck number, and phone number to make their story seem more legitimate.

While most of these recent reports to DATCP have been about contacts from fake WPS representatives, DATCP has also received reports about imposter WE Energies calls. This scam is very common and con artists will claim to work for whatever utility company services the area they are targeting. Regardless of your utility provider, if you receive a similar threatening call about your home or business utility account, hang up and do not engage the caller.

Avoid being tricked by remembering these simple guidelines:

 Utility companies will contact you by mail if your account is overdue.

 If a caller demands a utility payment by prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer, it is a scam.

 Scammers can manipulate your caller ID display to show the local utility company’s name or number when they call.

 Contact your utility provider directly using information from your billing statement to inquire about the status of your account and to report the call.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at
http://datcp.wi.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wi.gov, or call the Consumer Protection
Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

Governor Calls for Interstate 41 Expansion in Fox Valley

Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday directed the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to evaluate the possible expansion of Interstate 41 between Appleton and De Pere.

A number of state and local officials have previously pushed for the expansion to ease congestion on the increasingly busy stretch of interstate.

The stretch of I-41 from Breezewood Lane in Neenah to the north junction of State 441 in Appleton has averaged nearly 470 crashes a year in the last five years, according to the DOT.

“After speaking with community leaders and elected officials regarding the importance of Interstate 41 to the continued growth of northeastern Wisconsin, I am calling on the Department of Transportation to evaluate expanding the Interstate 41 section between Appleton and De Pere,” Walker said in a released statement.

If the expansion would happen, it would come on the heels of a seven-year project that saw I-41 expanded from De Pere to just north of Green Bay. That $1 billion project, which stretched from 2010 to 2017, revamped 14 miles of the interstate.

 

EPA Proposes Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule

Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new rule to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing coal-fired electric utility generating units and power plants across the country.

This proposal, entitled the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule, establishes emission guidelines for states to use when developing plans to limit GHGs at their power plants. The ACE Rule replaced the prior administration’s overly prescriptive and burdensome Clean Power Plan (CPP) and instead empowers states, promotes energy independence, and facilitates economic growth and job creation.

The proposal will work to reduce GHG emissions through four main actions:

  • ACE defines the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER) for existing power plants as on-site, heat-rate efficiency improvements;
  • ACE provides states with a list of “candidate technologies” that can be used to establish standards of performance and be incorporated into their state plans;
  • ACE updates the New Source Review (NSR) permitting program to further encourage efficiency improvements at existing power plants; and
  • ACE aligns regulations under CAA section 111(d) to give states adequate time and flexibility to develop their state plans.

EPA’s regulatory impact analysis (RIA) for this proposal includes a variety of scenarios. These scenarios are illustrative because the statute gives states the flexibility needed to consider unit-specific factors – including a particular unit’s remaining useful life – when it comes to standards of performance. Key findings include the following:

  • EPA projects that replacing the CPP with the proposal could provide $400 million in annual net benefits;
  • The ACE Rule would reduce the compliance burden by up to $400 million per year when compared to CPP; and
  • EPA estimates that the ACE Rule could reduce 2030 CO2 emissions by up to 1.5% from projected levels without the CPP –  the equivalent of taking 5.3 million cars off the road. Further, these illustrative scenarios suggest that when states have fully implemented the proposal, U.S. power sector CO2 emissions could be 33% to 34% below 2005 levels, higher than the projected CO2 emissions reductions from the CPP.