News of the Day

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Online Sales Tax Case

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case about whether states can require out-of-state online retailers to collect their sales taxes.

In agreeing to hear the case, South Dakota v. Wayfair, the court will revisit a 1992 decision in which it ruled that states could only require remote sellers to collect their sales taxes if the business had a physical presence in the state.

The case before the Supreme Court involves a South Dakota law enacted in 2016 that would allow the state to require out-of-state online retailers with a significant economic connection to the state to collect its sales taxes.

Supporters of South Dakota’s case include groups representing state and local governments and brick-and-mortar retailers.  “The Court’s decision to grant South Dakota’s petition is an important signal for retailers that invest in storefronts and jobs in local communities,” said Deborah White, general counsel and retail litigation center president for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

But some online businesses and lawmakers think that the 1992 decision should be upheld. A group of lawmakers that included Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had encouraged the Supreme Court not to hear the case, saying that the online sales tax issue should be left up to Congress to address.


State Senate Bill Aims to Create “Fair, Consistent” Statewide Employment Regulations

The Senate’s Labor Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill aimed at ending the “patchwork” of employment laws across the state.

The bill, authored by Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield), prohibits local government from regulating policy on employee hours and overtime, employment benefits, and wage claims and collections. Employers would be able to ask prospective employees about salary information under the bill, and local governments couldn’t create employment discrimination regulations stricter than state laws.

In short, local governments would be prohibited from implementing employment law different from state regulations. Above all, the legislation is about uniformity, consistency, and predictability, its authors say. It would be a huge victory for red tape-cutting warriors.




Updated 2018 Federal Withholding Tables Now Available

Yesterday, the Internal Revenue Service released Notice 1036, which updates the income-tax withholding tables for 2018 reflecting changes made by the tax reform legislation enacted last month. This is the first in a series of steps that IRS will take to help improve the accuracy of withholding following major changes made by the new tax law.

The updated withholding information, posted today on, shows the new rates for employers to use during 2018. Employers should begin using the 2018 withholding tables as soon as possible, but not later than February 15, 2018. They should continue to use the 2017 withholding tables until implementing the 2018 withholding tables.

The new withholding tables are designed to work with the Forms W-4 that workers have already filed with their employers to claim withholding allowances. This will minimize burden on taxpayers and employers. Employees do not have to do anything at this time.

The new law makes a number of changes for 2018 that affect individual taxpayers. The new tables reflect the increase in the standard deduction, repeal of personal exemptions and changes in tax rates and brackets.

For people with simpler tax situations, the new tables are designed to produce the correct amount of tax withholding. The revisions are also aimed at avoiding over- and under-withholding of tax as much as possible.

To help people determine their withholding, the IRS is revising the withholding tax calculator on The IRS anticipates this calculator should be available by the end of February. Taxpayers are encouraged to use the calculator to adjust their withholding once it is released.

The IRS is also working on revising the Form W-4. Form W-4 and the revised calculator will reflect additional changes in the new law, such as changes in available itemized deductions, increases in the child tax credit, the new dependent credit and repeal of dependent exemptions.

The calculator and new Form W-4 can be used by employees who wish to update their withholding in response to the new law or changes in their personal circumstances in 2018, and by workers starting a new job. Until a new Form W-4 is issued, employees and employers should continue to use the 2017 Form W-4.

More information is available in the Withholding Tables Frequently Asked Questions.

State Lawmakers Push to Support ‘White Space’ Broadband Technologies

Wisconsin lawmakers are calling for more certainty for those developing “white space” broadband technologies.

Tech companies want to use portions of the TV spectrum to deliver broadband service to rural areas. Advocates of the technology say it can be implemented more reliably and at greater distance than other wireless broadband options, and that it’s cheaper and faster than running fiber optic cables to areas that could take years to receive service.

Despite the push to develop the technology, which relies on unused TV frequencies for access, it has so far only seen limited testing in the United States. State Representative Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) says a lack of certainty from the federal government on the same three frequencies remaining available is a big reason for development being slowed down.

“Until there is regulatory certainty out of the FCC that these three channels will be available, dedicated…that investment from the private sector is not going to happen as fast as we want,” she argues.

Republican state lawmakers have proposed a resolution that would have the state join those asking the FCC and Congress to provide that certainty to developers. Once it’s there, Felzkowski says there are estimates that the technology could address most of the state’s rural broadband access issues over the course of the next five to seven years. “The laying of the fiber and the cost to do that is going to be much longer,” she argues.

Lawmakers expect the resolution to be taken up and passed by the state Assembly and Senate later this month.

Lawmakers Search for Immigration Consensus After Trump Meeting

Lawmakers from both parties have begun translating President Donald Trump’s broad-brush ideas for an immigration deal into legislation that can survive hard liners’ opposition and win bipartisan support.

Trump on Tuesday gave Republicans political cover to negotiate a deal with Democrats that would make DACA part of the law and give protection against deportation to some 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

While Trump didn’t back off his demands on border security — including a wall on U.S.-Mexico border — restrictions on family preferences in immigration and an end to a diversity visa lottery, he made clear he would leave the details up to Congress.

Senate Republican Whip Cornyn said he expected to meet Wednesday with No. 2 Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and House Democratic Whip Steny of Maryland to talk about a timetable for meetings on crafting a compromise. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will also be part of all of the talks, he said.


States Exploring Tax Changes in Response to Federal Overhaul

In New Jersey and California, top Democratic officials want to let people make charitable contributions to the state instead of paying certain taxes. In Connecticut and New York, officials are exploring a switch from income taxes to new ones on payroll. A few governors have even called for tax cuts.

The ideas are bubbling up as state lawmakers begin their 2018 sessions and assess the effects of the Republican tax overhaul that President Donald Trump signed into law last month. Lawmakers and governors in some states are grappling with how to protect their constituents.

The federal policy implements a maze of changes. It cuts tax rates and nearly doubles the standard income deduction. Yet it also caps or eliminates some popular itemized deductions, and sets the personal exemptions to zero.

More than 40 states have income taxes, and nearly all of them rely to some degree on definitions from the federal tax code.

Economists expect that many states will see their revenue rise because they tie their tax laws to federal provisions such as those on personal exemptions, which lower the bills based on the size of households.

 In Maryland and Michigan, the Republican governors have said they will introduce tax cuts to compensate, after the GOP bill eliminated the personal exemption.


Penalties in Environmental Cases Handled by Wisconsin Justice Department Increased in 2017

Financial penalties involving state environmental enforcement cases totaled $1.45 million in 2017 — the highest in Attorney General Brad Schimel’s first three years in office.

Under Schimel, penalties totaled $734,127 in 2015 and $449,253 in 2016. In 2017, the agency handled 49 environmental enforcement cases totaling $1,450,026.

In a series of emails, Justice Department spokesman Johnny Koremenos said its case load is dictated by the volume and types of cases referred to the agency from the DNR and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

For 2016, the DNR referred 25 cases to the Justice Department — down 36% from the 39 cases referred to the attorney general in 2015, according to records provided to the Journal Sentinel.

In addition, the agency reported that the state was part of settlements in federal Superfund pollution cases in 2017 totaling $242.3 million. That included a $200 million settlement by NCR Corp. for the longstanding cleanup of toxic chemicals from paper companies in the Fox River in the Green Bay area.



U.S. Department of Labor Announces Proposal to Expand Access to Health Care through Small Business Health Plans

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to expand the opportunity to offer employment-based health insurance to small businesses through Small Business Health Plans, also known as Association Health Plans.

Up to 11 million Americans working for small businesses/sole proprietors and their families lack employer-sponsored insurance. These 11 million Americans could find coverage under this proposal. Many small employers struggle to offer insurance because it is currently too expensive and cumbersome. These employees – and their families – would have an additional alternative through Small Business Health Plans (Association Health Plans). These plans would close the gap of uninsured without eliminating options available in the healthcare marketplace.

Under the proposal, small businesses and sole proprietors would have more freedom to band together to provide affordable, quality health insurance for employees.

The proposed rule, which applies only to employer-sponsored health insurance, would allow employers to join together as a single group to purchase insurance in the large group market.

These improvements stand to open health insurance coverage for millions of Americans and their families by making it more affordable for thousands of small businesses and sole proprietors. By joining together, employers may reduce administrative costs through economies of scale, strengthen their bargaining position to obtain more favorable deals, enhance their ability to self-insure, and offer a wider array of insurance options.

As proposed, the rule would:

  • Allow employers to form a Small Business Health Plan on the basis of geography or industry. A plan could serve employers in a state, city, county, or a multi-state metro area, or it could serve all the businesses in a particular industry nationwide;
  • Allow sole proprietors to join Small Business Health Plans, clearing a path to access health insurance for the millions of uninsured Americans who are sole proprietors or the family of sole proprietors.

The proposed rule includes important protections for Americans. Small Business Health Plans (Association Health Plans) cannot charge individuals higher premiums based on health factors or refuse to admit employees to a plan because of health factors. The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration will closely monitor these plans to protect consumers.

The NPRM will be published in the Federal Register on January 5, 2018, and be available for public comment for 60 days.  The Department encourages interested parties to submit comments on the proposed rule. The NPRM, along with the procedures for submitting comments, can be found at the Federal Register website.

Nearly 90% of Wisconsin Construction Firms Expect to Hire in 2018

Eighty-eight percent of Wisconsin construction firms expect to expand their payrolls in 2018, although many companies are worried about workforce shortages, according to the latest survey from the Associated General Contractors of America.

Contractors are optimistic that economic conditions will remain strong as tax rates and regulatory burdens fall, according to survey results.

“Construction firms appear to be very optimistic about 2018 as they expect demand for all types of construction services to continue to expand,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “This optimism is likely based on current economic conditions, an increasingly business-friendly regulatory environment and expectations the Trump administration will boost infrastructure investments.”

In Wisconsin, 44 percent of respondents said they expect to increase their headcount between one and 10 people; 33 percent of respondents said they plan to add 11 to 25 people and 11 percent of respondents said they plan to add 25 or more people to their company in 2018.

Nationwide, 75 percent of construction firms plan to expand their workforce in 2018, up slightly from 73 percent in 2017. Most of the hiring will only expand headcounts by a slight percentage (10 percent or less) per firm, however.

Broken down by market segment, contractors nationwide are most optimistic about the private office market segment. This is followed by the other transportation and retail, warehouse and lodging.

With Candidate Field Set, State Supreme Court Race Ramps Up

The race for an open seat on the state Supreme Court will accelerate after a Tuesday deadline passed with three candidates filing to run: Madison attorney Tim Burns, Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet and Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock.

Two of the three candidates will emerge from a primary election Feb. 20 to face off in the April 3 general election.

Burns, a partner at the Perkins Coie firm who specializes in insurance law, has explicitly touted his liberal views, saying he’ll uphold them if elected to the court.

“I’m a progressive,” Burns said in a statement. “I’m not going to apologize for those beliefs, and I’ll be talking about them as I travel Wisconsin these next three months.”

Dallet has vowed to be an independent voice on the court and has said that justices taking political stances harms the court’s integrity. In a statement, spokeswoman Jessica Lovejoy touted Dallet’s 23 years spent working as a prosecutor and judge.

Screnock is a judicial appointee of Gov. Scott Walker who once worked on a team of lawyers to defend Walker’s collective bargaining law, Act 10, against lawsuits.