Month: May 2018

Justice Shirley Abrahamson Won’t Seek Re-Election in 2019

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson, the first woman to serve on the state’s highest court, said Wednesday she will not seek re-election next year.

“It is a difficult decision,” Abrahamson said. “But in that regard, it is like many of the decisions in cases I have helped decide over four decades on the court — most often, good arguments on both sides, difficult choices, important questions.”

Abrahamson, 84, who was appointed to the court in 1976 by Gov. Patrick Lucey, won four 10-year terms between 1979 and 2009, each time by double-digit margins. She served as chief justice from 1996 until 2015, when a system for selecting chief justices based on seniority was replaced with a majority vote of the court.

Abrahamson said her intention is to serve out the remainder of her term, which ends July 31, 2019. At that point she will have served for 43 years on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, longer than any of the 77 justices who have held the position.

“Until then, and as I have done for my entire judicial career, I will continue to express my point of view,” she said. “I will do so on the bench. And, if principles and values integral to the great state of Wisconsin and its courts continue to be challenged, I will also express my views off the bench, if necessary and as appropriate.”

Wisconsin Farmers and Truckers Face New Bridge Restrictions

Wisconsin farmers and truckers are being forced to take long detours and haul half-filled loads to get their products to market as new weight restrictions were imposed on nearly 200 bridges.

The restrictions were placed primarily on rural roads in the western part of the state, the La Crosse Tribune reported . Highway engineers are trying to account for the strain from newer trucks that use tightly-spaced axles to carry more weight in a smaller frame.

“None posed an immediate safety concern, but each recommendation was made in the best interest of preserving the infrastructure and limiting unnecessary maintenance in the future,” David Hunt, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. “Many of these bridges were designed years ago without anticipating the multiple combinations of axles on today’s (special haul vehicles.)”

State Department of Transportation officials have been re-evaluating more than 2,000 bridges over the past several years in order to meet a 2018 Federal Highway Administration deadline. Much of the focus has been on short-span bridges with timber and steel frame designs.

“This is a very serious concern for us. We want to make sure farmers can get to and from their fields,” said Rob Richard, senior director of governmental relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. “If they can’t make the quickest, most efficient route they’re just adding wear and tear to other roads. . Then it becomes a larger issue.”

U.S. Adds 15,000 Visas for Seasonal Non-Farm Workers

The Trump administration will make available an additional 15,000 H-2B visas, meant for temporary non-agricultural workers, this fiscal year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said on Friday.

The increase would help relieve U.S. businesses that depend on seasonal labor during the busy summer tourist season. Many of them had complained that a visa shortage was pushing them toward economic ruin.

The U.S. government had issued 66,000 such visas this year, through a lottery for the first time, versus the usual first-come, first-served basis. Businesses which usually receive enough visas for temporary workers reported this year that many of their applications had been denied.

U.S. law caps the number of H-2B visas at 66,000 per year, divided into the summer and winter seasons, but in this year’s omnibus spending bill, Congress allowed for an increase.

Net Income, Lending Show Healthy Gains at State-Chartered Banks in 1st Quarter

Net income rose 23.3% and net lending grew by 8.8% at Wisconsin’s state-chartered
banks in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017, according to data released today by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI).

Compared to the first quarter of 2017, Wisconsin’s 160 state-chartered banks:

• Increased net loans to $39.0 billion, up from $35.8 billion.
• Posted a net income of $158.7 million, up from $128.7 million.
• Reduced their past-due loan ratio to 1.22%, down from 1.23%.
• Posted a solid capital ratio of 11.48%, down from 11.64%.

“The performance of our state-chartered banks is yet another sign of a prosperous and growing
Wisconsin economy,” said DFI Secretary Jay Risch. “Our community banks help fuel the economy by providing their business customers and consumers with the products and services they need and want.”

In the first quarter, more than 75% of all state-chartered banks posted earnings gains compared to the prior year.

Supreme Court: Employers can Enforce Arbitration Agreements with Workers

In a case involving Verona health software giant Epic Systems, a divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that businesses can prohibit their workers from banding together in disputes over pay and conditions in the workplace.

The decision has ramifications far beyond Epic, affecting an estimated 25 million non-unionized employees. While the complaints in Monday’s decision involved pay, the outcome also might extend to workplace discrimination and other disputes if employee contracts specify that they must be dealt with in one-on-one arbitration.

Lawyers representing management said the decision protects businesses from endless, costly litigation. The ruling reflected a years-long pattern at the Supreme Court of limiting class actions and favoring employer-favored arbitration over lawsuits in the courts, generally preferred by workers.

The high court’s task was to reconcile federal laws that seemed to point in different directions. On the one hand, New Deal labor laws explicitly give workers the right to band together. On the other, the older Federal Arbitration Act encourages the use of arbitration, instead of the courts.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, said the contracts are valid under the arbitration law. “As a matter of policy these questions are surely debatable. But as a matter of law the answer is clear,” Gorsuch wrote. “In many cases over many years, this court has heard and rejected efforts to conjure conflicts between the Arbitration Act and other federal statutes. In fact, this court has rejected every such effort to date (save one temporary exception since overruled).”

Wisconsin’s Record-Low Unemployment Rate of 2.8% Ranks 5th Nationally

Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary Ray Allen released the following statement on today’s release by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics  showing that Wisconsin’s record-low unemployment rate of 2.8 percent in April was the 5th lowest rate among all states, and tied with Iowa for the lowest rate among Midwestern states.

Additionally, Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate of 68.9 percent ranked 5th highest nationally, and the state’s year-over-year addition of 13,700 manufacturing jobs ranked 2nd nationally.

“Wisconsin’s robust manufacturing industry is growing, we have more people employed today than ever before and the number of unemployed Wisconsinites is approaching record lows as our unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country,” Secretary Allen said. “At the DWD, we will continue to work in collaboration with state and local partners on strategies to retain and attract more talent to Wisconsin by showcasing the tremendous opportunities that our state offers for career and personal fulfilment.”

Highlights of today’s state-by-state rankings by BLS include:

  • Wisconsin ranked 3rd nationally in the number of manufacturing jobs added in 2018.
  • Wisconsin’s addition of 13,700 manufacturing jobs from April 2017 to April 2018 ranked 2nd nationally.
  • Wisconsin’s 0.2 percent labor force participation rate increase in April ranked tied for 2nd nationally.
  • Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate of 68.9 percent in April ranked 5th nationally.
  • Wisconsin’s record-low unemployment rate of 2.8 percent in April ranks 5th nationally and tied for 1st in the Midwest.

Governor Announces Launch of

Yesterday, Governor Scott Walker announced the launch of, the website where eligible Wisconsinites can claim their $100-Per-Child Tax Rebate. The rebate can be claimed at from May 15 through July 2, 2018.

“The state has a larger than expected budget surplus, and we’re returning it to Wisconsin’s hardworking families,” said Governor Walker. “As parents, Tonette and I know that every little bit helps, and this $100-per-child tax rebate can go toward school supplies, activity fees, or a co-pay at the doctor or dentist. We urge everyone with children under the age of 18 as of December 31, 2017 to claim their credit on from today through July 2.”

Wisconsin families who claim the rebate will receive $100 for each child living at home under the age of 18 as of December 31, 2017. Eligible parents must apply for their $100-Per-Child Tax Rebate online between May 15 and July 2, so they can receive the money before school starts this fall. Direct deposits or mailed checks will be delivered by September 1, 2018 in time for the new school year.


Governor Walker says Supreme Court’s Sports Gambling Decision will not Affect Wisconsin

On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that prohibited all states except Nevada from allowing sports betting.

New Jersey led the lawsuit, with the support of 18 other states that want to use sports gambling for college and professional teams to bring in more tourism and tax revenue.

A representative with the Wisconsin Department of Administration said “sports gaming is prohibited by the Wisconsin Constitution, state law, and is not allowed under the state tribal compacts.”

“Between the constitution and the compacts that are in place already in the state of Wisconsin, it really won’t have a bearing one way or the other,” said Gov. Scott Walker.

he 6-3 ruling by the Supreme Court lets states decide if they want to make sports gambling legal, as well as in what capacity, such as online, in casinos or in sports bars.

For Wisconsin to allow sports gambling in casinos, tribes would need to renegotiate their compacts with the governor.


Credit Union Net Income, Loan Growth up by Double Digits

Net income and total lending grew by double digits at Wisconsin’s 128 state-chartered credit unions in the first quarter of 2018 compared to same quarter in 2017, according to data released  by the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI).

In the three months ending March 31, 2018:

· Net income totaled $103.4 million, up 26.0% from $82.1 million in 2017.

· Total loans were $28.0 billion, up 12.6% from $24.9 billion.

· Net worth was 11.20%, up from 10.89%.

· The delinquent loan ratio was 0.60%, down from 0.61%.

“State-chartered credit unions in the first quarter picked up where they left off at the end of 2017,” DFI Secretary Jay Risch said. “Their continued strong performance indicates they are providing their members with the right mix of products and services, which is helping to fuel Wisconsin’s already strong economy.”

U.S. Congress Needs Notice of NAFTA Deal by Next Week

Paul Ryan says he needs notice of a NAFTA deal by May 17 if the current Congress is going to be able to vote on it, suggesting talks are pushing up against the constraints of American trade law.

The House Speaker, in remarks delivered Wednesday in Washington, said U.S. Trade Promotion Authority regulations mean next week is a deadline for the Trump administration if it wants to pass a new North American Free Trade Agreement before a new Congress is sworn in.

The existing NAFTA remains on the books unless a country withdraws, which would require six months notice. No country has given that notice, though President Donald Trump has threatened to do so.

Ryan met Thursday with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in Washington, and the two discussed U.S. trade law and the impending timelines. A NAFTA deal “will take as long as it takes,” she said. Freeland was twice asked Thursday by reporters whether Ryan mentioned a deadline of next week, and didn’t specifically answer.

“I think the rules are set out quite clearly in the TPA legislation, and it was certainly useful for me to hear directly from some of the people who actually wrote it how they see that process playing out,” she said. When pressed, Freeland added: “We discussed how the TPA legislation could come into play.”