Month: August 2019

Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Streamline Disaster Assistance Process

Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Tony Kurtz announced the new proposal Thursday standing on North Webb Road, which was underwater a year ago. Both of their legislative districts cover Reedsburg.

“We want our communities to be prepared for a natural disaster before it happens,” Marklein said during the news conference.

The Disaster Assistance Streamlining Bill aims to make it easier and faster for cities and local municipalities to apply and receive disaster assistance money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The proposal would require the state to train all local governments on how to sign up for the System for Award Management program required to receive money from FEMA through the state. All cities would be required to create an account by June 30, 2021.

Marklein said data from the Department of Military Affairs shows for the last two disasters in the state, 32 percent of potential recipients had not registered in the program, meaning they were not eligible for disaster assistance.

The bill, which has the support of 15 Republicans and two Democrats, would require the state to issue FEMA money to cities within two weeks of the receipt of funds. It would also provide an electronic option to submit information to the state and receive reimbursements.

Joint Enforcement Task Force on Payroll Fraud and Worker Misclassification Holds First Meeting

Yesterday, the Joint Enforcement Task Force on Payroll Fraud and Worker Misclassification held its first meeting to discuss Governor Evers’ executive order and goals for the task force, review the findings of the 2009 task force, and listen to presentations from key program experts and other stakeholders. The meeting was the first of several scheduled to be held prior to the first report being due to Governor Evers in March 2020.

“Worker misclassification results in millions of dollars in taxpayer losses due to the underpayment of wages, unemployment insurance tax contributions, worker’s compensation, and payroll taxes, and that’s why the work of Task Force on Payroll Fraud and Worker Misclassification is so critically important to our workforce and our economy,” said Gov. Evers. “Wisconsin has been a leader on so many fronts—unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, youth and registered apprenticeship, and many others—and we’re looking forward to the Task Force getting to work so our state can be a leader on this important issue.”

The Joint Enforcement Task Force on Payroll Fraud and Worker Misclassification was created by Governor Evers through Executive Order #20 earlier this year. The task force will coordinate worker misclassification matters handled by the Departments of Revenue, Workforce Development, and Justice, as well as the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and other agencies.

“I am excited to get to work with a task force full of informed professionals, ready to tackle this important issue that is plaguing not only Wisconsin’s workforce, but employers from multiple industries,” Department of Workforce Development Secretary-designee Caleb Frostman said. “This issue is bipartisan, and I look forward to arriving at meaningful recommendations for the Governor and State Legislature to consider.”


President Approves Major Disaster Declaration for Wisconsin

FEMA announced that federal disaster assistance has been made available to the state of Wisconsin to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding from July 18-20, 2019.

Federal funding is available to state, tribal, eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding in Barron, Clark, Forest, La Crosse, Langlade, Menominee, Monroe, Oconto, Oneida, Outagamie, Polk, Portage, Rusk, Shawano, Vernon, Waupaca, and Wood counties; the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin; and the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures throughout the state, including tribal lands.

An Abundance of Governments in Wisconsin

Wisconsin had the 11th-most local governments of any state in 2017, due in part to a tenfold increase in the last five decades in special-district governments that manage lakes, sewers, and sanitation, according to a new report by the independent, nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum.

The breakdown includes 72 counties, 1,852 municipalities (cities, villages, and  towns), and 438 school districts (422 public school districts and 16 technical college districts), the report found.

While the overall tally of counties, municipalities, and school districts has barely changed since the 1967 Census of Governments, the number of special district governments increased from 62 to 734.

The abundance of governments has made overlapping responsibilities a longstanding concern. In the early 2000s, a major state panel now known as the “Kettl Commission” (named after commission chairman Donald Kettl) argued greater clarity and cooperation was needed at the local level to boost efficiency and accountability.

The report found the number of governments in a state often depends on its history, and therefore is largely regional. The framework for European settlement of much of the Midwest was established in 1787 by the Northwest Ordinance, which created a structure for six-mile-by-six-mile towns or “townships” that remains in place today. In part because of this, states like Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, and Michigan also rank near the top of the states for number of governments.


Representative Sean Duffy Resigning from Congress

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) announced on Monday that he is resigning from Congress after being elected to his fifth term in 2018.

“After eight and a half years, the time has come for me to focus more on the reason we fight these battles — family,” Duffy said in a Facebook post.

“Recently, we’ve learned that our baby, due in late October, will need even more love, time, and attention due to complications, including a heart condition. With much prayer, I have decided that this is the right time for me to take a break from public service in order to be the support my wife, baby and family need right now. It is not an easy decision — because I truly love being your Congressman — but it is the right decision for my family, which is my first love and responsibility,” he said in his post.

“On September 23, I will step down and allow others to step forward to begin laying out their own vision and plans for leading this beautiful district and the most honest, hard-working, family-oriented, patriotic, and God-fearing constituents in America.”

State Attorneys General, Telecom Companies Band Together on Anti-Robocall Effort

A group of attorneys general from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., joined executives from 12 phone companies Thursday to announce a sweeping effort to combat the scourge of illegal robocalls dialing up millions of U.S. customers every year.

The set of anti-robocall principles and practices, unveiled at a press conference in D.C., would require the phone companies to take steps towards preventing the spam calls and work in tandem with law enforcement to take down illegal robocalling operations.

Under the deal between industry groups and the government, which is over a year and a half in the making, the companies — including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Comcast — have agreed to implement call-blocking technology at no extra cost to customers, and offer their customers a range of “free, easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools.”

The phone companies agreed to a set of eight principles to cut down on the billions of illegal robocalls in the U.S. annually. The principles include a commitment to cooperate with law enforcement in investigations of illegal robocallers — who often operate overseas — as well as to confirm the identity of any new customers by collecting information on their business location, federal tax ID and more.

WEDC Offers No-Interest Loans to Businesses Affected by July Storms

Wisconsin’s jobs agency will offer no-interest loans to businesses affected by severe storms in July. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation announced Wednesday that it has allocated $1 million for its Disaster Recovery Microloan Program.

Under the program, WEDC awards grants to regional planning commissions and other local designees, which can issue loans of up to $20,000 for businesses that have measurable physical damage and intend to resume normal operations in their communities as soon as possible.

A typical loan under the program would be repaid over two years, with the first payment deferred for six months or more.

Mary Gage, WEDC’s vice president of business and community development, said the loans help businesses address their immediate challenges, such as cleanup, restoration and reconstruction, as well as payroll and operating expenses.

“We want to get the money out soon, while they’re having their issues and cash flow shortages,” said Gage. “That can tide them over until more long-term recovery funding can be secured by the business.”

WEDC says local officials have already identified over 60 businesses that could qualify in Barron, Wood, Polk and Langlade counties.


PSC Votes to Approve Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project

On Tuesday, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (Commission) unanimously voted to preliminarily approve the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line project.

“Transmission is the backbone of clean energy alternatives to fossil fuel,” said
Commission Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq. “Getting low-cost, clean energy from where it is plentiful in the west to where it is needed, and at the scale that it is needed, cannot be done without building transmission infrastructure. I support this project because I firmly believe that it will provide tangible economic and reliability benefits to Wisconsin customers, and will serve as the cornerstone to achieving a zero carbon future.”

In addition to reduced congestion charges that will ultimately benefit consumers in the form of lower rates, the project will improve transmission system reliability, increase transfer capability between Wisconsin and the west, and will help to reduce carbon emissions by supporting the interconnection of up to 8.4 gigawatts of new generation; the majority of which will be wind power.

The transmission line will run about 87 miles from northeastern Iowa and into Southern Wisconsin. The estimated cost of the project is approximately $492 million. Wisconsin’s portion is estimated to be approximately $67 million. The remainder will be paid by ratepayers in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) member states.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project is a proposed 345 kilovolt electrical transmission line that is to run from the Hickory Creek substation in Dubuque County, Iowa, to the Cardinal substation in Dane County, Wisconsin.

The project is a joint proposal between the applicants, American Transmission Company, ITC Midwest LLC, and Dairyland Power Cooperative. According to the applicants, construction is expected to commence in October of 2020 with the line coming into service by December 2023.

Governor Forms Caregiver Task Force to Solve Shortage of Workers

Governor Tony Evers formed a caregiving task force on Monday, which looks to solve Wisconsin’s shortage of caregivers.

The task force is made up of 29 people who will find ways to bring personal care workers and CNAs to the state, whether it is in the nursing home setting, group home, or in home care.

Kathy Bernier is one of those members and says that she is excited to be working on something that she is very passionate about.

“The task force is set up to discuss how we can attract and retain personal care workers, whether they be CNAs or otherwise,” Bernier said.

According to Bernier, Wisconsin has been facing a personal care worker shortage for the last five years, mainly in nursing homes.

“The fact of the matter is, we created family care in order to keep people out of the nursing homes,” she said. “Now we have been successful at that and now we don’t have enough people in the nursing homes who are able to pay for their care and then they’re entirely reliant on Medicaid.”

Governor Evers sets 100% Carbon-Free Goal

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is creating a new state government office with the goal of pushing the state to become 100% carbon-free in the next three decades.

The goal to have all electricity consumed in Wisconsin meet clean energy benchmarks by 2050 is one the first-term governor included in his budget request earlier this spring. The proposal also sought to creates an Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy.

GOP state Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, who chairs the Assembly Energy and Utilities Committee, called the order “irresponsible” in a statement, adding the technology isn’t “available to sustain a power grid 24/7 using intermittent generation.”

“We need to have a reliable energy grid as it is literally the economic engine that keeps moving Wisconsin forward,” the New Berlin Republican said. “To have a goal is one thing, but to mandate it without assurance that the technology will exist is negligent.”

Evers said there wouldn’t be any sanctions for utilities that fail to meet the goals, noting the action is an executive order and “not a mandate.” He said the state would seek to meet the standard by working with utilities and nonprofits to set intermediary benchmarks.

Public Service Commission Chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq acknowledged that utilities’ renewable energy investments could lead to rate increases for customers, something she said the state has to “continue to be deliberate about” as coal power plants are retired.

“Everything that is going to be occurring between now and 2050 will have a customer impact and we are aware of that and we are ready and willing to find all sorts of different solutions,” she said.