Month: February 2020

Wisconsin Among States to Settle with Opioid Pain Pill Maker

The state of Wisconsin is going to get a share of a $1.6 billion settlement with the largest maker of generic opioid pain pills in the U.S.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced the settlement framework on Wednesday.

The company, Mallinckrodt, will pay $1.6 billion into a trust that will be used to help cover the costs of the opioid crisis in individual states.

“Getting accountability from pharmaceutical companies is an important part of our strategy for fighting the opioid epidemic,” Kaul said. “With this agreement, more resources will be available to help combat this crisis.”

The settlement also binds Mallinckrodt to future limits on how it can market and sell its opioid pain pills. 

Wisconsin is one of several states suing the makers of opioid pain pills for the damage those drugs caused.

Last year, Kaul joined a multi-state investigation into opioid distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. Wisconsin also joined the lawsuit against two Purdue Pharma entities, and the company’s Richard Sackler for deceptive and false marketing practices in the sale of opioids.

Governor Evers Vetoes GOP Tax Cut Plan

Democratic Governor Tony Evers vetoed a Republican-backed tax cut bill Wednesday and signaled he could support a compromise that invests in schools and provides broad property tax relief.

Evers also said he’s open to considering an income tax cut or an additional state debt payment.

“Investing in our kids and our schools and reducing property taxes should be something everyone can agree on,” Evers said Wednesday morning at Lincoln Elementary School in Wauwatosa. “We don’t have to choose between investing in our kids and reducing property taxes — we can and should do both.”

Republicans in the state Senate and Assembly passed the $248 million ongoing income tax cut Thursday. The overall bill would have cost the state $392 million in the next budget.

It would have also included about $45 million to offset a new property tax cut for manufacturing businesses and $100 million for a one-time payment on state debt.

Manufacturing Companies Continue to Loosen Requirements for Employment

No high school diploma, no work experience, no problem. That’s what more manufacturing companies in northeast Wisconsin are saying to job seekers according to the state’s Workforce Development Board.

In years past the board says that higher education and experience were often times a requirement to get a foot in the door of many manufacturing companies. But according to employment specialists today at the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board many employers are so hard up filling positions that they’re willing to train candidates with the right attitude and willingness to work.

“The baby boomers are retiring more and more everyday and the high school classes are producing smaller numbers of graduating seniors, which means you have really just a smaller pool of people to work with. Employers are desperate for labor and they’re desperate not just for skilled labor, they’re desperate for any labor,” says Anthony Snyder the Chief Executive Officer of the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board

Governor Appoints Brigadier General Paul Knapp to Lead the Wisconsin National Guard

Governor Tony Evers has selected Brigadier General Paul Knapp as the next Adjutant General of the Wisconsin National Guard. Brigadier General Knapp will serve a 5-year term as the head of the Wisconsin National Guard and the Department of Military Affairs.

Brig. Gen. Knapp has served in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Air Force Reserve since 1992. On active duty, he served as a Special Agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations prior to attending navigator training. He served two operational tours as an F-15E Strike Eagle weapon systems officer and one as an air liaison officer to the U.S. Army in South Korea. He separated from active duty in August 2003 and joined the 95th Airlift Squadron of the 440th Airlift Wing, General Mitchell Air Reserve Station, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, flying the C-130H Hercules. Brig. Gen. Knapp has served as an Instructor, Evaluator, Flight Commander, Squadron Commander, Deputy Operations Group Commander and Vice Wing Commander.

Brig. Gen. Knapp’s appointment fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar in December. Governor Evers called for the resignation after a top-to-bottom review of the Wisconsin National Guard detailed system failures in its handling of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and retaliation allegations.

Brig. Gen. Knapp is a native of Antigo, Wisconsin. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy and a Master of Science degree from the University of Maryland. He resides in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, with his wife, Dr. Renee Knapp and their two children.


Millions Approved to Aid the State Agriculture Industry

Lawmakers approved millions of dollars to aid the struggling agriculture industry, sending some bills to the governor’s desk.

The Assembly passed a pair of bills that would cut taxes for farmers by nearly $30 million a year, the Senate passed the proposals on Wednesday.

The measures now await Gov. Evers’ signature and come after he first called lawmakers to take immediate action to address the farm crisis.

Republicans tweaked some of the governor’s original proposals which called for spending $8.5 million which didn’t include any tax cuts.

The proposal that passed would allow farmers to apply for tax cuts up to $7,500. To be eligible farmers would need to make at least $35,000 a year in farm income.

Another proposal includes spending $5 million to expand exports of agricultural products such as milk, meat, specialty crops, and other products. Tax breaks would also be offered to deduct the cost of health insurance on farmer’s income taxes.

The legislature also approved allowing small dairy farms to apply for a $600,000 grant if they produce no more than 50 million pounds of product a year.

Republican Representative Travis Tranel of Cuba City, who’s a dairy farmer, said he acknowledged the package is expensive but called it necessary to help an industry that’s losing an average of two dairy farms a day.

“Farmers are pretty realistic people but they’re also full of common sense and no matter how many of us stand up here and say we know what you’re going through — the reality is there going through a hard time paying their bills,” said Tranel.

Two other proposals approved by the Assembly require the UW system to study problems facing farmers and examine how current programs are supporting the industry. Another also requires the UW to conduct a research study focused on science and technology in agriculture.

The Senate has yet to vote on these proposals.

WSTA Applauds Senate Passage of Rural Broadband Investment Legislation

Wisconsin’s premier telecommunications industry association applauds last night’s unanimous, bipartisan Senate floor vote in support of Assembly Bill 344 (AB 344). The Senate voted 33-0 in support of legislation to incentivize rural broadband deployment through targeted tax exemptions for investments in rural or underserved communities.

Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Representative Romaine Quinn (R-Cameron) authored AB 344 and the companion bill, Senate Bill 321. The legislation creates property tax exemptions for telephone company property used to provide broadband service to a rural or underserved area. Unlike most Wisconsin property taxes, which are paid to local governments, the telephone company property tax is paid to the state. Because the telephone company property tax is collected by the state, there is no fiscal impact on local governments.

The policy in AB 344 will complement existing state and federal programs focused on broadband deployment. In the 2019-2021 Biennial Budget, the Legislature approved and Governor Evers signed an historic increase in funding for the Broadband Expansion Grant Program.

Water Quality Task Force Legislation Passes Assembly

On Tuesday, thirteen bills recommended by the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality chaired by Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) passed the Assembly with bipartisan support. The task force report detailing the committee’s recommendations was released in January following a total of fourteen hearings held around the state.

“When this task force was formed one year ago, I could not have imagined how rewarding it would be to serve as chairman of this committee,” said Novak. “We heard from over 70 diverse stakeholder groups, traveled over 2,000 miles, and heard over 100 hours of testimony. We brought everyone to the table to ensure we collected information that was both balanced and comprehensive. Clean water is not a Democrat or Republican issue, it is a Wisconsin issue.”

The bills passed include investments in research and data collection, resources for our farmers to engage in conservation, and assistance for those in immediate need. Two bills authored by Rep. Novak create the UW Freshwater Collaborative to aid in developing a freshwater workforce along with additional funding for County Conservation Staff who work to build relationships and implement the state’s many water quality programs.

To assist farmers engage in conservation, the bills passed today include the creation of a Nitrogen Reduction Pilot Program which will award grants to farmers who implement nitrogen reduction strategies on their fields. Legislation passed today also increases funding for producer led groups will allow this successful program to grow.

“I’m so very proud of the work this task force has accomplished,” said Novak. “The issue we are dealing with has been decades in the making and will take time to fix. We have successfully worked across the aisle to craft meaningful legislation and build a foundation for continued work on this important issue.”

Wisconsin Supreme Court Race will Pit Daniel Kelly Against Jill Karofsky

State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly will face Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky in the April election for a 10-year term on Wisconsin’s highest court, voters decided Tuesday.

With more than three-quarters of precincts reporting, Kelly had nearly 50% of the votes, Karofsky had about 38% and Fallone had about 13% of the vote, according to unofficial results.

“I think the results tonight demonstrate that the people of Wisconsin really do want a justice on the court who is just going to apply the law, set aside the personal politics, personal preferences, and just be faithful to the constitutional text, the statutory text,” Kelly said in an interview.

He said he would take the same approach in the general election as he had in the primary. Karofsky said the same.

“I think we’re going to keep this strategy,” she said in an interview. “It was evident tonight that that strategy worked and that focusing on getting the court back on track and focusing on the things that I’m bringing to this race and I’m going to bring to the Supreme Court was a message that resonated with people all around the state of Wisconsin.”

China to Grant Tariff Exemptions on U.S. goods to Support Purchases

China will grant exemptions on retaliatory duties imposed against 696 U.S. goods, the most substantial tariff relief to be offered so far, as Beijing seeks to fulfill commitments made in its interim trade deal with the United States.

China has committed to boosting its purchases of goods and services from the United States by $200 billion over two years as part of the agreement, and has already rolled back some additional tariffs on U.S. imports after the deal was signed.

U.S. goods eligible for tariff exemptions include key agricultural and energy products such as pork, beef, soybeans, liquefied natural gas and crude oil, which were subject to extra tariffs imposed during the escalation of the bilateral trade dispute.

Other products subject to exemption on additional tariffs imposed include denatured ethanol and wheat, corn and sorghum. Some medical devices and metals including copper ore and concentrates, copper scrap and aluminum scrap are also subject to exemption.

White House adviser Larry Kudlow said earlier this month that Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Donald Trump during a recent call that China will still meet its Phase 1 trade deal purchasing targets.

Beijing’s announcement on Tuesday emphasized that Chinese firms will submit applications for tariff exemptions based on market conditions and commercial considerations.

Wisconsin Republicans Tout Tax Cut Plan

Republicans rolled out a plan to cut income taxes by $250 million, implement a $45 million personal property tax cut for businesses and direct $100 million toward paying down debt.

Under the plan, the individual income tax cut, through a change in the standard deduction, would mean the average filer would see a $106 reduction, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. An anticipated 64.1% of taxpayers would see a reduction, should it be enacted, next spring.

The cut would be targeted to those with incomes below $144,669 for married joint filers and $120,360 for single and head-of-household filers. LFB noted the measure would cost around $248 million in the next fiscal year, and $224 million annually going forward.

Meanwhile, the personal property tax exemption would apply to machinery, tools and patterns from businesses, a reduction of $44.7 million a year.

The legislation would leave a balance of $956 million in the state’s rainy day fund.