Month: November 2020

Wisconsin Tourism Secretary Resigning to Take Private Sector Job

Wisconsin’s tourism secretary is planning to resign. Gov. Tony Evers’ office announced Wednesday that Sara Meaney will leave her position next month to take a job outside of state government.

Department of Tourism Deputy Secretary Anne Sayers will serve as interim department secretary following Meaney’s departure.

Evers appointed Meaney in December 2018, weeks after he won election. But the state Senate never confirmed her.

WILL Asks Court to Block Dane County Order on Private Gatherings

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed the lawsuit on behalf of Dane County residents who say the order will harm their families, negatively affect their mental health and hurt some businesses’ bottom lines.

The order being challenged is the most aggressive issued yet by Janel Heinrich, the health officer for Public Health Madison and Dane County. It comes as the county and the state are struggling with a COVID-19 surge that has severely strained hospitals, some of which are running out of beds and staff.

But WILL argues Henrich’s order is too broad to be issued without a vote by elected members of the Madison Common Council or the Dane County Board, and too intrusive to be allowed by the Wisconsin Constitution.

“Under Dane County’s order, people can gather with their coworkers at work, but cannot visit their close relatives in their private homes,” reads WILL’s legal brief. “Such an order is patently unreasonable and unlawful.”

While it’s unclear how quickly the court might respond to the petition, WILL’s brief asks for an immediate ruling to block the order, partly because it will prevent people from legally observing Thanksgiving with family members who don’t live in their homes.

That ban, WILL argues, unfairly punishes some people and some businesses while not affecting others.

“The Dane County Health Department cannot reasonably allow people to shop on Black Friday, while prohibiting them from seeing their loved ones, in their own homes, on Thursday,” reads the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs in the case include Jeffrey Becker, a Verona resident and father of four kids who said the order will lead to feelings of isolation in his children and harm their mental health. They also include Andrea Klein of Stoughton who said she had planned to host a small Thanksgiving with her parents, uncle and brother, all of whom live near her in Dane County.

The other plaintiff is Jason Orkowski, who owns a Fitchburg gymnastics center called Gymfinity. Orkowski said Dane County’s order will cost his business $40,000.

Wisconsin Housing Market Continues Robust Pace in October

Fueled by record-low mortgage rates, Wisconsin’s existing home market saw another sharp increase in sales and prices in October, according to the most recent monthly analysis conducted by the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA).

For the seventh straight month, mortgage rates fell into record-low territory, with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropping to 2.83% in October. As a result, existing home sales increased 24.9% in October 2020 compared to October 2019, and the median price increased 16.3% to $227,324 over that same 12-month period.

On a year-to-date basis, home sales are up 4.5% relative to the sales in the first 10 months of 2019, and the median price rose to $220,000, which is an increase of 11.1% compared to the January-through-October period of 2019.

Home sales increased by double-digit margins in all regions, with closed sales up between 13.6% and 17.3% in the Central, Northeast and West regions. More robust sales growth was seen in the Southeast region, up 25.2%; the South Central region, up 35.2%; and the North, up 42.1%.


Wisconsin Unemployment Rate Increases to 5.7% in October

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate rose to 5.7% in October from 5.4% in September as the coronavirus continues to rage across the state, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development reported Thursday.

The state rate is below the national unemployment rate for October of 6.9%.

Wisconsin lost 2,700 private-sector jobs in October and is down 176,900 for the year. The October job losses were largely driven by decreases in the leisure and hospitality industry and government sector, the state reported.

Wisconsin DMV Launches Program to Help Companies Manage their Fleet

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) launches eMV Fleet Registration System. The new program features an online renewal for businesses renewing their registration for each vehicle in their fleet.

Businesses and organizations with multiple vehicle types, including fleet cars, heavy trucks, trailers and vehicles registered at 54,000 lbs and under, can use DMV’s new online renewal program to manage their fleet’s license plates. They can view their entire fleet on a customizable dashboard, select vehicles scheduled for renewal, renew and pay online.

“Our new eMV Fleet Registration System is the newest service developed to partner with businesses and enhance operations. What normally could take hours of company staff time can be done in minutes. The new system streamlines the process for managing all the tasks related to renewing company license plates,” DMV Administrator Kristina Boardman said. “This online renewal option is ideal for businesses with multiple vehicles.”

DMV’s eMV Fleet Registration System ( is a free program that lets companies easily manage these tasks:

  • Process registration renewals
  • Order replacement plates when renewing a vehicle
  • Receive renewal notification by email
  • Receive and print the vehicle’s Certificate of Registration instantly via a PDF
  • Maintain their own stock of stickers
  • Update their vehicle kept in information
  • Renew a vehicle for multiple quarters or months

The only fees collected as part of the eMV Fleet Registration System are the registration (and/or replacement plate) fees associated with the renewal of license plates. Payments are made online. The online ACH (Automated Clearing House) account withdraws required fees when authorized at the end of the business day with no additional service fee. Renewing through other methods, such as individually online or by mail, remain an option.

Governor Evers Unveils COVID Response Legislation

Gov. Tony Evers released a multi-faceted proposal to tackle the surging pandemic Tuesday.

The bill put forward by Evers would prohibit evictions and foreclosures through 2021; continue the suspension of a one-week waiting period before people can collect unemployment; allow workers, including in healthcare, to claim worker’s compensation benefits related to COVID-19 if they contract the illness at work; and waive student tests and school report card requirements for the current year.

Other parts of the bill Evers made public Tuesday require insurers to cover telehealth services that would be covered if in person and ensure that health plans provide coverage for COVID-19 testing, diagnosis, treatment, prescriptions and vaccines.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he thought Republicans could find agreement with Evers on some ideas, but repeatedly declined to “negotiate in public.” He raised concerns about relying on state funding rather than federal money, and said Republicans want to prioritize areas such as increasing contact tracers, providing more resources for health care providers and additional assistance for businesses.

Wisconsin Voters Approve $946 Million in Referenda on Election Day

Despite shutdowns, virtual classes, and decreasing public school enrollment, voters throughout Wisconsin approved nearly $1 billion in new school spending on November 3.

Local voters from 41 school districts considered 51 school referenda on Election Day and approved 43 of them, an 84.3% success rate. The 43 successful referenda will spend $945.9 million.

The majority of the new spending approved by voters will go to construction projects, with $705 million in new debt for local property owners. Twenty-one of these referenda were proposed and 18 passed, an 85.7% success rate.

Voters considered 20 proposals for non-recurring, or one-time, school spending increases. A non-recurring referendum allows districts to exceed their current spending for a set number of years before returning to original levels after the measure expires. Sixteen of these non-recurring referenda were passed, a success rate of 80%, for a total of $12.47 million.

School districts operate under state-imposed revenue limits that are meant to protect taxpayers from continually-increasing property taxes. However, school districts may ask voters, through referenda proposals, to raise taxes either by issuing debt, or approving continual or one-time spending increases outside of regular limits. New debts and one-time spending increase property taxes for a specific period of time. Recurring spending increases raise the school revenue limits indefinitely and, therefore, also raise local property taxes indefinitely.

Voters considered ten referenda this November for $44.3 million in recurring spending increases. Voters approved nine of these increases, a success rate of 90%, worth a recurring $41.3 million that will roll over year after year.

Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Shines in Clinical Trial

A second COVID-19 vaccine now also appears highly effective in preventing illness following exposure to the virus that causes the disease.

The biotech company Moderna, Inc., said Monday that its experimental vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing disease, according to an analysis of its clinical trial.

There were 95 instances of COVID-19 illness among the study participants — only five of those cases were in the vaccinated group. Ninety were in the group receiving the placebo. Of these, there were 11 cases of severe disease. The results indicate the vaccine was inducing the kind of immune response that protects people if they were exposed to the coronavirus.

“This positive interim analysis from our Phase 3 study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent COVID-19 disease, including severe disease,” said Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, in a statement.

Moderna said it intends to file “in the coming weeks” with the FDA for authorization of the company’s vaccine for emergency use.

The federal Operation Warp Speed project to hasten development of COVID-19 vaccines awarded Moderna a $1.5 billion contract in August to ramp up manufacturing and deliver 100 million vaccine doses, enough for 50 million people. The government has an option to buy up to 400 million more doses.

Moderna said Monday that it expects to be able to ship about 20 million vaccine doses in the U.S. by the end of 2020. Next year, the company said it expects to be able to make 500 million to 1 billion doses worldwide.

U.S. Consumer Sentiment Unexpectedly Declines

U.S. consumer sentiment unexpectedly declined in early November as an increase in COVID-19 infections and the election prompted Americans to reassess their outlooks for the economy and finances.

The University of Michigan’s preliminary sentiment index for November decreased to a three-month low of 77 from a final October reading of 81.8, data released Nov. 13 showed. The median estimate in Bloomberg’s survey of economists called for a reading of 82.

The measure of expectations dropped by nearly 8 points to 71.3, while a gauge of current conditions was little changed at 85.8. Interviews conducted following the election recorded a substantial negative shift in Republicans’ expectations and no gain among Democrats. The survey began Oct. 28 and concluded late Nov. 10.