Month: July 2021

President Biden to Allow Nationwide Residential Eviction Moratorium to Expire Saturday

The Biden administration announced Thursday it will allow a nationwide ban on evictions to expire Saturday, arguing that its hands are tied after the Supreme Court signaled the moratorium would only be extended until the end of the month.

The White House said President Joe Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium due to spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. Instead, Biden called on “Congress to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay.”

“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” the White House said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”

The court mustered a bare 5-4 majority last month, to allow the eviction ban to continue through the end of July. One of those in the majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, made clear he would block any additional extensions unless there was “clear and specific congressional authorization.”

Wisconsin Assembly Fails Again to Block Additional Federal Unemployment Aid

The Wisconsin Assembly voted again Tuesday on a bill that would eliminate extra federal money for unemployment benefit recipients in Wisconsin, but Republican support for the measure wasn’t enough to override a veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

The GOP attempt to override Evers’ veto fell short of the two-thirds vote threshold necessary to do so. It passed on a vote of 59-37, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats against.

The bill, which was first approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature last month, would have barred Wisconsin from participating in the federal program that provides $300 a week in additional unemployment aid to benefit recipients. More than two dozen states have passed similar measures already this year. The bill would have also blocked the state Department of Workforce Development from waiving work search requirements for unemployment benefits because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During debate, Republicans argued the extra money makes it too easy to stay unemployed, and pointed to businesses across the state that are struggling to hire workers.

“Government is doing something right now that works against these businesses, works against our economy,” said Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam.

According to the state Department of Workforce Development, the maximum state weekly unemployment payment is $370 a week, depending on the worker’s prior income. Combined with the $300 in additional federal benefits, that would amount to $16.75 an hour for a 40-hour work week.

Democrats pushed back on Republicans’ arguments, arguing that eliminating the extra federal money wouldn’t be enough to solve Wisconsin’s worker shortage. They said there are other barriers to going back to work, such as child care shortages that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, continued concerns about contracting COVID-19 and inadequate public transportation. Some workers have also struggled to find jobs that align with their skills and abilities.

The federal benefits are scheduled to end in September, regardless of individual states’ actions.

Governor Evers Calls Special Session on Increasing School Spending

Governor Tony Evers is calling the state Legislature into a special session Tuesday to consider a plan that would increase state spending on education by $550 million over the next two years.

The governor announced the special session call Monday afternoon. He’s calling on lawmakers to use money he freed up with partial vetoes of the state budget to increase per-pupil aid for K-12 schools by $240 million, special education funding by $200 million and higher education spending by $110 million. Evers made $550 million immediately available to spend on state programs by vetoing a transfer of funds into the state’s so-called “rainy day fund” in the budget.

Republican co-chairs of the Legislature’s state budget committee were critical of the governor’s special session call on Monday afternoon, calling it “political posturing.”

“The Legislature’s budget, which (Evers) signed, accounted for the massive Federal funds for schools, made significant investments in our student’s education and respected taxpayers,” said Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, in a prepared statement. “It was a good budget and we continue to stand by our decisions.”

The state Assembly was already expected to be in session Tuesday. GOP leaders there are expected to convene an extraordinary session to attempt to override Evers’ veto of a bill that would have eliminated extra federal benefits for unemployment recipients in the state. The override is not expected to succeed, because Republicans do not have a two-thirds majority in the Assembly and no Democrats are expected to vote in favor of the override.

Insurance Commissioner Approves Worker’s Compensation Rate Decrease

Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Mark Afable has approved an overall 5.44 percent decrease in worker’s compensation insurance rates, effective October 1, 2021. This is the sixth straight year of rate decreases in Wisconsin.

“This is great news for Wisconsin’s employers and workers,” said Commissioner Afable. “As our state recovers from the pandemic, this will help provide additional relief to our businesses who could save more than $90 million1 thanks to this decreased rate.”

Worker’s compensation insurance rates are adjusted annually by a committee of actuaries from the Wisconsin Compensation Rating Bureau (WCRB). The Commissioner of Insurance has final approval over rate changes that are recommended by the WCRB.

The five major industry groups for worker’s compensation insurance in Wisconsin will all benefit from a rate decrease. Contracting will have a 5.35 percent decrease; Office and Clerical will have a 4.21 percent decrease; Goods and Services will have a 6.39 percent decrease; Manufacturing will have a 5.53 percent decrease; and the Miscellaneous industry group will have a 4.12 percent decrease. Specific rates for classification codes may increase or decrease.

Questions about rate development can be directed to the WCRB at (262) 796-4540 or online at

Wisconsin Home Sales Keep Rising

Wisconsin’s housing sales are outpacing last year’s numbers even as the state has seen a sharp decline in the number of available homes.

The latest figures from the Wisconsin Realtors Association show 38,531 sales of existing homes in the first six months of the year. That’s an 8.4 percent increase over the 2020 sales numbers to that point, though sales plunged for part of last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, sales last month were even with June 2020, even though the total number of listings fell 19.3 percent from 2020 to 2021. The decline in homes on the market has constrained home sales for the last few years.

Economist David Clark of Marquette University, who releases the monthly reports in conjunction with the Wisconsin Realtors Association, said one bright spot on the supply side was an uptick in new listings last month.

“If, in fact, there’s an improvement on the supply side, then I think that we may inch a little bit (in sales) above where we were last year,” he said.

High demand and a shrinking number of homes for sale continues to push prices upward.

The median home price in Wisconsin rose 15.2 percent in June, to $257,000, compared to June of last year.

Clark said those higher prices are partly offset because of continued low mortgage rates and Wisconsin prices running historically lower than those in other parts of the country.

Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes Announces U.S. Senate Campaign

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is running for U.S. Senate.  He joins a growing field of Democrats running for the seat currently held by Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Johnson hasn’t announced yet whether he will seek reelection in 2022.

The lieutenant governor was elected to his current office in 2018, alongside Gov. Tony Evers. He was the first Black lieutenant governor in Wisconsin and the second Black person elected to statewide office. Prior to serving as lieutenant governor, Barnes was a state Assembly lawmaker from 2013-2017. He made a failed bid for state Senate in 2016.

During his time in the lieutenant governor’s office, Barnes has focused on issues including climate change and racial disparities. Under the state constitution, the lieutenant governor’s office has few official responsibilities, except stepping in for the governor in the case of his or her death, resignation, removal or debilitating illness.

Gov. Evers issued a supportive statement of Barnes’ candidacy on Tuesday morning, but stopped short of endorsing him.rting Wisconsin Democrats’ choice to take on Ron Johnson in 2022.”

Barnes’ candidacy for U.S. Senate means he cannot be on the ballot for lieutenant governor in 2022. His departure from that election is expected to spur several Democratic lieutenant governor campaign announcements in the coming months. Evers announced his reelection campaign earlier this summer. In Wisconsin, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run independently, not as a pair or “ticket.”

Canada to Ease Border Rules August 9 for Fully-Vaccinated Americans

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will loosen border restrictions Aug. 9 for fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents looking to visit Canada for nonessential travel. Canada announced the step Monday as it also laid out plans to welcome fully vaccinated travelers from other countries starting September 7.

“As we made decisions around reopening to the world in early September, and to American travelers, a few weeks before that, we kept the American government fully apprised,” Trudeau said at an event later in the day in suburban Toronto. “We will continue to work with them, but understand and respect that every country makes its own decisions about what it does at its borders.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked later Monday about Canada’s border reopening plan.

“We are continuing to review our travel restrictions,” Psaki told reporters in Washington. “Any decisions about reopening travel will be guided by our public health and medical experts. We take this incredibly seriously. We look and are guided by our own medical experts. I wouldn’t look at it through a reciprocal intention.”

Walmart Loses Lawsuit Brought by Worker with Down Syndrome

Walmart Inc. lost a federal lawsuit in Wisconsin when a jury sided with a sales associate who has Down Syndrome and alleged that schedule changes exacerbated attendance problems that led to her firing.

The jury in federal court in Green Bay awarded Marlo Spaeth more than $125 million in punitive damages on Thursday, but a Walmart spokesman said Friday that under federal law, that will be reduced to the maximum allowed, which is $300,000. The jury also awarded Spaeth $150,000 in compensatory damages, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Friday in announcing the ruling. The EEOC brought the case against Walmart.

“The substantial jury verdict in this case sends a strong message to employers that disability discrimination is unacceptable in our nation’s workplaces,” EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows said in a statement.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the retail giant was reviewing its legal options. He said Walmart does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and routinely accommodates thousands of employees every year.


Governor Evers Signs Law to Enhance Insurance Cybersecurity Measures

Yesterday, Governor Tony Evers signed Act 73 into law creating new cybersecurity requirements for protecting data collected by the insurance industry.

“From ransomware to data breaches, insurers and consumers are at an increasing risk of experiencing a serious cybersecurity incident,” said Insurance Commissioner Mark Afable. “The new consumer protections in this Act will help protect personal data and keep Wisconsin insurance companies secure.”

Act 73 was derived from model legislation developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) incorporating input from all participating state insurance commissioners, industry stakeholders, and consumer representatives. Wisconsin’s Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) worked under the administrations of both Governor Evers and former Governor Walker to develop a version of this model law that would best serve Wisconsinites.

With some exceptions, this law will require anybody licensed with OCI to develop an information security program that protects its systems and data. Within one year, they must also conduct a risk assessment and address any areas that put their consumer’s data or their IT systems at risk. The law also requires insurers to develop an incident response plan and provide notice in a timely manner to consumers affected by a data breach.

“As we become even more dependent on technology, Wisconsin insurers are committed to protecting our customer’s personal information,” said Connie O’Connell, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Life Insurers. “Our agents and companies recognize the serious threat of potential cyberattacks and strongly support adopting these critical protections.”​​

Governor Evers Directs $130 Million in Federal Funding Toward Workforce Development

Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday announced that $130 million in federal coronavirus relief funds will be used to help address the state’s worker shortage problem and assist unemployed people searching for a job.

The bulk of the money, $100 million, will go toward a workforce innovation program for the development of solutions to workforce challenges the state faced after the COVID-19 pandemic, Evers said.

Another $20 million will go to a worker advancement initiative that will offer about 2,000 unemployed people subsidized employment and skills training opportunities with local employers. And $10 million would go to a program that provides workforce career coaches to help people find jobs.

“These programs will allow us to invest in regional solutions, help businesses find workers, and provide support to our friends and neighbors who are getting back on their feet,” Evers said in a statement.

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate in May was 3.9%, down from the high of 14.1% in April 2020 as the pandemic forced closures of businesses across the state. In March 2020 the state unemployment rate was 3.1%.

Republicans have criticized Evers for not doing more to address worker shortages, including his vetoing of a bill that would have ended a federal $300 unemployment supplementary payment.