News of the Day

Wisconsin Appeals Court Restores Laws from Lame-Duck Session

A Wisconsin appeals court on Wednesday reinstated laws Republicans passed during a lame-duck session to weaken the Democratic governor and attorney general, but the statutes remain blocked because of a ruling in a separate case.

Multiple liberal-leaning groups have challenged the laws in separate lawsuits. Last week Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess blocked the statutes, finding lawmakers convened illegally when they passed them.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals essentially wiped out that ruling Wednesday by granting a GOP request for a stay. The court said Niess underestimated Republicans’ chances for success on appeal as well as the harm that blocking potentially valid legislation can cause.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos issued a joint statement Wednesday praising the decision, saying the rule of law has prevailed. Evers issued a statement saying he’s confident the lame-duck laws will ultimately fall.

 

Second Dane County Judge Issues Injunction Against Portions of Lame-Duck Laws

A Dane County judge has temporarily enjoined several sections of laws passed in a December extraordinary session following a challenge brought by a series of unions.

Judge Frank Remington’s issuance of a partial temporary injunction comes as the laws are already on hold following a separate Dane County judge’s ruling in a different lame-duck suit last week.

Today’s ruling also rejects a motion to dismiss the case from the GOP Legislature, as well as its attorney’s request for a stay pending appeal.

Remington in his decision likened the state Constitution to “a keel on a great ship,” saying while it’s not visible, it has a critical function and aims to maintain the balance of each arm of government.

“In December, 2018 the Legislature and then Governor Scott Walker upended the balance that this State has had for most all of its 171 years,” he continued. “The time has come to right this ship-of-state so Wisconsin can resume smooth sailing ahead.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, vowed to appeal the decision.

“It’s encouraging to see the court ruling in our favor on elements of this case,” they said. “However, all of the Legislature’s actions are consistent with the separation of powers that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld for decades.”

But Gov. Tony Evers said the latest ruling makes it “abundantly clear that the lame duck session was nothing more than an illegal power grab intended to override the will of the people.”

“It is time to move beyond this chapter and work together to build a Wisconsin that puts the people first,” he said.

State Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Target “Phone Spoofing” Scam Calls

With the press of a button, scammers are able to change their phone number from 10 random digits to a number with a familiar area code. Wisconsin state lawmakers have introduced new legislation to combat this activity, but technology may be advancing faster than the law.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, spam, scam and robocalls are the number one consumer complaint in Wisconsin.

All a scammer needs is an smartphone app like SpoofCard and the number they want to pop up when someone answers. That’s how simple it would be to make it look like WPS is calling to disconnect service if they don’t receive payment immediately. Several people around the Northwoods have been fooled by that exact scheme.

 

Wisconsin lawmakers are hoping to curb spoofing with Senate Bill 132. The bill proposes fining people up to $10,000 for misrepresenting their caller ID. But with many spam calls coming from outside the country, even nationwide legislation may not be enough.

Governor Evers Rescinds 82 Walker Appointees Approved in Lame-Duck Session

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Friday rescinded 82 of former Gov. Scott Walker’s appointees who were approved in the controversial December 2018 lame-duck session, after a judge ruled on Thursday that the actions taken during the session were unconstitutional.

“These seats are now considered vacant, but we are committed to working as quickly as possible to fill them and minimize the disruption to the important work done by these boards, committees and councils,” said Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff in an email.

The list included Scott Beightol and Torrey Tiedeman, who were appointed to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents; Ellen Nowak, who was appointed to the Public Service Commission; and Cate Zeuske, who was appointed to the Wisconsin Historical Society Board of Curators.

“We absolutely believe that these nominees were nominated and confirmed legally and will continue to serve in those positions once the constitutionality of the extraordinary session is upheld,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, in a statement responding to Evers’ withdrawal of the appointees. ”

Dane County Judge Blocks GOP Lame-Duck Laws

Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess on Thursday issued a temporary injunction to block the lame-duck laws after he found the Republican-controlled Legislature did not lawfully meet to pass them.

The League of Women Voters, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities and three Wisconsin voters in January in their lawsuit alleged Republicans had convened an illegal legislative session and the laws should be voided.

Niess in his ruling sided with those groups and barred anyone from enforcing the laws that were passed during a 24-hour floor period in December by Republican lawmakers over the objection of Democratic lawmakers, Evers and Kaul.

“The bottom line in this case is that the Legislature did not lawfully meet during its December 2018 ‘Extraordinary Session,’ ” therefore violating the state Constitution, Niess wrote.

Minutes after the judge issued his ruling, Republican legislative leaders who wrote the laws promised to appeal it.

“Today’s ruling only creates chaos and will surely raise questions about items passed during previous extraordinary sessions, including stronger laws against child sexual predators and drunk drivers,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester said in a statement.

New Fed Forecast for 2019: Slower Growth and Zero Rate Hikes

The Federal Reserve sent a stark message Wednesday: The economy is slowing. And it won’t be raising interest rates anytime soon.

The central bank said it was keeping its benchmark rate — which can influence everything from mortgages to credit cards to home equity lines of credit — in a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. It also announced that by September, it will no longer reduce its bond portfolio, a change intended to help keep long-term loan rates down.

Combined, the moves signal no major increases in borrowing rates for consumers and businesses. And together with the Fed’s dimmer forecast for growth this year — 2.1 percent, down from a previous projection of 2.3 percent — the statement it issued after its latest policy meeting suggests it’s grown more concerned about the economy. What’s more, with inflation remaining mild, the Fed feels no pressure to tighten credit.

The Fed’s new embrace of patience and flexibility reflects its response since the start of the year to slow growth at home and abroad, a nervous stock market and persistently mild inflation. The Fed executed an abrupt pivot when it met in January by signaling that it no longer expected to raise rates anytime soon.

The shift toward a more hands-off Fed and away from a policy of steadily tightening credit suggests that the policymakers recognize that they went too far after they met in December. At that meeting, the Fed approved a fourth rate hike for 2018 and projected two additional rate increases in 2019. Powell also said he thought the balance sheet reduction would be on “automatic pilot.”

Dairy Task Force 2.0 Approves 49 Additional Recommendations

In an effort to alleviate the financial and emotional stress experienced by our state’s dairy
farmers, the 31 members of the Dairy Task Force 2.0 approved 49 recommendations at their Friday,  March 15th meeting in Sheboygan.

“Every member of this task force understands the importance of our state’s dairy community and the challenges our farmers are facing,” said DATCP Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff. “This group rolled up its sleeves, thought long and hard, and provided a number of important recommendations on what can be done to maintain and grow our state’s world-class dairy industry.”

The Dairy Task Force 2.0 considered how farmers could ensure they are as competitive as they can be in the marketplace. Members recommended all milk producers and buyers to have a current contract/member agreement with the organization marketing the farm’s milk. The group also recommended requiring official animal identification to help prevent or respond to animal disease threats.

Members emphasized the importance of the dairy industry connecting with consumers by sharing a consistent, accurate, and relatable message. The Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommended additional agricultural impact studies, support for agritourism, and need for additional educational programming for non-farm audiences. One recommendation also focused on the need for truth in food labeling for consumers in the marketplace.

The Dairy Task Force 2.0 stressed the need for increased connections across the industry.
Recommendations detailed the need for better collaboration and sharing ideas across the UW System and private industry and the need for more public and private partnerships such as the Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant Program. The group also noted the need for increased investments in rural infrastructure, including transportation and broadband.

A theme across several recommendations was the need to expand our markets, locally, regionally, and around the world. The group identified the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research as a partner to gain consumer preference and insights, offer technical assistance for product development, and support export growth. The Dairy Task Force 2.0 also noted the need to reduce logistical obstacles, such as load consolidation.

The Dairy Task Force 2.0 will schedule its next meeting in the coming weeks. A final report, including all 51 recommendations, is expected to be completed this summer. For more information, visit www.dairytaskforce.wi.gov.

 

Foxconn says Work on LCD plant will Begin this Summer

Foxconn Technology Group said Monday it will begin construction of its Gen 6 LCD fabrication facility this summer with the goal of beginning production by the fourth quarter of 2020.  The plant will make LCD screens for products in the education, medical, entertainment, security and smart city markets.

The company has told local officials it anticipates hiring 1,500 employees for the initial phase of operations at the facility, Racine County executive Jonathan Delagrave said. The company has also repeatedly said its committed to eventually creating 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin.

The plant will make LCD screens for products in the education, medical, entertainment, security and smart city markets. When Foxconn originally announced plans for a manufacturing campus in Wisconsin it planned to build a Gen 10.5 facility aimed at making the largest screens in the world. The company changed plans to a Gen 6 plant in 2018 because it offered additional flexibility.

The company said it would announce the winners of bid packages for site utilities, roadways and related storm drainage by April 1. Bid packages for the Gen 6 fabrication facility and ancillary buildings will be announced in May, Foxconn said.

The company and its general contractor, M+WǀGilbane, also plan to hold information sessions for potential subcontractors on April 3 and April 10. Additional details for those sessions have not been announced.

 

Madison Weighs Pricey Plan for 100% Renewable Energy

Madison is poised to take a next big step to address climate change with an initiative that would require $95 million in up-front investments but promises to dramatically reduce emissions and deliver substantial savings over time.

After two years of study, the City Council on Tuesday will consider recommendations from a consultant and the city’s Sustainable Madison Committee on how to achieve 100 percent renewable energy and zero net carbon emissions by 2030 through an array of actions including energy-efficient buildings, solar power and electric buses.

To get to 100 percent renewable energy, all city government energy needs must be met through generation of power from solar panels on city facilities or from clean energy elsewhere by investing in large solar or wind farms. Zero net carbon means slashing the city’s 95,000 tons of annual emissions.

The proposed plan would require a $95 million investment over 12 years and deliver $78 million in cost savings and health and societal benefits of $21 million to $162 million by 2030, according to a report by Navigant Consulting of Chicago. It would reduce total carbon emissions by 426,000 tons by 2030, the report says.

The estimated $95 million in additional investments include:

  • $60 million to move from diesel to 232 electric buses, and changes to the vehicle fleet.
  • $16 million for solar installations in the area, plus $5 million for solar installations elsewhere.
  • $6 million for building efficiencies, largely through changing to LED lighting.
  • $5 million for more efficient LED streetlights.
  • $1.5 million to make water pumping more efficient.
  • $1.5 million to implement the program and other costs.

Miller Park Tax Projected to End in March 2020

Miller Park tax district officials are hedging that the 0.1 percent sales tax won’t go into extra innings and expect to end the controversial revenue source in March 2020.

Every year for more than two decades, the board members of the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District have been receiving updates on where the district is in the process of retiring the tax. On Tuesday, the district board met to map out what is hoped to be the final year of the tax, which funded construction of Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. The stadium opened in 2001.

David Anderson, director of PFM Financial Advisors, said assuming no dramatic decline in sales tax receipts, the district will have accumulated sufficient funds in late 2019 or early 2020 to begin the sales tax retirement process.

“This is finally the time to be saying ‘Yes, it’s closing down,’” Anderson said. “As we’ve gotten closer and closer (to the end), the number of variables have just been reduced or eliminated. Right now the only variable that could impact anything is the collection of sales tax.”

Don Smiley, chairman of the district board, said that after March 2020 the district will have placed enough funds in escrow accounts to meet its future contractual obligations.

“Baring severe unforeseen circumstances, all indications are that the district will be in a position to certify the end the 0.1 percent Miller Park sales tax at its meeting of March of 2020,” said Smiley, a Racine native who also is president and chief executive officer of Summerfest and a former president of the Florida Marlins, a Brewers rival in the National League.