News of the Day

Supreme Court to Hear Challenges to Vaccine Mandates in Early January

The Supreme Court will hear legal challenges to the Biden administration’s employer vaccine mandates next month, the justices announced Wednesday night, setting a rapid schedule for the cases.

In a pair of orders issued Wednesday, the court said it would hear oral arguments on January 7 over President Biden‘s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers and a regulation from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requiring vaccines for health care workers.

In scheduling the accelerated timeline for the cases, the Supreme Court deferred ruling on whether to block the new rules until after hearing the challenges.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a rule last month requiring companies with more than 100 employees to mandate that their workers either receive a COVID-19 vaccine or undergo regular testing and take other measures to combat the spread of the virus.

The CMS rule requires virtually every health care worker in the country to be vaccinated.

Each of the new regulations has prompted an array of challenges, which will be consolidated during oral arguments next month.


COVID Relief Fraud Nears $100 Billion, Secret Service Says

The release of COVID-19 federal relief funds has unleashed a wave of individuals and criminal networks responsible for what the Secret Service says is nearly $100 billion in stolen benefits.

The Secret Service has tapped Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAIC) Roy Dotson to lead the pandemic fraud recovery effort. In this role, Dotson is coordinating with financial institutions and money services businesses, U.S. attorney offices, and other federal agencies.

According to Dotson, who is based in the Jacksonville field office, the Secret Service has more than 900 active criminal investigations into pandemic-related relief fraud.

The Secret Service has established a Cyber Fraud Task Force (CFTF), partnering with federal and state, local, tribal, and territorial partners, as well as foreign law enforcement, academic, and private sector partners.

Part of these efforts will also include spearheading cryptocurrency investigations centering on unsuspecting money mules who have moved stolen funds from one account to another – a trend that also picked up during the pandemic, according to Dotson.

As of December 2021, the Secret Service says it has recovered more than $1.2 billion and returned more than $2.3 billion of fraudulently obtained funds through automated clearing house reversals. Amid these investigations, approximately 100 people have been arrested on loan fraud charges.

DHS Issues Public Health Advisory about the Omicron Variant

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued a public health advisory calling on all Wisconsinites to take urgent action to prevent additional hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19. The highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Wisconsin and is anticipated to cause a rapid increase in disease activity in the coming weeks.

“I urge every Wisconsinite to take immediate action and get the COVID-19 vaccine and your booster dose if you haven’t received it already—this is critically important for mitigating surges in hospitalizations and deaths across our state,” said Governor Tony Evers. “Please get the vaccine, continue following public health best practices, and do your part to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant.”

To slow the spread of the Omicron variant, DHS is urging all Wisconsinites to take the following actions immediately:

  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19, including a booster dose as soon as you are eligible.
  • Wear a well-fitting mask in indoor spaces when others are present who do not live with you.
  • Celebrate safely over the holidays by keeping gatherings small, getting tested before visiting others, and staying home if you have any symptoms.


OSHA COVID-19 Vaccine-or-Test Mandate Revived, Supreme Court Showdown Looms

A U.S. appeals court on Friday reinstated a nationwide vaccine-or-testing COVID-19 mandate for large businesses, which covers 80 million American workers, prompting opponents to rush to the Supreme Court to ask it to intervene.

The ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati lifted a November injunction that had blocked the rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which applies to businesses with at least 100 workers.

Within hours of the ruling, at least three petitions were filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to immediately block the mandate.

A group of business groups representing retail, wholesale, warehousing, transportation, travel and logistics filed one of the first petitions with the high court, raising among other issues the potential for workers to quit rather than take the shot.

“The resulting labor upheaval will devastate already fragile supply chains and labor markets at the peak holiday season,” said the petition.

DNR Seeking Public Input on Proposed Enbridge Pipeline Relocation

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is seeking public review and comment on a draft environmental impact statement for a proposed pipeline relocation project in Ashland, Bayfield and Iron counties.

Enbridge has applied for waterway and wetland crossing permits and a construction site erosion control permit from the DNR to relocate its Line 5 pipeline. The purpose of the environmental impact statement is to inform decision makers and the public about the proposed project, alternatives and the associated environmental and socio-economic impacts.

Members of the public also have the opportunity to submit written comments on the draft environmental impact statement through March 4, 2022.

Enbridge proposes constructing approximately 41 miles of a new 30-inch-diameter crude oil pipeline to relocate its existing Line 5 pipeline outside of tribal lands of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The company would also abandon approximately 20 miles of the existing 30-inch-diameter Line 5 Pipeline, including the section that currently crosses the Bad River Reservation.

The public is encouraged to submit comments regarding the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Enbridge pipeline relocation project. All electronic and hardcopy comments must be submitted or postmarked no later than Friday, March 4, 2022. Please submit comments to:

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Line 5 EIS Comments (EA/7)
101 South Webster St.
Madison, WI 53707

The DNR will consider all public comments received and will prepare a final environmental impact statement prior to making any permit decisions.

New Study Finds Wisconsin’s 10-Year Population Growth at Record Low

A new report from Forward Analytics shows that the state of Wisconsin will face challenges in the coming years due to stagnating population growth during the last decade. According to the report, “Slowing Down: Wisconsin’s Waning Population Growth,” the state’s population increased 3.6%, the slowest 10-year growth rate on record. This trend is being driven by a declining youth population. Over the decade, Wisconsin’s under-18 population fell 4.3%, more than double the 2.1% decline during 2000-2010.

The decline in the youth population was largely driven by falling birth rates. During 2010-2020, the number of births dropped in every year but one, resulting in about 44,000 fewer babies born than during 2000-2010. With deaths rising due to aging baby boomers, the state’s natural population growth (births minus deaths) was 153,000 compared to 243,000 during 2000-2010.

According to Forward Analytics Director Dale Knapp, “Fewer young people in the state affects Wisconsin’s future labor force. With this recent decline, the state may not have enough young people to replace retiring baby boomers and GenXers over the next two decades.”

With the exception of Milwaukee County, urban counties continued to grow. However, many rural counties saw populations fall due largely to the lack of growth in the youth population. From 2000-2010, 18 rural counties had more deaths than births, a phenomenon that was rare in previous
decades. In each of those rural counties, natural population loss continued during 2010-2020 with 11 additional counties joining them, bringing the total to 29 rural counties with natural population loss.

Without natural growth, the only way to increase or even maintain the state’s population and workforce is through migration. Unfortunately, that is trending in an unfavorable direction as well. With the state’s population growth at an all-time low, the state will need to attract significantly more
people over the next 10 years or risk a critically shrinking workforce and declining tax base.

Retail Sales Growth Slowed in November

Retail sales rose slower than economists had expected in November following three straight months of sharp increases, according to data released Wednesday by the Census Bureau.

U.S. retailers and restaurants made $639.8 billion in sales last month, up just 0.3 percent from October and well below the 0.8 percent increase projected by analysts. October’s retail sales gain was revised up to 1.8 percent, a 0.1 percentage point increase from the initially reported figure.

Sales at department stores sank 5.4 percent last month and purchases at electronics stores fell by 4.6 percent, the Census Bureau reported. Sales by online retailers were flat, though sporting goods, hobby, music and book stores saw sales rise by 1.3 percent.

While a retail sales slowdown during the holiday shopping season would typically be cause for alarm, November’s tepid growth followed three straight months of expectations-beating increases.

Retailers and supply chain experts urged consumers to buy their holiday gifts early to ensure they could check off their lists before Christmas. Those warnings may have pulled sales that would have occurred in November  forward into October or September.


Federal Reserve Bank Expected to Speed up End of Bond Buying and Signal Interest Rate Hikes are Coming

In the coming week, the Federal Reserve could decide to speed up the end of its bond-buying program and signal that it expects to start hiking interest rates in 2022.

In testimony before a Senate panel on Nov. 30, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell tipped the warning that the central bank would discuss speeding the taper of its $120 billion monthly bond purchases at the December meetings. His comments followed a parade of Fed speakers, who all suggested the central bank could end the program sooner than the current timeline of June 2022.

In November, the Fed announced it would wind down its $120 billion in monthly bond purchases at a pace of $15 billion a month.  The bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing, was put in place in early 2020 to help the economy and financial markets combat the impact of the pandemic. The Fed also had quickly slashed its fed funds target rate to zero.

In its last forecast, the Fed’s so-called dot-plot chart of inflation forecasts shows that half the Fed officials expected one or two rate hikes next year, but there was no consensus for a hike. The first hikes were in 2023. That is likely to change in the updated forecast, with possibly two hikes penciled in for next year.

Powell also acknowledged during his recent testimony that inflation could be more of a problem than the central bank thought, and that it was time to retire the description of inflation as “transitory,” or temporary. Indeed, the consumer price index for November surged to its fastest rate in nearly 40 years.

President Biden to Sign Executive Order to Streamline Government Services to Public

President Biden is signing an executive order on Monday intended to cut back on the bureaucracy around government services for the public such as renewing their passports, applying for loans or changing their name.

The order, which Biden will sign on Monday afternoon, affects 36 “customer experience improvement commitments” across 17 federal agencies. The order targets various government services dealing with travel, retirement, business, health and updating personal information, according to a White House fact sheet.

For example, the order will call for a streamlined enrollment experience for retirees looking to enroll in Social Security, and it will allow retirees to more easily claim benefits online.

Taxpayers will be given new online tools to make filing more easy, and filers will have the option to schedule customer service call-backs instead of waiting on hold.

The order will call for Americans to be able to renew their passports online rather than dealing with print forms, and it will aim to streamline the process for travelers with urgent questions for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The order will also aim to ease the bureaucracy around both student loans and business loans.

The order will create a single portal for the millions of individuals with student loan debt, and small business owners will have a more streamlined process for working with the Small Business Administration on loans, grants and certifications.

Make Your Voice Heard About Wisconsin’s Transportation Future

A draft plan that will influence the future of transportation in the state is available for review and comment, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced today.

Connect 2050, Wisconsin’s statewide multimodal transportation plan required by federal law, will help guide infrastructure investments through 2050. The draft version of the plan is available at Comments on the plan can be submitted through January 24, 2022.

“Everyone relies on transportation infrastructure, and this is a great opportunity to shape its future in Wisconsin,” WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said. “Thank you to all those who support our efforts to plan improvements. The draft Connect 2050 plan relied on more than 2,200 survey responses, 2,400 written comments and participation from every county in Wisconsin. Please continue to make your voice heard.”

Connect 2050 establishes goals and objectives that will guide and support development of an integrated, efficient, and safe multimodal transportation system.

Comments on the plan can be submitted online. A mail-in form can be requested by calling (608) 266-3581 or emailing​.