Groups spent $18 million to lobby the Capitol during the first six months of the year, a slight uptick from the last time a budget was before lawmakers, according to a WisPolitics.com check of lobbying reports.
Though interest groups spent $132,651 more during the first part of 2021, they put in 2,830 fewer hours lobbying with the Capitol still under COVID-related restrictions for much of the period. The spending includes not only time spent in the Capitol but communications as well as preparation for lobbying such as research or studies that go into their efforts.
The usual suspects topped spending on lobbying expenses during the period, including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce at No. 1 with $404,539 spent. The Wisconsin Realtors Association was No. 2 for spending at $391,026.
Rounding out the top five in spending over the first half of 2021 were: the Wisconsin Hospital Association, $367,778; Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, $238,309; and Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, $203,319.
The top five were largely the same as for the first half of 2019 with one exception: the Wisconsin Credit Union League was No. 4 during the first half of that year, but dropped to No. 15 to start this session.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday issued a moratorium on evictions targeting areas of the country with high levels of COVID-19 transmission, extending an eviction ban for much of the nation just days after a blanket moratorium had expired.
The CDC order applies to counties experiencing significant levels of virus spread, defined by the agency as 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 people. A congressional source said the order will likely apply to roughly 90 percent of the renter population in the U.S. The order will expire on October 3.
President Biden acknowledged at a news conference earlier Tuesday that the CDC order may not hold up in court. But he argued it would minimally buy time for state and local governments to distribute aid to renters and landlords.
The Supreme Court upheld the CDC’s moratorium, reversing a ruling from a federal appeals court on June 29, but warned that a further extension of the ban beyond its July 31 deadline would exceed the agency’s authority unless Congress passed a law to expand it.
The state’s largest organization representing physicians is urging all health care facilities to require their employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Several health care systems in Wisconsin already require vaccinations for their employees, including SSM Health, the Mayo Clinic Health System, Ascension Wisconsin, Children’s Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Last week, dozens of national health care organizations, including the American Medical Association, issued a similar call for all health care and long-term care providers to mandate vaccination for employees.
“Health care needs to continue to lead the fight against COVID-19,” Letzer said. “The only hope to beat this virus is through a significant increase in vaccinations. Mandates similar to what we already have in place for measles or influenza are needed. It’s time for all health care employers to lead by example, do the right thing and take this necessary next step.”
Last Thursday, the IRS updated frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the paid sick and family leave tax credits under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP). The updates clarify that eligible employers can claim the credits for providing leave to employees to accompany a family or household member or certain other individuals to obtain immunization relating to COVID-19 or to care for a family or household member or certain other individuals recovering from the immunization.
The paid sick and family leave credits reimburse eligible employers for the cost of providing paid sick and family leave for reasons related to COVID-19. The revised FAQs make clear this includes leave taken by employees to care for certain individuals to obtain immunization relating to COVID-19 or to recover from immunization relating to COVID-19. This new reason for paid sick or family leave also applies for the comparable credits for self-employed individuals.
The paid sick and family leave tax credits under the ARP are similar to those put in place by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), as amended and extended by the COVID-related Tax Relief Act of 2020 (Tax Relief Act), under which certain employers could receive tax credits for providing paid sick or family leave that met the requirements of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (as added by FFCRA). The tax credits under the FFCRA, as amended and extended by the Tax Relief Act, covered leave taken beginning April 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021. The ARP amends and extends these credits to leave taken beginning April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021.
The FAQs include information on how eligible employers may claim the paid sick and family leave credits, including how to file for and compute the applicable credit amounts, and how to receive advance payments for and refunds of the credits. Under the ARP, eligible employers, including businesses and tax-exempt organizations with fewer than 500 employees and certain governmental employers, may claim tax credits for qualified leave wages and certain other wage-related expenses (such as health plan expenses and certain collectively bargained benefits).
Self-employed individuals may claim comparable credits on the Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.
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.”
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 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.
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 https://www.wcrb.org/wcrb/wcrbhome.htm.
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.
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.”