News of the Day

Wisconsin Assembly Votes to Outlaw Local Bans on Gas Engines

State and local governments in Wisconsin would not be allowed to ban gas-powered vehicles, snow blowers, lawnmowers and other machines under a pair of bills the Republican-controlled Assembly passed Tuesday along party lines.

The bills’ GOP sponsors hope to outlaw measures similar to a law passed in California last year requiring that all new cars, trucks and SUVs sold in the state run on electricity or hydrogen by 2035. That decision left 17 states with vehicle emissions standards tied to California laws facing tough decisions on whether they would adopt the same ban on gasoline-fueled vehicles.

Gas stations and fossil fuel industry groups such as Kwik Trip and the American Petroleum Institute have thrown their support behind the measures. Meanwhile, environmental advocates and the American Lung Association oppose them.

The measures still need approval from the Senate and from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is likely to veto them. Evers has been at odds with Republicans when pushing to use state money to build out electric vehicle charging stations.

The governor’s spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, did not immediately respond to an email Monday asking whether he would veto the measures. But at an event in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Evers said he didn’t believe a ban on gas engines was necessary for the state to slowly transition to using electric vehicles.

Organized Retail Crime is Growing in Scope and Complexity

Organized retail crime is growing in scope and complexity, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). It is also becoming more violent.

The NRF’s latest report, published last week, detailed how organized retail crime is a “perpetual and burgeoning problem” that has inflicted billions in financial losses for U.S. retailers and their communities.

For years, the NRF has been issuing reports that quantify what people are stealing and how retailers are responding in terms of their loss prevention activities. For the first time, the trade group also provided a detailed assessment about whom these organizations are, their tactics, motives and links to other types of criminal activities, Christian Beckner, NRF vice president of retail technology and cybersecurity, told FOX Business.

In doing so, the NRF hopes to help retailers and law enforcement “stay ahead of the organized retail crime threat and anticipate changes to organized retail crime group tactics, instead of just responding after incidents occur,” Beckner said.

According to the Homeland Security Investigations and the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists, organized theft groups launder an estimated $69 billion in illicit profits through the U.S. financial system and trade-based money laundering schemes each year.

According to the NRF report, which conducted its latest assessment in partnership with global risk advisory firm K2 Integrity, these organized retail crime groups “primarily favor large national retailers and big-box retailers, and cargo shipments for booster operations.” They are also more likely to target everyday consumer goods rather than luxury products. Based on an analysis of 116 groups, 81% exclusively stole general consumer goods.

These groups have also been planning out their booster operations in advance by studying store layouts, camera and exit locations, understanding the types of anti-theft precautions and knowing the different store policies for stopping suspected thieves, the report said. Boosters are known as the individuals who are paid to commit theft on behalf of these groups.

IRS, DOL and HHS Issue FAQ about Upcoming Changes to COVID-19 Coverage and Payment Requirements

he Internal Revenue Service, Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services have jointly issued Frequently asked questions about the Affordable Care Act ImplementationFamilies First Coronavirus Response Act, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Implementation Part 58 and Affordable Care Act and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Implementation Part 59 to clarify how the COVID-19 coverage and payment requirements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) will change when the Public Health Emergency (PHE) ends.

Based on current COVID-19 trends, the Department of Health and Human Services is planning for the federal PHE for COVID-19 to end on May 11, 2023. Once the PHE ends, the coverage and payment requirements will change.

Under the FFCRA and the CARES Act, plans and issuers are not required to provide coverage for items and services related to diagnostic testing for COVID-19 that are furnished after the end of the PHE. If they provide such coverage, they may impose cost-sharing requirements, prior authorization or other medical management requirements for the items and services.

Wisconsin Bill would Block Taxpayer-Funded Guaranteed Income Programs

A Republican-sponsored bill would block local communities in Wisconsin from using public money to bankroll guaranteed income programs.

Dozens of cities across the country have signed onto such programs, in which residents get recurring payments. Unlike other government subsidies, those payments are not restricted to specific uses like rent or food.

During a public hearing this week, state Rep. Amy Binsfeld, R-Sheboygan, pointed to Wisconsin’s low unemployment rate and argued guaranteed income discourages work.

“We should not be asking the taxpayers to fund another handout on top of the already taxpayer-funded benefits,” Binsfeld said. “We especially want to make sure that our labor force is getting the workers that they need and doesn’t have to continue to beg on top of these programs.”

Currently, Madison is the only Wisconsin city running a guaranteed income program. But Binsfeld says under the bill she introduced earlier this month, Madison’s project would still be allowed because the city’s yearlong pilot is funded by private donors.

Milwaukee city officials have raised the idea of a guaranteed income program. And, in 2021, the Wausau Common Council adopted a resolution to accept a $100,000 grant from Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, which would be used to test out guaranteed income in limited form.

But Wausau hasn’t yet submitted a plan for how such a program would work, Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg said. She said she’s waiting to see how Madison’s pilot works out.

“I was very nervous about people losing benefits that they already qualified for by getting this guaranteed income stipend,” Rosenberg said, adding that she doesn’t anticipate using public dollars for the project. “The Council was pretty clear that they weren’t interested in using any city funding for this.”

The Assembly bill, which has gained Republican co-sponsors in the GOP-controlled Senate, defines guaranteed income programs as “regular periodic cash payments that are unearned and that may be used for any purpose.”

The bill’s supporters have cited a referendum passed April 4 by nearly 80 percent of Wisconsin voters. That non-binding ballot measure asked Wisconsinites whether they agreed able-bodied childless adults should have to look for work in exchange for receiving “taxpayer-funded welfare benefits.”


U.S. Wholesale Inflation Pressures Ease

U.S. wholesale prices fell in March, a sign that inflationary pressures in the economy are easing more than a year after the Federal Reserve began aggressively raising interest rates.

Plunging energy prices pulled the government’s producer price index down 0.5% from February to March; it had been unchanged from January to February.  The Labor Department’s producer price index reflects prices charged by manufacturers, farmers and wholesalers. It can provide an early sign of how fast consumer inflation will rise.

A huge drop in wholesale gasoline accounted for much of the sharp slowdown in producer prices. But even excluding volatile food and energy prices, so-called core wholesale inflation fell 0.1% in March, the first such drop in nearly three years. The Fed and many private economists regard core prices as a better gauge of underlying inflation. Core wholesale inflation was up just 3.4% from March 2022, the lowest year-over-year rise since 2021.

Behind last month’s drop in core prices was a sharp decline in wholesale costs for warehousing and transportation. Overall services prices fell 0.3%, the first such drop since November 2020. Household appliance prices fell 1.4%, car prices 0.3%. But wholesale food prices rose 0.6%, including a 34% jump in egg prices.

Wholesale inflation has come down steadily — from a record 11.7% year-over-year increase in March 2022 — since the Fed began raising its benchmark interest rate to fight the worst inflation bout in four decades. Beginning in March of last year, the Fed has raised its key short-term rate nine times and is expected to do so again at its next meeting, May 2-3.

EPA to Tighten Vehicle Emissions as State Lawmakers Seek to Avoid Bans on Gas-Powered Cars

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed limits on vehicle emissions Wednesday that would require two-thirds of all new car and pickup truck sales and a quarter of heavy-duty trucks sold to be electric by 2032. That’s intended to meet President Joe Biden’s goal for electric cars to make up half of all new car sales by 2030. Nationally, electric vehicles made up nearly 6 percent of new car sales last year.

The announcement comes as Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have introduced legislation to prevent state and local governments from barring the sale of vehicles based on their energy source. So far, seven states plan to ban sales of gas-powered vehicles after 2035.

In a hearing Tuesday, Rep. Ellen Schutt, R-Clinton, said the bill would prevent communities from barring sales of gas-powered cars and trucks, as well as prohibit banning sales of electric vehicles. Evers has set a goal for the state to go carbon-neutral by 2050, and Schutt noted other communities intend to “go green.”

“We just want to make sure that the government doesn’t get involved to reach their green energy goals by doing mandates,” Schutt said.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation said in a memo the success of any proposed regulations would be tied to policies and favorable market conditions beyond electric cars that include affordability, utility capacity, charging infrastructure, supply chains and access to critical minerals.

Citing ongoing hurdles in those areas, Bill Sepic said the proposed rules don’t seem achievable in the proposed time frame. Sepic is president and CEO of the Wisconsin Automobile and Truck Dealers Association, which represents 700 licensed dealers statewide.

“Two years ago, we were at 3.2 percent of our vehicles (sold) were electric. That’s an astronomical leap,” Sepic said of the proposed regulations. “So, right now, you have a lot of concern, a lot of questions because there are no specifics that have been asked. This is a classic case of saying we’re going some place, we’re going to get there, but without a roadmap or a plan.”

President Biden ends COVID-19 National Emergency after Congress Acts

The U.S. national emergency to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic ended Monday as President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan congressional resolution to bring it to a close after three years — weeks before it was set to expire alongside a separate public health emergency.

The national emergency allowed the government to take sweeping steps to respond to the virus and support the country’s economic, health and welfare systems. Some of the emergency measures have already been successfully wound-down, while others are still being phased out. The public health emergency — it underpins tough immigration restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border — is set to expire on May 11.

The White House issued a one-line statement Monday saying Biden had signed the measure behind closed doors, after having publicly opposed the resolution though not to the point of issuing a veto. More than 197 Democrats in the House voted against it when the GOP-controlled chamber passed it in February. Last month, as the measure passed the Senate by a 68-23 vote, Biden let lawmakers know he would sign it.

The administration said once it became clear that Congress was moving to speed up the end of the national emergency it worked to expedite agency preparations for a return to normal procedures. Among the changes: The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s COVID-19 mortgage forbearance program is set to end at the end of May, and the Department of Veterans Affairs is now returning to a requirement for in-home visits to determine eligibility for caregiver assistance.

U.S. Postal Service Files Notice with PRC for New Mailing Services Pricing

Yesterday, the United States Postal Service filed notice with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) of mailing services price changes to take effect July 9, 2023. The new rates include a three-cent increase in the price of a First-Class Mail Forever stamp
from 63 cents to 66 cents.

The price for 1-ounce metered mail will increase to 63 cents, and the price to send a domestic postcard will increase to 51 cents. A 1-ounce letter mailed to another country would increase to $1.50. There will be no change to the single-piece letter and flat additional-ounce price, which
remains at 24 cents. The Postal Service is also seeking price adjustments for Special Services products including Certified Mail, Post Office Box rental fees, money order fees and the cost to purchase insurance when mailing an item.

The PRC will review the changes before they are scheduled to take effect. The complete Postal Service price filing, with prices for all products, can be found on the PRC website under the Daily Listings section at The Mailing Services filing is Docket Number R2023-2. The price tables are also available on the Postal Service’s Postal Explorer website at


New 274 Area Code Coming to Northeast Wisconsin in May 2023

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC or Commission) today announced the creation of a new, additional area code to overlay the area in which the 920 area code is now in service. This area includes communities such as Appleton, Beaver Dam, Berlin, Fond du Lac, Fort Atkinson, Green Bay, Manitowoc, Oshkosh, Ripon, Sheboygan, Sturgeon Bay, and Watertown.

The 920 area code is expected to run out of assignable prefixes (the three numbers in a phone number following the area code) by the first quarter of 2024. The new 274 area code will be used to provide telephone numbers to new customers. All current customers will retain their existing telephone numbers and will continue to dial and receive calls without change.

The new 274 area code will be in service beginning May 5, 2023. NANPA will assign 274 area codes once all of the 920 area codes have been assigned, which could happen as soon as the end of the year.

An area code overlay adds a second area code to the geographic region served by the existing area code. Therefore, multiple area codes co-exist within the same geographic region. Customers will continue to dial the three-digit area code for all calls to and from telephone numbers with the 920 and 274 area codes. The price of a call will not change due to the overlay.

Customers can still dial just three digits to reach 911, as well as 211, 311, 411, 511, 611, 711, 811, and 988 – the new Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

IRS Unveils Spending Plan for $80 Billion Funding Boost

The Internal Revenue Service on Thursday unveiled its long-awaited spending plan for a controversial $80 billion cash infusion, pledging to hire thousands of new workers to audit wealthy Americans and big corporations.

The roadmap provides new details about how the tax-collecting agency will use the money over the next decade, including plans to modernize technology, improve customer service, deliver real-time alerts, provide “world-class” customer service and crack down on the so-called tax gap by enhancing enforcement of the wealthy.

The Treasury Department previously said the funding boost would allow the IRS to hire about 87,000 workers over the next 10 years, doubling the agency’s staff. However, the operating plan did not provide an estimate for the agency’s hiring plans beyond the next few years.

The IRS – which had about 78,700 employees as of 2021 – said that it plans to hire nearly 30,000 new employees by the end of fiscal year 2025, including 8,782 hires in enforcement and 13,883 in taxpayer services. The new enforcement employees will be “exclusively” focused on high-earning households, larger partnerships and companies, according to IRS Commission Danny Werfel.

The influx of money for the IRS over the next decade was included in the Democrats’ health care and climate change spending bill – dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act – that President Biden signed into law in August 2022. The funding is aimed at improving tax compliance among big corporations and wealthy Americans and shrinking the estimated $600 billion tax gap.