News of the Day

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.

IRS to Deliver Unemployment Tax Refunds to 4 Million Americans this Week

The agency said Tuesday that it’s processing returns for 4 million people who paid taxes on jobless aid before mid-March, when Democrats passed a stimulus bill that included a tax break for out-of-work Americans.

The law waives taxes on up to $10,200 in 2020 unemployment insurance benefits for individuals who earn less than $150,000 a year. The IRS has estimated that up to 13 million Americans may qualify for the tax break.

Refunds are expected to land in Americans’ bank accounts on Wednesday, while paper checks could arrive as soon as Friday. The average refund is worth about $1,265.

The agency – which already delivered refunds in May and June – previously said it will do the recalculation in two phases, beginning with taxpayers who are eligible for the $10,200 exclusion. It will then proceed to calculate the new refund for married couples who are eligible for the $20,400 exclusion and other more complex returns.

“There is no need for taxpayers to file an amended return unless the calculations make the taxpayer newly eligible for additional federal credits and deductions not already included on the original tax return,” the agency said.

The IRS has cautioned that the refund is is “subject to normal offset rules,” the IRS said, meaning that it can be used to cover “past-due federal tax, state income tax, state unemployment compensation debts, child support, spousal support or certain federal nontax debts (i.e., student loans).”

Consumer Prices Surge by Most Since August 2008

U.S. consumer prices rose last month at the fastest pace since August 2008. The Labor Department said Tuesday that the consumer price index rose 0.9% in June, faster than the 0.6% increase in May. Prices rose 5.4% year over year, and have been trending higher every month this year.

Used car prices spiked 10.5% last month, accounting for more than one-third of the increase. Additionally, energy prices climbed 1.5% month over month and food prices rose 0.8%.

Core prices, which exclude food and energy, rose 0.9% in June, quicker than the 0.7% increase recorded in May. The 4.5% annual increase was the most since November 1991.

Higher prices seeped into large swaths of the economy as businesses have struggled to correct supply-chain bottlenecks that occurred as a result of the pandemic. Some businesses are also struggling to find workers as supplemental unemployment benefits have encouraged workers to stay home.

The Federal Reserve has insisted the price gains are “transitory” and that they will eventually return to pre-pandemic levels as the dislocations caused by the pandemic are corrected.

However, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has admitted that timing is “uncertain.”

Governor Evers Signs Bill Preventing UI Tax Hike on Employers

On top of signing the 2021-23 biennial budget on Thursday, Gov. Tony Evers also signed a bill that would prevent the increase of unemployment insurance tax rates.

According to a press release, Assembly Bill 406, now 2021 Wisconsin Act 59, ensures that the state remains in Schedule D in tax years 2022 and 2023. It’s supposed to offset lost revenue by requiring $60 million GPR be transferred to the trust fund each of the next two fiscal years.

“I am glad to be signing this bill today to ensure Wisconsin businesses and employers that were hit hard by the pandemic can continue to recover without having an undue burden of an increase in their UI tax rates,” said Evers. “We’re going to continue to provide targeted relief to workers and employers who need it most and make sure our workers, families, and economy bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic better than before it hit.”

AAA: Gas Prices Continue to Climb, Not Stopping Anytime Soon

The prices at the pump continue their steady climb as summer travel hits full stride. According to AAA, crude oil prices will hit a seven-year high this week.

The national gas price average is expected to increase to $3.25 a gallon this month. Unfortunately, it’s not going to stop there.

AAA expects gas prices to rise another 10 to 20 cents through the end of August.

The last time the national average gas price was at $3.25 was in late 2014.

Veto Limbo: How Governor Evers could Change the Next State Budget

Gov. Tony Evers is expected to take action on the state budget this week, but how he may use his powerful veto pen to change the two-year spending plan remains unclear.

According to the governor’s office, Evers, a Democrat, officially received the state budget from the GOP-controlled Legislature on Friday. Under state law, he has six days, excluding Sunday, from receiving the budget to act on it. His actions could range from signing the plan with no changes — something Republicans have called for — to vetoing the entire budget, or using his veto pen to make changes, a process known as a partial veto.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, the governor said he wouldn’t comment on his plans, but noted “there’s a large amount of money in the budget for tax cuts,” adding that his veto pen could “balance that out.” He also called the budget’s funding for K-12 schools “inadequate.”

“We’re going to be spending just about every waking moment over the next couple days figuring out what our position will be on that,” he said of the budget signing. “So, stay tuned.”

Governor Evers has one of the powerful veto pens in the country, with the ability to delete words, numbers and punctuation from the budget. According to a 2020 memo from the Legislature’s nonpartisan research office, most other governors are limited to eliminating or reducing spending amounts in budget bills. In contrast, the Wisconsin governor can make changes to any part of the budget, including policy language.

According to Republican leaders, the 2021-2023 budget was strategically written to limit Evers from making any big policy changes with his veto pen.

Speaking with reporters last week, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said the GOP majority worked to create a budget that would give Evers little to work with.

“The intent of the finance committee was to produce a budget that had very few new policies, new programs, very few words involved,” LeMahieu said.

Battle Against Scam Calls Intensifies

Still getting too many robocalls? The Federal Communications Commission now requires that carriers implement stricter measures to combat these annoying calls.

STIR/SHAKEN, the new FCC mandate for phone carriers, is designed to curb fraudulent robocalls and illegal phone number spoofing. The latter is a common scheme where a scammer sends a fake caller ID – typically disguised as a local caller – to hide their actual identity.

The goal is for providers to verify that a caller ID is authentic and matches the number that will show up on your phone. The deadline for implementation by carriers was June 30.

“While there is no silver bullet in the endless fight against scammers, STIR/SHAKEN will turbo-charge many of the tools we use in our fight against robocalls,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.

Though the deadline for large providers was June 30, the FCC said small voice service providers with 100,000 or fewer subscriber lines get an extension until June 30, 2023 – but that extension may be shortened, the FCC added.

Americans received just under 4 billion robocalls in May, according to YouMail. While down from April, the volume was still huge. Robocalls averaged 128.7 million calls per day and 1,490 calls per second, according to YouMail.