News of the Day

Appeals Court Blocks Wisconsin’s Restrictions on Bar, Restaurant Capacity

Wisconsin’s public health restrictions on bar and restaurant capacity have again been blocked, this time by a state court of appeals.

In a 2-1 ruling Friday, the court reissued a temporary injunction in the case, ruling that plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their appeal.

The Tavern League did not appeal that ruling, but a new group of plaintiffs did. They include The Mix Up, Inc., a bar and grill in Amery, northwest of Eau Claire, as well as Liz Sieben, the business’ owner. They also include the group Pro-Life Wisconsin and its president, Daniel Miller.

Friday’s 2-1 ruling from Wisconsin’s District 3 Court of Appeals again blocked the administration’s limits and set an expedited schedule for a full appeal. Judges Mark Seidl and Thomas Hruz formed the majority opinion while Judge Lisa Stark dissented.

Existing-Home Sales Soar 9.4% in September

U.S. home sales are through the roof, according September numbers presented by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Sales of existing homes spiked 9.4% in September to a seasonally adjusted rate of 6.54 million, marking the fourth consecutive month of growth in the housing market across all four major regions classified by the NAR.

Home-buying is also exceeding pre-pandemic levels, as September’s sales were up 20.9% over the same month in 2019.

“Home sales traditionally taper off toward the end of the year, but in September they surged beyond what we normally see during this season,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, in a press release. “I would attribute this jump to record-low interest rates and an abundance of buyers in the marketplace, including buyers of vacation homes given the greater flexibility to work from home.”

Median home prices increased in every region as well, with September’s median price at $311,800, as compared to $271,500 in Sept. 2019.

DWD Announces Lost Wage Assistance Program Now Available

Yesterday, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced that the department has deployed the Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program. DWD began releasing benefits Thursday, October 15 and will continue making payments over the next week.

The LWA program is a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program that provides an additional $300 per week to eligible claimants who certify that they are unemployed or partially unemployed due to disruptions caused by COVID-19 and whose weekly benefit rate is at least $100 in one of the following unemployment-related assistance programs: regular Unemployment Insurance (UI), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), or Trade Readjustment Allowance (TRA).

FEMA approved Wisconsin for the LWA program on September 1. The LWA benefit payments are estimated to result in another $224 million in the hands of Wisconsinites.

Payments from the LWA program will be made retroactively to eligible claimants for up to six weeks: the weeks ending August 1, August 8, August 15, August 22, August 29, and September 5, 2020. FEMA will not fund any weeks after September 5, 2020. DWD estimates up to 220,000 claimants may be eligible for LWA.

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Governor Announces Additional $256M in Relief for Wisconsin Taxpayers

Governor Tony Evers announced Tuesday, an estimated $256.4 million in tax relief for Wisconsin taxpayers as a result of the additional revenue collected by the Department of Revenue (DOR) from out-of-state retailers and marketplace providers for the twelve-month period ending September 30, 2020.

A 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in South Dakota v. Wayfair expanded the state’s authority to require out-of-state retailers and marketplace providers to collect and remit sales and use tax during the period beginning October 1, 2019 and ending September 30, 2020.

This revenue estimate is based on tax amounts reported by filers who registered to collect taxes after the Wayfair decision and are located outside of the state. Additional revenue reported by marketplace providers is included in this amount as the marketplace provisions included in 2019 Wisconsin Act 10 took effect January 1, 2020.

Act 10 also defined a marketplace provider and required them to collect and remit sales and use tax on taxable sales they facilitate online on behalf of third-party sellers beginning on January 1, 2020, creating a more level playing field between brick and mortar stores and online retailers.

Judge Reinstates Crowd Limits in Wisconsin’s Public Spaces

Bars, restaurants and stores in Wisconsin once again have to count the number of people who walk through the front door.

A judge in Barron County on Monday reinstated Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency order that places a 25% limit on customers.

The ruling in Barron County comes just days after a judge in Sawyer County ruled for the Tavern League and its members. The crowd cap limit was frozen over the weekend. Sawyer County Judge James Barber had asked the head of Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services to come to his courtroom Monday and defend the ruling.

The judge said the Tavern League and its members’ bars did not prove the order actually hurt their business.

“There’s no showing of irreparable harm,” Barber wrote. “I merely have the theoretical issue that if they were to comply, they would suffer harm.”

Barber also asked for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to settle the issue.

“I beg the Supreme Court for clarity because should this issue be decided by them, trial judges need to know how they need to rule,” Barber said.

Evers applauded the judge, and once again said his order will help protect people from the coronavirus.

The lobbyist for the Tavern League told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that a limit on customers will hurt businesses across the state. But the Tavern League is going to tell its members to go along with the order.

State, Local Health Officials Plan for Mass Coronavirus Vaccine Distribution

Although a coronavirus vaccine isn’t yet available, local health departments in Wisconsin are already working on strategies to distribute vaccinations to millions of residents. The planning is still in the early stages, but drive-thru immunization is one strategy being pursued, with some health departments scheduling practice runs using the seasonal flu vaccine.

Friday was the final day for states to submit vaccination distribution plans to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Wisconsin Department of Health Services spokeswoman Jennifer Miller wrote in an email that the agency has submitted an initial draft.

“We are awaiting more information from the federal level to inform the implementation of this plan and will update it accordingly,” Miller wrote.


U.S. Retail Sales Post Big Gain in September

Consumers spent at a much faster pace than expected in September, with retail sales rising 1.9% in a sign that the U.S. economy’s biggest driver remains healthy.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expected sales to rise 0.7%, up from a 0.6% rise in August.

Clothing and accessories led the gains, rising by 11%, while sporting goods, music and books jumped 5.7%. Electronics and appliances was the only major sector that was negative, dropping 1.6% from the August levels.

The unexpectedly big gain in spending comes after months of historically high savings as consumers retrenched due to the Covid-19 scare. The personal savings rate peaked at 33.6% in April and remained at 14.1% in August, the highest pre-pandemic rate since June 1975.

“The strength in August sales is welcome, and consumers in aggregate have the resources — in the form of the huge increase in savings deposits built up since the spring — to finance a strong holiday season,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Wisconsin Judge Blocks Governor’s Order Limiting Capacity

A Wisconsin judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked an order from Gov. Tony Evers’ administration limiting the number of people who can gather in bars, restaurants and other indoor places.

The Democratic governor’s order, issued by the Evers-appointed state health secretary Andrea Palm last week, limited the number of customers in many indoor establishments to 25% of capacity. Gatherings in indoor spaces without an occupancy limit were limited to 10 people. The order does not apply to colleges, schools, churches, polling locations, political rallies and outdoor venues.

The Tavern League of Wisconsin, the powerful lobbying group for the state’s 5,000 bars, restaurants and taverns, argued that the capacity limits amounted to “defacto closure.” It said that Palm didn’t have the legal authority to issue the order, which instead should have gone through the Republican-led Legislature’s rule-making process.

Sawyer County Circuit Judge John Yackel, who blocked the order a day after the Tavern League of Wisconsin sued, set a court date for Monday. He said the hearing will give attorneys for the Evers administration a chance to argue why the order should not be put on hold while the lawsuit plays out.

Evers’ spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, said the ruling would be challenged. “This is a dangerous decision that leaves our state without a statewide effort to contain this virus,” she said.

Tavern League Files Lawsuit To End Limits On Bar, Restaurant Capacity

The Tavern League of Wisconsin has filed a lawsuit to strike down the Evers administration’s emergency order limiting bar and restaurant capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order, which went into effect last Thursday, requires bars and restaurants across the state to limit capacity to 25 percent until Nov. 6.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Sawyer County, argues that the court should throw out the order because it wasn’t created through the emergency rulemaking process, a process that requires state lawmakers to approve any restrictions on people and businesses during the pandemic. Using the process would essentially give the GOP-controlled Legislature veto power over any restrictions.

Chris Marsicano, president of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, said Wisconsin restaurants and bars are facing “economic ruin” as the pandemic continues, and that businesses shutdowns “have not proven effective” as the virus has spread in the state.

“The Tavern League of Wisconsin is committed to fighting the spread of COVID-19, but will not stand by and watch its members be forced out of business by unlawful orders,” Marsicano said in a prepared statement. “We need the help and support of our communities and elected officials to keep defeat COVID-19 while keeping our ‘OPEN’ signs lit.”

He said the state needs to “kill COVID, not small business.”

State Legislative Committee Forces Indoor Gathering Order to be Submitted for Legislative Review

Republican legislators are forcing Gov. Tony Evers’ administration to submit their emergency order limiting businesses to 25% indoor capacity to go through the rule-making process.

On a party-lines 6-4 vote Monday afternoon, a legislative committee gave the administration 30 days to submit the order as a rule, which opens it up to legislative approval. That would give state GOP lawmakers the chance to overturn it as a rule by Nov. 11; currently, the emergency order expires Nov. 6.

Emergency Order 3 was issued under the state’s Department of Health Service’s emergency powers. Speaker Robin Vos argued last week in a statement that the order violated the decision from the state Supreme Court in May, which overturned the safer-at-home order.

“With cases once again rising, it’s clear the governor’s go-it-alone, grab bag approach to responding to the coronavirus has been a failure,” Vos said in the statement. “We must work together in order to keep our businesses open and our citizens safe.”