We are pleased to share the December 30th edition of the Weekly Wrap-Up by Michael Best Strategies where we recap government and political news in Wisconsin from the last week. We will also provide an overview of key bills and administrative rules that are currently active and list upcoming committee hearings and noteworthy events when applicable.
Each week we emphasize selected topics, while still including other major developments. The topics of the week are economic development, housing, Foxconn, manufacturing, and transportation.
Order of categories in this issue:
- State Legislature
- Economic Development
- A Look Ahead
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Evers Promises to Fight Election Constitutional Amendment
Gov. Tony Evers is promising to fight a proposed constitutional amendment supported by conservatives that would change election law, even as the measure could be put on the ballot for approval without his signature.
Evers, who vetoed six Republican-authored election bills this year, also promised to reject attempts to change the current system, including giving the GOP-controlled Legislature the power to run elections.
“Clearly they want to change things so fewer people vote,” Evers said. “It’s my goal that we make sure that it is a fair system, a secure system just like it is now.”
The constitutional amendment has yet to be introduced in the Legislature, but talks are underway with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and others.
The proposal would require elections to be run the same way across Wisconsin; early voting hours and days would have to be the same in every community, and some would have to change how they count absentee ballots. The measure is largely viewed as an attempt to force the state’s Democratic cities to restrict access.
The proposal would also bar private groups from making large donations to the state’s heavily Democratic cities. This follows Republican protests of almost $9 million in grants made by the Mark Zuckerberg-backed Center for Tech and Civic Life to help fund elections. Multiple courts and the state elections commission have repeatedly determined that the grants were legal.
Evers Says He May Support Bail Changes After Waukesha Parade
Gov. Tony Evers said he might support efforts to overhaul Wisconsin’s bail system, which came under scrutiny following the Waukesha Christmas parade deaths.
Evers said that he might support changing the bail system to raise the amounts that violent offenders have to pay to stay free pending free trial. However, he said everyone needs to “take a breath” after the Waukesha incident and that all stakeholders would have to be involved in any discussions.
Prosecutors say Darrell Brooks drove his SUV into the parade last month, killing six people and injuring dozens of others. Court records show that he had been arrested for allegedly running over the mother of his child several weeks prior.
Lena Taylor Abandons Lieutenant Governor Bid
Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) has given up on her lieutenant governor run.
Taylor’s decision leaves state Reps. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) and Sara Rodriguez (D-Brookfield) vying for the Democratic nomination. Incumbent Mandela Barnes is not seeking reelection so that he can run for the U.S. Senate.
GOP candidates include state Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), Lancaster Mayor David Varnam, and Ben Voelkel, the former communications director for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI).
Renewed Proposal Democrats Would Penalize “Stealthing”
A renewed proposal from Democratic state lawmakers in Wisconsin could impose fines on people who sabotage their partner’s birth control without their consent.
Under the bill, someone who removes or tampers with a sexually protective device, like a condom, without their partner’s consent could face civil chargers brought by their partner and a court-mandated fine. The practice is sometimes referred to as “stealthing.”
Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison), one of the bill’s sponsors, said many people have contacted her office about their own experiences with stealthing since she first introduced a version of the plan in 2017. That bill, which imposed criminal penalties, never received a public hearing in either legislative chamber.
California became the first state in the country to ban stealthing earlier this year.
Foxconn Qualifies for Nearly $30M in Tax Credits
For the first time since the company broke ground in Wisconsin in 2018, Foxconn has qualified for state tax credits.
The company met job creation and investment benchmarks needed to qualify, creating 579 eligible jobs and making a capital investment of $266 million at the Racine County facility last year. That means the company is eligible to receive more than $2 million in job credits and nearly $27 million in capital investment credits.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) determined that Foxconn created sufficient jobs and invested sufficient capital expenditures to qualify for tax credits under its amended contract.
In 2017, then-Governor Scott Walker and Foxconn made a deal for nearly $3 billion if the company hired 13,000 workers. The deal was significantly scaled back in April of this year, with the new contact offering Foxconn $80 million in tax breaks in exchange for 1,454 jobs by 2024.
Assembly Republicans Look to Increase Workforce Housing
Wisconsin Republicans are sponsoring a package of bills aimed at making workforce housing easier and cheaper to build across the state.
Workforce housing is defined as housing that is affordable to households earning between 60-120% of an area’s median income. It targets middle-income employees, those who often work in fields such as law enforcement, manufacturing, education, healthcare, and retail.
“There’s a worker shortage in many of our communities and businesses are trying to attract people to their communities; they’re trying to find more workers,” said Rep. Dave Murphy (R-Greenville). “And many times, it comes back to the fact that there’s not enough moderately priced housing. So we’re trying to help increase the stock of homes that would fit into the budget of the average workforce.”
The package of bills was approved by the state Assembly in October and was sent to the Senate, which has not taken yet taken up the measures. The Senate will reconvene for its next session on January 18th.
The majority of bills were passed by the Assembly by unanimous consent, although lawmakers split along party lines on Assembly Bill 605, which requires municipalities to use a portion of their federal pandemic relief dollars to help fund housing development. Opponents objected to the lack of state matching dollars for the program.
Green Bay Paper Mill Expansion Will Add 150 New Jobs
A major expansion to a Green Bay paper mill will bring hundreds of jobs to the region, representing a long-term investment in a mill that is one of the largest producers of tissue paper in the world.
Georgia-Pacific Corp. announced that it will invest $500 million to expand its Broadway Mill, adding a new paper machine and paper converting equipment. The historic mill site makes toilet paper, primarily for out-of-home use. It had previously been the site of a planned expansion that the company put on hold in 2019.
The new paper machine at the Broadway Mill will specialize in retail tissue products. Georgia-Pacific also makes Brawny paper towels, AngelSoft, and Quilted Northern toilet paper.
The expansion represents a growing segment of the paper industry. Along with brown paper or corrugated cardboard products, the market for tissue paper has seen significant growth both domestically and globally.
WisDOT Finalizing 2050 Transportation Plan
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) has released a final draft of its long-range transportation plan that in coming decades will broadly influence decisions on everything from state highway projects to rail to bicycle routes.
Connect 2050 replaces Connections 2030, the state’s former long-range multimodal transportation plan, which was released in 2009. Both set a series of overarching goals and objectives that apply to all modes and means of transportation.
There are no specific projects, like state highway reconstructions, listed in Connect 2050. Instead, Alex Gramovot, the planning section chief for WisDOT’s Bureau of Planning and Economic Development, said Connect 2050 was”…really to set the tone.”
A Look Ahead
In Two Weeks
- Food Alcohol and Beverage
In Three Weeks
- Water Policy
- Higher Education
- State Employee Benefits
- Social Services
- K-12 Education
If you would like any additional information about a topic above or if would like to find a time to discuss any of these matters in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact your Michael Best Strategies contact.