In this update:
- A Look at the Week Ahead
- Administration Updates
- Legislative Updates
- Election Updates
- Fundraising Opportunities
A Look at the Week Ahead
Upcoming Floor Calendar
Thursday, January 19
Assembly Floor Session scheduled for 11:00 am in the Assembly Chambers (calendar subject to approval by Rules Committee – see below)
Upcoming Committee Meetings of Note
Tuesday, January 17
4:30 pm Assembly Parlor
Proposed Assembly Calendar for 11 am, Thursday, January 19
- AJR-001 Conditions for Release (2nd Consideration) (Duchow, Cindi) Conditions for release prior to conviction, including the imposition of bail (second consideration)
- AJR-002 Birkebeiner Week (Edming, James) Proclaiming February 20 to 26, 2023, as American Birkebeiner Week 2in Wisconsin
Evers on “UpFront”
Governor Tony Evers (D-Plymouth) appeared on WISN’s “UpFront” this week where he weighed in on some of the important topics that will be debated during the current legislative session. Gov. Evers said the number one piece of legislation he hopes will reach his desk this session is increasing shared revenue for Wisconsin’s local governments. “We talk about all the needs our municipalities have…it’s around public health, public safety….and frankly those folks have been very very poorly treated over the last decade,” Gov. Evers said.
The governor also took the following positions during the interview:
- Will sign a medical marijuana bill not allowing recreational use as long as the medicinal-use bill is not “flawed” by being too restrictive;
- Will not sign a bill amending the state’s abortion law to allow exceptions for rape or incest because the underlying abortion ban would still be in place;
- Will consider any tax reform bills “except for a flat tax that provides tax relief for people…who don’t need tax relief;”
- Will veto the state’s biennial budget if a flat tax or universal school choice is included in it;
- Does not support a GOP-backed constitutional amendment restricting the governor’s authority to unilaterally spend federal funds;
- Does not anticipate endorsing a candidate ahead of the April election for Wisconsin Supreme Court;
- Will issue an executive order banning TikTok from state government devices.
Evers bans TikTok from state government devices
Wisconsin will now follow the lead of the federal government in banning TikTok on government devices. The decision has come a month after several Republican lawmakers advocated for the ban due to privacy concerns related to the app and its association to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). On making the decision, Governor Evers (D-Plymouth) told WISN that “We consulted with FBI folks and our own emergency management folks, and we came to the conclusion that it’s the best idea.” Gov. Evers issued Executive Order #184 banning TikTok from state-issued devices on Jan. 12.
In a press release announcing Executive Order #184 banning TikTok from state-issued devices, Gov. Evers said “In the digital age, defending our state’s technology and cybersecurity infrastructure and protecting digital privacy have to be a top priority for us as a state. I trust the professionals who work in this field, and it was important for me to consult with and get advice from experts in law enforcement, cybersecurity, and counterintelligence, including the information technology experts working within DOA-DET, to make the best decision to protect state technologies, and ultimately, the people of Wisconsin.”
Bond appointed as DVA secretary
Governor Tony Evers recently (D-Plymouth) announced his appointment of James Bond to serve as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). Bond served on active duty in the United States Marine Corps from 1983 to 1988 and has been with the DVA since 2010. On his appointment, Governor Evers said “As a veteran himself, along with his decades of state service, I have no doubt he will bring a wealth of experience, knowledge, and expertise to this role as secretary. I look forward to continuing our work together to serve Wisconsin’s more than 300,000 veterans and ensure they receive the benefits, support, and resources they have earned through their service to be successful in their civilian lives.”
Kuhn appointed as Medicaid director
Governor Tony Evers (D-Plymouth) has tapped Jamie Kuhn as the state’s Medicaid director. Prior to the appointment, Director Kuhn had been serving as external affairs director for Gov. Evers’ office. Director Kuhn’s previous work experience includes working as chief of staff for former Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona). As a Dane County Board Supervisor (2017-2020), Kuhn chaired the County’s health committee. She also previously served in roles with Milwaukee County and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
OCI leadership appointments announced
This week, the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) announced appointments to the agency’s leadership and senior management team. Gov. Tony Evers (D-Plymouth) reappointed Nathan Houdek as Commissioner of Insurance, a position he has held since January 2022. “I look forward to continuing to serve in Governor Evers’ administration and remain committed to fulfilling our agency’s mission as we begin a new 4-year term,” said Commissioner Houdek. “We are fortunate to have a talented and dedicated leadership team at OCI, and I appreciate their commitment, and the commitment of all OCI employees, to protecting consumers and ensuring that our insurance market remains strong and competitive.”
Other appointments/reappointments to the agency’s leadership and senior management team include:
- Rachel Cissne Carabell — Deputy Commissioner
- Sarah Smith — Director of Public Affairs
- Amy Malm — Administrator for the Division of Financial Regulation
- Rebecca Rebholz — Administrators for the Division of Market Regulation and Enforcement
- Kristina Thole — Director of the Office of Administrative Services
- Jesse Patchak — Director of the Office of Operational Management
- Lauren U. Van Buren- Chief Legal Counsel. Van Buren is succeeding former Chief Legal Counsel Richard Wicka, who is “departing to pursue opportunities in the private sector.“
Williams named assistant deputy secretary for DOA
State Department of Administration Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld appointed Danielle Williams as Assistant Deputy Secretary this week. Prior to the appointment, Ms. Williams served as Assistant Deputy Secretary at the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) since 2019. According to the press release from DOA, while at DWD Ms. Williams guided a major IT modernization effort, developed key stakeholder relationships to support Wisconsin employers and employees, and played a key role in developing the Workforce Innovation Grant program. Sec. Blumenfeld also tapped Sanjay Olson to serve as Division Administrator for the DOA Division of Facilities and Transportation Services (DFTS).
“As we kick off the new year, and a new term for Governor Evers, I am excited to have proven leaders join the team to make positive impacts for DOA, and the people we serve,” said Sec. Blumenfeld. “As we continue to improve government services, prudently manage state finances, and modernize our state workplace and workforce, Danielle and Sanjay will be trusted partners in building the future of DOA and the State as a whole.”
Vos discusses marijuana legalization
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) recently revealed that Republican leaders have been discussing proposals to legalize medical marijuana. This comes ahead of the biennial budget in which Governor Tony Evers (D-Plymouth) has said he plans to propose legalizing recreational marijuana, and on the heels of recent comments from Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) saying Senate Republicans were “close” to supporting medical marijuana. Speaker Vos explained that if the governor’s executive budget legalizes marijuana for recreational use, it will likely deter Republican support for medical legalization.
Speaker Vos said, “I want to make sure that, at least from my perspective, we are crystal clear this is not about a pathway toward recreational (marijuana), it’s not about creating a new industry with all kinds of new revenue for the state. It’s about making sure that people who suffer with a chronic disease get relief in a way that helps their quality of life be better.”
Gov. Evers’ spokeswoman Brit Cudeback told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the governor would not change his proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, pointing to popular support and promises the governor made on the campaign trail. “Gov. Evers is among the overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites who believe we should legalize and regulate marijuana, much like we do with alcohol. The governor ran for re-election — and won — promising to propose legalizing marijuana in his next budget, and he will keep the promise he made to the people of Wisconsin,” Cudaback said.
According to an October 2022 Marquette University Law School poll, 64% of Wisconsinites supported legalizing marijuana for any use. A 2019 poll from the same group found over 80% of Wisconsites supported the creation of a medical marijuana program.
Last session, Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) and Rep. Pat Snyder (R-Schofield) introduced legislation that would allow a process for the possession and use of medical marijuana. 2021 Senate Bill 1034, which had a public hearing, but did not receive a committee vote, outlined a legislative framework that would create a program that allows for the possession and use of medical marijuana by registered patients and that licenses medical marijuana producers, processors, dispensaries, transporters, and laboratories to operate in this state.
GOP legislators propose flat income tax
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) are circulating legislation that would implement a flat income tax of 3.25% in the state by 2026. The state’s current income tax rates range from 3.54% to 7.65%. Majority Leader LeMahieu has previously pointed to the state’s projected $6.9 billion surplus as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” for tax reform. However, Governor Tony Evers (D-Plymouth) has said as recently as this week that he would veto any budget coming from the legislature that enacts “a flat tax that provides tax relief for people…who don’t need tax relief.”
According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo, the proposal to move the state to a 3.25% flat income tax would reduce the state general fund tax revenues by $2.1 billion in 2023-24; $2.8 billion in 2024-25; $4.3 billion in 2025-26; and $5 billion in 2026-27 and annually thereafter. The LFB estimates that up to 2.46 million filers would receive average tax decreases of $426 in 2023; $865 in 2024; $1,325 in 2025; and $1,799 in 2026. The cumulative average tax decrease among all taxpayers with a tax decrease would equal $4,415 over four years, or about $1,799 annually.
LeMahieu says up or down votes coming on Evers’ appointees
During an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) predicted that Governor Tony Evers’ (D-Plymouth) cabinet appointees would receive confirmation votes in the coming months. “I think we need to take our job seriously as a Senate with the ability to have oversight over those,” Majority Leader LeMahieu said. “We’ll work them through the process and take up or down votes.” However, the majority leader also cast doubt as to whether appointments Gov. Evers made last term to the state’s Natural Resources Board (NRB) would receive confirmation. “It seems like a couple of the appointments to the DNR board may be a little more political than our caucus might be in favor of,” Majority Leader LeMahieu said. “People who maybe don’t have the background needed to be on the DNR board. So I think we’ll have to take a very close look at those.”
Gov. Evers appointed Sandra Naas, a conservation advocate and teacher in the Drummond School District, as well as Sharon Adams, co-founder of Walnut Way Conservation Corp, to the NRB in 2021, but neither has yet received a Senate confirmation hearing. Gov. Evers announced another appointment to the NRB this week, dairy farmer Paul Buhr.
Legislation to eliminate Personal Property Tax to be reintroduced
State Representative Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) and State Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) announced that they will be re-introducing legislation to eliminate the personal property tax in Wisconsin. Last session, this legislation (2021 Assembly Bill 191) passed in both the Assembly and Senate but was then vetoed by Governor Evers.
The Personal Property Tax in Wisconsin requires businesses to pay property tax on items such as furniture, equipment, and boats. It has proven to be unpopular due to its tedious and inefficient method of assessment. The state would reimburse local governments for lost revenue under the proposed legislation.
“Our small businesses are struggling to stay open and find employees, yet they continue to find themselves diverting their attention to the complicated task of complying with this burdensome tax,” Rep. Knodl said. “At the same time, municipalities often find themselves spending more resources to administer this tax than they end up collecting in revenue. There is absolutely no reason for this tax to exist anymore, and the time has come to bring it to the swift end it deserves.”
SCOWIS candidate forum held in Madison
The four candidates running for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court participated in a candidate forum in Madison on Monday where they weighed in on a number of topics consequential to the state. Conservative candidates Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, as well as liberal candidates Dane County Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell and Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz are all competing for a 10-year term to replace retiring conservative Justice Patience Roggensack. The ideological balance of the court will be on the line during the April Spring Election with the court’s current 4-3 conservative majority at risk of being flipped to a liberal majority if Judges Mitchell or Protasiewicz were to win.
Here are some of the topics discussed and positions taken by the candidates.
Worst U.S. Supreme Court decision
The candidates were asked to identify what they believed to be the worst ruling made by the U.S. Supreme Court in the last 30 years:
- Judge Dorow did not point to a specific ruling, but said “Sometimes, the words, or even the statutes themselves, are stupid. But stupid doesn’t mean unconstitutional. It doesn’t matter to my job whether I liked the words or even agree with the law. My job is to apply the words and what they mean.”
- Justice Kelly pointed to a 2005 SCOTUS ruling that made it easier for the government to forcibly take private property from citizens. “When the government steps in and takes private property, it’s not just an economic problem for the person who loses the property, it’ also a question of liberty,” Justice Kelly said.
- Judge Mitchell and Judge Protasiewicz both pointed to the recent SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade as the court’s worst decision in the last 30 years. “That is the epitome and definition of judicial activism,” Judge Protasiewicz said. “Three generations of women have counted on Roe v. Wade, to allow them to make their own decisions in regard to reproductive rights.”
The candidates were asked whether the recent SCOWIS ruling calling for a “least change approach” to the state’s legislative maps was correct and whether race should be used as a factor when drawing political boundaries.
- Judge Dorow called the ruling “interesting and unique,” but declined to provide her opinion citing the possibility of additional litigation on redistricting being brought to SCOWIS.
- Justice Kelly defended the court’s ruling, calling redistricting “a political process,” that contains “legal elements.” “The phrase ‘least change’ is meant to capture what the court’s responsibility is when it has to consider a redistricting map,” Justice Kelly said. “When a map comes to the court … the court’s responsibility is limited to considering the legal challenges, not the political challenges.”
- Judge Mitchell called democracy in the state “broken” and said it was time for legislative maps to be drawn in a fair, nonpartisan manner. He was critical of the least change ruling, saying “Anytime as an African American in judicial spaces (you) hear the words “least change approach,” it just brings up all kinds of past trauma of how people didn’t want to change stuff because it did not empower our communities.”
- Judge Protasiewicz called the legislative maps “rigged” and said the concept of a least change approach “might sound good to some people,” but there is no basis for it in the Constitution or case law.
Protasiewicz announces fundraising numbers
Wisconsin Supreme Court (SCOWIS) candidate Janet Protasiewicz raised $756,217 over the last half of 2022, pushing her fundraising to a record breaking $924,449. Previously, the largest fundraising haul for a SCOWIS candidate was $823,104 which was raised by Justice Shirley Abrahamson in her successful 2009 reelection bid.
Protasiewicz’ cover sheet shows $720,067 from individual donations between July 1 and Dec. 31 and $36,150 in committee contributions. She finished the year with $729,679 in the bank.
The next round of campaign finance reports for state candidates must be filed by Jan. 17.
A list of all upcoming fundraiser opportunities can be found by clicking the button below. For any questions or more information, please do not hesitate to contact your Michael Best Strategies contact.