Bills Awaiting Senate Action Are Dead But Revival Possible

By John Forester | April 1, 2020

From WisPolitics…

The 158 bills awaiting action by the state Senate after being passed by the Assembly are dead after the Legislature adjourned following the last general floor period of the biennial session last week.

But the Wisconsin Legislative Council says lawmakers can revive those proposals by extending a floor period or authorizing an extraordinary session.

In a memo prepared for Senate President Roger Roth, Council Director Anne Sappenfield said the extension option is limited to adding days to previously scheduled floor periods. The last general business floor period on the calendar for this biennium ran from March 24-26.

Sappenfield told WisPolitics.com Senate rules do not provide a cap on how long the session can be extended.

Lawmakers can also take up the outstanding bills by authorizing an extraordinary session. Sappenfield said that can be done through three processes: at the direction of a majority of Org Committee members in each house; through the adoption and concurrence of a joint resolution in each house; or by a joint petition signed by a majority of members in each house.

Still, Senate Rule 93 (1) specifies only legislation that “accomplishes the business specified in the action authorizing the extraordinary session” can be considered. Under the rule, a regular session proposal can be revived and is considered to be at the same stage of proceedings as it was at the end of the session.

Sappenfield also noted under Senate Rule 93 (1p), for a Senate proposal to be taken up under a Senate extraordinary session, it must be recommended by the Senate Organization Committee, Senate Finance Committee, Joint Finance Committee, Joint Committee on Legislative Organization, or Joint Committee on Employment Relations.

See the memo here.

See Senate Rule 93 (1) and (1p) here.

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Evers Job Approval Through the Roof

By John Forester | April 1, 2020

From WisPolitics.com …

Wisconsin voters overwhelmingly approve of the way Gov. Tony Evers has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, helping fuel higher overall job approval numbers, according to the latest Marquette University Law School Poll.

Meanwhile, a narrow majority of voters approve of how President Trump has addressed the outbreak. But that hasn’t had a significant impact on either Trump’s overall job approval rating in Wisconsin or on the numbers in the horse race for president.

Today’s release included a focus on the coronavirus pandemic, finding 76 percent of voters approve of how Evers has handled the situation, while just 17 percent disapproved.

That helped fuel a surge in Evers’ overall job approval numbers. Sixty-five percent of voters approve of the Dem guv’s performance, while 29 percent disapprove. That’s up from a 51-38 split in February.

Evers issued a series of orders on social distancing before issuing a stay-at-home directive last week just before the poll went into the field. The survey found 86 percent support government action to close schools and businesses, along with restricting public gatherings. Ten percent said such moves were an overreaction.

Polling nationally has found governors generally getting better marks on their handling of the pandemic than the president, and that was true in the Marquette poll as well.

Fifty-one percent of voters approve of Trump’s handling of the outbreak, while 46 percent disapprove.

Overall, 48 percent approve of his job performance, while 49 percent disapprove, compared to a 48-48 split in February.

The survey also found 61 percent say the state is headed in the right direction, while 30 percent said it was on the wrong track. That’s up from 52-39 last month, and could be a reflection of the positive reaction to the measures taken to confront COVID-19, according to the poll release.

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Fitzgerald, Vos to Introduce a Single COVID-19 Bill

By John Forester | April 1, 2020

From WisPolitics…

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said today they plan to introduce a single piece of legislation that would provide a state response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The GOP leaders said on a conference call they hope to produce a bill with broad, bipartisan agreement. Still, it is too early to say when they will meet.

“We want to get this done as quickly as we are able to do it. But we also want to be smart,” said Vos, R-Rochester.

Over the weekend, the two GOP leaders said the initial bill Evers released just days ago was too expensive considering the state’s finances. They didn’t commit to a price tag for the bill they will produce, saying they wanted to have a better idea of what the $2.3 billion in federal money coming to Wisconsin — including $1.9 billion to state government — will mean.

Today, they said a broad consensus exists in their caucuses to approve suspension of the one-week delay before someone who’s laid off can begin collecting unemployment checks. The guv earlier had called on lawmakers to convene immediately to repeal the provision.

They also indicated they believed the change would be retroactive, though they weren’t clear whether it would go back to when Evers first issued the stay-at-home order last week or when the federal relief bill was signed into law on Friday.

Read the LFB memo on the federal stimulus bill here.

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Evers Seeks $388 Million in State Funds to Address COVID-19

By John Forester | April 1, 2020

From WisPolitics.com …

Gov. Tony Evers is seeking at least $388 million in state funds to address the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing money for health care providers, creating a reinsurance program to cut premiums, and providing grants for food assistance and meal delivery programs.

Evers’ latest proposal would also grant unlimited spending authority to the Department of Workforce Development to boost unemployment insurance.

The package would provide sum sufficient state dollars to: reimburse unemployment insurance claims relating to the COVID-19 pandemic; provide back payment for any lost benefits as a result of the delay in suspending the one-week waiting period to claim UI; allow employers to continue to pay laid-off employees without affecting UI eligibility; and waive a number of Work-Share program requirements.

The package would also seek $100 million in general fund-supported borrowing to cover increased capital costs if the state has to suspend construction projects.

Today’s move comes after Republicans over the weekend rebuffed his first legislative proposal, because the “current general fund balance can’t support” a proposal the Legislative Fiscal Bureau pegged at about $700 million; a WisPolitics.com tally of governor’s administration documents showed more than $800 million in spending.

In a letter to legislative leaders included with the proposals, Evers praised the federal government’s response as “welcome and necessary” but said there were a number of areas where state funding would be necessary to “fill gaps in.”

But a spokeswoman for Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said while the Assembly Republican caucus will review the package, “the state does not have the money to spend.”

“The governor can use federal stimulus dollars,” spokeswoman Kit Beyer said.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in an email “many of these items have already been discussed” while “some appear to be redundant or previously discarded.”

“The Legislature plans to craft and negotiate a plan that doesn’t spend outside our state’s means,” the Juneau Republican said.

The biggest pieces of the package include: $150 million in GPR to support small businesses; $94 million in GPR to boost funding for Medicaid providers through supplemental payments and rate increases; and $30 million in GPR to reduce costs of health insurance for consumers.

Other provision would:

*Use $9.7 million in GPR to boost the Earned Income Tax Credit.

*Prohibit utility cooperatives and propane suppliers from cutting off service during the public health emergency. A separate measure seeks to prevent any utility from disconnecting service at a rental unit at the direction of a landlord.

*Provide $25 million in GPR to support child care providers who were forced to close.

*Allow municipalities to implement multiple installments of three or more payments for 2020 property taxes and waive interest and penalties on delinquent property taxes included in the 2019 payable 2020 tax roll.

*Create an $8 million GPR-supported fund to prevent single-family foreclosures and allow borrowers refinancing opportunities.

See the letter and package here.

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The Latest on the Steady Stream of DOL Guidance on FFCRA

By John Forester | April 1, 2020

From the Legal Side…

In its most recent School Law FYI, the BoardmanClark Law Firm provides the latest in its series on the steady stream of clarifying guidance released by the Department of Labor (DOL) on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the BoardmanClark Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

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DOL Issues More Guidance On FFCRA

By John Forester | April 1, 2020

From the Legal Side…

In its most recent School Law FYI, the BoardmanClark Law Firm reports on more clarifying guidance released by the Department of Labor (DOL) on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).  This update focuses on common areas of concern for school districts.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the BoardmanClark Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

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COVID-19 and Individual Teacher Contracts

By John Forester | March 31, 2020

From the Legal Side…

In its most recent School Law FYI, the BoardmanClark Law Firm addresses issues related to the renewal and non-renewal of teacher contracts in light of COVID-19.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the BoardmanClark Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

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Fitzgerald, Vos Say Legislature Planning to Meet “Soon”

By John Forester | March 30, 2020

From WisPolitics.com …

Having already declared Gov. Tony Evers’ first proposal too expensive, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said today he hopes to have the Senate meet virtually “in the next couple of weeks” to take up legislation addressing COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the Assembly was committed to meeting “soon.”

But Evers today implored lawmakers to act sooner, saying waiting “weeks and weeks” doesn’t help serve state residents in the “best way possible.”

The statements from Fitzgerald and Vos came after the guv’s office over the weekend released a draft of legislation to address the pandemic. In a memo, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau pegged that bill’s price tag at $706.2 million, not counting a sum sufficient appropriation for the Department of Health Services to address a public health emergency. A WisPolitics.com tally of the proposals listed in a governor’s administration document showed the provisions totaled over $800 million.

In a joint statement on Saturday, Fitzgerald and Vos said the state’s general fund couldn’t afford the proposal.

In today’s statement, Fitzgerald said progress continues on drafting a bill and conversations continue with the guv’s staff and others despite “the disagreement over the weekend.”

“We’re hopeful we can hit the floor with a bill that can address policy concerns in the next couple weeks through a virtual session of the Senate,” Fitzgerald said.

On Friday, Vos laid out the priorities of his caucus for an expected $2.3 billion Wisconsin will receive from a federal stimulus package the president signed. It includes about $1.9 billion going directly to the state government, and Vos said Assembly Republicans want that money used for personal protection equipment, to help public health departments and health care providers, and to address the financial difficulties for those hit hardest.

“Our Democratic colleagues know that Assembly leaders have already committed to holding a floor session soon,” Vos said. “We’re currently exploring the possible ways to convene a session without adversely impacting the most at-risk populations within our membership and support staff.”

Evers told reporters today he wants to work with stakeholders and lawmakers to “get things done as soon as possible,” adding he hopes “we can get somebody to take the bait’ and have a legislative session.

Evers continued to push for the elimination of a one-week waiting period between filing for unemployment and receiving the first check.

He also said beyond the federal dollars, the administration needs flexibility and more money at agencies such as Health Services and Workforce Development, which has been flooded with inquiries about unemployment benefits.

“We have been briefing legislative offices on those issues; hopefully we can get somebody to take the bait frankly and let’s have a legislative session so we can talk about it,” Evers said. “So far that hasn’t happened, but we continue to work with the Legislature to make them understand the needs at the state level to make sure that we serve people in Wisconsin the best way possible.

“Meanwhile, Dems on the Joint Finance Committee said they backed the guv’s proposal.

“I am glad to see Gov. Evers taking initiative to ensure that Wisconsinites are not prevented from receiving the treatment and support they need to weather this public health emergency,” Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, said in an email. “Key to this is removing statutory barriers and legal red tape so our public health experts have the flexibility to act swiftly to keep our communities safe.”

Sen. Jon Erpenbach said it was “high time that Republican leadership stop(s) playing games.”

“Every aspect of our lives from democracy, to public safety, to economic prosperity depends on us coming together NOW and working for the greater good of Wisconsin,” The West Point Dem wrote in an email to WisPolitics.com.

See the LFB memo on the Evers draft here.

See a background document from the governor’s office here.

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DOL Issues Additional Guidance on FFCRA

By John Forester | March 30, 2020

From the Legal Side…

In its most recent School Law FYI, the BoardmanClark Law Firm focuses on additional guidance issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the BoardmanClark Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

Topics: SAA Capitol Reports, SAA Capitol Reports with Email Notifications, SAA Latest Update, SAA Legal Side | No Comments »

403(b) Restatement Deadline Extended

By John Forester | March 30, 2020

From the Legal Side…

In its most recent Legal Update, the Buelow Vetter Law Firm focuses on the IRS extension of the deadline by which most school districts and other eligible employers must restate their 403(b) plan documents.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the Buelow Vetter Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

Topics: SAA Capitol Reports, SAA Capitol Reports with Email Notifications, SAA Latest Update, SAA Legal Side | No Comments »

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