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Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Photo by: Arlene Bozicnik  •   South Trout Lake, Boulder Junction
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Wednesday's COVID-19 Wisconsin Update

  • Figures from the Department of Health Services indicate 40% of the Wisconsin population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
     
  • The daily average number of new coronavirus infections in the state has declined for 14 of the past 16 days.
     
  • The state pandemic death toll rose to 6,971 after 13 COVID-19 deaths were reported Tuesday.
     
  • Hospitalization levels remain steady.

Evers Calls Special Session, Daring Legislature to Vote 'No' on Expanding Medicaid and Putting $1B Into Economy 

  • Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday called a special session for the Legislature to consider taking federal Medicaid money to expand BadgerCare, a move that would bring health coverage to 90,000 additional low-income state residents. He wants lawmakers to then allocate much of the additional $1.6 billion in federal funds that would come in over the next two years.
     
  • The special session, scheduled for noon on Tuesday, May 25, is unlikely to result in an expansion, as Republicans who control both chambers of the Legislature have repeatedly and vehemently opposed the measure. Instead, Evers appears to be using the session as a political tool to put Republicans on the record opposing expansion—which had 70% public support in the most recent Marquette Law School Poll—and the additional federal funding that could be put into the state economy.
     
  • “It’s time for Republicans to put politics aside, and let’s work together to invest in economic development and recovery efforts across our state,” Evers said in a statement.
     
  • Evers paired the notice with a five-and-a-half-page list of what he'd like done with the additional funds—from remediating harmful chemicals known as PFAS to funding rural emergency medical services to expanding broadband.
     
  • Republicans have previously ignored multiple special sessions from Evers. In January, they declined to take action to fix the state’s outdated unemployment system; last year, they sidestepped a session on police reform following the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police; and in 2019 they adjourned a special session on popular gun control measures within 15 seconds before spending half an hour debating whether to call the Capitol’s Holiday Tree a “Christmas tree.”
—Reported by Jonathon Sadowski

GOP Legislators Push to Cut Jobless Aid, Call on Reliable Donor to Make the Case

  • Legislative Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a bill to cut off unemployed Wisconsinites from the extra $300 per week provided by the federal government's COVID-19 pandemic relief bills.
     
  • Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) led a news conference describing how ending the extra assistance and re-instituting work-search requirements would effectively force people back into the labor force. The legislators' primary aim is to help employers who blame the recession aid for a shortage of workers.
     
  • “When you pay people more to stay home, they stay home,” Marklein said, despite studies showing a lack of correlation between fluctuations in unemployment aid and length of joblessness.
     
  • With the additional $300 per week, Wisconsin unemployment recipients are receiving $670 per week pre-tax, the equivalent of $16.75 per hour. The median hourly wage in Wisconsin is $19.79, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, estimated last week that unemployed Wisconsinites stand to collectively lose about $650 million if the benefits are cut off early.
     
  • It’s unclear how effective the withdrawal of the extra pandemic support would be at filling open jobs throughout the state, as Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is already relatively low at 3.8%, according to the most recent figures from BLS. The state’s pre-pandemic unemployment rate was 3.2%.
     
  • The Main Street Alliance of Wisconsin, a progressive small-business lobby, in a statement disputed Vos' and Marklein’s argument and said workers need better access to child care to more easily return to work—a condition tracked in a recent UpNorthNews series. As of March, 1.4 million more mothers were staying home to care for their children than the same time last year, according to the US Census Bureau
     
  • The GOP lawmakers were joined by Ron Buholzer of Klondike Cheese, who described having 34 open positions at its Monroe-based operation. Buholzer is a regular donor to conservative campaigns. Among the contributions tracked in a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign database for donors who listed Klondike Cheese Factory as their employer, at least six people named Buholzer have made 147 donations totaling $391,150 since 2009.

Congress Overwhelmingly Adopts Measure to Fight Anti-Asian Hate Crimes. Tom Tiffany Among the Few to Vote 'No.' 

  • On a lopsided bipartisan vote, Congress approved legislation Tuesday intended to curtail a striking rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, sending President Joe Biden a bipartisan denunciation of the spate of brutal attacks that have proliferated during the coronavirus pandemic.
     
  • The bill will expedite the review of hate crimes at the US Justice Department and make grants available to help local law enforcement agencies improve their investigation, identification, and reporting of incidents driven by bias, which often go underreported.
     
  • US Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) of the 7th Congressional District was among the handful of members opposed to the bill, which passed the House on a 364-62 vote. Every other Wisconsin Republican and Democratic member of Congress supported the bill.
—The Associated Press contributed to this report

While Marathon County Struggles With Racial Divides, Wausau's Mayor Makes Clear the City Is a Welcoming Community

  • Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg wasted no time reacting to a New York Times article Tuesday that detailed the ongoing, divisive struggle among Marathon County Board members to agree on a resolution declaring their county "a community for all." While the county still has no such declaration, the city of Wausau now does.
     
  • Rosenberg called a news conference for Tuesday afternoon to announce she had signed a proclamation to underscore that her city is a community for all that "accepts, celebrates, and appreciates diversity" and condemns hate-based activity and treatment.
     
  • Such a notion eludes a divided county board with an executive committee that recently rejected a similar resolution on a 6-2 vote after a bitter yearlong debate that included heated pushback from those who said recognizing the equality of people from all races is racist itself.
     
  • "It was devastating to read that about my community," Rosenberg said. "I felt it was necessary for us to make a strong, unified statement that we are a community for all, despite what we read in those comments in that article."

Maybe Electric Cars? Foxconn Makes a Deal, but Wisconsin Connection Still Just a Rumor. 

  • Foxconn has struck an agreement with a California startup to build electric vehicles, the two companies announced last week. The news comes two months after Foxconn Chairman Young Liu said the Taiwanese tech giant might use its factory in Mount Pleasant to build electric cars. But the dots have yet to be directly connected.
     
  • Foxconn and Fisker, the electric vehicle startup, in a joint press release said production is expected to begin in the US in 2023. The release said there will be “an extensive review of potential US manufacturing sites,” but it did not provide any specific locations under consideration.
     
  • Foxconn declined to comment further, other than to issue a vague emailed statement to UpNorthNews: "To-date Foxconn has invested over $900 million in Wisconsin. This presence has attracted the attention of other businesses and investors who share our vision for a Park that can sustain future business and community development.”
     
  • Gov. Tony Evers’ administration last month reached a greatly slimmed-down deal with Foxconn. The company in 2017 signed a contract with the state, worth up to $3 billion in tax incentives, to bring a sprawling LCD manufacturing facility and 13,000 jobs to Racine County. The revised contract is worth a maximum of $80 million in exchange for about 1,500 jobs, with no stipulation about what the company will manufacture at the site.
—Reported by Jonathon Sadowski

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Faster Internet in WI Gets $100 Million Boost From Biden Stimulus Package

  • Making the largest single disbursement of money for broadband expansion in state history, Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday he is allocating $100 million in federal coronavirus stimulus funding to award grants for expanding broadband internet access in Wisconsin.
     
  • The federal funding from the American Rescue Plan is in addition to nearly $200 million in broadband expansion proposals Evers made in his state budget, which is pending before the Republican-controlled Legislature.
     
  • In the 2019-21 state budget, Evers proposed $78.6 million for the state’s Rural Broadband Expansion Grant program, but legislative Republicans cut that request to $48 million.
     
  • Under former President Donald Trump, the US Department of Agriculture invested $80.9 million in broadband expansion in Wisconsin.
     
  • The current federal money for broadband expansion is to be used mostly for projects that benefit unserved or underserved households and businesses in the state. Broadband Now, a broadband expansion advocacy group, ranks Wisconsin as 30th in the nation for broadband access.
The quip only works if you know Quisling was a person before he became an adjective.
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