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The ACLU of Wisconsin has filed a lawsuit over the state’s decision against covering state employees for any services associated with gender reassignment. The suit was filed on behalf of a graduate student at UW-Madison and a cancer researcher at the medical school, both of whom are transgender women. The Group Insurance Board added coverage of those services on Jan. 1, as it was looking to implement new federal rules. But after those rules were struck down, the GIB reinstated its longstanding exclusion against covering such services in February. The state Department of Justice didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. See the lawsuit: http://aclu-wi.org/sites/default/files/media/pdf/Dkt_001_Complaint%20%2800425339xC0FCA%29.pdf

Ethics Commission Chair Peg Lautenschlager resigned today, writing in a letter “several factors that have arisen that mitigate against my continued service.” The letter did not specify what the factors were, and Lautenschalger did not immediately return a call this afternoon seeking comment. Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling appointed the former Dem AG to the commission and will be able to appoint her replacement. Read the letter: https://ethics.wi.gov/Resources/LautenschlagerResignation20170407.pdf


Judge Gorsuch is a highly qualified, mainstream judge who will apply the law as written, rather than alter the law to achieve the outcome he desires. It was a pleasure fulfilling my campaign promise of voting to confirm a judge – not a superlegislator or judicial activist – as our next Supreme Court justice.”
– U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, on his vote to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The people of Wisconsin want an impartial and independent Supreme Court justice who will make decisions that protect the constitutional rights and freedoms of all Americans — not stand for corporate special interests.
– U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, who opposed Gorsuch’s confirmation.

Am I glad it’s a big win? Hell yes. It says something about the two messages. … I’m not going to pick on him because we beat him, but the fact is his view of the world is a lot different than mine. And my view of the world won.
– State Superintendent Tony Evers on his 70-30 re-election victory over opponent Lowell Holtz.

There’s only so much you can do shaking hands.
– Holtz lamenting the financial disparity in the race. Between Jan. 1 and March 20, Holtz pulled in $117,190, while Evers collected just north of $360,000. Evers also benefited from a $225,000 TV ad buy from the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee.

We’re at the concept stages right now. … It’s important that we don’t just win the votes of one caucus or one group, but that we get the votes and the consensus of 216 of our members, and that’s kind of where we are right now.
– House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville at a WisPolitics.com event in D.C. on progress toward a new health care bill after the House’s earlier effort failed.

See WisPolitics.com coverage:

Right now, Assembly Democrats are fighting for us in Madison. They’re in the Assembly Chambers asking their Republican colleagues to do what is right and bring Wisconsin tax dollars back to our state to fund healthcare for families and children who desperately need it.
– An Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee email solicitation as Assembly Dems offered failed amendments to a series of opioid abuse bills. Several of the amendments would have required the state to accept federal Medicaid expansion money.

We’ve done a good thing to this point making it nonpartisan. Using this discussion as an opportunity to raise funds sinks to a new level.
– Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, the author of the bills, saying he was “appalled on behalf of” families affected by the opioid addiction.

I would say probably it was ill-advised in terms of going out today vs. tomorrow or Thursday, but those things happen. I don’t think it’s that egregious of an issue.
– Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.

As I have traveled to every county for listening sessions and visited schools districts throughout Wisconsin, one message is clear — we need to take our Reform Dividend and invest it in K-12 education. That is what my budget does, and by keeping my proposal today, the Legislature recognizes the need to make public education a top priority.
– Gov. Scott Walker after the Joint Finance Committee announced it will work off of his budget proposal on all areas besides transportation. The committee is also pulling 83 policy items from the budget for consideration as separate legislation.

We want everything on the table, and we feel that by using the base it gives us more room.
– JFC Co-chair Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who said transportation remains the most contentious piece of the guv’s proposal and starting from the base gives the committee more options. She said some lawmakers continue to look at user fees to boost the fund’s resources, although a gas tax hike remained a tough sell and at this point her caucus would not support an increase.

Are we going to be doing this budget on the backs of our children by not providing the increase that the schools wanted and needed?
– JFC member Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, questioning where Republicans could find money to bolster transportation.

The more your staff keeps injecting themselves into the JFC process the more difficult you will make it. Lobbying by Twitter isn’t going to work here.
– Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in a text message to Walker. Walker responded, according to texts released to the Wisconsin State Journal, saying, “That’s not staff. That’s me. Your members ran ads saying they were against my cuts to education, so I’m assuming they will support my increases.”

What you will see me do is take a bunch of different ideas in the building and go in the direction of lower taxes, go in the direction of a more solvent transportation fund and go in the direction of better roads in Wisconsin.
– Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, saying he’s putting together an Assembly GOP transportation plan that could “sail through” the Legislature.

Track the budget in the WisPolitics.com Budget Blog:

The tribes are here. Reach out, state leaders. Extend your hand. … We need to build bridges, not walls.
– Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community during the annual State of the Tribes Address. Her speech stressed united approaches to conservation initiatives and support for health care and education.

See coverage from Tuesday’s PM Update:

–A collection of insider opinion–
(Apr. 1-7, 2017)


Tony Evers: The only real question insiders had going into Election Day was how big the state superintendent’s margin of victory would be. Turns out, quite impressive. Evers rolls over conservative challenger Lowell Holtz with 70 percent of the vote, the largest margin of victory in a DPI race since 1989. As he did in the primary, Evers wins just about everywhere; Holtz only took deep-red Washington and Waukesha counties. Evers insists his win isn’t a mandate, but rather a validation of his positive approach to the campaign, promising to continue working with the guv and others on education. Holtz, meanwhile, expresses zero regrets about his focus on what he saw as the education issues facing Wisconsin, particularly the achievement gap. He also says the campaign money disparity — Evers outraised him better than 2-to-1 and the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee spent $225,000 on a TV ad praising the incumbent — played a big role in the final results. He laments, “There’s only so much you can do shaking hands,” a reference to conservative groups shunning the race. Still, some suggest Holtz gave others little reason to get involved with what they consider a poorly run campaign and negative narrative. He was dogged by a controversy over talks with fellow challenger John Humphries about one leaving the race and the other being in line for a DPI job if Evers lost, and a series of stories that raised questions about Holtz’s performance at his past jobs. It likely didn’t help Holtz that Justice Annette Ziegler was unchallenged this spring. Had she drawn an opponent, the state GOP and conservative groups would have fired up their turnout operations in an attempt to promote the conservative justice and hold firm on the court’s 5-2 majority. Instead, Holtz is largely left on his own, leaving conservatives to bemoan another missed opportunity to take an office that has eluded them for decades. Evers, meanwhile, is a rare bright spot for Dems after a disappointing 2016, with liberal Dane County providing a big boost over his 2013 numbers.

High-capacity wells: Last session, Republicans couldn’t get on the same page to overhaul regulations of the wells, which can pump more than 100,000 gallons of water a day. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, is making sure that’s not the case this time around. Fitzgerald singled out high-capacity wells legislation early on as a priority and signed onto the new version of the bill as a co-author. Then he gets it through his chamber on a party-line vote and sends it to the Assembly, where Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is shooting for an early May vote. Dems weren’t happy with last session’s bills, and don’t like this one, either. Under the bill, the DNR would not review the impact of the wells when they are replaced or the property is sold. Senate Dems sought several changes to the bill, including a review every 10 years. But Republicans shot down the amendments as Dems complained the legislation privatized the state’s waters and would allow some to “steal” their neighbor’s waters in perpetuity. But Fitzgerald called the legislation measured and pro-agriculture, saying produce farmers need certainty to help preserve one of the state’s biggest industries. One of the complications last session was GOP state Rep. Scott Krug, who introduced his own high-capacity wells bill and represents the Central Sands region that is at the heart of the debate. He says an amendment Republicans added in the Senate helped win his support because it tweaks the areas that would be studied for the impact of high-capacity wells to look more closely at some of the most impacted bodies of water in his district.

Tammy Baldwin: The Madison Dem knows she’s going to be a top target for Republicans next year. And she’s firing up her finance operation as she tries to amass enough resources to defend herself from the coming onslaught. Baldwin’s campaign says she raised $2.2 million over the first three months of 2017 and finished the quarter with $2.4 million in the bank. The haul was a dramatic uptick for the Madison Dem compared to the past two years, a period in which her best haul was $565,063. It also puts her ahead of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s pace before the Oshkosh Republican’s successful re-election; during the first quarter of 2015, he raised almost $1.3 million and had about $1.5 million cash on hand. Baldwin proved her chops as a fundraiser in her 2012 race, raising $14.5 million over 2011 and 2012 as she beat Tommy Thompson for the then-open Senate seat. Still, some Republicans argue the Johnson comparison is off since he was raising money at a time when Republicans had more than a dozen candidates running for the presidency — including Gov. Scott Walker — and sucking up tons of money from GOP donors in the process. Baldwin is also likely benefiting from the energy on the left unhappy over President Trump, so it should be easy for her to raise money in the current environment. And they question how quickly she’s going through the cash. Baldwin backers, however, say this initial quarter was about establishing some infrastructure that will help her continue to pull in significant dollars through next fall. And they say even with those costs, once the final numbers are in, she’ll likely have spent around $800,000 for the three-month period. Considering the early investments in her operation, they argue, that’s not bad. But there are plenty of landmines ahead of her between now and next fall. Republicans may have a crowded field right now, but conservatives argue that’s because of the opportunity the GOP sees to pick up a Senate seat next fall and continue turning Wisconsin red. They also argue Baldwin has serious vulnerabilities on the Tomah VA, saying that issue is ripe for attack ads. National Republicans are already trying to soften her up with a series of shots over her opposition to Trump’s pick to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, questioning Baldwin’s approach to the filibuster of his nomination in a “Trump state.” But others point out the president pulled under 50 percent of the vote in Wisconsin last fall and his job approval rating in the last Marquette University Law School Poll was 41 percent. There’s little downside to breaking with a president who has those numbers, and Baldwin’s best bet to win over those voters in northern and western Wisconsin who went for Trump last fall is to focus on issues important to them, such as her “buy America” legislation. What’s more, poll after poll showed voters wanted a hearing and vote on nominee Merrick Garland. But there’s little evidence voters held that against Johnson after he opposed a vote; this is all about jazzing up the GOP base, some say. Meanwhile, the crowded GOP field is getting a little taste of the “talk show primary” as Kevin Nicholson, a former Marine and business consultant, and Nicole Schneider, a newcomer and likely self-funder, get the once-over from the right wing about past statements, tweets, Facebook posts or any other sign they’re not pure on conservative causes. In the end, some note, the environment next year will play a huge role in how this race plays out, particularly with Trump’s struggles. But Republicans remain confident that with the ground game they’ve built in Wisconsin, they have a great shot to beat Baldwin, regardless of the national environment. Voters will continue to be unhappy with those linked to Washington, D.C., next year regardless of how the president is doing, they contend.


School spending issues: School districts get a boost at the polls April 4 as some two-thirds of the 65 referenda questions on the spring primary ballot gain voter approval. Of the $964.8 million in district requests, $699.7 million passed, with the biggest spenders coming from the Green Bay and Verona school districts. Verona’s taking advantage of a unique situation, as its funding capabilities are boosted by Epic following the closing of a tax incremental finance district last year, meaning the medical software company is absorbing millions of dollars in construction costs for the district. But Republicans are hoping the referendum gains in the future will decrease. Gov. Scott Walker told reporters in Waukesha he expects the number of referenda passed “goes down dramatically” if his nearly $650 million boost to K-12 education stays in the budget. Meanwhile, GOP leggies are again making moves to limit school districts’ ability to go to referendum. Six GOP-backed bills began circulating recently, including one that would prevent districts from asking voters to raise taxes permanently, one that would limit referenda to the fall and spring general election ballots and another that causes districts that exceed state-imposed revenue limits by bringing in more money through property taxes and state funding to ultimately lose state aid. Currently, after raising revenue limit authority via referendum, “there’s no guaranteed outcome” as to the amount of state aid districts will receive compared to other districts, according to a DPI spokesman. Some win, some lose and some break even. But to many school advocates, all school districts lose when their ability to go to referendum is curbed.

Turnout: The Elections Commission isn’t in the game of predicting turnout anymore. But statewide, the 16 percent of voters who cast ballots in Tuesday’s election falls pretty much in the middle of the 13 percent to 18 percent range the agency projected based on recent spring elections. There was a surge in the February primary compared to past DPI races, a sign to some of the energy on the left over President Trump. But when looking at a county-by-county level, turnout was down in seven of the state’s 10 largest counties compared to the spring 2013 election, including Racine, Rock and Waukesha counties, the latter of which was one of the only two to go for Holtz. But turnout surged in liberal Dane County. There, 97,049 voters showed up, compared to 85,142 four years ago. The other two counties that saw greater turnout registered a less dramatic uptick; they were Brown County, which registered 4,315 more ballots this spring than in April 2013; and Marathon County, where voters cast 127 more ballots from four years ago. Across all 10 of the state’s most populous counties, 2017 saw 12,685 fewer ballots cast than in 2013. When comparing this general election’s turnout to the past two where state superintendent was the only position on the spring ballot — how the Elections Commission dictated its turnout range this time around — 2001 saw about 14 percent of voters casting their ballots, and 2005 had 17 percent. So there were no surprises on April 4 in terms of statewide turnout.

NIH funding: Medical researchers, including those at UW-Madison, were thrilled when Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act last year. So many of them worried when President Trump proposed significant budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health. But House Speaker Paul Ryan tells a WisPolitics.com luncheon there isn’t too much too worry about. That’s because funding medical research is one priority on which most Republicans are willing to spend tax dollars, he says, adding it’s “one of the reasons we got consensus on the Cures bill in the first place.” Congress needs to rein in mandatory spending on programs like Social Security and Medicare, he says, thereby giving lawmakers room to increase spending on medical research. He also warns against assuming too much about Trump’s stance based off his 2018 budget proposal, as presidential administrations rarely have enough time to give a full budget proposal in their first year. Individual Republicans have made similar comments, giving medical researchers — and patients — some hope that the cuts won’t take place. But some also worry over Trump’s ongoing hiring freeze, saying it could delay the law’s effect despite a longstanding need for it.

Dane County zoning: Some of the county’s rural towns get another win at the Capitol as the Assembly passes a bill making it easier for them to opt out of county zoning rules. But it’s unclear how far the effort will go, with the Senate noncommittal and lacking a companion bill to AB 109. At issue, once again, is zoning rules from the heavily Dem county that supporters say prevent suburban sprawl but critics say hamper development in its rural parts. GOP lawmakers passed a law last session letting towns opt out of the county’s zoning rules. But Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, heard from some town leaders that the process was too cumbersome, so the bill he authors looks to make it easier and faster for towns to withdraw. The bill gets criticism right out of the gate. That’s largely because it eliminated citizens’ direct input into the issue and instead put the decision in town boards’ hands. After the initial blowback, Ripp amends the bill to let citizens vote in a referendum or a special town meeting — but not their annual town meeting. Dems viewed that as a problem, since eight towns are deciding on withdrawal at their April 18 annual meetings. So they delayed a vote until Thursday. The Assembly’s passage makes it too late for the Senate, which returns in May, to pass it in time and affect those votes. The bill’s supporters push back on Dem claims that they’re trying to suppress public opinion. The withdrawal issue, they say, has drawn significant public attention and would do so at any special town meeting. And, they add, those special meetings require giving the public notice that it’s happening, while annual meetings don’t need public notice if they’re held on the third Tuesday of April. Ripp also says “Dane County has intruded on townships” by not doing a comprehensive review of its zoning for decades. But perhaps the bigger headline on the topic came out of the town of Middleton, where two write-in candidates running campaigns on the issue beat incumbents. That included the defeat of Supervisor Tim Roehl, the vice president of the Dane County Towns Association board. Dems said those results show the power of democracy and that people don’t want further attacks on local control. But the bill’s supporters pointed to results in other towns, where incumbents who support withdrawal from Dane County zoning won their races.


Local transportation money: The Joint Finance Committee’s decision to work off the guv’s budget except for DOT is seen as a good sign for K-12 education. Not so much for the boost in state aid local governments were going to see under Walker’s plan. In announcing his budget, the guv touted a $77 million increase in the money local governments would get between general aids, the road improvement program and local bridge improvements. The guv sold it as a way to prioritize the state’s needs in a fiscally responsible manner — which also happened to fit within the parameters of not raising the gas tax or registration fee. But that doesn’t mean it made GOP lawmakers happy. In fact, some Republicans members of the Joint Finance Committee wanted to start with the base for the entire budget. The argument for some was that as they made changes to the budget — and likely tried to free up money to pump into transportation — lawmakers could focus on how much they put into things like K-12 education, not how much they cut from what Walker had proposed. But other Republicans wanted nothing to do with that plan. Among other things, they saw Walker’s call to pump $649 million into K-12 as a winner, particularly after largely holding school spending flat over the last several budgets. Budget watchers also note the reaction education advocates had to Walker’s K-12 proposal vs. that of local officials and his transportation package. The education folks praised the boost — even if some would have liked it divvied up a little differently — and turned up at the public hearings on the budget to show their support. Local officials, some say, looked at Walker’s proposed boost in transportation aid, shrugged their shoulders and asked for more. Still, some pushing for more transportation spending said they had good reason to react that way. While Walker talked up the $77 million increase, once spread across the state, some local governments say the bump is insufficient to do anything meaningful. Walker backers see the JFC’s decision as a win, saying it is a good sign the K-12 proposal will largely survive intact. The question now, some say, is how the committee will re-work transportation. Budget vets note even if lawmakers leave the $649 million more for K-12 alone, there’s still money to be moved around in this budget. But who will get nicked, and how will they use it in transportation? GOP Rep. Dale Kooyenga, a member of the Finance Committee, promises he’ll have his transportation package in May. In an interview with WisPolitics.com, he declines to give many details and that it’s “too early to tell” whether the gas tax would increase under his plan. At the same time, he doesn’t want to take anything off the table and he “will not put anything out there that has a net increase in taxes.” Along with going to the base budget on transportation, JFC also pulled 83 policy items from the budget, including a proposal to eliminate the prevailing wage for state projects. That doesn’t sit well with some conservatives, though JFC Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, says the idea could be part of an overall transportation package before final passage. Meanwhile, Milwaukee County voters by a more than 2-to-1 margin voice their objections to doubling the county wheel tax to $60 to help pay for public transit and transportation projects. Still, County Exec Chris Abele has said a no vote in the advisory referendum wouldn’t dissuade him from recommending a $60 wheel tax for 2018. In La Crosse County, a proposal to establish a premier resort area tax was backed in an advisory referendum 55-45. It would add a half-cent to all taxable sales at businesses designated as “tourism related” that would be used to fund road repairs. But local officials would have to get the Legislature and guv to sign off on the idea.

Dairy farmers: Dozens of farms in Wisconsin could shut down after a trade decision from Canada gives them few, if any, places to sell their products. The news came first through a letter to about 75 farms in Wisconsin that told them Grassland Dairy Products would stop buying their milk. Another company has since told some Wisconsin farms it won’t buy milk from them, either. That leaves dozens of farms scrambling to find a buyer just as their cows are producing more and more milk in the spring. The issue stems from a change in policy from Canada, where farmers said the country’s duty-free policy hurts them and that tariffs are needed. The decision pushed Grassland to decide it will reduce how much milk it buys. The company says that came after efforts to get Canada to halt the change. But the pleas from U.S. trade groups and state and federal officials were unsuccessful. Now, U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson are pushing President Trump to work out the issue, as he’s looking to renegotiate the NAFTA trade deal. But any progress on that likely won’t come for months, and the farmers only have a few weeks until their businesses could close.

ADCC: Timing is everything in politics. And Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca acknowledges his caucus was a little off when it sent a fundraising appeal in the middle of the debate of opioid legislation. The email came as Republicans rejected a series of Dem amendments, including some that would’ve required the state to take the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The email led Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to say it was “disgusting” that Dems are “using this as a political issue to raise money.” Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, the author of the bills, said he was “appalled on behalf of” families affected by the opioid addiction. The bills largely passed on a voice vote or unanimously, but Nygren said lawmakers’ previous bipartisan cooperation on the issue was “dealt a serious blow” with the fundraising email. Barca acknowledged the email probably “could’ve been better timed.” Barca told reporters he often signs off on ADCC appeals, but didn’t see the appeal before it went out. But he insisted ADCC didn’t make a mistake in sending out the email “because the majority of the people in this state” believe the state should take the Medicaid expansion.


Thursday, May 4: WisPolitics.com luncheon: “Medicaid in Transition”

The WisPolitics.com lunch at the Madison Club on Thursday, May 4 features a “Medicaid in Transition” panel discussing proposed changes to the federal-state Medicaid program.

– Michael Heifetz, state of Wisconsin Medicaid director
– John Russell, president and CEO, Columbus Community Hospital
– Eric Borgerding, president, Wisconsin Hospital Association;
– Jon Peacock, research director, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families

Register: https://wispolitics-medicaid.eventbrite.com



Municipalities and schools have been fleeing a state-run insurance fund Gov. Scott Walker wants to kill, spooked by his 2015 attempt to wipe out the program and a more than 70-percent rate hike to shore up the sagging fund, according to a WisPolitics.com review.

Local governments persuaded lawmakers two years ago to save the Local Government Property Insurance Fund, fearing the guv’s proposal to start phasing out the program just five months after his budget was introduced would leave them without an affordable option for coverage. But representatives for counties and cities questioned whether anyone would put up a fight this time around after Walker included a similar provision in the 2017-19 budget.

For one, there’s not much left to fight over.

In 2014-15, the Local Government Insurance Fund covered nearly $50.9 billion in property held by municipalities, schools and others. That dropped to $1.6 billion in early February. Along the way, the number of government entities buying coverage through the fund has dropped from 955 in 2015 to 147 as of July 1, according to the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.

Jerry Deschane, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said the exodus spiked when municipalities, including his members, decided to create their own insurance options rather than wait around for the state fund’s demise.

“The one thing you look for in insurance is stability,” Deschane said. “In order to provide stability, we went out and created our own.”

The original version of the fund was created in 1911, when municipalities, schools and library boards had a tough time finding reasonably priced coverage in the private sector. But in again calling for its closure, the Walker administration argued that situation no longer exists and there’s a wide array of affordable options in the insurance market today.

His plan calls for offering no new policies after July 1 and no renewals after Dec. 31. All claims would have to be filed no later than July 1, 2019, otherwise they wouldn’t be covered. Any remaining money in the fund would be distributed to the local government units that were insured as of July 1.

The Kenosha Unified School District has stuck with the fund, and its premium of $355,325 is the largest this year, according to the records from OCI.

But Chief Financial Officer Tarik Hamdan said the district is now putting out requests for proposal to switch its coverage to another provider believing it’s likely the fund will be eliminated sooner or later.

The district’s premium jumped from about $261,000 in 2014-15 to $408,000 in 2015-16, he said. But it dropped back down to $355,325 this year to cover $703.2 million in district property. While the district premiums have increased, Hamdan said it was in line with what he saw in the private sector. What’s more, the district got a $10,000 deductible with its state policy, which he said would be a challenge to match through private insurance.

“We’ve had a good experience with the fund, so it’s sad to see it dying,” he said.

For the Iowa-Grant District, the fund has been the best deal it’s been able to find so far. Administrator Linda Erickson said the high school is 5.4 miles from its designated fire department, which puts it 0.4 miles outside of the range required to qualify for lower risk pools in the private sector.

The district looked at the private market two years ago and the best bid it got was about $30,000 more than the $47,000 premium it was paying at the time.

Erickson said the district is again looking for private insurance. But unless it builds a water tower on site, which she said would be cost prohibitive, it is considered a nine, on the higher end of the risk scale for coverage.

“There are some insurance companies that won’t even give you a quote if you are in a category of nine or 10,” she said.

The fund had a net position of minus-$3.7 million as of June 30. But just eight years ago, the fund was so flush after its net position hit $41.2 million that the Legislature considered creating a “premium holiday” for participants. In response, OCI declared a one-time $12 million dividend. But that was followed by significant losses in the next three years between claims that were submitted and other expenses that significantly exceeded premiums and other revenues.

That includes a run of fire- and weather-related claims over that period, including a fire at the Milwaukee County Courthouse in July 2013.

The losses hit a high of $30.8 million in 2013-14, according to a Legislative Audit Bureau report from fall 2015, and OCI implemented a series of premium hikes to shore up the fund.

The overall rate increases were 4.9 percent in 2011, 13 percent in 2012, 13.7 percent in 2013, 11.9 percent 2014 and 73.4 percent in 2015.

Joint Finance Co-Chair John Nygren, an insurance agent, called in January for an end to the program. In addition to believing there are viable options in the private sector, Nygren noted the fund can be a drain on state resources. Under state law, if it’s short of the money needed to cover claims, it pulls money from the general fund. According to OCI, the program currently owes the general fund more than $16 million.

Nygren also successfully pushed legislation in 2015 ensuring the Local Government Property Insurance Fund is subjected to the same rate standards that private insurance carriers face. It also allows OCI to levy an assessment on policyholders if there is not an adequate balance in the fund.

“There might have been a time when this made sense,” Nygren said. “But between the private sector and the associations creating their own funds, it’s time to get out of this business.”

Along with the insured value and number of participants, the fund has seen other dramatic dropoffs:

*$28.1 million in premiums were collected in 2014-15; OCI said it collected $4.4 million in 2015-16;

*claims payments dropped from $43.9 million in 2014-15 to $11.1 million in 2015-16;

*the fund covered 68 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties in 2014-15, but that dropped to just three in the current fiscal year; over the same period, it went from 126 cities to just one, Glenwood City, which has a population of about 1,200.

State Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, helped lead the charge to preserve the fund two years ago after local government officials contacted him, fearful the proposal would leave them without an affordable option. Since Walker re-introduced the proposal, Petrowski hasn’t received a single call. Still, he said keeping the program in place two years ago made sense.

“I think it gave enough time for people to transition to another thing,” Petrowski said. “I think a lot of them felt this was coming, and I think that’s why you’ve seen that dramatic shift.”

That includes the movement toward municipalities creating their own options. The Wisconsin Municipal Mutual Insurance Co., Cities and Villages Mutual Insurance Co. and The League of Wisconsin Municipal Mutual Insurance combined to create the Municipal Property Insurance Corp. in 2015. The new corporation provides property insurance for local governments.

Executive Director Mark O’Connell said the Wisconsin Counties Association has offered various insurance services to members since the 1980s and property insurance for more than a decade. But after the guv’s 2015-17 budget proposal and the rate increase, members took a greater interest.

He said 29 counties purchased coverage through the group’s offerings, while others went to self-insurance or the private market.

O’Connell said local governments got the message with the rate increases seen in recent years and OCI sending a message that if the program continued, premiums would better match the cost of the services being offered.

“Those words mean, ‘Look, we’re going to be competitive with the market place, and you’re not going to get a better deal here,'” O’Connell said.


Union officials and some business owners say the state would be less safe under a Walker administration budget plan to exempt those who finished some state-approved apprenticeship programs from taking an exam to get their license.

The exemption would apply to journeyman plumbers, electricians and sprinkler fitters, as well as barbers and cosmetologists.

Walker’s administration says it would decrease barriers to entry in the workforce. It’s part of a broader effort from Gov. Scott Walker and his Department of Safety and Professional Services to review whether the state has gone too far in adding licensing requirements.

But the proposal faces opposition from union officials and some business owners who say the tests are a necessary safeguard, ensuring those who get a license know state codes and safety rules.

Mike Biel, business agent and training coordinator at Sprinkler Fitters Local 183, said the testing requirement isn’t a barrier and is “just a way to judge everybody’s competency.”

“It’s only got one chance to work,” Biel said of fire sprinklers. “If it’s not installed correctly, there is no second chance because people die, buildings burn.”

Most people who take the tests pass them, though the pass rates are significantly lower for journeyman electrician licenses, according to data DSPS provided to WisPolitics.com.

Sixty-two percent of people who took the journeyman electric test between 2014 and 2016 passed it. For journeyman plumbers and journeyman automatic fire sprinkler system fitters, the pass rates were all above 85 percent.

Meanwhile, 79 percent passed the written cosmetology test and 93 percent passed the practical test. For barbers, the written pass rate was 83 percent and practical pass rate was 92 percent.

DSPS spokeswoman Alicia Bork said the exams “pose a barrier to work.”

“DSPS supports the elimination of exams for apprentices we license, which removes a layer of bureaucracy and holds schools and apprenticeship programs accountable,” she said. “These individuals have already completed an apprenticeship through the Department of Workforce Development or [the federal Department] of Labor and eliminating the exam removes a barrier to work, allowing them to get into the workforce more quickly.”

Some contractors, such as Jeff Disher of Stevens Point’s Disher Electric Inc., support the idea. Disher said the tests don’t fully reflect apprentices’ skills, saying those who are bad at testing can be “the best electrician on the job.”

“I don’t think it’s a perfect gauge to say that’s a better electrician,” he said.

Others oppose it, including Mark Blemberg, the general manager of ARC Fire Protection in Hartland, who described himself as a “very proud supporter of Gov. Walker.” He said those trades require significant training and education, and the examination is a good way to ensure “these individuals are qualified.”

Both are members of Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade association largely made up of non-union businesses. ABC of Wisconsin hasn’t taken a position on the issue yet but has heard from members on it, according to John Schulze, the group’s director of government relations.

Terry Hayden, business manager at the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 434, said as a training coordinator, he saw a handful of cases of people not working hard during their apprenticeships. Without a test, he said, those people “would be in the field installing things incorrectly.”

“You’ve got a baseline, a guarantee that the people that are installing plumbing systems in the state have the knowledge to do it properly and safely,” he said. “It’s the water we drink and the waste that we flush, but it has to be done safely.”

Barbers and cosmetologists make the same safety argument. Jeff Patterson, a barber who owns JP Hair Design in Madison and chairs the DSPS Barbery Advisory Committee, said barber licenses let people do coloring and chemical services. But during apprenticeships, he said, they often don’t get to practice that since most of what they do are clipper cuts and shaves.

“We’re really saying if you grant them a license that they’re competent at performing chemical services,” he said. “And if they don’t take an exam, they’re not measured on that.”


Dems hoping for major electoral victories in 2018 will likely only get them if President Trump’s base begins to pull away from him, according to pollster Charles Franklin.

So far, there’s little sign that’s happening, the Marquette Law School Poll director says, with Trump’s national approval rating hovering around 42 percent but at 80 percent among Republicans.

If that changes, though, Franklin said that could lead to “massively different ramifications for what’s going on” in the midterms.

Franklin spoke at a WisPolitics.com event Thursday night previewing the 2018 election cycle, also saying that U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, is in a “decent position” as she seeks a second term in the Senate next year.

When looking at Baldwin’s polling data by party affiliation, Franklin said while she was “quite unfavorable” among Republicans, members of her own party viewed her more favorably than the GOP did unfavorably.

“That’s a candidate who’s in a decent position, about evenly balanced between favorable and unfavorable,” Franklin said, adding the party balance looks like “what you’d expect.”

But even if Baldwin is re-elected, Dems will have a tough time flipping the chamber and returning to the majority, said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for The Cook Political Report.

Dems currently hold 48 Senate seats (including the two Independents who caucus with them), and would need to win three more seats in 2018 to claim the majority. There’s a good chance they could pick up Nevada, she said, but Dems also need to defend 25 of the 34 Senate seats up for re-election — and some of those are vulnerable.

Still, she predicted Dems would largely be able to hold their seats, and she could see either party pick up one. She could even see Democrats picking up two, leading to a 50-50 split in the chamber.

“I bet that this is not a big cycle of gains and losses to either party,” Duffy added.

Duffy also said Democrats have lots of energy early on in the Trump administration, saying the party “despise[s] Trump with a greater intensity” than the GOP “ever despised Obama.” But she questioned whether Dems will be able to keep that energy going to overcome the built-in Republican advantage in the midterms.

Meanwhile, in the House, Duffy said it would be difficult for Dems to get the needed 24 seats to claim the majority, although she conceded the House “is more susceptible to waves” than the Senate.

“We don’t doubt that there is a chance that Democrats could actually take the majority [in the House],” she said.

Franklin said based on past presidents’ approval ratings and analyses of losses the president’s party sustains in the midterms, and Trump’s current rating of about 42 percent, Republicans could lose some 35 House seats. When looking at past presidencies, their approval rating on average drops 7 percentage points between the first two months of their term and the two months before midterms, although Franklin said he isn’t certain Trump’s already historically low approval rating would drop that much further before that election.

At the gubernatorial level, Duffy stressed the importance of the upcoming guv races, as those elected in 2018 will oversee redistricting in 2021. She said staff have been devoted to those races since the beginning of 2015.

While the GOP currently holds 33 state governorships, she said the party will face some tough battles, including potentially in Wisconsin, although she thinks the race will lean toward Walker.

“I think any governor running for a third term is challenged. I think that it is a rarity that any governor seeking a third term goes into that in great shape,” she said.

Walker has been dogged by a low favorability rating since his failed presidential run in 2015, coupled with an unpopular 2015-17 budget that drew criticism from his own party, Franklin said.

And Franklin said Walker is weakest in the Madison market, while the Milwaukee market outside of the city remains strong. Franklin also flagged the southwestern part of the state as an “interesting area” to watch heading into the gubernatorial race because it swung for Trump in November 2016. He said, though, it was too soon to tell if that was a “one off affair” or could increase Walker’s standing in the area come 2018.

He also pointed to Green Bay, an area that saw an unexpected boost for Trump last fall, as another potential market for all Republicans going statewide in 2018.

Meanwhile, no clear Dem frontrunner has emerged to vie for governor against likely candidate Walker, “Rewind” show analysts Steve Walters and JR Ross pointed out earlier in the evening, adding that Dems lack a bench in the state.

In the state’s gubernatorial race, former Sen. Tim Cullen recently passed on a bid, and earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, also opted out.

But Duffy said the lack of a bench “plagues Democrats nationally,” not just in Wisconsin. That’s something she said gets in the party’s way of “major, major electoral gains,” including in statewide races.

Listen to the event:

See Franklin’s slides:


Tuesday: Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform public hearing on a bill that would require FoodShare recipients to pay child support in order to get benefits.
– 10 a.m.: 225 Northwest, State Capitol.

Wednesday: Assembly Committee on Children and Families executive session on Assembly and Senate versions of a bill that would require juvenile correctional officers to report child abuse.
– 10 a.m.: 415 Northwest, State Capitol.

(Check local listings for times in your area)

“UpFront with Mike Gousha” is a statewide commercial TV news magazine show airing Sundays around the state. This week’s show features Attorney General BRAD SCHIMEL on the push to strengthen the rights of crime victims; Emerge Wisconsin grad and Milwaukee school board member PAULA PHILLIPS on the program that trains progressive women to run for office; and Waukesha County Business Alliance President and CEO SUZANNE KELLEY on why funding for the I-94 East-West corridor is needed.
*See viewing times in state markets here: http://www.wisn.com/upfront/
*Also view the show online each Monday at WisPolitics.com

“Rewind,” a weekly show from WisconsinEye and WisPolitics.com, airs at 8 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. on Sundays in addition to being available online. On this week’s episode, WisPolitics.com’s JR ROSS and WisconsinEye’s STEVE WALTERS discuss the spring general election, the high-capacity wells bill and the JFC’s public hearings.
*Watch the show: http://www.wiseye.org/Video-Archive/Event-Detail/evhdid/11445

Wisconsin Public TV’s “Here and Now” airs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. On this week’s program, anchor FREDERICA FREYBERG talks with Senate Majority Leader SCOTT FITZGERALD and Senate Minority Leader JENNIFER SHILLING about the high-capacity wells bill and the biennial budget.

“For the Record” airs at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on WISC-TV in Madison.

“Capitol City Sunday” airs at 9 a.m. Sunday on WKOW-TV in Madison, WAOW-TV in Wausau, WXOW-TV in La Crosse and WQOW-TV in Eau Claire.

“The Insiders” is a weekly WisOpinion.com web show featuring former state Sens. TED KANAVAS, R-Brookfield, and CHUCK CHVALA, D-Madison. This week, they talk health care and the state superintendent’s race.
*Watch the video: https://www.wispolitics.com/2017/the-insiders-tackle-health-care-state-superintendents-race/
*Listen to the show:

Send items to staff@wispolitics.com

Sign up for the next three WisPolitics.com events in Madison and D.C.:

*A May 4 luncheon in Madison featuring a “Medicaid in Transition” panel discussing proposed changes to the federal-state Medicaid program. Panelists include MICHAEL HEIFETZ, the state Medicaid director; JOHN RUSSELL, Columbus Community Hospital president and CEO; ERIC BORGERDING, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Hospital Association; and JON PEACOCK, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families research director. Sign up for the event: https://wispolitics-medicaid.eventbrite.com

*A June 7 breakfast gathering at the Monocle in D.C. featuring U.S. Rep. MARK POCAN, D-Town of Vermont. Registration info coming soon.

*A June 22 luncheon in Madison featuring a “Secrets of the Capitol Building” panel on the Capitol’s 100th anniversary. Speakers include LAURA DAVIS of Isthmus Architects, lead architect of the restoration; JIM SCHUMACHER of J.P. Cullen, the lead contractor on the restoration; and MICHAEL EDMONDS, author of an upcoming book, the historian behind the exhibit at the Capitol and director of the Wisconsin Historical Society Programs and Outreach. Sign up for the event: https://wispolitics-capitol.eventbrite.com

For sponsor information, contact: schmies@wispolitics.com

The latest edition of the WisPolitics.com book club explores how the words “prudence” and “uncertainty” relate to current politics with JOHN KAMINSKI, author of the Wisconsin Historical Society Press book “George Washington: A Man of Action (A Word Portrait).”

Listen to the podcast:

See more on the book:

Rep. GORDON HINTZ and his wife, LIZ, are the parents of a new baby girl, BEATRIX FRANCES HINTZ, born Wednesday.

The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Judge NEIL GORSUCH to the Supreme Court 54-45 on Friday. U.S. Sen. RON JOHNSON voted for Gorsuch, while U.S. Sen. TAMMY BALDWIN voted against. Gorsuch will be sworn in on Monday.

MICHAEL TYLER, who served as RUSS FEINGOLD’s communication director on his 2016 campaign, has been appointed press secretary of the DNC. TYLER, who previously worked for the DNC as director of African American Media and a regional press secretary, worked on party Chair TOM PEREZ’s campaign.

MARK KNICKELBINE, who was media relations specialist and policy analyst for former Sen. JULIE LASSA, is joining national research and marketing firm Ady Advantage as marketing projects manager. The firm is based in Madison and specializes in economic development projects.

Attorney General BRAD SCHIMEL appointed BRIAN O’KEEFE administrator of the Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigations. In October, SCHIMEL moved DAVID MATTHEWS out of the job and made him a policy adviser. DCI deputy administrator JASON SMITH has been overseeing the division since then. See more: https://www.doj.state.wi.us/news-releases/ag-schimel-appoints-brian-o%E2%80%99keefe-division-criminal-investigation-administrator

The state Dem Party this week announced that Democratic National Committee Deputy Chair KEITH ELLISON is keynoting the group’s annual Founder’s Day Gala on May 6 in Milwaukee.

Republican TONY KURTZ, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. RON KIND in 2014, was the heavy favorite at the 3rd CD GOP straw poll to take on the La Crosse Dem next year. The party announced Kurtz, who has not announced plans to run but has surfaced as a possible candidate, was favored by 82 of the 88 people who voted. See the release: https://jwyjh41vxje2rqecx3efy4kf-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/170406WI3GOP.pdf

Strategic communications firm Edge Messaging recently hired DAN DEIBERT as director of creative services and innovation. DEIBERT previously hosted radio shows in Milwaukee at iHeart’s NewsTalk 1130 WISN, on Madison’s WTDY and WTAQ/WGEE/WNFL in Green Bay. See the release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2017/edge-messaging-dan-deibert-joins-edge-messaging/

TDS Telecom’s Executive Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs KEVIN HESS is retiring at the end of 2017, after 33 years at TDS. Taking over for HESS will be DREW PETERSEN, who’s currently vice president of external affairs and communications. See more: https://tdstelecom.com/about/news/categories/tds/hess-to-retire.html

JEROME POLING, author of “An Idea Come of Age: UW-Stout, 1891-2016,” is doing a book signing on campus Saturday at 1 p.m. on the lower level of the Memorial Student Center, 302 10th Ave. East, Menomonie. See more on the book: http://www.uwstout.edu/news/articles/New-hardcover-book-chronicles-universitys-125-year-history.cfm

For more Names in the News, see subscriber products from earlier in the week plus the press release page at WisPolitics.com: https://www.wispolitics.com/

For upcoming events, see the “Week Ahead” in this product and in your e-mail Monday morning. Click here for the online calendar: https://www.wispolitics.com/category/events/

If you have a contribution, e-mail staff@wispolitics.com

(from the state Ethics Commission)

Twenty-eight changes were made to the lobbying registry in the past 10 days.

Follow this link for the complete list:

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