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— Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called Gov. Tony Evers’ latest effort to stage the April 7 election amid the coronavirus outbreak a “complete fantasy.”

Meanwhile, the Legislature’s two top Dems favored the move.

Evers early today called on the Legislature to change state law on absentee ballots so all registered voters could be mailed one.

Fitzgerald blasted the move as “a hoax” and said that “in pitching this idea, the governor is lying directly to Wisconsinites about this even being remotely possible.”

“Governor Evers just proposed procuring, printing, verifying, and mandating the mailing of millions of ballots within ten days. Even he knows that’s not logistically feasible,” the Juneau Republican said in a statement.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said his preference is to delay the election, but he understands “even that action has consequences and lacks the immediate support necessary to happen in time for the April 7 election.”

“We now need Republican leadership to step up and recognize that acting to best protect our democracy and keep people safe is both necessary and possible,” Hintz said.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, tweeted, “We are living in an unprecedented time and I appreciate that Gov. Evers is proposing solutions to ensure full and fair elections on April 7th. Our democracy is strongest when everyone can make their voice heard and Democrats are committed to ensuring every single vote is counted.”

In a video message on Twitter, Evers also called for ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted and for local election officials to be given more time to count them.

The move comes 11 days out from the election. Evers, who has repeatedly rebuffed calls to delay the vote, didn’t call for delaying the vote in his message today.

“The bottom line is that everybody should be able to participate in our democracy,” Evers said in the video.

So far, four federal lawsuits have been filed seeking changes to the upcoming April 7 election due to concerns over COVID-19.

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg in a statement said the measures might have made sense had the state deactivated the registrations for some 200,000 voters who may have moved.

“Mailing ballots to those addresses would put those 200,000 ballots in the hands of individuals not entitled to them,” Esenberg said.

He also noted the Dane and Milwaukee county clerks have urged those mailing back absentee ballots to list themselves as “indefinitely confined” to avoid having to upload an ID.

“We cannot do things that might be reasonable in other contexts when the officials who are supposed to ensure fair elections refuse to do their duty, and evade the law,” Esenberg said. “Given the circumstances under which Wisconsin elections are being run, we need to take every precaution to ensure a fair election and that does not leave room for Governor Evers’ current proposal.”

See Evers’ tweet:

See the Fitzgerald statement:

See Esenberg’s statement:

*See a story below on a Legislative Reference Bureau memo saying it “would not be appropriate” for voters to avoid presenting voter ID when requesting an absentee ballot by claiming they are indefinitely confined due to Evers’ stay-at-home order.

— President Trump today signed a sweeping $2 trillion coronavirus relief package just hours after it cleared the House.

The chamber approved the package by voice vote, meaning members of the Wisconsin delegation weren’t on the record. Still, two of the state’s Republican lawmakers expressed tepid support on the floor during the more than four hours of debate ahead of the vote.

U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, labeled the package “far from perfect” but added lawmakers “cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Speaking nearly two hours later, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman knocked the package’s price tag as being “too high” and he was concerned an unemployment insurance provision “delays the recovery.”

Still, the Glenbeulah Republican said Congress “must act to calm the panic and move back to normalcy.”

Speaking ahead of the vote to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher said the package “may be well spent if we can prevent the death of hundreds of thousands and keep the economy tied together with a little bit of duct tape.”

But the Green Bay Republican said lawmakers couldn’t continue to infuse dollars back into the country at the rate they are currently and mirrored Grothman’s concerns about a “dramatic expansion” of unemployment benefits.

“I think that’s a dangerous disincentive and an unintended consequence of moving so quickly and trying to strike that balance with getting relief right now versus not setting off unintended consequences,” he said.

On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, and Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, praised the package.

In a statement, Kind praised the package as an “important step toward getting businesses, working families, and health care providers the support they need.”

Moore highlighted a number of aspects in the package but added “more work needs to be done.”

Spokesmen for U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Town of Vermont, and Jim Sensenbrenner, R- Menomonee Falls, were not immediately available for comment.

See the Steil speech:

See the Grothman speech:

See the Kind statement:

See the Moore statement:

— While the state is much better prepared to handle economic turmoil than it was during the Great Recession, current reserves and coming federal aid may not be enough to manage a prolonged downturn, state and local finance experts say.

Former state budget director Michael Heifetz, who served under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, told WisPolitics.com the state is “reasonably well-prepared” for a slipping economy in the short term. But he said it wouldn’t be able to sustain funding beyond “weeks or a short number of months” without assistance from the federal government.

“It’s hard to plan for a complete shutdown of the U.S. economy,” said Heifetz, who currently works as health care chief executive for Infinite Policy Solutions. “It’s all hands on deck. Anything that isn’t a necessity is probably being very critically analyzed.”

Congress this week passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package that would deliver roughly $150 billion to state and local governments. It unanimously passed the Senate and passed the House today by voice vote. See an NCSL analysis of federal aid to state and local governments: https://www.ncsl.org/ncsl-in-dc/publications-and-resources/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-states.aspx

Pew Research Center’s Stateline service reported today that the money in the bill for state and local governments allows “some flexibility” on how it could be spent but does not address diminished tax collections caused by the slowing economy.

Pew said the money would be distributed to states based on population, but that every state would receive at least $1.25 billion, with 45 percent of a state’s money saved for local governments over 500,000 residents.

While exact numbers per state have yet to be determined, Heifetz estimated Wisconsin might see around $3 billion if the disbursement formula is similar to previous federal programs.

“It’s hard to say, but depending on how long this lasts and how we rebound as a community and a society, if it happens in the near term that’ll be enough money,” he said. “That just tells you the ambiguity.”

Gov. Tony Evers’ budget director, Brian Pahnke, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Wisconsin Policy Forum Research Director Jason Stein said the combination of the rainy day fund and remaining general revenue amounts to slightly less than 10 percent of the state’s roughly $17.5 billion in 2019 GPR expenditures.

He called the numbers a “huge improvement” from Wisconsin’s situation going into the 2007-08 Great Recession with under 2 percent GPR expenses in reserves and close to nothing in the rainy day pot. But he added that ultimately wouldn’t be enough if nothing changes in the coming months.

“If you weren’t taking in revenue at all, and you were spending out of the general fund at your average daily rate, that would last you roughly five weeks,” Stein said.

Stein said the “clear answer” is Wisconsin does not have enough in reserve to withstand any significant recession without aid from the feds.

Before current events, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau announced at the beginning of the year that the state was expected to collect an additional $818.2 million in tax revenue over the biennium, with about half going into the rainy day fund. The budget stabilization fund totaled $654 million at the end of February, according to the latest State Investment Fund earnings report.

A recent Pew analysis of rainy day funds by state ranked Wisconsin 40th in how many days it could run on total balances (35.3). But the research did find this was the highest balance relative to spending for the state in the last 20 years.

However, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, this week said the projected revenue is “gone” thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, and that the state must be judicious in maintaining a balanced budget.

Stein added the state unemployment insurance fund is in its strongest position in decades with more than $2 billion, including $1.9 billion in cash. But a February U.S. Department of Labor report found the fund still fell short of federal unemployment insurance recommendations and ranked 30th among states on that metric.

“We’re in much better shape than we were, but the difference is we were among the least prepared states in the country and now we’re in the middle of the pack,” Stein said. “That’s a big improvement, but it’s not the same as being top of the class.”

The Department of Workforce Development so far received 159,029 UI applications since March 15, 1.5 times the entire population of Green Bay.

Meanwhile, a record 3.3 million people filed for unemployment benefits nationwide last week. The previous weekly record was 695,000 set in 1982.

Stein warned the state could take up to a 14 percent GPR hit in a “moderate-to-severe” recession scenario. And local governments, which he said typically operate with razor-thin budgets already, wouldn’t be able to get significant stimulus from the state due to its own economic troubles.

Wisconsin Counties Association Research Director Dale Knapp told WisPolitics county budgets “have been tight for quite a number of years and this is obviously going to put some strain on them.”

He estimated up to a 13 percent decline in county sales tax revenue due to Evers’ stay-at-home order and the loss of hotel and restaurant sales, in addition to a spending hike in services.

“At first blush it doesn’t look like a big hit, but when you’re already operating at tight margins you have got to figure out how to deal with those types of productions,” Knapp said. “Any hit to your revenue source is cause for concern.”

Analysts largely agreed that although the dropoff is steep, it’s a real possibility that the economy could see a quick rebound whenever the pandemic is tamed. Heifetz highlighted this as one key difference between today and 2008.

“When the Great Recession was occurring, I’m not sure if we knew there was a bottom or if there was a known end,” he said. “The economy itself today is foundationally strong. We can get back when this is gone, and that wasn’t the case in 2008.”

See more:

— Evers today directed DHS to temporarily suspend evictions and foreclosures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the order, landlords are prohibited from evicting tenants for any reason “unless failure to proceed with the eviction will result in an imminent threat of serious physical harm to another person.” It also prevents foreclosures for 60 days.

The guv’s office noted the order doesn’t relieve anyone’s obligation to pay their rent or mortgages.

See the release:

— The Legislative Reference Bureau says it “would not be appropriate” for voters to avoid presenting voter ID when requesting an absentee ballot by claiming they are indefinitely confined due to Gov. Tony Evers stay-at-home order.

This comes after Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell and Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson early this week urged anyone struggling to upload a photo of their voter ID to the state’s MyVote website to utilize the “indefinitely confined” option. Under that process, voters are exempt from the ID requirement.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, today blasted that move, saying in a statement “it’s no surprise the liberal clerks in Dane and Milwaukee counties are encouraging people to vote illegally by not providing proper identification.”

“At a time when our state should be coming together, it’s sad that liberal clerks see it as an opportunity for political gain,” the pair said.

In a memo prepared at Fitzgerald’s request, the bureau today highlighted a number of exemptions to Evers’ order and concluded those loopholes “demonstrate that not all Wisconsin residents are indefinitely confined to their homes.”

“For this reason, it would seem inconsistent with current law for a clerk or other election official to suggest that every individual in this state is indefinitely confined for purposes of receiving an absentee ballot,” the bureau said.

The memo concludes there are a number of penalties facing those who intentionally neglect their duties, including criminal charges and a five-year disqualification from serving as a clerk.

Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney told WisPolitics.com under state law, only a poll worker can “challenge an absentee ballot for failure to adhere to voting requirements.”

McDonell and Christenson were not immediately available for comment.

See the LRB memo:

— GOP state Sen. Kathy Bernier has filed a complaint asking the state Elections Commission to order the clerks in Dane and Milwaukee counties to reverse their calls to use the “indefinitely confined” option to avoid the voter ID requirement for absentee ballots.

Bernier, a former Chippewa County clerk, urged the Commission to not allow local elections officials to make a decision “that will disenfranchise electors in other areas of the state!”

Read the letter:

— The liberal A Better Wisconsin Together and the conservative Republican State Leadership Committee are both out with new six-figure media buys as the Supreme Court race begins the home stretch.

The buys include one spot from the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative that touts President Trump’s endorsement of conservative Justice Daniel Kelly.

The RSLC Judicial Fairness Initiative, which made a strong final push in last year’s Supreme Court race, is spending $824,446 on TV ads, according to a filing with the state Ethics Commission. The group also reported a $16,000 text message campaign supporting Kelly.

The group is out with two ads, both of which start with the narrator describing Karofsky as “dangerously soft on crime” and charging as a prosecutor she went easy on criminal predators like no jail time for a “monster” who sexually assaulted a 5-year-old girl.

Both ads say Karofsky has dangerously bad judgment.

One then switches to Kelly, calling him the “conservative choice.” The narrator says Kelly is endorsed by Wisconsin law enforcement and Trump before showing a clip of the president at one of his Wisconsin rallies.

“Go vote for Justice Daniel Kelly to defend the rule of law in Wisconsin,” Trump says.

The other ad doesn’t mention the president’s backing. Instead, after knocking Karofsky, the narrator in that ad calls Kelly the “safer choice.” The narrator says Kelly “fought to protect victims of sexual assault and punish predators.”

“Daniel Kelly, protecting Wisconsin and the rule of law,” the spot concludes.

See the ads:

— A Better Wisconsin Together praises Karofsky and knocks Kelly in its three new ads.

The group said two of the spots are running on broadcast TV in Green Bay and Milwaukee, while the third is a digital ad. The group declined to say how much it spent on the buy other than it was “significant.”

But a filing with the state Ethics Commission shows A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund has now spent $737,656 on TV, digital ads and mail supporting Karofsky and opposing Kelly.

Yesterday, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee announced it had given A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund $150,000 to support its efforts backing Karofsky, a Dane County judge.

A 30-second TV spot charges Kelly has a “real bad” record on fighting corruption, including voting against rules to help stop it and repeatedly refusing to recuse himself “from cases where he has a major conflict of interest.”

The narrator then says, “We need an independent Supreme Court justice” before going on to praise Karofsky. The spot says she’s been honored for standing up for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence and isn’t “beholden to an extreme agenda.”

The second TV spot is a 15-second ad that has a similar line about Karofsky being honored for standing up for victims, noting she’s a former prosecutor backed by “Wisconsin nurses, teachers, law enforcement and judges.”

The digital ad features Patti Seger, who says she’s been a domestic violence advocate for the past 36 years and has worked closely with Karofsky. She says a recent ad that implies “Jill is somehow not good on victim rights” is “completely false and a bald-faced lie.”

“Jill has my respect, because she is so strong on victim advocacy, so strong in her support for victim rights,” Seger says.

See the ads on TV:

See the digital spot:

— New polling from the conservative Restoration PAC has President Trump with a slight edge over Dem frontrunner Joe Biden among registered Wisconsin voters.

The poll found 48.7 percent backed the president, while 45.3 percent supported Biden.

Against Bernie Sanders, Trump was at 50.3 percent compared to 42.8 percent for the Vermont senator.

The poll, conducted March 17-19, also found Trump’s job approval was 52.2 percent with 45.7 percent disapproving of his performance.

It also found a large swatch of Wisconsin voters undecided on this spring’s Supreme Court race. Conservative Justice Daniel Kelly was backed by 36.3 percent, compared to 29.2 percent who supported liberal Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky.

Restoration PAC commissioned the poll, which was conducted by Hodas & Associates of Springfield, Ill. It sampled 600 registered voters via telephone with 70 percent of the live interviews done over landlines and the rest via cellphone.

The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

See the release:

Political TV
(Check local listings for times in your area)

“UpFront” is a statewide commercial TV news magazine show airing Sundays around the state. This week’s show, hosted by ADRIENNE PEDERSEN, features BRIAN JACOBSEN, chief portfolio strategist for Wells Fargo Funds Management, on the economic impact of the coronavirus and federal efforts to shore up the economy; Workforce Development Secretary CALEB FROSTMAN on the spike in jobless claims and what people who have been laid off should do right now; and ARTHUR IRCINK, creator and producer of the “Wisconsin Foodie” program, on whether restaurants can bounce back from restrictions imposed upon them. *See more about the program here: http://www.wisn.com/upfront/
*Also see a recap of 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 developments over the past week in the COVID-19 pandemic and the retirement of state Sen. FRED RISSER.
*Watch the show later today at https://www.wispolitics.com/

“The Insiders” is a weekly WisOpinion.com web show featuring former Democratic Senate Majority Leader CHUCK CHVALA and former Republican Assembly Speaker SCOTT JENSEN. This week, the two consider how the COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping political organizing and the issues important to voters.
*Watch the video or listen to the show:

“Meeting in Middle America,” with STEVEN OLIKARA, founder and president of the Millennial Action Project, features an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s CRAIG GILBERT. The two talk about issues surrounding the April 7 election amid the coronavirus pandemic. This week’s version is audio-only.
*Listen to the show here:

On the latest episode of the new “Battleground Wisconsin Now” web show, Edge Messaging LLC President BRIAN FRALEY and Cap Times Opinion Editor JESSIE OPOIEN discuss the state and federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic as Gov. Tony Evers issues a stay-at-home order.
*Watch the show:

Wisconsin Public TV’s “Here and Now” airs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. On this week’s program, anchor FREDERICA FREYBERG speaks with Department of Health Services Secretary ANDREA PALM for an update on the COVID-19 pandemic. And U.S. Rep. MARK POCAN talks about the emergency stimulus package which includes direct payments to individuals, hundreds of billions of dollars to hospitals and states.


AB 1018: Sponsors of nutritional counseling education programs and repealing and modifying administrative rules related to sponsors of nutritional counseling education programs. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1019: Creating a flood mitigation program in the Department of Transportation, Granting rule-making authority, and making an appropriation. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1020: Income tax deduction for flood insurance premiums. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1021: Bonding for the soil and water resource management program and granting bonding authority. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1022: Human trafficking awareness certifications for lodging establishments and making an appropriation. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1023: Interns employed by assembly and senate offices, the governor, and the Department of Justice, an intern placement program administered by the Department of Workforce Development, and making an appropriation. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1024: Creating a human trafficking council. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1025: Aids for certain highways damaged by a disaster. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1026: Funding for the municipal flood control program and making an appropriation. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1027: Disaster assistance payments and making an appropriation. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1028: Medically accurate information. Referred to Committee on Rules.

Ab 1029: Right to choose an abortion and elimination of certain abortion-related regulations. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1030: Violence prevention grants and making an appropriation. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1031: Construction and renovation of a veterans village, granting bonding authority, and making an appropriation. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1032: Authorized activities and operations of credit unions, automated teller machines of financial institutions, and repealing rules promulgated by the Department of Financial Institutions. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1033: Allowing certain rehired annuitants to elect to not become new participants in the Wisconsin Retirement System for a defined period. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1034: Suspension of the waiting period for collection of unemployment insurance benefits. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1035: Regulating the sale of certain drugs and medical supplies below cost. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1036: Juvenile court jurisdiction; the serious juvenile offender program; extending out-of-home care to 21 years of age for certain persons; juvenile interrogations; deferred prosecution agreements and diversion services for juveniles; the authority of school districts and school resource officers to respond to school-based behavior;; providing an exemption from emergency rule procedures; providing an exemption from rule-making procedures; granting rule-making authority; and making an appropriation. Referred to Committee on Rules.

AB 1037: The length for a declared state of emergency; reporting of arrests for a violation of an order relating to the control of an outbreak or epidemic; requiring legislative approval of any statewide order mandating individuals to stay at home for reasons related to an epidemic, pandemic, or communicable disease; requiring a written report to the legislature detailing the justification for any ban of gatherings of 50 or fewer individuals. Referred to Committee on Rules.

Track bills for free:


WPR: What To Know About Changes To Student Loans During Coronavirus Pandemic

Journal Sentinel: The coronavirus test that wasn’t: How federal health officials misled state scientists and derailed the best chance at containment

Journal Sentinel: You could get a $500 fine in Wauwatosa if you don’t obey the safer-at-home order

State Journal: ‘There’s no words’: families separated, memorials postponed as health emergency hits mourning rituals

NYT: Some U.S. Cities Could Have Coronavirus Outbreaks Worse Than Wuhan’s

Roll Call: Fifth lawmaker tests positive for coronavirus

Reuters: A U.S. recession? Probably. Depression? Only if the virus is untamed

The Hill: Trump uses Defense Production Act to require GM to make ventilators


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