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1 Closed-Door Meeting On Controversial Booze Regs, 2 Very Different Stories

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 18:04

MacIver News Service | June 24, 2017

By M.D. Kittle and Bill Osmulski

Madison, Wis...] - A high-profile meeting last Thursday attended by many - but not all - of the stakeholders affected by proposed changes to the system regulating Wisconsin's alcoholic beverage industry ended with very different accounts of what transpired and more questions than answers, multiple sources tell MacIver News Service.

Attendees agreed to return to the table as soon as next week for further discussions.

There is a push by the state's alcohol distributors and the Wisconsin Tavern League to tweak the current three-tier regulatory system of the production, distribution and sale of alcohol by creating an Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement, appoint a new 'alcohol czar' and hire an additional six enforcement officers with more authority to crack down on violations.

State Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) said he organized the meeting "to address the misinformation in the media," about the draft proposal.

"It was a working document," Swearingen said, adding that one of the top priorities for the meeting was to explain the proposal's implications to the various stakeholders.

Swearingen owns a restaurant and is a member and former president of the Tavern League.

According to Swearingen, the list of attendees included representatives from the newly formed Wisconsin Craft Beverage Coalition: the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, the Wisconsin Distillers Guild, and wineries; lobbyists Eric J. Peterson and Scott Stenger; and Reps. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville), Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls), Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) Swearingen, Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

"Once people from the wine and beer wholesalers explained the proposal, the group almost came together for the most part," Swearingen said.

Others who attended had a different assessment of the meeting.

Brian Samons, president of the Wisconsin Distillers Guild, said the proposed changes to an incredibly complicated body of laws and codes are moving too fast. And too many stakeholders are being left out of the discussion, he said.

"There's no need to rush, if we're talking about making good policy, and I hope we are," Samons said. "We're not against enforcement of the rules and rules that make sense, good public policy. The problem is when it's neither clear or good policy."

The big concern is that the crafters of the "drafting instructions" will try to sneak the changes into the budget through a "999 motion," or concluding wrap-up motion that dodges public scrutiny.

William Glass, president of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, said he was disturbed by the number of lawmakers in the room who seemed satisfied with tacking the measure onto the end of the budget process.

"The problem is there are still people not in this room debating this bill," he added. "The special interests are trying to force an issue without having the proper avenue to vet it."

But Swearingen said the Legislature is not prepared to act unless all the stakeholders can reach a consensus about what steps the state should take.

If that happens, it could either be part of the budget or separate legislation.

Swearingen led the discussions, but sources said Vos was very involved in the meeting, which some attendees described as "uncomfortable," and "heated" at times.

Kooyenga said the meeting was a "huge step forward."

"For many years there has not been a representative from the wineries, the distillers, or the small brewers in the room," he said.

Vos' office did not return an email request for comment Thursday or Friday. Kit Beyer, Vos' spokeswoman, told MacIver News in a story Wednesday that the speaker was "asked to join the group."

"Rep. Swearingen, as chair of the Assembly State Affairs Committee, is holding the meeting to see if there are things that all sides can agree on," she said.

Beyer made clear that Vos "does not support the three-tier proposal."

Sources said Vos urged the participants at Thursday's meeting to voice their support of the long-standing three-tier regulatory system, however.

Glass said the proposal seems to run afoul of free-market principles. He said he was heartened when one lawmaker raised the same point.

"John Nygren did make a comment in the meeting about how this does not politically align with conservative values," Glass said. "He said, 'We're not for growing government or restricting entrepreneurs but that's what we're talking about here."

The Prohibition-era system in general aims to keep alcoholic beverage makers, wholesalers and retailers, including restaurants, bars, and liquor stores, out of each others' businesses. The law has long aimed to stop monopolies and protect smaller operators, but it has locked entrepreneurs out and carved out protections for established players.

"Breweries, wineries, and other alcohol-beverage producers can distribute their products only to independent, licensed wholesalers (also called distributors). These wholesalers then distribute the products only to independent, licensed retailers. Only licensed retailers can sell the products to the public. Thus, under a strict three-tier system, alcohol beverages must pass through both a licensed wholesaler and a licensed retailer before reaching the consumer," a State Bar of Wisconsin piece summed up.

There are many exceptions to the rules, and apparently that's what the "drafting instructions" look to clarify.

Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin and other critics are warning that the plan is to beef up the onerous "three-tier restricting" law.

Nickel: I Ran Wisconsin's Successful High-Risk Pool Before Obamacare. It Actually Worked.

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 13:00

June 23, 2017

Guest Perspective by Ted Nickel
Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance

The following column first appeared in the Independent Journal Review.

Individual markets across the country have evaporated or are rapidly moving towards a death spiral. Tragically, in Wisconsin we aren't immune either. We have seen insurers leave the exchange, significantly reduce service areas and leave the individual market altogether.

Congress is attempting to solve this problem through repeal of Obamacare known as the American Health Care Act (AHCA). It provides a number of options including the ability for states to operate a high-risk pool or participate in a new federal invisible high-risk pool, which will offset high claims costs which currently increase rates for all consumers in the individual market.

My staff and I have spoken to members of Congress about the pre-Obamacare market in Wisconsin and our highly successful high-risk pool. Here's what we tell them.

Prior to the ACA, Wisconsin consumers could choose from over 20 individual insurance companies offering coverage in our state. These included for-profit and not-for-profit companies; HMO's and PPOs; and local and national insurers. There were a variety of plan options to meet a range of coverage needs.

While these plans were underwritten, individuals denied coverage would receive coverage from Wisconsin's high-risk pool known as the Health Insurance Risk Sharing Plan (HIRSP). HIRSP provided Wisconsin consumers with peace of mind by providing high quality, comprehensive coverage to over 20,000 of our friends and neighbors.

Unlike the current ACA market where most people must wait until open enrollment to purchase coverage, consumers could enroll in HIRSP at any time. There were no pre-existing condition limits for people signing up for coverage if they had prior coverage. If consumers had no prior coverage, they would receive coverage for most conditions, but had to wait six months for pre-existing conditions.

In contrast, with Obamacare you may have to wait up to 11 months for any coverage if you miss open enrollment.

Once enrolled in HIRSP, consumers chose from a variety of benefit plans including both high and low deductible plans. While Obamacare plans are criticized for having narrow networks, there were no network limitations for HIRSP; members were able to visit any medical provider in our state and receive coverage when traveling outside of Wisconsin. Subsidies were also available to offset premiums, deductibles and prescription drug out-of-pocket maximums for low-income members.

HIRSP benefit and administrative costs were funded by member premiums and contributions from insurers and providers. No state dollars were needed to support this program.

Though not perfect (no program is), HIRSP was well-run and kept the needs of its members a priority and was structured in a way which allowed sufficient flexibility to address member needs and respond to evolving market dynamics. Former members of HIRSP continue to call legislative offices requesting a reinstatement of this program.

AHCA provides a strong starting point for implementing a HIRSP 2.0 utilizing federal dollars to ensure affordable and accessible coverage for all individuals with pre-existing conditions.

Critics of AHCA are quick to claim the bill will provide no coverage for any pre-existing conditions and high-risk pools will literally kill people. AHCA specifically states, "Nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting health insurance issuers to limit access to health coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is falling apart. One third of US counties have only one health insurer offering coverage on the federal exchange. Last year, Tennessee indicated its market was very near collapse, and it hasn't gotten any better. Currently, no health insurers in Iowa will be participating on the exchange. Minnesota is planning on spending $800 million tax dollars just this year to shore up its individual market. Alaska is spending its entire premium tax to keep their one health insurer in the market.

This is not sustainable. If insurers cannot remain viable in the individual market due to Obamacare rules and fees, consumers will not have health insurance products available for them to purchase.

Standardized federal market rules have stifled innovation and fail to take into account the diversity of markets across the country. State flexibility is necessary to address state specific health care coverage needs and market dynamics.

The ACA is in trouble, but with AHCA help is on the way to stabilize insurance markets and return access to affordable health insurance choices for consumers. It is the failure of Obamacare which is going to leave people without coverage. This failure created an individual market not viable either in the short term or long term.

As a state insurance regulator responsible to Wisconsin consumers, we need solutions now.

Ted Nickel is the insurance commissioner for the state of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Assembly, U.S. Supreme Court Reaffirm Free Speech

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 06:00

June 22, 2017

By Jessica Murphy

In the case Matal v. Tam, an Asian-American dance-rock band was denied trademark rights to their band name "The Slants" because it was deemed a racial slur. On Monday, the Supreme Court stood up for free speech, striking down the law that allowed "disparaging" trademarks to be blocked by the Patent and Trademark Office. The unanimous 8-0 vote shows that free speech is indeed a nonpartisan issue - something Wisconsin Democrats would do well to learn.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jesse Kremer's (R - Kewaskum) campus free speech bill passed the Assembly on a 61-36 vote after almost five hours of heated debate. Democrats fought tooth and nail to kill the bill, calling it unconstitutional, a "gag order," and even anti-free speech.

Some Democrats expressed concerns that the free speech bill would favor conservatives and silence protests against conservative campus speakers. Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that many Democrat legislators argued that free speech is not an issue on UW campuses, apparently tuning out many of the student testimonies delivered at the May 11th public hearing in front of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities.

Students at UW-Oshkosh encouraged people to write on a giant beach ball they were rolling around on campus last fall. This was an effort to promote free speech and raise awareness about campus policies that violate the first amendment. Campus police stopped and questioned the students after receiving complaints of offensive messages on the ball. Officers also took one of the student's IDs to search for existing warrants.

Since when has exercising the first amendment been a crime?

A UW-Green Bay student recalled an incident from December 2015 when students raising awareness about sexual assault were forcibly removed from the University Union to the "free speech zone" - a small area restricted for speech. The free speech zone at UW-Green Bay is out near the main entrance of the Union, by the bell tower on a small hill, surrounded by bushes, and fenced off from the main walking paths. Lack of access is a concern, but more importantly, that students had no other option than to go outside in the middle of a Wisconsin winter to express themselves reveals a sad state of affairs on our campuses.

Free speech zones do not preserve free speech, but rather limit the reach and stifle the voices of students who wish to hold demonstrations. The constitutionality of speech zones is questionable at best. Many universities and states have passed rules or legislation to ban them, yet UW-Green Bay, UW-Parkside, and UW-Oshkosh have these zones.

The intolerance for different viewpoints is pervasive on college campuses as well, with invited speakers being shouted down, physically assaulted, or banned from speaking. However, there's a difference between voicing a dissenting opinion and restricting another's first amendment rights.

This is highlighted by the protest at Ben Shapiro's speech at UW Madison in November where protesters jumped on stage and disrupted the event with chants for almost 20 minutes before being escorted out of the room.

Conservative talk show host Vicki McKenna followed the protesters to the lobby and as she was filming, protesters surrounded her, aggressively got in her face, called her a white supremacist, and attempted to knock her phone out of her hand. One even had the audacity to comment that they had to interrupt Shapiro's speech because "the presence of this event on this campus is violent," which is ironic considering they were the only ones at the event acting violently.

Some think the UW administration did not reprimand the disruptive student protesters harshly enough. It is clear that these students are in need of a lesson in Free Speech 101. They are evidently unaware that Wisconsin is a one-party consent state, which means that people can film you without your permission. They also have the mindset that throwing a temper tantrum is the most effective means to relay their message.

Their chants of "shame" and "safety" accomplished nothing except making themselves look obnoxious and disrespectful to the students who spent months planning the event. If they have valuable ideas or wish to share dissenting opinions, they should engage with speakers during Q&A or create their own platform.

Is contentious speech protected by the first amendment? Yes. Is protesting protected by the first amendment? Of course. Is attempting to shut down a private event by violating someone else's speech rights protected by the first amendment? No.

Rep. Dave Murphy (R - Greenville) referenced the famous Louis Brandeis quote - "sunlight is the best disinfectant" - in his floor speech to highlight that silencing and disrupting speech you do not agree with does not accomplish anything.

Silencing certain speech, even those deemed as hate speech, will not stop those thoughts from existing. Allowing these ideas to be debated is the only way to affect change. Rather than shielding oneself from differing views, people should embrace them as an opportunity to solidify or tweak their own viewpoints.

In his floor speech, Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) summarized attacks on free speech that have happened recently across the nation as well as some of these cases that happened on UW campuses. He went on to encourage his fellow legislators to drop their personal rhetoric because "freedom of speech should know no political divide."

The Supreme Court decision reiterates an idea that many people, especially some college leftists seem to have forgotten - you have a right to free speech, but you don't have the right to not have your feelings hurt. Kudos to the Assembly for following suit and upholding UW students' first amendment rights.

Snowflakes Beware: Free Speech May be Back in Vogue

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:29

June 22, 2017

By Judge Jim Troupis
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

"A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government's benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society."
(Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan in Slants decision, issued June 19, 2017. (Matal v. Tam).)

With that sweeping proclamation, the U.S. Supreme Court may have signaled a real, and welcome, return to the principles of free speech.

As with so much that transpires in the legal doctrine of free speech, it's not surprising that "slants", a derogatory term if there ever was one, will now enter the lexicon. In a decision with implications across a broad swath of 21st Century American life, the Court laid down a clear marker--"this far and no farther."

The Slants decision had its origins in long-held legal doctrine. Trademarks were a common form of property as far back as the Hudson Bay Company's search for beaver pelts. At what is known as "common law", one could acquire the rights to a name that identified products. The creation of the U.S. Patent and Trademark system came later, but the principle that identifiable marks were property of those relying upon them for commercial success predates the Constitution itself. And it was a trademark of "Slants" (the band name) that formed the predicate for this case.

An Asian-American rock band took on the name Slants to, in the Court's words, "reclaim" the term and in the process "drain its denigrating force." So, while the name was concededly offensive and disparaging, the band sought to protect it by registration at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Not surprisingly, the USPTO declined their request. The law prohibits registration of trademarks that "disparage...or bring...into contemp[t] or disrepute" any "persons, living or dead." (15 U.S.C. Sec.1052(a)). An appeal followed, and it landed in the U.S. Supreme Court.

A unanimous Supreme Court struck down the statute as a violation of the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause. While the reasoning of the Justices varied on technical questions, they agreed and reaffirmed the principle that viewpoint restriction enforced by the government is absolutely prohibited. In the words of Justice Kennedy, joined by three of the most liberal Justices on the Court:

...[i]t is a fundamental principle of the First Amendment that the government may not punish or suppress speech based on disapproval of the ideas or perspectives the speech conveys....A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an "egregious form of content discrimination," which is "presumptively unconstitutional."

Here, the USPTO was required to make a judgment about the viewpoint expressed in the requested trademark, so there was little the government could say to satisfy the viewpoint-neutral principle of First Amendment protection. That the law had escaped judicial scrutiny for more than five decades is a curious bit of history.

Of course, as with so much that the Supreme Court does, the implications of its decision are far reaching. Setting aside the obvious - a flood of new federal trademarks offensive to a wide range of groups - and setting aside the implication obvious to any sports fan - the Washington "Redskins" moniker is likely to survive any future challenge (by the way, the NFL participated in this case and is cited repeatedly by the Court) - there are broader implications. The First Amendment is alive and well!

It's impossible to read the language of the Court and not think of Milo Yiannopoulos' college appearances/riots, university speech codes, and a host of actions to protect the snowflake generation. The Justices do watch the news, and they certainly understood how reaffirmation of the bedrock free speech principle barring viewpoint restrictions would be read. What are public college speech codes if not unequivocal viewpoint restrictions? The entire point of the hate speech phenomenon is to "suppress speech based on disapproval of the idea or perspectives the speech conveys"--the very thing barred by the Court in its Slants decision.

Any advocate of free speech would have a hard time improving on the language several Justices (including members of the Court's liberal wing) chose to describe the breadth of First Amendment protections:

The danger of viewpoint discrimination is that the government is attempting to remove certain ideas or perspectives from broader debate. That danger is all the greater if the ideas or perspectives are ones a particular audience might think offensive, at least at first hearing. An initial reaction may prompt further reflection, leading to a more reasoned more tolerant position.

Indeed, a speech burden based on audience reactions is simply government hostility and intervention in a different guise.

The Slants would surely be barred from appearing on many campuses and even in many cities by the speech codes/hate speech restrictions now so ubiquitous. Those codes may soon, we can hope, be relegated to the dustbin of history. A public body may not impose such viewpoint restrictions, and the Supreme Court has now reaffirmed that principle.

Perhaps the snowflakes will soon begin to melt away.

Hon. James Troupis is a former Dane County Circuit Court Judge and is a MacIver Institute board member.

Prevailing Wage Reform Snarled In Transportation Gridlock; Dems Push Suspect Report

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:02

MacIver News Service | June 22, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] There are two things you need to know upfront about the state of prevailing wage reform in Wisconsin:

1. A bill that would end the requirement that an artificially set prevailing wage be applied to state-funded projects is at the moment trapped inside the GOP-controlled Legislature's snarled transportation debate.

2. Democrats this week held a sparsely covered press conference on their deeply flawed study that suggests taxpayers stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars on a government reform measure that could save local and state governments hundreds of millions of dollars.

State Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, co-sponsor of the prevailing wage bill, said Wisconsin has made significant progress on repealing the anti-free market law in place since the Great Depression.

In January, a law that gives local governments the right to discontinue prevailing wages went into effect. While it's too early to tabulate the full cost savings, a study by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance found state and local governments could have saved as much as $300 million on vertical projects alone in 2014 had they possessed the freedom to bid on projects not bound by artificially high wages.

"The potential savings that would be achieved by repealing Wisconsin's prevailing wage laws are staggering," state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, said in a statement. Vukmir is co-sponsor of the full prevailing wage reform bill.

But the bill is mired in a contentious transportation funding squabble in which Assembly and Senate Republicans seem miles apart on a revenue- and spending-plan for the troubled state Department of Transportation.

Statewide prevailing wage reform is tied to the transportation budget because of the potential savings it could bring.

"Right now it's wrapped into the overall transportation discussion and a few proposals that are out there," Hutton told MacIver News Service Wednesday on the Dan O'Donnell Show, on NewsTalk 1130 WISN in Milwaukee. "While I support that, I am deeply concerned about the fact that there is just really common sense conservative reform that needs to be passed regardless of what happens in the transportation budget."

Hutton said he has had discussions with his colleagues about pulling prevailing wage from transportation as a standalone. Those discussions are ongoing.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party leadership this week "reacted to" a suspect study claiming the detrimental effects of fully repealing the prevailing wage.

At a Capitol press conference Tuesday, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling joined members of big labor and contractors - who have benefited from the competition-killing prevailing wage laws - to unveil the report.

The "Social Costs of Repealing Wisconsin's Prevailing Wage Law' was constructed by the liberal Midwest Economic Policy Institute, an assumed name for Illinois Economic Policy Institute, an organization that has been described as a union front group.

The study, according to the Dems' press release, found that full repeal of prevailing wage could cost Wisconsin taxpayers more than $336 million annually.

How? Apparently the failure to pay artificially high wages would correspondingly draw down income tax revenue and force some workers on public jobs into public assistance.

"The worst case potential social costs of repealing prevailing wage" the report concludes, "range from $224 million to $337 million every year."

"When worker wages are cut, they contribute less in state and federal income taxes. At the same time, more workers qualify for and rely on government assistance," the study states.

The report includes many omissions, not the least of which is a labor shortage in Wisconsin, particularly in the construction trade, that has helped drive wages up - without the help of unions and government-mandated wages.

But there's a bigger issue with the Dems' drive to protect the prevailing wage.

"Apparently they are concerned about the middle class. Oddly enough, they pick and choose winners," Hutton said. The winners are the companies who play ball with prevailing wage; the losers, beyond taxpayers, are the companies, often smaller firms, that can't compete on artificially high wages and lose out. And so do their workers.

"They're not as concerned about that person or their family that doesn't have the opportunity to make the same wages," Hutton added. "I find it disingenuous that the Democrats are one-sided on this issue, versus let the market decide and let those two neighbors and the firms they work for compete for those public construction jobs and whatever firm is best qualified and provides the best proposal, that firm wins, and the workers associated with that firm do as well."

Perhaps such disparate treatment has something to do with the hefty amounts of big labor cash still coming into Democrats' campaign coffers. Shilling took in $50,225 in union money between 2013 and 2016, according to the left-leaning Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Barca, who raised significantly less than Shilling, received $12,500 from organized labor - his biggest special-interest contributor by far - over the same period.

The nonprofit Illinois Economic Policy Institute pocketed a $25,000 donation in 2016 from AFL-CIO Local 49, according to information obtained by the Center for Union Facts. And the national left-leaning Economic Policy Institute often cites the Illinois think tank in its pro-union reports, according to the center.

Hutton points to the irony of one of the left's key talking points on prevailing wage. Big labor backers insist Wisconsin will be swamped with outside contractors if it fully repeals the law, and yet opponents of reform have contracted with an Illinois research firm to help make their case.

"So while they are calling the kettle black, they themselves are doing the exact same thing," the lawmaker said.

A call to Barca's office seeking payment information regarding the study was not returned Thursday.

The Democrats vs. the Department of Public Instruction

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:08

You read that right.

June 22, 2017

By Ola Lisowski
MacIver Institute Research Associate

On Wednesday, the Assembly passed a long, technical bill making changes to Wisconsin's school choice programs. If signed into law, choice schools will be required to - for the first time - conduct background checks on employees. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is supportive of the bill and twice testified in favor of it.

And yet, 30 Democrats in the Assembly and five Democrats in the Senate voted against the legislation. Why? Because choice schools like it.

The bill creates a more clear pathway for the Department of Public Instruction to kick schools out of the private choice programs if they commit fraud, fail to provide required financial information, or if they fail to conduct the required background checks. DPI asked for this provision in its budget request.

The legislation also revises the funding formula for the Special Needs Scholarship Program, sending more money to public schools, another idea asked for by DPI.

The required background checks? You guessed it - included in DPI's budget request. Many of the bill's provisions were originally requested by DPI but tossed by the Joint Finance Committee as non-fiscal policy items.

At the public hearings and executive sessions in both the Senate and Assembly committees, several Democrats spoke against the bill, asking why it moved so fast and why traditional public schools don't get that kind of treatment.

Never mind the fact that the Assembly Committee on Education has worked for months cleaning up various program rules for public schools, that those rule changes passed the bipartisan committee unanimously and were also passed by the full Assembly this week.

Never mind that representatives of DPI sat directly in front of each committee, on the testimony stand, explaining why the department asked for the changes.

Never mind that if you eliminate a rule that was a never-before-used, worthless test of "accountability" to begin with, it's still described by some as removing accountability standards.

It's too close to those pesky choice programs, so even if it saves our otherwise beloved department time or money, it's best to take the high road. Or something.

A few legislative sessions and many moons ago, Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee introduced amendment after amendment on the 2013-15 state budget, including one that would require background checks for prospective choice school employees. In a letter to supporters, Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) called those amendments "common sense" motions that would "increase accountability and transparency."

The very same senator even introduced a standalone bill on the issue. Yet a few years later, given the opportunity to bring the requirement into law, he and four other senators voted against the very same idea. How times change.

Healy: Anthem's Withdrawal from Wisconsin Market Another Sign of Obamacare's Collapse

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 17:01

June 21, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield announced on Wednesday it would exit the Wisconsin individual insurance market at the end of the year, yet another clear sign that Obamacare's collapse is happening right before our eyes.

In response to Anthem's announcement, MacIver Institute President Brett Healy issued the following statement:

"Anthem's decision to stop offering Obamacare plans in Wisconsin is just the latest sign that the (un)Affordable Care Act is in a death spiral. Anthem now joins other major health insurers like UnitedHealth, Aetna, and Humana that have been forced to withdraw from this government-run debacle in order to stop their financial hemorrhaging. President Obama promised the American public that, under Obamacare, we would see competition, lots of choices and lower health care costs. Unfortunately for the American people, President Obama was wrong and taxpayers will be stuck with the tab to fix his problem.

Anthem BCBS's announcement Wednesday means 18,500 Wisconsinites in 34 counties will lose their individual coverage at the end of 2017. With less competition and fewer choices, premiums will continue to spiral out of control in 2018.

In 2017, the average premium increase on Wisconsin's individual market was 16 percent. In fact, one plan in western Wisconsin costs $51,000 per year in premiums for a couple unfortunate enough to be in their 50s with three children.

In a report last year that scoured the federal database of 2017 Obamacare plan premiums in Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute found that an average family of four would pay an average monthly premium of $1,609.11 for a platinum plan - $19,309.32 per year - while a mid-level silver plan would cost them $1,297.02 in average monthly premiums, or $15,564.24 per year.

For a mid-level silver plan, the average deductible is $7,015.71 for a family and $3,491.92 for an individual. The average catastrophic plan deductible is $14,300 for a family and $7,150 for an individual.

Anthem's decision is the latest episode in the tragedy that is Obamacare. Earlier this month, Anthem announced its withdrawal from Ohio's Obamacare market, potentially leaving people in 18 Ohio counties with no individual health plans.

Another insurance giant, Aetna, announced it would pull out of all Obamacare exchanges nationwide in 2018, and Iowa is now at risk of a complete collapse of its individual insurance market. Minnesota narrowly averted a total collapse of its market after approving premium hikes up to 60 percent for 2017, which cost state taxpayers $300 million in one year alone.

"As Obamacare continues to collapse, Americans are finding themselves with little or no choice for health insurance, a key selling point used by President Obama to convince Congress to pass his so-called signature legislative accomplishment. Every day we see more evidence and proof all across this country that Obamacare has been a colossal failure that cannot be patched or easily fixed. It must be fully repealed and replaced as soon as possible," Healy said.

Sources: Speaker Plans Powwow With Some Stakeholders On Controversial Alcohol Law Changes

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 14:38

MacIver News Service | June 21, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - The so-called "drafting instructions" that would further restrict Wisconsin breweries, distillers and winemakers from expanding into other areas of alcoholic beverage sales is still alive and well, sources tell MacIver News Service.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has scheduled a meeting for Thursday with some of the major stakeholders in the industry to discuss the backroom deal.

Some stakeholders.

The proposal, reportedly crafted by lobbyists, is aimed at "clarifying" the regulations tied to Wisconsin's long-standing three-tier system.

A special interest provision folded into the 2011 state budget prohibits brewery proprietors from owning and operating a restaurant that sells beer, for instance. The Prohibtion-era three-tiered system in general aims to keep alcohol beverage makers, wholesalers and retailers, including restaurants, bars, and liquor stores, out of each others' businesses.

"Brewers, wineries, and other alcohol-beverage producers can distribute their products only to independent, licensed wholesalers (also called distributors). These wholesalers then distribute the products only to independent, licensed retailers. Only licensed retailers can sell the products to the public. Thus, under a strict three-tier system, alcohol beverages must pass through both a licensed wholesaler and a licensed retailer before reaching the consumer," a State Bar of Wisconsin piece summed up.

There are many exceptions to the rules, and apparently that's what the "drafting instructions" look to clarify.

But Americans For Prosperity-Wisconsin, which obtained a copy of the original draft proposal, and other critics are warning that the plan is to beef up the onerous "three-tier restricting" law. Advocates of the plan have pushed the creation of a new bureaucracy, an Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement within the Department of Revenue to enforce the new law.

Brandon Scholz, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, says his group and others have not been invited to Thursday's closed-door discussions. Grocery stores make up the majority of alcoholic beverage sales in the state.

"I'm very concerned that major retail stakeholder groups have been excluded from multiple discussions about a proposal draft to change elements of the three-tier laws in Wisconsin," Scholz said. "I hope this discussion moves out into the open in the legislature."

Larger, well-established alcohol producers would have a much easier time complying with the strict three-tier system than smaller producers like microbreweries, small wineries, and boutique distilleries that have become increasingly popular. That increasing popularity also poses a competitive threat to larger alcohol producers and their in-perpetuity distributors.

Distillers, wineries and craft breweries have come out agains the proposal. The Wisconsin Brewers Guild, has said the three-tier system is archaic and overreaching. MillersCoors has gone on record opposing the proposed alcohol tsar.

State Rep. Dale Kooyenga, who has been invited to Thursday's meeting, said he's asked around and everybody is pleading ignorance on where the proposal is coming from. That includes the speaker, who told Kooyenga that he is not behind the drafting instructions. The Brookfield Republican said the language of the proposal appears to be from a national source.

Wherever the plan originated, Kooyenga says it's a bad idea and he will work to stop any proposal that restricts entrepreneurism and the free market.

"I'm not against clarification," he said. But he doesn't want to see clarification used as a "Trojan horse where you come in and make changes to the detriment of the little guy."

No Connection Between Spending and Best Local Roads in State

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 06:38

Smart planning and management make Marquette County's local roads the best in Wisconsin, despite low funding levels.

MacIver News Service | June 21, 2017

By: Bill Osmulski

[Montello, Wisc...] Public officials in Marquette County apparently know how to get the biggest bang for their buck when it comes to transportation. They have the best roads in the state, while receiving almost the smallest amount of state aid per mile, according to the DOT and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

99 percent of Marquette County's local roads are in fair or better condition, and less than 0.8 percent are in poor or worse condition. Remarkably, local units of government in the county only receive an average of $2,605 per mile in General Transportation Aids. Compare that to Monroe and Eau Claire Counties, which are tied for the worst roads in the state and get $4,735 and $10,017 per mile respectively.

"You have to do what you can with the money you have," Mike Kohnke, Montello Public Works Director, told the MacIver News Service.

Roads can last up to 40 years if properly maintained, but they deteriorate quickly if maintenance is delayed. For example, if cracks aren't sealed, they fill up with water over the winter and result in more cracks. In order to keep up, Kohnke uses a controversial process - repaving with oil and stone instead of asphalt.

"It's one of those forbidden things in a city compared to a township. If it was up to me that's what I would do for every road. But people complain about the lose stones for a little while. Then they complain about the rough road if they skateboard or rollerblade," he said.

This process, however, only costs 9 or 10 thousand dollars per mile compared to the $80,000 it costs to repave with asphalt. And it still lasts for 5 to 7 years. This allows Kohnke to keep most of the city's road on a schedule that works.

"You've got to do what you think is right, and be willing to be called every name under the sun," Kohnke said. "You have to tell them this is what we can do with the money we have. Otherwise, we're going to have to raise your taxes, and then they're usually okay with it."

Kohnke communicates constantly with the Marquette County Highway Commissioner Randy Ravenscroft about road maintenance strategies. Ravenscroft told MNS he focuses on prioritization.

"When I got this job 4 years ago I said let's look at the roads that have the most traffic and get them up to snuff," he said. While still frustrated by too many potholes, Ravenscroft still has the county roads on a 30-year replacement cycle.

Both Ravenscroft and Kohnke told MNS their predecessors left them with a solid maintenance plan that set them up for success. That's given them a big leg up compared to some of their colleagues in other counties.

Over in Monroe County, David Ohnstad took over as highway commissioner earlier this year and is currently trying to devise a transportation maintenance plan from scratch.

"There's obviously some immediate things that need to be addressed," Ohnstad told MNS. "In terms of the big picture, to come up with a longer-range plan, you really need to do the assessment to see what you've got."

Although funding is a challenge, Monroe County communities are in a much stronger position than those in Marquette County. Not only do they get more funding from the state, their overall funding averaged $13,170 per mile in 2015 and in Marquette it was only $9,750. Despite that, 25 percent of all local roads in Monroe County are in poor condition or worse.

So if road maintenance truly comes down to personnel, Monroe County is far from a lost cause. Ohnstad described the steps he's taking to turn things around.

"We're going to make a comprehensive assessment of everything that make up the highway system and put a condition assessment on them, so we can project what the actual need is, and then see where we can maintain the resources to meet that demand. Right now we're making some assumptions," he said.

Although challenged, Ohnstad is far from overwhelmed. He said, "It's a challenge, but it's a challenge all over."

Student Describes How UW attacks Free Speech on Campus

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 05:00

June 20, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] A bill protecting free speech on UW campuses is scheduled to be debated on the Assembly floor today. The bill by Rep. Jesse Kremer, Assembly Bill 299 (AB 299), would subject protesters who impede the free speech rights of others to university sanctions.

MacIver's own Jessica Murphy testified before the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities at a public hearing on AB 299 on May 11th. How will her story compare with the claims by the Free Speech bill's opponents that all is well on campus? Keep an eye at MacIver on Twitter for up-to-the-minute coverage.

Kremer's Free Speech bill comes after a spate of incidents nationwide where conservative speakers have been intimidated into cancelling their events. Here in Wisconsin, Ben Shapiro was essentially disinvited from speaking at Marquette. And his speech at UW-Madison was interrupted as a group of protesters stormed the room and physically blocked the stage.

Budget Momentum Or More Fits And Starts?

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 17:06

MacIver News Service | June 20, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - There is momentum.

That's how state Rep. Dale Kooyenga describes the heavy lifting that's left on the state's 2017-19 budget - due in 10 days.

The Brookfield Republican, a member of the Legislature's budget committee, said the sticking point remains transportation.

"That's a whole different story," Kooyenga told MacIver News Service Tuesday morning during an interview on the Dan O'Donnell Show on NewsTalk 1130 WISN in Milwaukee. "There are pretty significant differences between the governor and the Assembly, and we're trying to figure out where the Senate is at."

"I think the rest of the budget is probably good to move forward pretty fast. I could be wrong on that," he added.

It has in recent weeks been a budget process of fits and starts. As of late Tuesday, it was not clear whether the Joint Finance Committee would meet this week. Republican leadership from both houses did meet Tuesday, sources say.

The trouble, sources say, is on the education front. In recent days it seemed the Assembly and Senate were coming to terms on an education budget, but there remain differences on spending.

Kooyenga and Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, also a member of the Joint Finance Committee, were expected to meet Tuesday to hammer out "some positions" on a tax package to present to leadership.

"I think we're in a very good spot on taxes," said Kooyenga. He and Marklein are part of the Legislature's "CPA Caucus."

Tax cuts remain the order of the day. The question is, how much - and how to pay for them.

"We're not (just) lowering taxes, we're actually eliminating taxes all over the place in this budget," Kooyenga said. "I think on many different fronts conservatives and Wisconsinites will be very happy with the final product."

Kooyenga discusses the state of the budget at the end of this interview:

Election Law Expert: SCOTUS Should 'Stomp On' Wisconsin Redistricting Ruling

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 15:54

MacIver News Service | June 20, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - The U.S. Supreme Court has the opportunity to "stomp on" a badly flawed lower court decision declaring unconstitutional Wisconsin's legislative district map, according to a national expert on the Constitution.

What's ultimately at stake, according to the Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky, is whether federal courts should have control over a political process that is rightly the domain of the states.

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, the first such "partisan gerrymandering" case in more than a decade. A few hours later the court voted 5-4 to delay a federal district court's order that Wisconsin's legislative districts be redrawn by November, in advance of the 2018 elections.

"I hope this means the Supreme Court is going to reverse what the federal court in Wisconsin did, because what they did was, frankly, just wrong," von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Elections Commission, told MacIver News Service Tuesday morning on the Dan O'Donnell Show on Newstalk 1130 WISN.

Democrats lost control of the Legislature and the governor's office in 2010, thereby losing the ability to be involved in the creation of congressional and legislative maps. The process follows the release of the decennial census, and in Wisconsin the party in power is charged with redrawing the legislative district boundaries.

Dems have challenged the GOP-drawn maps since their initial release nearly six years ago.

In November, a three-judge federal court panel struck down the GOP map, agreeing with the plaintiffs that the boundaries were unfair to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. The judges said the redistricting effort was "designed to make it more difficult for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats."

Von Spakovsky said the process is "100 percent partisan." The federal courts have mostly stayed out of redistricting, unless the boundaries were believed to be racially discriminatory or the populations from one district to the next were out of proportion. But the courts have generally refused to consider claims of purely partisan gerrymanders.

"There is no dispute in the Wisconsin case that the Legislature met all the rules about compactness, trying to keep cities and counties together, all the traditional kind of criteria used for redistricting," said von Spakovsky, manager of the Heritage Foundation's Election Law Reform Initiative. "Democrats said, 'This disfavors us as a political party and therefore it's unconstitutional,' and the judges bought that."

The lower court ruling creates more than a constitutional slippery slope, the election law expert said. If the courts start getting involved in partisan redistricting squabbles, who is to measure - and what will the measure be - of too much politics or too little in the process?

Never has the Supreme Court struck down district maps based on a claim of political unfairness.

The high court in 2004 upheld congressional district boundaries drawn by Republicans in Pennsylvania - the last such gerrymandering case before SCOTUS. In the 5-4 decision, conservative justices affirmed redistricting is a political matter beyond the reach of the court.

"So in fact the Wisconsin (federal court) decision violates prior Supreme Court precedent," von Spakovsky said.

He called Wisconsin's redistricting challenge a "test case."

"Three judges directly violated prior Supreme Court precedent because they are clearly pushing the court to reverse its prior decision in a Pennsylvania case," he said. "I'm hoping the fact that they (SCOTUS) issued a stay and took up the case means they didn't change their minds and they are going to stomp on this."

Listen to the entire interview with Hans von Spakovsky here:

Legislature Reaffirms Value of Employment Services for People with Disabilities

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 11:49

June 20, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] Last week, the Legislature passed a resolution reaffirming the need and value of all employment services for people with disabilities.

Advocates and employees of one employment service, Opportunities Inc. of Fort Atkinson, came to the Capitol to celebrate the recognition.

Critics on the left say jobs provided by services like Opportunities aren't "mainstream," but employees and their families told MacIver News what their jobs mean to them.

Mark Brieman's daughter Tara works at Opportunities. "She was supposed to come with me today, and she had tears in her eyes because she said 'dad, I want to stay here and work'," Brieman said.

"The thing is, if they work in the mainstream, they might get just four hours a week if they're lucky," said Kris Hale, whose brother Andy has worked at Opportunities for 30 years.

Grover Norquist Congratulates Wisconsin For Leading The Way - Again - On Government Reform

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 22:47

MacIver News Service | June 16, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - And Wisconsin shall lead them - again.

Tax reform guru Grover Norquist predicts 10 states will pass REINS Act legislation in the coming year, and he asserts Wisconsin can take a bow for that.

"Congratulations for living in Wisconsin, which has consistently been a leader in this fight to increase liberty and make the government play by its own rules," Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, told MacIver News Service last week on the Mark Belling Late Afternoon Show, on NewsTalk 1130 WISN.

Last week, the Assembly, on a party-line vote, passed the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, commonly known as the REINS Act. Gov. Scott Walker is expected to sign the measure.

The REINS Act is similar to legislation moving through Congress, but with lower thresholds. It provides greater legislative oversight of the regulations adopted by state agencies. Any rule or regulation with an economic impact of more than $10 million would require legislative approval.

And it gives the Legislature's Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules more muscle. The committee would be empowered to request a public hearing earlier in the rule-making process and call for an independent review of the proposed regulation's economic impact.

Democrats insist the REINS Act would undermine regulations designed to protect the public. The left-leaning Sierra Club described the federal REINS Act legislation as "clearly an imprudent if not perhaps Machiavellian attempt to chip away at the regulatory process."

Norquist says REINS is about bringing representative democracy and liberty back to the people.

"People have understood this as a federal, national problem," he said. Congress passes an open-ended law and some bureaucrats fill in the blanks. Very dangerous.

"Then you get regulations with the force of law that can send you to jail. There are 600,000 regulations in this country not passed by Congress but fleshed from some law. Then the bureaucrats say, 'Here's what that law means.' There are 600,000 ways to go to jail," he added. "Only Congress should be able to pass laws...the president should have to sign laws. That's what they tell us in school, anyway, and that's what the Constitution says."

The same bureaucratic morass has infected state government and, Norquist says, has given lawmakers a pass from having to take tough regulation votes.

"This is the beginning of an entirely new front opened up to expand liberty and to reduce how abusive government can get. And it requires accountability. You want a law? You vote for it," he said.

Weekly Roundup: Top 10 Stories in Wisconsin Politics

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 18:45

June 16, 2017

Happy Friday, readers! It was a busy week in Madison. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) whirred back into action after a two-week break on budget voting, taking up issues such as self-insurance and the Department of Corrections. Both the full Assembly and the Senate also met on Wednesday, and committees in both houses held hearings throughout the week.

In case you missed out (or were too busy watching the US Open), here's a rundown of the top ten stories from the week:

1. JFC Rejected the Switch to Self-Insurance

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed plan to transition to a self-insurance system was unanimously rejected by JFC, which means that the Group Insurance Board will have to find savings elsewhere.

Instead, the committee approved a plan to offer more high-deductible Consumer Driven Health Plans for state workers, which is a potential cost-saving alternative.

Budget Blog - JFC Rejects Self-Insurance, Directs Ins Board to Save $63.9m Within Current System https://t.co/xBGrzH8oYp#wibudget #wiright

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) defended the decision, which saves lower income individuals money on their monthly premiums and allows employers to contribute to tax-free health savings accounts.

Nygren cites his own CDHP, where he saves $2,400/yr in premiums and has tax-advantaged HSA to cover out-of-pocket costs. https://t.co/mE3TUHoxKN

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

Read more about the move here.

2. The Assembly Passed the REINS Act, Sending it to the Governor's Desk

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, or REINS Act, aims to improve transparency and limit financially burdensome rules and regulations. Under current law, state agencies have the power to pass regulations and rules with little oversight. REINS would require the Legislature to sign off on proposed agency rules costing over $10 million.

The bill is now headed to Governor Walker's desk. Shout-out to Wisconsin for being the first state to pass the REINS Act! #OG

Bill by @AdamNeylon would make WI the 1st in the country w/ a state-level #REINSActhttps://t.co/eCSW8yBUAQ@SpeakerVos#wiright #wipoiltics pic.twitter.com/CM7GqNy8Xt

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 14, 2017

A national REINS Act is currently being discussed in Congress.

Read more here.

3. A Constitutional Convention Became More Likely

The Assembly approved a resolution for Wisconsin to join other states calling for a convention to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. With states relying on federal funding for a myriad of programs, the almost $20 trillion in national debt has some legislators demanding action.

federalism committee passes resolutions would make Wisconsin latest state to call for Article V Convention on balanced budget amend #wiright

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) May 31, 2017

Debate was lively and lasted hours, with Democrats expressing fear over a "runaway convention" and the possibility that congressional Republicans would attempt to strip voting rights. Republicans, in turn, stressed that the founders put in protections against such fears, including the fact that 3/5 of states must ratify the amendment before it is added to the Constitution.

Upon Senate approval, Wisconsin will be the 28th state to pass Article V resolutions, according to the latest figures from the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force. Based on these estimates, only six more states are needed to call for a constitutional convention. At least 38 states are needed to ratify any amendment.

If successful, this will be the first time in US history that a constitutional convention will be intiated to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Read more here and here.

4. President Trump Visited Waukesha, and Protesters Made their Opposition Clear

President Donald Trump visited Wisconsin on Tuesday and toured Waukesha County Technical College to emphasize the White House's plan to close the skills gap and improve the work force by encouraging apprenticeships. He also hinted at plans for a potential new Foxconn iPhone factory in Wisconsin and attended a political fundraiser for Governor Walker on his trip. It came as no surprise that a protest was organized nearby to greet the President with their overused chants, edgy posters, and demands for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

MacIver is here as a group of protesters gather outside tonight's #Trump fundraiser with @GovWalker. They're demanding a $15 #minimumwage pic.twitter.com/BFrP6Q2LVR

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 13, 2017

In addition to their signs, protesters brought giant paper mâché Walker and Trump puppets.

5. Senate Passed the Cookie Bill

The Senate passed SB 435 this week, which will now move to the state Assembly for a vote. Also known as the "Cookie Bill," this legislation eliminates unnecessary and burdensome regulations on the sale of home-made foods. Prior to this, Wisconsinites were only allowed to sell homemade pickled items and preserves. If it becomes law, New Jersey will be the last state that does not allow the sale of home-baked goods.

Delicious! State Senate passes SB 271, the "Cookie Bill," making it legal to sell homemade baked and canned goods in WI #wiright #wipolitics

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

This move not only opens a new market for people to sell their home-baked goods, but also aims to increase the allowable sales limit of pickled goods. Bakers with an entrepreneurial spirit (and the Cookie Monster) will be pleased.


6. The Senate Passed a School Choice Consensus Bill

Something kind of crazy happened this week. On a fascinating bipartisan 23-5 vote, the Senate passed a bill that makes various administrative changes to Wisconsin's school choice programs. The bill was negotiated and agreed upon by the state's Department of Public Instruction and groups supportive of school choice, such as School Choice Wisconsin and American Federation for Children.

And yet, Democrats such as Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) stood against the bill, railing against "unaccountable" voucher schools. Republicans found an ally in Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), who passionately voiced her support for school choice programs and called out her fellow Democrats for not supporting legislation that includes many provisions they have been pushing for years.

Bill would require background checks for employees of choice schools, make administrative "cleanups." Passes 10-3 https://t.co/fJPLS0w464

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) June 14, 2017

Taylor says she has been asking for and fighting for many of these issues for years. Asks Dems "what are you doing? Stop it!" #wiedu https://t.co/bkvILfoCGf

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 14, 2017

7. Fight for Referenda Reforms

As in years past, Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) is once again pushing for referendum reforms. In an effort to fight referenda abuse, Stroebel has introduced eight bills that include requiring referenda to be reauthorized every five years and reducing a district's state based aid based on increased revenue from successful referenda.

Of the 70 referenda proposed across the state, 15 of them were repeats, and 7 of those passed on the second go-around. In an interview with MacIver News Service, Sen. Stroebel states that he believes that "this package of bills enhances local control because it empowers the voters, gives them information, and makes sure that they have a seat at the table."

Referendum Madness: @SenStroebel looks to limit districts who hammer taxpayers w/relentless referenda: https://t.co/WXJc3B554X#wiright

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 14, 2017

Watch MacIver News Service's interview with Sen. Stroebel, a concerned citizen, and a school administrator here.

8. DNR Spends Nearly $2 Million on Resorts, Conferences

The DNR spent almost $2 million of taxpayer money on hotels, travel, and conference venues for trainings over the past two years. MacIver reported that this past year alone the DNR has spent over $30,000 at Chula Vista, a luxury waterpark resort and spa in the Wisconsin Dells. Constituents who are disgruntled about the proposed spike in admission and camping fees at state parks will probably be even more upset to learn about these irresponsible spending habits.

Live vicariously: read about all the posh destinations @WDNR staff enjoy - and how much of your $ it costs:https://t.co/okvNi93uSh#wiright pic.twitter.com/Ur0VY4EtCH

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 14, 2017

9. National Push to Repeal Obamacare Taxes

This week, the MacIver Institute joined 44 other free markets groups and individuals from across the nation in an effort to convince the U.S. Senate to repeal all Obamacare taxes. The coalition argues that eliminating these almost $1 trillion in taxes will relieve the burden on American businesses and families, as well as encourage economic growth.

MacIver joins national coalition urging Senate to repeal all of #Obamacare's $1 trillion in taxes:https://t.co/QmZEdXRdNr#tcot #wiright

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 13, 2017

Read more about their efforts here.

10. Property Insurance Fund Eliminated

Small government advocates, rejoice! The government did something rare this week -- they moved one step closer to eliminating an outdated and unnecessary government program.

.@rep89 motion to eliminate Local Gov't Property Ins. Fund passes 12-4, eliminating an outdated, unneeded gov't program. #wibudget #wiright

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

Interested in more in-depth coverage on any of these issues? Check out our coverage from this week on self-insurance, referenda, and more.

You can also give a listen to this Capitol update with MacIver Institute President Brett Healy and Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin State Director Eric Bott:

'Wisconsin Is A Lot Freer Than It Was A Month Ago': Old Cookie Law Crumbles

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 18:00

MacIver News Service | June 16, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - The latest version of Wisconsin's "Cookie Bill," legalizing the sale of home-baked goods, passed - again - in the Senate this week.

But thanks to a southwest Wisconsin judge, a free-market law firm and some very persistent "cookie ladies," small bakers of brownies, muffins and cookies no longer have to fear going to jail or paying big fines for selling their goods.

On Friday, Lafayette County Judge Duane Jorgenson signed an order finalizing his decision last month that declared unconstitutional the state's ban on the sale of homemade baked items.

The judge did so after the state Department of Agriculture Trade & Consumer Protection told a home baker she would not be protected under the court ruling, according to Erica Smith, attorney for the Institute for Justice, which represented three Wisconsin women in the case against the state.

Smith said the department told the woman that the ruling only applied to the three plaintiffs.

"We did a brief with the court, and the court just today signed an order putting an end to it," the attorney said.

"Wisconsin is a lot freer today than it was last month," she added.

Jorgenson ruled that anyone in the state can bake and sell without an artificial cap on sales, as long as the goods are not considered potentially hazardous. Cookies, cakes, breads, muffins fit the nonhazardous column.

Wisconsin residents Lisa Kivirist told the Washington Times in 2016 that she and her family serve muffins and other baked goods to the guests of their Inn Serendipity Farm and Bed and Breakfast near Monroe, but they face fines and jail time if they sell them, under the state ban.

"It's not clear to me why I can serve you this muffin legally, but I cannot sell you this muffin legally," she told the publication.

Kivirist, Kriss Marion, and Dela Ends sued the state. It was their last resort.

For years, the Wisconsin women have begged legislators to change the law. They had success on two separate occasions in the Senate, but reform bills died in the Assembly. Speaker Robin Vos, owner of a popcorn business, opted not to bring the bills to the Assembly floor.

The Rochester Republican has said the legislation would have created an unequal playing field, with homemakers getting a break on the costs of regulations licensed businesses are required to pay.

Smith and other free-market advocates say the state's restrictions on cottage baked goods is driven by special interests that want to lock competitors out.

Jorgenson agreed, ruling that there is no connection to the commercial baking complaint that lifting the ban would present public health concerns.

"I think if we (the Institute for Justice) hadn't been suing the government for 25 years and seeing how outrageous government can be, we would have been shocked that there is such a thing as a law against selling home-baked goods," Smith said. "This was another instance of special interests shutting out competition and that's not what America is all about."

Just days after the court ruling, Vos began circulating the Bakery Freedom Act in the pursuit of sponsors. The proposal does away with licensure requirements for commercial bakeries, and eliminates health safety inspections. The bill, Vos said, would "level the playing field" in the wake of Jorgensen's decision.

The Senate bill, its third try at reforming a law now deemed unconstitutional, allows entrepreneurs to sell up to $25,000 in homemade goods per year before being subject to licensing and the accompanying requirements.

"There is good news for home bakers in Wisconsin! The cookie bill passed the state senate," Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) declared in a press release.

"I know there are many home-based bakers who are ready to share their talents and delicious products with consumers and I am proud to have supported this bill," the senator said.

Kit Beyer, Vos' spokeswoman, said the speaker does not support the Senate bill. She said the Bakery Freedom Act, introduced by Vos and state Rep. Michael Schraa "levels the playing field, allowing every baker to sell their product under the same standards."

The Institute for Justice's Smith said passage of a "Cookie Bill" is unnecessary now that the court has decided the ban on the sale of homemade goods is unconstitutional.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, however, is considering appealing the ruling.

Budget Blog - JFC Rejects Self-Insurance, Directs Insurance Board to Save $63.9 Million Within Current System

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 17:41

June 15, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] The Joint Finance Committee followed through on its plan to reject Gov. Scott Walker's self-insurance proposal on Thursday, instead directing the Group Insurance Board (GIB) to come up with $63.9 million in savings within the current health insurance system.

Walker's budget proposed the switch to self-funded health insurance for state employees, where the state would collect premiums and pay claims itself, rather than go through the current network of private HMOs. GIB estimated the switch would have saved $60 million over the biennium.

JFC has questioned the proposal for months, and formally rejected the self-insurance contracts on a 16-0 vote without discussion at its executive session Thursday. Instead, the committee adopted a motion directing GIB to work within the existing network of HMOs to find slightly more savings than Walker's proposal.

"The governor originally tied $60 million in savings to self insurance. As I mentioned the ACA was miscalculated, so that's another $3.9 million. So the net savings that we come up with today will be $63.9 million," JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) told reporters before JFC gaveled in.

.@rep89 says changes to state employee health insurance will hold cost/premium increases to 10% or less. #wibudget pic.twitter.com/VJkouP0x00

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

Part of the savings would be achieved by forcing GIB to draw down its reserves by $25.8 million in general purpose revenue (GPR) over the biennium. JFC co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Nygren have been critical of how much money GIB has been setting aside in reserves, saying keeping excessive cash in reserves leaves savings on the table.

"That means we haven't been realizing the savings that could have been there to both state agencies and to the employees themselves," Nygren said.

The insurance board would also have to find $22.7 million GPR by negotiating further savings within existing plans.

In addition, GIB would have to re-structure plans offered to state employees, increasing the number of health plan tiers from three to five and emphasizing Consumer Driven Health Plans, which have higher deductibles but also are paired with tax-advantaged health savings accounts.

Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) claimed offering more high-deductible options would force people to forego life-saving medical care like breast exams.

Nygren shot back, saying Shankland "should be ashamed" of her over-the-top rhetoric. He cited his own high-deductible plan that saves $2,400 a year in reduced premiums. That, combined with pre-tax contributions to his HSA, more than cover his out-of-pocket costs.

Nygren to Shankland: "You should be ashamed" of dishonest, over-the-top rhetoric about CDHPs. https://t.co/Tiurzy02Jw

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

Under the JFC motion, any cost increases from plan design changes would be capped at 10 percent. That cap would apply to increased premiums and any out-of-pocket costs in 2018 and 2019. The cap ensures state employees, who currently cover just 10.8 percent of their own medical costs, will continue to enjoy generous taxpayer-funded benefits.

Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), a health insurance agent by trade, added that consumer-driven health plans are designed to give employees more control over their health care dollars. Employers have an incentive to keep their employees healthy and productive, she said. "Even if government doesn't regulate it...it's what employers do."

After JFC's unanimous vote to reject self-insurance, Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) called Walker's proposal a "scam," creating a seemingly rare moment of unity between JFC's leaders and Walker.

"Self insurance in and of itself is not a bad thing or a bad idea," Nygren said.

Darling said she doesn't think the governor was trying to "pull one over on us." She said she just thinks "this is the wrong time for us to be making shifts in the marketplace."

It's Time to Finally Fix the Housing Market

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 15:59

After taxpayers spent $187 BILLION, that's billion with a "b", for bail out, trade group reminds Congress it is finally time to fix Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Words can mean different things in Washington, D.C. than they do here in Wisconsin. For example, "temporary" in the Badger State implies a short duration of time. The temporary tags that came on my new car were good for 30 days. I went straight to the DMV for permanent ones.

With the federal government, it's a different story. The so-called temporary takeover of our nation's two primary home-loan guarantors has now stretched into its ninth year. And there is little sign of impending change.

That's a problem. Taxpayers already spent $187 billion to bail out these private entities, known by their colloquial names Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And we're just one downturn away from being on the hook for up to $250 billion more.

And while these government sponsored enterprises are behaving safely today --not inviting another financial meltdown--the system isn't serving our local housing market the way it should.

Like much of the country, Wisconsin is seeing housing prices hit an all-time high and affordable housing stock dwindle. First-time and modest-income Wisconsinites are having trouble buying in, and rentals at reasonable prices are getting hard to find.

We need to support homeownership and construction of affordable rentals in a safe and sustainable manner. Fortunately, the Mortgage Bankers Association has stepped up with detailed recommendations to unleash the credit required.

Their plan lays out how to transform a two-company government-sanctioned monopoly into a more stable and competitive free market. Key to success will be permanently ending the corporate cronyism that allowed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to gain market share by offering incentivized deals to certain large market players.

In place of this tilted and dangerous system, the U.S. must structure a level playing field that will bring new, private entities into the business of buying, repackaging, and reselling affordable-housing mortgages.

This will inject significant domestic and global capital and empower independent mortgage banks, community banks, credit unions and co-ops to offer more loans to Americans with modest incomes, as well as to protect the standard 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage. These new institutions will also be able to support the market for developing more rental units for middle and working class people.

The market must be designed to entice conservative, dividend-seeking investors - not those attracted by high-wire financial antics. For that, the MBA plan looks to utilities and similar sectors, which have uneventfully engaged private investment in public services for decades.

Finally, the U.S. can draw on the lessons of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which backs Americans' savings and checking accounts. Financial institutions pay for the insurance, and it instills consumer confidence.

When applied to the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac successors, the FDIC model makes sense. Investors can absorb their own losses, but in the case of a Black Swan event, taxpayers and global stability will be protected through this insurance fund.

It's fair to say that there are dozens of urgent issues before Congress, and Speaker Paul Ryan cannot simultaneously architect solutions for everyone. With this solid plan to build on, however, he and his colleagues, like Congressman Duffy, who chairs the subcommittee in the U.S. House that oversees Fannie and Freddie, can feel confident in crafting legislation that will lessen the taxpayer risk associated with the government's role in the housing market.

This must be done without delay. Unity in Washington, a supportive and savvy Treasury Secretary, and increasing citizen pressure for action don't come around every day. Plus, finishing this last bit of repair from the 2008 crisis would be a big win - for Congress and for average Americans who need a roof over their heads.

Posted with the permission of the Wisconsin Mortgage Bankers Association Board of Directors.

Self-Insurance Dies Today, But Changes Could Still Be Coming To State Health Insurance

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 01:10

MacIver News Service | June 15, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] Gov. Scott Walker's plan to move the state's approximately 250,000 employees and their family members to a self-insurance system is expected to be officially pronounced dead today by the Joint Finance Committee.

"We are going to say no to self-insurance," state Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, told MacIver News Service Wednesday.

But Felzkowski, a member of the budget committee, said the Republican-controlled JFC has a "suite of ideas" to draw savings from the current state health insurance system - perhaps more than $50 million worth after 2018.

That's important. The Walker administration projects the self-insurance proposal could save taxpayers $65 from the basic switch, and an additional $43 million in secondary costs. Opting not to change to a self-insurance model could cost employees significant increases in premiums, and self-insurance would keep the so-called Obamacare tax at bay, saving the state about $22 million.

Joint Finance Committee co-chairman, state Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) has said those savings are disingenuous because the Obamacare tax has yet to be collected and "there's no evidence to show it will be collected in the future."

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has estimated savings from a self-insurance makeover at about $47 million. One consultant's report said the switch could end up costing the state money.

Walker's 2017-19 budget plan uses the projected savings to help increase funding for public education.

Under the self-insurance model, the state would be responsible for paying benefits and taking on the risk for losses, currently the responsibility of 18 private HMOs.

Felzkowski said budget committee Republicans would "cut ties" to education spending under their health insurance proposals, so lawmakers would need to come up with north of $60 million in funding.

The legislator, who owns an insurance agency, said the JFC is "encouraging" the Group Insurance Board to follow a number of recommendations, including a state plan redesign that further incentivizes consumer-driven health insurance plans - especially health savings accounts.

"We have very strong language encouraging GIB (Group Insurance Board) to find savings," Felzkowski said. "One of the ways to find those savings is through plan redesigns, with an emphasis on a customer-driven model."

She said savings are estimated to run between $30 million and $52 million over the biennium, but acknowledges that it may be too late in the game to hit the high end of the estimates in 2018. Contract negotiations are finalized in August, with enrollment set for October.

There would be funding available to educate state employees on the benefits of HSAs, and "over subsidizing of premiums to induce employees to move into the consumer-driven plans. Felzkowksi said the state's insurance offerings would increase from a three-tier model to a five-tier model, providing more plan options and more opportunities for savings. Employees would not see an increase in contributions, at least the current percentage would be the same, Felzkowski said.

Premiums for the state's current uniform benefit plan run around $1,000 per year for individuals. The high deductible HSA plan would cost about $396, according to Felzkowski.

Broader savings to the state would come from a greater awareness of health care costs, the lawmaker said. When consumers are responsible for all health care-related expenses, they make different decisions, Felzkowski said.

Ultimately, she said, the most significant savings could be realized by businesses in the Madison area and other government-heavy communities forced to compete against very generous state benefits.

"It's obscene," Felzkowski said. "It is so far away from what the private sector does outside Madison. What is the cost to local businesses and the business community and the greater Madison area forced to offer competing plans with the uniform benefit plan."

"We (the state) drive health care costs," the lawmaker added.

Felzkowski said she wouldn't rule out self-insurance down the road, but right now the Republican caucus "just isn't there." The big concern remains the volatility and disruption that could be created in the health insurance marketplace, a marketplace already hit hard by the Obamacare effect.

But some advocates of self-insurance say the current state health insurance model protects participating insurers to the detriment of taxpayers. Their question is this: If the state can drive cost savings from insurers now, why couldn't it do it before?

Felzkowski said she can't answer that question, although she has some theories. The proposed incentives, she said, might just be the "shove needed" to move state employees to a consumer-driven health insurance model.

Assembly 'Fellowship' Falls Apart On Day Of Political Violence In D.C.

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 22:02

MacIver News Service | June 14, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - On a day when their federal legislative brethren were targeted by a crazed gunman, state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle urged a return to civility, to comity, a "sense of fellowship" in these bitterly divided times.

The kinder, gentler Legislature lasted for all of an hour.

Wednesday's Assembly floor session began with some conciliatory words from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and a moment of silence for U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others who were injured earlier in the day when a gunmen opened fire at an Alexandria, Va. baseball field.

"Today is a sad day for our entire nation," Barca said. "I am hoping today we can rededicate ourselves to set a shining example of how we might disagree on policy but still have a sense of comity and a sense of fellowship."

But Assembly members were soon back to the name-calling and overheated rhetoric all too familiar in today's politics. When the feel-good resolutions ended and the debate over Article V began, the gloves came off. Democrats accused Republican sponsors of Article V resolutions of secretly plotting to obliterate the Constitution under the guise of participating in a states-run convention to craft a federal balanced budget amendment.

"I don't think this resolution or these resolutions are before us because people want to pass a balanced budget amendment. That's a facade in order to debate this and put a pretty face on this ...I think there is a much more nefarious purpose," said Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee.

According to Kessler and a long line of his liberal colleagues, "extreme right-wing groups" want to "repeal many of the amendments in the Bill of Rights." The ultimate reason? To disenfranchise certain groups of voters and set voting rights back 150 years, Kessler contends.

Republicans shot back that their friends on the left were engaging in fear-mongering. The point of the resolutions, they said, is to give Wisconsin a seat at the table of a historic constitutional process that specifically would demand the federal government to get its fiscal house in order and begin dealing with $20 trillion in crippling U.S. debt.

"This legislation states we will follow the rules. Our intentions are not nefarious in any way, shape or form," said Rep. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie), who shepherded compromise legislation to bring on board reluctant conservatives also concerned about a "runaway convention."

After hours of bitter rhetoric amid the call for "comity," the resolutions passed along party lines.

Reunited And it Feels So Good

Warring Republican leadership in the Assembly and Senate seemed to be showing signs of detente, however.

Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, told reporters before Wednesday's floor session the fact that the budget committee is meeting Thursday after last week's impasse-driven hiatus is a good sign.

Vos said he had a "good conversation" Tuesday with Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. The Senate has been more aligned with Walker's budget plan than with the Assembly's proposals, particularly on the divisive issues of transportation and education spending.

"I know the Senate has been meeting on a regular basis, which is great," Vos said. "Many times during the process we would have a hearing scheduled for Joint Finance and then we'd have to stop because the Senate didn't know exactly where they were. I give them credit for the fact that they've taken this whole last week and caucused a lot and talked a lot and have more concrete ideas on where they want to go, and I think that this will help the process go along."

But reconciliation, even for a Republican majority that has held both houses of the Legislature for six-plus years, comes with baggage.

Nygren pointed to the Assembly education plan and Fitzgerald's rejection of it moments before the plan's release earlier this month.

"Originally Sen. Fitzgerald sent out a press release before we even released it saying it was dead on arrival," the Marinette Republican said.

In recent days, however, Republicans in the Senate and the Assembly have been talking more about the inequities of the 25-year-old state education funding formula and the impact it has had on low-spending school districts, Nygren added.

"That's actually getting us to a point where one position may not prevail 100 percent, but it gets us to a point where we can meet somewhere that makes sense for both of us," Nygren said.

Any notion of an intraparty feud is undercut by the fact that Republicans are arguing about how much more money to put into schools, and how much more to cut property taxes.

"That's a pretty good day to be in a place when you're having those types of conversations," the lawmaker said. "I would just suggest that putting out ideas, as we have on a couple different occasions, is part of our DNA in the Assembly."

Wednesday was a great day for limited-government advocates. The Assembly, on a party-line vote, passed the REINS Act, making Wisconsin the first state in the nation to pass the legislation demanding greater oversight of state bureaucratic rule-makers. The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, commonly known as the REINS Act, passed in the Senate last month, and now awaits the governor's signature. Walker originally had included the measure in his budget proposal.

The REINS bill is similar to legislation moving through Congress, but with lower thresholds. It provides greater legislative oversight of the regulations adopted by state agencies. Any rule or regulation with an economic impact of more than $10 million would require legislative approval.

And it gives the Legislature's Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules more muscle. The committee would be empowered to request a public hearing earlier in the rule-making process and call for an independent review of the proposed regulation's economic impact.

"Well it took 3 years and a lot of work, but Wisconsin just became the first state in the country to pass the #REINS Act through both houses," state Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Waukesha, tweeted Wednesday evening.

Dangerous Politics

Capitol security was front of mind in the hours after the D.C. shooting.

The House's Scalise, R-Louisiana, was with other congressional members, practicing for a charity baseball game between Republicans and Democrats. Assailant James Hodgkinson reportedly fired more than 50 rounds from a rifle and a handgun.

Hodgkinson was a volunteer for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, according to media reports, and had a hostile view toward Republicans, particularly Trump.

"Hodgkinson had sent letters to his local newspaper in Illinois decrying income inequality, encouraging the government to tax the rich and supporting President Obama, according to the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat," the Washington Post reported.

Vos said state Capitol police did ramp up security in light of the events in Washington, D.C., not due to any threats. Asked whether officials have considered tighter security at the state Capitol, Vos said his "natural assumption" is the people's house should be as open as possible.

"That's why I'm not supportive of having armed guards, metal detectors, or any of those kinds of things because I think by and large we have a really good Capitol police force who has provided us security under the most intense times," the speaker said, referring to the left-led protests against Walker's Act 10 legislation in 2011.

Vos said the overheated political rhetoric, particularly in the Trump era, is only exacerbating the divide - and potentially making it deadly.

"I think that's the problem that we have in society today. Some people can't accept the fact that somebody has just a different point of view. That doesn't make them illegitimate or evil or hateful, they just have a different point of view," the speaker said. "So I hope that what we get out of today is more respectful rhetoric, to say you can believe whatever you choose to believe because we live in America.

"But you don't have the right to stop somebody else from believing what they believe because you don't like it, which is what, unfortunately, seems like this person attempted to do."

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