State News: Foxconn, Health Insurance, Gas Imports

Walker, Environmentalists Spar Over Foxconn Water Plan

Gov. Scott Walker is throwing cold water on a request to have all the Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces review a Lake Michigan diversion plan that would help the planned Foxconn plant in Racine County.

Environmental groups comprising the Wisconsin Compact Implementation Coalition want the wider review of Racine’s proposal to divert seven million gallons of water a day to the Foxconn factory. Most of the water would be treated and returned to the lake after use.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is analyzing Racine’s plan to supply lake water to the Village of Mount Pleasant, where the Foxconn plant would be located.

Walker says the request for a regional review is part of a broad attack on the Foxconn project. “Politically, there’s group after group after group that wants to find ways to undermine that,” Walker said. “But when people look at the facts and realize this is less water usage than Racine had more than 20 years ago, this is well within the confines of the compact.”

He refers to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact finalized in 2008.


Taking Steps to Bring Down Insurance Premiums

Gov. Scott Walker formally took steps last week to prop up the federal health care law he and other Republicans have fought for years to repeal. The state has asked for a federal waiver to change the health law in hopes of controlling marketplace premiums and prevent more insurers from leaving.

The Walker administration wants to create a $200 million state reinsurance fund that would help insurance companies pay for costly medical claims between $50,000 and $250,000. To ensure the savings are passed along to consumers, companies would have to file premium rates with the state commissioner of insurance showing the effect with and without the subsidy payment.

The Walker administration originally predicted it would cost the state as much as $50 million, with the rest expected to come from the federal government. The administration is now projecting the state’s share will be $34 million, and will come from Medicaid savings. The federal government is being asked to provide $166 million.

Premiums have soared on the individual market in some parts of Wisconsin, especially in the northeastern part of the state. Statewide, they’ve gone up an average of 44 percent.


Midwest Paper Group Rises from Ashes of Appleton Coated

What was Appleton Coated is now operating under the name Midwest Paper Group. The plant in the village of Combined Locks shut down in October while the owners went through receivership.

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson praised the re-start. “Make no mistake, Appleton Coated’s turnaround will be remembered as one of the biggest grassroots economic success stories in a long time,” Nelson said.

Now, months later, 230 of them are back on the job. Most of the workers are in the union and worked at the mill, where 600 people used to be employed for years before it closed.

Workers will still make coated paper used for stationery or in printers but they are also making “brown paper” that can be turned into cardboard. Brown paper is more in demand because of online shopping and shipping.

Los Angeles-based Industrial Assets Corp., acquired the 129-year-old facility along with Maynards Industries USA in Detroit.


Petroleum Imports to Port Of Green Bay Up

Shipments of gas and diesel fuel into the Port of Green Bay rose by 124 percent in 2017 compared to 2016.

The Port of Green Bay consists of 14 businesses spanning more than three miles of the Fox River. In an annual report, Brown County Port Director Dean Haen said the businesses moved a bit more than $1.8 million metric tons throughout 2017.

Haen said there is a basic reason for the jump in petroleum imports.

“The reason for that change is the shutdown of a pipeline that was supplying petroleum products to the Green Bay area between Green Bay and Milwaukee,” Haen said.

The West Shore Pipeline, in northeastern Wisconsin, once moved petroleum but closed in spring 2016. Since then, Haen said gas and diesel fuel have been brought via ship instead of through a pipeline. He said the shutdown means that Green Bay has “flipped” from being a petroleum exporter to being an importer.


Medical Malpractice Cap Before State Supreme Court

Wisconsin’s cap on damages for pain and suffering is being challenged as unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a medical malpractice case involving a woman who lost both her arms and legs.

Supreme Court justices and attorneys used words like “horrific” and “severe” to describe a Milwaukee woman’s injuries after she failed to receive antibiotics for an aggressive infection, causing gangrene in all four of her limbs which then had to be amputated.

In 2014, Ascaris Mayo was awarded a total of $25.3 million, $16.5 million of which was for non-economic damages, which Wisconsin caps at $750,000. Her attorney Daniel Rottier says the cap violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause because it hurts patients with the worst injuries the most – they are limited in what they can recover, no matter what a jury decides.

Kevin St. John, an attorney for the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, disagreed.

“Now a plaintiffs’ primary argument at the end of the day boils down to fairness. But ‘it’s not fair’ is not a constitutional argument,” St. John told the state’s high court.

Proponents of the medical malpractice cap say it helps attract doctors to the state, curbs defensive medicine and protects a fund worth $1.4 billion used to compensate patients.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2018, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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