State News: Lame-Duck Law Causes Roadblock

Lame-Duck Law Causes Roadblock

A new state law aimed at giving GOP lawmakers more oversight of the Democratic attorney general caused a major roadblock Tuesday, leading to stalled action on a state lawsuit and clashes among lawmakers. Under a law passed during December’s lame-duck session of the state Legislature, the attorney general must receive approval from the state budget-writing committee to reach settlement agreements in lawsuits involving the state. 

On Tuesday, the budget-writing committee convened to discuss such an approval, but the meeting came to a halt before it had even really begun. During the meeting, which quickly went into closed session, Attorney General Josh Kaul asked lawmakers to sign nondisclosure agreements – which are sometimes required for legal counsel to discuss settlement agreements with other parties – before discussing the pending legal settlement. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle declined to sign any such agreement. 

In a statement released after the committee ended, GOP lawmakers who control the committee said they don’t believe the nondisclosure agreements are necessary.

After lawmakers’ refusal to sign the agreements, the committee recessed and later returned to open session. There, Kaul said the state could face financial penalties if he discusses the settlement without nondisclosure agreements. 

Kaul said there is a Friday deadline for action on the pending settlement and added that confidentiality agreements are common in settlement cases, so this conflict is likely to arise again. 

Rural Broadband Gets Boost from FCC

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently awarded more than $160 million to support broadband-internet access across Wisconsin, which will help providers maintain, improve and expand high-speed internet access for about 21,000 homes and businesses. The funding is allocated through the Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) program within the Universal Service Fund, which funds projects that expand access to communication services for all Americans.

The program targets smaller providers known as “rate-of-return” carriers. The funding these carriers receive is based on their cost to provide services. The FCC provides a subsidy to make the service more affordable for customers in rural areas, said Mark Wigfield, FCC spokesperson. He explained that urban providers typically have more customers who can fund the cost of infrastructure investments.

Through the program, more than 20 counties statewide will be able to access more predictable funding during a 10-year time frame, Wigfield said. The A-CAM model requires providers to build out broadband infrastructure on a set schedule, and most will provide speeds of 25 megabits per second for downloads and three megabits per second for uploads. 

This year the number of rural Wisconsin residents lacking broadband access declined to around 486,000 residents, or roughly 28 percent of the state’s rural population, according to the commission’s 2019 broadband deployment report.

Parties Eye Possible Nominees to Replace Duffy

A Republican state senator said Tuesday he’d be able to take over in Congress from U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy in a “seamless transition” if he decides to run. A Democratic Assembly representative who is also considering a run said he thinks there’s a real chance for Democrats to retake a seat that’s been held by the GOP since 2011.

Comments by state Sen. Tom Tiffany and state Rep. Nick Milroy, respectively, came after Duffy announced he would resign from office in September. The race to fill the vacated 7th Congressional District seat, both in the special election and in November 2020, is sure to be closely watched nationally by activists on both sides who see Wisconsin as a bellwether on President Trump’s re-election chances.

Tiffany, who lives in Minocqua, represents the 12th Senate District, which includes some of the same northern counties represented by the 7th Congressional District. 

Duffy said he would resign Sept. 23 for family reasons. His wife, Fox News commentator Rachel Campos Duffy, is pregnant with the couple’s ninth child, and Duffy said the baby has been diagnosed with a heart condition. 

The resignation will trigger a special election, but Gov. Tony Evers has not yet announced the timing of it. 

Millennial Marketing Campaign to Continue

A state-run marketing campaign aimed at getting more people ages 21 to 35 to move to Wisconsin will continue, despite Gov. Tony Evers and state lawmakers not funding it in the state budget. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) requested $10 million for the next two years to cover the costs of continuing the campaign, which began in 2018 under former Gov. Scott Walker.

Evers did not meet that request, and GOP lawmakers who control the state Legislature also declined to push the funding during budget negotiations. However, WEDC officials said they have identified $4 million within the WEDC budget to fund the program during this fiscal year and expect to do the same in 2020-21. 

Evers’ spokesperson, Melissa Baldauff, said the governor declined to fund the program in his budget because he’s “focused on ensuring that Wisconsin communities are known for quality education for their kids, safe roads, reliable broadband and clean water and recreational activities.”

Retirement Task Force Launched

State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski will lead the new Retirement Security Task Force to help more Wisconsin residents save for retirement by exploring ways to educate people about retirement programs and create new investment options in the state. Godlewski said she was shocked to learn how little Wisconsinites have set aside for retirement.

“The typical working-age family has $3,000 saved for retirement. That’s it. And we know people can’t live off of Social Security alone. So one of the things we’re trying to understand [is], why is this?” Godlewski said.

She said her office is partnering with Gov. Tony Evers to launch the task force in September, and the group plans to meet for a year before proposing new policies to the governor’s office and state lawmakers. According to Godlewski, it will consider the ways in which other states have used public Roth IRA programs and how the state can better educate residents about the differences among savings options.

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