State News: Lame Duck Laws, Beer Battles

Second Judge Rules Against Lame-Duck Legislative Session

A Dane County judge has ruled in favor of plaintiffs and against GOP lawmakers’ lame-duck legislative session for the second time in two weeks.

Judge Frank Remington issued his ruling Tuesday afternoon in a lawsuit brought by a coalition of union groups against some of the laws passed during December’s lame-duck session.

The lawsuit, which was heard in court March 25, argued that lawmakers violated the state constitution’s separation-of-powers guarantee by unfairly limiting the authority of the executive branch. Remington agreed on several counts, blocking some – but not all – of the laws passed during the lame-duck session.

The ruling comes less than a week after another Dane County judge ruled the lame-duck session was unconstitutional on procedural grounds.  

That decision led Gov. Tony Evers to act quickly on a few powers that were returned to him. He ordered the state attorney general to withdraw Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act and rescinded 82 appointments made by former Gov. Scott Walker shortly before he left office.

“It is now abundantly clear that the lame-duck session was nothing more than an illegal power grab intended to override the will of the people,” Evers said in a prepared statement.

Republicans Seek Emergency Stay in Lame-Duck Case

Wisconsin Republicans have asked a state appeals court to block a March 21 ruling that overturned all of the laws and appointments passed in December’s lame-duck session of the Legislature.

GOP attorney Misha Tseytlin filed the emergency stay motion with the District 3 Court of Appeals March 22. District 3 includes 35 counties in the northern half of Wisconsin, but it doesn’t include Dane County, where the case was filed.

“This indefensible injunction is already causing serious harm to our state, blocking many dozens of statutory provisions,” the motion reads. “The Circuit Court’s injunction also invalidates 82 appointments to government bodies, including to the critical Wisconsin Public Service Commission, which canceled today’s meeting just hours after this ruling.”

Dane County Judge Richard Niess ruled against Republicans on Thursday, ordering the lame-duck laws blocked because they were passed in what’s known as an “extraordinary session” of the Legislature. Niess wrote that because the state constitution doesn’t explicitly allow for extraordinary sessions, everything passed in the December session was unlawful.

Shortly after issuing the ruling, Gov. Tony Evers directed Attorney General Josh Kaul to pull Wisconsin out of the federal lawsuit that aims to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

Report Highlights Continued Financial Stress for Dairy Farmers

The number of Wisconsin farms filing for bankruptcy has more than doubled since milk prices fell in 2014, according to a new Wisconsin Policy Forum report.

The public-policy think tank used federal data to examine the relationship between milk prices and filings for Chapter 12 bankruptcy, a code reserved for farmers and fishermen.

“The bankruptcy filings rose, with a certain lag, but they rose as the milk price fell in recent years,” said Jason Stein, research director at the Wisconsin Policy Forum. “And I think in some ways that’s not surprising, given what we know about the crisis on dairy farms as well as how important dairy is to agriculture in general in Wisconsin.”

United States court system data show Wisconsin had 22 Chapter 12 bankruptcy cases in 2014. That number rose to 50 cases in 2017, and the Western District of Wisconsin had the most Chapter 12 bankruptcies in the nation that year.

Stein said 50 cases could seem small, especially when compared to the 68,500 farms in Wisconsin, but the rising number of farm bankruptcies suggests broader financial distress in the dairy industry that could harm the state’s economy.

Forecast: Wisconsin Gas Prices to Rise through Spring reported that the average price of a gallon of gas in the state stood at $2.57 on March 21, up 23 cents from prices a month ago.

Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis, said refineries in the Great Lakes region had dropped prices during the winter to help unload stores of winter gasoline before the end of the season.

“Now that those discounts are gone, prices have gone up,” he said. “We’re transitioning to more expensive summer gasoline, so that’s created a much bigger jump, seemingly because of those discounts.”

DeHaan said he expects Wisconsin gas prices to continue rising through the spring before starting to drop back in June.

“Prices will get close to that $3-a-gallon level,” he said. “Then they will likely taper off in the month of June and settle into the upper-$2 gallon range for most of the summer.”

Wisconsin and other Great Lakes states have seen gas prices rise faster than the rest of the country this spring.

MillerCoors Sues A-B for Corn Syrup Commercials

MillerCoors has filed a lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch, claiming its rival has launched a false and misleading advertising campaign meant to frighten people.

The beer battle began Super Bowl Sunday when Bud Light launched an ad campaign discrediting Miller Lite and Coors Light for using corn syrup in their products.

MillerCoors spokesperson Martin Maloney said most brewers use an adjunct product as a source for fermentation. Bud Light uses rice, and MillerCoors uses corn syrup, which isn’t in the final product. No MillerCoors products use high-fructose corn syrup.

MillerCoors alleges Anheuser-Busch is deliberately creating confusion for customers. MillerCoors has asked that the ad campaign be discontinued and false claims stopped.

Maloney cited an article in Food & Wine Magazine in which an executive at Anheuser-Busch said focus groups found consumers don’t differentiate between high-fructose corn syrup and corn syrup and that it’s a major triggering point in choosing brands to purchase, particularly for women.

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