State News: Lame-Duck Case, Chinese Tariffs, Wastewater, Tainted Drinks

Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Lame-Duck Case

The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral arguments on May 15 in one of the lawsuits challenging December’s lame-duck session of the state Legislature that limited the power of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

The lawsuit, brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and other plaintiffs, contends the entire session was unlawful because the state constitution does not explicitly allow legislators to meet in what’s known as an “extraordinary session.”

Dane County Judge Richard Niess sided with plaintiffs in March, issuing an order that overturned all the laws passed during the lame-duck session. Niess also invalidated 82 appointees of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker who were confirmed by the state Senate.

An appeals court stayed Niess’ ruling, putting it on hold while the case was appealed. The Supreme Court is also handling the appeal of another lame-duck lawsuit brought by Service Employees International Union and others in organized labor. It argues that the session violated the state constitution’s separation-of-powers protections.

Two other lame-duck cases are in federal court. In one, U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson blocked restrictions on early voting passed during the lame-duck session. In the other, the state Democratic Party is arguing that the session violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee to a republican form of government where the majority rules.

Farmers Brace for Additional Chinese Tariffs on Products

Wisconsin farmers are nervous about an announcement from China that it will place tariffs on $60 billion of products made in the United States.

A press release issued by China’s Ministry of Finance says the latest round of tariffs is in retaliation to President Donald Trump’s escalation of tariffs on $200 billion of goods from China. The release said more than 5,000 U.S. products will see tariffs between 10 percent and 25 percent.

For farmers in Wisconsin, the news compounded an already tough economic outlook. Robert Karls, executive director of the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board, said impacts from last year’s tariffs on agricultural products such as soybeans are already being felt by growers.

“Well, the price has come down some more,” Karls said. “Farmers are concerned. Their bottom line is very, very tight. So, they’re very nervous. There’s a lot to be seen, but with what they’re hearing right now, they’re concerned.”

U.S. soybean futures were trading at $7.86 per bushel Monday. That’s the lowest price in a decade, according to press reports. Karls said with a new round of tariffs on the horizon Wisconsin soybean growers could turn away from the crop and plant other commodities such as corn.

“You know, this was supposed to be a short-term pain for long-term gain,” said Karls. “Now it’s turning into a long-term pain. So, this is really affecting their bottom line. It’s affecting what they’re going to be planting. They’re afraid. It’s definitely having a negative impact. You can’t try to pretend that it’s not.”

State Receives $61 Million for Drinking Water, Wastewater Improvements

Wisconsin is getting more than $61.7 million from the federal government to fund improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure through the state’s revolving loan programs.

Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal would boost funding for those programs. The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee is set to vote on funding for environmental loans Tuesday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that Wisconsin would receive just under $43 million for its Clean Water Fund Program and $18.7 million for the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program as part of $2.6 billion in funding for state programs nationwide.

Federal funding for the state’s programs was down slightly, by about 1 percent from last year, said Jim Ritchie, section chief of the Environmental Loans Program within the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Last year, the state awarded $123 million in low-interest loans for wastewater projects in 44 communities across Wisconsin. The state provided $57 million in loans to 32 municipalities for drinking-water projects last year.

Milwaukee Bucks Investigate Reports of Tainted Drinks

The Milwaukee Bucks are investigating complaints by several people that drinks they purchased at a playoff party outside the team’s arena during a game on May 8 caused them to black out.

About half a dozen people told Milwaukee news outlets that they ordered Moscow Mules from an Absolut Vodka tent in the Deer District outside the Fiserv Forum. They say they only had one or two of the drinks, but within hours, they experienced double vision, became ill or blacked out entirely.

In a statement, a Milwaukee Bucks spokesperson said the team is conducting a “thorough investigation” to “ensure a safe experience for every guest.”

The drinks, made with vodka, ginger beer and lime, were premixed, according to the team. They have removed premixed cocktails from facility menus until the investigation is complete, the statement said.

Anna Neuberg attended the party with her boyfriend and another couple. They ordered beer, but Neuberg ordered a Moscow Mule.

Neuberg is certain she did not put her drink down or out of her sight, possibly allowing someone to slip something in. She said the cocktail tasted off, but she tried to explain it away.

“In my head, I was just like, ‘Okay, well, I’ve never had Absolut vodka,’” she said. “I’ve never had a premixed Moscow Mule. Maybe it’s stronger.”

The drink affected her more strongly than any drink ever has, she said. She blacked out and is able to remember only snippets from that evening, such as when she got into bed and felt the room spinning.

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