WPF: Wisconsin Taxes as Share of Income Drop for Ninth Straight Year

By John Forester | January 12, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …

For the ninth straight year, state and local taxes paid by Wisconsin individuals and businesses dipped as a share of income, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

The report found both state and local taxes grew 2.3 percent to $31.7 billion in fiscal year 2019-20. But income growth, including wages, employer benefits and business income, outpaced the increase in tax collections, helping drive down the tax burden.

A slowdown in state tax collections also impacted the calculation. They grew 1.5 percent in 2020 to $20.7 billion, the smallest increase in a decade.

For 2019-20, state and local taxes accounted for 10.2 percent of personal income, down from 10.3 percent the year before. The Wisconsin Policy Forum said it was the lowest burden since at least 1970, when it began tracking the numbers.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum doesn’t have a national comparison for its look at the state-local tax burden. The most recent national comparison is based on numbers from the Census Bureau and showed the state ranked 23rd highest in 2018 for the state-local tax burden. That was down from 17th highest the year before.

See the report here.

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Senate Committee Amends Assembly COVID-19 Bill

By John Forester | January 11, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …

Senate Org on a party-line 3-2 vote today approved a scaled-back COVID-19 bill that GOP Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu plans to put on the floor tomorrow.

While the amended bill pulls out some provisions from an Assembly bill that were expected to draw opposition from Gov. Tony Evers, LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, acknowledged he wasn’t sure the new version would win the guv’s support.

A spokeswoman for Evers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

LeMahieu told the committee most of the provisions in the amended bill were extensions of the COVID-19 legislation that passed both houses last spring and was signed into law by the guv. He said another eight were also included in the bill that Evers released last month and portrayed as a compromise with GOP legislative leaders, though LeMahieu and Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, disputed that.

The amended Senate bill includes two provisions that LeMahieu said go “above and beyond” the guv’s bill:

*One would allow the designation of an “essential visitor” for those who are in nursing homes and assisted living facilities to ensure someone could see them in person amid restrictions on visits during the pandemic.

*The second is a provision that would provide liability protections for schools, churches, non-profits, businesses and others.

Both provisions were also in the bill that cleared the Assembly last week.

“We need to make sure that they’re protected from frivolous lawsuits. That’s what we’re trying to solve with this,” LeMahieu said.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Town of Mason, raised concerns the limits on liability would encourage businesses to ignore state and local restrictions designed to prevent the spread of the disease.

She also questioned why the bill was put before Senate Org after the Finance Committee was originally scheduled to hear public testimony and vote on the bill.

“We’ve had months and months of no action and suddenly now time is of the essence and we’re contouring Senate Org in order to have this come through,” Bewley said.

Under the bill, the immunity wouldn’t apply if the entity engaged in “reckless or wanton conduct or intentional misconduct.”

The bill states noncompliance with any national, state or local order requiring closure or limiting capacity doesn’t qualify as reckless or wanton conduct.

The protections would apply to claims beginning March 1, but wouldn’t be applied retroactively to those already filed before the bill became law.

The hearing led off with a string of speakers from business groups and others expressing support for the liability provision.

As the hearing continued, some urged the Senate to take up the Assembly bill, which includes a prohibition on requiring the COVID-19 vaccine as a requirement for employment.

Some of the provisions in the Assembly bill that didn’t make the Senate version include:

*barring schools from denying an open enrollment application for any reason during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years if the pupil’s parents and the nonresident school board agree the transfer would be in the student’s best interest.

*requiring a two-thirds vote by school boards before providing virtual instruction instead of in-person learning. The approval would be good for 14 days, when the board would have to reauthorize it with another two-thirds majority.

*restricting the powers of local health officials to close businesses due to a pandemic.

*banning state and local officials from closing or forbidding gatherings at places of worship to control the COVID-19 outbreak.

*authorizing dentists to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.

*requiring Evers to submit plans to spend federal funds related to COVID-19. Under the provision, the Joint Finance Committee would have oversight through the 14-day passive review process.

Vos, R-Rochester, last week expressed confidence the Assembly version of the bill would clear the Senate. After LeMahieu suggested there wasn’t an agreement on the legislation, Vos said the situation was “bizarre.”

A Vos spokeswoman didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the Senate version of the bill.

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LFB Summary of Senate Substitute Amendment to AB 1

By John Forester | January 11, 2021

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) has released a summary of the provisions of Senate Substitute Amendment 1 to Assembly Bill 1.  Check it out here.

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Senate GOP to Amend Assembly COVID-19 Bill

By John Forester | January 11, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …

Senate Republicans plan to amend the Assembly’s COVID-19 bill to drop provisions that would bar employers from requiring a vaccine as a condition of employment and strip local and state officials of the power to restrict gatherings at places of worship.

The substitute amendment a Senate committee plans to take up today also would drop an Assembly provision that would require a two-thirds vote by school boards before providing virtual instruction. Under the Assembly bill, that approval would have to be renewed every 14 days.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, introduced his bill a week ago, expressing confidence the Senate would take it up and pass it. But not long before the Assembly went to the floor, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, told reporters there wasn’t an agreement on the bill.

Senate GOP leaders had originally planned to have the Finance Committee have a public hearing on the bill before amending it. They instead will put the bill before Senate Org for the public hearing later this morning and then an exec.

Read the substitute amendment here.

See the Assembly bill here.

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Senate Finance Committee to Amend Assembly COVID Relief Bill

By John Forester | January 11, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …

The Senate Finance Committee meets today to amend the Assembly’s COVID-19 bill.

The committee will first have a public hearing at 11 a.m. before moving to an executive session.

The Senate expects to be in tomorrow to approve the revised legislation. The same version of the bill has to pass both houses before it could go to the Gov. Tony Evers’ desk.

On “UPFRONT” this weekend, State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, expressed hope the Senate would pass a COVID-19 bill that Dem Gov. Tony Evers would sign.

“We feel that we’re really close,” he said.

LeMahieu said he continues to work with Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and called the Assembly’s COVID-19 bill “a good bill.”

“But what we’re looking to do in the Senate is find a bill, and this is our goal all along, that we’re confident the governor will sign, so that that way we can get that bill done for the state of Wisconsin,” he said.

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Assembly GOP Moves Ahead With Plans to Pass AB 1

By John Forester | January 6, 2021

Assembly Republicans moved forward yesterday with their plan to pass Assembly Bill 1, their COVID-19 relief package.  Following yesterday’s public hearing on the bill, the members of the Assembly Health Committee recommended the bill for passage on a 11-5 party-line vote.  AB 1 is slated for Assembly floor action on Thursday.  The Senate’s intentions regarding the bill remain uncertain at this point.  Governor Evers has signaled a likely veto should the bill pass both houses and land on his desk.

The SAA has thus far chosen not to jump into the highly charged partisan fray and take a position on the bill.  As you know, AB 1 addresses two of the items the SAA advocated for as part of its Statutory Flexibility Agenda; namely, immunity from civil liability and flexibility in rehiring annuitants.  However, we also do not support provisions in the bill regarding open enrollment, additional virtual instruction reports, student-athlete participation, and the two-thirds school board vote for virtual instruction.

The SAA continues to engage lawmakers in both parties on these issues.  We will keep the SAA membership apprised of any new developments.  Stay tuned.

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Assembly GOP COVID Package on the Fast Track

By John Forester | January 5, 2021

Assembly Bill 1, the Assembly GOP COVID Relief package, will receive a public hearing before the Assembly Health Committee this morning beginning at 11am in Room 412E, State Capitol.  It is our understanding the bill is on the fastest of fast tracks in the Assembly, with Assembly GOP leadership intending to pass the bill on the floor of the Assembly on Thursday.  As of this writing, we are unsure of the Senate’s intentions regarding the bill.  See the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) summary (link below) for more information.

AB 1 contains a couple of provisions the SAA advocated for in its Statutory Flexibility Agenda.  It also contains several provisions we do not support. Stay tuned.

LFB Summary

Assembly Bill 1

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New Stimulus Law Includes Voluntary Extension of EPSLA and EFMLEA

By John Forester | December 31, 2020

From the Legal Side…

In its most recent Legal Update, the Strang Patteson Law Firm focuses on The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (Act) signed into law by President Trump on December 27, 2020.  The author notes that employers should pay particular attention to the changes the Act makes to the paid sick leave requirements put into place under the FFCRA.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the Strang Patteson Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

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Latest Stimulus Bill Does Not Extend The FFCRA Leave Mandate

By John Forester | December 30, 2020

From The Legal Side . . .

In its most recent School Law FYI, the BoardmanClark Law Firm focuses on how the latest stimulus bill signed into law by President Trump on December 27th does not extend the FFCRA leave mandate.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the BoardmanClark Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

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DPI Publishes School District Act 185 Reports From Pandemic

By John Forester | December 30, 2020

From The Wheeler Report . . .

As part of 2019 Wisconsin Act 185, the Department of Public Instruction was required to survey all 421 Wisconsin public school districts on the delivery of virtual instruction, meal services, staff layoffs, school district expenditures, and the period of school building closures (March 12- June 30, 2020). A report is required to be sent to the Legislature.

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