With the Wisconsin August primary over, the focus is on the November 8 general election. This week's Tidbits features our election analysis for the Wisconsin State Senate. Also, state agencies are busy preparing their 2017-19 budget requests, the new DHS Secretary starts on the job, the Medical Examining Board is finalizing the draft Telemedicine Rule, and the state continues to weigh moving forward with a self-insurance health plan for state employees. Also in this issue, read about the Minimum Mark-up litigation and the reaction over the PSC's recent Strategic Energy Assessment.
|Can Wisconsin State Senate Democrats Win Back the Majority in 2016?
Hamilton Tidbits takes a look at the prospect for a flip in the Senate happening in the 2016 elections.
Currently, Senate Republicans hold a 19-14 edge in Wisconsin's upper chamber. This means Senate Democrats would need to win three seats in order to regain a majority they haven't functionally held since they lost it in 2010*. From a statewide perspective, Wisconsin Democrats turnout in greater numbers during presidential elections, and with what appears to be a turbulent presidential race, the possibility for down ticket success for legislative Democrats would appear to be a possibility. Furthermore, with both Hillary Clinton and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold both holding leads according to the latest polls, it would seem to suggest that this could be a strong year for Democrats throughout Wisconsin.
While on paper the prospect of legislative gains for Senate Democrats appear high when you factor in the top of the ticket environment, but the reality of the opportunity for those gains starts to vanish when you take a look at the race by race opportunities Democrats have to flip seats and combine that with past history of down ticket legislative performance in presidential years. So, it is an uphill battle for sure but is there even a pathway for the Senate Democrats to retake the majority? We will explore.
|State Agencies Will Submit 2017-19 Budget Requests on September 15
Kicking off the new budget season, state agencies in Wisconsin will submit their 2017-19 biennial budget requests to the governor next month. Agencies requests are due to the governor's Department of Administration budget office and to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) on September 15, 2016. In his July 25 budget letter to agency heads, Governor Walker instructed most agencies to maintain "zero-growth" in general purpose revenue (GPR) appropriations. There are some exceptions to the flat-funded directive, some include K-12 funding, entitlement assistance programs (Medicaid) and cost-to-continue basic needs for the state's institutions. Last session, the legislature passed and the governor signed 2015 Wisconsin Act 201 into law that provided additional requirements for state agencies' budget requests. Now due to Act 201, in addition to providing a zero growth budget for the 2017-19 biennium, state agencies also need to submit a budget with a five percent reduction from the 2016-17 fiscal year's adjusted base budget. Act 201 also requires the additional scenario not include any federal funds or debt service, and does not allow certain exceptions.
Just like the last biennial budget, it is expected the most contentious budget items will be those with the largest price tag - education (K-12 and higher education), Medicaid and transportation. The tussle over the next biennium's transportation funding started early, with legislators and the governor exchanging opposing positions in the media this summer. Read more
|Marquette Poll: Clinton, Feingold Leads Tighten
The latest Marquette University (MU) Law School Poll
was released on August 31, 2016. The results showed Hillary Clinton's lead narrowing slightly over Donald Trump for the first time in months. Similarly, Russ Feingold's constant lead over Ron Johnson has also started to shrink and Gov. Scott Walker sees an improvement in approval ratings.
In a head to head matchup, the MU poll showed Hillary Clinton receiving 42 percent support from Wisconsin registered voters, and Donald Trump receiving 37 percent. 19 percent responded they will vote for neither candidate, will not vote or do not know how they will vote. In the August 10 poll, Clinton received 46 percent of the vote and Trump 36 percent.
Among likely voters, Clinton received 45 percent and Trump received 42 percent support. When the poll pitted the two front runners against third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, Clinton received 37 percent support of likely voters, Trump received 32 percent, Johnson 11, and Stein seven. To participate in the general election debates that begin in September, a candidate must receive 15 percent in an average of five national public polls. It is unclear right now whether the former Governor of New Mexico and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson will meet this threshold. Currently, Johnson is polling around eight percent nationally.
Suit Challenging Wisconsin "Minimum Markup Law" Filed
On Tuesday, August 23, 2016, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit in Vilas County Circuit Court on behalf of plaintiffs Krist Oil and Robert Lotto challenging the constitutionality and legality of s. 100.30 of the Wisconsin statutes, Wisconsin's Minimum Markup Law. Krist Oil is an independent, family-owned Michigan corporation having its principal place of business in Iron River, Michigan. Mr. Lotto is a Wisconsin citizen who regularly purchases gasoline, including gasoline from Krist Oil.
|PSC Energy Assessment Prompts Strong Industry Response
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin's (PSC) draft biennial energy assessment became a vehicle for state manufacturing groups to put a marker with the agency on electrical rates. The statutorily required assessment, entitled Strategic Energy Assessment (SEA), describes the agency's views on the availability, reliability, and sustainability of Wisconsin's electric energy system. PSCs final report can be found here
Various groups provided comments on the draft SEA report, including joint comments
filed by the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group and Wisconsin Paper Council (Industry Group). In their comments, the Industry Group requested PSC provide additional information comparing the relative competitiveness of Wisconsin's energy rates with neighboring states and rest of the country. This information, according to the group, "will show that energy and capacity are not available at reasonable prices in Wisconsin."
|Telemedicine Rule Moving Through Medical Examining Board
In the fall of 2015 the Medical Examining Board (MEB) submitted an order to create Med Chapter 24 related to telemedicine. According to the scope statement, the objective of the proposed rule is to provide greater clarity for physicians with regards to the practice of telemedicine in Wisconsin. Currently, there is no reference to the practice of telemedicine in administrative code. The rule intends to, amongst other things, define telemedicine and explain how a valid physician-patient relationship can be established in a telemedicine setting.
The 10 page rule, as originally drafted, received a public hearing on January 20, 2016. Just over 10 groups testified or submitted testimony at the hearing and ultimately, the majority of the concerns were related to the same issue. Many groups commented that the drafted rule would have unnecessary duplication of administrative code that already exists for medical care. However, groups shared positive commentary regarding the section of the rule that allowed for a physician-patient relationship to be established via telemedicine.
Read more about the telemedicine rule here
|New DHS Secretary Begins Job
On August 22, Linda Seemeyer started her new role as Secretary of Department of Health Services.
Earlier in August, Governor Walker appointed Seemeyer to lead the agency because of her experience in health and human services at the county level and her career in management. Secretary Seemeyer's past experience includes serving as the Director of the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services for eight years. In addition, she led the Milwaukee County Department of Administrative Services and served in the Thompson and McCallum administrations.
With the legislature out of session, it is expected Secretary Seemeyer will face the Senate hearing and confirmation in 2017.
The Department of Health Services has an annual budget nearing $10 million and a staff of over 6,100 employees. Putting together a budget for this agency will be one of the Secretary's first endeavors as agency budgets are due to the governor by September 15.
|State Releases Self-Insurance RFP
In July, the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF) released a request for proposal (RFP) for the administration of a self-insurance health plan for state employees. Responses to the RFP are due back by September 19. ETF recently extended the deadline by a week and a half. The Group Insurance Board (GIB), which sets policy for and oversees the group health plan for state employees and retirees, is scheduled to review the responses at their November meeting. According to ETF, the earliest the state would operate under the self-insurance model would be in 2018.
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