WED AM News: Farmers urging quick action on USMCA; Lawmakers urging DWD to keep open unemployment insurance hearing offices in Eau Claire, Appleton

— Farmers in the state are calling for quick action on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement after Democratic House leadership announced an agreement with the Trump administration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday announced Dems struck a deal with the Trump administration on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The deal, which would fulfill one of President Trump’s signature campaign promises, was originally agreed to in the fall of 2018. But its ratification had been held up as House Dems demanded stronger environmental, labor, enforcement and prescription drug pricing provisions.

“Our farmers have been waiting in uncertainty for more than a year for USMCA to get done,” said Brody Stapel, president of the Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative. “So, it’s certainly good news to see the deal take this significant step forward.” 

Pelosi’s announcement clears the way for floor votes in the House and the GOP-controlled Senate, where the trade deal is expected to pass with wide margins.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind credited negotiations between House Dems and the Trump administration for yielding a “much better” North American trade deal than the one originally unveiled by President Trump over a year ago.

But Kind, D-La Crosse, said negotiations over those demands ultimately led to a better deal, highlighting Dems work to add “strong enforceability language that was lacking in the original agreement.”

“I can’t emphasize enough why it was important to focus on enforceability, enforceability, enforceability,” he told “You look at past trade agreements that lacked enforcement mechanisms. So when there was cheating going on, there was nothing you could really do about it and it cost us jobs.”

Kind said while the deal contained “a little bit of improvement” for the state’s dairy industry in the form of eliminating Canada’s Class 7 milk pricing system, he noted that “agriculture gets no further market access with Canada and Mexico than what they currently already have under the old NAFTA.”

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— Republican lawmakers are urging the state DWD to keep open two unemployment insurance hearing offices in Eau Claire and Appleton after the agency announced their closure amid declining appeals.

DWD spokesman Tyler Tichenor said the decision was made earlier this fall to no longer host hearings at the Eau Claire and Fox Valley offices starting March 2020.

He explains the decision was made in response to the terms of the federal grant that funds the state’s UI program. According to him, federal regulations don’t allow states to spend UI grant funds on vacant space.

“Due to the decline in UI appeals, the amount of vacant space at hearing offices in Eau Claire and Appleton prevents DWD from leasing these facilities moving forward,” he said in an email.

Reps. Warren Petryk, R-Eleva; and James Edming, R-Glen Flora, sent a letter signed by 25 other Assembly Republicans to Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman asking him to reconsider the move.

In a release, Petryk says closing the Eau Claire office “limits Western Wisconsin, and over half the state, access to a judge.” He said his constituents will now need to drive three hours each way to meet with a judge.

“The department’s decision, unfortunately, appears to be part of a trend by Governor Evers’ administration to consolidate more services in Dane and Milwaukee counties,” Edming said.

The state’s two other UI hearing offices are in Madison and Milwaukee.

Still, Tichenor said in-person hearings will continue to be offered in Eau Claire and the Fox Valley for certain cases, as the agency will have access to space in those areas to hold meetings when needed.

“In-person hearings will still be offered upon advanced request and will be granted if the administrative law judge finds good cause or decides that the complexity of the case requires an in-person hearing,” he said.

Tichenor added that Wisconsin isn’t the first state to move away from in-person hearings for unemployment insurance cases. He said Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio and Illinois conduct 99 percent of UI appeal hearings by telephone.

See the lawmakers’ release:

— State Dem lawmakers are slamming President Trump for not supporting House legislation meant to lower the cost of prescription drugs, a topic Trump campaigned on in the 2016 election.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, of West Point, and Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, in a news conference accused the president of breaking his promise to voters and touted the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019, which would enable Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Dems said the Congressional Budget Office estimated the legislation could bring down the cost of prescription drugs by up to 55 percent.

“Part of the reason why Donald Trump won Wisconsin is this very issue,” Erpenbach said. “He said he’d lower the cost of prescription drugs in every single stop here in the state, I believe… But here we are, coming up on three years later and nothing has been done.”

But state GOP spokeswoman Alesha Guenther said the Dem legislation “shares the administration’s goal of lowering drug prices” but would also “stifle innovation” and prevent patients from receiving needed medication. She said lowering drug prices is a top priority of Trump’s.

“Under President Trump in 2017, the FDA approved the most generic drug applications ever, saving Americans an estimated $8.8 billion in 2017 alone,” Guenther said. “If Democrats really cared about lowering prescription drug prices, they would stop obsessing over impeachment and partisan games and start focusing on delivering real solutions to the American people.”

Taylor said in the conference that she’s “been very perplexed” to hear from Republicans that giving Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices would stifle innovation among companies.

“Since when does competition stifle innovation?” Taylor said.

Watch the news conference on WisEye:

— Seven rural Wisconsin businesses are getting nearly $500,000 in grants from the federal government, supporting projects to lower energy costs. 

USDA announced $237 million in funding for projects like these across the country, through the Rural Energy for America Program. REAP funding recipients can use the money for energy audits as well as renewable energy systems including biomass, geothermal, solar or hydropower. Other energy efficiency projects are also covered under the program. 

Bodart Farms in Pulaski is getting about $58,000 to upgrade a grain dryer, while M-Line Farms in Buffalo County is getting around $30,000 for a similar project. M&E Farms in Jim Falls is getting about $36,000 for a grain dryer as well, and Todd C Schrankel is getting $70,000 to upgrade an existing grain dryer. 

Meanwhile, the Portage County-based Central Wisconsin Electric Co-op is receiving about $13,000 for lighting upgrades. 

Octopi Brewing, based in Waunakee, is getting about $94,000 for a new solar array system. And The Storage Rink LLC is set to receive $186,000 for another solar system. 

See the full list of grants: 

— State officials are warning consumers to be on the alert for insurance scams during this year’s open enrollment period. 

Until Sunday, consumers can select plans on the federal marketplace for 2020 coverage. 

“There are bad actors out there trying to get your income information, social security number, and other details that could make you vulnerable to identity theft,” said Insurance Commissioner Mark Afable. 

A release from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and DATCP says that robocalls — any phone call with a recorded message or automated system rather than a live person — are dangerous. 

“The folks on the other end of the line are often trying to sell you something that isn’t right for you or may be trying to steal your personal information,” said DATCP Interim Secretary Randy Romanski. 

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# Craft beer tax cuts expiring soon

# Metro Milwaukee employers less optimistic on hiring heading into 2020

# Craft distillers in Milwaukee fear expiration of excise tax break legislation

# Analysis: Trump tariffs cost Wisconsinites millions (so far)



– Crop report: Farmers still plugging away at harvest efforts

– Joe Bragger chosen to lead WFBF, Rural Mutual as president


– Wisconsin has seen 14 dams fail in the last decade — 8 failed last year due to flooding

– State sees reduction in gypsy moth numbers


– Pay raises for Wisconsin state workers up for approval


– Harley rival Polaris changes Indian leadership as it moves to amp up electric vehicle business


– See Milwaukee landmarks such as Fiserv Forum, the Hop made of cans of food: Slideshow

– Milwaukee endorses $3.4M for Reed Street Yards, possibly to support Rite-Hite move


– Plan Commission rejects Edgewood’s request to repeal master plan


– Midwest Composite Technologies acquires Ohio-based injection molding company


– John Nichols: Wisconsin workers need a fair trade deal


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