WED AM News: State of the Tribes highlights opioid epidemic; Assembly passes pharmacy benefit managers bill

— Forest County Potawatomi Chairman Ned Daniels is praising legislators for their efforts to address the opioid epidemic. 

But Daniels in yesterday’s State of the Tribes address also acknowledged there is still much more to do. And he urged lawmakers to “not give complacency a home” when tackling such challenging issues.

“And there is no challenge more complex than that of the opioid epidemic,” Daniels said before constitutional officers and a joint session in the Assembly chamber. “It has no regard for age, race, gender or income and has likely impacted many of you here today.”

Daniels said native communities have been some of the hardest hit by the epidemic. And he thanked Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, for his efforts on the HOPE Agenda to prevent opioid abuse.

Daniels further called on lawmakers to “include missing, murdered native women and girls” when working on human trafficking legislation. He mentioned President Trump’s White House Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives as one way the states and tribal nations can collaborate with the federal government on the matter.

Daniels also thanked Gov. Tony Evers for creating the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, as well as members of the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality for their work over the last year on bills that would take steps to prevent further water contamination.

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— The Assembly has unanimously backed a bill to create new regulations for middlemen between drug makers and pharmacies that negotiate prices with both.

Pharmacy benefit managers are currently regulated by federal law, but the Office of Commissioner of Insurance has no authority over them.

AB 114 would put a series of regulations in place, such as requiring PBMs to be licensed, with the goal of holding down prescription drug prices.

Bill author Rep. Michael Schraa praised bipartisan cooperation in crafting the measure, which has garnered over 100 cosponsors. The Oshkosh Republican said lawmakers “put together what we really thought would be the best bill for the taxpayers of our state.”

“Nobody should be deciding between putting food on the table and what drugs to take,” he said.

Co-author Rep. Deb Kolste, D-Janesville, praised Schraa for his work, saying “there could not be a better advocate in this building” for the issue.

But she lamented a number of changes made to the original bill that she said led to “less consumer protection and less aid to our local pharmacies.”

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— The Joint Finance Committee has voted along party lines to sign off on a $392.4 million package that would cut income taxes, provide local governments more state aid to cover an expanded property tax break for businesses and pay down debt.

Republicans hailed the proposal to use a projected surplus as a win for lower- and middle-class earners with the bulk of the cut going to an income tax reduction. Joint Finance Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, slammed Dems for preferring a proposal from Gov. Tony Evers he said would’ve provided tax relief that skewed more toward the wealthy.

But Dems accused their GOP colleagues of favoring corporations over education for rejecting Evers’ $251.9 million plan for the surplus. He wanted to put $130 million into school aids, which would result in a corresponding reduction in the property taxes that districts can collect in the 2020-21 school year. The rest of the package included provisions such as investing more money into mental health services and aid for small, rural school districts.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, noted GOP lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, have previously voiced support for restoring the state’s commitment to fund two-thirds of education. Evers’ proposal would’ve restored the commitment. She said Republicans have often fallen short of that mark, adding the state didn’t have the money.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau currently projects the state will have a surplus of $451.9 million by mid-2021, largely due to a boost in corporate tax collections. 

The state also could have more money in its main checking account, because Foxconn is expected to fall short of qualifying for the $212 million in tax credits budgeted for in the current biennium. LFB instead projects the manufacturer to qualify for $50 million to $75 million in credits.

The committee also unanimously backed a series of bills to help the state’s struggling ag industry. The six bills were a combination of GOP proposals and bills that Gov. Tony Evers proposed in his State of the State last month.

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— West Allis had the greatest year-over-year increase in average rent in January among Wisconsin largest cities, according to a recent report from RentCafe. 

The report shows the average rent in West Allis increased nearly 9 percent over the year, reaching $1,042 in January. 

Meanwhile, rent in Milwaukee increased 2.1 percent over the year to reach $1,192, and Madison rent increased 2.8 percent, reaching $1,265 last month. 

Brookfield continues to be the most expensive Wisconsin city for renters, with $1,476 in average rent in January 2020. And Racine is the least expensive, with an average rent of $818. Both of these cities had less than 1 percent change to average rent over the year. 

The only city where average rent fell over the year was Verona, decreasing by 0.5 percent to reach $1,260. 

The average rent in Wisconsin continues to be lower than the national average, which hit $1,463 in January. 

See the report: 

— A team of UW-Madison researchers led by biomedical engineer Melissa Skala are developing a prototype cell imaging device that could enhance new cancer treatments.  

Skala, who leads the Optical Microscopy in Medicine Lab at the Morgridge Institute for Research, made a breakthrough in 2018 that’s now being turned into a commercialized product. 

Along with collaborator Alex Walsh, Skala found a way to use imaging technology to distinguish between various types of T-cells, which play a role in the body’s immune system. By identifying the activated immune cells, they were able to set the groundwork for screening cells useful for certain cancer treatments. 

According to the latest Accelerator Pipeline update from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, this developing technology could “provide vital support to emerging cancer treatments” including immunotherapies. These treatments use the body’s own defensive systems to help fight cancer. 

In one of these methods, known as CAR-T therapy, some of the patient’s T-cells are removed and genetically engineered to specifically target cancerous growths. Then they’re reintroduced into the patient’s system, where they can aggressively attack the abnormal cells. 

WARF says Skala’s imaging technology could be used to evaluate these altered T-cells before they’re injected back into the patient, as well as the patients themselves. It could help determine immune system strength and gauge potential therapeutic benefit. 

“We’ve talked to lots of physicians and they say it’s hard to keep their patients alive long enough to get the T-cells manufactured,” she said. “Currently it takes about five weeks from the time you draw the blood to get it back into the patient and they’re very sick already so it’s tough. We’re hoping to improve that process.”

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— NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes has secured FDA approval for two new filling lines at its facility in Missouri, which company leaders say will increase patient access to crucial medical imaging materials. 

The Beloit-based company aims to increase U.S. production capacity for molybdenum-99, which is used to produce technetium-99m, the world’s most widely used diagnostic imaging radioisotope. 

In partnership with the University of Missouri Research Reactor, the company produces Mo-99 and transfers the radioactive material using filling lines into tungsten-shielded containers. 

From there, these vessels are shipped out to specialized pharmacies, which use NorthStar’s RadioGenix system to transform the specially packaged Mo-99 into Tc-99m. This imaging agent is injected into patients for diagnostic imaging purposes. 

“FDA’s expedited review and approval of the additional filling lines in our Columbia, Mo. facility means an immediate increase in Mo-99 production efficiencies in Columbia,” said Stephen Merrick, president and CEO of NorthStar.

Since the RadioGenix system came on the market around 16 months ago, tens of thousands of diagnostic imaging studies have been conducted using Tc-99m derived by these machines, according to the company. 

NorthStar’s facilities in Beloit are currently being expanded as well, with an isotope processing center “nearing completion” that will augment the work being done in Missouri. 

See the release: 


# Long-term caregivers continue to be in short supply in Wisconsin

# Ascension Wisconsin opens $42 million health center in Mount Pleasant

# From MillerCoors to Sprecher: Kanter’s experience gives Glendale brewery an edge



– GOP tax cut, agriculture bills pass Legislature’s budget committee

– Participants named for WI pork mentorship program


– Nicolet National Bank to acquire Commerce State Bank


– Rock Road gets $16M contract for I-94 work


– Miller Park has delivered $2.5 billion impact to Wisconsin, study shows

– Businesses seek clarity on DNC security zone impact, logistics


– Parents sue Madison school district over transgender policy

– Report: More teachers left MMSD last year than in previous four; HR leader says number is ‘not alarming’

– Culver’s celebrates FFA Week with treat naming, essay contests

– Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin offering new ‘Stride’ educational program for youth


– Wisconsin Assembly to vote on bills fighting water pollution


– Green Bay financial services firm to acquire Commerce State Bank


– Platinum Communities buys assisted living apartment complex on Milwaukee’s south side

– Ascension Wisconsin plans more Racine County investment announcements this year

– NFMC holding skin cancer screenings at Marshfield Farm Show


– CUNA Mutual Group partakes in $8.6M funding round for D.C.-area auto loan startup


– Assembly to vote on $10M plan to clean up Wisconsin water


– National Avenue in Milwaukee to be rebuilt


– Kohl’s gives $2 million to American Cancer Society


– Study: Miller Park has generated $2.5 billion in economic output for Wisconsin


– Margaret Krome: The Trump administration wants to stack the deck in favor of the largest farms


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