MON AM News: Producers applaud Evers’ $43 million budget plan for ag industry; marijuana legalization to be in state budget plan

— Wisconsin farmer and cheesemakers groups are applauding Gov. Tony Evers’ $43 million budget plan to help the state ag industry. 

Almost half of the dollars would help connect food banks and pantries with state producers. Evers said the $20 million effort impacting food banks and pantries would help families fight hunger. 

“Many Wisconsin residents are struggling to afford wholesome and nutritious food because of lost jobs and business closures due to the pandemic. The federal Farmers to Families Food Box program last year helped families survive and also assisted farmers by boosting demand for milk and cheese. This new investment would provide another lifeline,” said Dairy Business Association President Amy Penterman, who farms with her family in northwestern Wisconsin. 

DBA pointed to a number of other items proposed by Evers, including $2 million to create the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports and $1.2 million for the Dairy Processor Grant Program. 

“Long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and then throughout this pandemic, our farmers and producers were fighting every day to save their farms and to save their industry while helping us put food on our tables,” Evers said. “It’s time to join in this fight for Wisconsin’s farmers and their families and agricultural industries to ensure future economic prosperity, our rural communities and our entire state.”

The budget plan also proposes new programs to address farmer mental health, including a regional program to increase access to mental health support services and ongoing funding for the Farmer Mental Health Assistance Program. The effort includes around-the-clock counseling, vouchers for counseling, and help for farmer peer-support networks.

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— In more 2021-23 state budget news, Evers says he’ll include legalization of recreational marijuana in his plan. 

Under his plan, the drug would be treated much like Wisconsin regulates and taxes alcohol. Wisconsin would join 15 other states, including neighboring Michigan and Illinois, in legalizing recreational marijuana. The plan would generate about $165 million a year with much of the money going into a development fund for communities around the state and into funding for small, rural school districts.

“Legalizing and taxing marijuana in Wisconsin—just like we do already with alcohol—ensures a controlled market and safe product are available for both recreational and medicinal users and can open the door for countless opportunities for us to reinvest in our communities and create a more equitable state,” said Evers. “Frankly, red and blue states across the country have moved forward with legalization and there is no reason Wisconsin should be left behind when we know it’s supported by a majority of Wisconsinites.”

The governor’s first budget proposed legalizing medical marijuana. Republicans in the Legislature rejected that.

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— The guv also quickly vetoed the latest version of the GOP’s COVID-19 bill, accusing Republican lawmakers of abandoning a bipartisan compromise. 

Evers said the legislation was no compromise, adding the measure would, in part, impose limits on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had a bill that Republicans and Democrats supported—and one that I said I would sign if it was sent to my desk—that passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote,” he said, referring to a previous Senate version of the bill worked out between Evers and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg. “Unfortunately, Republicans once again chose to put politics before people, abandoned that compromise, and passed a bill they knew I wouldn’t sign.” 

The guv went on to call on Republican lawmakers to “stop playing politics and get to work” on something he would sign.

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— More than 761,000 Wisconsinites — or more than 13 percent of the state’s population — have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the Department of Health Services.

Thirty-three percent of Wisconsinites ages 65 and older have been vaccinated. The group accounts for about 700,000 people of the roughly 5.8 million who live in the state.

Roughly 164,000 people have completed the two-dose vaccine series.

— Wisconsin reports 6,054 COVID-19 deaths and 549,826 cumulative confirmed cases. 

Over the weekend, the state added 1,605 cases and 34 deaths. The seven-day average for daily deaths is 23. The high was 61 on Dec. 7. The last time it dipped below 23 was mid-October.

The new cases brought the seven-day average for daily confirmed cases down to 1,058 from 1,186 cases Friday. The record, hit Nov. 18, was 6,563 cases per day. Wisconsin has 14,493 active cases.

DHS’ coronavirus dashboard shows the seven-day average of new confirmed cases per total people tested fell to 17.8 percent, the lowest since late September. In terms of total tests collected, the average positive test percentage also fell to 4.4 percent for the first time since early July. 

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates; 

— Patients are notifying Wisconsin hospitals of fraudulent calls claiming to be from hospital representatives seeking personal health information.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association and DATCP are reminding Wisconsinites not to respond to unsolicited requests of personal information, whether they are made over the phone or through text or email.

Examples of information requested in the fraudulent calls include Medicare account numbers, family medical history and recent medical equipment purchases — all of which can be used for identity theft.

When in doubt, WHA said contact the hospital at a verified telephone number or through another legitimate channel to seek clarification.

— The pandemic resulted in lower commercial electricity use and a spike in residential use, according to WEC Energy Group.

WEC saw residential electricity use rise by 5.5 percent. Electricity consumption by small commercial and industrial customers declined by 4.8 percent. And electricity use by large commercial and industrial customers dropped by 6.5 percent. 

“Starting in March, when Stay at Home orders went into place, we saw an increase in residential usage and lower use from many commercial and industrial customers. That trend continued throughout 2020 as more people were at home,” said spokesman Brendan Conway. “We did see some positive usage trend in the fourth quarter from large commercial customers which we believe reflects the recovery of Wisconsin’s economy.”

The utility saw a 2.1 percent decrease in final sales of electricity in 2020, but reported a strong 2020 net income of $1.2 billion compared to $1.13 billion in 2019. 

Conway contributes the earnings increase to three main factors: operating efficiencies which lowered operations and maintenance costs; lower fuel costs; and improved energy infrastructure primarily from tax credits related to wind farm acquisitions. 

— National financial services company USAA is reducing homeowners insurance rates in Wisconsin by up to 4.9 percent. Active duty military may see up to a 9 percent decrease. 

According to USAA, the rate reduction will save nearly 25,000 members more than $1.1 million. Current members may see the savings at policy renewal while new members will receive the savings at purchase. Members may be eligible for more savings by bundling their home and auto insurance. 


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<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

– Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation: Statement on Governor Evers’ State Budget Proposal

– Dairy Business Association: Applauds Evers for ag support in budget plan

– Lands’ End: Partners with Iowa County health department to support the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines

– MMAC: December economic trends report for metro Milwaukee- jobs recovery struggling as year ends