WED AM News: Producers, processors call for quick passage of imitation dairy, meat labeling; Injunction sought against Evers’ latest public health declaration

— A Waukesha businessman has asked the state Supreme Court for an injunction halting enforcement of Tony Evers’ latest public health declaration, accusing the guv of having “plunged this State into a constitutional crisis.”

In his filing, Jere Fabick argues the guv “has demonstrated that he will not comply with the law until ordered to do so by this Court.”

Fabick’s emergency motion comes on the heels of Evers issuing a new public health declaration about an hour after the GOP-controlled Legislature last week overturned the emergency order he issued last month.

“There is now quite literally nothing to stop the Governor from keeping Wisconsin in a perpetual state of emergency short of an order of this Court,” the brief argues.

Read the emergency motion for an injunction:

Read the supporting brief: 

Read the appendix: 

— Farmers and food processors are calling for quick legislative action on bills to protect consumers from “misleading” labels on imitation products. 

“It’s critical that consumers understand exactly what they’re buying, and offering to their families,” said Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association Executive Director John Umhoefer. “While these soy- and nut-based products may try to mimic milk, they cannot deliver the same nutritional benefits.”

Umhoefer, together with WCMA President Dave Buholzer of Klondike Cheese Company of Monroe and WCMA Past President Kim Heiman of Nasonville Dairy of Marshfield, delivered that message to the members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Tourism, in support of Senate Bills 81 and 83. 

The committee held a hearing yesterday on legislation that would change how the state defines milk, dairy and meat products. Under the bills, authored by Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, foods like almond milk and plant-based hamburgers would no longer be able to market themselves as a kind of milk or meat. Products would have to specifically come from an animal in order to be marketed as meat, milk, cheese or dairy.

Lawmakers reintroduced the bills this year after similar legislation failed to come to the floor in both chambers before the session wrapped up.

Read the full story at 

— In addition to fighting COVID-19 on campus through rigorous testing, UW-Madison is also making leaps and bounds in contributing to research in partnership with UW-Milwaukee. 

Currently, UW-Madison’s College of Engineering and the Wisconsin Energy Institute have sent a proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy to develop and deploy connective energy systems. Partners include Milwaukee-based businesses such as A.O. Smith and We Energies.

“This could be the way that we power Milwaukee in the future,” UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank explained in a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce virtual event yesterday. 

Blank discussed a new report that will be released on Thursday detailing UW-Madison’s economic impact on Wisconsin, which is estimated to be over $30 billion. As the university continues to experience cash flow issues, with $320 million lost over the course of the pandemic, Blank is assured that revenue will return. 

“The pandemic has spotlighted the importance of having a major research institution in this state,” she said. 

The university report and the MMAC discussion around public education come a week before Gov. Tony Evers unveils his state budget plan for 2021-23. As the state Legislature’s budget season begins, funding levels for the UW-System will once again be on the table. 

— The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an issue that had long been making trouble for state employers — a chronic workforce shortage, according to UW-Milwaukee’s chancellor.

And Chancellor Mark Mone believes his university is the solution.

“The talent pipeline … has been the most vexing issue in business,” he said. “We don’t have the right people, with the right skills, at the right time.”  

UW-Milwaukee’s answer to the problem is aligning students with demand. Mone said that 80 percent of current graduates will be going into health care, business or technology fields. While funding for public education in Wisconsin dips below appropriations made in surrounding states, Mone believes a reinvestment needs to be made in the important work UW-Milwaukee is doing for the economy.

“Reinvestment is critical,” Mone concluded.

— UW-Madison is adding four more fully online undergraduate degrees to its curriculum to increase access for nontraditional students and meet the demands of employers. 

Three of the online programs are degrees offered through the Wisconsin School of Business in management, human resources and marketing. The fourth is in consumer behavior and marketplace studies through the School of Human Ecology. SoHE pioneered and continues to offer UW-Madison Online’s first degree in personal finance.

UW-Madison Online degrees are designed for people who have earned an associate degree or have some college credit. Applications are now open for the online programs, and students can start the program in fall 2021, spring 2022, summer 2022 and beyond. UW-Madison Online hopes to enroll several thousand nontraditional undergraduate students in the next decade.

Online enrollments for UW-Madison’s online master’s degrees and certificates have grown more than 77 percent over the past five years.

The Professional Degrees and Certificates program currently has more than 80 certificates, master’s and doctoral degrees available as flexible options for working adults — many of them online. 

— The city of Madison is getting a $250,000 state grant to redevelop the 17-acre Westgate Mall site that closed its doors in March 2020 after years of declining foot traffic and vacancies.

The Idle Sites Redevelopment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. will support the demolition of the remaining portions of the mall to prepare the site for a mixed-use development. JT Klein Company, Inc. is the developer for the project.

The redevelopment will take place on roughly 10 acres of the north portion of the site. The grant will be used to remove all hazardous materials and demolish the more than 200,000-square-foot mall so that site work and construction can begin.

The development plan includes a variety of residential and commercial uses that will complement the existing Hy-Vee grocery store that was constructed in 2013 at a vacant part of the mall. The plan includes 232 units of market rate housing, 71 units of affordable workforce housing and 161 units of affordable senior housing. There is also a proposed corner development for a large commercial or medical building.

— The Wisconsin Technology Council is releasing its goals for the state as the Legislature starts a new session and the 2021-23 budget debate. 

The Tech Council’s “white papers” report focuses on four major themes: improving access to investment capital for young Wisconsin companies, educating and training a strong workforce, making it easier to be an entrepreneur, and building on the state’s tech infrastructure.

In addition to ideas in the four focus areas, the report also looks back on goals laid out in 2003 by the Tech Council in one of its earliest publications, “Vision 2020: A Model Wisconsin Economy.”

“The ideas offered in our 2021 white papers will continue the public discussion about improving the state’s tech-based economy,” said Greg Lynch, chairman of the Tech Council. “As the state weighs its budget priorities for the next two years, policymakers deserve to hear ideas that focus on the creation of next-generation jobs for Wisconsin — and keeping our best and brightest young people at home.”

Read the report: 

— Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is calling on lawmakers to work together on a bill that would protect businesses, universities, schools and others from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits.

“Both houses of the State Legislature and Gov. Evers have made it clear they support getting COVID-19 liability protections signed into law,” said WMC Executive Vice President of Government Relations Scott Manley. “Without liability protections, thousands of employers could face frivolous and potentially bankruptcy-causing lawsuits even though they did everything right to protect their people.”

Late last week, Evers vetoed a COVID-19 bill that contained liability protections. However, in the past he has said he would sign a bill that contained the measure.

“Employers throughout the state have taken countless steps and spent unknown sums of money to keep their workers, customers and the public safe,” Manley said. “As we look to restart our economy, these liability protections are more important than ever.”

— Evers said he hasn’t reached out to GOP legislative leaders yet on a path forward with legislation to address COVID-19.

The guv on Friday vetoed a bill that included provisions such as banning employers from requiring workers to get the vaccine as a condition of employment. The bill also would’ve extended until mid-March a suspension of the one-week waiting period until those who are laid off can begin collecting unemployment checks. The waiting period went back into effect Sunday, and those laid off who don’t remain on unemployment for the maximum 26 weeks allowed will now lose a week of unemployment.

Evers said he knows staff have interacted with legislative leaders and again urged Republicans to send him the bill he had worked out with Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, objected to that version because it stripped out a series of priorities for his caucus.

“I’m hopeful that the Legislature will take another crack at this in the near future and we’ll find a bill on my desk that reflects what we had agreed to in the past, what deal we had going with the state Senate and we can move forward as a state,” Evers said yesterday.

— The statewide coalition Stop the COVID Spread! has launched a new ad campaign calling on Wisconsinites to stay vigilant in the effort to curtail the pandemic.

The ad campaign, to be broadcast statewide on digital and broadcast media, stresses the continued importance of wearing face masks, washing hands regularly and practicing social distancing to fight COVID-19.

“This past year, Wisconsin came together to take on COVID-19. Our frontline workers, businesses, and communities stepped up. And you are doing your part,” says the narrator in the ad. “We will stop the spread, but the fight’s not over yet. As many await vaccines, and our health care heroes battle new strains, we can’t let our guard down now.” 

The coalition’s public education announcement comes amidst a trend of falling COVID-19 cases, which could create a false sense of security, it warned. New strains of the virus that appear to be both more transmissible and potentially more deadly are spreading worldwide. Wisconsin also faces a low supply of vaccines. 

Watch the new ad: 

— The state’s chief medical officer says the strategies remain the same for stopping the spread of coronavirus, but the stakes are higher as Wisconsin reports another variant case.

The Department of Health Services announced that Wisconsin has identified a second case of a COVID variant strain in Waukesha County. The variant, B.1.1.7, was first found in England in November and December. The first case was detected in Wisconsin on Jan. 12. Researchers believe the new strain spreads faster and easier than the original strain. DHS said some evidence suggests the new strain may cause an increased risk of death.

“It is concerning that we have identified a second case of a variant that spreads more easily. We are able to sequence a small proportion of tests collected, which means, in reality, there are likely many more cases of this variant in Wisconsin,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard. 

The only way to stop the current variants and potentially more mutations is to stop the virus from spreading altogether by wearing masks, staying home, washing hands and getting vaccinated when able, he said.

“The strategies remain the same, but there’s a new element that makes the stakes even higher than it was before,” he said. 

— The state added 681 new COVID-19 cases and 39 deaths coming into today. 

The new cases brought the seven-day average for daily confirmed cases below 1,000 for the first time since Sept. 11. It now numbers 970. The record, hit Nov. 18, was 6,563 cases per day. 

But DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the recent low is still “far too high.”

“When we were on the upslope of this curve and we were hitting 970 cases a day, we thought we were in dire straits,” she said. “This is far too high a rate.” 

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates: 


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

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