WED AM News: State financial institutions request marijuana banking options; Capacity limits relax in Dane County

— Creating a statute to allow Wisconsin banks to take on customers in the marijuana business would provide clarity for the state’s financial institutions. 

It’s now unclear if a Wisconsin bank could take on an Illinois marijuana dispensary as a customer, for example, explained Wisconsin Bankers Association COO Mike Semmann and WBA Legal Affairs Director Scott Birrenkott. 

Semmann described it as “highly complex, highly risky … and not necessarily in the financial institution’s best interest” to take on a marijuana business in Wisconsin because marijuana is illegal in the state. 

A statutory change in Wisconsin would give banks the certainty to answer if it’s legal to bank a customer in the marijuna business, Birrenkott added. 

Rep. Terry Katsma, R-Oostburg, asked what impact legalizing marijuana would have on Wisconsin’s banking system during an Assembly Committee on Financial Institutions hearing yesterday. Katsma serves as vice chair of the committee. 

Department of Financial Institutions Deputy Secretary Cheryll Olson-Collins said other states have legalized marijuana because they’ve found it poses a problem if there’s no way to handle money that gets exchanged. If marijuana is not legal, banks and credit unions cannot bank those customers and businesses. Gov. Tony Evers in his budget proposed legalizing and taxing pot.

Read the full story at 

— Public Health Madison & Dane County has issued an order increasing capacity for restaurants, bars, and indoor and outdoor gatherings.

“We are encouraged with how case counts and hospitalizations have continued to fall and vaccinations have increased especially for our most vulnerable,” said PHMDC Director Janel Heinrich.

The new order increases indoor gatherings with refreshments to 150 people or 350 people without food and drink. Masks and social distancing is required. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 500 people with face coverings worn by groups greater than 50 people. 

Restaurants may open up to 50 percent capacity. Taverns must limit indoor dine-in capacity to 25 percent of approved seating capacity levels, and space tables and chairs to ensure at least six-feet physical distancing between customers who are not members of the same household or living unit.

“We are encouraged by declining case counts and growing vaccination rates,” said Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon. “While we must all remain vigilant with precautions to protect spread, it is great to see a path that could bring extreme loosening or even dissolving of restrictions in the months ahead.”

— Digital assets, such as the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, are gaining traction in different industries as people rethink currency and technology during the pandemic.

But success depends on consumer demand, according to Milwaukee financial analyst Michael Antonelli.

Bitcoin has been making headlines in recent months as the media, investors and Wall Street take notice while billionaires and small business owners alike expand their stock portfolios by investing in the currency.

The cost of Bitcoin is worth what a buyer and seller think it’s worth, explained Antonelli, managing director at Milwaukee-based Baird, during a Milwaukee Rotary Club virtual meeting yesterday.

The online currency is traded on a decentralized system, so its value is determined by the people using it. Antonelli said investing in companies like Bitcoin requires a multitude of risk with the possibility of reward. Bitcoin’s success is largely dependent on how many people decide to invest in its worth. 

“Some people want it to be the currency of the future — I don’t think it will,” Antonelli concluded.

— A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association shows Wisconsin restaurants are still struggling to survive the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey was taken between Feb. 2-10 of this year. More than half of Wisconsin restaurant owners believe it will be seven months to over a year before business conditions return to normal.

Of the 3,000 restaurant operators surveyed nationwide, Wisconsin results show consumer spending in the state remained well below pre-pandemic levels in January. Overall, 83 percent of operators say their total dollar sales volume in January was lower than January 2020. Overall, sales were down 30 percent year over year.

With limited on-premises activity during the last several months, restaurants saw off-premises sales rise. But it wasn’t nearly rough to make up for lost on-premises sales. Sixty-nine percent of Wisconsin operators said off-site sales made up less than 30 percent of their lost on-site sales.

Only 12 percent of Wisconsin operators expect their sales in February and March to be higher than it was in January. Half of operators think their sales will decline in February and March from January’s levels.

And 13 percent of restaurant owners said they will “probably” or “definitely” be closed within three months if there are no more relief packages from the federal government. 

— Deteriorating business conditions have added to the rise of unemployment in Wisconsin. 

Nearly 30 percent of Wisconsin restaurant owners said they laid off or furloughed employees in December or January. 

And while many restaurants added back employees after the initial lockdowns, overall staffing levels remain well below normal. Eighty-three percent of Wisconsin operators say their current staffing level is lower than what it would normally be in the absence of COVID-19.

With future business conditions remaining uncertain, most operators do not plan to expand payrolls in the near term. Only 8 percent of Wisconsin operators expect their restaurant’s staffing levels to be higher in February and March than it was in January. Seventeen percent of operators expect their staffing levels to decline in February and March.

— Gov. Tony Evers said a more consistent approach between federal and state governments would have helped reduce the death toll and economic impact from the pandemic.

Almost one year after the pandemic hit Wisconsin, Evers told a luncheon yesterday “if I could wave my magic wand” fewer people might have died or contracted COVID-19 if the federal government had a more consistent approach to “flatten the curve” by cooperating with and leading state governments. 

Wisconsin has had 564,592 cases since the start of the pandemic and 6,440 COVID-19 deaths.

The economic impact likely wouldn’t have been as significant either, he added. 

The guv said a “hands-off” approach to COVID-19 and a lack of leadership from the federal government caused major issues with the national response, adding more consistent leadership pushing people to “follow the science” would have likely meant a shorter pandemic. He said former President Trump’s claim that the pandemic would be over by Easter did not help.

Evers also charged state lawmakers with causing a “political mess” after they sought to strike down his “Safer-at-Home” order and extension in court. He noted that at the end of May, Wisconsin was “in a good place” mitigating the virus. But cases started to rise again after everything opened back up again and courts heard debates over the legality of emergency health orders, he said.

“We spent a lot of time fighting in court to make sure that our state was safe,” Evers said. 

See the pandemic timeline:

Watch the luncheon: 

— More than 55 percent of Wisconsinites age 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Since mid-December, Wisconsin providers have administered more than 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

According to DHS’ vaccine dashboard, more than 505,000 of those were booster shots, meaning about 8.7 percent of Wisconsinites have completed a two-dose vaccine series and are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

About 16 percent of Wisconsinites — 928,958 people — have gotten at least the first dose.

The Badger State is ranked No. 3 by Bloomberg among the 50 states for percent of vaccine supply used and No. 11 by global database Global Change Data Lab for the total number of doses administered compared to population.

See a map of COVID-19 vaccine providers: 

See more on eligibility and where one can get vaccinated: 

See more in the latest Health Care Report:

— The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is collaborating with several retailers to stop gift card scammers.

Scammers attempt to convince their victims to submit payments via gift cards for fake tickets, outstanding debts, or to prevent utilities or services from suspension. Scammers prefer payment via gift card because gift cards are like cash. Once you turn over the card number, the transaction cannot be canceled, refunded or traced, often leaving the victim out hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

The partnership with Walmart, the Wisconsin Grocers Association, the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association will provide signage to businesses upon request for their gift card display stations warning consumers of the risks for paying someone with a gift card. 

By reaching consumers at the gift card display, DATCP hopes to stop consumers before they purchase gift cards intended to “pay” scammers. Want to report a scam or request a sign? Call the Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 422-7128. 


# Kroger-owned pharmacies in Wisconsin to receive Covid-19 vaccine

# Ron Kind still in favor of federal minimum wage increase despite removal from COVID-19 bill 

# New markets include chemicals from corn cobs 



– Landmark Services, Countryside Co-op Merger Finalized 

– Mehringer Selected as State Director of Wisconsin Make It With Wool 


– Evers Says Schools Might Need Summer Classes, Early Start To Recover From Pandemic 


– Failed Partnerships And Vacant Buildings: Foxconn’s Wisconsin Commitment Remains At A Standstill


– Wisconsin supply of new vaccine will dip after next week

– Aurora Medical Center in Grafton to expand 


– Milwaukee angel investors form new network to invest in Wisconsin, Midwest startups 


– Growth drives expansion plans for Sprecher Brewing 


– Tony Evers: Prioritized funding for schools offering in-person classes is “out of the question”

– Assembly Republicans call on Governor Evers to increase funding to schools that had in-person classes


– Common Council gives final approval to Couture development agreement changes 

– City OKs removal of Masonic Center’s stained-glass windows, advancing conversion to apartments 


– Kohl’s lost $163 million in 2020 


– Visit Milwaukee supports hotels with March Hotel Month and $50,000 


– WEC Energy invests $302M in wind farm that will serve Facebook 


– Are government payments helping or hurting? 


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

– Dept. of Justice: Kicking Off National Consumer Protection Week, AG Kaul, DATCP Secretary-designee Romanski Remind Wisconsinites of Robocall Rights

– Main Street Alliance-WI, small business owners: Thank Rep. Gallagher for co-sponsoring the RESTAURANTS Act

– MAPC: President named to In Business Magazine 40 Under 40

– Dept. of Health Services: Select Kroger stores take part in Federal Retail Pharmacy Program