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— The Wisconsin Elections Commission unanimously backed a proposal to send roughly 2.7 million voters an absentee ballot application.

Staffers anticipate just 1 percent of recipients will respond to the mailing, which will cost around $2.3 million. But staff said the anticipated response rate was a “crude estimate” based on experience with past mailings.

The mailing was one of three proposals for spending money allocated by a federal coronavirus relief package first considered at a meeting last week. But a vote was pushed back to yesterday’s meeting after GOP Chair Dean Knudson recommended a number of changes.

The final mailing is set to go to all registered voters in the state — except those who have already requested an absentee ballot and those who may have moved and have not confirmed their address.

The commission also approved a grant program that would send each municipality $200 plus $1.10 for each registered voter to cover upcoming costs.

But the unanimous vote on the mailing was not without partisan debate. It only came after the commission split along party lines and two of the panel’s Dems sought to scrap a mailing from the state.

The commission first split 3-3 after Dem Ann Jacobs moved the mailing should be sent without commission oversight of language included in an instructional letter that is set to accompany the application.

Jacobs and fellow Dem Mark Thomsen argued the commission had more important business than “micromanaging” the staff. Republicans — led by Knudson and Bob Spindell, who labeled Jacob’s idea “terrible” and “not acceptable” — countered the mailing was important enough to warrant oversight.

“I’m not giving them my responsibility as a state of Wisconsin Elections commissioner,” Spindell said. “This is an extremely important letter, and I don’t want the letter biased towards the (absentee mail-in process).”

Thomsen then moved to cancel the statewide absentee ballot application mailing at the statewide level and roll the funding into a grant program the commission approved earlier in the meeting. Anticipating the commission would split along partisan lines when it came to approving the language in the instructional letter, Thomsen reasoned municipalities would be better off handling the mailing themselves.

Both former clerks on the panel, Republican Marge Bostlemann and Dem Julie Glancey, strongly disagreed, noting the original intent of a centralized mailing was to reduce the workload for local election officials. Knudson and Spindell also voted against the move.

The panel finally settled on the staff-recommended motion and timeline, which calls for the commission to approve the mailing’s content by June 10 with an eye on an early September distribution.

The commission also unanimously backed putting off a redesign of absentee ballot envelopes until next year.

— Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Dem legislative leaders say state lawmakers need to work together regardless of partisan differences to ensure economic recovery during the pandemic.

But the group warned citizens must continue to practice social distancing to limit the number of coronavirus cases and deaths.

In a tele-town hall last night, Barnes, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, and Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, detailed some of the efforts the state is undertaking to combat COVID-19.

Wisconsin is spending $1 billion of federal CARES funds on increasing testing and contact tracing sites as well as funding healthcare facilities in need, $75 million in grants for small business that adhere to state safety guidelines, $50 million in relief for farmers, $15 million for food security and $100 million for nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The Evers administration also directed $200 million to local governments and tribes, leaving roughly $300 million still left over from the federal package.

Local government and health officials have been working with the Wisconsin National Guard to increase testing and help bolster healthcare services where necessary.

Barnes, Johnson and Hintz also pushed for greater absentee and mail-in voting to ensure safe elections in the future and knocked GOP lawmakers for politicizing the pandemic.

“There shouldn’t be anything partisan about it,” Hintz said. “We’ve kind of seen the faultlines develop leading up to the lawsuit and court decisions.”

— The UW System accounts for more than 58 percent of the nearly $70 million in cuts the Evers administration ordered to general purpose revenue agency operations budgets.

That’s according to an overview from DOA released late yesterday afternoon.

The reduction of $40.8 million is less than the $45.8 million that UW System officials were projecting shortly after the directive came down to cut operational budgets.

After UW, the Department of Health Services saw the biggest projected lapse at nearly $7.5 million, followed by Revenue at nearly $5.7 million.

The overview didn’t include a breakdown of how the agencies achieved the reductions.

Altogether, 18 agencies will lapse GPR to the general fund to help boost the state’s bottom line this fiscal year amid falling revenues due to the financial impact of COVID-19.

Some other notable agencies include Public Instruction at $2.7 million and Corrections at $2.4 million.

The guv’s office budget was reduced by $201,360.

Smaller agencies and those with limited GPR funding were exempt from the cuts. Some of the 25 agencies on that list included Transportation.

See the DOA release:

See the agency-by-agency breakdown:

— A new Wisconsin Hospital Association ad campaign airs today featuring former Gov. Tommy Thompson ensuring people in need of medical care that clinics are safe, despite the ongoing pandemic.

The 30-second clip will run in all state media markets, and combines with an earlier WHA radio campaign.

“Your local hospital clinic is clean, safe and ready to take care of you,” Thompson, a former U.S. health secretary, says in the ad. “Social distancing is still important, wash your hands, and don’t put off getting necessary medical care.”

WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding in a statement said Thompson’s love for the state “fits perfectly” with the organization’s message that Wisconsinites shouldn’t put off medical care.

Watch the ad:

See more:

— Edgewood College is eliminating tenured faculty positions to cope with the COVID-19 financial crisis.

The private university in Madison announced it had originally offered voluntary separation agreements to an unnamed number of employees. But it added more layoffs will be necessary “to ensure the long-term financial viability of the College.”

The move comes as UW System schools have furloughed thousands of employees and regents have weighed a plan by outgoing President Ray Cross that would rapidly consolidate many administrative functions and cut duplicate programs.

At least one Wisconsin-based private school, Holy Family College in Manitowoc, already said it would close its doors for good in part because of the pandemic.

See more:

— This week’s DC Wrap features an interview with U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher in which the Green Bay Republican says the coronavirus pandemic has exposed that the United States is “in the early stages of a new Cold War” with China.

See this week’s DC Wrap and sign up for direct delivery here:

— Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch speaks today at a WisPolitics.com virtual lunchtime event on recruiting and training female candidates 100 years after women’s suffrage in the United States.

She will be joined by Emerge Wisconsin leader Erin Forrest.

The program comes as presumptive Dem presidential nominee Joe Biden continues the process of selecting a woman vice presidential running mate for the November election. Monday is the state filing deadline for candidates in the fall races.

Watch it starting at noon:


NOON TODAY: WisPolitics.com luncheon with Rebecca Kleefisch & Erin Forrest

Join WisPolitics.com for a virtual lunchtime discussion on Thursday, May 28.

The discussion on recruiting and training female candidates coincides with the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States and comes as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden begins the process of selecting a female running mate.

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Emerge Wisconsin leader Erin Forrest headline the event. See more on Emerge Wisconsin: www.emergewi.org

The program will go from noon to 1 p.m. via a webinar, and be available live here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0FO8o8WdB99-9uZXQWqP6w

Thank you to our sponsors: Husch Blackwell, Wal-mart, Xcel Energy, Wisconsin Hospital Association, AARP-Wisconsin and American Family Insurance.



Evers directs $200M in CARES Act dollars to WI local govts
[including $10M to tribes] … to be used for unexpected expenses associated with the pandemic that haven’t already been covered through other state virus response efforts. … including emergency operations, [PPE] purchases … cleaning and sanitation supplies and services, temporary isolation housing … and more. … guaranteed minimum $5,000 allocation. … based on [DOA’s per capita] formula … At $15.4 million, Milwaukee County will receive the largest amount of any county, though the sum is just a fraction of the $103 million in CARES Act funds that county leaders in addition to leaders of its 19 municipalities, have [requested from] Evers … argue that … U.S. Treasury Department reallocated the funds from the county to the state. … county received $62M in CARES Act funding but doesn’t believe it will be enough … [Exec.] Crowley’s office did not immediately respond … Other top-funded counties are Dane at $8.7M, Waukesha at $6.6M, and Brown at $4.3M. … City of Milwaukee also received $9.6M while Madison received $4.2M.

DHS: 16,462 Confirmed COVID-19 Cases In Wisconsin
539 People Have Died … 210, 605 negative tests [599 new cases, 22 more deaths, 9,731 more negative tests since Tuesday. … 2,411 people have been hospitalized [about 15% of cases, 49 more since Tuesday] … don’t know the hospitalization history of 30% of cases. … As of Tuesday, 59 percent of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered, according to DHS. … surge in new tests is one reason for the increase in positive cases. … percentage of positive tests went from … 4.3 percent Monday to 3.6 on Tuesday to 5.8 percent Wednesday … Evers’ “Badger Bounce Back” plan no longer has the force of law … but …Wisconsin has met key gating criteria … [However, there is no longer on a 14-day downward trajectory in positive tests, in flu-like illnesses, in COVID-like illnesses, or COVID-19 cases among health care workers … confirmed cases in all 72 counties.

As WI enters third week with no stay-home order, coronavirus hospitalizations rising though percentage of positive cases stays low
… As of Wednesday, 413 … were hospitalized … Fewer than 300 were hospitalized in early May. … an additional 335 people are hospitalized while awaiting coronavirus test results, surpassing the previous high of 295, in early April. DHS Sec. Palm: “I think we would not feel confident saying that on the two-week anniversary, we are attributing increases to the lifting of Safer at Home, but we certainly will continue to track the data,” urged “keep the curve flat, to help continue to protect the people of this state, particularly those that are most vulnerable. … We obviously are concerned about outbreaks and hot spots around the state. We are concerned about the increase — the slight increase in hospitalizations — that we’re seeing in some parts of the state.” DHS CMO Westergaard: “All 599 cases that were diagnosed today resulted from a person being in close contact with another person who had the infection. And that’s the only thing we can say with certainty.” County’s Weston: “It’s still here. It’s just as much if not probably more here than it was back when we had stay-at-home orders. All that’s changed is the orders and the law that surrounds it.” Waupun Correctional Institution had nearly 44% of inmates [32] tested positive so far after testing began Tuesday, 7 staffers independently tested positive. As of Wednesday afternoon, 1,467 tests had been completed throughout al DOC facilities, with 65 positive. Other hot spots: 3 cases at Abbyland Foods in Abbotsford, all 25 Forest Co. cases are linked to Laona nursing home, The Bay at Nu-Roc, which is among DHS probe. Economic hits: FdL’s landmark Schreiner’s Restaurant is closing permanently, the “only real option given the economics associated with the current pandemic crisis.” Sheboygan’s Wigwam Mills will lay off the “vast majority” of its 175 workers, cancelling at planned 25% expansion, unsure if demand would return. WEC 6-0 agreed to mail absentee req forms to all registered voters, except about 528K who have already requested absentee ballots and about 158K who WEC believes have moved since last vote.

WEC Votes To Send Absentee Ballot Applications To 2.7M Voters
… [6-0] would send … absentee ballot applications … [using] about $2.3M [CARES Act] funding set aside for elections … [except 528K] people who already have an absentee ballot request on file … [and] about 158K voters who were flagged as having potentially moved … “People like easy ways to do things,” said Democratic Commissioner Mark Thomsen Wednesday. “And voting without waiting in line has become, in many ways, the norm.” … Despite the 6-0 final vote, Wednesday’s meeting was far from harmonious. Dems Jacobs and Thomsen led arguments opposing the requirement that the COmmision approve the wording of the ballot req form, suggesting it would simply draw a pointless 3-3 vote, while GOP-er Spindell argued in favor, accusing Dems of trying to get an all-mail election because GOP voters are better at in-person turnout. With letter approval, forms could be mailed on Sept. 1., with an Oct. 29 deadline to return form. WEC also voted 4-2 to spend up to $4.1M-FED on grants to cover local absentee ballot surge.

DNC Convention needs to be a ‘knock-your-socks-off effort,’ Barrett says
… during a daily [MMAC] video call … that he talked with [DNC chair] Perez Tuesday afternoon. “He made it clear,” Barrett said. “He called me and said, ‘We’re going to be nominating Joe Biden as our candidate. We are going to do that in Milwaukee.’ … It was incredibly competitive. We put a lot of money into raising money and getting loan guarantees and getting hotel rooms and venues and I’m very proud that we won that competition. But it would be analogous to saying, ‘Well the Bucks were in first place when the season paused, let’s just name them the NBA champs for next year.’ It doesn’t work that way. … Regardless of what form the convention takes in August, we just do a knock-your-socks-off effort and convince people that they want to come back to Milwaukee. … We’re not going to get it by having a pity party, that’s for sure.”

Madison restaurants allowed to expand outdoor dining during pandemic
… Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway on Thursday will issue a citywide emergency order to temporarily let restaurants expand outdoor dining onto public sidewalks and spaces, on-street parking spots, privately owned parking lots and perhaps some streets between the Square and outer loop … “Our new Madison Streatery Program is a direct response to requests from neighborhoods and small businesses … I am excited to open up our streets for seating so we can enjoy summer with great food, and support the local businesses that make our city so special, all while maintaining good practices to prevent community spread of COVID-19.” Phase 1 of “Forward Dane” began Tuesday, with restaurants at 25% indoor capacity, tables spaced at least 6 feet, limited to a maximum of six guests, bars least 6 feet between patrons. After 14 days of Phase 1, metrics will decide a move to Phase 2 50% capacity. Planner Cnare said restaurants could reach 100% of indoor capacity outdoors, if possible. More order details. Ald. Verveer, bar owners Bulgrin, Sosnowski, Sweeney, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce’s Brandon comment.

As They Reopen, Small Retailers Grapple With New Expenses, Uncertainty
Surveys Show Wisconsin’s Retail Sector Was Hit Hard By The Pandemic … Kiminski, Kuderer and Johnson are among the small Wisconsin retailers slowly reopening their businesses to in-person shoppers following the end of state and most county stay-at-home orders. Their experiences speak to the increased costs of operating a business safely during the pandemic, at a time when it’s uncertain whether retailers will see shoppers return. … [U.S. Commerce report on May 15] show[ed] > 15% drop in retail sales between March and April, the biggest monthly drop since 1992 … Major national retailers like JC Penney and Neiman Marcus have filed for bankruptcy … [UWO] survey in May of close to 1,400 small businesses [statewide reporting sales were down $5M in April [year over year] … [NBER’s] April survey of nearly 6,000 small businesses across the country … found [them] some of the most financially fragile … about three-quarters … had enough cash to cover two months of expenses or less. WI biz owners, UW profs. Posen and Conroy comment.

Oneida Co. Public Safety Committee approves permit for 2020 Hodag Country Fest
… [4-1] to issue a large assembly permit to organizers of the [July 9-18] 2020 Hodag Country Festival. … after fest organizers submitted a 25-point plan to safely hold the festival … majority of [public comment] speakers were opposed … county received approximately 100 emails from the public … Approximately two-thirds were opposed while one-third was in favor

‘It’s been coming our way’: Wisconsin tribes dig in to keep COVID-19 off reservations
… Statewide, there have been 186 COVID-19 cases and eight deaths among Wisconsin’s roughly 70,000 Native Americans … So far, only two tribes, the Oneida and Ho-Chunk, report a double-digit number of COVID-19 cases. … “Just because the Supreme Court smashed safer-at-home doesn’t mean the virus has gone away,” said Tehassi Hill, chairman of the Oneida tribe, whose clinic reports 39 COVID-19 cases and two deaths. … portions of the tribe’s stay-at-home order would remain in effect until June 11. “We’re really focused on prevention,” said Debbie Danforth, Oneida’s comprehensive health division director. “One outbreak could take out our whole community.” … [Ho-Chunk] had 13 cases and two deaths … 26 casinos are the economic lifeblood for [WI tribes] … generating nearly $1.3B … last year. … sudden revenue loss caused individual tribes to lay off 25% to 90% of their tribal employees and slash or close numerous social service programs. … “Our financial situation is a disaster,” said [Potawatomi AG] Crawford … “Tribes, in general, have been very persnickety about the safer-at-the-home” rules, Evers said in an interview last week. … meets with tribal leaders weekly. “They’re fearful. … are very supportive of safer-at-home.” Menominee’s Waukau, Bad River’s Wiggins, Stockbridge-Munsee’s Holsey comment.



– 12 p.m. – 1 p.m.: WisPolitics.com luncheon with former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Emerge Wisconsin leader Erin Forrest. Online event.

– 3 p.m.: PSC hearing.

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