Capitol Buzz
December 7, 2020
Joint Finance Committee Membership Coming into Focus

Last week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) named Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) as the new Assembly co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, replacing Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), who resigned his Assembly seat. The League has worked well with Rep. Born, a former member of the Beaver Dam common council. Rep. Born has authored several budget amendments for us in the past relating to levy limits.

Rep. Born will share the responsibility of chairing the Legislature's powerful budget writing committee with the new Senate co-chair Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green).

The other Senators appointed to the 16 member committee are:

  • Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) (Vice-Chair)
  • Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield)
  • Sen. Mark Felzkowski (R-Irma)
  • Sen. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan)
  • Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls)
  • Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point)
  • Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee).

Speaker Vos has named only two of the six Assembly Republican members to the JFC. In addition to Rep. Born serving as co-chair, Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) will serve as vice co-chair.

Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Gordon Hintz has appointed Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) to the Joint Finance Committee.

The Republicans control the committee by a 12-4 majority.
Assembly Republicans Offer COVID-19 Package, but Senate not Supportive

Last week, the Assembly Republicans released a summary of their legislative package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The package includes the following items of interest to municipalities:

  • Authorize Trust Fund Loans to Municipal Utilities. Allow BCPL to offer loans from the common school fund and other school trust funds to nonprofit municipal utilities during the state of emergency declared by the President of the United States under 50 USC 1621, but not after April 15, 2021. Specify BCPL may offer loans to ensure that the utility is able to maintain liquidity during the emergency period, and authorize BCPL to issue loans for amounts and conditions as may be agreed upon by a borrower. Further, specify that the Legislature determines the loans serve a public purpose. 

  • Immunity from Liability for Municipalities Related to COVID-19 Claims. Create immunity from civil liability for claims related to COVID-19 for a person who complies with then-applicable federal and state statutes related to COVID-19. Define person to mean "an individual, partnership, corporation, association, governmental entity, or other legal entity, including a nonprofit charitable organization." 

  • Limiting Local Health Officers' Authority to Close and Impose Capacity Restrictions on Businesses. Prohibit a local health officer from ordering the closure of, or capacity restrictions on a type of business unless the closure or capacity restriction applies to all types of businesses. Provide that if a local health officer orders closure or capacity restrictions, the officer must include with the order the justification and scientific reasoning and a timeline or specific date for termination of the closure or restriction. Provide that if a local officer orders a closure or capacity restriction, the order could be in effect for up to two weeks, unless the order is extended by the governing body for an additional period of up to two weeks.

  • Prohibit DHS and Local Public Health Departments from Prohibiting Public Gatherings in Churches.

  • Prohibit DHS and Local Health Officers form Requiring Individuals to Receive a COVID-19 Vaccine.

  • Allow Locals to Waive Interest and Penalties on 2021 Property Taxes. For any property taxes payable in 2021 that are due after April 1, 2021, allow taxation districts, after making a general or case-by-case finding of hardship, to waive any interest charges and penalties for a late installment payment, provided that the full amount of the payment is received on or before October 1, 2021. Specify that a taxation district may not waive interest and penalties otherwise due unless the county board of the county where the taxation district is located first adopts a resolution authorizing such a waiver and the taxation district subsequently adopts a similar resolution. Require that the resolution establish criteria for determining hardship. For any property taxes payable in 2021 that are delinquent after October 1, 2021, specify that interest charges and penalties would begin accruing as of October 1, 2021. Consider any payment received on or before October 1, 2021, or by an installment date after October 1, 2021, to be considered timely for the purposes of allowing taxpayers to submit a claim to appeal unlawful taxes, excessive taxes, or for Page 20 taxes paid in protest due to an outstanding contested assessment. Require counties that have adopted a waiver resolution to settle any taxes, interest, or penalties collected on or before July 31, 2021, on August 20, 2021, and then settle the remainder of any unpaid taxes, interest, or penalties on September 20, 2021. Specify that the August 20, 2021, settlement is to be distributed proportionally to underlying taxing jurisdictions.

While the Assembly may convene in December to pass a COVID-19 package, Sen. LeMahieu, the new Senate Majority Leader, has signaled that the Senate is not planning to convene in December to take up COVID legislation or any of the bills left in limbo since last spring when the Senate cancelled its last regular floor date of the session.
PFAS Firefighting Foam Emergency Rule Now in Effect

On Friday, December 4, the PFAS Firefighting Foam Emergency Rule ch. NR 159 went into effect. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was directed by the Legislature to develop an emergency, and a permanent, rule – chapter NR 159 – to implement and administer Wis. Stat. § 299.48. This law prohibits the use of firefighting foam containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), with exceptions for its use in emergency firefighting operations and at testing facilities that have implemented appropriate containment, treatment and disposal or storage measures that do not lead to discharges of foam into the environment. 

The emergency rule was approved by the Natural Resources Board at their Oct. 28 meeting and signed by Gov. Evers and DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole in November. In keeping with standard rulemaking procedure, a public hearing on the emergency rule will take place on Jan. 15 at 1 p.m. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged if you plan to provide spoken comments during the hearing. To pre-register, download and complete the fillable Hearing Appearance form and email it to: KathrynM.StromHiorns@wisconsin.gov.

The rule may be subject to review by the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR). To learn more about the rulemaking process, visit the DNR’s webpage on proposed administrative rules. To follow the process of the subsequent permanent rule, visit the DNR’s webpage on proposed permanent rules and find the status of ch. NR 159 under Waste and Materials Management.

The DNR continues to work in partnership with Wisconsin’s fire departments, airports, businesses, local governments and citizens to implement this new law to protect public health and the environment from adverse effects of PFAS. Learn more about Wis. Stat. § 299.48 and PFAS-containing firefighting foam in Wisconsin here.

PFAS are a large group of human-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and certain types of firefighting foam. These contaminants make their way into the environment through PFAS-containing materials, discharges of PFAS-containing wastewater to treatment plants and certain types of firefighting foams. PFAS do not occur naturally and are widespread in the environment. These chemicals bioaccumulate and can stay in the human body for many years. The discharge of PFAS-containing firefighting foam during emergency fire events or training exercises has been identified as a significant source of PFAS contamination.

Some firefighting foams currently used to extinguish flammable liquid fires, such as Class B and Class A/B foams, include intentionally added PFAS; meaning PFAS is a constituent of the foam added during the manufacturing process. The DNR is currently monitoring nearly 50 sites across the state for PFAS contamination.
DOR Amends Notice of Changed Assessment Form as Required by Act 114

Last week, DOR announced that it had updated the Notice of Changed Assessment Form (PR-301) assessors use to notify property owners that their assessment has changed from the prior year. 2019 Act 114 requires that the notice of changed assessment include the following statement:
"Under Wisconsin law, generally, the assessor may not change the assessment of property based solely on the recent arm’s length sale of the property without adjusting the assessed value of comparable properties in the same market area. For information on the assessment of properties that have recently sold, visit the Internet site of the Department of Revenue at https://www.revenue.wi.gov/Pages/ERETR/data-home.aspx."
The new language must be used on notices beginning January 1, 2021.

The Wisconsin Realtors Association (WRA) sought this change. The League, WAAO, and Wisconsin Towns Association negotiated with the WRA and the bill's author, Rep. Brooks (R-Saukville), on the final language of the notice.