The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ coronavirus stay-at-home order Wednesday, ruling that his administration overstepped its authority when it extended the mandate for another month without consulting legislators.
The 4-3 ruling essentially reopens the state, lifts caps on the size of gatherings, allows people to travel as they please, and allows shuttered businesses to reopen, including bars and restaurants. Local governments can still impose their own health restrictions, however. Dane County officials issued a local order minutes after the ruling came down imposing a mandate identical to Evers’ stay-at-home order.
Evers issued his order in March that closed schools and nonessential businesses. The closures battered the state economy, but Evers argued they were necessary to slow the virus’ spread. The order was supposed to expire April 24, but Health and Human Services Secretary Andrea Palm, an Evers appointee, extended it to May 26.
Republicans asked the Supreme Court to block the extension, arguing that Palm exceeded her authority because the extension amounted to an administrative rule, requiring legislative approval.
Evers’ administration countered that state law clearly gives the executive branch broad authority to quickly enact emergency measures to control communicable diseases. Attorney General Josh Kaul also noted that Evers’ order was similar to orders in at least 42 other states and has saved many lives.
Nearly seven of 10 Wisconsin residents back Evers’ order, according to a Marquette University Law School poll released Tuesday, though that support was down from 86% in March.
Evers’ administration faced an uphill battle in convincing the court to keep the order in place. Conservative-leaning justices hold a 5-2 majority. Four conservative justices joined on the majority opinion. The fifth, Brian Hagedorn, joined with liberal justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet in dissent.
Roggensack wrote for the majority that the order amounts to an emergency rule that Palm can’t enact unilaterally and creates criminal penalties that Palm has no authority to create.
“Rule-making exists precisely to ensure that kind of controlling, subjective judgement asserted by one unelected official, Palm, is not imposed in Wisconsin,” Roggensack wrote.
The Republican legislators had asked the court to let the rule remain in place for six days to give them time to work with Evers’ administration on an alternative plan. The court refused to grant the stay, saying the two sides have had weeks to come up with something.
The GOP so far has not offered any alternative plans. The state’s chamber of commerce has suggested allowing all businesses to open at once while compelling higher-risk establishments and operations to take increasingly strict mitigation measures such as requiring employees to use protective gear.
Soon after the court’s order, the Tavern League of Wisconsin posted news of the ruling on its website and said it meant businesses could open immediately.
The GOP move against Evers mirrors actions taken by Republican-controlled legislatures in other states, most notably against the Democratic governors in other “blue wall” states Michigan and Pennsylvania. All three are critical presidential battlegrounds in November.
Dallet wrote that the court’s decision will “undoubtedly go down as one of the most blatant examples of judicial activism in this court’s history. And it will be Wisconsinites who pay the price.”
Dallet also took aim at the potential delay set up by a rule-making process, writing: “A review of the tedious multi-step process required to enact an emergency rule illustrates why the Legislature authorized DHS to issue statewide orders to control contagion.”
The GOP has been working to weaken Evers’ powers since he ousted Gov. Scott Walker in 2018.
During Walker’s final weeks in office, Republicans adopted a set of laws that prohibited Evers from ordering the attorney general to withdraw from lawsuits, a move designed to prevent the governor from pulling Wisconsin out of a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. The state Supreme Court has upheld those laws.
The high court also backed Republicans over Evers in the GOP’s insistence on holding in-person voting for April’s presidential primary despite the health risks of the coronavirus.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has a clear message for Congress: Spend more money, right now.
In an interview Wednesday with the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Powell called the coronavirus pandemic an unprecedented economic challenge that needs to be met with even more aggressive federal policies.
“There is a sense, a growing sense I think, that the recovery may come more slowly than we would like, but it will come,” Powell said. “And that may mean that it’s necessary for us to do more.”
The central bank has created a host of new lending facilities to provide credit to financial institutions and large corporations during the sudden economic shock, and it expanded its balance sheet to $6.6 trillion to do so. But Powell warned that Fed loans alone won’t prevent a prolonged recession.
“The recovery may take some time to gather momentum, and the passage of time can turn liquidity problems into solvency problems,” Powell said. “Additional fiscal support could be costly but worth it if it helps avoid long term damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.”
Powell then pointed to Congress.
“This tradeoff is one for our elected representatives who wield powers of taxation and spending,” he said.
More than 33 million people have filed unemployment claims in the seven weeks since officials began taking steps to stop the spread of COVID-19, and the April unemployment rate soared to 14.7%, a figure that is expected to jump again in May.
Congress has enacted four laws responding to the pandemic that total nearly $3 trillion in new financial aid to out-of-work individuals, households, businesses, health care providers, and state and local governments. House Democrats proposed spending another $3 trillion in a bill unveiled Tuesday.
But Republicans have argued against immediately passing additional fiscal measures, saying they would rather see how the economy responds to the money already provided. They’ve also raised concerns about federal debt, which is on course to surpass 100% of GDP this year, the highest level since World War II.
“I don’t think at this point there’s any sense of urgency until we see how some of these programs that are already authorized and funded are working, and it seems like, at least right now, they’re working pretty well,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said Tuesday.
Powell addressed those arguments in his interview.
“I think now, when we are facing the biggest shock the economy has had in modern times, is for me not the time to prioritize considerations of debt,” he said.
“I think the time to do that is during good times, when the economy is strong and unemployment is low. That’s the time to be addressing those concerns,” he added.
Economists from across the political spectrum largely agree with the Powell.
Republicans like former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin have urged Congress to spend more now and worry about the national debt later. Writing in the National Review, George Mason University economist David Beckworth said deflation from the massive economic shutdowns, not inflation from fiscal and monetary responses, was the economy’s biggest risk.
Powell, who in the past has consistently warned Congress about the dangers of unchecked national debt, also suggested that the best method of reducing the debt was through spurring economic growth, not austerity.
“We will eventually have to return to a sustainable fiscal path, and that just means that you’ve got to get the economy growing faster than the debt,” he said.
Fed chairmen don’t normally give unprepared remarks, and even more rarely tell Congress what to do. But these aren’t normal times. Powell took the unprecedented move of appearing on network TV in March and has repeatedly called for more federal spending to support the economy since.
“The speech seemed intended to encourage more fiscal action and to warn that waiting to provide support could carry the cost of turning illiquidity into insolvency and destroying the productive capacity of the economy,” said Sam Bell, policy director at Employ America. “This was a dual message: don’t wait and go bigger!”
The coronavirus recession has hit lower income Americans the hardest. Powell said almost 40% of households earning less than $40,000 annually as of February lost jobs in March. He noted that the central bank’s ability to help them is limited—the Fed can lend money to financial institutions and larger corporations, but it cannot spend money.
“The loss of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses across the country would destroy the life’s work and family legacy of many businesses and community leaders and limit the strength of the recovery when it comes,” said Powell. “These businesses are principal sources of job creation, something we will need sorely as people seek to return to work.”
Critics on the left have said that the Fed could do more, however, by requiring companies that use its lending facilities to retain workers or adopt other pro-employee policies. While a roughly $2 trillion economic package passed in March suggested the Fed set up a lending program with some of those restrictions, it didn’t require it, and the Fed hasn’t placed them on its facilities for large bond issuing corporations or mid-sized companies.
In some cases, the Fed has been able to bring liquidity to markets by announcing that it would open a lending facility for those markets, Powell said. He didn’t name any, but the Money Market and Primary Dealer lending facilities were only briefly used in March and April.
“It may mean that we actually aren’t needed,” he said.
But he added a proviso that he believed the Main Street Lending Program, a $600 billion facility backed by $75 billion in equity supplied by the largest March aid package, will be needed. Companies using the program will be those with less than $5 billion in revenue, fewer than 15,000 employees and “probably those that don’t have access to the syndicated loan markets.”
Powell said he expects the Fed’s Main Street lending program “to go live in a few weeks.” He pointed out that under its emergency powers the Fed has wide latitude in making loans. All that is required for the Fed to make loans is that the borrower be solvent, he noted.
“We’ll be a big help to companies for a while, but over the longer period of time it may be that more fiscal help is needed.”
Farm children learn about hard work early in life.
Harry J. O’Leary took those lessons and applied them to his family, his career and his community.
O’Leary died May 5 at age 87. His was the latest chapter to come to a close for the O’Leary family, which started when his grandfather, an Irish immigrant, settled in Rock County after serving in the Civil War.
The youngest of 12 children, Harry was on track to take over the family farm west of Janesville.
He had no plans to go to college, but then after graduating from Janesville High School in 1950, he received a scholarship from the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, to attend Milton College, his brother Dick O’Leary recalled.
So Harry went to college, the first of his siblings to do so. He rose early to milk the cows before driving to Milton and milking again when he got home at night, Dick said.
He was drafted into the Army for the Korean War after college. His father died while Harry was in basic training, so he got bereavement leave. By the time he returned to the Army, his fellow soldiers had shipped out, and Harry was stationed in San Francisco, said his son David O’Leary.
When released from the Army, Harry went to Marquette University to brush up on his business skills, and that’s when a priest noticed him and got him to sign up for law school, David said.
Harry married Barbara, a nurse, in 1959, and they raised five children, including two lawyers, David, the current Rock County district attorney, and Harry C. O’Leary.
David said his father didn’t encourage them to be lawyers, but he encouraged them to follow their dreams, and he was always proud of them.
Tim O’Leary is a Janesville police officer. Julie managed doctors’ offices. Kevin is a Janesville dentist.
“It’s pretty impressive. All his kids went off to college and were very successful in their own right,” David said.
Harry J. graduated from Marquette University Law School in 1960 and established his law firm in Janesville with a variety of partners over the years. He served on the city plan commission, worked to elect Rep. Lynn Stalbaum, D-Wis., and was a leader at St. William Catholic Church.
Mary Sutherland, wife of Harry’s partner William Sutherland, said their families were good friends, and Harry was “incredibly helpful” when William died of a stroke at age 53.
“He was kind of a good example of the American success story,” Sutherland said. “He worked hard. He was a genuine person. There was nothing put-on about Harry.”
Sutherland recalled that when Rep. Les Aspin visited their law office, it would spark a political discussion between her husband, a Republican, and Harry, a Democrat.
“He and Bill would have a lovely conversation, each trying to convince the other,” she recalled.
“Harry O’Leary was a man of principle and integrity,” Sutherland said. “He was kind and thoughtful. He had a warm sense of humor. In difficult situations, his response was calm and balanced. His loyalty to family, friends and clients was extraordinary.”
Harry and his children maintained their connections to the family farm, run by his brother Dick, and Harry’s law practice combined his accounting and farm backgrounds as he helped farmers with tax and estate planning, David said.
Harry J. was appointed district attorney to fill a vacancy in 1961 but lost his election bid a year later.
Dick Schumacher said Harry J. was his best friend. They had children in sports at the same time, and they co-chaired the building committee for a new St. William Church.
“You kind of always knew where Harry stood,” Schumacher said. “He didn’t pretend to be something he wasn’t, and he was good at what he was. If he had an opinion on something, you knew where he stood, whether you agreed or disagreed. We could disagree and still be friends. It wasn’t like how society is now, where if you disagree you can’t be friends.”
Sue Schmoekel was Harry J.’s secretary for 38 years and still works at the O’Leary Law Office, now run by Harry C.
Schmoekel recalled a kind, humble man who worked hard, often studying changes in tax law while on vacation and enthusiastically embracing technological changes in his later years.
“After his health forced retirement, he told me: ‘The saddest day of my life was when I had to stop working,’” Schmoekel said.
Schmoekel said Harry J. suffered from myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the muscles, and he was one of the top fund-raisers for the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation in southern Wisconsin.
Harry J.’s wife, Barbara, suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and endured dozens of surgeries. He lovingly cared for her for years until he couldn’t do it anymore, and then their daughter, Julie Dunagan, moved back to Janesville from Alabama to make sure the couple could stay in their home, David said.
“He really was one of a kind, always giving his best to his wife and family and to his employees,” Schmoekel said.
The O’Learys have a 100-plus-year tradition of family reunions each June, hosted each year by a different branch of the family. More than 100 usually show up, and Harry J. relished it.
This year it had to be canceled because of the pandemic, something David can’t remember happening.
A small number of O’Learys attended a funeral Mass and burial Tuesday. A much larger memorial would have happened if not for the ban on large gatherings.
“He instilled in us the closeness of family,” David said.
Harry J. O’Leary’s family, like so many others who have lost loved ones during the pandemic of 2020, will have to wait for that closeness.
Kenneth George Hoppe
Harry E. Larsen
Mary L. Martinez
Mary Jo Matz
Joanne E. Mawhinney
Scot A. Schmaling
Andrew Lee York
The city of Janesville wants Elon Musk and his electric car company, Tesla, to turn their attention to Wisconsin’s Park Place—and it is using social media and promises of fresh dairy products to entice the automaker.
In Twitter posts earlier this week, the city told Musk that if he finds California inhospitable, he and his company should consider the former General Motors plant site as a possible new home.
“Hey @elonmusk & @Tesla: Having issues in CA? Welcome to Janesville, WI. We have a cleared former (General Motors) auto plant site ready for use and a skilled workforce ready to make cars. It’s Janesville’s history—it’s in our blood,” the city tweeted Monday.
City officials hatched the idea last weekend amid national headlines that Musk was locking horns with Alameda County officials over reopening Tesla’s Fremont, California, auto plant. Musk had defied the county’s orders that the plant remain closed under a shelter-in-place mandate.
City Manager Mark Freitag said the tweets to Tesla and Musk were partly a lighthearted way for city employees to forget their COVID-19 blues for a while.
“There’s a bit of fun in sending something like that out, too, because it’s created community conversation,” Freitag said. “Everybody is so focused on COVID-19. We thought, ‘Hey, this is something totally different.’”
But the tweets also were a serious effort to market the city’s homegrown offerings, workforce and its largest industrial redevelopment site, Freitag said.
“It was in response to the (Alameda County Tesla plant) news,” he said. “We said, ‘You know, if we don’t ask, it might never even cross anybody’s mind. So why don’t we throw it out there and see what happens?’
“The message is we’re more than happy to entertain a conversation about bringing Tesla’s current plant or maybe even a future plant to Janesville, Wisconsin. We put it out there, and it was a serious request.”
The city took to Twitter again Tuesday with another Janesville shoutout—one that touted Wisconsin’s dairy prowess and bovine workforce.
“These (retweets) and likes speak for themselves—#Janesville, #Wisconsin is a great community. Plus, our cows are happier,” the tweet read.
As of Wednesday afternoon, neither Tesla nor Musk had responded to the tweets, but 109 Twitter users had given them a thumbs-up, and 54 users had rebroadcast them.
Meanwhile, Tesla and Alameda County officials appear to have hashed out a tentative agreement that allows the Fremont plant to reopen under certain restrictions. Tesla is more vulnerable to the logistical pressures of a forced COVID-19 shutdown because, unlike most American automakers, Tesla’s vehicle production is based on orders.
Gale Price, city economic development director, said the state Department of Natural Resources should weigh in sometime this year on additional environmental cleanup responsibilities the former GM site’s owners might have on the site’s northern end, where the main plant once stood.
For now, action at the site and marketing efforts have been quiet, Price said, mostly because of uncertainty amid the pandemic.
Commercial Development Company, which owns the site, has mostly cleared the 120-acre northern portion of the property.
The DNR already has environmentally cleared the 115-acre former JATCO haul-away yard on the property’s south end.
Price and other city officials have indicated that Commercial Development might want to sell the entire property at once—possibly to another development firm.
Under earlier concepts floated by the owner, large parts of the site would be sectioned off for light industry, some of which would depend on existing railroad infrastructure.
Price said the former JATCO site is the most shovel-ready portion, which makes it the most likely to field redevelopment proposals.
Some local economic development officials have been leery about pursuing a single large-scale manufacturer that might provide the thousands of jobs lost when GM ended production at the Janesville plant in 2009.
Over the last decade, the city has seen the creation of thousands of new jobs thanks to growth in multiple sectors, including distribution and food production.
Freitag said he doesn’t see the city’s two Twitter posts as a shift from the long-term strategy of creating a more diverse local economy.
“Our lessons learned out of GM’s departure certainly haven’t changed. Our focus as a community is continued diversification of our business and economic portfolio,” Freitag said. “But even with diversification, bringing an automobile plant into our community at some point in the future, I think that would be just fine, too.”