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Disabled workers could lose jobs if federal COVID-19 package isn't altered


Christopher Wilson excitedly showed his workplace to a congressman Monday.

Christopher’s words could not be heard through his mask and over the din of the assembly floor at 1227 Barberry Drive in Janesville, but his attitude appeared to be one of pride in his job.

It’s a job for which he is paid below minimum wage.

Rep. Bryan Steil was visiting KANDU Industries to argue for the low wage for tens of thousands of disabled workers across the country.

Wilson, who is cognitively disabled, assembles a refrigerator component for Fitchburg-based Sub-Zero. Other workers Monday were packaging products for Hormel, IKI Industries and Generac.

A provision in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill now before Congress would require that KANDU workers be paid like everyone else. The bill would end a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that allows KANDU to pay less than the minimum wage.

KANDU has what is called a 14© certificate that allows the lower wages. KANDU is one of dozens of similar community rehabilitation centers in Wisconsin, including VIP Services of Elkhorn and Opportunities Inc. of Jefferson County in Fort Atkinson.

KANDU officials declined say how much its approximately 100 disabled clients earn, except to say that some earn up to $8.50 an hour.

The workers’ wages are paid based on their productivity and studies of the prevailing wage for the same work elsewhere in the community, officials said.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last year found that between 2017 and 2018, the average wage of a person with a disability working under a 14© certificate was $3.34 an hour.

“Although Congress enacted the program with good intentions, the Department of Labor’s enforcement data as well as several key civil rights cases and testimony from experts show that with regard to wage disparities, the program is rife with abuse and difficult to administer without harming employees with disabilities, as reflected in over 80 percent of cases investigated,” the commission wrote.

Still, the commission acknowledged a large number of testimonies in favor of the 14© provision.

Christopher’s father, Rick Wilson, is with the A Team, an advocacy group that wants to keep the low wages.

“The parents and the families overwhelmingly support these programs, even though some advocacy groups in Washington don’t,” Rick said.

“We need more programs for people to be successful, not reducing choices,” said Julie Smith, director of client services at KANDU.

“We’re proud of the work we do, and we’d welcome anyone to visit,” Smith said.

“I think here’s a real dignity in work, and you ought to have that option for individuals and families,” Steil said.

The issue is being debated now, Steil said.

“President Biden has indicated he wants to have this done by the end of the month,” Steil said. “My goal is to make sure there are not unintended consequences to people and families here in Janesville.”

Smith said people with physical disabilities should earn minimum wage and more, but “these people we (at KANDU) tend to support are intellectually disabled, and that puts them in a different group as far as support goes, and I think that is something that is not always recognized, especially by the advocates who would like to see the elimination of 14©.”

Asked if eliminating 14© would mean the end of KANDU clients’ work opportunities, Smith said, “We would find a way to do it on some level, but it would have to look very, very different. … If you take 14© away, you have to put something in its place.”

Rick said in other states that have ended such programs, the trend is for the former workers to enter nonwork programs.

“The individual sitting here doesn’t want day care. They want to work,” Rick said.

Trump's trial starting: 'Grievous crime' or just 'theater'?


The Senate launches Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial today, with lawyers for the former president insisting he is not guilty of inciting mob violence at the Capitol to overturn the election while prosecutors say he must be convicted of the “most grievous constitutional crime” even though he is gone from the White House.

Trump faces a sole charge of incitement to insurrection over the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, an attack that stunned the nation and the world after he encouraged a rally crowd to “fight like hell” for his presidency. Rioters stormed the building trying to stop the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

No witnesses are expected to be called, in part because the senators sworn as jurors will be presented with graphic videos of the scenes they witnessed that day, forced to flee for safety. Under COVID-19 protocols senators will distance for the trial, some even using the visitors’ galleries. Holed up at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has declined a request to testify.

The first president to face charges after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, Trump continues to challenge the nation’s civic norms and traditions even in defeat. Security remains extremely tight at the Capitol. While acquittal is likely, the trial will test the nation’s attitude toward his brand of presidential power, the Democrats’ resolve in pursuing him and the loyalty of Trump’s Republican allies defending him.

“In trying to make sense of a second Trump trial, the public should keep in mind that Donald Trump was the first president ever to refuse to accept his defeat,” said Timothy Naftali, a clinical associate professor at New York University and an expert on Richard Nixon’s impeachment saga.

“This trial is one way of having that difficult national conversation about the difference between dissent and insurrection,” he said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Biden will be busy with the business of the presidency and won’t spend much time watching the televised proceedings. “He’ll leave it to his former colleagues in the Senate,” she said.

In filings Monday, lawyers for the former president lobbed a wide-ranging attack against the House case, dismissing the trial as “political theater” on the same Senate floor that was invaded by the mob.

Trump’s defenders are preparing to challenge both the constitutionality of the trial and any suggestion that he was to blame for the insurrection. They suggest that Trump was simply exercising his First Amendment rights when he encouraged his supporters to protest at the Capitol, and they argue the Senate is not entitled to try Trump now that he has left office.

“While never willing to allow a ‘good crisis’ to go to waste, the Democratic leadership is incapable of understanding that not everything can always be blamed on their political adversaries,” the Trump lawyers say.

House impeachment managers filed their own document Monday, asserting Trump had “betrayed the American people” and that there is no valid excuse or defense.

“His incitement of insurrection against the United States government—which disrupted the peaceful transfer of power—is the most grievous constitutional crime ever committed by a president,” the Democrats said.

The trial will begin today with a debate and vote on whether it is constitutionally permissible to prosecute the former president, an argument that could resonate with Republicans keen on voting to acquit Trump without being seen as condoning his behavior.

Under an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the opening arguments would begin Wednesday at noon, with up to 16 hours per side for presentations.

The trial was set to break Friday evening for the Jewish Sabbath at the request of Trump’s defense team, and resume Sunday. But Trump attorney David Schoen told senators in a letter late Monday he was concerned about a delay and withdrew the request. The schedule will likely be adjusted, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the planning.

A presidential impeachment trial is among the most serious of Senate proceedings, conducted only three times before, leading to acquittals for Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and then Trump last year.

Typically senators sit at their desks for such occasions, but the COVID-19 crisis has upended even this tradition. Instead, senators will be allowed to spread out, in the “marble room” just off the Senate floor, where proceedings will be shown on TV, and in the public galleries above the chamber, to accommodate social distancing, according to the person familiar with the discussions.

Trump’s second impeachment trial is expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated affair of a year ago. In that case, Trump was charged with having privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, then a Democratic rival for the presidency.

This time, Trump’s “stop the steal” rhetoric and the storming of the Capitol played out for the world to see. The trial could be over in half the time.

The Democratic-led House impeached the president swiftly, one week after the most violent attack on Congress in more than 200 years. Five people died, including a woman shot by police inside the building and a police officer who died the next day of his injuries.

House prosecutors are expected to rely on videos from the siege, along with Trump’s incendiary rhetoric refusing to concede the election, to make their case. His new defense team has said it plans to counter with its own cache of videos of Democratic politicians making fiery speeches.

Initially repulsed by the graphic images of the attack, a number of Republican senators have cooled their criticism as the intervening weeks have provided some distance.

Senators were sworn in as jurors late last month, shortly after Biden was inaugurated, but the trial was delayed as Democrats focused on confirming the new president’s initial Cabinet picks and Republicans sought to stall.

At the time, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky forced a vote to set aside the trial as unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office.

The 45 Republican votes in favor of Paul’s measure suggest the near impossibility of reaching a conviction in a Senate where Democrats hold 50 seats but a two-thirds vote—or 67 senators—would be needed to convict Trump. Only five Republicans joined with Democrats to reject Paul’s motion: Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Turner’s Danny Burrows looks to drive against Brodhead in Monday night’s game.

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Planned downtown Janesville wine bar gets TIF agreement


A planned downtown wine bar could be up and running this summer after receiving a tax-increment finance agreement from the Janesville City Council on Monday.

The council approved the incentive package unanimously, with several members applauding developer Greg Hughes for investing in the downtown.

Council members said the investment is substantial: a $2.5 million revitalization project that will transform an existing building at 11 N. Main St., currently the home of Legends Tavern, and redevelop an adjacent lot at 13 N. Main St. left vacant after a building there was razed last year.

The TIF agreement includes these incentives:

  • $258,134 in pay-as-you-go TIF assistance paid over 15 years beginning in 2022. Payouts will be worth 90% of increment produced by the project each year.
  • The city will assume ownership of the 13 N. Main St. lot and lease it to Hughes for $1 per year.
  • The downtown TIF district will absorb the $222,000 cost of the 2020 demolition, which has not yet been paid by the property owner and would have been issued as a special assessment if not paid.

The agreement uses a pay-as-you-go method, meaning the developers will receive incentives gradually. The city will have no upfront costs and will not need to assume new debt, said Gale Price, economic development director.

Incentives paid over time come from increased property tax value created by the project, funds the city does not currently depend on to operate.

The city’s ownership of 13 N. Main St. and absorption of the demolition costs is essential for keeping the project on its intended timeline, Price said.

Adding the $222,000 in demolition costs would have made the already costly project not feasible, he said.

The project also will be supported by $696,000 in historic tax credit proceeds, according to a city memo.

The plans include the creation of Genisa, a wine bar at the current Legends Tavern at 11 N. Main St. The second floor will be remodeled for gathering space and overflow bar seating. The third floor will house space for short-term rentals, according to the memo.

The 13 N. Main St. lot will be transformed into outdoor patio seating for the wine bar, which Hughes said will be especially important as the community emerges from the pandemic.

Council member Jim Farrell asked whether Hughes thought the wine bar could survive on the tail end of the pandemic, which has shuttered bars and restaurants nationwide.

Hughes replied that the pandemic catalyzed his idea and gave him more time than he typically would have to form a plan.

He said he hopes much of the community will be vaccinated for COVID-19 by the summer opening. More outdoor space hopefully will boost the confidence of those who still might be hesitant to eat and drink in public, he said.

Farrell also raised the issue of parking, acknowledging that many residents believe the downtown lacks adequate parking. A multistory parking garage is steps away from the property across Main Street.

Parking should not be a problem, Hughes said. He noted that he hopes to inspire the use of Uber and other ride-sharing options in Janesville.

State plans Rock County vaccination clinic

The state will offer a public coronavirus vaccination clinic in Rock County starting Feb. 16.

No details about where the clinic will be held or how often it will be open were given in a news release from the state Department of Health Services.

Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said he has heard the clinic will be at Blackhawk Technical College.

A National Guard pilot vaccination effort at Blackhawk Tech in January was one of the reasons the state chose Rock County, Smith said.

The new clinic will be offered through “a new partnership with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare,” which eventually will offer clinics elsewhere around the state, according to the release.

“After careful consideration and identifying local health needs, DHS has selected Rock County to be the site of the first clinic currently scheduled to open Feb. 16,” the release states. “Given the current shortage of vaccine supply and the large amount of vaccinating capacity, DHS plans on adding community sites as needed and as there is more vaccine available.”

The clinic will be able to vaccinate up to 250 people a day, and if Wisconsin’s vaccine allocations increase, the clinic goal is to provide up to 1,000 vaccinations per day.

The clinic is still being organized, and more details will be released Wednesday, said Jessica Turner, spokeswoman for the Rock County Public Health Department.

Turner would not say where the clinic will be because the location has not been finalized. She did not know why the state chose Rock County for its first vaccination clinic of this kind.

“I do know that they identified a need for this type of site in Rock County based on local health needs, and we are excited to be able to expand our vaccine accessibility to more of our Rock County citizens,” Turner said.

Six to 10 additional community-based vaccination sites will open across the state as needed, and as the vaccine supply allows, according to the release.

AMI will provide staffing, logistics and site management, and equipment for the first three centers, said Elizabeth Goodsitt, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health Services.

The state will pay the organization only for costs, up to $17.7 million for the first three sites. A Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will cover 100% of the costs, she said.

AMI will work with the Wisconsin National Guard, Wisconsin Emergency Management and local public health partners to support Wisconsin’s COVID-19 vaccination program and help expand vaccine coverage across the state, according to the release.

The company is described as a physician-owned and physician-led company that specializes in delivering health care solutions in some of the most remote, challenging and under-resourced environments in the world.

Gov. Tony Evers is quoted in the news release saying: “Our top priority is to get folks vaccinated and to continue to keep Wisconsinites healthy and safe, and that’s going to take a team effort not only with partners like AMI, but with every Wisconsinite practicing social distancing and wearing masks and doing their part to help prevent the spread in the meantime.”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.

Bryan Steil

Josh Smith