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Northwoods Political Digest

February 14, 2020

Baldwin wants answers from Amazon

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) are demanding answers from Amazon as work-related injuries at the company’s facilities continued to rise over the holidays, and as recent reports indicate poor and unsafe working conditions. 

In a letter sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the senators urged the company to put worker safety ahead of profits, and to do more to prevent and protect workers from work-related injuries.

The senators’ letter follows reports that indicate work-related injuries at Amazon are higher than the injury rate for private sector employees and the warehouse industry as a whole. In a recent Atlantic report, the lawmakers said, workers detailed Amazon’s strict quota requirements that force employees to fulfill orders so quickly they are either unable to complete tasks safely or must perform so many tasks that they pay the physical consequences for doing so. 

Workers also reported going to great lengths to meet these quotas, at the risk of losing their jobs, they said.

“Amazon’s dismal safety record indicates a greater concern for profits than for your own workers’ safety and health,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to overhaul this profit-at-all costs culture at your company and take the immediate steps identified in this letter to ensure Amazon’s managers treat your workers fairly and do not require them to risk their own health and safety in the course of doing their jobs.”

In addition to urging the company to overhaul its profit-at-all-cost culture, the senators pushed the company to take a number of immediate steps to ensure worker safety, including reducing workers’ quotas and speed requirements, scheduling frequent rest breaks during high production shifts, and eliminating the policy of terminating workers who do not meet their quotas three times. 

The senators also urged Amazon to implement a strong and enforceable company policy that prohibits supervisors and managers from discriminating or retaliating when workers report injuries or safety concerns.

Lawmakers introduce livestock facility siting legislation 

State Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), Rep. Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City), and Rep. Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel) have circulated legislation to improve livestock facility siting rules and statutes. 

They say the bill was crafted by a collaborative effort between agriculture groups and local government associations.

“The rule revision process at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) last fall showed us that there were a couple of changes we needed to make to the rules process and statutes for livestock siting before the Legislature adjourned,” Marklein said. “This legislation is a good step forward that will support agriculture while maintaining local government control and public involvement in the livestock siting process. This bill is a win-win.”

Tranel said agriculture needs a predictable process to plan for expansions and growth of livestock facilities. 

“But we also know that local governments need more support to participate in this process and the public must have a voice,” he said. “This bill makes good changes to ensure that every stakeholder has a role in the rules and siting process, while providing a much clearer framework for making these important decisions.”

Tauchen said drafting the bill was a true collaboration among agriculture groups, the Wisconsin Towns Association and the Wisconsin Counties Association. 

“It maintains current siting standards while setting a strong foundation for rule revisions with stakeholder input in the future,” he said. “It also resolves the outstanding issues discovered during rule revision. It’s good policy.”

The Livestock Facility Siting bill maintains current standards in ATCP 51. It maintains the rule-making process for changes to ATCP 51, but makes several improvements in the rule-making process for all stakeholders. 

The lawmakers say the bill creates certainty and predictability for livestock siting timelines and fees and provides relief for local governments in the application evaluation process, while maintaining local control.

The livestock facility siting process is streamlined and the evaluation of siting applications is standardized through centralized, professional evaluation at DATCP by experts, the lawmakers said. Opportunities for public input are promoted as part of the livestock siting application process.

This bill was crafted with input from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Pork Producers, Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association, Wisconsin Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants, Wisconsin Towns Association and Wisconsin Counties Association.

WSTA applauds Assembly passage of rural broadband legislation

Wisconsin’s premier telecommunications industry association is praising the Assembly floor vote this week in support of legislation to incentivize rural broadband deployment through targeted tax exemptions for investments in rural or underserved communities.

“WSTA is extremely pleased to see a strong bipartisan Assembly vote in support of AB 344,” said Bill Esbeck, executive director of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association (WSTA). “This legislation helps our members stretch their working capital in rural areas. Simply put, the bill will help connect more broadband customers in rural and underserved Wisconsin.”

Rep. Romaine Quinn (R-Cameron) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) authored the bill. The legislation creates property tax exemptions for telephone company property used to provide broadband service to a rural or underserved area. 

Unlike most Wisconsin property taxes, which are paid to local governments, the telephone company property tax is paid to the state. Because the telephone company property tax is collected by the state, there is no fiscal impact on local governments.

“WSTA thanks speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), Rep. Quinn and their Assembly colleagues on both sides of the aisle for the commitment to broadband expansion in rural and underserved communities,” Esbeck said. “We sincerely appreciate the clear bipartisan support as we collaborate on policies which promote broadband deployment where the need is greatest.”

The targeted exemption for new investments and existing investments is also a step toward a level playing field between cable companies and telephone companies, WSTA says. Cable companies in Wisconsin already enjoy a property tax exemption on the infrastructure they use to offer their voice, video and broadband triple play. 

A traditional telephone company offering the same voice, video and broadband triple play is currently paying the telephone company property tax on their infrastructure. This legislation helps level the competitive playing field, the association says.

The policy in AB 344 will complement existing state and federal programs focused on broadband deployment. Earlier this year, the Legislature approved, and Gov. Evers signed an historic increase in funding for the Broadband Expansion Grant Program.

State Assembly passes bipartisan bill to protect consumers from caller ID scammers

State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin), Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee), and Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) have authored legislation that would give consumers additional recourse when receiving unwanted telemarketing calls.

Assembly Bill 147 incorporates federal law into state statue by prohibiting the intentional falsification of information that is transmitted to a caller ID display if it is done with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value. 

That portion of the legislation will help to address scam phone calls that use spoofing to disguise their numbers to look like they are coming from a local number.

“Most people have received unwanted phone calls from numbers that they think may be a friend or family member,” Sanfelippo said. “As a matter of fact, the Wisconsin Department of Consumer Protection indicated that the number one consumer complaint is from people receiving unwanted telemarketing calls. Our bill will help ensure the Department of Consumer Protection has the ability to investigate and take action against criminals trying to scam citizens throughout Wisconsin.”

The bill also states a telecommunications provider may block calls so they do not reach the called party if the origination number is not valid, is not allocated to a provider, or is confirmed by the provider to be unused; or if the person who owns the phone number has asked that outgoing calls claiming to be from that number be blocked.

Assembly Bill 147 includes a provision that prohibits telephone solicitors from spoofing for any purpose.

“This legislation is an important step in the fight against these intrusive robocalls,” Fields said. “It has become so much of a problem that the sheer volume of these calls is staggering. According to YouMail Robocall Index, nearly 48 billion robocalls were made to Americans in 2018. These calls are not just a nuisance, they can also cause a state of distress to those on the receiving end.”

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