MacIver News Service | Feb. 14, 2018
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – Forget Cupid. Do you love free markets and free people?
Well then break out the heart candies and roses because today might just be your day.
Legislative committees have scheduled public hearings on several pro-free market bills covering everything from cookies and wine to dentistry and pharmaceutical drugs.
“Economic freedom is just as important as other kinds of freedom,” said state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield).
In a session that has seen a few assaults on liberty, Kooyenga asserts that Wisconsin shouldn’t just be open for business, it should be open to free markets.
Spill the Wine
A bill Kooyenga backs would keep the wine freely flowing longer, lifting strict limits on closing times at state wineries.
Under current law, wineries with Class B licenses to sell alcoholic beverages by the glass – or the bottle – have to close up shop at 9 p.m.
Assembly Bill 433 would extend operational hours to midnight, although it would grant municipalities the authority to establish, via ordinance, more restrictive closing hours for Class B licensed wineries.
Kooyenga said, if you took a poll of brides-to-be outside of wedding shops in downtown Chicago asking whether they would consider having their wedding receptions at a bucolic Wisconsin winery, nine out 10 would say yes.
“But if you followed up by telling them that their reception would have to be done by 9 p.m., I’m guessing the number would go down substantially,” the lawmaker said.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism holds a public hearing on a bill that would begin to scale back an anti-free-market law on Wisconsin’s books in place since the Great Depression.
Senate Bill 263 would eliminate the prohibition on retailers and wholesalers selling prescription drugs and certain types of merchandise at below cost under Wisconsin’s antiquated Unfair Sales Act, or “minimum markup law.”The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy has scheduled a 'We Love the Free Market Valentine's Day' press conference at 2 p.m. today at the Capitol's Room 400 Northeast. #wiright #wipolitics Click To Tweet
Motor fuel, tobacco products, and booze – and the consumers who love them – would still be hostage to the mandatory minimum markup as high as 9.18 percent. But the bill, reform advocates say, is a step in the right direction.
Minimum markup supporters have long claimed the law protects small stores especially from price wars, but critics say the Unfair Sales Act has been incredibly unfair to consumers and deadly to competition.
Previous bills aimed at taking on minimum markup have languished in the Legislature without so much as a hearing.
The latest, limited proposal, authored by Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), was introduced in May.
Kooyenga predicts it is “very unlikely” the bill will get to the floor in this abbreviated, election-year session.
The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy has scheduled a “We Love the Free Market Valentine’s Day” press conference at 2 p.m. today at the Capitol’s Room 400 Northeast. The event is in support of reforms to the minimum markup law.
The odds are long that Rep. Mary Felzkowski’s bill establishing licensure of dental therapists will come up for a full vote in the Legislature, but the Irma Republican said a public hearing today before the Assembly Committee on Health at least begins the conversation.
Assembly Bill 945 actually continues the conservative conversation on lifting regulation and allowing the free market to dig the state – and the nation – out of the mess created by government-led health care.
And, Felzkowski said, the bill answers a human imperative, expanding access to dentistry in underserved areas of the state.
“If people in the state of Wisconsin knew how bad access to oral health care is, especially oral health care to children, they would be horrified,” the lawmaker said. “Let’s be honest, we suck. We are dead last in oral health care to children.”
The federal Health Resources and Services Administration found that dentist shortages exist in 60 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, affecting 1.5 million Wisconsinites. Only one-third of poor children covered by Medicaid saw a dentist in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Felzkowski’s bill creates a license program for dental therapists who “may engage in the limited practice of dentistry,” upon appropriate training and passage of examinations.
Minnesota has had a similar, albeit more restricted, licensure program for years. It has increased accessibility, and it has been supported by people from all political stripes.
Wisconsin’s bill is very much disliked, however, by dentists and the state’s most prestigious dental school, Felzkowski said.
The American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute projects the number of dentists will continue to grow through 2035 and outpace population growth, according to the ADA.
“Rather than add a new category of providers, the ADA believes there is a critical need to connect underserved people seeking care with dentists ready to treat them. This can be accomplished through community health worker outreach and improved funding for dental services under Medicaid which in turn would increase the number of dentists participating in the program,” the ADA claimed in a statement last year.
With that opposition in mind, it seems unlikely the bill will make it to the full Legislature this session. But Felzkowski is hopeful that now that the conversation has begun, the bill will stand a solid chance at passage in the next session.
“If you are just a common-sense person and you take out all of the rhetoric, if you increase the number of people providing care, that automatically increases accessibility,” she said.
How the Cookie Crumbles
Kriss Marion hopes to have her cookie and eat it, too. She hopes to at least not fear being arrested and fined by the state for selling the cookies or muffins or any other baked goods she makes in her home or at her Blanchardville Circle M Market Farm and bed and breakfast.
Wisconsin law did just that – threatened those who sold home-baked goods without a license with a jail sentence and hefty fines – until a Lafayette County circuit court judge last year ruled Wisconsin’s “cookie law” unconstitutional.
Today, the Assembly Committee on Small Business Development holds a hearing on a bill that would open up “limited” face-to-face sales of homemade baked and canned goods without having to obtain a license.
Current law demands food processing plant licenses from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for certain facilities where food is manufactured or prepared for sale through processes such as baking, canning, freezing, and bottling, with specified exemptions. Even if that food happens to be 100 lemon bars and three dozen blueberry muffins sold at a farmers market.
Opponents of the bill, particularly the commercial baking industry, have long said opening up retail to home bakers could raise health concerns. But the judge who declared the “cookie law” unconstitutional noted that there are no real health hazards to home-baked goods sales.
An amendment to the Assembly bill allows annual sales of up to $10,000 before a license is required. A version that moved through the Senate had set the limit at $25,000.
“It’s about time,” Marion said of the compromise legislation. She and her fellow “cookie ladies,” two other small business owners were plaintiffs in the case against the cookie law.
“It has been longer and harder than I ever imagined. I thought this was a no-brainer in a state known for food,” she said.
But previous bipartisan bills written to crumble the cookie law have died at the Assembly door.
Marion said home bakers are “euphoric” at the possibility of reform. She said it was a very good Christmas for homemade baked goods in the wake of the court decision.
“We thought all was lost, in terms of getting this bill through. It was a surprise but a good shock for everyone,” the small business owner said.
The citizen government reformer is turning her baked goods crusade into a political campaign. Marion says she will announce her run for the 17th Senate District seat, held by Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green). Marion is a Democrat who says she’s living in a bizarre time when limited-government Republicans are pushing legislation that expands government control or killing bills that would open the doors to free-market opportunity.