AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP: Gov. Walker signs multiple election changes into law Wednesday morning
A new Wisconsin law will let partisan election observers stand as close as three-feet from you, when you obtain a ballot or register-to-vote. Governor Scott Walker signed that measure and other Republican election changes into law today. Registered voters must speak their names to a poll worker in order to get a ballot. The Republican Walker said observers could stand 3-to-8 feet away, so they can certify the distribution of ballots and thus assure fair elections. Walker also agreed to require equal numbers of Republican and Democratic poll workers, where the parties appoint them. Also, voters can no longer choose "Mickey Mouse" or anybody else as write-ins -- unless those candidates are real people who registered beforehand. Walker stopped the policy of counting all write-ins, after election officials said the old process was occasionally time-consuming. Walker also signed a bill forcing poll workers to list the types of documents that people use to prove their identities when they register -- except for military and overseas voters. The governor signed the bills in his office, without fanfare.
A new state task force will try to figure out why Wisconsin has the some of the nation's largest performance gaps between white and minority school students. It's been a problem for years. In the recent National Assessment of Education Progress, the gap between black and white youngsters in the Milwaukee region was the largest in the country in every testing category. The same gap occurred between whites and Hispanics in fourth-grade math. State Superintendent Tony Evers has named Mequon-Thiensville administrator Demond Means to head the task force, and come up with possible solutions. He and 16 other educators from all types of schools will look for successful practices to reduce the performance gap. Means has been talking with Milwaukee area school groups about the issue. He says the group will try to address racial-and-ethnic performance concerns statewide, examining Hmong and Indian populations. Evers said his agency has never brought together a group of practitioners to look at the issue. The panel will hold its first meeting a week from today in Madison.
One of two long bridges between Superior and Duluth will have its westbound lanes closed next month, and loggers say it might hurt their industry. The Wisconsin D-O-T says the westbound Richard I. Bong Bridge is being reduced to one lane this week. Both westbound lanes are expected to close May 5th for safety improvements, and major construction is not due to begin there until next year. Ray Higgins of the Minnesota Timber Producers says it's bad enough that loggers were hurt by the long winter. Now, he tells the Northland T-V News Center that the bridge closing could hurt both loggers and the paper mills which buy their wood. Wisconsin D-O-T officials say the project could handle the weight of the logging trucks -- but the geometrics in approaching the bridge may not be good. Project manager Matt Dickenson said loggers could use the other Duluth-Superior bridge, the high-rise Blatnik, but the load limits are smaller. They could also use the nearby Oliver Bridge. Higgins says loggers would need more trips due to the smaller weight limits and either loggers or mills would have to pick up the extra cost. Higgins says transportation officials in both Wisconsin and Minnesota are looking to reduce the impact. He hopes a solution can come by next year's construction.
State Assembly Republican Dean Kaufert has been elected as the new mayor of Neenah -- and he's thinking about keeping his legislative seat until his term officially ends next January. Kaufert defeated Neenah's incumbent mayor, George Schreck, yesterday. The 56-year-old Kaufert says he won't run for re-election to his State Capitol post this fall -- but he might not resign before then. The Assembly's regular session is over, but two special sessions are possible -- one which might consider censuring or expelling Representative Bill Kramer, who's charged with sexual assault. Also, Governor Scott Walker says he'll call a special session if the Supreme Court strikes down the 2011 photo I-D requirement for voting. Walker said he wants something in place for this fall's elections that would pass constitutional muster. Kaufert has spent almost two dozen years in the Assembly. He's the 15th member of the lower house to announce that he'll leave the chamber by the end of the year.
Attorneys in Sioux Falls South Dakota laid out their cases this morning, in the trial of a man arrested in Madison for a murder and a plot to assassinate the president. 43-year-old James McVay will either get the death penalty or life-in-prison, for killing 75-year-old Maybelle Schein in 2011 and stealing her auto. Prosecutor Aaron McGowan told the jury in his opening statement and he wanted McVay to die by lethal injection based on two aggravating factors -- that the crimes were outrageous, and McVay wanted something of value. Public defender Amber Eggert said the defendant has a history of mental illness, and no aggravating factors were involved. After McVay stole the car, he told Madison Police and a T-V reporter he was heading to Washington to kill President Obama as he plays golf. He pleaded guilty but insane to his charges.
A Wausau area woman will spend about two months in jail and three years on probation, for throwing her newborn baby in the trash. 33-year-old Zoua Yang pleaded guilty to a felony charge of concealing a child's death. A bail jumping charge from a previous offense was dropped in a plea bargain. Yang's jail sentence was officially seven months, but she was credited for the five months she spent behind bars while her case was going through the court system. Yang admitted giving birth to a child while staying with a relative last fall. Police said the baby appeared to be still born. Investigators searched a landfill after the infant was thrown away, but no remains were found. Yang's two other children were removed from her home soon after her charges were filed. They now in Eau Claire with their father.