Afternoon State News Briefs: Heavy storms go through southwest Wisconsin again
LANCASTER - Heavy thunderstorms returned to southwest Wisconsin this afternoon.
Winds hit 70-miles-an-hour near Lancaster in Grant County around 2:45 p.m. Small hail fell in parts of the Madison area. Parts of Grant County and Clark County in west central Wisconsin were under tornado warnings at mid-afternoon. Severe thunderstorm warnings were posted in parts of southwest and east central Wisconsin. As of mid-afternoon, authorities reported no major structural damage and no injuries. The storms come a day after apparent tornadoes hit a campground at Bagley in Grant County and parts of the Richland Center area. The National Weather Service had investigators in both places today, to see if the storms were actually tornadoes.
The Grant County Sheriff's office is giving several Good Samaritans credit for saving a motorist by holding up his wrecked pickup truck until he could be rescued. The driver was trapped last week when his pickup went off Highway 81 north of Platteville and landed in a river. The civilians were helped by the first deputy who responded and a campus police officer from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. They all stopped to help, supporting the truck so it wouldn't roll over. The 58 year old driver from Platteville is now accused of drunken driving and other traffic violations.
The Kohler Company plans to start building an expansion this summer to a plant that makes emergency generators. An 80,000-square foot addition is being added in the Sheboygan County town of Mosel. It's part of a plan to add 300 jobs at Kohler facilities in Mosel, Saukville, and Kohler over the next three years. Officials say the expansion is being driven by a higher demand for its standby electric generators. Spokeswoman Heidi Farmer says much of the demand is from home and industrial customers in North America. That's where 50-million homes and businesses have been hit with major power outages over the past couple years.
The Minnesota firm that won a contract to create a statewide school student database cried foul today, after losing at least part of the deal in a legislative action. Charlie Kratsch of Infinite Campus accused its competitor, Skyward of Stevens Point, of falsely threatening to leave Wisconsin if it didn't win the statewide contract. Kratsch said Skyward used its employees as quote, "hostages or pawns" in its dealings with the state. Skyward vice president Ray Ackerland fought back, saying it would outrageous for Infinite Campus to question Skyward's ethics. Both Skyward and Infinite Campus now provide student databases for local districts in Wisconsin - but lawmakers decided last year to give the statewide database to only one company. The Minnesota firm won the award, but Skyward appealed, saying there were factors the state didn't recognize. Yesterday, the Legislature's Finance Committee withdrew funding for the Infinite Campus contract - and it opened the door for both firms to share the business.
More evidence could be used in court against alleged domestic abusers, under a bill endorsed today by the state Assembly's Criminal Justice Committee. De Pere Republican Andre Jacque proposed the measure. It would let prosecutors tell juries about relevant misconduct against an alleged abuser over a 10-year period. That includes violations of restraining orders. Judges don't always allow that kind of evidence in abuse cases right now. Milwaukee Democrat Fred Kessler, a former judge, said the bill would let allegations be used against defendants from cases where charges were never filed. Jacque promised that judges would only allow relevant evidence. Kessler was the only no vote, as the panel sent the measure to the full Assembly 7-1.
Republicans won a long-awaited court victory this morning, when a state appeals court said Wisconsin's photo ID law for voting is constitutional. The Fourth District Appellate Court overturned Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess, who threw out the ID mandate in a lawsuit filed by the state's League of Women Voters. Niess said the law discourages those who don't have the resources to get photo ID's from exercising their constitutional right to vote. But this morning, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Madison said the league failed to prove that the law is unconstitutional on its face - and it failed to prove that it amounted to an extra requirement for voting. However, the ID law is not back in place. That's because another appellate court is still considering the state's appeal of another court decision against the photo ID requirement, this one in a suit filed by Hispanic and African-American groups in Milwaukee. Two federal challenges against the Wisconsin ID law are also pending. The law was passed in 2011, but it was only used once before the circuit courts threw it out. That angered majority Republicans, who are working to pass a bill to have state laws remain in place while they're being appealed. The non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau warns, though, that such a move might be found unconstitutional. An attorney for Wisconsin's League of Women Voters says they'll decide in the next two weeks whether to appeal a court ruling. Lester Pines, the attorney for League of Women Voters, said voter ID is unlikely to be the law in Wisconsin because of other lawsuits - including a state suit that's under appeal, plus two federal suits which are pending. State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the other challenges address different issues, and he looks forward to rulings which go the state's way.
Wisconsin's public school superintendent says a proposed compromise to expand private school choice statewide is quote, "alarming." Tony Evers says there would not be enough accountability for the voucher schools in the program - and there are no guarantees that the student enrollment and income limits in the compromise would stay in place. A conservative group said this morning there was a deal among the governor and majority GOP lawmakers on private school vouchers. Legislative leaders later denied, but a couple said they were close. Media reports said the deal would give public schools additional state aid of $150 per student for each of the next two years. And the vouchers to help low-income kids choose private schools would be expanded statewide with much smaller enrollment limits and less aid per student than what Governor Scott Walker proposed in his budget. Enrollment would be limited to a-thousand students, or no more than one-percent from any school district. Walker's plan would have allowed more students at up to nine districts with under-performing public schools. Milwaukee state Assembly Democrat Jon Richards said the compromise appears to be worse than Walker's original plan.
Wisconsin police officers would have to say more about the way they respond to domestic violence complaints, under a bill endorsed this morning. The Assembly's Public Safety and Homeland Security panel voted unanimously to require further documentation of police responses to family abuse calls - and if they don't make any arrests, they'd have to explain why to their local district attorneys. De Pere Republican Andre Jacque proposed the measure, to avoid a repeat of what happened in Brown Deer. Police there never arrested Radcliffe Haughton in almost two dozen domestic complaints, before he killed his estranged wife, two other women, and himself in a Brookfield spa last October.
New allegations are being made against a Milwaukee Messmer High School teacher suspected of molesting a student. The female teacher was arrested last week outside of a school event, where a witness told officers that the 28-year-old teacher was having sex with a 14-year-old boy. Now, media reports indicate that the 14-year-old has told police about a second student who might have been sexually assaulted by the instructor - who had cut herself in what police called a suicide attempt just before they arrived. Prosecutors are reviewing the second allegation.
When he is sentenced next August, a Marshfield man could be given life in prison. Gabriel Campos switched his plea again, admitting he killed his ex-girlfriend in 2012. He admitted killing Maisie McCullough who had been stabbed and had her throat slit. Campos pleaded guilty originally, then changed his plea to not guilty to reason of mental disease or defect. Later, investigators found out Campos had tried to pay a fellow inmate 46 hundred dollars, a rifle and a car to kill the man McCullough was dating after she had broken up with him. Campos changed his plea back to guilty yesterday. He is still being held in jail on five million dollars bond.
Wisconsin's tavern industry has taken quite a hit in recent years with anti-smoking and drunk driving crackdowns - but the Badger State still has the nation's third-largest number of bars per resident. The Fargo Forum newspaper reviewed Census data from 2011, and found that Wisconsin has 1,877 residents for each tavern. North Dakota has the most, with one bar per 1,620 persons. Montana is second with 1,658 people for every drinking hole. Neighboring Iowa is not far behind Wisconsin, with the sixth-highest bars per resident. Illinois ranks 13th, Minnesota 17th, and Michigan 23rd. Virginia is the driest state, with one tavern for every 64,000 residents.