STATE CRIME AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: A permit has been obtained for the Solidarity Singers
MADISON - For the second time this week, an outsider obtained a permit so the almost-daily anti-Walker sing-along could take place at the State Capitol without any arrests. That didn’t sit well with some members of the Solidarity Singers – who’ve refused to get state permits required for Capitol gatherings of 20-people-or-more.
The administration said Elliot Doren of Saint Paul took out a permit for yesterday on behalf of the Solidarity Singers. Group members pride themselves on gathering without permits, saying they shouldn’t need approval from the government to protest the government. They’ve been getting citations for over three weeks, after Capitol Police began a crackdown. More than 200 citations have been issued. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says it’s trying to find out how much taxpayers are spending for the extra police work. The paper does not have an answer yet – but the administration does report spending almost 13-thousand dollars to remove chalk marks and graffiti that protestors have been leaving on the Capitol sidewalks since the pro-union protests of 2011. Officials say the cost figure may include salaries for staffers that would have been paid anyway.
Wisconsin lawmakers will hear more testimony this morning about efforts to crack down on drunk driving. The state Assembly Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on three more Republican bills authored by Mequon Assemblyman Jim Ott and River Hills Senator Alberta Darling. One bill would make first-time drunk driving a criminal misdemeanor, if a driver’s blood alcohol level is point-15 or higher. The other measures would let authorities seize the vehicles of certain OWI suspects, and would require all drunk driving suspects to appear in court at least once. Lawmakers are also considering three other bills from Ott and Darling which recently had public hearings. They would make three-and-four-time OWI a felony, and require longer prison terms for those who kill or injure motorists while driving drunk.
Private schools that get state-funded vouchers to teach low-income kids would face the same standards and ratings as public schools, under a new bill unveiled yesterday. The heads of the Senate and Assembly education committees – Republicans Luther Olsen or Berlin and Steve Kestell of Lake Geneva – worked on the package for two years along with a task force. Both the public and private voucher schools would have their teaching methods for reading-and-math under closer scrutiny. The schools would be rated on a scale of zero-to-100, with five categories similar to letter grades. Schools that perform below expectations for three straight years would face penalties which may include a major restructuring or closing. Voucher schools would get an extra three years to improve before facing a possible removal from the choice program. The state’s education agency is still reviewing the package, but its initial reaction was positive. Spokesman John Johnson said all publicly-funded schools need to be accountable, with no exceptions. Voucher school advocate Jim Bender said the standards are not specific enough – and it would let the DPI have undue influence as it continues opposing private choice schools. Governor Scott Walker’s office was non-committal, saying only that it would evaluate the bill if and when it gets to his desk.
A 56-year-old Neenah woman was in critical condition at last word, after being shot while working at a Walmart in Neenah yesterday. Police said she was shot once in the torso in the store’s liquor section. A co-worker who was on duty at the time was arrested. A 46-year-old Greenville woman was taken to the Winnebago County Jail on a possible charge attempted first-degree intentional homicide. She does not have a previous criminal record. Walmart says both women worked as cashiers in the Neenah store. Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson said his officers are still trying to determine what led to the shooting. The chief said the women apparently knew each other – but he was not sure about the extent of their relationship. No customers were in the liquor section when the incident took place. The section’s entrance was blocked while the rest of the store remained open. Police and officials at Neenah’s Theda Clark Medical Center will have more to say during a news conference scheduled for 10 this morning.
State agency officials are criticizing a proposed “Fraud Hotline” in which those who report waste in their agencies would get up to five-percent of any amount that’s saved. A Senate committee held a public hearing yesterday on the hotline, proposed by freshman Senate Republican Rick Gudex of Fond du Lac and Assembly Republican Chad Weininger of Green Bay. Some state agencies have fraud hotlines that don’t reward people for their tips. Michael Wagner of the Revenue Department says his tip line gets two-thousand calls a year. He says a financial incentive would increase the number of bogus tips, plus revenge calls from accountants who turn in former partners for tax fraud. Gudex said the incentive would encourage people to be more open about reporting fraud by somebody they might know. Sara Buschman of the Department of Children and Families wanted to know what types of mismanagement could be reported. Weininger said the bill is intentionally vague, because it’s easier for the Administration Department to sort out the various ways the measure should be applied to different agencies. Gudex said he was troubled by the criticisms from the agencies. State Senate Democrat Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse said she appreciated the testimony, saying the issue is not black-and-white. Weininger’s office says 29 other states have fraud hotlines with rewards, as well as Washington D.C. He says the federal government pays up to 25-percent of savings resulting from fraud tips.
A felony hit-and-run charge was filed yesterday against a Milwaukee man who allegedly struck-and-killed a newly-engaged woman with his vehicle and kept driving. Police are still investigating the incident, and officials say more charges are possible against 48-year-old Edwood Hastings. Police said 32-year-old Andrea Barringer and her friends had just left an east side café on Sunday night. Hastings is quoted as telling police that three people were darting between cars on Farwell Avenue – and he tried to stop but could not avoid hitting Barringer. He told officers he wanted to see his family before he turned himself in, which he did around the same time that police found the alleged hit-and-run vehicle at his home on Monday morning. Officials said Barringer was in an unmarked crosswalk when she was hit. State law gives pedestrians the right-of-way in that situation. Yesterday, Milwaukee public works crews painted a crosswalk at the crash site to make it clearer that it’s legal for pedestrians to cross there.
Vernon Hershberger – the Sauk County farmer convicted on one-of-four charges related to the sale of raw milk – has invited his jury to an ice cream social on Saturday. He tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that five jurors plan to be there. Hershberger also invited the state agriculture officials who prosecuted him, saying he wants to improve communication with them. They don’t plan to show up. Hershberger also plans to announce on Saturday that he’ll ask an appeals court to throw out his lone conviction from his recent trial, for violating a state order not to touch the raw milk that state inspectors found during a raid on his farm in 2010. It’s not surprising that the jurors will attend his ice cream social. After the verdict, some of them posed for pictures with Hershberger – some later joined his raw milk purchasing club – and four jurors asked a judge to be lenient in his sentencing. The farmer was fined 15-hundred dollars including court costs. In case you’re wondering, Hershberger’s lawyer says only his purchasing club members will get ice cream made from raw milk on Saturday. Everybody else will get the pasteurized stuff.
A Milwaukee murder suspect was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama by a sheriff’s deputy who was on a training exercise. Sheriff’s spokesman Randy Christian said the deputy was being trained to spot criminals who avoid being detected on public transportation. The deputy said 22-year-old Willie Fowler of Milwaukee seemed very nervous when the officer greeted him and the other passengers. The deputy struck up a friendly conversation, and Fowler admitted that he was being sought for a home invasion that ended in a person’s death. A Milwaukee judge issued an arrest warrant on July 30th, and Fowler was charged with felony murder. He awaits extradition to Wisconsin.
A domestic dispute may have prompted a shooting in Rhinelander in which a man was critically injured. 49-year-old Justin Alsteens is hospitalized in critical condition at last word, after being shot in the abdomen on Monday. His nephew, 23-year-old Marcus Alsteens was charged yesterday in Oneida County with three felony counts of attempted homicide, aggravated battery, and causing injury by negligent use of a weapon. He’s also facing a misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment. A judge ordered a 50-thousand-dollar cash bond. Marcus Alsteens is due back in court on Monday. He told investigators he did not remember what he and uncle were arguing about – and he claimed he didn’t know he shot the man.
A Milwaukee man is charged with retaliating against a federal witness. Prosecutors say 35-year-old Kyle Collins allegedly threatened to kill a female witness who testified in a sex-trafficking trial. According to investigators, the witness was assaulted outside a nightclub and dragged by her hair by the suspect, who allegedly said “kill the snitch”. She managed to break free and contact authorities. Collins faces a max sentence of life in prison without parole.
Wisconsin’s job creation agency will start giving grants to communities to bring new companies to old and vacant industrial sites. The state’s public-private Economic Development Corporation announced today it would offer up to a million-dollars to communities for carrying out plans to develop on large industrial sites. Those sites must have been idle, abandoned, or under-used for at least the previous five years. The announcement came during a media briefing held by the WEDC to explain numerous steps taken to address problems uncovered during a scathing Legislative Audit Bureau report earlier this year. Among other things, the agency hired a new accounting after the audit mentioned potential conflicts-of-interest with its old firm. Sikich LLP of suburban Chicago was hired to replace Schenck SC. Schenck submitted a bid to do auditing work – but the corporation’s chief financial officer said the potential conflicts were a factor in hiring Sikich.
State education officials say they’ll announce tomorrow or Friday how many students have applied for the expansion of Wisconsin’s private school choice program. The final number will determine how many private schools will be able to accept limited numbers of tax-funded vouchers for low-income kids. Almost 50 schools outside of Milwaukee and Racine expressed an interest in being a part of the choice program. But if more than 500 students apply statewide, only the 25 schools with the most applicants will be able to participate. Advocacy groups expect many more than 500 youngsters to apply. Five-hundred is the limit for this year, and a-thousand students next year. Republican lawmakers intended for public school youngsters to apply – but the way the law is written, the Department of Public Instruction says it must also consider private school youngsters who want to attend other private institutions. Tom Evenson of Governor Scott Walker’s office calls that a technical error – and a correction will be made in a bill this fall. Also, the heads of the Assembly and Senate education panels unveiled a new measure today to make more information available about the performance of the voucher schools. Private schools in the program could be removed if their voucher students don’t perform well.
A former La Crosse police lieutenant is free on a signature bond, after appearing in court this afternoon in a drug case. Brian Thomson was arrested yesterday, after the state Justice Department investigated the matter. Details were not disclosed. A criminal complaint was not filed. The La Crosse County district attorney’s office and Circuit Judge Ramona Gonzalez had both worked with officer Thomson during his 15 years on the city’s police force – so a special prosecutor and another judge will be named from outside La Crosse County to avoid conflicts. Authorities said Thomson was booked into the jail in neighboring Monroe County for possible charges of possessing a narcotic, theft, and misconduct in public office. Just before the arrest, Thomson resigned. He had served mostly as an overnight third-shift officer. Officials said Thomson was the only officer involved in what a police statement called a “breach of the public trust.”
There’s a report that State Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder will leave the Legislature in the coming weeks – and two G-O-P lawmakers are quietly campaigning to replace him. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel cites three sources who say that Suder will take a job with the State Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. A fourth source says Suder is staying where he is. He’s not commenting for now. Meanwhile, the Journal-Sentinel says Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer of Waukesha and Hudson Republican Dean Knudson are quietly seeking votes from their colleagues, should an election for the majority leader’s post come up. Also, second-term Republican Tyler August of Lake Geneva is said to be campaigning for Kramer’s speaker pro-tem post. Both Kramer and Knudson confirmed to the Journal Sentinel that they’re seeking the majority leader’s job should it be open. Kramer calls himself a “team player” whose seven years of Assembly experience would serve him well. Knudson, a former Hudson mayor, is in his third year in the Assembly. He too, says his experience would serve his fellow Republicans well. He was named to the powerful Joint Finance Committee earlier this year. Suder, of Abbotsford, is in his 15th year in the Assembly. He’s in his third year as the GOP majority leader.
A man who was recently cleared of sexual assault charges in Wausau is being deported to Honduras. 22-year-old Cesar Alvarado-Carias was released from the Marathon County Jail, and was just transferred to the Immigration-and-Customs Enforcement agency where he awaits deportation. Authorities said he has ignored a federal judge’s order from 2006 to leave the country. In ‘08, he was charged with molesting a girl in the basement of her home. She was 11 at the time. Alvarado-Carias had his charges dropped when the victim’s mother failed to meet with prosecutors. The case was re-filed in ’09 after new DNA evidence turned up. Authorities never found the defendant until May of this year, when he was arrested in Wausau. Later, prosecutors admitted they could not find the victim or determine her age. The charges were later dropped, but they can be filed again if more evidence is found.
The Racine County Board does not want history to repeat itself. After being dragged into helping pay for the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium, the board voted unanimously last night to oppose being a part of any plan to help pay for a new Milwaukee Bucks’ arena. Supervisor Dan Sharkozy said it’s outrageous to consider funding a new NBA complex, at a time when Racine County’s going through high unemployment and foreclosures. He said Racine does not want to be quote, “Milwaukee County’s piggy bank” to pay for a “playground for millionaires.” Bucks’ owner Herb Kohl has refuted that kind of criticism, saying his team only plays 41 regular season games at the Bradley Center – and the stadium’s other tenants combine for many more events there each year. That includes the Marquette University men’s basketball team, pro soccer and hockey teams, and concerts. The Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce is said to be organizing a fact-finding committee, possibly with Racine County membership. Racine County was included in the 1995 state measure which created a five-county sales tax to build the Brewers’ Miller Park. That tax continues, and the Racine County Board also said it does not want the tax extended for the new Bucks’ arena. State lawmakers would have to approve that extension.
Former Governor Jim Doyle says Wisconsin’s progressive tradition will carry on, despite the Republican takeover of state government in 2011. Doyle is a Democrat who spent eight years as governor before he voluntarily stepped down. He says he’s proud of his record. Doyle tells the Madison Capital Times that voters were looking for a change during a bad economy, but quote, “If any Republicans think 2010 is a template for elections they will continue to have, they’re going to have a very, very rude awakening.” Doyle said the GOP’s efforts to cut education and health care will be doomed – along with battles by national Republicans to slash Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. He told interviewer Joel McNally that history addresses those issues and quote, “In the long, we are not as a country ever going to go back – I would guarantee this – to a point where we don’t actively help people get health insurance.” Doyle also said he’s most upset by the GOP’s rejection of science when it doesn’t suit their beliefs. He was referring to climate change – and he said Republicans are also on the wrong side of history when it comes to stem cell research, reproductive rights, and the expansion of rights for gay people. The 67-year-old former governor was interviewed recently when his official portrait was unveiled at a Madison art museum.
Creditors in the Milwaukee Archdiocese bankruptcy case have asked a federal judge to withdraw from the case due to a possible conflict-of-interest. Judge Rudolph Randa decided last month not to require the church to use over $50-million in cemetery care funds to pay victims of clergy sex abuse. The creditors – mostly sex abuse victims – have asked Randa to reverse his ruling, and then withdraw from the case. The creditors group said it found that at least nine of Randa’s relatives are buried in cemeteries owned or operated by the Catholic Archdiocese. The creditors also want Bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley to order the release of any records which might show that Judge Randa and his wife have burial plots or crypts reserved in a church cemetery. Randa said it would hurt the free expression of religion to make the church use cemetery care funds to pay priest abuse victims. He also said it would go against a 1993 federal law that protects religious freedom. Archbishop Jerome Listecki and the cemetery fund’s attorney call the creditors’ request desperate and quote, “an attack on a federal judge.” Both sides say it might be the first time that a judge was asked to withdraw from a bankruptcy case involving the nation’s Catholic sex abuse scandal.
Authorities near La Crosse are investigating a murder-suicide in an apartment. Police in the town of Campbell said it happened yesterday morning at a building on French Island. Jack Smizek told reporters he was on his home computer when he something. His wife later found bullet holes in the wall of an apartment across from her, and she called 911. The bodies were removed from the apartment a short time later, and autopsies were scheduled. The victims’ names and other details were not immediately released.