(Update) STATE CRIME AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: 65 will remain the speed limit on four-lane highways
MADISON -- Wisconsin will not raise its top speed limit anytime soon. Senate Republicans put the brakes yesterday on an Assembly proposal to raise the limit from 65-miles-an-hour to 70 on the state’s major four-lane highways.
State Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau said it’s not likely to be part of the agenda for the fall session in his chamber. Senate Joint Finance Committee chair Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said she has no idea why the speed limit issue is coming up now – and she’s more concerned about the economy and improving schools. The bill’s chief Assembly sponsor, freshman Republican Paul Tittl of Manitowoc, said the bill could help the economy, and let workers with long commutes spend more time with their families. Tittl dismissed safety concerns, saying that hardly anybody drives 65 on the expressways. Most other states have top speed limits of 70-or-75. Former Senate Republican Tom Reynolds of West Allis pushed a bill eight years ago to raise the four-lane speed limit to 75, but his measure went nowhere.
Wisconsin school boards are concerned that a bill to prevent companies from snooping in their employees’ social media accounts might hurt efforts to prevent cyber-bullying by students. One of the bill’s main authors does not agree that’s the case. Madison Assembly Democrat Melissa Sargent says she’ll work with Dan Rossmiller of the state School Boards’ Association, to make sure that schools can still conduct online inquiries into things like bullying and sex-related text messages to students. Rossmiller expressed the only concerns about the anti-snooping bill at a public hearing yesterday before the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee. Sargent and Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend are the main authors of a bill to prevent employers and college administrators from asking for social media passwords, so they can see private communications. Sargent says employers want to see private communications meant for their workers friends-and-families – and workers have felt pressure to do it, because of how hard it is to get-and-keep jobs these days. Businesses say they need to protect themselves from employees who improperly send out things like trade secrets. Earlier, the state’s largest business group said the bill balances personal privacy with the need to monitor work-related Internet activity.
A drug dealer was sentenced to 12 years in prison yesterday, for selling to federal agents in a botched sting operation in Milwaukee. 33-year-old Bobby Ball was only caught selling five grams of heroin and two grams of pot – but officials said he had a violent criminal record which justified the prison term. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said Ball’s case exposed a major failure in the planning of “Operation Fearless,” a gun-and-drug buying operation set up last year by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The paper conducted a detailed review of the operation. It found that Ball was allowed to leave a fake ATF storefront after he threatened to shoot somebody. Agents apparently wanted to buy Ball’s .38-caliber revolver – but he refused to sell, saying he needed it because his cousin had been shot. The paper said the ATF assumed it could buy all the weapons it wanted – and it did not have a plan on what to do when prospective sellers said no.
The operator of a group home in Burlington will spend three years in prison for stealing over 24-thousand dollars from three mentally disabled residents. 58-year-old Becky Ann Borucki was also told to spend three years under extended supervision when she leaves prison – plus three years’ probation. A hearing will be held November 21st to determine how much Borucki will have to pay back. One of the men’s legal guardians contacted police after noticing that almost nine-thousand dollars disappeared from the man’s bank account from August of 2011 to January of last year. She reportedly used the money to buy items that included electronics, clothes, and rugs. Her attorney said Borucki had mental illnesses at the time. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, bi-polar disorder, and possible schizophrenia. Borucki apologized during her sentencing. She said the thefts were completely out of character, after a 30-year career of caring for people with special needs. She pleaded no contest in March to two theft charges and a count of identity theft.
A former school custodian in far northern Wisconsin was jailed under a $10,000 cash bond, as he awaits charges of viewing child pornography on school computers. 61-year-old Richard Buell of Phelps appeared yesterday in Vilas County Circuit Court. Authorities have recommended 78 counts of possessing child porn. Buell is tentatively due back in court on Friday for an initial appearance on the charges. Sheriff’s investigators are working with the State Crime Lab to analyze the images, which were downloaded on the Phelps School District computer network. Officials said students and teachers were not exposed to any harmful materials. Buell worked in the Phelps district until February, when another staffer reported that somebody gained access to child porn on school computers.
State legislative leaders say Milwaukee’s mayor took a step in the right direction by proposing 100 new police officers next year, to help curb a rash of violent crime. But Alderman Bob Donovan says the new hirings would be largely off-set by a large number of officers retiring over the next two years. State Senate Joint Finance Chair Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said what’s really needed is a more distinct crime-fighting plan by Mayor Tom Barrett and Police Chief Ed Flynn. Yesterday, Donovan took several top state lawmakers on a tour of a south side Milwaukee neighborhood. Barrett paid a surprise visit, and said he would give lawmakers access to any information they wanted about the city. Mayoral chief-of-staff Pat Curley said the mayor wanted to quote, “elevate the conversation,” and he had brief but constructive talk with the state leaders before the tour began. State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) praised Barrett for his proposal to add officers. He added that city funds should cover the increase – and no state dollars would be available. Recently, Barrett allocated a half-million city dollars for more police overtime, and he urged the state to kick in a half-million. Governor Scott Walker said no, saying it would cause other mayors around Wisconsin to line up for more money.
A man accused of robbing-and-killing a Wausau man 14 months ago is now trying to get a judge to throw out key evidence against him. The attorney for 19-year-old Zachary Froehlich told Marathon County Circuit Judge Jill Falstad that statements he made to police should not be used against him. Attorney Brian Bennett said yesterday that Froehlich asked for a lawyer at one point during his questioning – and police kept interviewing him anyway. Among other things, Bennett said the judge should throw out a statement that Froehlich swung a baseball bat that killed 49-year-old Kerby Kniess, a popular Wausau bowling figure. A ruling on the evidence request could come December fifth. Froehlich is tentatively set for a trial next May fifth on 13 criminal charges including reckless homicide, armed robbery, and strangulation-and-suffocation. Wausau Police said Froehlich and 21-year-old Warren Krohn were trying to get liquor and cigarettes in a burglary attempt, when they attacked Kniess in a detached garage where the victim was living. Krohn is charged with reckless homicide and four other counts. He’s scheduled to go on trial next April first.
A Fox Valley woman has been sentenced for a bike crash that killed a man. PaKou Xiong (zhong) will serve a year in jail and serve five years of probation, he was sentenced in Outagamie County court today. Authorities say Xiong was texting while driving when he struck the victim, Jim Weiss, in July last year. A judge also sentenced Xiong to 100 hours of community service while wearing a pin, remembering the victim.
Wisconsin’s Medicaid director says state officials are being aggressive in spreading the word about the new Obama-care insurance exchanges to those who need them. About 60 people attended a meeting in Middleton today, where Brett Davis said he was confident that those who need to learn their options would do so on time. With enrollments begin October first, Davis said the deadline is tight for getting about 600-thousand eligible Wisconsinites signed up – but Davis believes many private health groups will help get the job done. At today’s meeting, representatives of hospitals, clinics, insurers, veterans’ groups, and others expressed concerns about the enormity of getting around 600-thousand people to make informed choices for their health coverage, which begins in the exchanges on January first. Davis expects about a-thousand people to attend meetings over the next two weeks, where people will be trained to help thousands sign up. Wisconsin is among 34 states which decided not to set up their own state government exchange, leaving it to the federal government instead. As a result, the state and health groups only got around four-million dollars to train people for helping spread the word. Officials have a goal of September 16th to finalize the details for the exchanges. A week later, about 92,000 Badger-Care recipients say they’ll be dropped due to state budget cuts – and they’ll have to join the state’s other uninsured residents in signing up for the exchanges.
A body was pulled out of a river in downtown Milwaukee yesterday. Officials were not immediately sure if the victim was that of a man missing when he reportedly jumped into the Milwaukee River with a woman late last night. The woman was rescued. Police said she appeared to be intoxicated, and officers are trying to find out if anyone else was with the woman. The incident remains under investigation.
A long-time prosecutor who’s been representing State Capitol protestors is taking a new job in the Legislature. Bob Jambois was named today as the new chief-of-staff for Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca. Both men are from Kenosha. Jambois served for almost two decades as the Kenosha County district attorney, before he became the general counsel in Jim Doyle’s department of transportation. For the last few months, Jambois has been representing Capitol protestors for free, helping those who’ve been arrested for violating the Walker administration’s policy on getting state permits for Capitol gatherings. Jambois says he will not take new cases – and he’ll work nights and vacation days to finish his pending court proceedings.
A 23-year-old man was unarmed when he was killed for trying to rob a popular polka bar in Milwaukee. Prosecutors said two other would-be robbers who survived last week’s incident at the Concertina Beer Hall had nothing more than BB guns. The information was included in a criminal complaint charging 21-year-old Jose Munoz of Milwaukee with attempted robbery. The incident occurred just after midnight last Friday. Bar owner Andy Kochanski shot-and-killed 23-year-old Carmelo Matos-Arzola and wounded Munoz. Munoz was arrested yesterday at a hospital in Chicago, where he was hospitalized with a pair of gunshot wounds. The third alleged robber has not been arrested.