WISCONSIN NEWS BRIEFS: Gas prices slightly increase throughout state
Gas prices across the state saw a slight increase today, with the average at $3.48 cents a gallon.
That’s three-cents higher from last week and two-cents over the national average ($3.50). Triple-A Wisconsin says the increase is blamed on unrest in Egypt and a “hefty draw down” on crude oil supplies in the U.S. Triple-A says there is no shortage of crude oil or concerns there will be a shortage, but that the markets will have to adjust to the larger quantities of crude oil that refineries in the Midwest can now process. Crude oil also saw an increase in commodities trade today, with prices reaching $106-dollars a barrel.
An economist says Wisconsin needs to catch up to other nearby states, when it comes to attracting technology-based and startup companies. Dr. Abdur Chowdhury at Marquette University says Wisconsin is falling behind other states, like Iowa and Illinois, when it comes to attracting the leading source for job growth in the U.S. Seven investors have announced the formation of the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation to help startups across the state and provide a much needed boost to the economy. Chowdhury says public and private groups are needed to provide incentives for startups. He adds an upgrade to the infrastructure is also needed.
Sixteen community health centers across the state will share nearly $1.8 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the money will be used to educate the public about affordable insurance coverage options and sign them up for programs. An estimated 40 new workers would be hired to assist more than 26-thousand people with health insurance enrollment. The funds range from $62,000 to $240,000.
U.S. Senate Democrats failed today to drop student loan interest rates. The vote was 51-49 in favor of advancing the measure to a final debate – but Democrats could not get the 60 votes they needed to move it forward. Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) joined 50 of her fellow Democrats to advance a proposed return of the interest on new subsidized Stafford loans to three-point-four percent. It automatically increased to 6.8 percent on July first. No Republicans voted to advance the measure, including Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh). Johnson said it has become too easy for students to borrow, and he partially blames the government for rising tuition costs. Baldwin said students would be hard-pressed to afford the extra interest costs – which she says are about a-thousand-dollars for 163,000 Wisconsin students.
Remember all the talk about a bird flu pandemic a few years ago? A UW Madison scientist says it’s still not out of the question, after a new strain of bird flu virus has killed at least 37 people in China since March. The total number of people infected was almost four times as much – and UW scientist Yoshihiro Kawaoka says the H7N9 strain could spread once live poultry markets re-open in China this winter. Those markets have been shut down recently to stop the spread of the new virus. When they re-open, Kawaoka says more illnesses and more deaths are possible. New findings published by Kawaoka and the University of Tokyo show that a global outbreak is possible. Kawaoka also says there are similar viruses in China – although at this point, scientists are not sure if the bird flu virus can be able to spread beyond that country. Scientists are working on a vaccine to provide at least some protection against the H7N9 virus – although experts say it’s possible that new strains will develop. Most human cases are spread through contact with chickens. However, the World Health Organization says it’s possible the virus could be spread from person-to-person.
Sweet corn is a sweet business in Wisconsin. A new report from UW-Whitewater says the growing-and-processing of sweet corn adds $130-million each year to the state’s economy. The school’s Fiscal-and-Economic Research Center said the canning of sweet corn accounts for 320 jobs in the state – and those people get almost $22-million a year in wages-and-benefits. The Whitewater researchers said about$78-million is directly spent on processing sweet corn. The total rises to 130-million when things like plant maintenance and insurance are added in – plus how the workers spend their incomes.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided not to rule this morning on whether children under-18 can legally make their own medical decisions. The case involves a 15-year-old Jehovah’s Witness member from Dane County. She cited religious beliefs in rejecting blood transfusions that would have saved her life. A court-appointed guardian approved the transfusions last year, even though the girl and her parents had objected. The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the guardian should have been appointed – but on a 4-3 vote, the justices ruled that the case was moot. That’s because the judicial order to appoint the guardian had expired. The Supreme Court did not address the question of whether the girl should have been allowed to decide on her medical treatments. The three dissenting justices said the court should have made a ruling on that.
A Rock County judge will find out if a 75-year-old man is mentally-competent to stand trial for the murder of his neighbor. Daniel Bellard is charged with homicide in a February sixth incident in which he allegedly shot-and-killed 59-year-old Christine Gestrich at his farm west of Beloit – and then shot-and-wounded himself. Prosecutors said Bellard killed Gestrich because he feared that she would steal some of his property. Bellard made his first court appearance yesterday, after being treated at a Madison hospital for five months following his gunshot wounds. The defense first raised the mental competency concerns. Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley has called a hearing for July 24th to review the status of the case. The competency hearing is set for August 8.
A 19-year-old Madison man was scheduled to be sentenced this afternoon for causing a drunk driving crash that killed four of his friends. A Dane County jury convicted Victor Benitez in March on 13-of-17 charges against him. Authorities said he drove through two stop signs before his vehicle overturned. Benitez was the only one in the vehicle to survive the crash, and he claimed he was not driving. Officials said he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time. 18-year-old Jose Cabrera-Hernandez and 17-year-old Martin Sanchez-Gutierrez, both of Madison, were killed along with 25-year-old Alan Dickson and 17-year-old Phankham Chitanavong, both of Rockford, Illinois. Benitez was convicted on eight counts of homicide by drunk driving and using a controlled substance – four counts of causing death by driving without a license – and one charge of obstructing police. He was acquitted on four counts of not fulfilling legal obligations after a crash.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court said no today to letting a Milwaukee man change his guilty pleas to shooting two police officers in 2009. Julius Burton said his lawyer should not have allowed him to withdraw an insanity plea – and the circuit court should have explained his options. On a unanimous vote this morning, the justices agreed with an appellate court which disagreed that Burton’s lawyer was ineffective. It also said the trial court had no obligation to spell out Burton’s plea options. The 22-year-old Burton is serving 80 years in prison for wounding Milwaukee police officers Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch. The two officers were monitoring students who were leaving a high school when they saw Burton riding his bicycle illegally on a sidewalk. When they confronted Burton about it, the bicyclist shot the officers in the face at close range. Burton fled to a nearby house, where officers later found him and arrested him. The two wounded officers returned to work about a year later.
UW-Oshkosh has started to build its third digester that turns waste into electricity. The university recently began construction of a seven-million-dollar digester and public education center at the nearby Rosendale Dairy, the state’s largest dairy farm. Officials say the facility will turn livestock waste into methane that can be burned to produce enough electricity to power 1,200 homes. Also, local farmers can use residue from the digester for a type of fertilizer that’s now available only on a distant basis from places like Canada and Florida. The new center will also be used for related classes and research. The electric sales from the digester will provide carbon credits for the university, and will help UW-Oshkosh reach its goals for producing green energy. Officials of the dairy and the Oshkosh Foundation say the project is good for everyone involved – including the dairy’s neighbors who’ve wanted fewer odors from the farm. The other U-W Oshkosh digesters are at a farm near Larsen, and across the Fox River from the campus.
A bank in Baraboo has been robbed for the second time in just over a month. Police are looking for suspects in both hold-ups at the Wells Fargo Bank in the Sauk County seat. A man entered the bank around 10:30 yesterday morning, showed a gun, and got away with an undisclosed amount of money. Three nearby schools, including Baraboo High, were locked down for a short time. The same bank was robbed on June 6