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WISCONSIN NEWS BRIEFS: Heavy rains put 20 counties under flash flood watches

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Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

Twenty Wisconsin counties are under flash flood watches through tomorrow morning. They cover about the southwest third of Wisconsin, where another one-to-four inches of rain are possible through tonight.

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The National Weather Service says 1-to-2 inches could fall by noon in parts of west central and southwest Wisconsin – plus another couple inches this evening. The Weather Service says the ground is so saturated in southwest areas that pretty much any rainfall will run off and cause possible flash floods. River levels are also expected to rise. Flood warnings continue along parts of six rivers in southern Wisconsin. The Kickapoo River was over its banks this morning at Soldiers Grove and Stueben. The Sugar River at Brodhead and the Pecatonica River at Blanchardville were also above their flood stages. The Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien was just under its banks, but it still had a flood warning. The same was true for the Rock River in Rock County, the Pecatonica at Martintown, and the Fox River at New Munster in Kenosha County. By yesterday, flood waters had almost disappeared at Boscobel in Grant County – but millions of dollars in flood damage were left behind in that area. The statewide forecast calls for a chance of showers every day at least into the weekend.

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Crews in Vernon County will spend much of their day removing a massive boulder that fell onto Highway 56 near Genoa. The sheriff’s department said the rock was about as big as a dump truck. Deputies began directing traffic there about 6:30 this morning. No injuries were reported. It’s just the latest thing that’s blocking several highways in southwest Wisconsin following the waves of heavy rains and floods that have hit the region since last Friday. Highway 61 in Crawford County was expected to be closed for a few days, after a large mudslide up to 25-feet tall settled on the roadway near Boscobel – which has had its own problems after getting 14-inches of rain during the weekend.

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A state arbitrator has ordered La Crosse County to re-hire a sheriff’s deputy who was fired for causing a traffic death while on duty. The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission also ordered 20 months of back pay for Deputy Trisha Stratman. The firing came soon after Stratman was found innocent of negligent homicide in the 2010 death of 16-year-old Brandon Jennings. The officer was rushing to Holmen to help officers with a tavern disturbance, when she drove through a red light at 90-miles-an-hour and killed Jennings after his car entered the intersection from one of her sides. The arbitrator agreed that Stratman violated a sheriff’s policy by not slowing down at the intersection – but it wasn’t enough to fire her. The WERC ordered a 30-day suspension. The state’s professional police association represented Stratman in appealing her dismissal. The group’s director, Jim Palmer, said Stratman is eager to get back to work, but it would take a while.   

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Authorities in southwest Wisconsin continue to investigate the death of a bicyclist in a weekend event. Vernon County sheriff’s officials said today that 59-year-old Todd Peterson of Fairbault, Minnesota was found unconscious by another cyclist along a roadside near Viroqua. Both riders were in the Kickapoo Kicker cycling event on Saturday. Rescuers performed CPR, but the county coroner pronounced him dead a short time later. Sheriff John Spears said Peterson was wearing a helmet, and did not appear to suffer head trauma before collapsing. 

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Janesville U.S. House Republican Paul Ryan says the U.S. Senate has made it easier for all sides to agree on a new immigration reform law. Yesterday, the Senate voted to advance an amendment that would double the numbers of Border Patrol agents, and create hundreds-of-miles of new fencing at the U.S.-Mexican border. Ryan tells "CBS This Morning" that the House will craft its own immigration reform package – and it will not take up the Senate bill if it’s passed this week. However, Ryan said most Republicans in his chamber to support the stronger border provisions endorsed by the Senate. He says they’re generally more-in-line with the views of the majority Republicans in the House and it will help, quote, “make this final passage even more likely.”

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A Wisconsin U.S. House Democrat proposes a bill to help seniors cut the fat, and get healthier. Ron Kind of La Crosse is responding to a recent United Health Foundation report, which said that 80-percent of Wisconsin seniors have four-or-more chronic conditions that lead to growing health care costs. Kind said obesity is the main reason that the nation spends 160-billion-dollars a year managing chronic diseases. He tells the Wisconsin Radio Network his measure would give Medicare recipients and their health providers more access to good nutrition, exercise activities, plus treatments to deal with obesity. That would include new prescription drugs, and counseling services for losing weight. Kind also says there needs to be improved data-sharing. He emphasizes that he’s not advocating bans on junk food and large soft drinks. Instead, Kind says people need to be encouraged to make good personal choices. He says that’s vital, as health care costs remain the largest-and-fastest area of spending for governments, businesses, and families.

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Wisconsin House Republican Paul Ryan says the man who leaked the story about government surveillance of domestic phone calls and Internet usage must be “brought to justice.” Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee from Janesville, says Edward Snowden is proving to be an embarrassment to Washington. The former federal contractor flew to Hong Kong, which said no an extradition request to bring him back to the U.S. to face charges. Snowden then fled to Moscow and possibly Ecuador. Ryan said on MSNBC yesterday that Snowden’s leaks have raised troubling questions about the government’s wide-ranging electronic surveillance. Still, Ryan says Congress needs to know how-and-why a federal contracting agent obtained such sensitive information in the first place.

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U.S. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Madison says Wisconsin will have more of a say on controlling climate change. Baldwin was recently named to the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She served on a similar panel in the House, during the final eight years in which she represented the Madison area before being elected to the Senate last November. Baldwin says quote, “Global climate change is real. Its impact can be seen on agriculture, bio-diversity, rising sea levels, and extreme weather.” Baldwin said the question is not whether climate change is occurring but quote, “how our nation is going to respond to it.” The Senate panel oversees production, innovation, and technology issues in the Energy-and-Interior Departments – plus the stewardship of public lands managed by the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service.

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A judge is expected to set bond today for a 65-year-old Manitowoc man suspected of shooting his 62-year-old brother to death. An autopsy was scheduled yesterday for Carey Sullivan. Charges are still pending against his brother, Robert Sullivan – who was honored in 2009 as one of the Top-25 basketball players in Wisconsin high school history. The Manitowoc Herald-Times Reporter said Robert Sullivan was an all-stater for two years at Manitowoc Lincoln in the early 1960’s. He helped his team win the state title in ‘63. He then went to the University of Michigan, where he was a starter for three years. The shooting occurred Sunday morning in a home the two brothers shared in Manitowoc. Police Chief Tony Dick said a motive has not been determined, but the two had an ongoing dispute over finances and money – including the estate of their dead parents. Authorities said it was not known if drugs or alcohol played a role in the shooting.   

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Part of Wisconsin’s corn crop is really hurting due to the cool-and-wet season that got worse over the last four days, when heavy rains and floods hit. Officials said only about half of last week’s weather was suitable for long-delayed field work. Eight-percent of the state’s corn crop has still not been planted – and some of the corn that’s in the ground may not survive. Only 84-percent of the crop had emerged as of last Sunday, at a time when much of the corn is normally at least a couple feet tall. Only seven of every 10 soybean crops have emerged, and 15-percent of the beans have not yet been planted. Some farmers chose to round up as much hay as possible last week, so they can feed their cows. Sixty-one percent of the state’s first hay crop is in, up from 36-percent a week ago. Total precipitation for the year is now 11-and-three-quarter inches above normal in Madison, and 10-and-a-half inches above normal in Eau Claire.

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A Taylor County woman is due in court this afternoon for allegedly trying to kill four of her six kids. 37-year-old Heidi Mann of Rib Lake has an initial court appearance scheduled, after she was charged last week with four counts of attempted homicide. Prosecutors said Mann wanted to spare the kids from being hurt by her pending divorce, so she allegedly tried to asphyxiate them so they could join her in Heaven. Authorities said she placed the youngsters in an S-U-V with its engine running for two hours in a closed garage. The kids – ages 3, 6, 9, and 12 – all survived. Officials say they’re all okay and living with other relatives. The incident happened in March, but sheriff’s investigators said they were not made aware of it until earlier this month. 

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A judge has ordered a mental competency exam for a homeless man accused of beating another homeless man to death in Madison. 31-year-old Justin Brooks appeared in Dane County Circuit Court yesterday, after he skipped out on a court appearance scheduled last Friday. Brooks is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, after he allegedly beat 61-year-old Robert Kuntz to death with a table leg last Tuesday on Madison’s Capitol Square. Kuntz died the day after the attack. A public defender asked for the competency exam to make sure Brooks can help with his defense. He’s in jail under a 105-thousand-dollar bond. 

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Wisconsin schools would not have to wait until September to start classes, under a bill that two Republicans are proposing. Mequon Representative Jim Ott and River Hills Senator Alberta Darling are seeking co-sponsors for their measure. Many rural schools used to open in mid-August, so farm kids could finish their classes in May and help their families with spring planting and field work. That didn’t help tourist businesses, many of which lost their summer help before Labor Day. So in the late 1990’s, former Governor Tommy Thompson agreed to make schools wait to open until September, unless they held public hearings and passed resolutions to start earlier. Dozens of schools did just that – so in 2001, former Governor Scott McCallum closed the loophole, and said schools had to prove a hardship to open in August. They didn’t bother. In 2009, Senate Democrat John Lehman of Racine proposed a bill to abolish the mandatory September start date. That measure went nowhere.

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Two Fox Valley men were struck-and-killed by trains yesterday. In Appleton, police said several intersections were blocked for six hours after a 64-year-old man killed himself around 1:20 in the morning. Officials said he was lying on the tracks, and did not respond to repeated whistles. He was dragged for about 300-feet. In Oshkosh, a 52-year-old man died after being hit by a train about 1:45 yesterday afternoon. Police said they were not sure why he was on the tracks. Several intersections were closed, but have since re-opened. 

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Wisconsin is the second-worst state in the country in providing dental care to low-income kids. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that 71-and-a-half percent of Wisconsin children on Medicaid did not see a dentist in 2011. Only Florida was worse. The Pew study also said Wisconsin dentists get the nation’s fifth-lowest reimbursements to serve patients in programs like Badger-Care. Milwaukee dentist Monica Hebl, a past president of the Wisconsin Dental Association, says the state spends less than one-percent of its Medicaid budget on dental care – and the reimbursement rates have not been raised in years. Because of that, most dentists limit the number of Medicaid patients they see. Hebl says many people assume that dental health is only a cosmetic thing – and it’s not. She says poor dental care has been linked to heart problems and diabetes. Some studies show that poor dental care by pregnant women is linked to underweight babies. Claire Smith of the state Health Services Department says her agency does what it can within its budget constraints. Smith says the state provides funding to a number of facilities to serve low-income kids. The state also supports a program that provides dental screenings and sealants in poorer schools. Smith also said the new state budget would add more affordable dental care, by increasing the numbers of dentists in underserved communities.

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Wisconsin’s attorney general says a last-minute budget change will only confuse police officers as they take DNA samples from those arrested for felonies before convictions. One of the most heavily-publicized budget measures called for an extra 68-thousand D-N-A samples each year for a statewide database that helps police solve crimes. Lawmakers concerned about due process rights added new limits to the Joint Finance Committee version of the budget – and they were later approved by both houses. Police can send DNA samples to the database only when arrests are made with warrants – or if a judge rules there’s enough evidence to order a felony trial – or if a defendant misses an initial court appearance, or waives-or-misses a preliminary hearing. All samples not sent to the state within a year of an arrest would be destroyed. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the budget measure quote, “left some holes in the program,” and police will be confused about whether to send DNA samples to the state. Right now, only convicted felons and major sex offenders have their D-N-A placed in the database. Van Hollen said more crimes could be solved by adding the genetic makeup of arrested suspects to the state’s database.

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A man and his young daughter killed in an apparent murder-suicide in Milwaukee have been identified as 28-year-old Jeramie King and six-year-old Jakyla King. Police said Jeramie and the child’s mother were fighting on Sunday morning. She went to work and then reported the spat to police. Officers went to the King home and saw the father-and-daughter dead, each with single gunshot wounds. Investigators said Jeramie King shot-and-killed the young girl before turning the gun on himself. 

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A recent “Kid Counts” report from the Annie E. Casey foundation says over 237,000 Wisconsin children in 2011 were living in poverty, 60,000 more than in 2005. A spokesman for the Wisconsin Council on Children says while the report ranks the state in the top 15 for places to grow up, having that many children living in poverty should not be the new normal. The report shows Milwaukee County has the highest poverty rate at 32.5 percent, over 75,000 children. Nationally, the child poverty rate was at 23-percent in 2011, an increase of 3-million children since 2005. 

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State lawmakers are agreeing on one hot issue this legislative session – the state pastry. A bipartisan letter was sent to Governor Scott Walker, urging him not veto a state budget provision to name the Kringle as the official state pastry. While Governor Walker is mum on whether or not the popular danish pastry from Racine would survive a veto, three Republicans and three Democrats say passing the provision would boost Racine’s economy and put Southeast Wisconsin “on the culinary map”.  

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You’ll be hearing a lot more about Obamacare soon, as Wisconsin gears up for those parts not rejected by Governor Scott Walker – and that leaves quite a bit. The Wisconsin State Journal says “navigators” will soon be hired to help people get enrolled in coverage if they’re already not. A public information campaign will begin. Also, details will be released for the private insurance plans to be offered in the program’s new health exchanges. Lisa Olson of the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association says the goal is to get as many people as possible informed about their options – so they can make the right ones when the exchanges begin enrolling people on October first. Most Americans will have to be under some type of plan by January first, or else they’ll be fined. Officials say the state government’s exchange will insure about 250-thousand people, or half those who are now without insurance. The proposed state budget would move about 90,000 childless adults from Badger-Care to the state’s exchange. Those affected would be those barely over the poverty line.

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Wisconsin’s attorney general says he’d rather do without bounty hunters. J.B. Van Hollen says he opposes a state budget measure that would let private bondsmen collect bail money – and then go after criminal defendants who don’t appear in court as scheduled. The provision was added by the Joint Finance Committee. It would allow judges to use bail bondsmen in Dane, Kenosha, Racine, Waukesha, and Milwaukee counties for a five-year period. The program could then go statewide. Wisconsin banished bail bondsmen in the 1970’s. Van Hollen tells the Associated Press that no one has explained to him why it’s a good idea to bring them back. He said he’s been against bondsmen for some time. Republican Governor Scott Walker is being asked for a second time to include the provision in the budget. He vetoed it two years ago. 

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Wisconsin’s second-largest public university is putting up its first new academic building in almost 20 years. Construction is underway on the Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Center at UW-Milwaukee. It will be the largest building on the campus, with 150,000-square feet. The facility is expected to open in about a year-and-a-half. The Journal Sentinel says two similar-sized buildings could be added later, to create a research facility for what’s known as “STEM” – which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. Preliminary plans show that all three buildings would be connected, with a total price-tag of $225-million. UWM Chancellor Mike Lovell says the Kenwood facility will help his school compete for larger science grants on a national basis. Lovell said the Milwaukee has not made a significant investment in the “STEM’ fields for almost a half-century. He said the current research facilities are nearing the end of their structural lifetimes.

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For the first time in over a decade, the Wisconsin Republican Party is kicking off a statewide voter registration drive. Party officials said today that hundreds of volunteers are signing people up across the Badger State. State GOP director Joe Fadness said it’s time to get back to quote, “neighbor-to-neighbor contact.” He said it’s part of the GOP’s plan to build what he called “strong, community-centric organizations.” The head of the national party, Wisconsin’s Reince Priebus, recently said the party has been losing touch with certain segments of voters – and they need to reconnect if they’re going to win national elections in the future. The state party has opened eight field offices to get ready for next year’s gubernatorial and congressional contests, in which Governor Scott Walker will be at the top of the ticket. The GOP has not won a presidential contest since 2004, and Wisconsin has not carried a Republican for the White House since 1984.

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At least one Wisconsin county is closing its juvenile detention center, because the number of youths incarcerated has become so low. Oconto County will shut down its facility at the end of the month. Juveniles accused of committing more serious crimes will be shipped south to Green Bay, where they’ll be held in Brown County’s much larger facility. The Green Bay Press-Gazette says the move is a result of a big drop in juvenile arrests in Wisconsin, which we first learned about last week. The National Juvenile Justice Network and the Texas Public Policy Foundation said Wisconsin is one of just nine states to have dramatic decreases in juveniles who are being locked up. Just under 600 teens were incarcerated in public facilities in the Badger State in 2010 – only about half as many as 10 years before. Brian Laurent of the Brown County center says different alternatives to incarceration are being created, as we keep learning more about human behavior. Greg Benish of Brown County’s juvenile court staff tells the Press-Gazette for lower-level offenders, treatment and case management can be more effective than punishment. The national report said 150 juveniles were being held in 2010 for every 100,000 10-to-16-year-olds. That’s 28-percent below the national average.

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A former Wisconsin lawmaker will become the new chief administrative officer at the state’s Farm Bureau Federation. The group announced today that Steve Freese will replace Roger Cliff, who will retire this summer after 40 years with the Farm Bureau. Starting in August, Freese will oversee the day-to-day operations of Wisconsin’s largest general farm organization. Freese represented the Hazel Green area as a Republican in the state Assembly until he became the director of the Circus World Museum in Baraboo six years ago. Under his leadership, the museum saw its attendance rise by 37-percent. Earlier this year, Freese warded off an effort by Governor Scott Walker to have the State Historical Society take over Circus World – which remains a public-private venture.

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A 19-year-old pilot saved herself and three family members, after she crash-landed a small plane that was losing power near Beaver Dam. Remington Viney of Madison was flying from her hometown to eastern Wisconsin yesterday in a Piper Archer fixed-wing aircraft. Dodge County sheriff’s deputies said Viney tried flipping a switch that changes power from one fuel tank to another – but the switch failed to work, and the craft lost power. She landed the plane in a cornfield near Beaver Dam. Deputies said the craft escaped damage, and all four people on board were safe.   

 

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