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WISCONSIN NEWS BRIEFS: Protests and arrests at State Capitol take violent turn

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MADISON - A 22-year-old man is facing the first possible felony charge stemming from a series of arrests over the refusal by anti-Walker singers to get State Capitol gathering permits.

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Video taken by a protestor shows that 25-year-old Christopher Terrell had sat down, and was being handcuffed by Capitol Police when his brother Damon was pinned by officers in a brief scuffle. The video showed Damon backed away from an officer before the scuffle – but it’s not clear what caused it in the first place. Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said both men refused to leave, and actively resisted arrest. Damon Terrell was arrested on possible charges of felony battery to a police officer and misdemeanor resisting arrest. His brother Christopher faces a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest. The Solidarity Singers have sung anti-Walker songs almost daily since the massive Capitol protests of 2011. Police never enforced permit requirements for the group until mid-July, after Federal Judge William Conley upheld most of the administration’s requirement to get permits for events in the statehouse. There have been close to 300 arrests since then. 

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Petitions with over 1,200 signatures were presented yesterday, urging Wisconsin’s largest business group not to try-and-repeal the state’s Family Medical Leave Act. The law gives employees the right to be away from their jobs for up to six straight weeks to tend to various family matters like child-birth or a sick spouse. Former Governor Tommy Thompson signed the act 25 years ago on Women’s Equality Day. During yesterday’s Equality Day, hundreds of women rallied at the State Capitol to preserve the state family leave act – which is more generous than a similar national law. Jim Pugh of the Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce received the petitions, and said his group would not push to repeal the state law. He said his group would keep monitoring the policy and do what’s best for the group and its business members. The Capitol rally also criticized Governor Scott Walker and legislative Republicans for passing numerous bills that restrict women’s access to equal pay protections, sick leave, abortion, birth control, health coverage, and sex education. Former State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager said the state was quote, “taking two steps forward and one step back.”

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Before he hit the national political trail yesterday, Governor Scott Walker went to Merrill to help Northern Wire celebrate its 40th anniversary. The plant had major damage in a tornado two years ago. Walker said the company has demonstrated resilience by overcoming its setback, rebuilding, and expanding. Northern Wire was recently acquired by the Elgin Fastener Corporation. CEO Jeff Liter says the firm continues to expand in Merrill, working on new engineered parts that require expertise – and bringing higher-paying jobs to the Merrill area. The Republican Walker was then off to Greenville, South Carolina, where he helped that state’s governor – Nikki Haley – announce her campaign for a second term. Also, the Washington news Web site “Politico” said Walker will be among a small group of GOP leaders to headline a fund-raiser in New York City on September 23rd for the Republican National Committee. Politico says the event will feature quote, “stars and potential 2016 nominees” of which Walker is one. They’ll be at the home of New York Jets’ owner Woody Johnson. 

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For the second time in four years, Wisconsin lawmakers are being asked to make English the state’s official language. State Assembly Republican Andre Jacque of De Pere has proposed a bill requiring state-and-local governments to write all of their documents in English. Exceptions would be allowed to protect an individual’s rights in criminal cases – or when teaching foreign languages. Former state Assembly Democrat Marlin Schneider of Wisconsin Rapids introduced the same measure in 2009. His party controlled all of state government at the time, and the bill never got a public hearing. Since then, the federal government ordered Milwaukee to print its election ballots in Spanish in 2011 under the Voting Rights Act. That’s because Hispanics made up 17-percent of Milwaukee’s population at the time. Jacque says his bill would help unify Wisconsin, and two dozen other states already make English their official language. He also said there’s a widespread agreement that English is critical to integrating with American society, and for future success. Milwaukee Assembly Democrat JoCasta Zamarippa said the bill would hurt Republican efforts to grow a Latino constituency, after the party lost its bids for the White House and control of the U.S. Senate in 2012. A spokesman for Governor Scott Walker, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, only says he would consider Jacque’s bill if gets to his desk. 

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A proposed bill would change the way at least some Wisconsin police departments investigate shootings that involve their own officers. Assembly Republican Garey Bies of Sister Bay, a former Door County sheriff, said he’s close to introducing the measure. It would require police forces to bring in at least two people from outside agencies to help determine if an officer broke the law. Bies says there have been public concerns over a number of recent officer-involved shootings in Madison, Milwaukee, and Kenosha. He says the public does not always have confidence when a police agency investigates its own – like many larger police forces do. Also, state Assembly Democrat Chris Taylor of Madison says many police departments conduct internal investigation to see if their officers violate their policies. Taylor says she’s working on a separate bill to require more independence in those cases as well. 

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A Madison group that challenges the presence of religion on government property is planning to build a much larger facility for its headquarters. The Freedom from Religion Foundation was planning to break ground today for an expansion that will make its offices four times larger than they are now. Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor says the current facility is cramped – and it can no longer house a growing operation. The group says it now has about 20-thousand paid members from around the country, a 130-percent increase over the last six years. An apartment building is being torn down behind the group’s headquarters to create room for a four-story addition. The group’s existing structure, built in 1855, will be remodeled – and a third story will be added. Gaylor said a $1.1 million dollar fund raising campaign is paying for much of the project, which is expected to be completed in about a year. 

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It’s been a year-and-a-half since the nation’s largest banks promised to end abuses which led to home foreclosures – and hundreds of Wisconsinites are still filing complaints. The state Justice Department says it’s giving special attention to about 400 cases, many dealing with the same problems seen nationally. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reviewed almost half the Wisconsin cases. Just over a-third involve communication problems when financially-distressed homeowners ask lenders to modify terms of their mortgages. Another third involve paperwork that was mishandled. Other complaints are about the improper denials of mortgage modifications. Back in February of 2012, five large U.S. banks agreed to pay $25-billion to settle lawsuits in Wisconsin and other states alleging various foreclosure abuses. Joseph Smith, the official monitor of the settlement, says some homeowners continue to have problems but most get worked out eventually. Nationally, Smith said about 650,000 people have been helped by the settlement. 

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U.S. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville will help a conservative think tank in Minnesota raise money. Ryan – the Republican vice-presidential nominee from a year ago – will appear September 26th at an event put on by the Center of the American Experiment in the Twin Cities. He’s scheduled to appear at a private roundtable that costs five-thousand dollars to attend. Ryan will also speak at a 100-dollar-a-person lunch the same day. The fundraiser will take place at the Minneapolis Hilton.  

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The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says it will place a hold on all major highway construction projects during the three-day Labor Day weekend. With heavy traffic expected for the holiday, WisDOT asks everyone to slow down at work zones and to not tailgate other vehicles. WisDOT adds they are particularly asking for motorists to be aware of motorcyclists. Thousands of cyclists are expected to attend Harley-Davidson’s anniversary celebration this Labor Day weekend. Wisconsin highways will have their busiest Labor Day Weekend since the start of the Great Recession. So says the Triple-“A.” It estimates that 713,000 Wisconsin residents will travel at least 50 miles one way during the summer’s final holiday. That’s a three-point-four percent increase from last year. Once they’re away, folks will be spending more. The Triple-“A” says average airfares are nine-dollars higher than a year ago. Car rental rates are up 32-percent from last Labor Day. Hotel rates are up an average of seven-dollars. The one thing that’s cheaper is gas. A year ago, regular unleaded averaged $3.86-a-gallon in Wisconsin. Today, the state’s Triple-“A” says it’s 33-cents cheaper, at just over $3.53. 

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Wisconsin’s sesquicentennial was celebrated 15 years ago – and the state is finally getting the popular license plates for that occasion off the road. Mitchell Warren, who heads the Bureau of Vehicle Services, says many of the 150th anniversary plates are so faded, the license numbers can no longer be read. The same is also true for the first of Wisconsin’s standard plates which originally had red numbers and letters. A national motor vehicle group recommends plates with white backgrounds and black letters, saying it provides the best contrast. Wisconsin officials say the red numbers and sesqui-centennial plates will be replaced over the next 14 months. They say motorists will not need to do anything until they get a renewal notice from the DOT

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A late-summer heat wave continues today in most of Wisconsin. The National Weather Service has posted excessive heat warnings until midnight in counties along the Mississippi River between La Crosse and Prescott. Much of western and southern Wisconsin has heat advisories, including Milwaukee and Madison. Yesterday’s highs ranged from the mid-80’s in the north to the upper-90’s in west central areas. The heat index reached 109 yesterday near Mauston, Galesville, and east of Dubuque in Grant County. Heavy storms hit the far north for the second night in a row. A funnel cloud was spotted near Sheldon in Rusk County just after 11 p-m. Trees and power lines fell in Sawyer and Bayfield counties. Another one-point-two inches of rain fell north of Bayfield, where almost four-inches came down Sunday night and early yesterday. Torrential rains hit the same region early this morning, with forecasts of up to four-inches between four-and-six-a-m. Parts of Price, Sawyer, Ashland, and Iron counties are under flood advisories until 7:30. The Weather Service says a high-pressure system will move in tomorrow, with less humid weather and highs still approaching 90. The heat continues for the rest of the week, with more storms expected Thursday through Saturday. 

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The weather is both good and bad for Wisconsin farmers. Officials said the crops were helped by warmer temperatures that rose above normal for the first time in over a month. But the rain was spotty last week – and the massive downpours over the last few days generally come too fast to soak in. Only 28-percent of Wisconsin farm fields had adequate top-soil moisture by the end of Sunday, and 35-percent had adequate sub-soil moisture. The state’s corn crop continues to develop more slowly than normal. Eighty-two percent of the corn is rated fair-to-excellent, two-percent less than a week ago. Eighty-five percent of Wisconsin soybeans are fair-to-excellent, down one point from the previous week. Almost 80-percent of the oats-for-grain are harvested. Yields are average-to-good. 

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A West Allis man has pleaded innocent to six federal charges of possessing child pornography. Jeffrey Feldman’s case attracted national interest, because he was trying to protect his constitutional right against self-incrimination. He fought off government efforts to make him decrypt his computers and hand over evidence against him – but investigators said they eventually unlocked two of Feldman’s hard drives without his help. The government took the evidence to a federal grand jury, which indicted the 46-year-old man Feldman last week. He’s been in custody for two weeks, and he’s been fired from his job at Rockwell Automation – where he spent 19 years as a developer of software. Prosecutors want Feldman to forfeit possession of a computer and 15 external hard drives that were seized by investigators from his condo in January.

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A baby girl has become the seventh infant to die in Milwaukee County this year after sleeping with an adult in bed. A two-month-old Milwaukee girl died on Saturday. A medical examiner’s report said the mother told conflicting stories to authorities. An ambulance worker quoted the mother as saying the girl died in her own crib – while a police officer said the woman admitted falling asleep with the baby in a bed cluttered by things like boxes and a laundry basket. She said she went to another bed during the night, and saw the baby bleeding in the morning. Co-sleeping deaths have been a big problem in Milwaukee in recent years. Officials say the safest way for a baby to sleep is in his-or-her own crib without blankets, pillows, or toys. 

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Sixty-four people have been killed in Milwaukee this year, 10 more than at this time a year ago. The latest victim is 16-year-old Keenan Payne. Police said he was shot yesterday afternoon behind a child care center on Milwaukee’s northwest side. Officials said the shooting apparently resulted from a dispute earlier between Payne and the gunman. No arrests have been made. Two people have been arrested in a drug-related killing early Saturday. 27-year-old Alexis Taylor was shot to death, and her 34-year-old boyfriend was expected to recover after being wounded. Also, a 33-year-old man was shot-and-killed late Saturday night on the east side. Officials said it was apparently drug-related. The victim’s name was not immediately released. 

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A 27-year-old man was charged today in a shooting incident at Milwaukee’s Potawatomi Casino on Father’s Day. Gregory Harmon of Wauwatosa is due in court Thursday on charges of illegally carrying a concealed weapon, carrying a gun where alcohol is consumed, and endangering safety. Milwaukee County prosecutors did not say why it took almost two-and-a-half months to file charges. One holdup might have been blood tests, which showed that marijuana was in Harmon’s system at the time. Authorities said Harmon was with two other men and a woman in the casino, when he got into an argument with one of the men. Witnesses said the two started hitting each other – and then Harmon drew a gun and started firing. Other casino patrons fought with Harmon to seize the weapon, but three shots were fired in the process. A 23-year-old Milwaukee woman was wounded, and another gambler was grazed. 

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A Tomahawk man who drowned after a dog pushed him underwater was identified yesterday as 67-year-old David Lewicki. Lincoln County authorities said Lewicki and the dog jumped from a pontoon boat into the Spirit Flowage to cool off Sunday. When the man tried to get the pet closer to the boat, the dog climbed on him and pushed him down one-or-two times. The dog escaped unharmed, but Lewicki went under. His body was recovered a couple hours later in five-and-a-half feet of water. 

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A Milwaukee man killed in a freeway crash has been identified as 36-year-old Clarence McCormick. Authorities said his vehicle rolled over about 1:30 yesterday morning on Interstate-43. A male passenger was injured. Meanwhile, authorities continue to investigate a pair of other fatal crashes. In Jefferson County, officials said 35-year-old Elias Stollenwerk of Jefferson was killed when his motorcycle lost control on a curve on County Trunk “Y,” and collided with an oncoming vehicle. It happened Saturday afternoon. Also, Outagamie County authorities said a bicyclist was hit by a motor vehicle near Seymour on Saturday. The cyclist died at the scene. Other details were not immediately released.   

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A report from Reg-Trak shows new car and truck sales have sky-rocketed this year in Wisconsin. The auto industry analysis company says new registered vehicles are up 20-percent more from last year. Nationally, J.D. Powers estimates new vehicle sales could top 1.27 million units for August – the highest monthly sales volume in seven years. One expert believes the stabilized economy and a consumer’s need to replace old cars and light trucks is what’s driving auto sales, nationally and in Wisconsin. 

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A microbe-powered light bulb concept has landed a group of University of Wisconsin-Madison students in Popular Science magazine’s “#CrowdGrant” challenge. Dubbed the “Biobulb”, it uses microbes in a self-contained ecosystem to produce bioluminescence. One of the students say genetically modified bacteria and an algal species will play important roles in achieving that. The international competition runs until August 30 and encourages the public to crowd-source funds to bring the 24 participant’s “biggest, boldest science and technology project” ideas to life. 

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A suburban Milwaukee school district has Wisconsin’s highest scores on the ACT college entrance exam. Whitefish Bay students averaged 26-of-a-possible 36 on the general knowledge test. The “Whitefish Bay Now” Web site says it’s the 15th straight year that local students averaged 25-or-more on the ACT. Interim Superintendent Laura Myrah said she knows of no other Wisconsin school system with such a long record of excellence. She credits it to the dedication shows by students, parents, and Whitefish Bay school staff. We learned last week that Wisconsin as a whole averaged 22.1 on the ACT – same as a year ago, and tied with Iowa for the second-highest state score in the nation, behind neighboring Minnesota. 

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A public swimming pool in Eau Claire has ended its season with a treat for dogs. The Fairfax Park Pool held its ninth annual dog swim yesterday. With temperatures in the 90’s, it was a popular event with almost 200 pets cooling off. Owners normally pay 10-dollars for the privilege, and they must show that their dogs are vaccinated for rabies. When the dog swim is over, the pool is drained for the winter. 

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For the second year in a row, a shortage of cow chips is raising concerns for the State Cow-Chip Throwing Contest at Prairie du Sac in Sauk County. Last year, the drought forced cattle to stay near their barns and keep cool – and there was not enough manure that could be dried-and-flattened in time for the event. This year, a wet spring dissolved the manure. Event chairwoman Marietta Reuter says she’ll pull out three barrels of reserve chips, so the competition can go on this weekend – but sooner or later, they’ll need a normal year to get some fresh manure. The contest is part of a festival that will take place on Friday and Saturday in Prairie du Sac. 

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Sean Scallon
Sean Scallon has been a reporter and Sports Editor at the Pierce County Herald newspaper in Ellsworth since 1998. He holds a bachelors degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's also worked at newspapers in Glenwood City, Wisconsin; Marion, Illinois and Shawano, Wisconsin. Sean also works as a sports reporter for other newspapers and websites in RiverTown Multimedia from River Falls to Hudson to New Richmond and Red Wing.
(715) 273-4334
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