WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Both sides claim victory in new judge's ruling on Act 10
MADISON - All sides are claiming victory, after Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas issued a new ruling on Wisconsin's Act-10 public union bargaining limits.
It compelled the Walker administration to observe Colas' decision from a year ago, when he struck down Act 10's provisions in a suit filed by the Madison teachers union and a Milwaukee city employee union. However, the judge refused a request by the two plaintiffs to prohibit the Walker administration from ordering annual recertification votes for other local government and school unions in Wisconsin. Plaintiffs' attorney Lester Pines contends that last year's ruling applied to all groups but state employees -- and he said yesterday's ruling did not change that, so it's a victory. The Colas' decision is now being reviewed by the State Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Walker administration says it still has the authority to enforce the union law. It cites two federal court rulings from this year which upheld Act-10's provisions in lawsuits from different groups. Of the eight lawsuits filed in the matter, Walker spokesman Tom Evenson says six went the governor's way and two remain undecided. Evenson also said the state is confident it will win the remaining cases.
A Racine man will spend the rest of his life in prison for stabbing his girlfriend 29 times while killing her. 26-year-old Iryin Vaughn struck a plea deal that convicted him of first-degree intentional homicide. Several lesser charges were dropped. Circuit Judge Charles Constantine rejected a defense request to make Vaughn eligible for a supervised release after he serves 25 years. Vaughn pleaded no contest to killing 27-year-old Gwynevere Wright a week before Valentine's Day in 2012. After the murder, Vaughn took off with the couple's two-and-a-half year old daughter. A statewide Amber Alert was issued, and they were picked up the next day in Chicago. Authorities said Wright's 12-year-old son later found her bloody body. Judge Constantine cited that, saying he didn't want the boy to go to bed at night worrying that Vaughn might re-appear someday.
Parents of Wisconsin school athletes would have less bureaucratic paperwork under a bill that's up for a public hearing today. Senate Republican Paul Farrow of Pewaukee says parents should only have to sign one form for their school each year, which acknowledges that they know the school's policies on dealing with concussions. A law was adopted a year ago requiring athletes under 19 to have their parents sign information sheets about concussions. They're required for every sport -- and some teens compete in three-or-more sports each year. Under Farrow's bill, one form would suffice for all of them.
The state Legislature's finance panel voted 10-6 today to scale back some -- but not all -- of its expanded options to recover Medicaid costs spent by the elderly. The federal government requires states to charge back Medicaid expenses from people's estates after their spouses die. Republicans used the state budget process to take that concept further with a series of complex proposals. One would allow the state to recover money that's put into trusts. Another would seize assets accumulated up to five years before a person applies for a Medicaid program like Family-Care. Joint Finance co-chair Assemblyman John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Senate Republican Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) said there's nothing wrong with expecting people to pay for their medical care if they can do so. Grothman said it appalls people when they see others transferring a lot of their assets and then going on Medicaid. Critics said the proposed changes would leave nothing for most seniors to pass on to their children. Assembly Democrat Jon Richards of MIlwaukee tried but failed to block the state from adopting the changes passed in the budget. Two state senators on the finance panel -- Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) -- joined all four Democrats in voting against the changes.
Governor Scott Walker says other state justice agencies should do what Wisconsin does -- have the attorney general, governor, and Legislature work together. Walker spoke to the National Association of Attorneys General today, in the final day of its conference in Milwaukee. Walker said it's important for state leaders to give their law enforcement operations much-needed support. The Republican governor said cooperation in Wisconsin has resulted in more aggressive efforts against child sex offenders and sex trafficking. Walker also mentioned the successes of the state Justice Department's unit on Internet crimes against children. Van Hollen told the conference that his department and the rest of the Capitol don't always see eye-to-eye on every issue but quote, "If you're both focused on public safety, and you're both focused on doing the right thing, you can accomplish some great things." In recent years, that's been easier when the attorney general is of the same party as the governor and Legislature -- like it is now as Republicans control state government.
The state DNR is providing grants to help replace young trees lost during the Drought-of-2012. Landowners in 49 counties can get funds to re-plant their trees, if they had significant losses from 2008-through-last year. Applicants must have an approved forest stewardship program, own between 10, 500 acres of forest land, and get less than 10-thousand-dollars in annual forest grants. The new grants will cover up to 60-percent of re-planting costs that can verified as being drought-related losses. More information is available at the DNR's Web site, accessible at Wisconsin.gov.
Governor Scott Walker plans to introduce more legislation next week aimed at boosting Wisconsin's economy. The Republican Walker spoke to road builders in Middleton today. Afterward, he told reporters that some of his measures would deal with the state's 16 technical colleges, and helping disabled people find jobs. Walker did not elaborate. The proposals come at a time when Walker is struggling to keep his campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs during his four-year term. Federal officials said the state added 62,000 jobs at the halfway point of the Walker governorship, when he was one-third of the way toward his goal.
The Wisconsin Corrections Department will get just over five-million state tax dollars to investigate itself and upgrade its technology. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted today to approve 936-thousand dollars to create a new office that will investigate misconduct allegations against staffers and prisoners. About four-point-three million was allocated to improve the Corrections Department's computer technology. Thirty-six new positions will be created to improve and replace older software, and provide technical support for the agency's records of offenders.
A northern Wisconsin man who allegedly got stuck in an air vent for 10 hours while trying to break into a Milwaukee veterinary clinic appeared in court today. 19-year-old Shane Ray of Phelps was charged this morning with a felony count of attempted burglary. There was no immediate word on his bond, or when a preliminary hearing would take place. Prosecutors said Ray was high on prescription drugs when he tried breaking into Milwaukee's Small Animal Hospital on Sunday night to steal more drugs. Police said he could not find a window to break, so he went on the roof and crawled through an air vent before he got stuck on the lower level of the building. Employees said they heard Ray screaming for help when they arrived for work on Monday. Ray said he went nude because he didn't want tear his clothes on the screws inside the vent.
A former Waupun police lieutenant pleaded innocent today to two of his 11 criminal charges connected with an August crime spree. 43-year-old Brad Young of Brandon appeared in Barron County Circuit Court on charges of vehicle theft and fleeing an officer. Young will apparently be given the chance to strike a plea deal. Online court records indicate that another plea hearing is set for December second in Barron. Charges in at least three counties could be consolidated, but there's no word on that yet. Besides Barron, Young also faces charges in Burnett and Green Lake counties -- and even more counts are possible after the state Justice Department completes its investigation of him. Most of Young's alleged crimes took place in a two-day period in early August. Authorities said he stole a pick-up truck in Green Lake County, crashed it in Barron County during a police chase, stole another vehicle near Rice Lake, broke into to a cabin west of Spooner where he considered killing himself, and later gave up at the cabin after he realized that officers were surrounding him. Investigators said Young also apparently broke into grocery stores this year in Waupun, Berlin, and Markesan. He recently resigned from the Waupun police force.
Wisconsin lawmakers are being asked this afternoon to give the Corrections Department an extra five-million dollars. The Joint Finance Committee was scheduled to consider requests for a new office of special investigations, to look into misconduct allegations against staffers and inmates. The price-tag for that is $936,000 in the current two-year budget period. Also, the Corrections agency is asking for four-point-three million for information technology needs related to keeping records on offenders. The agency is asking for 36 new employees to perform the upgrades and offer technical support.
A plea deal is apparently in the works for a Milwaukee man accused of killing a newly-engaged woman in a hit-and-run traffic crash. 48-year-old Edwood Hastings is scheduled to appear in court this afternoon. Online court records say there's a projected guilty plea coming down. Hastings is currently charged with a felony count of fatal hit-and-run. 32-year-old Andrea Barringer was struck-and-killed August 11th while she and two friends had just left a restaurant, and were crossing a busy Farwell Avenue on Milwaukee's east side. Hastings said the women were darting in front of cars, and he hit the brakes to avoid hitting Barringer but it was too late. Investigators said the victim was in a legal crosswalk. Hastings told officers he didn't stop because he wanted to talk to his family before he turned himself in to the police.
A Boy Scout troop near Eau Claire will not have to leave its meeting place at a Catholic church. The pastoral council at Saint Mary's in Altoona tentatively decided a few weeks ago to remove Troop-90 from the church, after the Boy Scouts revised a membership policy to allow openly gay youngsters to join. After a further review, Scoutmaster Bob Thill said La Crosse Bishop William Callahan and another official agreed that the new Scout policy fits into the church's teachings. Matt Hill of the Chippewa Valley Scout Council tells the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram that several scout troops are chartered by Catholic churches in the area.
Live chickens were recently found roaming outside a Subway sandwich shop -- and they were captured before they could be cut into five-dollar foot-longs. It happened last Tuesday in the Milwaukee suburb of Greenfield. Police were told that chickens were running loose in a Subway parking lot around 4:30 in the morning. Officers found four chickens there. They re-cooped the chickens with the help of the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission. The chickens had escaped from a nearby yard, where the owner was told about a Greenfield ordinance which prohibits residents from having the animals.