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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: DOT tells counties to conserve on road salt

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Wisconsin officials have told county highway departments to conserve on road salt, to make sure there's enough for the rest of this snowy winter.  

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The DOT contracts with counties to keep state and federal highways clear of snow and ice.  Today, officials said about 135-thousand tons of road salt remain available, after the winter began with a 775,000 ton stockpile.  Officials say about a half-million tons of salt are used on state highways each winter -- but as we know, this is far from a normal winter.  Under the DOT's new guidelines, counties are being told to use sand-and-salt mixtures on lesser-used highways, reduced salt applications on busy non-Interstate routes, and no changes on the I-system itself.  Also, the state said counties should pre-wet salt before applying it.  That's because less salt is generally needed when it sticks to the roadways.  

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Mother Nature gets the credit, as Wisconsin set a record-low for February traffic deaths.  Twenty-one people were killed in crashes throughout the state last month -- five fewer than a year ago, and nine fewer than the average for the past five Februaries.  DOT safety director David Pabst said the numbers of serious crashes were kept down by last month's snow-storms and frigid temperatures.  He warns though, that winter won't last forever -- and motorists will need to remember how to watch out for bikes, scooters, and pedestrians.  Nine walkers were among the 56 killed in Wisconsin crashes during the first two months of 2014.  The two-month total is 13 fewer than a year, and nine less than the five-year norm. 

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Two people killed in a house fire in Beloit this morning are identified as 61-year-old Clint Christensen and his 33-year-old daughter Jaime.  A Rock County deputy coroner said Clint died while trying to shield his daughter from the flames.  A third family member, a 60-year-old woman, was in critical condition at last word at a Madison hospital.  Beloit police and fire-fighters were called to the house just before four this morning.  An investigation continues into both the house fire and the two deaths.

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A smoking light bulb is what evacuated the State Capitol today.  Officials said a bulb popped and started smoking in the office of Senate Republican Dale Schultz.  That was around 10:45, when fire alarms sounded.  Everyone in the statehouse was ordered outside.  Offices re-opened almost a half-hour later.

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Governor Scott Walker says he will not urge lawmakers to scale back financial and disclosure rules on campaign gifts and expenses.  State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Senate Elections Committee chair Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) introduced two bills to this effect on Monday.  Lazich rapidly scheduled a public hearing for this afternoon.  One proposal would allow lobbyists to deliver donors' checks to legislative incumbents any time of year.  Right now, those checks cannot be given to candidates until June first of an election year, so they're not handed out during legislative sessions.  Under the other bill, groups would not have to disclose their donors if they run so-called issue ads that don't tell people who to vote for or against.  Supporters say the bill just formalizes what's been done for over a decade.  Watchdog groups like Common Cause say it would reduce public disclosure of who's paying for campaigns.  State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) wants to review the bills before commenting.  The Republican governor says he's more concerned about providing tax relief and jobs.  

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The Wisconsin Senate's mining committee could decide today whether to endorse a bill to limit local government control over existing frac-sand mines.  Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says he's not sure if he has enough votes to pass the measure in the upper house.  The Wisconsin Towns Association changed its mind about not opposing the bill, saying it could limit the ability of town boards to keep up with new technology in the silica-sand industry.  The bill's supporters say the measure is needed to stop local officials from regulating frac-sand mines out of business -- and the state DNR has more expertise than many local leaders.  The bill's chief sponsor, Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, said he was trying to reach a compromise.  His previous plan to heavily limit local control of future frac-sand mines drew widespread opposition.  Tiffany dropped many of those provisions from his new bill.

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A federal judge is giving plaintiffs until next Tuesday to decide if they'll pursue an alternative action in their lawsuit against Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage.  The American Civil Liberties Union has asked for a preliminary injunction to block the gay marriage ban while Judge Barbara Crabb considers the lawsuit.  Crabb says other federal courts have held back temporary injunctions in similar gay marriage suits -- and Crabb said it would serve little purpose to issue an injunction just to have it stayed.  The judge says an expedited review of the lawsuit would basically serve the same purpose.  She's giving the ACLU a week to decide if an injunction would be appropriate in light of what's happened elsewhere.  The ACLU says it will file a brief in the matter by the judge's deadline.

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The only Democratic candidate for Wisconsin governor put out her first TV ad today, eight months before the election.  Mary Burke touted her background as a former state Commerce secretary and an executive with her family's Trek Bicycle business.  Burke also attacked Republican Governor Scott Walker's record on creating jobs, noting that unemployment is higher than when she served in the former Doyle administration.  Walker's campaign has not released a T-V ad yet, but the Republican Governors Association has run a pair of spots on his behalf.

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A candidate for Wisconsin attorney general says he will not keep a $500 campaign gift from former Assembly Majority Leader Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha).  Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he'll give Kramer's donation to charity -- but a spokesman did not say which group would receive it.  Kramer was removed from his leadership post by his fellow Assembly Republicans, amid allegations that he groped and made lewd remarks to two women last week.  Schimel is the lone Republican running for attorney general this fall, along with three Democrats.  Last week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke refused to keep a 45-hundred dollar campaign gift.  It was from well-known attorney Daniel Rottier (ro-teer'), who was convicted of striking his wife with a cane.   Burke gave the donation to a Madison group that operates a shelter for domestic abuse victims.

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At least some Wisconsin child support payments were funneled to identity thieves, leaving custodial parents short of money for their kids.  State officials said today that about four-thousand debit cards for child support recipients were compromised in the Target Stores' security breach during the holidays.  Children and Families' department spokesman Joe Scialfa said a "handful" of parents actually had child support payments stolen.  Former Milwaukee resident Anita Lichtenberger told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel she lost 36-hundred dollars in the Target breach -- and she didn't know it until she checked the balance on her state-issued debit card.  The company which issues the debit cards issued new ones to all affected card-holders on January 9th.  Scialfa said the firm worked with theft victims to make them whole again as fast as possible.  Lichtenberger said she was late in sending a required form for a provisional refund.  Scialfa said she might have to wait 90 days for an international fraud investigation to be completed. Around 40-million Target customers were affected by the security breach from late November through mid-December.

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A Sheboygan County woman faces six criminal charges after she allegedly left her dog to die in a home that was foreclosed upon.  39-year-old Kimberly Fidlin of Cascade is free on a signature bond, after she was charged with felony animal abandonment and five misdemeanor counts related to animal mistreatment and neglect.  According to prosecutors, a mortgage company was checking the house on January 21st when an employee found the eight-year-old Beagle-mix Lucky dead.  The utilities were turned off, and a broken pipe had caused heavy water damage.  Veterinarians said the dog appeared neglected for months, and may have frozen within a day after dying.  Fidlin told investigators she fed Lucky just a few days before he died -- but she let his condition get worse because she could not afford veterinary care.  A status conference in the case is set for next Tuesday.  A preliminary hearing on the felony count is planned for a week from today.

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