WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Evening temperatures across state could be above zero by Thursday
For the first time in over three weeks, all of Wisconsin could have overnight lows above zero.
The National Weather Service says Duluth-Superior has been the coldest-of-the-cold lately. Duluth, which is on the Minnesota side of Saint Louis Bay, had its 23rd straight day of below-zero temperatures this morning. The overnight low was 17-below, but that's far from the coldest place in Wisconsin. It got down to 30-below -- not including the wind-chill -- at Black River Falls and Owen in the west central part of the state. Minong in Douglas County had a 39-below wind chill just after eight a-m. Forecasters say a new low pressure system is about to move in. It's supposed to warm things up to above 10-degrees statewide this afternoon. Tonight, it's not supposed to get any colder than one-to-four above, as clouds move in. An inch-or-two of snow is possible in many areas tomorrow, with highs in the low-to-mid-20's. We could see 30 degrees by Thursday.
The Wisconsin State Senate voted 18-13 today make it harder -- but not impossible -- for new state laws to be suspended while they're being appealed to higher courts. Milwaukee Democrat Lena Taylor joined all Republicans who were present in voting yes. Under the measure, all judicial orders which block state laws can be quickly appealed -- and the laws won't take effect until a higher court rules otherwise. Constitutional concerns were raised about the bill the Assembly passed last summer, which would have automatically kept new laws in place while they're appealed to higher courts. Republicans proposed the change because they were tired of seeing their laws blocked for months and years in the courts. The GOP's 2011 requirement to show a photo ID for voting was used only once, in February of 2012, before it was struck down in a series of lawsuits which are still going through the appeals' process. After the vote, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and the bill's original author both said they would agree to the changes.
Voters in the Fox Valley could decide whether to tax themselves for regional bus service, under a bill approved by the state Senate this afternoon. The vote was 25-7 to send the measure to the Assembly -- but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said there's no way his chamber would ratify it. Republican Senate President Mike Ellis of Neenah proposed the measure, saying it balances the need to pay for transit buses while letting the public decide whether to create a new taxing group to run them. Back in 2011, majority Republicans in both houses and Governor Scott Walker scrapped the regional transit authorities, saying it allows un-elected boards to impose new or higher taxes. The bill would have given the Fox Valley authority the power to impose a half-percent sales tax. Vos says there needs to be a statewide solution to transit funding problems. Seven Republicans voted no to the Senate bill -- Glenn Grothman of West Bend, Mary Lazich of New Berlin, Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurt, Neal Kedzie of Elkhorn, Frank Lasee of De Pere, Joe Leibham of Sheboygan, and Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa. Democrat Bob Jauch of Poplar didn't vote.
Also today, senators approved a bill on a voice vote to make hospitals provide tests for congenital heart disease in newborns. Many hospitals already do it voluntarily. Senators also voted to let people sell baked goods without getting a state food-processing permit, as long as they have less than $10,000 in annual sales.
It appears that the Wisconsin State Assembly will act on a major education reform package that the leader of the other house has already rejected. The Assembly's Education Committee has both a public hearing and a recommendation vote scheduled for tomorrow morning. Supporters will try to advance a package that gives letter-grades to schools -- and those which repeatedly fail must either close or become charter schools. Failing private schools with tax-funded voucher students would not be able to take any more youngsters in the choice program. State Senate Education Committee chairman Luther Olsen of Ripon introduced a similar bill last week, but could not get the votes within his panel to endorse it. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says there's talk that Olsen would keep the current and more vague school grading system and scrap the letter grades. That's after Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he did not want a vote this spring on a bill that requires sanctions. He said he would endorse a more limited data-collection plan, and take the issue up again next year. The Assembly package reportedly reflects Olsen's original bill, except that the bottom five-percent schools would not automatically get "F's."
Thirty-one Wisconsin school districts were asked today to voluntarily drop their Indian mascots and team names. The state's Indian Education Association sent a letter to the affected schools, saying a change would show respect for tribal nations. In December, Governor Scott Walker signed a bill that virtually gutted a 2009 law passed by Democrats which set up a complaint system for those offended by Indian monikers. Majority Republicans did a number of things which make it harder to carry out the '09 law without repealing it altogether. Now, it takes a petition to get the state to review a school district's nickname. The administration department makes the final call instead of the education agency. And it's up to the complainants to prove that an Indian nickname is discriminatory. The Democrats put that burden on the school districts. The law also wiped out the state's earlier orders to individual districts to drop their Indian mascots and nicknames.
One person has been charged, and others may be named in what's being called the largest drug bust in Marathon County history. The total seizure was valued at over two-million dollars. 33-year-old Bryan Arnold of Wausau was being held under a $25,000 on six felony drug-related counts and a misdemeanor for possessing drug paraphernalia. Officers said they were tipped off by a suspicious package that a local delivery company intercepted. Sheriff's deputies and a K-9 partner seized over 2,100 grams of processed marijuana at a Wausau home where Arnold lives. Officials said the investigation took them to a second house near Athens, where more processed marijuana was found, along with over 725 plants and several thousand dollars. The owners of that house could face charges. The case is still under investigation. Arnold is due back in court a week from today for a preliminary hearing.
The Oneida County Courthouse in Rhinelander re-opened today, after an unattended duffel bag halted the wheels of government for a couple hours yesterday. There was no need for alarm, though. The bag had nothing more than diapers. Sheriff's officials said the bag was spotted around 10 in the morning in a Social Services' waiting room. Deputies could not find the owner, so the courthouse staff was evacuated about 2:15. The Marathon-Oneida County Bomb Squad was called in. X-rays uncovered the presence of the diapers.
Thousands of people have driven to the Bayfield area to see the majestic ice patterns on the sea-caves along Lake Superior at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. It's the first time in five years that folks could walk on the ice from Meyers Beach to the sea-caves two miles away. National park officials say social media and news reports have encouraged thousands of people to make the trip. Lakeshore official Neil Howk said 11,000 visited the sea caves last weekend. Cars were parked for seven miles along Highway 13 on Saturday -- and at least a dozen people had to be taken from the ice due to injuries that day. Howk said the sudden popularity has taxed the small park's resources. It's also been a boom for the local economy. Mary Motiff of the Bayfield County Tourism agency estimates that the sea cave curiosity has brought in between $5.6 million and $7.2 million for the area's economy. The park has brought in workers from the U.S. Border Patrol and other national parks to help maintain order. Howk said that at some point, the ice will become unsafe -- and officials are concerned about what happens then. He says it will be a real problem if five-thousand people are turned away on Saturday because the melting ice will be unsafe.