WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: FBI helps Beloit authorities look for missing child
BELOIT - The Federal Bureau of Investigation was called in this morning to help police near the Wisconsin-Illinois border find a missing four-day-old child.
Kayden Powell was discovered missing around 4:30 this morning from her mother's house in the town of Beloit. Two people were questioned about their presence at the home last night, but officials said no arrests have been made. Beloit Town Police Chief Steven Kopp said authorities were examining the house late this morning -- and they're mobilizing all the resources they can. FBI spokesman Leonard Peace said local authorities asked his agency to help out. He would not say whether the child may have been taken outside Wisconsin. The town of Beloit partially surrounds the City of Beloit, which touches the Illinois state line. City police and sheriff's deputies are also involved in the investigation.
Milwaukee Police have recovered the 300-year-old Stradivarius violin stolen in a late night robbery last Monday night. WTMJ-TV said one of the suspects arrested in the heist took police to a house on Milwaukee's east side last night, where the rare instrument was being held. It's said to be in good condition, stored at Milwaukee Police headquarters. Officials are expected to say more about the recovery later today. Prosecutors announced yesterday that the three people -- a 36-year-old man, and a 41-year-old man, and a 32-year-old woman -- are facing possible charges in the robbery. The district attorney's office said a decision on those charges won't come until later today at the earliest. Concert-master Frank Almond had the unique Lipinski Stradivarius stolen soon after he performed with it during a January 27th concert at Wisconsin Lutheran College. The Journal Sentinel said the 41-year-old suspect was accused of stealing a 25-thousand dollar statue from a downtown Milwaukee art gallery in 1995 -- and he then tried selling it back to the gallery's owner in '99. He was convicted of receiving stolen property.
The Wisconsin State Senate's majority leader says he has doubts about a bill to let over 750,000 state residents re-finance their student loans and get a tax break. Republican Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau was shaky about the bill's prospects, after it got strong support at a public hearing yesterday. Minority Democrats proposed the measure. Green Bay Senator Dave Hansen and Racine Assemblyman Cory Mason said thousands of college graduates are being hurt by their student loans -- because it stops them from helping the economy by buying big-ticket items like cars and houses. The measure would let grads re-finance their student loans and deduct up to $6,500 dollars a year off their state income taxes. A member of the Wisconsin Higher Education Aids Board said it might encourage students to borrow more than they already are.
Your state legislators know what the Common Core education standards are -- but do you? Thirty-six percent of voters in a recent Marquette Law School poll said they never heard of the three-year-old math-and-reading standards. Tea party conservatives are trying to un-do the standards, saying they'll lead to a nationally-funded education system. Educators say that's absurd -- and they're only trying to raise the bar, and prepare youngsters better for the world economy. Recently, Republican Governor Scott Walker called for a commission to look at the standards -- but he did not say if it would only to future standards, and not the math-and-reading requirements already in use. State Superintendent Tony Evers said he's okay with a commission to review future standards, but the current ones should be left alone. Senate Republican Paul Farrow of Pewaukee is working on a bill to create the commission -- and perhaps take a second look at what's already been adopted.
A few months before he quit, former state Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder of Abbotsford said the Legislature was only polarized on the big issues. He was wrong. Gannett Wisconsin Media analyzed over 1,500 legislative votes from the past five years, and found that lawmakers voted with a member of the opposing party just 16-percent of the time. Republicans marched in unison 98-percent of the time in the 2011-and-2012 session -- and Democrats toed their party line 91-percent of the time. Some legislative veterans have lamented the loss of compromise, blaming it for their decisions to retire. Janesville Senate Democrat Tim Cullen said the Capitol is dominated by big campaign money, and there's a "hunger" in the state to act sensibly. Outgoing state Senate Republican Dale Schultz said the prevailing attitude is that lawmakers should only represent those who voted for them -- and it breeds bitterness. But Marquette University pollster Charles Franklin said Schultz has voted with the GOP over 90-percent of his career -- and the party bosses have made him a pariah based on only a few key votes. Still, both houses don't sing the same tune. The Senate has a much slimmer GOP majority, causing leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau to shy away from some hot-button bills passed by the state Assembly -- including a pair of anti-abortion measures and a 70-mile-an-hour speed limit. They're expected to die when the current session ends in April.
The Wisconsin State Assembly's economic committee will vote this morning on Governor Scott Walker's half-billion-dollar tax cut package. The panel held a public hearing on it yesterday, and Speaker Robin Vos wants the full Assembly to pass it next Tuesday. Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler told the committee yesterday the plan would benefit all taxpayers -- and once it's passed, lawmakers will have granted roughly two-billion dollars in tax relief during the last two sessions. Republican Governor Scott Walker has been going around the state touting the tax cuts. He'll do the same today at the annual Business Day gathering of the Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce group. The tax cuts would be taken from a projected billion-dollar surplus in the current budget -- and a number of senators are concerned because it would leave an extra deficit of $100-million to start the next budget in mid-2015. Majority Republicans have been meeting to discuss what they would support. Walker said yesterday he would agree to what he called "tweaks" in his package -- and he believes the Senate will get on board with most of it. Meanwhile, $35-million of the surplus would be used to improve job training programs, and put more disabled people to work. The state Assembly's Workforce Development panel will vote on that part of the package today.
____________________Jury deliberations are in their third day at the trial of David Van de Loo, the former Eau Claire pediatrician accused of molesting boys during medical exams. Jurors deliberated for two hours on Tuesday and 10 hours yesterday. They still couldn't agree on a verdict, so they resumed their discussions at 8:30 this morning. The 61-year-old Van de Loo is charged with 16 counts connected with alleged sexual contact of 15 male patients. The former Mayo Health sports medicine and pediatric physician said there were legitimate medical reasons for the way he conducted his exams. Jurors from Douglas County heard about two weeks of testimony and arguments. The trial was moved from Eau Claire to Superior because of heavy pre-trial publicity in western Wisconsin.
Wisconsin farmers, loggers, and factories have avoided what could have been a major disruption in their operations. Many of them use the Canadian National Railroad, which faced a possible strike this weekend until Canada's government put the clamps on it. A union that represents three-thousand conductors, train workers, and rail-yard employees issued a strike notice early yesterday, after they rejected a tentative pact from last fall. Late yesterday, a new three-year contract agreement was announced. Reuters said the Canadian government pushed it along by threatening to use back-to-work laws to keep the trains running. Wisconsin is highly affected by what happens with CN. That's because one of its mainlines runs on the former Soo Line-and-Wisconsin Central tracks from Superior to Stevens Point to Appleton to Milwaukee. WSAU Radio of Wausau said a work stoppage would have caused major inconvenience and expenses in numerous Wisconsin communities, where trains ship goods like lumber, grain, crude oil, and cars.
Another hacker will go on federal probation for cyber-attacks on Koch Industries and its subsidiaries almost three years ago. 22-year-old Christopher Sudlik of Saint Louis was placed yesterday on three years' probation, and was told to pay $110,000 in restitution. Sudlik admitted that he and fellow members of the group "Anonymous" flooded the Web site of Angel Soft bathroom tissue, disrupting the company's server in Green Bay. In December, Fox Valley truck driver Eric Rosol from Black Creek was put on two years' probation and ordered to pay $183,000 in restitution, for attacks on various Koch Web sites. In that case, prosecutors said Koch learned in advance of the attacks -- and the company's Web sites were down for only about 15 minutes. Critics have said the politically-connected Koch Industries and its owners have gotten too close with their support for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Federal Judge William Griesbach of Green Bay said Sudlik crossed-the-line from political speech to illegal activities.
Right on cue, the mercury plunged below zero in Wisconsin again this morning. Arctic air returned after a storm system to our south dumped up to seven-point-two inches on the southeast corner of the Badger State in Kenosha County. Other parts of southern Wisconsin received lesser amounts. Rhinelander had the state's coldest temperatures and wind-chill factors at seven this morning -- 15-below with a wind-chill of minus-34. Milwaukee and Kenosha had the warmest readings with two-above, feeling like minus-10 or so with the winds. A high pressure system will keep things dry into next week, with the possible exception of some light snow on Saturday. Temperatures are expected to remain below normal throughout the period.
The cold winter has Wisconsinites red hot about their utility bills. The state's largest natural gas utility, We Energies, said a typical customer paid in the neighborhood of 160-dollars to heat a home last month. That's up from $118 the previous January. We Energies' customers used record amounts of natural gas last month. Still, utility spokesman Brian Manthey said they're paying 25-percent less than in January of 2009 -- We Energies' record month for high heating bills. That's because the wholesale cost for natural gas was a lot more expensive back then. Manthey said the utility's records show that the first three months of this winter were the sixth-coldest on record. Milwaukee is having its coldest winter since 1982. The Wisconsin Public Service utility of Green Bay said its customers paid an average of $154 for natural gas last month, up from $124 a year ago. The National Weather Service said Wausau is shivering through its 10th coldest winter since the 1890's. Wisconsin Power-and-Light gas customers in the south central region are paying about 30-percent more this year -- and their usage has risen by about the same amount.
Starting today, folks in Waupaca and Shawano counties can no longer feed deer, and use food as bait to attract the animals. That used to be a big tool for deer hunters, and a relaxing backyard pastime for rural Wisconsinites -- until chronic wasting disease came along a dozen years ago. The DNR rankled people by approving a statewide baiting-and-feeding ban. The agency scaled that back. Now, the ban on deer baiting applies only in counties where a deer has tested positive for the fatal CWD brain disease -- plus counties within 10 miles of where an infected animal was found. Thirty-five counties now have those bans -- almost half the state's 72 counties.
A former restaurant in western Wisconsin has been ordered to pay $56,000 to a cook who got fired for complaining about a racist display. According to federal officials, Sparx Restaurant in Menomonie fired Dion Miller after he complained about a dollar bill with a noose around George Washington's neck -- accompanied by drawings a of hooded Ku Klux Klan supporter. Last September, a jury found that Sparx retaliated against Miller by firing him -- and he was awarded $15,000 for emotional distress. Last week, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb of Madison awarded back pay and interest to Miller of over $41,000. Sparx Restaurant has since closed, and a Denny's later opened on the site with new owners. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission included the new owners in the lawsuit -- which a court had later upheld. The EEOC announced the penalties yesterday in a news release.
A judge will reconsider a 20-year prison sentence later this month for a central Wisconsin man who admitted shaking his baby daughter to death in 2005. Quentin Louis of Athens, who's now 32, has served close to eight years of his sentence on a conviction of first-degree reckless homicide. Former Marathon County Circuit Judge Vincent Howard ordered a new trial, after the State Supreme Court cited disagreements among medical experts about injuries from shaken baby syndrome. Online court records indicate that Louis has agreed to a new plea in the case. Visiting Judge Patrick O'Melia is scheduled to hold a plea-and-sentencing hearing in the case on February 25th. Louis has been behind bars since his arrest, a month short of nine years ago.
The Democratic candidate for Wisconsin governor says same-sex couples should have the right to be married. Mary Burke told reporters in a conference call yesterday that she would support a new federal lawsuit, if it would help achieve the goal of allowing gay marriage. Earlier yesterday, Republican Governor Scott Walker defended the status quo when he spoke to reporters in Madison. Walker said he took an oath to uphold the constitution -- and he'll leave it to Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to defend the state's constitutional gay marriage ban in court. Four same-sex couples and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Monday in federal court in Madison. They're trying to strike down the 2006 state constitutional amendment against gay marriage and civil unions. The suit also seeks to eliminate a state law which has criminal penalties for same-sex Wisconsin couples who marry elsewhere. Walker said he has not heard of any real movement across Wisconsin to change the constitution to allow gay marriage, after 59-percent of voters approved the original amendment just over seven years ago. Last October, a Marquette Law School poll showed that 53-percent of Wisconsin voters now support the allowing of same-sex marriages.
Governor Scott Walker says his Democratic opponent Mary Burke supports a minimum wage increase because she does not have a plan for creating new jobs. The Republican Walker spoke to reporters in Madison today, where he continued to attack a plan by legislative Democrats to raise the state's current minimum wage of $7.25-an-hour in stages. It would rise to 10.10 in two years. Burke had earlier supported a more modest increase -- but the former Trek Bicycle exec said last weekend she'd align herself with other Democrats on the issue. Burke also said she would unveil a comprehensive jobs plan in the coming weeks. A recent Marquette University Law School poll gave Walker a six-point lead over Burke, but 62-percent in the poll said there should be at least some jump in the minimum wage. Walker says the best way to raise wages is to help employers create more jobs -- and he says his administration has carried out a plan for doing that. Barring an explosion of new plants, Walker will not keep his 2010 campaign promise to create a quarter-million private sector jobs by the end of his current term. About a fifth of voters in the Marquette survey said they'd vote for Walker even if he doesn't reach his goal. He plans to unveil a jobs plan for a second term this spring.
Federal disaster loans are being made available in Iron and Vilas counties in far northern Wisconsin. They're included as part of a disaster declaration in Upper Michigan, which was hit hard by cold temperatures and heavy rains last April. Iron and Vilas counties are right next to the main disaster area, so they're eligible for the federal relief. The Small Business Administration is providing low-interest loans for small businesses, farm co-ops, and non-profit groups that struggled due to the weather. Those who qualify can get up to two-million dollars with interest rates as low as two-and-seven-eighths percent. The money can pay past-due bills, but it cannot make up for lost profits.
Nobody won the Powerball jackpot last night, so it goes up to $247-million for Saturday. Nobody from Wisconsin won the second-or-third prizes either. Eight tickets won $300 each, by having the Power Play multiplier of three and matching either four regular numbers or three-plus-the-Powerball. Almost 13-thousand-700 Wisconsin players won smaller prizes. Last night's numbers were 8, 17, 32, 57, and 59. The Powerball was 24. Saturday's jackpot is the largest since last September 18th, when a player in South Carolina won $399-million. Saturday's cash option is just over 142-million. In Mega Millions, the top prize is at $107-million dollars for tomorrow night.
Wisconsin hunters shot 34-percent fewer turkeys last fall. The DNR said 4,633 birds were taken -- down from about seven-thousand in the fall hunt of 2012. Experts blame a long winter and a wet June for a reduction in young turkeys. The DNR says the low harvest is still surprising -- and they'll take a closer look at hunter surveys to see if they cut back on their participation. Meanwhile, officials are gearing up for the spring turkey hunt -- and they say the action could be better, because a sizable number of males hatched in 2012 are now adults. A youth hunt kicks things off April 12th. The regular spring turkey season opens April 16th.
At the request of a sportsman's group and the DNR, a state lawmaker asked a committee today for much steeper penalties for poaching trophy deer. Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon told a Senate committee his bill would make the punishment fit the crime for poaching trophy-sized bucks. Right now, a $43 animal protection surcharge can be imposed on top of poaching fines. The bill from Petrowski and Senate Republican Mary Williams of Medford would greatly expand the surcharge from two-thousand dollars to 10-thousand, depending on the size of the stolen deer's antler spread. A warden said the Taylor County Sportsmen's Club asked for the stiffer penalties, after a buck measured at 175-inches was shot at night two weeks before the 2012 gun deer season. Petrowski was one of just two witnesses testifying for the change. The panel was non-committal, and its chairman could not say when a vote might be taken on the measure. A similar measure is also pending in the Assembly outdoors committee.
You could call it white gold. Ships brought 50,000 tons of much-needed road salt to Wisconsin today, to help drivers avoid sliding off snow-covered highways. The salt was delivered to the Port of Milwaukee, where it will be divvied up to officials in Wisconsin and Illinois who bought the product from the North American Salt Company of Kansas. In Milwaukee, crews used 62-thousand tons of road salt this winter -- and that was before the city's two latest storms Saturday and today. Already, Wisconsin's largest city has used about five-thousand tons more salt than they normally do in an entire winter. Cities nationwide are having the same problem. Many are mixing their salt with sand to make their supplies stretch further.
A West Bend man will pay $10,000 to settle allegations that he defrauded Americans in a contest scam. The Federal Trade Commission said it originally ordered Jason Cruz to pay back the entire $185,000 that he bilked. But the FTC said he didn't have the money, so Cruz will pay the government back in other ways -- including his cooperation in the agency's future consumer investigations. The government said Cruz sent at least 14-million deceptive text messages to consumers around the country. He said they won I-Pads and thousand-dollar gift cards to Walmart and Best Buy -- but to win the prizes, the consumers had to go on a fraudulent Web site where they had to buy quote, "questionable products and services" with monthly charges. A number of people took the bait -- even though authorities have constantly tried to remind us that we cannot win contests we don't enter, and a legitimate contest will never charge you a cent to collect a prize.
Wisconsin, the nation's top cheese maker, produced less cheese in December than a year ago. According to new USDA figures, cheese plants in the Badger State pumped out almost 241-million pounds of cheese in the final month of 2013. That's down one-and-a-half percent from the same month in 2012. California, the second-largest cheese producer, saw its output rise by 3.7 percent from the year before. The Golden State made 202-million pounds -- up from 195-million the previous December. Wisconsin's decrease bucked the national trend. Total U.S. cheese production was 973-million pounds for December, an increase of 2.3 percent from the year before. For 2013 as a whole, the national cheese output also grew by 2.3 percent.
Authorities in northern Wisconsin say an autopsy should identify a person killed in a Monday house fire north of Tomahawk. Oneida County sheriff's lieutenant Dan Hess said the remains of one person were found in the burned-out home. Three others escaped, and two of them were injured -- one seriously enough to be flown to a Madison hospital. The house was engulfed in flames when Cassian town fire-fighters responded. They're investigating the cause of the blaze -- along with the Oneida County sheriff's and medical examiners' offices, and the state Fire Marshal.
A Minnesota man will spend 28 years in prison for killing his girlfriend near Wausau, in a dispute over how they split up the money from their illegal drug sales. 23-year-old Richi Vue of Saint Paul must also spend seven years under extended supervision once he gets out -- and he'll have to pay restitution for this and his previous crimes. Vue shot 20-year-old Lee Xiong to death at her Weston apartment in October of 2012. Officials said he escaped in a stolen truck, and was tracked down in the woods about 40 miles away near Abbotsford. Officers also said they caught Vue with one of 55 weapons stolen in a rash of Wausau area gun shop burglaries in 2012. Vue escaped a life prison sentence by striking a plea deal that convicted him of reckless homicide. He was high on meth at the time of the chase, and his attorney argued that Vue got caught up in his environment and an abusive relationship. A prosecutor said it Vue was a career criminal already -- and the victim was Xiong, not the shooter.