WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Fire crews work to put out Burnett County blaze
GRANTSBURG - Fire crews in Burnett County continue working on the aftermath of a blaze that burned about 600 acres.
The fire near Grantsburg, where a planned burn area went beyond the allotted 500 acres. A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources say crews are now working on hot spots and securing fire lines in the area. No one was reportedly injured and no structures were damaged.
Governor Scott Walker says he’s made no decision to shift state employees to a self-insured program. A committee of the state’s insurance board is scheduled to discuss the move on October 11, Governor Walker says more time will be needed to weigh all options. A report from one consultant group shows the state would save 4-to-5-percent a year on a self-insured program,
Governor Scott Walker still does not plan to approve sales of raw milk in Wisconsin -- unless dairy and medical groups do a total flip-flop. At World Dairy Expo in Madison today, the Republican governor again expressed reservations about a bipartisan bill to allow raw milk sales on the farms where they're produced. Walker promises to consider the measure if both houses send it to his desk. However, he wants to make sure that Wisconsin's world-famous dairy industry reputation is protected -- and that public health is preserved. The State Medical Society says there's no way that a health risk can be eliminated, and more than one dairy group says even one outbreak of a raw milk disease would ruin Wisconsin's multi-billion-dollar dairy industry. Raw milk supporters cite numerous health benefits -- and they insist the product is safe.
Governor Scott Walker said today that both parties are to blame for the federal government shutdown -- and Washington should run itself like Wisconsin does. During a news conference at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Walker hailed his fellow Republicans for eliminating a three-point-six billion dollar deficit two years ago. He said he meets every Wednesday with legislative leaders about the state's problems, and how to solve them. That's been easier in Wisconsin the last five years, since one party has controlled the governor's office and both houses of the Legislature -- the Democrats in 2009, and Republicans since 2011. The opposing party complains that it gets almost no input on the major issues. In Washington, Democrats control the White House and the Senate while the GOP has a large majority in the House -- and each party ends up approving its own version of major items, lately with little compromise.
Wisconsin's top agriculture official says the federal government shutdown will have a big impact on farmers with loans from the Farm Service Agency. One farmer called the state ag department yesterday with a question about a cow he sold. He said he received a check for the animal -- but because he has a loan with the FSA, he could not cash it without an agency official co-signing it. That's been impossible the past couple days, since Farm Service offices have been closed due to the shutdown. Secretary Ben Brancel said the farmer asked if he should cash the check anyway, and the ag secretary said it was not a good idea. Brancel said the farmer would have to wait until the shutdown is over, and there's nothing that can be done until then. Meanwhile, Brancel says the biggest impact of the shutdown for Wisconsin farmers is the ending of the Milk Loss Contract Program. It provides subsidies when milk production falls below certain levels. The milk program expired when the last federal Farm Bill expired yesterday -- and that probably would have happened with-or-without the federal shutdown.
State minority Democrats are proposing a bill to let more sporting groups share in a half-million-dollar grant they say was politically-targeted by Republicans. Assembly Democrat Nick Milroy of South Range and state Senator Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie say they want to fix problems with a grant to encourage more people to hunt-and-fish in Wisconsin. Republicans crafted a state budget measure to prohibit some groups from applying for the grant -- and a committee awarded it to the United Sportsmen despite questions about the group's tax status. Governor Scott Walker later rescinded the grant for that reason. Walker also allocated state funds for the grant, after lawmakers approved a mix of state-and-federal money. Federal officials said the previous arrangement might have placed $28-million in federal conservation funds in jeopardy. The Democrats' new bill seeks to prevent that problem by continuing to use state funds only. Milroy, a hunter, said he was outraged that the GOP wanted to funnel the sporting money to what he called a "shady political action committee." In his words, "We want to put all that behind us."
Home foreclosures in southeast Wisconsin are at their lowest in over seven years. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says almost 510 new cases were filed in September against those helplessly behind on their mortgages. That's a 29-percent decrease from the previous September. For the first nine months of the year, foreclosure cases are down almost 36-percent in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha, and Walworth counties. Just over 5,300 cases were filed in that region from January-through-September, down from 82-hundred during the same period the year before.
A Milwaukee teacher has received a prestigious national award for excellence in teaching. Sarah Berndt, a teacher at Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School, was surprised with one of this year’s Milken Educator Awards. The 35-year-old ninth-grade Spanish teacher received a 25-thousand dollar unrestricted award from the foundation that awards exceptional early to mid-career teachers with promising careers. The foundation has awarded 2,600 teachers across the U.S. since 1985.
Milwaukee's fire chief said nine suspended fire-fighters allegedly vandalized the station where they worked from. Chief Mark Rohlfing said Engine House 32 on Milwaukee's north side was vandalized Saturday night. He would not give details today, saying the department wants to make sure about what happened. Rohlfing says officials are investigating the vandalism plus other undisclosed allegations of improper conduct. The nine fire-fighters were suspended with pay yesterday, and more staff members have been brought in to provide coverage. Rohlfing said the nine fire-fighters have been transferred to other station-houses -- and Saturday was their last work shift together. The chief said it's common to transfer fire-fighters, but not most of the officers at one facility at one time. He said quote, "We decided this engine house needed some fresh faces." Assistant fire chief Gerard Washington is heading the investigation, with help from the city attorney's office and the Fire-and-Police Commission.
A special prosecutor in Rock County wants to reopen a murder case against a Palmyra man. 49-year-old Keith Abbott is accused of stabbing 33-year-old Kristin Miller to death, and leaving her snow-covered body wrapped in plastic in a rural roadside ditch. In February of last year, a Rock County judge said Abbott was not competent to stand trial in the case. Recently, a judge in Racine County ruled that Abbott was mentally able to proceed with an unrelated case -- so prosecutors in Rock County are now seeking a competency hearing on charges of homicide and hiding a corpse. Abbott is charged in Racine County with nine felony counts of possessing child pornography. Miller, the murder victim, disappeared on New Year's Day of 2011. She and Abbott's son had a daughter, and Abbott was appointed by a judge as a go-between to transfer the child between her mother and father.
The Milwaukee suburb of Butler has named a new police chief, after the old one was investigated for inappropriate behavior with his officers. Lieutenant David Wendlandt was named the acting chief after Michael Cosgrove resigned. Yesterday, the Butler Village Board gave the job to Wendlandt on a permanent basis. Cosgrove resigned while Waukesha County officials investigated his relations with his officers. A sheriff's report said Cosgrove used derogatory language that included racial slurs -- and he looked at computer porn while on the job. One Butler officer was put on administrative leave after the sheriff's report was released. Criminal charges are still possible against that person. Officials said Wendlandt did not take part in the activity, and would not tolerate it as acting chief. He has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience, and was among 25 people who applied for the Butler chief's post.
The schools that train Wisconsin teachers would be more selective about who they admit, under a proposal from a conservative think tank. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute has come out with ideas it says would create better teachers in the Badger State. The group says education schools should only admit teacher candidates with college grade point averages of three-or-higher, instead of the present two-and-a-half. The teaching candidates would also have to be in the top-half of their classes. The Policy Research Institute also says the results of statewide performance tests for new teachers should be linked back to the schools which trained them. That's after a recent national report showed that Wisconsin's teacher training programs received just fair ratings -- and programs at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Stevens Point were given "consumer warnings." Educators say they're already doing some of what's being recommended. Education schools have been ordered by a recent state law to report their students' scores on written tests. The law also requires teacher training schools to publicly disclose how their candidates perform on a new performance assessment exam starting in 2015.
A murder case against a northern Wisconsin man is moving forward. 46-year-old William Rambo completed his initial appearance yesterday in Price County Circuit Court, for the death of his estranged wife Dawn. Reports said she kicked him out of their house in Park Falls, and he was trying to resolve the matter when they got into an argument. That's when Rambo allegedly stabbed and slashed the 37-year-old woman with a knife. Officials said Dawn ran to a neighbor's house, and a police officer took her to a hospital on the assumption that she couldn't wait for an ambulance. She died 40 minutes later. Rambo asked for a preliminary hearing on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide. A date was not set. A pre-trial conference is planned on two other charges filed against Rambo the day of the killing -- misdemeanor counts of battery and disorderly conduct.
A military veteran from Stevens Point is flying his American flag upside down. Walter Blanchard calls it a peaceful protest over the way the federal government is being run -- or not run, during the partial shutdown that's in its second day. Blanchard tells WAOW-TV in Wausau that he decided to fly the upside-down flag a few weeks ago. It's his way of saying that Congress should be quote, "working with the people and not against us." Guidelines from the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department say the flag should only be flown upside down as a sign of distress -- and Blanchard says the mess on Capitol Hill qualifies. Some of his neighbors don't agree, though. Carl and Mary Schulfer have their flag up-right, and they say Blanchard's display is disrespectful. Blanchard served in both Vietnam and South Korea.