WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Gov. Walker signs Indian nickname bill
A freezing rain advisory for three counties has been expanded to all of southeast and south-central Wisconsin. The National Weather Service in Sullivan says the advisory is in effect for tonight into tomorrow morning. Meteorologists predict the freezing rain will turn into snow for the Friday morning commute… the mix of rain and snow will make for hazardous road condition. While the forecast is still uncertain, the National Weather Service is also keeping an eye on possible .
MADISON - Governor Scott Walker signed a bill today which makes it a lot harder to force public schools to drop their Indian team names.
Gov. Walker had until the end of the day to act on the measure, or else it would have passed without his signature. The governor's intentions were first disclosed in a letter he wrote to tribal leaders, saying he would sign the bill in spite of the tribes' objections. The governor confirmed his action in a statement this afternoon. Walker again called it a free speech issue -- and instead of legislating the schools' First Amendment rights, he said he would assist in efforts to educate people on how Indian monikers can be offensive. Earlier this week, Walker said schools should voluntarily find ways not to offend their local Indian tribes. The American Civil Liberties Union said Walker does not understand that the First Amendment is designed to prevent government censorship -- not to let government offend and discriminate against citizens. Under the bill, those offended by Indian team names would have to prove they were hurt -- and one person could no longer complain, since petitions would need to have signatures representing at least 10-percent of the targeted school's enrollment. Also, the administration would decide complaints instead of the state's education agency.
A federal judge has overturned the murder conviction of Mark Jensen, who was accused of poisoning his wife with anti-freeze. Jensen appealed his 2008 Kenosha County conviction, focusing on the prosecutor's use of his dead wife's written words to a neighbor, which he maintained violated his Constitutional right to confront witnesses against him. The letter, which the neighbor gave to police, had Julie Jensen suggesting her husband as the prime suspect if anything happened to her. The judge ruled the letter not admissible in court and ordered Jensen be released from prison within 90 days. The D-A's office can still decide whether to retry the case.
The city of La Crosse has been ranked second in a recent list of “Most Exciting Small Cities in America”. The report from MOVOTO.com, a Real Estate website, lists the cities based on outdoor activities, percentage of younger residents and nightlife per capita. According to the report, La Crosse ranked highly across all criteria, with its highest ranking in nightlife. Cities with a population between 50-thousand and 60-thousand people met the criteria for a “small city.” The top spot went to Hoboken, New Jersey. La Crosse city officials say they’re honored to receive the ranking.
Wisconsin's unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percent in November to 6.3 percent. That's the lowest seasonally-adjusted jobless rate since December of 2008, when the Great Recession was starting in earnest. The state rate is in line with the national unemployment rate, which reached a five-year low of seven-percent for last month. Wisconsin's rate was seven-tenths-percent below that. An estimated four-thousand private sector jobs were created last month, although the figure is expected to be revised later on, after more employers are surveyed about their job situations. For now, we're being told that local governments and public schools saw a total drop of 4,300 jobs last month.
The latest private sector job growth numbers shows the state declined over a 12-month period. The report from the U-S Bureau of Labor Statistics reports about 24-thousand jobs were added between June 2012 and June 2013 – a one-percent growth rate, dropping the state from 32nd in the nation to 37th. The national growth rate is 1.9 percent. A spokesperson for the Department of Workforce Development says while the state is lagging, there is continued improvement in job creation. He adds that the latest numbers do not include the great spring and summer the state had. While there’s optimism from Workforce Development, state Democrats say the latest numbers show Governor Walker is failing to deliver on his promise to add 250-thousand private sector jobs by the end of next year.
Milwaukee Police are investigating an apparent murder-suicide on the city's south side. The county medical examiner was called around nine this morning to a house where a 26-year-old man and his 26-year-old girlfriend were found shot-to-death. Police said the man apparently shot his girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself.
A Rock County man charged last month with burning a missing woman in his yard is now accused of asking his mother to blow up the jail, so they could escape together to Mexico. 29-year-old Nathan Middleton of Evansville is due in court Monday on a new felony escape charge, plus his original two counts of hiding and mutilating a corpse. According to prosecutors, Middleton said he couldn't stand spending any more time in the Rock County Jail in Janesville, after being there for about a month. He's under a $100,000 for allegedly burning the body of 18-year-old Aprina Paul of Fitchburg, after Paul answered his ad on Craigslist for sex. A $500 bond was added on his new escape charge. Prosecutors said Middleton wrote his mother Dec. 2, and asked her to find materials for a bomb to blow up one of the walls of the jail. He told her to light it and quote, "take off fast." Middleton's letter also wanted his mother to get a rental car, and steal somebody's license plates so they wouldn't know it was theirs. He also reportedly wrote that he knew people in Mexico who could quote, "help us get on our feet" -- and he told his mother quote, "If you love me and want me to come home, you will do this for me." Authorities have not said whether Middleton's mother could face any charges.
A committee in Madison wants to get more input, before deciding whether to make the owners of large buildings publicly report their energy use. The idea is for business-and-apartment buildings to compare their use of energy to similar structures in other cities. Then they'll know what investments to make to save money and be more efficient. Chicago and Minneapolis currently do the same thing. Their energy usage data is sent to the federal EPA, which compares it to similar buildings elsewhere. Wisconsin does the same for its state-owned facilities. Under the proposed Madison ordinance, building owners would have time to shore up their structures before recording energy data that will eventually be made public. They would have to report their usage figures to the city every three years, or pay fines of up to $250 a day. The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce has come out against the measure. The group says it's okay to educate members about energy use, but the public reporting requirements would be too cumbersome and expensive. The city's Economic Development plans to take it up again next month. It could reach the Madison City Council as early as February.
A La Crosse woman is accused of breaking into her ex-boyfriend's house, and torturing his mature basset hound until it died. Prosecutors filed a pair of misdemeanor charges against 32-year-old Selina Boulton, even though the ex-boyfriend asked that she not be charged. Authorities said she killed 13-year-old Jixer on November 14th, after an argument with her ex-boyfriend. Boulton denied busting in, and told police the dog bit her. Police said the dog's choke collar was tight around its neck -- and he suffered broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and an apparent stab wound. She told authorities the dog lived four years past its life expectancy and quote, "an animal has more rights than I do." The boyfriend told prosecutors he thought his pet suffered a heart attack when Boulton entered through a window -- and he asked officials to let her go. But prosecutors didn't buy his story -- and she's due in court January 10th on misdemeanor counts of animal mistreatment and disorderly conduct.
Target confirmed this morning that up to 40-million of its customers could have had their debit-or-credit card information stolen in a security breach. Media reports said customers at nearly all U.S. Target stores -- including about 40 in Wisconsin -- had their data stolen when they swiped their cards at checkout counters when completing their purchases. Target said it happened from day before Thanksgiving through last Sunday. The Minneapolis-based department store chain said it's working closely with law enforcement and financial institutions, and they've resolved the issue. The Secret Service confirms an investigation, but won't say any more. Target said customers can now use their cards with confidence, as more shoppers are expected to hit the stores with Christmas just six days away. The company told customers to monitor their card-and-bank statements for any signs of identity theft -- and to report suspicious activity to their card issuers and Target immediately. Former newspaper reporter Brian Krebs broke the story on his "Krebs on Security" blog. He tells the Saint Paul Pioneer Press there's no way of knowing if any of the stolen data has been fraudulently used yet. He says the data normally has to be sold to black market buyers first -- and it could be months before any of it is used, if ever. Target said the breach did not affect the company's online shopping site.
We're learning more about a man charged with making over a dozen bomb threats in Waupun. WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee said 32-year-old Aaron Schreiber was diagnosed in 2004 as having an anxiety disorder. That's when he admitted having sex up to 15 times with a girl who was 14 years old. Most of the incidents took place in parking lots near Fort Drum in New York State. The girl got pregnant, and she later had an abortion. Schreiber pleaded guilty in a military court marshal and was confined for three years. It's why he had to register as a sex offender in Wisconsin. Last month, Schreiber was charged with 41 felony counts. Ten were for working with children as a child sex offender, when he was a referee for girls' volleyball and basketball in middle school and high school. Fifteen charges involved bomb scares last month at Waupun high school, a hospital, stores, and fast-food restaurants. Online court records show that a report about Schreiber's mental state was given to a Dodge County circuit judge this week. He was recently ordered to undergo an exam to see if he's competent to stand trial. A hearing on that question is set for Jan. 8
Milwaukee Police were called early this morning, after a surplus military hand grenade was found in a home on the city's north side. Police sent its Hazardous Devices Unit to the house around five o'clock after getting a call about the grenade. Officers recovered it an hour later. They said it was an empty hull and was not a live explosive. No other information was immediately available.
Hunger and homelessness are both on the rise in north-central Wisconsin. U.S. House Republican Sean Duffy of Weston held a summit on the matter in Wausau yesterday. Duffy said he was "taken aback" when local pastors told him last year that their resources for helping people are running dry. Duffy said over two-thousand people in his northern Wisconsin congressional district were documented to spend time in homeless shelters. He also said 13-and-a-half percent of homes in his district have faced hardships in feeding their families. Dave Eisenreich, who heads the Marathon County Hunger Coalition, said the numbers of needy residents are shocking. Lieutenant Jason Tripp of the Salvation Army in Wausau said his group had a 19-percent increase in the number of people it served last year -- those in need of food and-or shelter. Salvation Army officer Melinda Tripp said her group must turn away families from their lone dormitory, because the demand is too high.
About 2,400 unionized state employees are one step closer to getting one-percent pay raises. The Legislature's Joint Committee on Employment Relations approved the contracts this morning. They must still be ratified by both the full Assembly and Senate before they can take effect. The pay hikes would be retroactive to the beginning of the state government's new fiscal year on July first. They would cover five smaller unions that represent education professionals, classified attorneys, economists, nurses, and research analysts.
State Assembly Democrats are urging the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to do more in stopping a fatal disease found in deer. The Assembly’s natural resources committee heard testimony today from Wildlife Health Section Chief Tami Ryan, who told the committee that chronic wasting disease is spreading with no public supports for herd reduction strategy. The committee says the department needs to take a tougher stand on the disease. Baraboo State Assemblyman Fred Clark says the agency is “fiddling while Rome burns.” The department has been monitoring the fatal disease since 2002. Chronic wasting disease is a transmissible neurological disease that produces small lesions in the brain. The always-fatal disease is believed to be caused by infectious proteins known as Prions.
An Upper Michigan man who's accused of a murder in North Dakota was arrested in northern Wisconsin for violating conditions of his bond. Ryan Anderson of Iron River was free on a 50-thousand dollar bond when he was picked up Sunday in Vilas County on suspicion of drunk driving. North Dakota authorities then issued a warrant which called for his return to that state. Anderson was arrested on that warrant this morning. He'll need to be extradited before he can return. Anderson is charged in the stabbing death of a friend, Christopher King. Authorities said it happened in March, during a dispute at a camp where an oil crew was working in the northwest part of North Dakota. He's scheduled to go on trial in mid-February. This was the second time Anderson has violated bond conditions. Bond was originally set at a million-dollars in his murder case. It was later cut to a half-million, and then to $50,000
An electric utility has chosen a site near Kaukauna for a proposed new power plant. The Wisconsin Public Service Corporation said today it would seek to build a new plant at the current Fox Energy Center, where an existing unit burns natural gas to create electricity. The utility said it would also seek bids from other companies for buying power instead of building a plant, depending on whether it's economical. The utility says a new plant is needed by 2019. The Fox site was chosen over downtown Green Bay and Kewaunee County. Public Service vice president Paul Spicer said the selection of the Fox site was driven by economic considerations. He said it's close to natural gas and water, the current electric transmission system is close by, and it already has a gas-fired plant similar to what the new one would be. A final decision on building a new plant is expected sometime next year.
Wisconsin's attorney general is still not sure what he'll do after he leaves office in January of 2015 -- but he knows what he won't do. In year-end media interviews, J.B. Van Hollen said he will not run for a higher office like governor or the U.S. Senate. He said he doesn't have a job at a private law firm lined up. However, Van Hollen said a run for the State Supreme Court would be intriguing. Still, he said it's too early to explore or commit to anything. Van Hollen announced two months ago that he won't run next fall for a third four-year term as Wisconsin's chief law enforcement official. Van Hollen -- a former federal prosecutor -- said he does not believe anyone should be an attorney general for life. He said the duties have stayed on his mind all the time, and he really wants to focus on his family for a change. Van Hollen said he'd like to win the remaining challenges to the state's collective bargaining limits before he leaves office -- and win the challenges to the state's photo I-D law for voting. Van Hollen said he surpassed his goals as attorney general 10 times over. He mentions the end of a backlog to test DNA samples, and expanding numerous programs to protect children.
Wisconsin's largest company predicts what it calls "significant earnings growth" for its new fiscal year that began October first. Johnson Controls of suburban Milwaukee expects a three-percent increase in its total sales, to just under $44-billion dollars for the year. Earnings-per-share are forecast to grow from $2.66 in the last fiscal year to $3.15 this year. CEO Alex Molinaroli said Johnson Controls is steering away from its production of car seats, while capitalizing on growth opportunities for its energy-efficient building ventilation controls, and advanced batteries for vehicles. Johnson Controls is still growing its business in China, where its sales exceeded eight-billion dollars last year. That, plus higher sales of lead-acid batteries for fuel-efficient motor vehicles, are expected to raise sales in its power solutions business by seven-to-eight percent.
Funeral services are planned this weekend for the longest-serving elected official in Wisconsin history. 95-year-old Joe Ready of Watertown died last weekend. He served for 78 years in local government -- just over two decades on the Watertown City Council, and 57 years on the Dodge County Board until he retired about a year-and-a-half ago. Dodge County Clerk Karen Gibson said Ready only missed one-or-two meetings during his almost six decades as a county supervisor. In 2007, Ready was honored by the Wisconsin Counties Association for his long service. At the time, he said dedication was the key to his longevity. When people think of longevity, many think of state State Senate Democrat Fred Risser, who continues as the nation's longest-serving state lawmaker in his 57th year. But compared to Ready, Risser is a relative pup at age 86. Funeral arrangements for Joe Ready are pending at the Hafemeister Funeral Home in Watertown.
Four residents were hospitalized, after a house fire in the Milwaukee suburb of Cudahy. Officials said two children were among those who suffered smoke inhalation, and one of the adults has since gone home. Apparently, some people were affected without needing hospitalization. Heather Antoniewicz tells WISN-TV that her mother, step-father, two sisters, and three nieces were all in the house at the time the fire broke out. The children are 4-to-15 years old. It took about a half-hour to get the blaze under control. Units from the Air National Guard's 128th Refueling Wing helped fire-fighters from three departments put out the flames. The cause remains under investigation.
'Twas the week before Christmas, and all through Wisconsin, con artists continue to stir. In the latest rip-off, a caller says you may be a respondent in a court case -- and you might have your wages garnished if you don't press a key on your phone, talk to a litigator, and presumably pay a settlement. Sandy Chalmers of the state's Consumer Protection agency says the calls can be downright frightening -- but it's really a new twist on an old con job. Chalmers says the callers never say who they are, and no legitimate business would ever contact you in such a manner. Chalmers says you should never hit any keys during a phone call, and never talk to a live person in that situation. Even if you don't give up money right away, Chalmers says scammers could sell your number to other crooks who might see you as easy prey. And if you call anybody, she says to call the state Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection's help-line.
A neighborhood grocery store is about to close, after it was run by a Marshfield family for over a half-century. 97-year-old Marge Wolf says she's loved every minute of running Wolf's Grocery, a small candy-and-convenience counter next to an elementary school. However, she says it's time for her to retire. The store will shut down tomorrow and be converted into an apartment. Wolf got national publicity this summer for fighting off a teenage robber. He held her up at knife-point, and she would only give him candy instead of cash. Wolf wasn't going to report the crime to police, but she did so because she feared the teen might rob her elderly neighbors. Wolf tells the Marshfield News-Herald she wouldn't be closing the store if she had the energy to keep it going -- but all in all, she remains in good health three years before turning 100.