WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Green Bay bridge scheduled to re-open by mid-January
GREEN BAY - The Leo Frigo Bridge repair project in Green Bay is on time...and on budget. Wisconsin Department of Transportation regional design and construction Chief Brian Roper says crews are finishing their work on 20 concrete shafts that will support five piers of the bridge. He adds that work will be completed by the middle of next week, then crews will turn their attention to the sagging section of the bridge and put it back in place. Roper says the I-43 Bridge should reopen on or before January 17th.
The cold weather during the opening weekend of the nine-day gun deer hunt had a big impact on final numbers for the season. DNR big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang says many hunters told the agency that they just were not able to spend much time out in the frigid temperatures during the first few days. Opening weekend numbers were down about 18-percent from last year during the opening weekend, but picked up later in the week through the end of the season on Sunday. In the end, this year's season was down about seven-percent from 2012, with preliminary numbers showing about 226-thousand deer were harvested.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court receiving a failing grade today for disclosure requirements by justices in cases where they might have conflicts-of-interest. A total of 43 states received grades of "F" by the Center for Public Integrity. California and Maryland had the highest grades of "C." Six other states got "D's." Actually, Wisconsin ranked 14th among what the center calls a dismal lot. The federal court system had a better grade than all the states. It was given a "B" for its conflict disclosure requirements. The report noted that Wisconsin justices faced ethics charges in recent years. Annette Ziegler was reprimanded for her involvement in a 2008 case as a Washington County judge, involving a bank in which her husband was a board member. The report also said Justice Ann Walsh Bradley took part in a case in 2011 involving Nestle USA, when she owned at least five-thousand dollars in the company's stock. Bradley ruled against Nestle in that matter. Justices David Prosser and Michael Gableman have also faced ethics allegations in recent years. They and Bradley were not punished by their colleagues.
A federal judge in Milwaukee sentenced a man to five years in prison today, for helping run a lottery scam based in Jamaica. 28-year-old O'Brain Junior Lynch struck a plea deal in June, in which he admitted stealing at least $35,000 from over 50 people -- including a man from the Milwaukee suburb of Glendale. The man told Federal Judge J.P. Stadtmueller how he and his family lost over 116-thousand dollars in the scam. Lynch convinced the victim that he won over five-million dollars plus two cars in the Jamaican Lottery, and the defendant kept pressuring Lynch to pay thousands in feeds to get a prize that was promised for a long time but never came. The man said he cashed out his life insurance, took a loan against his car, sold guns, and borrowed from a relative to pay Lynch. Defense lawyer Daniel Meylink said Lynch was a cab driver in Montego Bay when he was recruited to make what he called "easy money" to help his family -- and Lynch assumed he was pulling off a victimless crime.
The Wisconsin State Assembly voted this afternoon to wait for three months before dropping state health insurance coverage for almost 100,000 residents. All 59 Republicans voted for the measure along with five Democrats -- Janet Bewley, Amy Sue Vruwink, Stephen Smith, Janis Ringhand, and Brett Hulsey. The vote was 64-32 in favor of Governor Scott Walker's legislation to delay the dropping of Badger Care for 77,000 recipients above the poverty line. Those people would not have to buy coverage under the federal Obamacare insurance exchange until March instead of later this month. The same is true for 20,000 other Wisconsinites who will lose state-funded coverage when the insurance pool for high-risk patients expires March 31st instead of December 31st. Democrats objected to the bill, saying it delays the start of Badger-Care for 83,000 childless adults below the poverty line. Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) called that delay "shameful," and said Republicans should take federal Obamacare Medicaid funds to cover the extra three months for those making less than poverty. The bill now goes to the state Senate.
The Wisconsin State Assembly gained two new Republicans today. Bob Kulp of Stratford and Jessie Rodriguez of Franklin were sworn in. They took their seats in time to vote on Governor Scott Walker's request to delay major changes in the state's BadgerCare health program for three months. Kulp replaces former GOP Majority Leader Scott Suder of Abbotsford. Rodriguez replaces Republican Mark Honadel of South Milwaukee. Both former lawmakers resigned in September. Their replacements will serve for 13 months, and will run for re-election in November. The Assembly now has a 59-39 GOP majority. Only one seat remains vacant. A special election is set for December 17th to replace former Greendale Republican Jeff Stone.
State Senate Democrat Kathleen Vinehout put out another signal today that she might run for governor next year. The Alma lawmaker tells the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram that she has hired a person to run a statewide campaign. She has not confirmed yet whether she'll make a second try for governor in 2014, after failing to win the Democratic primary for the state's top office in last year's Walker recall contest. Many Democrats have already gotten behind former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke to face Republican incumbent Scott Walker next November. If Vinehout or another Democrat runs, a primary would be held next August. Former Congressman David Obey of Wausau is among those concerned that a primary would hurt the party's chances of winning the governor's office. Some say a primary would sap too much campaign money, leaving Walker with a huge financial advantage in the final two-and-half months before the November Election Day. Vinehout has said she's mostly amused by those trying to discourage her from running.
Wisconsin's two largest daily newspapers are reporting concerns today about Democrat Mary Burke's campaign for governor. The State Journal of Madison said her campaign Web site fails to mention that's she's a member of the Madison School Board -- and it downplays her other connections to her home city. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Burke's campaign hired a grassroots organizing coordinator who was ticketed in Racine for picketing at a private home. Paula Zellner was fined $271, after she was among 17 protesters cited for a loud demonstration at the home of conservative donor Fred Young almost two years ago. The fundraiser was for GOP Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington. The Burke campaign did not comment on Zellner's citation. They did say the omission of Burke's Madison School Board service on her Web site was an oversight -- and they'll add a line about her board tenure that dates back to April of last year. Burke has been critical about the Republican status quo in Madison, but Marquette pollster Charles Franklin said it makes no sense for Burke to downplay her biggest public service post. For now, Burke is the only Democrat challenging Republican Governor Scott Walker next fall.
Wisconsin's job creation agency is working on a proposal to encourage Boeing to build its newest type of commercial airplane in the Badger State. Boeing is looking for a place to construct its next-generation commercial 777-X plane. That's after union machinists in Boeing's home state of Washington refused to accept contract concessions for health insurance and pension costs. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation told the Associated Press today that the state was not one of those Boeing invited to submit proposals. However, the Badger State will still submit an application soon. The WEDC says over 140 suppliers in Wisconsin already work with Boeing, and the state is uniquely qualified to meet the company's needs. Missouri is also working on a plan to attract Boeing. Officials in the Show-Me-State are considering a $1.7 billion package of incentives.
We could learn this evening what the future holds for a business site near Wisconsin Rapids that's been a saw-mill and paper-mill for almost 200 years. The former Domtar paper mill in Port Edwards has been idle since the middle of 2008. In March, the 192-acre site was purchased by DMI Acquisitions of Ohio. It's been re-named the Central Wisconsin Applied Research and Business Park. DMI plans a news conference about the site, right before it holds an open house to let the public in on its plans. The property was opened about 1829 as a sawmill, and was converted to a paper mill in 1896. The last five years have been the only time the site was idle in the last 184 years.
A new homicide charge has been filed against a Racine County woman accused in the drug overdose death of a Waterford man. 37-year-old Kristie Fitzgerald of Burlington was already facing drug-and-bail jumping charges. Yesterday, she appeared in court on a new charge of second-degree reckless homicide, plus another felony bail jumping count. Prosecutors said 53-year-old David Buchholtz bought heroin, Oxycontin, and Sub-oxone from Fitzgerald each week. Buchholtz died in August from an overdose. Court records indicate that Fitzgerald was in jail before a 50-thousand dollar bond was imposed for the newest counts. A preliminary hearing in the case is set for a week from tomorrow. Meanwhile, it appears that Fitzgerald arranged a plea deal on her other charges. A plea hearing is set for January 13th on three earlier counts of distributing illegal drugs, plus two earlier charges of felony bail jumping.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court will not consider releasing a man who killed three people at a church near La Crosse 28 years ago. A circuit judge and a state appeals court both ruled that Bryan Stanley violated the terms of a conditional release from the state's Mendota Mental Health Institute in 2009. Stanley's attorney asked the Supreme Court to reverse the rulings and let him go -- but the justices said they would not review the case. When he was first released, Stanley had spent over two decades at Mendota. That's after he was found innocent-by-insanity in the 1985 shooting deaths of the Reverend John Rossiter and two others at Saint Patrick's Catholic Church in Onalaska. Stanley was out of the institution for three years before Circuit Judge Ramona Gonzalez sent him back in 2012. By then, she said Stanley had violent and disturbing thoughts for over a year -- and considering his schizo-phrenia, Stanley did not act in the best interest of the public or his rehab.
A Waukesha man will face charges in a crash that killed a motorcyclist in October. 23-year-old Edi Gomez has been charged with homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle and operating with a suspended license. Court records show Gomez was running late for work and attempted to pass 58-year-old James Solvenson on the shoulder, losing control of his SUV and hitting Solvenson. The motorcyclist was thrown off his bike and struck his head on a metal pole, he was pronounced dead on the scene. Gomez is being held at the Waukesha County Jail, bail set at $500,000 dollars.