WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Nearly a million in state have food stamps cut
About 900,000 Wisconsinites will get a reduction in their food stamp benefits, starting today. That's because a funding increase from the 2009 stimulus package expires.
The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act added $45-billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2009, at the height of the Great Recession. That money ends today, causing a decrease in monthly Food-Share benefits of $36 for a family-of-four, and $29 for a family-of-three. Tamarine Cornelius of the Wisconsin Budget Project says it's not a good time to slash public food benefits because there's still a lot of poverty, wages are not as high as before, and there's still a relatively high level of unemployment. Cornelius says 40-percent of Wisconsin's Food-Share benefits go to children. She says the reduction will make it that much harder for their parents to put food on the table. And it could get even harder soon. Congress is negotiating a new Farm Bill in which both parties are seeking decreases in food stamp benefits, albeit at different levels.
Window-shoppers in Wisconsin Dells would no longer see obscene T-shirts, under a proposed city ordinance. Mayor Brian Landers says he's been trying for many years to get stores in the tourist haven to voluntarily remove offensive shirts from their front windows. A new ordinance has a $500-dollar fine for violators. The offensive shirts could still be sold -- but they'd have to be moved inside, and customers would be warned before they enter a store that mature merchandise is available. A final vote on the measure is expected in the next few weeks.
A town clerk in central Wisconsin is free on a signature bond, after she was arrested for alleged misconduct. Adams County sheriff's officials say they'll ask prosecutors to charge 53-year-old Deena Griffin with theft, forgery, and misconduct in public office. She remains the clerk of the town of Rome, south of Wisconsin Rapids. Sheriff Sam Wollin said town officials asked his deputies to investigate Griffin, but neither he nor town Chairman Phil McLaughlin would give details of the alleged irregularities. Wollin says his investigators are going through a lot of information, and it could be some time before charges are filed. The matter did not come up during a town board meeting last night. Griffin has worked for the town of Rome for about two decades. She's been the town's zoning administrator. Griffin was elected as town clerk in 2011, and won a second term in April.
An arm of the John Birch Society paid to have experts testify against the Common Core academic standards at public hearings in Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said the American Opinion Foundation -- a John Birch affiliate -- paid to have a former Bush education official and other academic experts speak for themselves at hearings this month in Wausau, Eau Claire, and Fond du Lac. The group said local residents raised $5,500 to cover the speakers' expenses. It was enough to make Milwaukee Assembly Democrat Christine Sinicki quit the Assembly's special committee on the Common Core standards. She said it's wrong to have extreme national interest groups orchestrate the proceedings. State Senate Democrat Tim Cullen of Janesville said he's never seen, quote, "the clear attempt to hide" who the speakers were representing. Assembly panel chairman Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Fond du Lac said the hearings were "absolutely on the up-and-up." He said school representatives got taxpayer funding to testify. Both houses formed study committees after tea party critics called Common Core a vehicle for a federal takeover of education. Wisconsin adopted the standards three years ago without much fanfare, and some Republicans wanted a second look. The standards have been praised by education and business leaders for raising the bar on student achievement.
It's the first of November, and forecasters say it will feel like it today. The National Weather Service says brisk northwest winds will push into Wisconsin and cool things down. Highs are expected to be in the 40's statewide, after parts of southern Wisconsin basked in the low-60's yesterday -- about 10-degrees above normal. Summer-like rains also went through the southern part of the state. La Crosse had its highest dew-point for Halloween since 2000, with a high reading of 52. Gays Mills in the southwest had around an-inch-and-a-half. Last night, Watertown lived up to its name by getting around an-inch-and-a-half of rain. Forecasters say a low pressure system will keep light showers around today and into the weekend. Rain could change to light snow tonight and tomorrow in northern Wisconsin. More mild air is expected Sunday and Monday, with cooler temps and more precipitation possible on Tuesday.
A federal appeals court said a family near Rhinelander was not denied of its religious freedom, when local governments rejected their plans to build a religious camp. A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld a decision from Judge William Conley of Madison. He ruled in February that the Jaros family did not have its religious freedom violated when Oneida County, its Board-of-Adjustment, and the town of Woodboro said no to a religious camp on Squash Lake. The family said the denials violated their rights under a 13-year-old federal law which forbids the denial of religious land use by government zoning. Oneida County's corporation counsel did not comment on the appellate ruling, saying there's a possibility of further litigation. As of yesterday, the family had not responded to the appellate decision, either.
Investigators are still trying to determine how-and-why an 86-year-old man was killed by a vehicle on Monday in Rothschild, south of Wausau. Police said John Diktanas of Crivitz was walking along the shoulder of a road when he was struck. He died a short time later at a Wausau Hospital. Rothschild Police say they're trying to piece together the events which led up to the fatal mishap.
Just over one-of-every-10 babies were born prematurely in Wisconsin last year. That's according to the March of Dimes, which said the state's premature birth rate inched up one-tenth-of-a-percent from 2011's rate of 10.4. Despite the increase, the March of Dimes gave Wisconsin a grade of "B" for its efforts to reduce premature birth, which is the main reason that babies die. Among other things, Badger-Care Plus offers temporary insurance to pregnant women who qualify. By seeing a regular doctor, they can avoid complications many low-income women face by going to the emergency room when it's time to give birth. Wisconsin had a slight increase in un-insured women of child-bearing age in 2012. In Milwaukee, Aurora Sinai and Wheaton Franciscan-Saint Joseph hospitals created safety nets to deal with larger numbers of pregnant women in their ER's. Nationally, the March of Dimes encourages more Medicaid and other insurance coverage to women of child-bearing age. The group also encourages employers to do more to support the health of mothers-and-infants.
A plea deal would give an Eau Claire man 12 years in prison for causing a chain reaction drunk driving crash that killed a passenger in his van. 36-year-old Travis Hazleton pleaded guilty this week to five felony charges, including homicide by OWI. Both sides in the case agreed to recommend a dozen years in prison for Hazleton -- but the judge can still order something different when Hazleton is sentenced on January sixth. His conviction allows up to 40 years behind bars. 26-year-old Jesse Schreiner of Eau Claire was killed in the mishap, which occurred in July of last year. Hazleton and three others were hurt when his van started a pilot that involved seven vehicles.
The IRS is warning Wisconsinites about an elaborate scam in which taxpayers are told they owe money -- and they could be arrested, deported, or lose their licenses if they don't pay up now. Wisconsin IRS spokesman Christopher Miller says at least some folks in the Badger State have received such calls. There was no word on whether anyone was victimized. IRS officials say the scammers sound real. They give fake names and employee badge numbers -- and they might even know the last four digits of a victim's Social Security number. Where they give themselves away is how they demand payments with pre-paid debit cards and wire transfers. Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel says his agency never asks taxpayers to provide either of those things -- and they never ask for credit card information over the phone, either. Also, Werfel says the IRS never gets too heavy with phone threats, like the scammers are apparently doing. If you get such a call, you're urged to call the IRS if you really owe back taxes -- or the Treasury Inspector General if you don't.
The speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly says his house will press forward this month to pass a voter ID requirement that's constitutional. But the other house won't touch the hot-button issue right now. Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau says the courts should decide the matter in a federal trial and two state appeals' rulings that are coming up. GOP State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington says he does not want the courts to decide what the state should do -- and he wants to press on to make sure voters in next year's elections show photo ID's at the polls. Yesterday, freshman Assembly Republicans Michael Schraa of Oshkosh and Mark Born of Washington County brought back a measure to let the poor and other disenfranchised people vote without an ID -- but they'd have to sign affidavits explaining their reasons. Schraa says the bill is similar to Indiana's law which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld. Vos wants the Assembly to pass this measure in the November floor session, along with stricter limits on early voting and the ability to recall state elected officials. A Senate committee heard testimony yesterday on a bill to ban most in-person early voting on nights and weekends before an election.
Supporters and opponents of the Kenosha casino are trying to figure out the main message from Governor Scott Walker's statements about the project this week. The Republican Walker has been issuing daily letters, saying he wanted people to know the issues he's facing as he decides whether to approve the Menominee tribe's $800-million Hard Rock casino and resort. The administration expects a decision next week. Kenosha area legislators from both parties say Walker appears to be leaning against the new casino. A spokesman for Hard Rock says it's not true that Walker's laying out a case against it. The Potawatomi tribe, one of the biggest opponents of the new casino, says the jury's still out. Walker's statements have not focused on the Menominee's claim of new jobs and more gamblers from Illinois. The governor's letters have also ignored the Menominee's contention that all other Wisconsin tribes endorsed the project when they signed new gaming agreements with the state a decade ago. The governor also points to mixed support in southeast Wisconsin. That's one of the main criteria in his decision.
The man accused of killing three elderly family members in southwest Wisconsin was given a new confinement at a mental institution yesterday. Visiting Judge William Foust ruled that 31-year-old Jaren Kuester of Waukesha was not competent to stand trial. Kuester's attorney, Guy Taylor, said he was surprised by the finding because the defendant's mental condition has been getting better with new medication. Taylor expects the new confinement to be temporary. Foust will re-evaluate Kuester's mental state on November 25th. Kuester is charged with five felonies after he allegedly broke into a farmhouse in Lafayette County in April -- killed Dean, Gary, and Chloe Thoreson with a fireplace poker -- and then drove one of the victims' pick-up trucks to Waukesha to see his father. He was arrested there the day after the slayings. His parents have said they tried to get mental help for Kuester before the incidents, because they feared he was delusional. A plea deal was set in July, in which Kuester would have been found innocent-by-insanity and sent to a mental institution. The plea deal broke down after Kuester was despondent at a court hearing.
A $15,000 cash bond was set yesterday for a Milwaukee woman charged with killing a man with her vehicle, and not stopping. 47-year-old Carolyn Alcala is charged with fatal hit-and-run in the death of 45-year-old Anthony Judd. Prosecutors said Alcala had four drinks at a nearby tavern before her vehicle struck Judd last Saturday. Officials said she made a U-turn after feeling a bump in her car, and then got scared and drove off after she saw a person's shoe on the roadway. Alcala went home, and police said her daughter got her to turn herself in. She's due back in court next Friday, when court officials will decide if there's enough evidence to order a trial.
UW-Oshkosh has taken its own steps to reward faculty and staff members whom school officials say are underpaid. A memo was sent to Oshkosh campus employees yesterday, spelling out the details of about $962,000 in total pay hikes. It said 369 instructors and staffers would get average raises of $2,600 a year. The other 319 staffers and faculty will get one-percent increases given to all state employees. Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells defends the increases, saying his school is 18-percent behind the average salaries at similar universities in the Midwest. Wells questions have been raised about whether Oshkosh can attract and keep high-quality staffers.
A 90-year-old woman who died in a duplex fire north of Milwaukee was identified as Jeanne Taggett. The Milwaukee County medical examiner's office said Taggett's body was found in a hallway near the first floor kitchen in a duplex that started on fire in Shorewood around nine last night. No one else was hurt. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation. Officials said they do not suspect foul play. North Shore fire chief Robert Whitaker said the blaze started in a kitchen -- the rear was engulfed in flames when fire-fighters arrived -- and the home had working smoke detectors.
The police chief in Minocqua has resigned, after the northern Wisconsin tourist town reached a settlement with his former administrative assistant. The town board accepted Andy Gee's resignation last night after six years as chief. The town reached a 100-thousand dollar settlement with his former aide Julie Mager. Media reports said Mager accused the chief of shouting so loudly at her, it could be heard throughout the police station. She claimed Gee discriminated against her, and intimidated her. Lieutenant Dave Jaeger will temporarily head up the Minocqua police department until permanent chief can be hired.
If the La Crosse fire chief has his way, more rescue personnel would have the state's permission to administer a drug that counter-acts the effects of heroin. Right now, paramedics are the only local emergency responders authorized to give the drug Narcan to try-and-stem a heroin overdose. State officials are considering the idea of letting EMT's administer the drug. La Crosse Fire Chief Gregg Cleveland said he'd like to see his fire-fighters get the authority as well. He says fire-fighters who respond to overdoses can only manage the patients' circulation and breathing until paramedics arrive -- and when the intervention came begin earlier, the chief says the outcome will be better. Cleveland said his department is called to a heroin overdose on an average of once every four days. For now, the state's Emergency Services office is letting EMT's apply to administer Narcan in the wake of an increased number of heroin deaths. The accepted applicants can administer Narcan for a year starting January first. The following year, an advisory board will decide whether to let all EMT's handle the drug.
Milwaukee Police called off the search through a garbage dump for evidence in the disappearance of Kelly Dwyer yesterday. It's been raining heavily in Milwaukee and officers have combed a Menomonee Falls trash site since last weekend, looking for clues about the 27-year-old Dwyer. Officials say the search will continue when the weather improves. Dwyer has been missing since October 10th. The last person who reportedly saw her, Kris Zocco, was held under a quarter-million bond yesterday after he was charged with more than a dozen unrelated child pornography possession charges. During a hearing in that case, a prosecutor said the 38-year-old Zocco -- Dwyer's boyfriend -- was a person-of-interest in the woman's disappearance. Since she vanished, Zocco has also been ordered to stand trial on drug-related charges.
A 31-year-old man failed today to get out of a murder conviction, by claiming that his trial judge was prejudiced against him by giving leftover Halloween candy to his jury. Jimmie Green was sentenced a year ago to life in prison, for a gang-related drive-by shooting in Racine that killed 12-year-old Marize Jones in 2010. Green tried convincing the Second District Court of Appeals that his attorney failed to represent him adequately. That's because the lawyer did not ask for a mistrial after learning that jurors sent the judge a thank-you note for the candy. Green said it created an "us-versus-him" atmosphere, something his trial lawyer never perceived. The appellate court found that the judge actually gave the candy to the bailiff -- but the bailiff told jurors it was the judge's generosity. On this Halloween, the appellate court had no treats for Green, saying there was nothing improper about giving left-over candy to the jury through the bailiff. Also, Green wanted access to sealed jury information, so he could question the withdrawal of one potential juror who expressed concerns about the gang-related portion of the case. That request was turned down.
The manufacturing sector kept improving in October in southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois. That's according to the monthly industrial health index from the Marquette University Center for Supply Management, and the Milwaukee chapter of the Institute for Supply Management. The latter group includes purchasing officers from various factories. They said the overall index was 57-point-one in October, up from 55 the previous month. Anything above 50 indicates growth. New orders showed an improvement, but the factory employment picture slipped from about 62 in September to around 59-and-a-half this month.
The end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drove profits down at the Oshkosh Corporation. The firm reports a 46-percent drop in the sales of its military vehicles in the final quarter of its fiscal year, compared to the same time a year ago. That's a big reason Oshkosh had a 57-percent drop its in quarterly profits. The firm made almost $36-mllion from July-through-September, down from $84-million in the same quarter of 2012. Earnings plunged from 91-cents a share the previous year, to 40-cents a share this year. Oshkosh did have an increase in its non-defense business, but it was not enough to off-set the lower business in its military truck lines. Company officials said the drops were fully expected, and they were actually on the high-end of its estimated earnings range. Sales revenues of commercial vehicles, like concrete mixers, jumped 15-percent. Oshkosh also cited a strong demand for aerial lift equipment sales in North America.
Repairs will begin earlier than expected at the sagging Leo Frigo high-rise bridge in Green Bay. Governor Scott Walker has approved the low bid of Zenith Tech of Waukesha. The firm will begin repairs tomorrow at the Interstate-43 bridge over the Fox River. Officials said earlier that the work would begin on Monday. Newly-drilled shafts will be installed on five support piers where corrosion was found. That includes the pier which sank two-feet on September 25th, causing traffic to dip on the bridge. The DOT says the cause for the corrosion will go away -- and the pier which sank will be connected to bedroom for the first time. The Leo Frigo Bridge is expected to re-open by January 17th.
At least some of Wisconsin's small towns have seen a rash of thefts of catalytic converters from cars-and-trucks. It used to be mostly a big-city problem, but Jason Weber of the Menasha town police department says his officers have seen a number of catalytic converter thefts in the past few weeks. The devices maintain clean auto emissions. Weber tells the Appleton Post-Crescent the thieves can get 150-dollars in scrap metal for each converter -- but it costs the victims over a-thousand dollars to replace them. One used car dealer in Menasha said he's been hit with three catalytic converter thefts. He didn't know one was gone until a customer took a test drive -- and the vehicle was surprisingly loud. Police Lieutenant Colette Jaeger of the town of Grand Chute near Appleton says SUV's and trucks are more likely to be hit, because the engines are higher off the ground, and thieves don't have to squeeze underneath the vehicles to get the units. She asked scrap metal dealers to be leery of anyone bringing in several catalytic converters at a time. She also said people should watch more closely for thieves.
State Assembly Democrat Chris Taylor says she will not run for attorney general next year. The Madison lawmaker says she loves her current post, and she has a lot of critical work to do in the Legislature. Republican incumbent J.B. Van Hollen said three-and-a-half weeks ago he would run for re-election. Taylor was among the first to consider throwing her hat in the ring. She's been in the Assembly for just over two years, after serving as a leader for Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin. Only two people have announced their bids for Van Hollen's open seat -- Republican Brad Schimel, the Waukesha County DA, and state Assembly Democrat Jon Richards of Milwaukee.