WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: No comment from governor on new investigation
NEW BERLIN - Governor Scott Walker refuses to say whether he, his aides, or his lawyers have been contacted in a newly-reported John Doe investigation into state issues.
After an appearance in New Berlin yesterday, the Republican Walker called it a "sidebar issue" -- and he would not be distracted by it. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported yesterday that former federal prosecutor Francis Schmitz is heading up the investigation. The report also said the probe may be dealing an unnamed legislative leader and alleged election law violations from the recall contests of the past two years. The probe apparently began last year with evidence stemming from the previous John Doe into illegal campaigning for Walker when he was the Milwaukee County executive. Walker said he did not want to be pulled into the John Doe because of its secrecy rules. He said he expected revelations like this now that the Democrats have a candidate running against him, Mary Burke. Walker stopped short, however, of saying that the new disclosure was political. Democrats denied leaking it. State Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau refused comment. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said he only learned of the probe just recently, and he was not aware of anyone being targeted by prosecutors.
Governor Scott Walker will reportedly give the Menominee tribe more time to make its case for a new casino in Kenosha. WLUK-TV in Green Bay said today that the tribe now has until the end of the week to round up support for its project. Among other things, the Republican Walker says all 11 Wisconsin tribes must favor the new casino -- and at last word, the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk tribes still oppose it strongly. They say it would cut into revenues for their own casinos, but the Menominee has promised them it would off-set those losses somehow. The federal government approved the new off-reservation casino two months ago, leaving the decision to Walker -- who gave the tribe 60 days to meet his conditions for approving it. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says the Menominee will make its final case to Walker tomorrow. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign today said the Potawatomi gave another $35,000 last month in campaign donations to the Republican State Leadership Committee. That's after the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk tribes shelled out another $42,500 to the GOP group earlier.
Wisconsin's local government and public school unions have at least a little time to negotiate new contracts, as the result of a court ruling yesterday. However, the Associated Press says unions cannot demand binding arbitration on current provisions they don't agree with -- and public unions have been barred for years from going-on-strike. In the meantime, the State Supreme Court will hear arguments November 11th on the state's effort to fully re-instate the Act-10 bargaining limits for both state-and-local employees. Yesterday, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas found two state officials in contempt-of-court for ordering annual re-certification elections in spite of the judge's ruling 13 months ago that threw out the Act-10 limits for public school and local government unions. The law remains in full effect for state employees.
The attorney for a former ELCA Lutheran bishop says Wisconsin's implied consent law is unconstitutional -- but a judge in Madison doesn't buy it. Prosecutors said Bruce Burnside was drunk when he struck-and-killed a jogger, Maureen Mengelt, after leaving a freeway exit in Sun Prairie on April seventh. Attorney John Hyland said Burnside gave his consent to have his blood drawn for an alcohol test -- but the attorney said the process is unconstitutional, because drivers are warned they could lose their licenses if they don't take the test. Hyland says it amounts to coercion, since he provided evidence under the threat of a penalty. Dane County Circuit Judge Nicholas McNamara rejected the argument, saying that driving is a privilege, not a right -- and the state can impose reasonable restrictions. A trial date of March 24th is set for Burnside on five charges, including negligent and drunken homicide. Prosecutors said the driver's blood alcohol level was point-128, or over one-and-a-half times the legal limit. The former bishop claimed he was not under the influence at all, and was hurrying to a church service at the time. The victim, Mengelt, was training for a 20-mile run when she was hit. Burnside was in his final months as the ELCA bishop for about 110,000 Lutherans in south-central Wisconsin. He's no longer employed by the church.
State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) says state lawmakers will not take up a local mining bill this fall. The measure would prohibit local governments from regulating sand mines and blasting. The Burlington Republican says he supports the bill, drafted by State Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) but he believes statewide mining regulations would be better suited.
The Wisconsin State Senate's most moderate Republican plans to offer a new compromise to the bill which makes it harder for schools to dump their Indian mascots. Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center says he'll ask his GOP colleagues to accept a plan next month that would let schools settle their own disputes with their Native American critics. Schultz aide Todd Allbaugh tells the Madison Capital Times that the state's education department would review all 35 school Indian mascots and nicknames, instead of waiting for complaints. If the agency finds them discriminatory, school boards would negotiate settlements with the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council. Allbaugh said the Indians' input would presumably avoid future lawsuits. The idea is based on what happened recently in the Wisconsin Dells School District, where the Ho-Chunk tribe reached a compromise on using the Chiefs as the school's name. In that deal, the Ho-Chunk presented a headdress to the high school, where it's displayed along with an explanation of the tribe's ties to the community. Allbaugh said the compromise preserves local control. Assembly Republican Steve Nass of Whitewater said he won't accept it. Nass's chief-of-staff said his boss already compromised on the issue, by scrapping his plan to dump the state's Indian name review law altogether.
With another government shutdown deadline just three months away, Wisconsin U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) says she believes this one can be avoided. Baldwin, a Democrat, is on a special budget conference committee to figure out a budget compromise by December 13. Wisconsin Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson of Oshkosh is also on the committee, along with Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Janesville), who is a co-chair. Baldwin says the committee needs to work out a path that will stop the government from going to one crisis into another. Johnson says he'll do all he can to avoid another federal government shutdown -- but it won't be easy. The government has borrowed enough money to keep running through mid-January. It will hit the debt ceiling by February seventh unless the borrowing limits are raised, or major spending cuts are made.
The sagging Leo Frigo Interstate bridge in Green Bay could be fully propped up and re-opened by January. State Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said today that the DOT will seek bids from contractors which demand a completion date of January 17th. He said the winning bidders would be rewarded for finishing early, and penalized for being late. The DOT expects the repair work to begin on November fourth. The Frigo Memorial Bridge over the Fox River has been closed for almost a month, after one of 51 support piers sank two-feet -- thus causing a sag in the high rise bridge on I-43. Officials said four piers were corroded. They'll be reinforced, and structural shafts will be dug deeper so that they touch bedrock -- which the main pier in question did not touch.
More folks have been hitting the road in Wisconsin. The DOT said today that motorists drove over 59-billion miles in the Badger State last year. That's up by just over nine-tenths-of-a-percent from 2011. The average Wisconsinite went 10-thousand-337 miles on the state's highways and streets last year -- seven-tenths-of-a-percent more than the previous year. Officials credit the increase to an improved economy, with more commercial vehicles delivering goods. An increase in the state's population was also mentioned as a factor. Dry weather certainly helped folks venture out. Spring virtually sprung in February. After some unexpected late snows in April and May, Wisconsin went through one of its hottest and driest periods in decades. According to the DOT, the Badger State has about 113,000 miles of roads. Federal, state, and Interstate highways make up just over a tenth of the total network -- but they carry 60-percent of the traffic. Wisconsin has around four-million licensed drivers and about five-and-a-half million registered vehicles.
A utilities company has filed a proposed $552-million dollar power line project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The plan from American Transmission and Xcel Energy would build a 182-mile power line, linking the La Crosse and Madison areas… with two proposed routes. Both companies say the new lines are more efficient and lowers energy costs for its customers over time. The project is facing scrutiny from the group “Save Our Unique Lands of Wisconsin”, who say a decision would have a profound consequence on the state’s energy future. If approved by regulators, construction would start in 2016.
The Wisconsin housing market continues to recover. The Wisconsin Realtors Association said today that its members sold just over six-thousand existing homes statewide in September. That's almost 16-percent more than the same month a year ago. Sellers continue to get more, as well. The Realtors' median home sale price was 144-thousand dollars last month, nine-thousand more than the year before. Sales have now increased for 27 months in a row. All regions of Wisconsin reported higher sales. The median selling prices grew in all but one of the last 19 months. Steve Lane, who chairs the board of the Realtors Association, said the growth continues in the housing market despite rising interest rates. He said they're almost a full-percentage point higher than a year ago.
Wisconsin farmers are behind schedule in harvesting a corn crop that's still not fully developed yet. New government figures show that 27-percent of the corn-for-grain has been harvested, down from the current normal of 35-percent. Only 79-percent of the crop is mature, less than the norm of 91-percent -- and it's still not fully dented. As a result, just 44-percent of the Wisconsin corn is rated good-to-excellent, and 29-percent fair. The development of soybeans is also a little behind schedule. Just over half the beans have been harvested. Forty-three percent are good-to-excellent, and 29-percent are fair. Yields vary widely for both the corn and the soybeans. Eighty-four percent of the fourth crop of hay has been harvested. Observers say the recent weather has helped the crop get ready for winter. Most, if not all of Wisconsin has now had a killing frost. Top-soil moisture is now 67-percent adequate due to recent rains.
October is National Women in Small Business Month. According to the U-S Small Business Administration, the number of women starting a business is twice the rate of men. Wisconsin’s numbers are similar to the national rate. Currently, the SBA says there are over 10-million businesses owned by women in the U.S, employing over 19-million people and generating two-and-a-half trillion dollars in sales. Over the past 15 years, businesses owned by women grew over 59-percent and is the fastest growing segment of small businesses. The SBA recommends all women consider starting their own business and study-up on what it takes to get there. A good mentor is also a very important step for a new business owner, with the biggest barrier often being the balance between the new business and family. More information and resources are available at SBA-dot-gov.
A man whose body was found in a marina at Racine apparently died from an accidental drowning. That's what sheriff's deputies said today, when they identified the victim was 58-year-old Richard Franzese of suburban Chicago. Franzese, from Hoffman Estates Illinois, was found dead Sunday at the Reef-Point Marina.
A three-million-dollar trust fund has been left to the Chippewa Falls Park Board, to make a host of major improvements at the Irvine Park Zoo. The funding is part of a foundation started by the late Gerald-and-Evelyn Thorpe. Family attorney James Colbert told the Park Board that the couple's estates are not settled yet -- but the final amount for the park department should be around three-million. The foundation is expected to provide the board with around 150-thousand dollars a year. The board is considering a total of two-point-three million dollars in zoo improvements including new buildings and new animals. Some existing enclosures would be expanded, giving animals more room, and letting them be viewed by visitors during the winter.
The brother of Brookfield spa murder victim Zina Haughton called on Congress today to expand criminal background checks for gun buyers. Elvin Daniel made the plea during a demonstration on the first anniversary of the Azana Spa shooting spree. Zina's estranged husband Radcliffe Haughton killed her and two of her female co-workers, and then himself. Daniel joined members of three gun control groups in urging U-S Senate Republican Ron Johnson to change his mind, and support the background check bill that he helped kill back in April. Radcliffe Haughton was under a restraining order when he illegally bought a gun the day before he committed the killings. Daniel said he wanted to raise awareness of domestic abuse, and prevent another family from going through what he did. One of the groups which put on today's rally, Milwaukee Organizing for Action, has held almost 15 similar events to start a public discussion about gun control. The Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort also sponsored today's event along with the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
A man found dead in Janesville last evening was a police lieutenant from nearby Milton who took his own life. State Justice Department officials continue to investigate the death of 43-year-old John Conger, who was found along a trail area on the north end of Janesville. Conger had been with the Milton police force for over 21 years. Besides being a lieutenant, he was also the department's public information officer. The Dane County medical examiner's office performed an autopsy, which found that Conger died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The Justice Department and Janesville Police continue to investigate. Milton Police Chief Dan Layber said Conger was a dedicated officer who headed many of his department's outreach and educational activities. In the chief's words, "His absence will be felt deeply by all who knew him."
Miller-Coors, the nation's second-largest beer-maker, said today it would layoff 200 salaried employees -- including 27 in Milwaukee. Media relations director Jonathan Stern said the job cuts are aimed at reducing costs, while making the company more efficient and accountable. Besides the layoffs, about 160 vacant salaried jobs will be eliminated. The total cuts represent about two-percent of Miller-Coors' total workforce, and about six-percent of its salaried workers. The company said the moves would allow for more financial flexibility, while achieving its profitability goals. Miller-Coors saw its total income drop by almost six-percent in the second quarter of the year. It was mainly because of falling sales for its two largest beer brands, Miller Lite and Coors Light. Miller-Coors was formed in 2008, in a merger of Miller's and Coors' U.S. brewing operations. It has almost 1,450 employees in its Milwaukee brewery and offices.
A senior at UW-Stevens Point is competing for a world championship in timber sports. Ben Hansen is a 22-year-old lumberjack from Milladore. He's joining the U.S. Timber-Sports relay team this week at a world meet in Stuttgart Germany. Hansen advanced by winning his national collegiate competition in Pigeon Forge Tennessee. Hansen majors in forestry administration at Stevens Point. He said his roommate got him into timber sports as a freshman. The world timber sports meet runs from Thursday through Sunday.
Milwaukee's Manpower Group reports a 50-percent increase in its quarterly earnings, compared to a year ago. The international job placement firm had a net income of almost $95-million dollars from July-through-September. That's up from $63-million at the same time a year ago. Earnings jumped from 79-cents per share to 1.18. The increase came in spite of a large number of restructuring charges. Manpower spent just over eight-million dollars to close a number of offices, lay off workers, and make other cost-cutting decisions. When those charges are not counted, the quarterly earnings would have been eight-cents-a-share higher. CEO Jeff Joerres said Manpower's European operations had slow but steady improvement during the last quarter. In his words, "Our team across the world remains positive, and all of our brands are well-positioned as we enter the fourth quarter."
Friends and relatives are resuming a search today for a 27-year-old Milwaukee woman missing since October 11th. Kelly Dwyer was reported missing after she failed to show up for work. Witnesses said her boyfriend, Kris Zocco, was one of the last people to see her before she vanished. Prosecutors said the two often took cocaine together -- and they were at Zocco's house the night before she was reported missing. The 38-year-old Zocco was charged in a Sunday court session with five drug-related counts, including the maintaining of a drug house. Jail records showed that he has posted a five-thousand-dollar bond. He was arrested after police found marijuana, cocaine, and prescription drugs in his apartment -- along with drug paraphernalia.
A new report shows that attorneys are more likely to win their State Supreme Court cases if they've given campaign money to the justices. The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found that 59-percent of attorneys win their cases, if they donate to the justices before their rulings come down. The center reviewed campaign contributions and the court's decisions over the 11 years ending in June. The figures showed that attorneys whose cases reach the Supreme Court donated $210,000 to all justices from 2002-through-this year. The main recipient by far is Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, whose campaign took in $188,000 during the 11-year period. The Investigative center found that those who donated 15-hundred-dollars or more to Abrahamson's campaign won their cases 71-percent of the time -- while all of her contributors had an average winning rate of 58-percent. Adam Skaggs of the Brennan Center for Justice says the vast majority of judges are not influenced by campaign money -- but the public often believes there's undue influence. Right now, justices make their own decisions as to whether they should withdraw from cases due to possible conflicts-of-interest. Abrahamson has proposed that an outside panel decide when justices should withdraw -- something the court's conservative majority has opposed.
Two Milwaukee police officers struck a plea deal this morning, just before they were scheduled to go on trial for not stopping illegal strip-searches. Jeff Dollhopf and Brian Kozelek both pleaded no contest to reduced charges of being parties to disorderly conduct. Prosecutors recommend that both officers get fines, and that Dollhopf be required to perform community service. Both are also expected to resign. Dollhopf and Kozelek were accused of watching while former officer Michael Vagnini illegally strip-searched drug suspects -- and looking into some suspects' cavities. Over a dozen suspects have filed lawsuits in the matter. Vagnini is serving a 26-month prison term.
The state Justice Department has taken over an investigation into a person's death in Janesville. Police Lieutenant Terry Sheridan said detectives decided to seek the state's help -- and because of that, police and Rock County sheriff's deputies were not saying anything as of mid-morning. Janesville Police were called to a house around 5:25 yesterday afternoon, on a road where about a mile had been closed off. Apparently, there's nobody dangerous on the loose. Sheridan said the public and neighbors at the crime scene had no reason to be concerned.