WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: One in four Wisconsinites have debts reported to collection agencies
About one of every four Wisconsin adults have debts that were reported to collection agencies -- and while that sounds bad, the national average is a lot worse.
The Urban Institute released a study today showing that 26-and-a-half percent of Wisconsinites with credit records have something that collection agencies are calling about. Those people are being hounded to pay back an average of $5,200 each -- and they often lose out on good jobs or the apartments they want. That's according to Caroline Ratcliffe of the Urban Institute, who says the percentage of people in collections has stayed the same, even though total debt has gone down since the Great Recession. Ratcliffe calls that a disturbing trend. All told, four-point-two percent of Wisconsin credit users have past-due debts -- well below the national average of five-point-three percent. The percentage of Badger State adults with something in collections is eight-and-a-half percent below the national norm, while the amount in collections is about $100 more than average. Also, the nation's 100 largest metro areas had their debt rates listed. Madison has the sixth-lowest percentage of people with debts in collections -- but it's still 22.6 percent. Metro Milwaukee is about four-percent before the national norm, at 31-percent. The figures are based on federal data, and numbers from the Trans-Union credit bureau.
A five-year-old girl was killed in the driveway of a house in Racine. Police said the girl had just arrived for a party on Saturday when a van backed up and ran over the child, who had her back to the vehicle. Police said the 16-year-old boy who was driving the van heard people yelling -- but he didn't know he ran over somebody, so he pulled the van forward and ran over the girl again. Police said the driveway had a steep pitch -- and it might have contributed to the mishap, because the van driver did not see the girl. She was conscious when ambulance personnel arrived. She died later at a Racine hospital.
The body of a missing northern Wisconsin man has been found in his vehicle, after it drove into an abandoned mine-shaft which had ten-feet of water. Seventy-four year old Duane Jussila of Hurley was missing since July 5. The vehicle was found Sunday in a shaft known as "The Caves" in nearby Ironwood, Michigan. Police said Jussila drove through a barbed-wire fence before plunging into the former mine-shaft.
A woman trapped for up to 20 minutes underneath an overturned riding lawn mower was identified today as 67-year-old Sue Flynn of rural Janesville. Rock County authorities said Flynn was mowing on Saturday when she got too close to an incline at a culvert -- and her machine overturned on top of her. Officials said nobody saw her for 15-to-20 minutes before a witness finally noticed Flynn and called 911. She died later at a Janesville hospital.
Milwaukee Police are investigating a one-car crash that killed a 19-year-old woman. Officials said her car left a north side street and slammed into a tree around ten last night. Nobody else was in the vehicle, and officers are not sure why the crash occurred.
Two Racine police officers are back on the job, after they were cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting death of a knife-wielding man. Thirty-seven year old Rajko Utvic was killed July sixth. Officers Craig Klepel and Mathias Zinnen were told that Utvic was suicidal, and he had taken 100 pain-reducing Ibuprofen pills. He refused to drop his knife when the officers told him to do so -- and they shot Utvic as he lunged toward them. The officers tried stopping the suspect with Taser stun guns, but that didn't work. The Racine County sheriff's office, which investigated the shootings, said witnesses confirmed what Klepel and Zinnen had claimed. The investigation also found that Utvic had an undisclosed mental illness.
A Milwaukee man is due back in court next Wednesday, after prosecutors said he killed a man during a robbery attempt outside of a strip club. Twenty-five year old Keithany Brodie is charged with homicide, robbery, and illegal firearm possession as a convicted felon. Police said Brodie shot-and-killed 33-year-old Vincent Fayne on July 20th outside of Ricky's Strip Club on Milwaukee's north side. According to prosecutors, Brodie said Fayne appeared to be an easy target because of jewelry -- so Brodie pulled a gun on him. Fayne tried running away, and officials said Brodie fired the gun as he was running innto a car. Police found the victim's body on a sidewalk. Brodie appeared in Sunday court, where his bond was set at $150,000.
A Green Bay area man was given a new trial today in a drunk driving case in which a defense witness got into a confrontation with two jurors. Sixty-year-old Gerald Blasczyk of Oneida was convicted on all four criminal charges filed in 2011 in Outagamie County. That was after a witness saw Blasczyk passed out in his SUV while it was still running. A third person, Frank Vandehei, told jurors it was he -- and not Blasczyk -- who was driving the vehicle. After his testimony, Vandehei confronted a juror in the parking lot about a question the juror asked in the courtroom. A second juror witnessed the confrontation. Today, the Third District Appellate Court in Wausau ruled that the incident could have influenced the jurors before they convicted Blasczyk -- and that's why the defendant deserves a new trial. Blasczyk was charged with at least his tenth OWI offense, battery to authorities, and disorderly conduct. That was after he was found passed out in his SUV, which was still running at the time.
An autopsy was scheduled today to determine how a man died in a pond in southeast Wisconsin. Lake Mills Police were called to Bartel's Beach last evening -- and they found a body floating in the water. The man was not immediately identified. Police were asking for information about the incident.
A jury was being picked in Madison today for the federal court trial of a woman accused of kidnapping her baby nephew, and leaving him to die in sub-zero temperatures. Kristen Smith is charged with kidnapping. She faces a mandatory 25 years in prison if she's convicted -- and she could get a life sentence. Prosecutors said Smith kidnapped five-day-old Kayden Powell from his mother near Beloit in February. Authorities arrested Smith in Iowa as she was driving back to her home in Colorado. Officials said Kayden was not with Smith at the time -- but they found him freezing the next day in a crate behind a gas station. The infant survived despite being in sub-zero conditions for more than a day.
A former head of the Jefferson County drug task force has been convicted of stealing over $10,000 that was supposed to be used for buying evidence. The state Justice Department said today that 56-year-old Timothy Madson was found guilty of misconduct in public office. Madson is a former Jefferson County sheriff's detective who supervised the county's drug task force from 2003 through most of 2011. A criminal complaint said Madson made false claims for thousands of dollars from a fund he controlled to cover drug buys in undercover operations -- plus other task force expenses. He's due to be sentenced Oct. 1.
Two weeks of trading barbs over outsourcing is enough for the two major candidates for Wisconsin governor -- at least one of them, anyway. Democrat Mary Burke's campaign says it will start running a new TV ad tomorrow on a previous subject. It returns the focus to the $250,000 private sector jobs the Republican Walker promised to create during his four-year term. Walker's people admit adding just over 100,000 jobs -- well below what the Republican promised when he asked voters to elect him in 2010. The governor said he would have done better had it not been for years of job losses under former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. Burke was Doyle's commerce secretary late in that tenure. Walker also tries to highlight the state's unemployment rate of five-point-seven percent, the lowest since the Great Recession began in earnest in late 2008.
Companies that get state tax breaks for creating jobs would have to tell the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation if they send jobs to other countries. That proposal comes today from Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha). He said that under current WEDC rules, most subsidies would end once the agency learns that such a firm is involved in outsourcing. Earlier today, Republican Governor Scott Walker said he support some type of anti-outsourcing measure. That's after his campaign finance report showed contributions from businesses which moved jobs overseas, while he's criticizing his Democratic opponent Mary Burke because her family-owned company did the same. Barca also said the WEDC should make companies which apply for tax breaks vouch for the fact that the projects would not go ahead without government aid. Firms would also have to let the state know about any changes in their projects after the grants are awarded.
A number of Wisconsin school districts say it's up to them -- and not state Republicans -- to undo the Common Core school standards adopted four years ago. The Janesville Gazette says school officials in that city -- plus nearby Clinton, Milton, and others -- oppose Governor Scott Walker's call to abandon Common Core next year in favor of home-grown standards. Only a handful of states have not adopted Common Core, which spells out tougher expectations for student performance in math and English. Curriculum director Kim Ehrhardt of the Janesville School District says it's been working for four years to adjust its standards to Common Core -- so changing it would be counter-productive. Ehrhardt said Wisconsin schools have already spent around $25-million total tax dollars on Common Core. Also, local school leaders say they need to teach students those benchmarks, because they correspond to new state achievement tests that districts are required by law to administer next spring. Clinton District Administrator Randy Refsland told the Gazette he wished "politicians would stay out of our way and let us do our job."
Fifty-five Wisconsin school districts have used a two-year-old state law to make their buildings more energy-efficient, without needing taxpayer approval. The Appleton Post-Crescent said the schools raised over $23-million dollars in property taxes for energy projects -- two and a half times more than the previous year. John O'Herron, the Midwest regional manager for a large energy service firm, said the one common factor between large and small schools is their shortage of money for their facility needs. Charlie Schneider of the Cooperative Educational Service region in Chippewa Falls said it lets schools spend more on teaching kids, instead of sending needless cash to a utility or repair outlet. In 2012, the Appleton paper and others in the state's Gannett chain found that schools used the energy exemption to raise almost nine-million dollars in property taxes without the normal voter approval.
One of the targets of the John Doe probe into the state's recall elections has been turned down in its request to add more defendants. The Wisconsin Club for Growth asked Federal Judge Rudolph Randa to add the Government Accountability Board and its director Kevin Kennedy to the lawsuit. But Randa says he can't do it while prosecutors appeal the judge's earlier order which halted the investigation at least for now. Randa said it's the "better course of action" to keep matters at a standstill while the cases goes through the appeals process. The judge said the Government Accountability Board could file its own friend-of-the-court brief if it chooses. The two-year-old John Doe has looked into allegations that Republican recall candidates, including Governor Scott Walker, illegally coordinated their campaigns with outside groups. The Club for Growth said the probe violated its free speech rights, by keeping the group quiet during this year's active election cycle.
We expect to find out Thursday whether local government and school employees will stay under the Act-10 union bargaining limits -- whether gay couples can keep having one-fifth the benefits of married couples -- and if another step will be taken to wipe out the photo ID requirement to vote. The Wisconsin Supreme Court said today it would announce decisions in all three cases on Thursday. That normally signals the end of the court's business for the year, since the highest-profile cases are usually saved for last. The justices will rule on a legal challenge to Governor Scott Walker's signature legislation -- the suit filed by the Madison teachers' union and a Milwaukee city union. No matter what happens, state employees would remain under Act-10, which limits union negotiating to pay raises at or below inflation -- with no right to bargain for working conditions. A Madison judge struck down the law for the two local unions, and later clarified that it applies to locals statewide. As a result, some unions and their governing bodies have scrambled to bargain for new contracts. The voter ID law won't have an immediate impact, since a federal judge has already struck it down. The state's appealing that decision, however. Same-sex couples have had a domestic partner registry since 2009, which the GOP also challenged when it took control of state government in 2011. If the U.S. Supreme Court eventually throws out Wisconsin's gay marriage ban, those couples would no longer need the registry.
Early voting is underway for Wisconsin's fall primaries. Municipal clerks have opened their windows for a two-week absentee voting period which ends a week from Friday -- four days before the August 12th Election Day. Majority Republicans have scaled back early voting, which ran for several weeks a few years ago. Earlier this year, the GOP banned the absentee voting after seven at night and on weekends, saying small towns cannot hold the same hours as the bigger cities -- and there needs to be uniformity statewide. Critics said the Republicans were just trying to inconvenience the Democrats, because they're generally more successful in winning elections in the bigger cities. Scot Ross of the liberal One Wisconsin Now says the change affects mainly younger people as well as city dwellers. Meanwhile, Government Accountability Board director Kevin Kennedy says the biggest question he gets is why voters cannot vote in both parties' primaries. As he points out, the purpose of primaries is for parties to pick their own finalists for November. Wisconsin is unlike most other states because it has an open primary -- where voters can choose their parties anonymously. In most states, voters must publicly ask for a certain party's ballot.
A Wisconsin U.S. House Democrat wants to force oil companies to use a stabilizing agent, to make it safer to transport North Dakota crude throughout the country. La Crosse Congressman Ron Kind says Texas requires the process -- and he has asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to make it mandatory nationwide. Kind says the process is not all that expensive, and it's required for oil that's shipped through pipelines but not on trains. The government has been trying to address the safety of shipping oil by rail after a series of fiery fatal mishaps. In May, the Insurance Journal wrote that some lawmakers and regulators were pushing to remove the most volatile elements from crude oil before it's shipped from the Bakken oil fields. That article focused on removing flammable natural gas liquids. It mentioned that oil firms might have to spend billions on processing towers which were not put in at Bakken. The Insurance Journal quoted Phillips 66 CEO Greg Garland as saying the concept of chemical removal needs to be considered as part of safe deliveries. The federal DOT has said all options are on the table -- including better tracks, slower train speeds, and re-inforced cars which go around urban areas. About two-thirds of Bakken's oil is shipped by rail.
Dollar Tree will gain dozens of stores in Wisconsin, after it buys the rival Family Dollar chain. The $8.5 billion dollar acquisition was announced today. It will give Dollar Tree over 13-thousand locations in the U.S. -- more than the current leading discounter Dollar General. Dollar stores have had more competition, after Kroger and Walmart began offering smaller locations to sell to lower-income customers. As a result, media reports said Family Dollar has been closing some of its locations, and cutting prices. As of last fall, Dollar Tree had 95 stores in Wisconsin. Family Dollar had 141. Dollar Tree said it would keep both brands, and did not say whether any stores would be closed. Dollar Tree sells all its items for a dollar, while Family Dollar charges a broader range so it can sell brand-name merchandise like Tide detergent. Dollar Tree CEO Bob Sasser said the two chains offer complimentary merchandise. Both boards have approved the acquisition, and Family Dollar stockholders are being asked to do the same. The deal is expected to be finalized early next year.
As the U.S. presence in the Middle East goes away, so does big profits for the Oshkosh Corporation. The company said today its quarterly sales dropped 46-percent from a year ago for its military vehicles. Total sales slipped by 12-percent, while total Oshkosh profits plunged by 29-percent. The Oshkosh Corporation is the largest manufacturer in the Fox Valley, and it makes other large equipment besides military vehicles. Still, the Pentagon's cutbacks were the main reason Oshkosh profits fell to $105-million this year. Sales fell to around $1.9 billion over the three-month period, while sales of military vehicles declined to $471-million. Oshkosh CEO Charles Szews said his firm continues to manage the defense business reduction in a responsible manner. He said the company has finished cutting back its defense workforce, while retaining essential workers and leaders to support potential new military business -- like the U.S. Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program.
We often hear that there's no owner's manual for raising teenagers -- but UW-Madison hopes a new study will still provide some ideas for haggard parents. Human development professor Steve Small and graduate student Dave Metler are looking for mothers with children age-12-to-17, who might be interested in sharing what they go through. The study will explore the ways parents think through common challenges in parenting, and the solutions they come up with. Parents who are interested will fill out a brief survey, and then find out if they're chosen.