WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Propane tanks explode near Milwaukee airport
MILWAUKEE - Seven large propane tanks exploded early this afternoon at an auto salvage yard in Milwaukee, about two miles southwest of Mitchell International Airport.
Around a dozen Milwaukee fire companies responded close to noon. The fire was brought under control around one o'clock, after the roof of the facility had collapsed. An airport spur, Highway 119, was closed near the site of the blaze but has since re-opened. Homes in the area were evacuated. Officials said the airport did not have its operations interrupted.
Wisconsin's general elections are more than six months away -- and a California firm is reportedly booking almost two-million dollars of TV ad time for the final nine weeks. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said Target Enterprises, which normally buys ads for Republican candidates and groups, plans to book ad time for undisclosed clients starting Sept. 1 An online story from columnist Dan Bice says the group plans to spend $800,000 in the Milwaukee TV market, $600,000 in the La Crosse market, and smaller amounts in the Green Bay and Wausau regions. Bice said the money has not been paid, but Target has already chosen when and where the ads will go. The report said the governor's race is the only one this fall with the prospect of attracting large out-of-state dollars -- and it's possible the client is the Republican Governors Association's political action committee. The RGA is not commenting. It has already spent significant TV money to attack Governor Scott Walker's Democratic opponent Mary Burke last month.
A Wisconsin company that makes trailers for the trucking industry says it's really hurting due to unfair competition from China. Stoughton Trailers of Dane County has asked the federal government to investigate trade practices that include product dumping -- imports illegally sold for less in the U.S. Stoughton filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission and the U.S Commerce Department. In a statement, the company said Chinese manufacturers have 95-percent of the market against the only U.S. producer of standard 53-foot-long trailers. Stoughton Trailers said Chinese producers have all but halted Stoughton's 300,000-square foot plant in Evansville in far southern Wisconsin.
A state legislative committee voted unanimously today to accept the UW's proposal to keep future surpluses in check at the university's 26 campuses. The Joint Audit Committee gave its blessing to a plan adopted by the U-W Board of Regents. This comes after we learned a year ago that campuses were stashing hundreds of millions of dollars in reserves, while the U-W kept raising tuition by the allowable maximum year after year. A year ago, lawmakers ordered a two-year freeze in U-W tuition, and they ordered the Board of Regents to set a policy on how much schools can have in reserves. The Regents agreed to have campuses end each fiscal year with cash-on-hand that totals 10-percent of their annual expenses. The goal is to have enough in reserve to cover unexpected costs -- and if schools don't reach the 10-percent target, they cannot use it as an excuse to jack up tuition. Any reserves above 15-percent would need approval from the Regents. Lawmakers were concerned that campuses would report their reserves in different and confusing ways. UW President Ray Cross said the System's administration would monitor that. The plan now goes to the legislature's finance panel.
Officials in the Appleton area say they're ready for this year's tornado season. Outagamie County emergency management officials were heavily criticized last August, after outdoor tornado sirens failed to sound in advance of six tornadoes which hit the region. Those twisters caused over $31-million in damage. There's a statewide tornado drill this afternoon as part of Wisconsin's Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week. It's not only designed to test responses by homes and institutions in the event of a real tornado -- it's also designed to make sure the sirens work. Outagamie County Emergency Management Director Julie Loeffelholz said sirens are tested each Saturday during the summers, and the first Wednesday of every month. She tells WLUK-TV in Green Bay that sirens and their software are also tested inaudibly each day. Meanwhile, county Public Safety Committee chair Jim Duncan says he now feels confident that folks can be warned in a number of ways -- including on Facebook and Twitter. A repeater tower and a back-up generator are online, and a backup repeater is being created as well.
Two eagles have been released from a treatment center in La Crosse, after they scuffled in an apparent battle over their turf. The eagles started fighting in the air above a neighborhood in Onalaska on Tuesday, and then landed together on the ground. An animal control officer and a supervisor for the Coulee Region Humane Society had a tough job separating the birds, once their talons became entangled. A screwdriver was eventually used to separate their claws -- and one of the eagles was convinced to latch onto a screwdriver handle instead of cutting into the other eagle. The Humane Society supervisor said the raptors were very territorial, and they got into a spat over their air-space. They were taken to the Humane Society after they calmed down. One was not hurt. The other received antibiotics for several injuries.
A judge in Madison says he expects to rule within 90 days on a request to throw out a 2012 state law which spells out conditions for abortions. An attorney for Planned Parenthood told Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess today that the law is too vague -- and doctors need to know exactly what to do to avoid criminal charges. The law, passed by majority Republicans, requires doctors to determine if a woman seeking an abortion is not being coerced. Also, a doctor must be in the room when a woman is given drugs to induce abortion. Planned Parenthood attorney Susan Crawford said it's not clear if the doctor must be present when woman actually takes the drugs. Normally, a woman will take one pill in a doctor's office, and another at home a day or two later. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says the doctor does not have to be with the patient when the second pill is taken -- but Planned Parenthood said the law's language needs to be more clear on that.
A former Wisconsin Rapids area man who spent 13 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit might go back behind bars -- this time for tax fraud. 39-year-old Chad Heins and seven others are accused of using stolen Social Security numbers to file income tax returns on behalf of others in Florida. Officials said they claimed refunds which allegedly netted the group almost seven-million dollars. Heins is facing federal charges of theft and conspiracy to defraud the government. If convicted, he could go back to prison for 30 years. Heins, who's originally from Nekoosa, was convicted for the death of his sister-in-law in 1993. After he spent over a decade behind bars, the Wisconsin Innocence Project at UW-Madison dug up DNA evidence showing that another person committed the killing. Heins was then released in 2007.
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) says the government's top watchdog for homeland security compromised what were supposed to be independent investigations of that agency. The Wisconsin Republican is part of a Senate oversight panel that today released the results of a year-long examination of former interim Homeland Security inspector general Charles Edwards. The report said Edwards, the homeland security watchdog from 2011 until last year, routinely dined with agency leaders and gave them heads-up on the timing and findings of investigations. Edwards was seeking the permanent inspector general's job at the time. Johnson, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security oversight panel, said Edwards was a "compromised" inspector general who did not exercise real oversight. The panel also found that Edwards was wrong to rely on advice from top political advisers to former Department Secretary Janet Napolitano -- and he followed their suggestions in writing and releasing three separate reports on the agency. Edwards resigned last December, just before he was to be questioned at a Senate hearing. Another allegation was that derogatory information about was left out Secret Service agents. Napolitano said no changes were ever ordered in reports about the Secret Service. Edwards has not commented on today's report.
The state Legislature's audit committee was hearing testimony this morning about the UW's new policy for reporting surpluses. The state budget adopted a year ago required the university's Board of Regents to draft a policy on how much money campuses can keep in reserve, after they were caught holding millions of dollars a year ago. The Regents voted to have campuses end each fiscal year with reserves equaling 10-percent of their yearly expenses. They could not use reserves below 10-percent as a reason for jacking up tuition. And schools would need approval from the Regents if they had reserves of 15-percent of their annual expenses. The audit committee could vote on the plan today. Lawmakers were upset to learn a year ago that UW schools held onto huge reserves, at a time when the university was raising tuition by the maximum of five-and-a-half percent year after year. Lawmakers were so upset that they froze tuition for the first time since the UW and the old Wisconsin State systems merged in the early 1970's. Governor Scott Walker says he wants the tuition freeze to continue for another two years, at least through mid-2017.
Governor Scott Walker has approved new rules for moving farm equipment on Wisconsin highways. Walker signed the "Implements of Husbandry" bill yesterday. It clarifies the definition of implements used for agriculture -- creates a new class of farm commercial vehicles -- and increases weight limits. Implements and farm vehicles can travel at weights of up to 92,000 pounds -- and up to 23,000 pounds per axle. Tillage, planting, and harvesting equipment could exceed the 23,000 figure if local governments approve their own permit processes for issuing no-fee permits on approved routes. State Farm Bureau President Jim Holte says it's now up to farmers to talk with their local officials about implementing the new law. Supporters say it's a much needed change, replacing laws that did not accommodate today's larger farm equipment.