WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Reports have Gov. Walker trying to cut deal with prosecutors
At least two media reports say Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is trying to broker a deal that would end the John Doe probe into his and other recall elections.
An editorial in the Wall Street Journal first reported the development this morning. It said an attorney for the Republican Walker has been negotiating with special prosecutor Francis Schmitz on a settlement. The Associated Press said a source confirmed it. The John Doe began in mid-2012, looking into alleged illegal campaign coordination between outside groups, Walker, and other GOP recall candidates. Federal Judge Rudolph Randa halted the probe twice this month, saying it violates the free speech rights of one of the targets -- the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth. Prosecutors are appealing. Democrats have been trying to make as much political hay as they can from the investigation, as Walker faces a strong challenge from Democrat Mary Burke in his next election in just over five months. Two years ago, Walker's recall campaign was dogged by another John Doe, in which six of his former aides and associates in the Milwaukee County executive's office were convicted of crimes ranging from embezzlement to illegal campaigning. Walker defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by seven-percentage points in that contest. The latest Marquette University poll shows him tied with Burke.
Growing numbers of Wisconsin public school students are living in poverty. The state Department of Public Instruction said today that almost 360-thousand students are eligible for free-or-reduced price school meals due to their low family incomes. Just over 43-percent of Wisconsin public school youngsters are now in that category -- up one-tenth of a percent from a year ago, and almost 14-percent more than ten years before. To qualify for free school meals, families must make less than 130-percent of the federal poverty income -- or almost 31-thousand dollars a year for a family of four. Reduced-priced lunches can be given to youngsters whose families make less than 43-thousand dollars for a family of four, or 185-percent of the poverty level.
Metro Milwaukee is one of a dozen places in the U.S. that will soon get federal help in attracting global manufacturers. The Obama Administration today announced the first 12 communities in a new partnership aimed at boosting the nation's manufacturing. Factories are Wisconsin's No. 1 job source -- and they took quite a hit during the Great Recession. The Obama initiative began last fall. It uses federal resources to help support local plans to improve their economies. The goal is for the communities to create long-term strategies to compete for manufacturing jobs. Obama's home area of Chicago is also among the first places in the new program -- along with the Detroit region and metros from southern California to Georgia.
Wisconsin officials have renewed an effort to self-insure over 200,000 state employees who now get their health coverage from private HMO's. According to the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison, the state Employee Trust Funds agency issued a request last Friday for proposals from those who would administer the program. If all goes according to plan, the state would issue a two-year contract in September. Under a self-insurance package, the state would directly pay employees for their health benefits, and assume the risk for losses. Among other things, it would give management more control over the benefits the employees receive. The Deloitte consulting firm has found that self-insurance would save taxpayers up to $20-million dollars a year -- but it could add over $100-million in other costs. The Wisconsin Association of Health Plans opposed the idea when it was first considered last fall. The state's largest employees' union also balked. The health plans' group says self-insuring state workers would eliminate about 15-percent of Wisconsin's total market for full insurance -- and it would raise health costs for the rest of us by around $200-million. The Deloitte report looked simply at self-insurance. Trust funds' insurance administrator Lisa Ellinger said the state's goal is broader, and it would make recommendations after getting an overall look at the total insurance structure.
A woman who got extremely ill after having an abortion 19 years ago testified for the state today, as it seeks to uphold a new regulation passed last year. Lena Wood testified before Federal Judge William Conley of Madison, who will decide the constitutionality of a law that requires abortion doctors to have local hospital admitting privileges. The governor and Legislature approved the measure last July, but it never took effect because Planned Parenthood and the Affiliated Medical Services filed suit to challenge it. State attorneys say the law is needed to make sure women get continuous care at a hospital if something goes wrong in their abortion clinics. The two plaintiffs say that's happened only a handful of times among thousands of abortions in recent years. Wood told the judge she had to be hospitalized for 12 days after her 1995 abortion went wrong. She said the doctor who performed the operation never contacted her after that -- and she felt abandoned. Planned Parenthood attorney Lester Pines tried to convince the judge that Wood had an infection in her urinary tract -- and it was never certain whether the abortion itself caused her illness.
Wisconsin's only entry in the National Spelling Bee passed her first verbal test today. Thirteen-year-old Karelyn Malliet of Shawano correctly spelled "graupel," which is a granular snow pellet. Only 24 of the 281 young contestants did not advance to the third round of the preliminaries, which are taking place this afternoon in Washington. The spellers scored points in a written exam before facing the judges and a national audience for the first time today. Those who correctly spell their third-round words will advance to the semi-finals tonight and tomorrow. Karelyn is a seventh-grader who volunteers at Shawano's humane society, with the goal of becoming a veterinarian.
A Milwaukee man pleaded guilty this morning to his role in the theft of a five-million-dollar Stradivarius violin. 36-year-old Universal Allah was convicted of being a party to felony robbery. A second charge of possessing marijuana with the intent to sell it was dropped in a plea deal. A sentencing date of July 24th was scheduled before today's Milwaukee County court hearing. Prosecutors recommended prison time, while leaving a judge to determine how much. The state wants Allah to be under extended supervision for three years after he gets out. A second defendant, 41-year-old Salah Salahaydn (suh-lah-hay-deen), has also agreed to a plea deal. His hearing is set for June 30th. He's currently charged with felony robbery. Prosecutors said Salahadyn had plotted to steal a Stradivarius, and Allah provided the stun gun which knocked out concert-meister Frank Almond the night of the hold-up. It happened after a concert in late January at Wisconsin Lutheran College. The 300-year-old violin was recovered nine days later in good condition.
The American Transmission Company has asked for state approval to rebuild two more aging power lines in south central Wisconsin. The Pewaukee firm has filed requests with the DNR and the Public Service Commission to re-build a 25-mile line from Prairie du Sac to Portage -- plus a 20-mile line from Montello to Wautoma. ATC says the copper wiring on the Portage line is about 100 years old, and both lines are in poor shape. The two lines would cost around $51-million to upgrade. If the state approves, the work would be done in 2017. Also, ATC has a request pending for a 20-mile transmission line upgrade in Walworth and Rock counties, plus a new substation at Clinton. That project would cost around $40-million. The PSC recently approved an 11-and-a-half million re-building project in the Kenosha County towns of Paris and Somers. That 12-and-a-mile improvement is set for this fall.
A judge in Wausau is expected to decide next Wednesday whether a man should stand trial on charges that he killed a pedestrian while high on prescription drugs. A $30,000 cash bond was set yesterday for 47-year-old Evan Mooney of Merrill. Prosecutors said there were a half-dozen medicines in Mooney's system last October, when his vehicle struck-and-killed 86-year-old John Diktanas of Crivitz. Mooney was arrested over the Memorial Day Weekend on a Marathon County warrant. He's charged with four felonies -- homicide by negligent driving, homicide while driving under a controlled substance, fifth-or-sixth-time OWI, and causing death with a revoked driver's license.
The sudden arrival of summer is a blessing for Wisconsin farmers. The National Ag Statistics Service said two-thirds of the Badger State's corn crop was planted as of last Sunday. That's a whopping 36-percent more than a week ago, thanks to warmer-and-drier weather. Still, Wisconsin corn planting remains 21-percent below the average for the past five years -- due in part to cool soil temperatures. However, at least four days of warm-and-dry weather are in the statewide forecast, after some lingering showers move out today. That will help farmers get closer to finishing their spring field work. Tillage was 74-percent finished as of Sunday, up 28-percent from the week before. Almost four of every ten of this year's Wisconsin soybeans are in the ground, up from just eight-percent a week ago. Oat planting is 84-percent finished, nine points higher than the previous week. Temperatures were as much as four-degrees above normal -- just what the doctor ordered for the hay crop. Eighty-four percent of the first crop hay is rated good-to-excellent, and four-percent of the first crop alfalfa has been cut.
Get ready for the crowds -- crowd-funding, that is. Wisconsin businesses can still stock online beginning on Sunday at the start of June. The governor and Legislature paved the way last year for companies to use sites like Kick-starter to seek capital from investors. They said it's an easy way to help small businesses, by giving them access to a wide group of potential investors. Most of those investors will be limited to ten-thousand dollars in a single crowd-fund offering. Businesses can raise up to a million-dollars from Wisconsin investors -- and two-million if the company has a recent audit that's shared with investors and state securities' regulators.
A man who provided the heroin that killed a La Crosse County man is not mentally-competent to be sentenced. A judge made that determination yesterday in the case of 28-year-old Malachi Hankel. His attorneys say Hankel suffers from bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia, and his medications have altered his mental state to the point in which he's still not thinking clearly. Hankel struck a plea deal in February that convicted him of reckless homicide in the heroin overdose death of Thomas Tremain. The victim died last fall at his home in the town of Barre. Hankel is currently at the state's Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison. A La Crosse County judge will hold another review hearing June 30th on Hankel's mental condition.