WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Severson will not run again for state Assembly
STAR PRAIRIE - A Republican state lawmaker from northwest Wisconsin says he needs more time at home. Representative Erik Severson of Star Prairie has become the 17th Assembly member to announce that they won't run for re-election this fall.
Severson continues to work as a emergency room doctor in Osceola, and he wants to spend more time with his family. Severson was elected in 2010. The following year, he convinced his legislative colleagues to drop a requirement that communities disinfect their drinking water. That's after local officials in his district complained about the high cost of complying. More recently, Severson chaired a task force which resulted in the approval of more than a dozen bills to improve Wisconsin's mental health services. Severson is the 11th Assembly Republican to either leave office altogether, or seek another office this fall.
A non-profit group in Superior is benefiting from a recent marijuana bust. Fertilizer, growing lights, and timers were all seized from a pot-making operation in Saint Louis County Minnesota. Those items were donated to Bay Produce of Superior, where people with developmental disabilities grow peppers, tomatoes, and basil. Normally, authorities auction-off property seized in drug cases, so they're not used again for an illegal purpose. In this case, Sheriff Ross Litman in Duluth said his department came up with the idea to donate the equipment to the Challenge Center, the parent outfit of Bay Produce. As a result, the group added an extra greenhouse growing cycle. Tomatoes started being planted under the new lights last December, and they're almost ready to be harvested.
People in La Crosse who have not paid their fines for city violations are more likely to lose their driver's licenses than to go to jail. Municipal Judge Dennis Marcou tells the La Crosse Tribune he doesn't like people sitting behind bars for failing to pay city fines. So with rare exceptions, Marcou has stopped issuing arrest warrants in those cases. He only issued 37 warrants last year -- way down from 1,075 in 2012. Marcou said his staff has run into time problems for handling the cases, and it's expensive to house scofflaws. So instead of issuing warrants, the judge is suspending drivers' licenses. One La Crosse police official says the practice does not hold people accountable for paying their fines.
The Fond du Lac County Sheriff said today that a Kenosha truck driver is the prime suspect in the murder of an 18-year-old woman in 1990. Eighteen-year-old Berit Beck of Sturtevant was found dead about a month after she disappeared. Newly-analyzed evidence showed that the Kenosha man appeared to be in Beck's van, which was found along a ditch near Waupun. Photographs of the man's hands helped experts at the State Crime Lab review the evidence. Sheriff Mick Fink says no arrests are immient, but at least they have a suspect in what was a 23-and-a-half-year-old cold case. District Attorney Eric Toney would not say what evidence was found in Beck's van. She was heading to a computer seminar in Appleton when she vanished.
Wisconsin's Lemon Law is about to get a real test. Robert Montgomery of Franklin is suing Tesla, which sells luxury cars directly from its factory near San Francisco. Its sales contracts require that buyers use California's arbitration process to settle disputes over its defective products, like a dispute Montgomery has. Tesla's contract also tells buyers not to say anything about their car trouble -- and because it doesn't have have dealers, Tesla is not subject to a lot of regulations in states other than California. However, Milwaukee lemon law attorney Vince Megna says that doesn't matter. Megna says the Wisconsin Lemon Law states that any waivers of consumer rights are void -- and Montgomery is willing to test that provision. He bought a Tesla-"S" 13 months ago. His lawsuit said there have been times when the car wouldn't start, and he took it four times to service centers in Chicago. Montgomery said the vehicle was out of commission for 66 days during its first year.
Wisconsin did not have any flood warnings at mid-day -- but forecasters were concerned about the heavy snowstorm in the far north late last week. Ashland had close to 17 inches of heavy wet snow. Other parts of the northwest and far north central Wisconsin had 12-to-16 inches. The National Weather Service says little-if-any snow is seeping into the ground, because frost levels are still a foot below the surface in many areas. Also, the Weather Service says there's a heightened threat of floods in basins east of the Mississippi River -- including the Saint Croix, Chippewa, and Eau Claire river regions. Forecasters say the rivers are rising toward their flood stages, but none are expected to exceed their banks -- at least for now. In central Wisconsin, the weather service says floods are not expected due to a slow-but-steady snow melt. However, ice jams are possible as the week rolls on.
________________________Police officers and medical personnel looked on today, as Governor Scott Walker signed four bills aimed at fighting the growing abuse of heroin. The Republican Walker went to Marinette, the hometown of Assembly Republican John Nygren. He proposed a half-dozen bills that got overwhelming approval from both houses. Walker was scheduled to host ceremonies in Stevens Point, Eau Claire, and Milwaukee to sign three measures he did not sign at his first stop. The bills signed in Marinette will grant limited immunity to encourage witnesses to call 911 and report heroin overdoses -- allow trained medical personnel to give out an antidote to overdose victims -- provide grant money for diversion programs to help abusers -- and provide funds to boost prescription drug disposal programs. Nygren, whose daughter almost died from heroin abuse, said the bills were a first start, and he believes they'll make a difference in a region that's been hard hit by heroin abuse.________________________
About 24,000 Wisconsinites who lost their extended jobless benefits in December would get them back under a bill that's up for a U.S. Senate vote this afternoon. However, the extension would appear to be dead-on-arrival in the Republican-controlled House. Majority Democrats expect their chamber to restore benefits of longer than 26 weeks. That's after the hardest-hit states during the Great Recession were allowed to give up to 99 weeks of payments. Republican House leaders oppose the benefit extension. One reason is that the payments would be retroactive to December 28th, and Republicans say it would cause massive delays and administrative costs. Also, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he would not allow a vote on any unemployment package that does not include efforts to create jobs. Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin plans to vote with her party, and at least get on record in support of the higher benefits. Baldwin says there are still three job-seekers for every open position, which makes for a lot of unemployed Americans._______________________
About 60 more employees are being laid off at Caterpillar's mining equipment factory in South Milwaukee. The steelworkers' union says the layoffs will run for an unknown period of time -- and for now, almost 50 employees could be moved into other parts of the plant. Caterpillar's mining equipment division is based in South Milwaukee. The company reduced its international workforce by about 13,000 last year, including 400 at plants in South Milwaukee and the city of Milwaukee. Those plants used to employ a total of over 800. Before last year, the rising prices of commodities resulted in a boom for mining equipment makers -- but that fell apart after the demand dropped for materials which are mined._______________________
A new telephone scam has cropped up in the Fox Valley area. The caller says a $200 stipend is available, and all that's needed is a bank account number so the money can be deposited. Sandy Chalmers, head of the state's consumer protection division, says the calls are tempting because they offer cash stipends. By claiming to be from the government, Chalmers says the callers portray the image of being someone people can trust -- especially for consumers who are elderly and have respect for government authority. In this case, Chalmers says the scammers use the bank account information to drain the balance. She urges consumers to resist the temptation for giving out personal data over the phone. Chalmers says the calls claim to be from a variety of government sources including the IRS, police, medical centers, and other official agencies.________________________
A jury was being selected today for the trial of a Merrill man accused of killing his wife and dumping her remains in a swamp. A nine-day trial is underway for 50-year-old Mark Bucki on charges of homicide, hiding a corpse, and strangulation-and-suffocation. Authorities said Bucki killed his 48-year-old wife Anita last April, when they talked about getting a divorce. Officials said he was planning to have a female lover move into their house. Anita Bucki's remains were found last May in a wooded area in Taylor County, about 20 miles west of the couple's home. An autopsy showed that Anita was stabbed seven times, and had severe bruises around her throat. Ninety potential jurors were being questioned today in Lincoln County Circuit Court. Fifteen people will hear the testimony, including three alternate jurors -- and they'll be sequestered at a hotel so they don't hear or read media reports about the trial.________________________
Four Milwaukee police officers shot and wounded a man, after he allegedly ignored repeated orders to drop a rifle. It happened early yesterday. The suspect's mother called 911 and said the 31-year-old man was threatening to kill her and injure himself. Officials said he walked out of the house holding a rifle when a police sergeant and three officers pulled up. The officers said they kept demanding that he drop the weapon -- and when they didn't, they said they opened fire to protect their own safety, plus those of others in the house. The man suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was taken to a hospital for treatment. Police say they'll refer the case to prosecutors for possible charges. For now, the four officers are on administrative leave.