WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: State Supreme Court hears case on domestic partner registry
MADISON - The Wisconsin State Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a legal challenge to Wisconsin's registry for same-sex domestic partners.
Members of Wisconsin Family Action have tried three times to get the justices to consider throwing out the registry -- and the court finally decided in June to act on the case. Former Governor Jim Doyle and his fellow Democrats created the registry in 2009. It gives domestic partners about one-fifth of the nearly 200 legal benefits of married couples, including end-of-life decisions and hospital visits. Family Action vice-president James Mailette said the registry is the type of thing voters wanted to prevent, when they approved the 2006 constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage and civil unions. Fifty-nine percent of voters ratified that. Republicans who oppose the registry ended the state's defense of it when they took charge of the Capitol in 2011. That left Fair Wisconsin to fight the battle. The Lambda Legal group is handling the case in court. Attorney Christopher Clark says the law is constitutional because it grants only a fraction of the rights given to married couples. It could be a few months before the Supreme Court makes a final decision.
A Stratford businessman and a Milwaukee area school choice advocate won primary elections yesterday for a pair of Wisconsin State Assembly seats. Bob Kulp got almost 44-percent of the vote in winning a four-way Republican primary for the seat given up by former GOP Majority Leader Scott Suder. Marshfield Alderman Alanna Feddick placed second with 25-percent followed by Tommy Dahlen and Scott Noble. Kulp said he was grateful to get support from those who wanted someone with business experience and a thoughtful approach in the Assembly. He'll now go up against Democrat Ken Slezak of Neillsville and independent Tim Swiggum in the general election for Suder's former seat on November 19th. Just over five-thousand people voted in the west-central Wisconsin primary. Jessie Rodriguez of Franklin easily beat out four others to win the GOP bid for the seat given up by Assembly Republican Mark Honadel of South Milwaukee. Rodriguez got 48-percent of just over 3,100 southeast Milwaukee suburban votes in her primary. Chris Kujawa was a distant second followed by Ken Gehl, Larry Gamble, and Red Arnold. Rodriguez now faces Democrat Elizabeth Coppola of Oak Creek next month. The outcomes will hardly affect the Republicans' huge majority in the Assembly, which is currently 57-39 over the Democrats.
The Wisconsin State Assembly speaker says he does not want to ram through a bill that takes away most local government authority to regulate frac-sand mines. Republican Robin Vos of Burlington said yesterday his majority would wait until next spring to take up the measure. Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst proposed it last week. He said frac-sand miners are tired of dealing with a hodge-podge of restrictive local ordinances -- and it would be a lot easier for them if Madison took control. Vos says he favors the measure, but he wants to thoroughly review all the possible effects. Tiffany's bill would nullify a State Supreme Court ruling from last year, which allowed towns to use police powers to regulate things like blasting, and the hours that frac-sand mines could operate. The new bill would still let communities use zoning powers on mining projects -- but many towns don't have their own zoning. Also, town and county officials are concerned that the bill would strike down their agreements with frac-sand companies on their load limits for trucks -- which seek to prevent damage to highways. Wisconsin has about 115 frac-sand mines, most in the western half of the state with the type of extremely-fine sand that oil-and-gas companies want for their drilling equipment.
The Menominee Indians will make their final pitch to Scott Walker today, to try-and-get the governor to approve the tribe's proposed casino in Kenosha. However, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Walker is giving supporters very little reason to hope. Vos says he has spoken to Walker about the project and quote, "It's not looking good." Walker has the final say on the $800-million casino-and-resort at Kenosha's Dairyland Greyhound Park, after the federal government approved it two months ago. Menominee leaders will argue that every other Wisconsin tribe has essentially approved the new casino -- which is Walker's main condition for granting it. The Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk tribes still oppose the project, saying it would cut into revenues at their own Wisconsin casinos. The Menominee contends that the tribes approved the Kenosha casino when they signed their new gaming agreements about a decade ago. Menominee Chairman Craig Corn said the agreements required each tribe to be made whole if they lost business to a new gaming house. Also, the Journal Sentinel says the Menominee would pay a larger share of its gaming revenues to the state under its compact -- so the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk could pay less.
Wisconsin's high-capacity wells pumped out more water last year than in 2011. The DNR said the drought was the main reason. Officials said two-point-three trillion gallons of surface water and groundwater were pumped from high-capacity wells last year. That's four-point-six percent more than the previous year. The DNR said farm irrigation was the largest use of water last year, surpassing community usage. Officials also said the amount of groundwater pumped from aquifers increased by 34-and-a-half percent from the previous year.
Two companies asked state officials yesterday to let them build a large electric transmission line between the Madison and La Crosse areas. The long-proposed project would cost just over 550-million dollars, stretching across about 180 miles. The American Transmission Company and Xcel Energy said the new line would move electric power more efficiently across southern Wisconsin -- provide a better link to power from Minnesota -- and make it easier to import wind power from the Great Plains. The utilities say the overall result will be lower energy prices for customers in the long run. They cite total economic benefits of up to $840-million over a 40-year period. Two routes for the new line remain under consideration. Both have attracted lots of opposition from local governments and citizen groups like Save Our Unique Lands. The state Public Service Commission will take up to a year-and-a-half to consider all the pros-and-cons. If approved, the line could start moving power by 2018.
It might not take as long to get through security at Wisconsin's largest airport. The federal government's "Pre-Check" program for frequent fliers began yesterday at Milwaukee's Mitchell International. Eligible passengers will have their own lane where they do not have to remove their belts and shoes -- and they don't have to keep their laptops encased at the checkpoints. Airlines are inviting their frequent-flyer members to be in the program. The Transportation Security Administration says it will let officers focus on other passengers who may a risk to airline safety. Officials say it should also speed up the regular security lines. By the end of the year, the TSA says it will offer its pre-check program at 100 airports throughout the country.
At least a couple of Wisconsin's federal lawmakers say they'll keep the pay they're receiving for the time the government was shut down. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Madison says she'll pocket the $7,600 dollars she's entitled to receive for the 16 days of the shutdown. A spokesman for U.S. House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse says federal employees are being paid retroactively for their time off from work -- and Kind will accept the money as well. Spokesman Peter Knudsen tells WAOW-TV in Wausau said Kind did not support shutting down the government quote, "unlike some of his colleagues in Congress." House Republican Sean Duffy's office still has a request in to withhold his share -- but House administrative officials said three weeks ago it won't happen. They said all Members of Congress will get their October salaries on the 31st of this month, as scheduled -- and while they could ask for a delay in their checks during the shutdown, the Constitution requires that Congress get paid on time. U.S. Senate Republican Ron Johnson of Oshkosh said he's returning his $7,600 share to the treasury. Others said during the shutdown they would donate their shares to charity. Wisconsin House Republicans Paul Ryan, Tom Petri, and Reid Ribble all made that pledge.
Far northern Wisconsin continues to be skirted by a storm system that's dumping early-season snow in the northern and northeastern U.S. Parts of Bayfield and Vilas counties had three-inches on the ground yesterday morning. Much of it melted during the day, when afternoon highs went above freezing -- but forecasters say more lake-effect snow is on the way, as north winds continue to flow from Lake Superior. The National Weather Service says far northern Wisconsin will be hit with occasional doses of the white stuff for the rest of the week, until things begin to warm up into the weekend. Highs are expected to be in the 40-degree range the next couple days. Places near Lake Michigan could see 50 again by Saturday.
A southern Wisconsin soldier has finally received a Purple Heart award for head injuries he suffered six years ago in Iraq. Army Guard Staff Sergeant Joshua Koch of Sun Prairie was returning from a mission with other members of the 147th Aviation Regiment, when mortar shells blew up around them. Koch received a concussion. The other soldiers were given Purple Heart medals soon after the attack -- but Koch never got his, due to an administrative error. That error was fixed last week, and Koch finally got his medal in front of family, friends, and other troops. He thanked his fellow soldiers who helped him obtain his award. Koch said the honor, quote, "means more than I can say in words."
Mega Millions' had its first drawing last night under the new changes announced recently. It became a lot tougher to win the jackpot, but the odds of winning any prize improved to 1-in-15. Nobody won the top prize, so it goes up to $65-million for Friday. There are now 75 regular numbers instead of 56. The Mega Ball has only 15 numbers instead of 46. Officials expect more total winners. Wisconsin had almost 3,700 winners last Friday, but nobody got more than 150-dollars. The number of Wisconsin winners from last night was not immediately available. Unlike Powerball, Mega Millions does not post a state-by-state breakdown of the numbers of winners in the hours after the drawings. It does say where the first-and-second-prize winners came from. Players in Georgia and Florida won last night's second prize, which grew to a million-dollars from the old quarter-million. Mega Millions did not raise its ticket price like Powerball did in its last makeover almost two years ago. Mega Millions' tickets are still a-dollar. Last night's numbers were 2, 3, 19, 52, and 71. The Mega Ball was 14, and the Megaplier was five -- up from the previous three. In Powerball, tonight's top prize is $216-million.