WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: WE Energy asking state for 1.8 percent rate increase
Wisconsin's largest electric utility asked the state yesterday for approval to raise its rates by 1.8 percent next year, and one-percent in 2016.
In an unusual move, We Energies negotiated an agreement with three consumer groups on the bulk of the increase, before it went to the Public Service Commission. Those groups can still challenge proposed customer charges to make up for the cost of the fuel the utility burns in its power plants. We Energies wants to increase its revenues by $52-million next year, and another $20-million in 2016. The Citizens Utility Board said the utility first wanted to raise rates by four-point-seven percent on about $41-million of those revenues -- and they bargained it down to one-point-four. The utility board, the Wisconsin Paper Council, and the state's Industrial Energy Group took part in the negotiations. We Energies' spokesman Brian Manthey said the agreements on key issues before the rate request was filed was an "unusual and positive development." We Energies is based in Milwaukee and provides electric service in much of the eastern half of Wisconsin.
State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wants to know how much Milwaukee prosecutors have spent on their two John Doe investigations. The Burlingto Republican wrote a terse letter yesterday to Democratic DA John Chisholm. Vos said the public has the right to know the numbers of attorneys and employees used in what he called a "political witch hunt." Chisholm's office spearheaded the probe that netted six convictions in 2012 for embezzlement and illegal campaigning by employees of Scott Walker's former Milwaukee County Executive office. Now, the DA is leading a two-year-old probe into alleged illegal campaign coordination between outside groups, Governor Walker's campaign, and other Republican camps in the 2011-and-'12 recall elections. Vos has contended that Milwaukee prosecutors have bargained down serious criminal charges, while spending their time on the John Doe probes. Chilsholm has called that claim "propaganda and nonsense."
About 15 students got sick yesterday, as the result of acid fumes from a science lab at Riverdale High School in Muscoda in southwest Wisconsin. School officials called 911 after kids started getting sick. District Administrator Bryce Bird said all those who were taken to a hospital in Richland Center have since gone home, and they're getting better. Riverdale High has about 150 students. Those not sickened were sent to an elementary-and-middle school building nearby. Bird said the high school will re-open on Monday as scheduled. A hazardous materials' team has ruled out carbon monoxide, gas, and mold as the source of the problem. Bird says all the chemicals are being removed from the science rooms for the rest of the school year -- and the situation will be evaluated during the summer.
The parent of a special education student in Stevens Point has filed a federal complaint, after her daughter received a graduation gift of cleaning supplies from her teacher. Meanwhile, the school district issued another statement yesterday defending Life Skills instructor Sue Felder. Officials said she would not be disciplined. Alyssa Alvarado was in a program that teaches independent living skills to youngsters with cognitive disabilities. For graduation, Felder gave the girl a package that included toilet bowl cleaner and cleanser. Alyssa told her mother that the teacher said she'd be "scrubbing toilets" for a living. Felder bought the gifts with her own money. On Thursday, the school superintendent apologized and said teachers would give out more appropriate gifts in the future. Yesterday, Stevens Point school officials defended Felder's actions, saying they were meant to "reinforce the independent living skills and other gains that students had made during their time in the program." The girl's mother, Lisa Kingsbury, said she filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights. Kingsbury wants Felder terminated, but the district says that's not an appropriate response.
The state DNR said yesterday that more water should be released from a dam in far northern Wisconsin, in order to preserve loons and other wildlife in the Manitowish River. A draft order calls for the Rest Lake Dam in Vilas County to reduce the river's water level by one-foot each fall, instead of the annual three-and-a-half foot drop that's been in place since the 1930's. The DNR issued an environmental assessment a year ago, which showed that the dam's current operation has caused a number of ecological problems. Meanwhile, a number of property owners along the Manitowish River fear higher ice levels in the water -- along with the potential for ice damage on their shoreline properties. The DNR says it will not impose the new order for a year, to give landowners time to adjust. Also, before the final order is issued, the DNR will hold public meetings on the proposed change on June 27th. Those sessions begin at 12:30 and 6 p.m. at the town hall in Manitowish Waters.
Middleton is the latest community to be hit with the tree-killing emerald ash borer. State officials confirmed the presence of the green beetle yesterday. Officials in Middleton said that in 2009, over a quarter of its trees were ash trees. They've been replacing the diseased trees with 22 other varieties.
Relatives of a man shot and killed by a central Wisconsin police officer have filed a two-million dollar damage claim. Ricky Taylor's family accuses Neillsville police officer Aaron Bembnister of using excessive force, and not acting with reasonable care before killing Taylor last December 13th. The claim was filed against both the officer and the city. In March, Clark County District Attorney Lyndsey Boon Brunette found that the officer was justified in using force. The DA said the officer was confronted by Taylor during a response to a domestic disturbance -- and the suspect was shot after he ignored Bembnister's orders to drop a knife. Officials said Taylor was drunk at the time, with a blood alcohol level of point-one-nine-eight.
If you need good weather for the weekend, your wish will be at least partially granted. The National Weather Service says a slow-moving storm system will come into western Wisconsin tomorrow. There's a chance of isolated severe thunderstorms east of Minneapolis last tomorrow afternoon. Superior, Bayfield, and other parts of northwest Wisconsin could get several periods of rain from tomorrow night into Monday. In southwest Wisconsin, the biggest threat of heavy storms is Sunday into Monday, lightning and localized flooding possible. In central and northeast areas, rain is due in Monday and Monday night. In the Madison and Milwaukee areas, the chance of rain increases starting on Sunday afternoon and into Monday night. It's supposed to be warm, with highs in the 70's-and-80's at least into tomorrow. It could get a few degrees cooler on Sunday.
A 75-year-old man killed in a one-car crash in Waukesha was identified today as Kirk Bechtel. Police found him trapped underneath his car last evening at the bottom of a hill. Investigators said he was still wearing his seat-belt while under the vehicle -- and an accident reconstruction crew found that he was dragged about 240-feet before the car came to a halt. Officers are still trying to figure out why it happened.
A Madison area businessman has been found guilty on 8-of-13 federal charges of bank fraud, money laundering, and theft from an employee retirement fund. Forty-five year old Christian Peterson was accused of lying to get bank loans, and then using the money for gambling and personal items. Officials said Peterson took 30-thousand dollars from the retirement fund at his scrap foam business, so he could pay alimony to his ex-wife. Peterson also owns the Pancake Cafe in Fitchburg, among other firms. His lawyer had claimed that Peterson never made false statements to get the bank loans -- and the money was used for legitimate reasons.
Milwaukee's latest homicide victim was identified today as 25-year-old Jacoby Davis. He was shot around 8:30 last night in Milwaukee's Tiefenthaler Park. An investigation continues. Davis' death is among three murders in Wisconsin's largest city since Monday. No arrests have been made in the other two cases, either.
A federal judge says the Wisconsin law that requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges may not be flexible enough. Judge William Conley of Madison made the remark today, as he wrapped up a four-day bench trial on a challenge to the law from Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services of Milwaukee. Conley said he's troubled that the law required hospital privileges to be obtained within three days of the law's adoption. He said it could hurt efforts by clinics to get new providers after that. The plaintiffs said the law could force the AMS clinic in Milwaukee to close, and the Planned Parenthood clinic there could not cover the slack. State attorneys said the law is needed to make sure abortion patients get a continuity of care should something go wrong for procedures at abortion clinics. It's expected to be at least six weeks before Judge Conley issues a ruling in the case. The law never took effect, because abortion clinics filed suit just hours after the governor signed it.
Future clean-up projects on the Great Lakes could have a greater emphasis on preventing climate change. A task force that includes the Federal EPA and ten other agencies released a draft today of its new plans for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The group also said that science should be used more often to select clean-up projects, and to see how effective they are. The Great Lakes initiative began in 2010, and has spent $1.6 billion dollars on a variety of clean-ups. The goal of the new plan is to speed up progress toward addressing the biggest threats on the Great Lakes -- including runoff, and reductions in toxic pollution and invasive species. It was released for public review today. A final version is scheduled to be adopted by October 1.
Most of us know that October and November are bad months for Wisconsin car-deer crashes. But the DOT says June is increasingly becoming one of the worst months as well. Officials say deer have become more active this time of year, as does look for places to give birth, and young deer separate from their mothers. The DOT says it's more likely that deer will dart into roadways into the paths of motorists. Transportation Safety Bureau Director David Pabst says it's best to slow down, buckle up, and eliminate distractions when driving in deer zones. He says motorcycles need to pay special attention, since bikers can be killed when hitting deer. Wisconsin had over 18,000 such crashes in 2013.
The Wisconsin Club for Growth filed a lawsuit today against the state elections' agency, in another effort to permanently halt the John Doe probe into the state's recall elections. Group director Eric O'Keefe said the Government Accountability Board exceeded its authority by endorsing a two-year-old probe by state prosecutors. Its suit was filed in Waukesha County Circuit Court. A federal judge temporarily halted the John Doe probe twice this month, agreeing that prosecutors were interfering with the group's right to free speech. The Club for Growth said it was told to stay quiet, as prosecutors investigated whether that group and others illegally coordinated with the campaigns of GOP recall targets. Those targets included Governor Scott Walker's camp. Prosecutors are appealing the rulings from Federal Judge Rudolph Randa. The Club for Growth is concerned that it would be adversely affected by reported settlement talks between special prosecutor Francis Schmitz and Governor Walker's campaign. The Walker camp said it had nothing to do with settlement talks to end the federal lawsuit, but they said nothing about the Doe probe itself -- or another state lawsuit which seeks to end it.
One of nine candidates for state treasurer has dropped out. Democrat Dan Bohrod said he has lost interest in running. Bohrod earlier said he wanted to restore power to the treasurer's office, after GOP lawmakers stripped the treasurer and the secretary-of-state of virtually all their major duties. Eight other candidates had planned to run to replace the outgoing Kurt Schuller. Nomination papers for the fall elections must be filed by the end of Monday with the Government Accountability Board.
A Milwaukee man is under court-ordered supervision and a five-thousand-dollar bond, after he allegedly shot through a conference room window at Harley-Davidson. Two employees, and a job candidate they were interviewing, dropped to the floor and crawled out of their conference room when the shooting took place. Twenty-four year old Thomas Dright-Jackson of Milwaukee is charged with reckless endangerment and reckless use of a firearm. Prosecutors said he fired 10-to-15 shots at his ex-girlfriend in the middle of a street on May 22nd. The woman was not hurt, and one of the bullets went through the Harley-Davidson office window. The building was temporarily locked down. Dright-Jackson is due back in court next Thursday. He'll find out then whether there's enough evidence to order a trial.
Here's a breakfast that's worth waiting for. Three recent Marshfield High School graduates set up a tent at 10 a-m yesterday, so they could be first in line for today's annual Mayor's Breakfast at the Marshfield Dairyfest. Brad Krueger, Rishabh Sharma, and Andrew Wittman waited 19-and-a-half hours for their eggs, strawberries-and-ice cream, and all the other fixings. For being first in line, they won Wisconsin Dells tickets plus an overnight hotel stay in Marshfield. But for them, the prizes were not as important as beating Wittman's and Krueger's record for camping in line. They arrived an hour later a year ago, around 11 the morning before the big meal. It's one of the big parts of Marshfield's annual three-day celebration, which salutes the dairy industry in central Wisconsin. The biggest event is a parade tomorrow which normally attracts around 20-thousand spectators.