WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Assembly debates bill which would prohibit family members helping their relatives escape arrest
Family members would no longer be allowed to help their criminal relatives escape arrest, under a bill to be considered today by the Wisconsin Assembly. The Republican measure would stop preventing families from being convicted of aiding-and-harboring their relatives who commit felonies. The exemption has applied to a felon's siblings, spouse, parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren. Former Assembly Democrat Peggy Krusick of Milwaukee tried and failed for years to pass a similar measure before she was defeated for re-election in 2012. She had long argued that it was wrong for relatives to obstruct law enforcement. However, opponents found various technicalities to reject her bills. Last month, the Assembly's Criminal Justice Committee endorsed the measure on a 7-to-3 vote. It includes fines of up to 20-thousand-dollars and prison terms of up to 10 years, depending on the crimes they try to prevent their relatives from being arrested for.
State laws against human trafficking would be tightened under a bill that's up for approval in the Wisconsin Assembly today. Lawmakers of both parties have gotten behind the measure. It would more broadly define human trafficking as any scheme to control an individual -- and prosecutors would no longer have to prove it was done against the victim's consent. Also, trafficking victims who are prostitutes could ask a judge to expunge or vacate their convictions for prostitution. Judges would have to be convinced that society would not be harmed. Also today, the Assembly will consider letting anyone invest money in a person's 529-Ed-Vest college savings plan. Under current law, only relatives can invest those funds. The bill would also increase maximum contributions by the rate-of-inflation each year. The Senate unanimously passed the bill a month ago. The Assembly also plans to vote on a bill requiring those who officiate at weddings to be at least 18. Under current law, couples must be at least 18 to get married -- but there's no age limit to pronounce them as husband-and-wife. Lawmakers will also get an update on the state of Wisconsin's 11 Indian tribes. The Menominee tribe's newly-elected chairwoman, Laurie Boivin, will deliver the address.
Eggs and rubber ducks will be among the issues of grave concern in the Wisconsin Assembly today. The lower house is scheduled to act on bills to let farmers sell eggs from their chickens without a state processing license -- and to allow charities to put on rubber duck races without running afoul of gambling laws. De Pere Republican Andre Jacque raced into action after the State Justice Department warned officials in Mishicot that their annual duck race is illegal gambling. Charities throughout Wisconsin run the duck contests, that include the "Ducktona-500" in Sheboygan Falls. Neighboring Minnesota and Michigan allow those types of races. The egg bill would let people sell their own items at farmers' markets without the need for a state license. The producers could only have less than 150 chickens, and they would need labels showing that the eggs are not graded.
A Sheboygan high school student has been ordered to stand trial for the beating death of his father. 17-year-old Dorian Torres had a preliminary hearing yesterday. He's scheduled to enter a plea two weeks from today on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide. Authorities said the teen hid the body of 41-year-old Emilio Torres for almost a week before investigators found it January 30th under a bed in the victim's apartment. Sheboygan Police detective Joe Clark testified that Dorian was seen buying duct tape similar to what was used on a shower curtain that covered his father's body. Also, Clark said there were numerous transactions on his father's debit card -- and a bank was asked for help with one of his father's credit cards. Early police reports indicated that Emilio Torres' ex-wife said their son asked for personal I-D's to the bank cards. Dorian reportedly claimed that his father had left for Texas, and gave him his car before taking off. Prosecutors do not have a motive for the killing, but the man's ex-wife said he argued often with their son -- and Dorian had a problem with authority.
Wisconsin's two U-S senators voted with their parties yesterday, as they agreed to extend the nation's debt limit again. Democrat Tammy Baldwin voted yes to both the extension, and a motion to end the debate while Texas Republican Ted Cruz was trying to clear a hurdle to allow a filibuster. Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson voted against cutting off debate, saying the debt limit extension represents "the unsustainable growth in the size and scope of government." However, many G-O-P senators were in no mood for another political battle, as they try to keep the focus on the Democrats' problems with Obama-care during this election year. The motion to end the debate passed 67-to-31, and the extension of the debt limit was passed on a party-line 55-43 vote. It now goes to President Obama. The Treasury will borrow as normal for the next 13 months, and then the federal borrowing limit will be re-set after that. The House passed the extension on Tuesday. It lets the government borrow money to pay Social Security benefits, bills from Medicare-and-Medicaid health providers, and government employee salaries.
A father-and-son who run a large potato farm in northern Wisconsin will pay 100-thousand dollars in restitution, for the poisoning deaths of two bald eagles and 70 other wild animals. 65-year-old Alvin Sowinski and his 46-year-old son Paul of Sugar Camp in Oneida County have made a plea deal on federal charges of illegal bald eagle possession. They'll have separate plea hearings on May 8th before Magistrate Stephen Crocker in Madison. U-S Attorney John Vaudreuil said wildlife poisoning cases are extremely rare. He has only prosecuted one-or-two of them in the last 30 years. Authorities said the Sowinskis poisoned a host of wildlife with pesticides between 2007-and-2010 -- including at least two eagles, nine coyotes, a bobcat, and almost two dozen dead birds and ravens. There was no evidence that any wolves -- who were federally-protected at the time -- were poisoned. Officials said Alvin Sowinski had used the insecticide Carbofuran to kill wildlife, and both defendants allowed hunters and trappers to kill predators to make deer-and-grouse hunting better for their friends. It all happened on an eight-thousand acre potato operaton in which about half was actively being farmed. An investigation began in 2007 when a D-N-R warden found a dead bald eagle, among other animals. Sheriff's deputies and U-S Fish-and-Wildlife personnel also took part in the probe.
The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese has paid 19-million dollars in legal fees for its three-year-old bankruptcy case. And if a judge won't accept the church's financial re-organization plan, it could cost them another 13-million in pay-outs. That's according to the plan that was filed yesterday in a federal bankruptcy court. About 125 victims of sex abuse by clergy members would share four-million-dollars -- by far the lowest among 11 similar bankruptcy cases involving Catholic sectors around the country. The Milwaukee Archdiocese intends to compensate only about a quarter of the 575 victims who filed claims. Archbishop Jerome Listecki said more funds could be made available by suing insurance companies who represent some of the victims. Those victims were hoping to tap into 100-million dollars in church trust funds and parish assets. The Archdiocese, however, insisted that local church coffers are off limits -- and a judge said they could not tap into the church's 57-million dollar fund to maintain Catholic cemeteries. The church plans to borrow two-million from the cemetery fund to pay part of its legal bills. Victim advocacy groups were outraged by the church's settlement offer. Attorney Jeff Anderson said he's never seen a bishop or diocese that's quote, "more purposeful in pouring salt in the wounds of survivors." Listecki said the church is insolvent, and no amount of money will satisfy the victims -- even though he does recognize their quote, "tremendous hurt."
Unless they get a warrant, police could not use your cell-phone's G-P-S signals to keep track of you, under a bill up for approval today in the state Assembly. The criminal justice committee in the lower house endorsed the bill on a 9-nothing vote earlier this month. In order to track your phone, law enforcement would have to convince a judge that there's probable cause that a crime has been or will be committed. Officers would also have to show how they could get relevant evidence by tracking a cell-phone. Warrants would not be needed in emergencies where deaths-or-injuries are at stake -- or efforts to find missing persons. Assembly Democrat Melissa Sargent of Madison proposed the measure. It was introduced in December, just before U-S-A Today reported that police agencies around the country were snapping up large numbers of cell data from innocent people. Among other things, the paper said 25 U-S police agencies have "Stingrays," which are fake cell towers in which police can go into neighborhoods and gather cell data of residents.
A jail officer in Wausau is back at work, after she was severely beaten in an attack by an inmate 10-and-a-half months ago. Julie Christensen returned to work yesterday on a part-time basis. She and another correctional officer were attacked last March 27th at the Marathon County Jail, when they told prisoners in a cell-block they would lose their canteen, phone, and T-V privileges for not returning meal trays. Christensen was punched in the face and knocked unconscious. She was in a coma for several months, and doctors were not certain she could fully recover from her head injuries. Now, Sheriff Scott Parks says Christensen has a great attitude and she wants to return to full-time duty. For now, though, she's working three days a week in a correctional post that does not put her in direct contact with jail inmates. The man charged with attacking her, 21-year-old Fredrick Morris, is scheduled to have a three-day trial starting July 8th for aggravated battery and two counts of battery-by-prisoners.
A central Wisconsin man was killed yesterday when a tree he was cutting fell on him. Wood County authorities said 20-year-old Levi Miller of Milladore was found by a co-worker. Miller was pinned underneath the tree, and rescuers tried to revive him but couldn't. It happened around 5:30 yesterday afternoon in a wooded area in the town of Sherry, about 15 miles east of Marshfield. Miller was pronounced dead at the scene.