WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Flu season has started early again
The flu season has started early in Wisconsin for the second year in a row. State health officials have confirmed 25 cases. Fifteen of those people were hospitalized, about half from Milwaukee County. Normally, young children and older people are the most likely to be sent to the hospital for the flu. This fall, Milwaukee has seen people of all ages hospitalized, and city disease control director Paul Biedrzycki calls that a "little disconcerting." He says respiratory illnesses are increasing in general, along with cold viruses. Last year, the state's flu season peaked in December -- the earliest in almost 10 years. Normally, it peaks in January or February. State epidemiologist Tom Haupt says the "A" and "B" flu strains are going around, and this season's vaccine covers both. Haupt says there's plenty of vaccine available -- and it's not too late to get a flu-shot. With the wider variety of people getting hospitalized, Haupt says everyone over six-months should get vaccinated.
Three Wisconsin Indian tribes were among 33 honored at the U-S Capitol yesterday, for helping save countless American lives during World War Two. Congressional Gold Medals were awarded to recognize "code talkers" -- Indians who used their native languages to send messages that the enemy could never understand. The Ho-Chunk Nation had seven code talkers during the war. The Menominee had five, and the Oneida had four. None of those soldiers lived long enough to see their secret contributions recognized. House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse co-sponsored a bill in 2008 to create the medals for the native soldiers. He said the famous battle of Iwo Jima would have been much longer and far bloodier, had it not been for the code talkers who could send messages in seconds. If it wasn't for them, the troops might have needed a coding machine that would have sent messages in a half-hour. Kind said the Indians sent out 800 battle-field communications with perfect accuracy at Iwo Jima -- and the enemy was none the wiser. Congressional leaders John Boehner, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi were also among those honoring the Indians with the medals. Menominee chairman Craig Corn called the ceremony "outstanding."
A deadly tree disease has been found near Woodruff in Wisconsin's Northwoods. Oak wilt is prevalent in central and southern areas. Now, tests have confirmed its presence in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest. D-N-R crews cut down the diseased tree and several others. They also removed some nearby stumps, in the hopes of stopping the oak wilt from spreading. The D-N-R's Brian Schwingle said it's concerning that the disease was found on the state's largest property, where oak trees are extremely valuable. It spreads to new areas largely through firewood -- and Schwingle says it's a big concern, as deer hunters are about to set up camp for the gun season which starts on Saturday. Oak wilt disease was discovered about a decade ago near Three Lakes in the far north, but this is the first finding in the Minocqua-Woodruff region. Schwingle says it only takes a couple months for a healthy tree to die from oak wilt. He says you can protect your oak trees by pruning them over the winter, to make them less vulnerable.
Two of Wisconsin's largest health providers are considering a partnership. U-W Health of Madison, and Aurora of Milwaukee are looking at ways to improve the delivery of affordable health care in Wisconsin and beyond. Lisa Burnette of U-W Health said there have been no major agreements yet. The university's health agency includes U-W Hospital in Madison and its related children's and cancer facilities, plus 45 clinics in Wisconsin and Illinois and the U-W School of Medicine and Public Health. Aurora Health Care has 15 hospitals in the eastern part of Wisconsin, along with 159 clinics in Wisconsin and Illinois. Together, the two systems have around 27-hundred doctors.
Residents who say they've been robbed of their sleep by neighboring wind energy turbines went to the State Capitol yesterday to ask for relief. They testified in favor of a bill to make wind farm developers and utilities liable for damages caused to neighboring homeowners who complain of headaches, sleep deprivation, and other health problems. Senate Republican Frank Lasee of De Pere introduced the measure. Part of his district includes a wind farm in southern Brown County, where several residents said they had to move away because of all the noise. Low-frequency sounds were detected at those homes, and the state Public Service Commission ordered studies on that matter. Lasee says it's clear that homeowners need some sort of recourse if they have problems -- but business and wind power groups say the bill is too broad, and it could lead to needless lawsuits. Joe Sullivan of the wind energy business group "Wind on the Wires" says the bill goes against Governor Scott Walker's efforts for legal liability reform. Brian Manthey of We Energies said his utility has investigated and addressed concerns raised by homeowners of its wind projects, including those testifying at yesterday's hearing before the state Senate's judiciary committee. Chairman Glenn Grothman promised more meetings on the subject.
Aviation firms would no longer have to pay a sales tax on aircraft maintenance, under a bill that's up for a public hearing today. The Assembly Ways-and-Means Committee will take testimony on a tax break for companies like Gulf-stream of Appleton and Cessna in Milwaukee. A similar bill is winding its way through the Senate. Republican Mike Ellis, the Senate's G-O-P president from Neenah, says aviation firms are at a competitive disadvantage. He says aircraft owners are getting their planes fixed in other states where a sales tax is not charged. Other taxpayers would have to make up for a three-million-dollar loss in revenue -- but Ellis says the bill would generate almost twice as much in higher business for the aviation firms.
All five Great Lakes have much higher water levels than a year ago, thanks to the heavy rains and snows of the past 12 months. However, Lakes Michigan and Huron are still 17-inches below their long-term averages for October, while Lake Superior is slightly below average. As a result, federal officials say it's too early to declare an end to the reduced water levels that have plagued the Great Lakes for about 15 years. Federal forecasters said yesterday that Lakes Michigan and Huron would remain below their long-term averages by 16-inches next April. Lake Superior is expected to be three-inches below normal. All forecasts hinge on the type of winter precipitation we get. For now, shippers are getting at least some reprieve from the shallow harbors which forced freighters to carry lighter loads. The Lake Carriers Association says many vessels have hauled up to six-thousand more tons of cargo this year, compared to last. However, the group says average loads are still about five-thousand tons below normal. The Lake Carriers are asking Congress to spend more to dredge those harbors that remain shallow.
Madison received a top rating of 100 in the Human Rights Campaign's annual Municipal Equality Index for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons. Milwaukee also fared well, with a rating of 91. Green Bay had a relatively low score of 48. The Human Rights Campaign evaluated 291 cities, at least three in each state. The ratings were based on how fairly L-G-B-T people are treated in local laws, policies, and municipal services. Madison and Minneapolis were among just 25 cities that got perfect scores. Milwaukee fell just short of perfection, mainly because it does not require that contractors provide equal benefits for L-G-B-T workers. Green Bay fell short in several categories involving its non-discrimination laws, not ensuring that L-G-B-T individuals are included in city services. The report also said Green Bay does not have a specialized police liaison or task force, and the city's overall relationship with the L-G-B-T community has room for improvement.
The annual governor's economic development summit for northern Wisconsin will take place December 16th and 17th in Pembine. Governor Scott Walker says the meeting will deal with the opportunities and challenges facing the North's economy -- especially in the areas of assistance for small business, regulatory reform, and other aspects of the relationship between state agencies and businesses. The Republican Walker and nine of his cabinet secretaries are scheduled to attend the meeting. Registrations are being accepted now. More information is available online at NorthwoodsSummit-Dot-Com