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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Senate expected to pass budget today

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Pierce County Herald
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The Wisconsin Senate appears to have the votes to approve a Republican version of the new state budget today. The two-year spending and policy package was approved by the Assembly 55-to-42 yesterday, after minority Democrats decided not to debate over 210 amendments they drafted. The vote will be much closer in the 33-member Senate, where two Republican defectors could derail the G-O-P package or send it to a conference committee. Democrats were hoping that Republicans Dale Schultz of Richland Center and Rob Cowles of Green Bay would vote no -- but Cowles now says he’ll vote yes, saying the budget quote, “basically subscribes to Republican principles.” Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he was confident he has the votes. In the Assembly, Republicans Steve Kestell, Steve Nass, and Howard Marklein joined all Democrats in rejecting the budget. Kestell said he couldn’t justify having 90 non-fiscal policy items in the package. Nass said the package does not do enough to expand private school vouchers – and he was against the return of bail bondsmen. Marklein – who plans to run in a G-O-P primary against Senator Schultz next year – said the package was not fiscally responsible. 

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The budget would cut income taxes by 650-million-dollars, but it leaves a 505-million-dollar deficit for the next budget in 2015. It also freezes U-W tuition for two years, and it forces felony suspects to give their D-N-A to law enforcement before they know if they’ll be convicted. Democratic Assembly leaders Peter Barca and Andy Jorgensen said they gave up on their amendments because they knew that Speaker Robin Vos would not accept them. The Democrats said they hoped voters would remember the secrecy in which the G-O-P shaped the budget and vote out Republicans in 2014. But Speaker Vos says his party crafted a budget that Wisconsinites support.  __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

An Oshkosh hospital is the latest to drop one of its treatment units, after its parent firm announced up to 250 layoffs throughout its health system. Mercy Medical Center of Oshkosh plans to close its sub-acute care unit a week from tomorrow. It helps serves patients who are recovering from major problems like strokes and surgeries. Ministry Health Care says it’s working with other local groups to provide short-term rehab services. Company officials in Marshfield said the same thing last week, when Saint Joseph’s Hospital announced that it would close its drug-and-alcohol rehab program which serves a-thousand patients a year. Ministry Health Care announced its impending layoffs almost a month ago for its 15 hospitals and 47 clinics in Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. They blamed declines in the numbers of patients, due to higher deductibles for health insurance. The firm also said the federal budget sequester reduced its Medicare revenues by 10-million dollars. 

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We could find out today whether a 14-year-old Sheboygan boy is guilty in the brutal killing of a friend’s great-grandmother. Nathan Paape took the stand in his own defense yesterday. He said that 14-year-old Antonio Barbeau plotted the robbery and killing of 78-year-old Barbara Olson just hours before it happened last September. Paape said he didn’t believe that Barbeau would carry it out – and when he did, Paape said he struck Olson twice with a hammer, for fear that Barbeau would come back and attack him. Barbeau also testified, and he told a much different story. He said the two talked back-and-forth the day before the slaying about ways to get money – and they agreed to rob Olson at her Sheboygan Falls home. Barbeau also said they agreed to quote, “use force if needed.” A medical examiner testified that Olson was pummeled at least 27 times. Testimony ended yesterday, and attorneys will present their closing arguments this morning before the case goes to the jury. Barbeau pleaded no contest to his homicide charge last week. He said he did not have to testify against Paape as part of his plea deal. 

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Wisconsin’s health secretary will take some time off, due to a health issue. Kitty Rhoades took a leave-of-absence yesterday so she can have a hip replaced. She expects to be back full-time by the end of next month. Rhoades says she’ll be briefed about agency matters, and will make decisions as her recovery allows. She said she wanted to take a vacation this summer but quote, “This isn’t exactly how I planned to do it.” Rhoades, a former Republican legislator from Hudson, became the state’s Health Services secretary in late February.

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State Representative Brett Hulsey of Madison is giving more indications that he’ll leave the Democratic Party, and run as an independent next year. He refused to say if he’ll do it, noting that he has until next summer’s filing deadline to decide. The 54-year-old Hulsey says he has beefs with both parties. He criticized fellow Democrats for not bringing up any amendments before majority Republicans passed the state budget yesterday. Hulsey brought up an amendment for a large boost in public school funding, and the reversing the Act-10 mandate to have public employees pay more for their health insurance and pensions. Afterward, he called himself “the only progressive who offered an amendment to fix the budget mess.” There’s been speculation that Hulsey would have a primary challenger in 2014 – and he says he could escape that by running as an independent. Earlier this year, one of his aides complained after he brought a box-cutter to his office, and urged her to train for self-defense. Last year, Hulsey was fined 114-dollars for pushing a boy off an inner-tube at a Madison beach, and taking photos of the child. After his father complained, Hulsey claimed he was taking pictures of a sunset – and not the youngster. He’s in his second term in the Assembly, after holding leadership posts in a number of environmental groups.

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Two central Wisconsin lawmakers who may have saved a local business are now being accused of going back on that deed when they voted against the state budget. Amy Sue Vruwink of Milladore and Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point joined all of their Democratic colleagues yesterday in rejecting a two-year, 68-billion-dollar package passed by majority Republicans. The two Democrats, plus Wisconsin Rapids Republican Scott Krug, recently added a budget item that could allow Skyward of Stevens Point to keep providing student databases for Wisconsin schools. That’s a pebble in the 14-hundred page budget – and lawmakers had to vote either yes-or-no to the whole thing. Democrats slammed the G-O-P for cutting taxes and boosting conservative causes while not doing enough to help the economy and education. However, Portage County Republican party chairman Patrick Testin said Vruwink and Shankland had to decide what’s most important back home. He said the chance to preserve hundreds of jobs should have taken precedence over partisan politics. The Senate votes on the new state budget today.

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A suburban Milwaukee man remains in jail, despite earlier reports that he’s been freed in connection with last weekend’s shooting at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino. The district attorney’s office said yesterday that the 27-year-old Wauwatosa man is no longer being held for the shooting incident – but they’re still investigating it. Last night, the Journal Sentinel cited jail records showing that the man’s still in custody on an unrelated charge. Witnesses said the suspect and another man were fighting on the casino’s main gaming floor early last Sunday, when a 23-year-old female bystander was shot-in-the-leg. Casino officials say they’re reviewing their security procedures in the wake of the incident.

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Jason Schulte
Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 
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