WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Wet, heavy snow predicted for tomorrow
No good day goes unpunished -- not in Wisconsin this winter. After the two mildest days of 2014 this week, up to a foot-of-snow is predicted for tomorrow and into Friday -- as an intense low-pressure system builds steam from the Great Plains. The Eau Claire and Black River Falls regions could get 8-to-12 inches of wet, heavy snow. Six-to-12 inches are predicted for central and north central Wisconsin. The La Crosse region could get 6-to-10 inches. Northeast Wisconsin is projected for 4-to-8 inches. In southern Wisconsin -- including Madison and Milwaukee -- only an inch-or-two are in the forecast. But those places are supposed to get freezing rain that could create a quarter-inch of ice. Also, brutal winds are due in late Thursday afternoon and into Friday, with gusts up to 40-and-45-miles-an-hour statewide. The National Weather Service says it could close highways in west central Wisconsin, and cause white-out conditions in a number of places. Once the snow leaves on Friday, it's supposed to get cold again for the weekend with lows either below zero or in the single-digits above. Yesterday was the warmest day in three months in far northern Wisconsin -- where it got up to 42 in Ashland. Another dry-and-mild day is expected today.
Amery's police chief is on paid administrative leave, after he was arrested for drunk driving this past weekend. The City Council's personnel committee discussed Thomas Marson's arrest on Monday. Any action by the full council is not expected until next Monday. The city issued a statement yesterday confirming Marson's leave, and naming retired sergeant Mark Meyer as the acting police chief. He had been working for the Amery police force part-time during his retirement. Marson was arrested after his personal vehicle slid into a ditch late Saturday night about five miles south of Amery. Officials said his blood alcohol level was point-156, almost twice the state's limit for intoxication.
House Budget chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville says he's keeping his options open about a possible run for the presidency in 2016. But he won't start to survey the political landscape until Congress completes its business for this year. For now, Ryan -- the 2012 vice-presidential nominee -- said he's focused on running the House Budget Committee, and he'll worry about the other things later. Ryan made his comments in Manchester New Hampshire last night, where he spoke at a fund-raiser for former House colleague Frank Guinta -- who's trying to win his job back after he lost in 2012. Ryan also praised the Tea Party's influence on the G-O-P, and said inter-party skirmishes were nothing more than "creative tension." He said the Republicans lost their footing before 2010 -- and Ryan said the Tea Party has quote, "done a great service to become a real fiscal conservative party."
Wisconsin voters appeared to be in a generous mood yesterday, as they approved three building referendums and rejected only one. Just over 60-percent of voters in Ellsworth said no to borrowing over 29-million dollars for a new elementary school and other projects. Appleton, Onalaska, and Lomira were the places where bonding referendums were approved. Fifty-eight percent of 87-hundred Appleton school voters said yes to borrowing 25-million dollars for a number of upgrades. In Onalaska, near La Crosse, voters overwhelmingly said yes to 16-million dollars for remodeling and additions in two elementary schools. Lomira voters agreed to borrow 24-million dollars for school building work. That passed by 27 votes out almost 15-hundred cast. In addition, Onalaska voters endorsed requests for new technology equipment, and exceeding the state-mandated revenue limit. Appleton voters accompanied their bonding approval by saying yes to five-million-dollars more for recurring expenses. Ellsworth voters rejected a second referendum for 800-thousand dollars in new taxes above the state revenue limit. Revenue cap referendums were approved in Stockbridge and River Ridge, and rejected in Herman. Also, numerous city, county board, and school board primaries were held throughout the state. Three people challenged Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima -- and he was among the two top vote-getters advancing to the April general election, along with attorney Shawn Reilly.
A man who was found innocent-by-insanity in the murders of his wife and two kids in 1987 was called to jury duty in Milwaukee County this week. Keith Kalota had spent 16 years in treatment before he was released from the state's Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison. Kalota was among 28 potential jurors questioned for the trial of a defendant accused of possessing an illegal fire-arm silencer. Kalota said he was told that he could serve on a jury, because he was never formally convicted of a felony. Attorneys on both sides decided not to choose him to help decide their case.
Wisconsin police departments would be required to have outside agencies review the deaths of suspects in custody, under a bill passed by the Assembly. The measure was sent to the Senate last night on a voice vote. An earlier version of the bill would have also created a statewide review panel to examine officer-involved deaths, with an eye toward setting uniform policies in that area. Police officials called the panel unworkable, and it was scrapped in recent negotiations to keep the measure alive. Also, the Assembly voted 60-to-39 in favor of a scaled-back measure to speed up appeals of state laws which are blocked by judges. On a voice vote, the lower House agreed to do more to make sure alleged domestic-and-child abusers turned in their guns as required when restraining orders are placed on them. The Assembly also voted to let doctors apologize to families for bad medical outcomes on their relatives, without having those statements used against them in malpractice suits. Bills were also approved to increase state funding to expand the zones where Milwaukee Police can determine when gunshots are fired on a real-time basis -- and to increase the numbers of county jail inmates who can be strip-searched. And on a 58-38 party-line vote, majority Republicans voted to begin the process of seeking a U-S constitutional convention for a new amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.
Wisconsin industries and wastewater plants could delay expensive improvements to reduce the phosphorus they dump into waterways. On a voice vote yesterday, the Senate agreed to hold up regulations passed by majority Democrats in 2010. Business groups said the requirements would put undue hardships on them, while farms and other non-point sources would not face the same rules. Under the new bill, companies and communities could delay the new emission restrictions for up to 20 years if they can prove a financial hardship in meeting them. The measure now goes to the Assembly. Also, senators voted 25-to-7 to no longer apply the sales tax to aircraft maintenance parts-and-labor. And on a voice vote, senators agreed to allow charity duck races without making them run afoul of state anti-gambling laws. That bill now goes to Governor Scott Walker for his signature.
Hunters could not shoot their weapons across trails in state parks, under a policy to be considered next week by the Natural Resources Board. A state law passed three years ago allows hunting-and-trapping in state parks, and it gives the D-N-R Board the authority to ban those activities in certain places. Earlier, the panel approved emergency rules to prohibit guns and arrows from being shot across trails, and to require the use of dog-proof traps for last year's hunting seasons. Next Wednesday, the board will consider permanent rules. Officials say they should not have any new effects -- although trappers would be mainly limited to taking raccoons in the state parks.
Private schools that get tax funds to teach low-income kids would face more scrutiny under a limited school accountability package approved yesterday. The Wisconsin Senate sent the bill to the Assembly 29-to-3. Democrats Jon Erpenbach, Bob Wirch, and Jennifer Shilling voted no. The private voucher schools would be graded by the state on their performance, just like public schools are now -- and they would have to provide a host of new data by 2015, instead of a previously-set date of 2020. However, the lowest-performing schools would not get sanctions. Republican Education Committee chairman Luther Olsen of Ripon said he had to delay what he called a more "ambitious agenda" -- but he calls the watered-down measure a "big step forward." Racine Democrat John Lehman said the bill doesn't go far enough. He accused Republicans of caving in to conservative voucher school supporters. Also yesterday, the Senate gave final legislative approval to four bills aimed at fighting the state's growing heroin problem. Those measures were sent to Governor Scott Walker on voice votes.
The value of good-quality farmland continues to rise in the Midwest -- but the growth is slowing down. A survey of 186 banks by the Federal Reserve of Chicago shows that farmland values rose five-percent throughout 2013 -- but the increase was only three-percent in the final quarter of the year. Meanwhile, Wisconsin agricultural land values lag behind most other areas. The Badger State had a two-percent increase in its farmland values in 2013 compared to 14-percent in Indiana, 10-percent in Illinois, and six-percent hike in Michigan. Iowa was the only state where farmland declined. The Hawkeye State had a two-percent drop. According to the Chicago Federal Reserve district, most bankers expect ag-land values to remain steady through March, and then decrease a bit. Last year's regional increase of five-percent was the smallest since 2009. The Chicago district covers about the southern two-thirds of Wisconsin.
The state D-N-R has identified 33 properties it hopes to sell later this year. The current state budget calls for the offering of 10-thousand acres for sale by June of 2017. It's supposed to help pay down the debt for the state's Stewardship Program, in which money is borrowed to buy-and-preserve Wisconsin nature and recreational lands. Yesterday, the D-N-R spelled out 33 properties it plans to sell, coverage just over 25-hundred acres in 23 counties. Some are just a few acres where there's no public access. Two of them have almost 500 acres each -- including land that was part of a 32-thousand acre state acquisition from the Packaging Corporation of America in north central Wisconsin. The new lands won't be sold until final evaluations are done, and the Natural Resources Board approves the sales. That's expected to happen in May.
A La Crosse woman will spend just over nine months in prison for helping her boyfriend try to escape an arrest for murder. 23-year-old Brittany Jones was sentenced yesterday to a year behind bars, but she was given 81 days of credit for the jail time she served while her case was going through the courts. Jones must also spend two years under extended supervision. Prosecutors said Jones helped Mitrel Anderson leave La Crosse, after he allegedly stabbed 24-year-old Demario Lee to death last June at a downtown convenience store. Lee was from Rockford Illinois, and was in La Crosse to visit relatives. Anderson and Jones were arrested in Madison the next day, where police tracked them down from their cell-phone signals. Anderson is scheduled to have a week-long trial starting June 9th for first-degree intentional homicide. He claimed he acted in self-defense in Lee's death. Jones struck a plea deal last month that convicted her of harboring a felon and bail jumping. A charge of obstructing an officer was dropped.