WISCONSIN STATE NEWS BRIEFS: Federal judge puts new abortion law on hold
MADISON - A federal judge has put Wisconsin’s latest abortion restriction on hold. William Conley issued a 19-page ruling last night which delays the enforcement of a law that requires abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinics.
Conley put the measure on hold until at least July 18th, the day after he holds a hearing on the matter. It was supposed to take effect yesterday, as part of a law that requires abortion candidates to get ultrasounds, so they can see photos of their unborn babies. That part of the law remains in effect. Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services filed suit against the entire measure in Conley’s court last Friday. They said it’s unconstitutional. Judge Conley said there’s a quote, “troubling lack of justification” for the requirement that abortion doctors have hospital-admitting privileges. He said it would cause irreparable harm to women who plan to have abortions in the next week. Conley said the state has failed to “demonstrate any benefit to maternal health” by imposing the restriction. Planned Parenthood said it have to close its Appleton clinic, and reduce abortions at its Milwaukee facility by half. The suit said Affiliated would have to close its Milwaukee clinic. Plaintiffs’ attorney Lester Pines said one clinic would have had to cancel up to 30 abortions or related appointments, had Judge Conley not blocked the law until after next week’s hearing.
An open gas line is being blamed for a house explosion in Beloit that injured two tenants. Authorities said Todd and Tara Purdy were installing a new gas stove on Sunday night – and they did not realize a natural gas line in the basement was uncapped. Fire officials said the basement became filled with gas, and something in the basement caused the gas to ignite. Todd Purdy, who’s 37, was in critical condition last night at UW Hospital in Madison with second-and-third-degree burns. 33-year-old Tara Purdy is also at UW Hospital, in fair condition at last word with cuts, bruises, and minor burns. The explosion was so powerful that parts of the house landed on neighboring roofs – and canned goods were among the household items pushed into the front yard and neighboring driveways. Beloit Fire Chief Brad Liggett said fire-fighters had to tread carefully in rescuing the couple. He said braces had to be installed, so the contents of the blown-out building could not shift – and then tunnels were set up to reach the tenants. The house was valued at just under $50,000.
Severe weather is possible throughout Wisconsin today and tonight – and we’re already seen our first warning. It was for severe thunderstorms moving into Polk and Saint Croix counties in southwest Wisconsin during the nine o’clock hour. The National Weather Service said the storm carried winds of up to 60-miles-an-hour with small hail. Forecasters say straight-line winds could accompany a wave of thunderstorms that’s due to move through the Badger State from west-to-east this afternoon. A cold front with more storms is due in late this afternoon and tonight. The Weather Service said that wave could be more severe, and tornadoes are a possibility in the La Crosse region. Another warm and muggy day is in the offing for all of Wisconsin except Lake Superior, where highs in the 60’s and projected again. Monroe was the state’s warm spot at nine a-m with 83 degrees.
Authorities say heavy rains might have caused a roof to collapse yesterday at a sign company near downtown Appleton. One person got out safely, as a-third of the roof caved in at Sign Works around 9 a.m. Nobody else was in there. College Avenue, one of Appleton’s main streets, was closed for several hours while firefighters checked to see if the neighboring buildings were safe. The National Weather Service said Appleton received almost two-and-a-quarter inches of rain Sunday night and early yesterday.
Two Democratic state lawmakers have asked Gogebic Taconite to remove armed, military-style security guards from its mining site in Ashland and Iron counties. Company spokesman Bob Seitz told the Duluth News-Tribune that the guards were hired after teams of mining opponents quote, “dressed in black and wearing masks violently attacked our drill site” in June. The paper did not describe the incident, but the only one that’s been made public involved two-thousand-dollars in vandalism and the theft of an employee’s cell phone. That happened about a month ago, when test drilling began. Yesterday, Senate Democrat Bob Jauch of Poplar and Assembly Democrat Janet Bewley of Ashland asked Gogebic Taconite president Bill Williams to remove quote, “the heavily armed masked commando security unit.” The News-Tribune said anti-mining blogs have shown photos of guards from Arizona firm in military-style camouflage with assault rifles. One photo was on the newspaper’s Web site this morning. Jauch and Bewley, who represent the area of the proposed iron ore mine, called the photos “horrifying.” They said quote, “These kinds of security forces are common in Third World countries, but they don’t belong in northern Wisconsin.” Seitz says Gogebic has no intention to remove them – or change them to friendlier-looking guards.
The Milwaukee County Courthouse might be closed longer than expected. After a basement electrical fire on Saturday, officials said the courthouse and its adjacent safety building would be closed yesterday and today. Now, County Executive Chris Abele is not sure when the structures can be re-opened. One media report says it might be as late as Friday. The County Board has a veto review session scheduled for tomorrow. If supervisors cannot meet at the courthouse, they’ll meet at Milwaukee Area Technical College. The county’s 911 emergency calls continue to be taken in neighboring Waukesha County. The district attorney’s office is still open, but the courts are not. Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Kremers says it might be a few weeks before a backlog is finished for cases delayed by the shutdown. A consultant warned about the electrical problems as early as February. The firm of CBRE said the building’s electrical system was approaching its life expectancy, or was beyond it. It also said the building has no sprinkler system and does not meet current codes. Two supervisors said the county should have done something in response. Abele says the current problems need to get fixed before anyone points fingers.
A new leader has been named for the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a liberal group that spends millions-of-dollars on campaign ads. Rich Judge will replace Michelle McGrorty on August first. Judge is currently the chief-of-staff for Democratic state Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca. He used to be a deputy chief-of-staff for former Governor Jim Doyle. McGrorty headed the Greater Wisconsin Committee for eight years. Since 2006, the group has spent $19-million on elections – mostly for ads which support Democrats and-or attack their Republican opponents. McGrorty is taking a new job with Emily’s List, a national group that helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. McGrorty will recruit candidates for public office in a region that covers 18 states.
The state Senate’s finance chair says Wisconsin needs a public assistance fraud control unit. River Hills Republican Alberta Darling wants stronger enforcement, after the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel found that the state is not checking actual incomes of aid recipients who are self-employed, or who claim they’re broke. In one case, a woman had four-million-dollars in rental properties, but still managed to get 150-thousand-dollars of tax-funded benefits for herself and her six kids. Another public aid recipient is a tutor who lives in a $460,000 home in Mequon. Yesterday, Darling started seeking co-sponsors for a bill to have the state Justice Department prosecute public assistance fraud cases. Local district attorneys have that job now, and the Journal Sentinel says many don’t have the resources – so many offenders go scot-free. Senate Democrat Kathleen Vinehout of Alma says the current laws are sufficient, but regulators need to do a better job of using various databases to share data. Vinehout says it’s a matter of officials not doing their jobs. Assembly finance chair John Nygren of Marinette says he favors two pending bills – one that gives counties incentives to pursue public assistance fraud, and creating rewards for those who report it.
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) says while there may be relief on student loan rates, it was unrealistic to address the problem before the expired rate cap on July 1. Baldwin says a bipartisan solution in the Senate is possible, but she’s unsure if a Republican-held House would address the issue. When rate caps expired, the student loan rate doubled to six-point-eight percent.
Milwaukee will host the summer conference of the National Governors’ Association. The group said today it will meet at the downtown Wisconsin Center convention hall from August second-through-fourth. Among other things, the governors will talk about containing health care costs, innovations in workforce training, the nation’s infrastructure needs, corrections reform, cyber-security, and employing the disabled. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a member of the association’s executive committee, says the state will be proud to host the nation’s state leaders as they discuss the issues of the day in a bi-partisan manner.
The non-profit group that delivers the Internet to Wisconsin schools and libraries expects to keep going, despite losing over a quarter of its business. Two state Senate committees held a hearing yesterday, to learn how Wisc-Net will keep functioning after the UW System dropped out. Wisc-Net director David Lois said the UW represented a large percentage of both its revenues and expenses. He called it a critical time for everyone involved. State public school superintendent Tony Evers was afraid that Wisc-Net would fall apart, forcing schools and libraries to resort to higher-cost Web providers. The Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association said its members are ready to match Wisc-Net prices in public school and library districts. The group’s director, Bill Esbeck, called the U-W’s withdrawal a victory for the private sector. The university system recently approved a new contract with Wisc-Net, despite complaints from legislative Republicans who said the arrangement hurts private commercial Internet carriers. The new state budget called for a permanent U-W withdrawal from Wisc-Net, and the university pulled out of its contract last month.
The chairman of General Electric is scheduled to speak with the University of Wisconsin System’s Board of Regents on Friday. The topic of Jeffery Immelt’s speech is “Leading the Productivity Revolution”. GE Healthcare is Southeast Wisconsin employs about 6,500 people – Immelt has been the company’s president and CEO since 2000.
Wisconsin’s public indoor smoking ban is starting its fourth year – and if you’re counting on Republicans to repeal it, don’t hold your breath. Maureen Busalacchi of Smoke-Free Wisconsin says it’s too popular for critics to touch. Polls by health groups have shown that up to 80-percent of state residents support the ban. According to state officials, that’s about the same percentage of Wisconsinites who don’t smoke. Also, restaurants that feared a loss of business have actually seen things improve. State tax collections and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association said their business rose two-percent during the first year of the smoking ban – at a time when the country was still sputtering in the aftermath of the Great Recession. They also reported a four-percent increase the second year. Busalacchi said the numbers prove that the smoking ban is working well, and it’s good for business. The Wisconsin Tavern League disagrees. It says the ban has contributed to a drop in mom-and-pop taverns throughout the Badger State. Busalacchi said many of those businesses were probably struggling already. Observers say bars have not been helped by a recent crackdown on drunk driving – and talk of even more legislation.
Wisconsin’s chief justice is not fond of limiting her future colleagues to one 16-year term. Shirley Abrahamson says it would not curb the large amount of special interest money we’ve seen in contested races in recent years. Instead, Abrahamson would like to see justices required to withdraw from cases that involve donors to their campaigns. She said an independent board would enforce the requirement. Recently, a State Bar Association Task Force proposed a constitutional amendment for a single 16-year term for Supreme Court justices. Task force chair Joe Troy said there’s no political support for appointing justices, thus taking away the voters’ right to choose them. Troy said political leaders in both parties would favor term limits, and he hopes the Legislature will take up his group’s amendment this fall. UW-Madison political scientist Barry Burden says he does not believe campaign money would be reduced – but it might encourages to be more independent once on the bench. The Wisconsin State Journal says the Badger State would be the only one with a single term for the Supreme Court. The 16 years is about how long a justice has served in the recent past.
Wisconsin funeral homes will only get 60-percent of their costs for providing pre-paid funerals in which their customers’ payments were invested in a fledgling trust account. Dane County Circuit Judge Peter Anderson approved a settlement today involving the Wisconsin Funeral Trust, which was placed into receivership a few months ago. Officials said aggressive investment strategies failed to pay off. As a result, the trust only has about $43-million available to cover obligated pre-paid funerals costing 67-million dollars. About 180 funeral homes have been delivering on their pre-paid contracts, while their financing vehicle lost money. Only those funeral homes agreeing to the settlement will be covered, but receiver John Wirth expects virtually the affected homes to be a part of it. While getting back 60-percent, they’ll still have to eat about $12-to-15 million. Companies that offered services to the trust will pay around $10-million.
An Air National Guardsman has been ordered to stand trial for allegedly shooting his girlfriend to death, and wounding another woman in Mauston. 29-year-old Cody Treul had a preliminary hearing yesterday in Juneau County Circuit Court on charges of homicide, attempted homicide, and reckless endangerment. He’s scheduled to enter pleas on August 28th. Sheriff’s detective Shawn Goyette testified that Treul pointed a gun at several people at a tavern courtyard before he killed 29-year-old Gail Howland and wounded 23-year-old Ebony Lasher. The shootings took place on May 31st. The detective said Howland was shot 10 times. She was reportedly breaking up with Treul. His attorney tells WKOW-TV in Madison that they’re considering insanity pleas.
A Beloit area man is due in court this afternoon for allegedly killing his neighbor before turning the gun on himself. 75-year-old Daniel Bellard was treated at U-W Hospital in Madison since the shootings on February sixth. He was released yesterday, and was taken by ambulance to the Rock County Jail’s medical unit. Prosecutors charged him this morning with first-degree intentional homicide in the death of 59-year-old Christine Gestrich. Bellard was arrested soon after the incident, while he was under armed guard at the Madison hospital. Gestrich was found dead in a barn. Bellard was found wounded in another out-building on his property, west of Beloit in the town of Plymouth.
A woman stabbed to death in Milwaukee was identified today as 21-year-old Shirley Eskridge. A 25-year-old woman has been arrested in her death, which occurred Saturday in a north side Milwaukee neighborhood. Prosecutors will review the case before deciding on charges. Also on Saturday, a 31-year-old man was shot-to-death on another north side street. Milwaukee’s murder toll has risen to 42 for the year.
No charges are expected against a northern Wisconsin teenager who accidentally shot himself – and claimed that somebody else did it so he wouldn’t get in trouble at home. Bayfield County Chief Deputy Dan Clark said the 16-year-old boy was not supposed to be touching his family’s weapons when nobody was around – but he did anyway. The incident happened on Sunday night. Officers were first told that the boy was shot by somebody who was trying to steal things from his dad’s pick-up truck. Investigators later concluded that the boy shot himself in the lower leg with a 22-caliber pistol. He did not have a life-threatening injury.
A Shawano man accused of killing two people is having his trial delayed, so the state Justice Department can get a new prosecutor up to speed. A jury for Daniel Schmidt’s trial was supposed to be picked on Friday in Oconto County – but that’s been pushed back to October 11th, with testimony to begin three days later. The state’s chief prosecutor in the case, David Wambach, was recently appointed as a new circuit judge for Jefferson County – and the state needs to find a replacement. The 30-year-old Schmidt is accused of shooting-and-killing 32-year-old Kimberly Rose and her 22-year-old Leonard Marsh in May of 2009 at Rose’s home near Gillett. Authorities said Schmidt had an affair with Rose, and he was upset when Rose allegedly tried to interfere with his effort to patch up his relationship with his wife. Investigators also said Rose loaned Schmidt a-thousand dollars to buy a motorcycle, and she was pressing him to pay the money back.
Wausau police are looking for a person who lit a firecracker and threw it into a house during the Fourth-of-July weekend. Police captain Bryan Hilts said an unknown person opened a front door and threw the firecracker onto carpeting, where it exploded. The residents were in another room. Nobody was hurt. The carpeting had minor damage, and Hilts said it could have been a lot worse.
A group of monks from a monastery in India will spend next week near Spring Green in southern Wisconsin. Starting Sunday, monks from the Drepung Goman Monastery will create a mandala – an elaborate art-work made from colored sand. When they’re finished, a ritual will take place in which the work will be destroyed, and the tiny grains of sand will be tossed into the Wisconsin River. It’s meant to demonstrate the Buddhist belief in the transitory nature of civilian life. It’s all part of the Himalayan Festival, which is held every four years near Spring Green in the town of Clyde.
A Milwaukee native will be installed tonight as the new Catholic bishop in El Paso Texas. A special Mass will take place at the El Paso Convention Center for 59-year-old Mark Seitz. He’ll become the new leader for 55 Catholic parishes and 22 missions in 10 West Texas counties. Seitz was most recently the Auxiliary Bishop in Dallas. He’ll replace former El Paso Bishop Armando Ochoa, who is now the diocese leader in Fresno California. Seitz says he wants to listen to people – and he’s eager to get to know clergy members and their congregations.
Jefferson County has become the 16th in Wisconsin to be quarantined for the tree-killing emerald ash borer. It makes that people cannot take firewood and other ash products out of Jefferson County. Local shippers of ash products need to get certification from the state agriculture department that their products are pest-free. The latest designation comes after the ash borer was found at UW-Whitewater, just to the south of the Jefferson County line in Walworth County.
Two brothers and a female friend have completed an 80-mile paddle-board trek across Lake Michigan, seven hours ahead of schedule. 23-year-old Craig Masselink, his 19-year-old brother Trent, and 21-year-old Ginny Melby left Milwaukee yesterday morning with the assumption that it would take 30 hours to finish their journey. It actually took 23 hours, as they landed a little before 8 a-m at Norton Shores Michigan, near Muskegon. That’s where the Melby and Masselink families have cottages together for years. The event raised money for Restore International, a group that focuses on social justice issues in Uganda. Melby and the Masselink brothers took turns paddling, while the other rested on a 40-foot support boat. The Masselinks’ father was on board, along with Melby’s mother.