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WISCONSIN STATE NEWS BRIEFS: Summerfest begins two week run in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE - The world’s largest music festival in Milwaukee is back and better than ever. An event organizer for the 46th annual Summerfest says patrons will enjoy the new $600-million dollar infrastructure, from the new stages to restrooms and amenities.

There is also several new events this year; including five-days of skydiver performances, paddle boats and a zip line across the entire event area. Over 800 bands will be playing during the 11-day event that kicks off tomorrow. The festival runs until June 30 to July 7. More information and scheduled events can be found at summerfest.com.

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State emergency officials say three southwestern Wisconsin highways are closed because of flooding and mudslides. Authorities say Highway 61, between Highway 60 and a bridge to Boscobel in Crawford County, is buried under 25-feet of mud after a landslide. Another landslide happened on Highway 35 near Lynxville to Prairie du Chien in Crawford County. Flooding has also closed several other highways in those areas. A flash flood warning remains in effect for Crawford and includes Kenosha, Lafayette, Grant, Vernon, Rock and Green counties until Wednesday. Authorities say no one was reportedly injured in those landslides.

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The Kickapoo River rose again this morning in southwest Wisconsin, after another bout of heavy rain. However, the village of Gays Mills is doing a lot better than in the Floods of 2007-and-‘08. Dozens of homes, businesses, and local government institutions moved to higher ground after that second pounding. As a result, Village President Patrick Broadway said just 10 homes have been affected by the high waters, compared to 30-or-40 in the downtown area just five years ago. Library director Maura Otis tells WXOW-TV in La Crosse that flood waters can still come through the higher parts of Gays Mills. She said folks are hoping there’s as much time as possible between rainstorms this week, so as much water can recede as possible. This morning, the Kickapoo was a foot-and-a-half above its flood stage at Gays Mills. The National Weather Service said this morning’s rains have stopped, except in the Milwaukee region. Another wave of storms is due in Wisconsin late this afternoon and tonight, with up two more inches in places that are saturated. Readstown had just over two-and-three-quarter more inches of rain yesterday and overnight. Milton, to the east, had two inches. Besides the Kickapoo, the Sugar River at Brodhead and the East Pecatonica at Blanchardville remained over their banks today.

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has laid out a plan to give a pay increase to state and University of Wisconsin employees. In a letter to a special legislative committee, the plan calls for a 1-percent raise each year for the next two years. It’s been four years since state workers received across the board pay raises. The committee is scheduled to vote on the plan tomorrow. Wisconsin state government workers could also soon get their first across-the-board pay raise in four years. The Office of Employment Relations announced plans today to recommend a one-percent pay hike in each of the next two years – plus 25-cents an hour for employees who make less than $15 per hour. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations will consider the pay hikes tomorrow. If they’re approved, no further legislative action would be needed. The raises would then take effect Sunday, and would start appearing on paychecks at the end of July. They would apply to general government employees plus those in the U-W System. It’s been four years since most rank-and-file state workers got raises – and it’s been five years for most managers. The raises would cost around $90-million over the two-year period. State taxpayers would cover almost half of that. The rest would come from federal funding, fees, and other areas. The funding for the pay hikes is already in the proposed state budget that Governor Scott Walker’s due to sign in the next few days.

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Wisconsin Democrats are conducting a poll to see whether Mary Burke could be a viable candidate for governor next year. The poll was made public today, after the State Republican Party filed a complaint with elections’ officials. The GOP accused the Democrats of breaking the law, by not saying who’s paying for the poll. Mary Burke is the daughter of Richard Burke, the founder of the Trek Bicycle Corporation in Waterloo. She held a number of positions in the company before serving as former Governor Jim Doyle’s commerce secretary for two years. Burke is now on the Madison School Board. Democrats say they’re conducting polls on a number of potential challengers to Republican Governor Scott Walker. Burke has never publicly said whether she’d be interested in running. One poll earlier this year showed that former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold would have the best chance of defeating Walker. But that apparently went out the window last week, when Feingold was named a U.S. envoy to eastern Africa. State Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca has been mentioned as a possible challenger to Walker – along with Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, both of whom are former state Assembly members. Current Assemblyman Cory Mason of Racine has also had his name come up, along with Madison business leader Kevin Conroy.

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The speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly says the attorney general should have expressed his state budget concerns before now. J.B. Van Hollen said for the first time yesterday that Governor Scott Walker should veto a proposed return of bail bondsmen. The AG was also against new restrictions on the collecting of DNA by law enforcement from those arrested but not convicted of felonies. The budget was passed by both houses of the Legislature last week. Governor Scott Walker has said he would decide on his line-item vetoes before the new budget is scheduled to take effect next Monday. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington said it’s disappointing that Van Hollen is only speaking out now, after lawmakers completed their action. Vos said it sounded like Van Hollen was quote, “attempting to play Monday morning quarterback.” Van Hollen was also critical of a bill proposed for this fall. Freshman Assembly Republican Michael Schraa of Oshkosh wants to prevent local police from enforcing federal restrictions on semi-automatic and assault weapons, and requirements for federal registration. Van Hollen said he supports gun rights – but he believes that cooperation between the state and federal governments would suffer if Schraa’s bill passes.

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Those who ride Amtrak’s popular Hiawatha train from Milwaukee to Chicago can no longer buy food-and-beverages on board after Friday. Peg Schmitt of the Wisconsin DOT said both her state and Illinois subsidized the food-cart to the tune of $233,000 a year. The agency was considering whether to add WiFi instead. Schmitt said officials believe it’s a better value for the riders, considering that food and drinks are readily available at each end of the route. The Hiawatha line has had record ridership the past few years. Over 832,000 people rode the train in 2012. Schmitt says the dropping of beverage service had nothing to do with the state budget squeeze. State subsidies for the Hiawatha are being cut by over a million dollars in the next two years, to help cover a deficit in Wisconsin’s transportation fund. Schmitt said there are ongoing negotiations with Amtrak over the cost of the service – and she believes it will produce savings that will make up for the budget cut. 

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Another report today shows that Wisconsinites are doing a better job of keeping up with their home mortgages. The research firm of Core-Logic said about one-and-a-half percent of all mortgages in Wisconsin were in foreclosure in April. That’s a healthy decrease from a year ago, when two-point-two percent of home loans were being foreclosed upon. Also, Core-Logic says the percentage of Wisconsin mortgages at least 90 days in arrears fell to about three-point-six percent in April. That’s down from almost four-and-a-half percent in the same month of 2012. 

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A Marine from Bayfield will be buried on Sunday, exactly 46 years after he was killed in a chopper crash in Vietnam. 20-year-old Lance Corporal Merlin Allen was one of five people killed in 1967, when their helicopter was hit by enemy fire while it was trying to land in a hostile territory. The chopper was just approaching the landing spot, and it crashed-and-burned once it was hit. Allen’s remains could not immediately be recovered. Last year, a joint U.S.-and-Vietnamese team excavated the crash site, and found Allen’s remains. He’ll be buried in Washburn, the county seat of Bayfield County. 

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A northwest Wisconsin man is due back in court August 12th, after a judge found him competent to stand trial for the murder of his wife. 67-year-old Donald Lazar of rural Hawkins is charged in Rusk County in the shooting death of his 65-year-old wife Darlene last December 30th at their home. Prosecutors said the two were arguing about property taxes and her bathroom usage for washing her hands. Lazar originally pleaded innocent, but online court records show that the defense is considering a plea change. In March, a psychologist ruled that Lazar was not competent to stand trial, and he was taken to the state’s Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison for treatment. Authorities said Lazar shot his wife while she was on the phone with law enforcement. He apparently did not realize his gun was loaded. After realizing that it was, he allegedly reloaded the rifle and fired it a second time.   

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A northeast Wisconsin man tried but failed to use a judge’s newspaper remarks to get out of a 25-year prison sentence. Brown County Circuit Judge Sue Bischel told the Green Bay Press-Gazette last year that criminals have little character, and she was getting angry with people because they don’t change. The next day, she sentenced 49-year-old John Broadnax of Forestville on a felony child sex assault conviction with a victim under 13. Broadnax claimed that the newspaper article proved that Bischel was biased against him. The Third District Appeals Court in Wausau didn’t buy it. The judges said a reasonable person would not interpret what Bischel said as being biased against defendants. Besides, the court said she was referring to repeat offenders – not those like Broadnax who did not have a case in her court previously. 

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