Thursday State News Briefs: Plenty of tickets being issued to seat-belt law violatorsWisconsin News
-- Lots of Wisconsinites ignore the mandatory seat-belt law -- and this month, they're paying for it.
Lots of Wisconsinites ignore the mandatory seat-belt law -- and this month, they're paying for it.
Dane County sheriff's deputies gave citations to 90 drivers and passengers yesterday in a seven-hour daytime enforcement blitz north of Madison. Sheriff's spokeswoman Elise Schaefer said folks were ticketed at an "alarming rate." The extra enforcement was funded by a $45,000 state grant. Officials say the effort will continue through next week, and maybe longer. It's not a big money-raiser, since the tickets are only 10-dollars each. But Schaefer says buckling up is the most effective way to prevent death or serious injury in a crash. The statewide Booze-and-Belts campaign begins tomorrow, and that crackdown on seat belts and drunk driving runs through December 17th. It used to be that officers needed to find another traffic violation to give out seat belt tickets. But that changed in June of 2009 when the so-called "primary enforcement" began.
For the first time, UW-Madison awarded more than 10,000 degrees in the most recent school year. The university said today it conferred 10,099 bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees in the 2010-11 school year which ended in May. That covered both semesters and last year's summer session. The previous high was 9,867 degrees in 2009. Associate provost Jocelyn Miller says more undergraduate students are earning degrees -- and they're doing it quicker than in the past. Fifty-five percent of freshmen who started at Madison in 2007 graduated in the last year. That's the highest percentage since the 1980's, when the UW's current tracking formula took effect. The six-year graduation rate is 83-percent for grads who were freshmen in 2005. Two-thirds of last year's degrees went to undergraduates, and about 20-percent were master's degrees.
Governor Scott Walker asked the federal government today for permission to continue Wisconsin's popular Senior-Care prescription drug program. The Republican governor said he asked the Health Services Department to seek an extended waiver from federal rules. It would keep Senior-Care going beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of next year. The nine-year-old Senior-Care is popular because it has no gaps in coverage -- and it's cheaper than the drug programs offered by Medicare Part-"D." Walker originally wanted to scale back the state's program by making seniors enroll in Part-"D" and then purchase extended Senior-Care benefits. But advocates for the elderly said it would have seniors a lot more -- and many would not have been able to afford the extended benefits. Senior-Care requires a $30 enrollment fee each year, with co-pays for medicines of $5-to-$15 each.
Wisconsin public school teachers can be disciplined or fired if their students' test scores are not up-to-snuff. But administrators would also need other reasons to punish teachers under a bill signed into law yesterday by Governor Scott Walker. In 2009, President Obama criticized states that did not link teacher employment to student performance. And he made that a condition for states to get millions-of-dollars in competitive stimulus grants for public schools. Democrats who ran the state Legislature at the time voted to use test scores to evaluate teachers -- but not discipline them. Former Governor Jim Doyle hoped it was enough to qualify for the stimulus funding, but it wasn't. And critics said it was one of the big reasons Wisconsin was not awarded the federal money in the two times they applied for it.
Many Wisconsin landlords will soon have more leeway in deciding which tenants they'll allow. Governor Scott Walker signed a bill yesterday to make communities drop local ordinances that limit-or-prohibit building owners from using things like income, credit histories, rental histories, and criminal records in deciding on tenants. Supporters say the new law will end decades of regulations that went way too far against landlords. But tenant groups say it will eliminate long-established protections. Last spring, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said it would eliminate landlord-tenant rules that took years to hash out. And he said lawmakers did not give communities enough time to review the bill. The governor signed 21 measures into law yesterday. They include limits on legal fees in consumer fraud cases -- new legal protections to property owners who kill intruders -- and letting communities set earlier hours to sell beer-and-booze at liquor stores. Communities will have the option of letting those shops open at 6 a.m. instead of eight.
A Sheboygan County woman is due in court December 19th, after being accused of using a horse whip and a tennis racket to punish her daughters. 52-year-old Debra Dippel of Cascade has been charged with two felony counts of child abuse. The case involves incidents reported in October. Prosecutors said the 11-and-12-year-old daughters were hit with a tennis racket -- and then the 12-year-old was shoved into a closet while the younger girl ran off into the nearby woods. Authorities also said Dippel hit the girls with a riding quirt. And the 11-year-old told investigators that her mom once struck her in the face with a kitchen pan.
Governor Scott Walker says job creators will be protected by a new limit on the attorney fees they pay when losing consumer fraud cases. The Republican Walker signed a bill yesterday that limits legal fees to three times the amount of a settlement award -- but judges can approve higher fees if they see fit. But Democrats say the new law will discourage attorneys from taking smaller fraud cases, saying the award limits won't be enough to make it worthwhile. The law was proposed after a Burlington car dealer was forced to pay $150,000 in legal fees to settle a $5,000 dispute over a vehicle repair. The plaintiff's lawyer in that case, Lemon Law attorney Vince Megna, told the AP he vows never to represent another Republican. State officials say he's totally within his rights to do that.
Wisconsin State Assembly Republicans will announce their plans today to make it easier for mining companies to get state permits for their projects. A news conference is set for this morning, where majority House members will unveil their bill. Governor Scott Walker has urged lawmakers to work as quickly as possible to streamline mining regulations, so Gogebic Taconite can start putting people to work in developing a new iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. The firm put its project on hold this summer until lawmakers could pass new regulations. It would be the state's largest mine ever, costing one-and-a-half billion dollars. Gogebic Taconite said it would create over 700 permanent jobs and hundreds more construction jobs. Local leaders say it would help make up for massive job losses in far northern Wisconsin in recent years. But the nearby Bad River Indian tribe and environmental groups say the project could hurt local water quality -- and they fear the new bill would ease environmental standards for new mines.
A Democrat wants to take control of the State Capitol away from the governor's administration. Milwaukee Senator Lena Taylor is asking her colleagues to co-sponsor a bill to create a "Capitol Council." It would operate the statehouse, and set policies for things like demonstrations. Taylor asked her colleagues to respond by next Thursday. She told them a change is needed, considering how Republican Governor Scott Walker's administration handled the pro-union protests in February and March, and adopted new policies that require permits for events. Taylor said the new council would have members from all three branches of state government and the general public. The group would manage, operate, and maintain the State Capitol, and handle needed repairs.
Funeral arrangements are pending for former Wisconsin First Lady Jean Lucey. The wife of former Governor Patrick Lucey died early yesterday at the Milwaukee Catholic home. She was 93. Her son Paul said Jean Lucey died from complications of a stroke she had this summer. She was long involved in Wisconsin's Democratic politics, and she helped her husband operate a Madison realty firm that later became part of Milwaukee's Shore-west chain. State Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate called Jean Lucey an "out-spoken, witty and effective voice" for her husband and the party. The Luceys were married for 60 years.
Governor Scott Walker says he'll stand with those who choose to protect their families and property. And that's why he signed the so-called "castle doctrine" into law yesterday. It was one of 21 bills the Republican Walker signed privately, after lawmakers passed them in a floor period this fall. Under the new law, judges in both criminal and civil cases will generally presume that property owners who used deadly force against most intruders acted reasonably. And that applies to intruders who are not armed. Until now, homeowners had to prove they were being threatened in order to justify deadly force. And Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke says the new law sends a "pro-found message" to would-be burglars. But a group of over 600 defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and professors had opposed the castle doctrine. They said it would cause reckless and paranoid people to kill repairmen and trick-or-treaters while claiming self-defense. The new legal protection does not apply at properties used for crimes, like drug houses. And it would not protect shooters who have should have known that their intruders were law enforcement, fire-fighters, or EMT's.
Wisconsinites are less likely than other Americans to see the effects of poverty in their neighborhoods. New census figures show that 13-percent of Badger State residents live in what the government calls "poverty areas." That's where at least one-of-every-five-residents lives in households with incomes below the poverty line. The Census Bureau says 19-percent of Midwest neighborhoods are poverty areas -- six-percent more than Wisconsin. The national rate is 23-percent. Today, the Census Bureau is releasing average incomes and poverty data that's broken down to neighborhood census tracts. In the Madison area, median household incomes range from $151,000 in the suburb of Maple Bluff to $28,000 in a neighborhood near the city's airport. That neighborhood has 40-percent of residents living in poverty.
A paper mill that's over 100 years old is about to close. Wausau Paper said yesterday it would shut down its plant in Brokaw, north of Wausau, by March 31st. About 450 people will be left without jobs. Wausau Paper also said it would sell its premium-print and color-paper division to Neenah Paper. That deal is expected to be completed by the end of January. The new owner will move Brokaw's production to its plants in Neenah, Appleton, and Stevens Point. Wausau Paper says it's been struggling to maintain profits in its printing-and-writing paper business. And it announced earlier this year it would sell both the division and the Brokaw mill where Wausau Paper began over a century ago. The firm says it's more successful making tissue-and-technical papers. Wausau is keeping its mill in Mosinee, which has over 400 workers. It makes specialty-and-technical papers, like those used as backing for tape and papers used in the food industry.
The Brown County district attorney’s office said this afternoon that three Green Bay police officers were justified in killing a suspect outside a bar almost a month ago. 35-year-old David Spencer of Green Bay was shot-to-death outside the Packer Stadium Lounge. Police were called after getting reports of gunshots. When officers arrived, they found Spencer near a van with a gun pointed to his head. They reportedly told Spencer to drop the weapon. And police officials said he pointed it at the officers, who responded by firing 10 shots. Spencer’s wife Brenda told WLUK-TV in Green Bay she didn’t agree with the prosecutors’ findings. But she would not comment further.
“Jane Doe” was buried this afternoon in Waupun. She’s the unidentified woman whose remains were found by deer hunters three years ago in a shallow frozen creek in Fond du Lac County. Pastor Don Deike said it was an opportunity for people to say goodbye to a woman they never knew or met. And a number of people said goodbye – well-wishers with flowers, a Patriot Guard rider, sheriff’s deputies, and reporters. Sheriff Mick Fink said after the brief ceremony that the woman’s death was not right – but the investigation is not over. If the woman’s identity is ever known, Mick says the remains will be turned over to her family. But as far as he knew, no relatives showed up at today’s funeral. National efforts to determine her identity have failed. And authorities have determined that she was not one of several area residents who’ve been missing for years. The cause of the woman’s death has never been determined, either.
The Wisconsin State Democratic Party says it is going to stop giving updates on its petition drive. Supporters need 540,000 signatures to force a recall election against Governor Scott Walker. The recall petitions are just now expanding into rural areas of the state. A spokesman for the party says those totals will be kept quiet so the recall effort doesn’t slow down as it gets closer to the target. The signatures must be collected by January 17th.
The family of Jeffrey Garnier is asking his killers to turn themselves in. A $10,000 dollar reward is being offered for information on his murder in West Allis. Police say Garnier was attacked and left to die in a street back on November 10th. Detectives say they have a surveillance tape of the attack and the suspects involved.
A report released this week shows a muddled picture for Wisconsin non-profit organizations. Challenging economic times are having an impact. The Wisconsin Nonprofit Economic Impact Report shows one in four respondents saying they don’t have enough cash on hand to be sure they could survive more than a month. The majority say they will have to reduce or modify their survices. Nearly half have reported a decrease in government contracts.
A group that's trying to strike down Wisconsin's new state legislative districts will get to see how majority Republicans drew them up. A three-judge federal court panel told consultant Joe Handrick and GOP Senate aide Tad Ottman to give depositions to lawyers for the Democrats who claim the new maps are unconstitutional. GOP legislative leaders claimed that Handrick's and Ottman's testimonies were not relevant in the suit. The Republican lawyers said the only thing that matters is whether the maps are constitutional -- not the way legislators arrived at them. But the judges disagreed, saying the process is "extremely important" in deciding whether Republicans purposely discriminated in drafting the maps. Lawmakers are immune from lawsuits while they serve -- but the federal court panel said Handrick and Ottman don't enjoy the same protections. The Democratic plaintiffs -- which include former State Senate leader Judy Robson and former Congressman Al Baldus -- claim that minority communities were not fairly represented in the GOP's new districts.
A new report says Wisconsin is about average in encouraging entrepreneurship. The Badger State ranked 24th in this year's Small Business Survival Index from the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. The group uses figures from 2008-and-'09, before Republican Governor Scott Walker was elected and made business-and-job growth a top priority. But many of the group's tax observations still apply. It said Wisconsin had high property-and-gas taxes, plus high income and corporate capital gains taxes. The group also said Wisconsin stood out for having an individual alternative minimum tax, while having a low alternative tax on business. On the plus side for business, the report said Wisconsin has no death tax. It also has fairly low individual taxes on capital gains, plus low rates of increases in state-and-local government spending since 2004. South Dakota ranks first in the Small Business Survival Index. New York state is last.