Wednesday State News Briefs: AG Van Hollen plans to appeal judge;s ruling on voter ID lawWisconsin News
-- Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said this afternoon that he’ll appeal a judge’s ruling that temporarily halted Wisconsin’s controversial voter ID law.
MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said this afternoon that he’ll appeal a judge’s ruling that temporarily halted Wisconsin’s controversial voter ID law.
Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan said yesterday that groups for Hispanics and African-Americans are likely to win their lawsuit which seeks to strike down the voting law. And the judge put the law on hold until a trial on the lawsuit can be held April 16th. Flanagan said the plaintiffs have a case in claiming that the law hurts the voting rights of the poor, elderly, and minorities because it’s harder for them to get acceptable ID’s. But Van Hollen says it’s proper for voters to prove who they are. And for those without ID’s, he said the law quote, “makes accommodations to reduce any potential burden” in obtaining them. For now, at least, the judge’s order removes the requirement that voters show photo ID’s and sign poll books in Wisconsin’s presidential primary on April third. The state GOP says the entire case is tainted, because Judge Flanagan signed a petition to recall Governor Scott Walker last November. Walker signed the voter ID mandate into law earlier last year.
Authorities are investigating the death of an adult in a car that caught fire in Lac du Flambeau in far northern Wisconsin. The vehicle was engulfed in flames when help arrived. When the fire was put out, officials said a person was found inside and was pronounced dead at the scene. Lac du Flambeau Tribal Police are investigating, along with Vilas County sheriff’s deputies and the county coroner. Tribal Police Chief Robert Brandenburg said the victim’s name would be released when the identity is known and relatives are notified.
Wisconsin will continue to be without standards for locating wind energy farms, at least until next year. The Public Service Commission adopted uniform standards in 2010, complete with setback requirements from homes-and-farms. But the Legislature’s rules committee suspended the rules a year ago. And majority Senate Republicans scheduled a vote today on a bill to uphold the suspension and order new rules. But De Pere Republican Frank Lasee pulled back the measure, saying it didn’t have enough votes to pass – and it was referred to a committee on a 17-16 party line vote with all Democrats voting no. The former rules were suspended after Republican Governor Scott Walker had said he wanted wind turbines to be further away than what the PSC wanted. Walker never got his wish, and the state has been without wind-farm regulations since then. Wind energy developers say they need statewide standards, so can local governments can stop adopting a hodge-podge of inconsistent rules. Some developers have moved elsewhere, where the regulatory climate is more predictable.
Wisconsinites will be encouraged to enjoy the great outdoors, under a bill passed by the state Senate this afternoon. The vote was 32-1 in favor of a plan to boost participation in hunting, fishing, and trapping – and to make sure future generations are interested in those sporting traditions. The state Assembly passed the bill last November, so it now goes to Governor Scott Walker for his signature. The measure creates an Outdoor Recreation Council to give advice to the governor and the Natural Resources Board on sporting issues. It would also make reports twice a year on the state’s efforts to retain hunters. Hunting and trapping courses could be offered on on-line – and schools could award a half-credit to students who complete one of those classes. Those who recruit new hunters would get discounts on their license fees. And the minimum wage for sturgeon spearing would be cut from 14 to 12. Only Madison Democrat Fred Risser voted against the measure in the Senate. Last fall, Assembly vote was 84-12.
Also today, state senators voted 20-13 to make it easier for lakeside homeowners to build piers and docks. With no debate, the Senate decided to allow the DNR to issue general permits for activities which now require individual permits that are more limited in scope. And the bill allows general dock-and-pier permits in places with special natural resource interest – which have distinctive ecological features. The measure was sent to the state Assembly.
Officials in Brown Deer are trying to prevent state lawmakers from telling them how to spend their money from a local tax on hotel rooms. Until now, communities which adopted room taxes before 1994 could spend the revenue any way they wanted – and those with room taxes after ’94 must give at least 70-percent to a group that promotes tourism. Now, a bill in both houses of the Legislature would end the grandfather exemption – and all communities with room taxes would have to put most of it toward tourism. Brown Deer, just north of Milwaukee, says the bill would put that suburb in a real bind. Village Manager Russell Van Gompel says 325-thousand dollars that’s now put toward all local services would have to be spent on tourism – and the other services would have a shortfall to be made up with higher taxes or spending cuts. The Village Board asked lawmakers this week not to pass the change.
Milwaukee had nine-percent fewer homicides last year. But 18-percent more people were shot and lived to tell about it. Those numbers were released yesterday by Milwaukee’s Homicide Review Commission. Eighty-six people were murdered in Wisconsin’s largest city in 2011, nine fewer than the previous year. The two biggest reasons were illegal drugs and various types of arguments. Ninety-percent of the murder suspects had previous run-ins with the law – and so did 76-percent of their victims. The non-fatal shootings rose by 73 last year to 473. They mostly involved robberies, drugs, and arguments. Also, Milwaukee had fewer killings due to domestic violence. They dropped from 19 to nine. Police Chief Ed Flynn also said areas with many foreclosed homes and lower graduation rates had above-average cases of murders-and-shootings. And in Flynn’s words, “Our poverty density tracks very closely with our crime density.”
Ten students from a central Wisconsin high school have won a contest to make a simple task a lot more complicated. Owen-Withee High School in Clark County won this year’s Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at UW-Stout. Students were challenged come up with a creative and complex way to inflate a balloon and pop it – and to outline at least 20 steps in the process. The Owen-Withee team came up with 28 steps which included a catapult, and a dragon that pops the balloon with its teeth. The contest is named in honor of the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who drew complicated devices that performed the simplest tasks. The Owen-Withee team will now advance to a national competition on Saint Patrick’s Day in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Wisconsin’s Air National Guard could lose up to 114 people under a plan to cut defense spending. The Air Force said a month ago it would cut almost a half-trillion dollars over the next decade. And the Wisconsin guard learned at that time that it would lose two planes in Milwaukee and one in Madison. The personnel cuts were not unveiled until yesterday. If Congress approves them, the Wisconsin Air Guard would lose about five-percent of its total personnel. It currently has almost 23-hundred staffers. State Adjutant General Don Dunbar calls the news “sobering.” He said the cuts are larger than expected – and they have to be made by October first. Only 16 of the 114 posts are full-time, and Dunbar says he plans to cut them by attrition.
Nobody won the Mega Millions’ jackpot last night, so it goes up to $148-million-dollars for the next drawing on Friday. Seven players throughout the country won the quarter-million-dollar second prize, but none were in Wisconsin. The numbers of those winning smaller prizes were not immediately available. Last night’s numbers were 20, 24, 31, 33, and 36. The Mega Ball was 44, and the Megaplier was four. The current jackpot has been building since January 24th and has rolled over 12 times. It’s the largest since December 27th, when a $206-million prize was won. Friday night’s cash option is just under $109-million. The next Powerball drawing is tonight, and that jackpot is worth $60-million dollars.
Wisconsin got cooler and wetter this afternoon, after an almost summer-like day in parts of the Badger State yesterday. It got up to 69 degrees near Boscobel in southwest Wisconsin, and 67 near La Crosse. Many other parts of the Badger State saw at least the 50’s, as readings were up to 20-degrees above normal. But the National Weather Service says rain and cooler temperatures are moving into the northwest half of Wisconsin this morning – and they’ll move into the southeast half this afternoon. The Milwaukee region will see highs in the 60’s before the front gets there – but the winds are also picking up. A wind advisory is in effect in far southeast Wisconsin with gusts up to 45-miles-an-hour predicted. Tonight, rain and light snow are predicted statewide – but northern areas should see no more than a dusting. It will be cooler tomorrow, as highs in the 30’s-and-40’s return with more light snow possible in the south. Dry weather is expected Friday and Saturday, with a chance of rain Sunday. The mercury could go past 50-degrees again by Saturday in the south – and unseasonably mild temperatures are due to return early next week.
A social worker cannot be sued for failing to recommend that a man be held in emergency detention, thus leaving him free to kill his mother and nephew the next day. A state appeals court re-affirmed the social worker’s immunity in a case from Oconto County. Authorities said William Hammersley of Green Bay shot and killed his mother Judy and nephew Nicholas in 2005 – and he said the devil and former President George W. Bush made him do it. Court records show that a sheriff’s investigator asked Oconto County social worker Dawn Pabich for advice in seeking emergency detention, because Hammersley was behavior erratically. But after speaking with her, the officer did not pursue – and Hammersley committed the killings the next day. His father and the victims’ estates then filed a civil lawsuit, seeking damages from the social worker and other officials. But a circuit judge said the law gives those officials legal immunity for their actions. And yesterday, the appeals court agreed. Hammersley, who’s now 36, was declared mentally incompetent in 2008 to go on trial for the killings. The case never made it to a preliminary hearing on two counts of intentional homicide.
The Wisconsin state Assembly is expected to vote next Tuesday to limit Wisconsin’s private school voucher program to the places where it’s now running – Milwaukee County and Racine. The Senate has approved the bill, and Governor Scott Walker says he supports it. Today, Assembly Finance chair Robin Vos said it’s being added to Tuesday’s calendar. The bill would eliminate a formula approved in last year’s state budget that could let Green Bay and other cities offer the voucher program in the near future. A last-minute budget amendment included the formula a year ago, and lawmakers quickly passed it to get the budget approved on time. But Republican supporters said it got included by mistake. And lately, Democrats and state Superintendent Tony Evers have put heat on GOP lawmakers to keep their promise, and prevent school vouchers from expanding any further. The Milwaukee suburbs and Racine were added for the first time this year, after kids in Milwaukee had the program to themselves for 20 years. Supporters say the voucher program helps poor kids learn more in a better environment, with the goal of escaping poverty. But critics say voucher students don’t perform any better than public school kids – and it takes valuable state aid away from public schools by reducing their enrollments.
Autopsy results show that a UW-Milwaukee student drowned at a campus swimming pool on Monday. But authorities say they’re waiting for toxicology test results and other data before determining a final cause of death for 19-year-old Connor Driscoll of Madison. University officials said the death is not suspicious – and it could have resulted from a health condition. Driscoll, a sophomore, was preparing for an Air Force aquatics test with his roommate when he fell underwater.
Miss America finally got her wish. Kenosha native Laura Kaeppeler met Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Monday night. During January’s Miss America pageant, Kaeppeler praised the National Football League’s MVP on live TV – and she asked Rodgers to call her. Rodgers was watching the pageant – but he never did call, even after Kaeppeler won the crown. Then last week, the Milwaukee Bucks announced that Kaeppeler would sing the national anthem at Monday’s game against Philadelphia. And Rodgers – an occasional visitor to the Bucks’ games – was in the front row. The Kenosha News said the star quarterback surprised Miss America at halftime in her suite at the Bradley Center. Rodgers later tweeted that he was excited to meet Kaeppeler.