Thursday State News Briefs: Gov. Walker says no to nullification on ObamacareWisconsin News
-- Scott Walker’s office says the governor will not support any effort to arrest federal officials who try to implement the Obama health care law in Wisconsin.
MADISON - Scott Walker’s office says the governor will not support any effort to arrest federal officials who try to implement the Obama health care law in Wisconsin.
This morning, state Assembly Democrat Jon Richards of Milwaukee called on the Republican governor to oppose any such arrest, after nine GOP lawmakers promised to a tea party group that they’d push for a bill demanding it. Richards also said Walker should promise that he would veto such a bill if it gets to his desk. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this morning quote, “Governor Walker doesn’t support arresting people for implementing federal law.”
Walker was in Las Vegas yesterday for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. While there, Walker and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal both criticized Mitt Romney for a comment he reportedly made to campaign donors after he lost the presidential election. The comment was that Obama won votes from minorities, low-income, and young people by promising them “gifts” – things like forgiving student loan interest, contraceptives for the poor, and letting young adults stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26. Jindal told reporters that Romney was wrong and quote, “We’ve got to stop dividing American voters … We shouldn’t view individuals as members of interest groups.” Walker said the GOP is not just for quote, “people who are not currently dependent on the government … It’s for all Americans.” Walker called it the party that “helps people find a pathway to live the American Dream.”
Wisconsin won’t get much help from neighboring Iowa, as Governor Scott Walker decides whether the state should set up its own health insurance purchasing exchange. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad says he doesn’t have enough information to make a decision, as a federal deadline rapidly approaches. Tomorrow is when states must tell Washington whether they plan to set up their own marketplaces, where individuals and small businesses can choose from a menu of private health plans. If they don’t submit their own exchange proposals, the federal government says they’ll have to accept a standard template from Washington, when the exchanges take effect in 2014 as part the Obama health reform law. A spokesman says Iowa’s Branstad cannot make an informed decision. He said the federal government has created arbitrary deadlines for the states, without answering basic questions to help them identify their best options. The U.S. Health-and-Human Services Department says it’s giving states until December 14th to submit detailed proposals for their exchanges – and the government expects to decide by January first whether-or-not to approve them.
More Wisconsin homeowners are behind on their mortgages than a year ago. The Mortgage Bankers Association said today that six-and-a-quarter percent of all mortgages in the Badger State were in arrears on September 30th. That’s up by one-hundredth-of-a-percent from the previous year. Officials said more loans appear to be 30 days past due, both in Wisconsin and nationally. And the bankers’ trade group said it’s not surprising quote, “given the weak economic and job growth in the third quarter” of the year. Even so, Wisconsin is bucking a nationwide trend of falling delinquencies. The national rate fell from eight-point-two percent last September to just over seven-point-six this time – and the biggest declines were loans that were at least 90 days past due. The Mortgage Bankers Group said Wisconsin’s actual foreclosure rate is smaller than a year ago. Almost three-point-two percent of Wisconsin mortgages were in some stage of foreclosure in September – down from almost three-and-a-half percent the year before.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison has filed suit against the IRS. The group said the federal tax enforcers violated the U.S. Constitution, by letting tax-exempt religious groups and churches get involved in political campaigns. The Madison plaintiffs specifically mentioned the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which ran full-page ads in newspapers across the country on the two Sundays before the elections. Those ads – which appeared in Wisconsin papers large and small – urged voters to consider religious values when going to the polls. The lawsuit also mentioned that Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky required a political letter to be read in churches the weekend before the presidential contest. By not enforcing the ban on electioneering by religious groups, the Madison foundation said the government gave preferential treatment not given to other non-profits groups – like the foundation itself. The IRS has not commented.
Police in southeast Wisconsin say they’re looking for a man posing as a newspaper photo-journalist who’s been contacting girls’ high school sports teams to have players join him for photo shoots. WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee says the imposter contacted girls at Whitefish Bay, Hartland Arrowhead, Kewaskum, Milwaukee Pius XI, and Verona high schools. And at Cedarburg, the man reportedly set up a photo-shoot with two girls but did not show up for it. Cedarburg Police say they have a lead on a possible suspect – a middle-aged man who has impersonated politicians and police officers in the past. Police say they do not believe any private meetings actually occurred, and no one was in custody at last word. Cedarburg officer Joseph Biliskov told WTMJ quote, “We want to identify this person, and make this guy go away.” He said police are just interested in keeping things safe for children. Most news outlets require photo-journalists to wear picture ID’s to prove that they’re legitimate.
A 61-year-old man was killed yesterday in a two-vehicle crash near Brandon in Fond du Lac County. Sheriff’s deputies said a vehicle driven by a 27-year-old Sheboygan woman drove through a stop-sign at the corner of two rural roads, and collided with a vehicle coming from the left. The first vehicle caught fire. The fatal victim from Brandon was the other driver, and nobody else was in his vehicle. Both units were reported to have overturned. Fond du Lac County authorities continue to investigate. The victims’ names were not immediately released. Meanwhile, Dane County authorities have identified a 19-year-old man killed in a two-vehicle crash near Stoughton on Tuesday. Officials said Charles Stabler of Stoughton died after his car turned left in the path of an oncoming vehicle, and both collided. The other driver, a 48-year-old Stoughton woman, suffered minor injuries. The crash happened on Highway 51 in the town of Dunn.
The Kenosha Fire-and-Police Commission plans to investigate an incident in July, in which an officer fired a Taser stun gun at a man who was apparently about to get into a fist fight with another man. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said it found a discrepancy between a written police report on the incident, and a squad car video. According to the paper, Kenosha officer Brian Ruha wrote that he saw two men actively fighting in a street when the squad car approached. But video from the vehicle showed that both men were standing, and neither had his fists raised. And officer Ruha fired the Taser at Keenan Smith within 15 seconds after the officer got out of his car. Commission president Ronald Frederick said the conflicting accounts don’t make sense, and he wants his panel to get to the bottom of it. Defense lawyer Denise Hertz-McGrath said Smith could have hit his head on the pavement after being Tasered so quickly. The other suspect, Tamirius Gaston, fell to the ground voluntarily when ordered to do so. Smith pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of obstructing an officer, and was fined over 750-dollars. Gaston was charged with disorderly conduct, but the count was dropped and he received a citation instead. The defense lawyer said the two men were long-time friends, and Gaston didn’t want to press charges. Kenosha police officials have not commented. The commission plans to review the matter next Tuesday.
An atheist group at UW-Madison might become the first of its kind in the nation to get a full year’s worth of student fee revenues for its programs on campus. The UW’s Student Services Finance Committee has voted to allocate over $67,000 dollars next year to the AHA – Athiests, Humanists, and Agnostics. Group president Chris Calvey said the funding would give support services to Madison students who have doubts about their faith – and they can have a place to discuss their concerns without fear of recrimination. Calvey said religious groups have received student funds for years and quote, “It’s about time that secular students got the support we deserve.” The Secular Student Alliance of Columbus Ohio says the UW’s full-year grant appears to be the largest ever awarded to an atheist group. Jesse Galef of the Alliance tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that secular groups often get a few hundred dollars from their campuses for specific programs – but none of its 383 chapters have received full funding. David Gardner of the Associated Students of Madison says the finance panel does not make value judgments in granting student funds. He said the only criterion is the direct benefit to students. The UW’s Student Council, chancellor, and Board of Regents must still approve the allocation. But Gardner says finance committee recommendations are rarely overturned.
A Dane County man has been ordered to stand trial for allegedly hiding the body of a murder victim with autism. 28-year-old Robert McCumber of Mazomanie waived his right to a preliminary hearing yesterday in Dane County Circuit Court. A judge ruled that there was enough evidence to continue his case – and he’s expected to enter a plea the next time he’s in court. Authorities said McCumber hid the body of 27-year-old Matthew Graville, who had been reported missing in September. The body was recently found buried near Lone Rock, and McCumber reportedly led officers to the site. McCumber’s half-brother, 28-year-old Jeffrey Vogelsberg, is accused of torturing Graville to death on June 30th and then freezing his body before it was buried. Vogelsberg was arrested last week in Washington state, at a military base where his wife works. A court hearing is set for December sixth on his extradition to Wisconsin to face homicide charges. Vogelsburg’s mother, 49-year-old Laura Robar, is charged with two counts of identity theft. Authorities said she stole money and food stamps from the victim after he died. Robar was supposed to have a preliminary hearing yesterday. But she did not have a lawyer, so the proceeding was pushed back.
Milwaukee prosecutors filed charges yesterday in three separate homicides. 25-year-old Todd Hadley was charged with first-degree reckless homicide and reckless endangerment for a confrontation outside a Milwaukee house party on Friday night. Prosecutors said a group of men confronted his group – and Hadley stepped back and shot 23-year-old Stevie Jenkins to death, and wounded another man. In the second case, 28-year-old Anthony Morgan was charged with reckless homicide for shooting 31-year-old Wendall Watson to death during an argument at another Milwaukee house party on Friday night. And 20-year-old Derrick Dupar Junior was charged with felony murder in the slaying of 43-year-old Archie Vanlandingham in the victim’s car in February. Authorities said Dupar was planning to rob the man. A second suspect, 20-year-old Jeremiah Gould of Milwaukee, had pleaded guilty to a felony murder charge, right after jury selection for his trial had begun.
Speeding down the wrong way on a Milwaukee-area interstate last weekend could send a Brookfield man to prison for up to five years. Twenty-one year old Joshua P. Klawikowski is charged with second-degree recklessly endangering safety. The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s office reports Klawikowski reached speeds of almost 100 miles per hour while he drove south in the northbound lanes of Interstate 43-94 early last Saturday morning. Klawikowski was finally stopped near College Avenue. About an hour after the traffic stop, a preliminary breath test put his blood alcohol concentration at point-18, more than double the level limit. That was at least the 30th instance of wrong-way driving in the county this year.
Madison police say they think an attack on a 15-year old boy last night at a bus stop was gang-related. The boy says he was punched, knocked to the ground and hit repeatedly by about five attackers. All were reportedly wearing hooded sweatshirts to cover their faces. The attack at the west transfer point at 57 hundred Tokay Boulevard started a little after 7 p.m. Police are looking for a black SUV the attackers used to leave the scene. The victim wasn’t seriously injured.
Wisconsin has joined all 49 other states in starting petition drives to secede from the U.S. But don’t hold your breath. The Supreme Court has ruled that secession is only required by revolution, or approval from three-fourths of the states. And all the petitions have only a tiny percentage of residents signing so far. Yahoo News said over the weekend that folks in 20 states posted petitions to have their states secede, in protest of President Obama’s re-election. Since then, the other 30 states have joined in. They’re all on a White House Web site called “We the People” which was started last year to encourage government openness. A person who’s identified on the Web site as “Alex T.” of Wausaukee started Wisconsin’s petition last Sunday. Just over 46-hundred people signed the Badger State’s petition as of mid-day today. And the conservative Web site “Daily Caller” said over 675,000 people have signed 69 on-line petitions from every state. A petition in Texas has had the most signatures – over 94-thousand. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who ran for president this year, said he opposes seceding. The White House must respond to a secession request if a state submits over 25,000 signatures in 30 days. Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina have reached those thresholds. The Wisconsin petition reads in part, “We believe in our rights that were granted to us in the Constitution our ancestors wrote – and we also believe that your administration is infringing on those rights.”
An inquest will begin February 11th into the death of a Milwaukee robbery suspect while in police custody. Circuit Judge Kevin Martens said today that the inquest will last for about a week. The proceeding is designed to obtain testimony and evidence that could prosecutors decide whether charges should be brought against two officers in the death of Derek Williams. A video released in September showed that the 22-year-old Williams was gasping for air and pleading for help for almost eight minutes, while officers ignored him. Police and prosecutors initially agreed that the officers did nothing wrong – but that stance is being re-examined in the wake of the video’s release.
Great Lakes environmentalists are the latest to express alarm over the so-called “fiscal cliff” in Washington. Across-the-board spending cuts will take effect on January first if Congress and the White House don’t agree on a new deficit-reduction plan. If that happens, the Alliance for the Great Lakes said there would an eight-point-two percent cut in federal money for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – a long-range program designed to clean up toxic pollution and remove invasive species. The former George W. Bush White House initiated the program – but nobody funded it until after President Obama took office. It received $300-million in the last fiscal year – and about $25-million could be cut without a budget deal. Joel Brammeier of the Great Lakes Alliance said the environment and the Midwest economy would be damaged if the funding were cut – and the fishing and tourist industries would also suffer.
Remember a national banking scam this summer which promised folks that President Obama would pay their utility bills? Well, a somewhat similar scheme has been reported lately in Milwaukee – where a firm called “My Bill Assist” promised up to $1,500 dollars in grants-and-loans to help folks pay some of their other bills. The catch was that each applicant had to pay a $20 sign-up fee and a 20-dollar membership fee – and the check for the bills was promised later. But many people said those checks never came, and the state’s Better Business Bureau said it has received almost 80 complaints about My Bill Assist and two other names for the business – Elite Training Service and Elite Billing Service. Disabled retiree Sharon Austin of Milwaukee told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel newspaper that she and others were excited to learn that the money was from Obama. When her check never came, she later hunted the company down, and was told by a person from Florida that it was running low on funds. They said she’d have to wait until the end of the year to get her cash. The Journal-Sentinel said it tried calling the business – and it got an automated message that it’s only taking applications online due to what it called an “overwhelming response.” Milwaukee Police say they’re investigating what they’re calling a scam. They and the state’s consumer organizations have asked those victimized to call them.
A balsam fir from Medford has been chosen as the State Capitol’s Christmas tree. Meyer’s Castle Tree Farm was told last week that it was selected – and owner Gary Meyer said the 37-foot tree was being shipped to Madison today. Fourth-graders from Medford and nearby Stetsonville will sing at the Capitol’s tree-lighting ceremony, which will take place on November 30th. The Meyer farm also provided the White House Christmas Tree back in 1998. Last week, Governor Scott Walker invited youngsters throughout the state to submit homemade ornaments which correspond to the theme for the State Capitol tree, “In Wisconsin.” They can still be submitted to the governor’s office. The deadline is next Monday. Walker said the theme symbolizes what it means to call the Badger State home. The governor’s office said the name was also designed to reflect the state’s new marketing campaign called “In Wisconsin.” It aims to attract businesses and new jobs to the state.