New Year's Eve State News Briefs: Midwest employers to increasing hiring in 2013Wisconsin News
-- Midwest employers say they’ll hire 6-to-11-percent more people in the first three months of next year. That’s according to the Brookfield staffing firm of QPS.
BROOKFIELD - Midwest employers say they’ll hire 6-to-11-percent more people in the first three months of next year. That’s according to the Brookfield staffing firm of QPS.
Chief operating officer Dan McNulty says employers are most optimistic about the futures now than they were about three months ago. QPS surveyed 420 companies in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas City. Forty-percent said they would have more employees than they did in the final quarter of this year. Nine-percent planned layoffs, and 51-percent said there would be no change. When asked about the biggest issues facing their companies, 55-percent said it was the economy. And 44-percent cited a lack of qualified employees – the so-called “skills gap” that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he’ll address with more funds in the next state budget for employee training.
Two state legislators say they’ll try again to toughen Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws in the New Year. River Hills Senator Alberta Darling and Mequon Assemblyman Jim Ott proposed several tough measures in the last session. But they didn’t go anywhere, after non-partisan fiscal estimates showed that they would have cost millions-of-extra-dollars in court and corrections costs. Ott said the cost figures were not realistic – and both he and Darling plan to introduce a similar package to what they suggested last time. They want all first-time drunk drivers to appear in court, instead of just paying a ticket. First-time OWI would become a crime for those caught with high blood alcohol levels. Those with three-or-more drunk driving convictions would have their vehicles seized. And there would be minimum mandatory prison sentences for convicted drunk drivers who cause injuries or deaths.
A ski hill in southeast Wisconsin is getting a new owner today. Rob and Jennifer Friedl of Cedarburg are buying the Sunburst Ski Area in Kewaskum for an undisclosed amount. Jim and Kim Engel have owned the facility for 28 years, almost a quarter century after it was founded. They said the hill would remain open. Rob Friedl used to own Fall River Capital of Mequon. The Engels remodeled all the buildings on the site, including the chalet. They also added two more chair lifts and added lights to all of the runs. A hill for expert skiers was added in 1997, in addition to three terrain parks and a new system for making snow.
New Year’s Eve partiers will be watched tonight when they take to the streets-and-highways. Law enforcement will be on the prowl for drunk drivers – and a number of programs are being offered around the state to get drunk partiers home safely. In Milwaukee County, sheriff’s deputies plan to have extra patrols on Interstate-43. Officers have caught 37 drivers going the wrong way on Milwaukee freeways this year.
A northeast Wisconsin man will spend five years in prison for starting two fires in Marinette County. 59-year-old Benedict Nowak of Coleman claimed he was insane when he set fire to a barn and a vacant home last February near Pound. He was also sentenced to nine months in jail in an unrelated misdemeanor sexual assault case which came to light as authorities were investigating the fires. Nowak must also spend 25 years under extended supervision once he leaves prison. And he must pay almost $71,000 dollars in restitution. A $35,000 bond that Nowak posted earlier will go toward that restitution. Authorities said Nowak was a person-of-interest in a number of unsolved fires in Marinette and Oconto counties in recent years – but he was only charged with the two blazes at Pound. Nowak was charged with burglary two additional sexual assault counts. But those counts were dropped in a plea bargain.
A fourth person has been arrested in Mexico for the gang-related murder of a 19-year-old man in Madison over two-and-a-half years ago. 23-year-old Arain Gutierrez was arrested in Cancun after an international arrest warrant was issued for him. Gutierrez, also known as Ivan Mateo-Lozenzo, has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the April 2010 shooting death of Antonio Perez. He was arrested in Cancun. And he was expected to be taken to Mexico City, to await extradition to Madison to face his Wisconsin charge. The 19-year-old Perez was gunned down in the parking lot of a Madison business. Three others have been sentenced – and another suspect reportedly fled to his home country of Guatemala.
A two-week trial is scheduled to begin February 22nd for Armin Wand III. He’s the Argyle man who’s accused of setting fire to his house in September and killing four children. The trial is still scheduled to take place in Lafayette County. But lawyers for Armin Wand and his brother Jeremy want their trials to take place outside the Madison TV market due to the heavy publicity the case has received. Pre-trial hearings are scheduled for January third and 17th. Armin Wand, who’s 33, reportedly told authorities he wanted to wipe out his family and collect the insurance money from the fire to get a fresh start in life. Wand’s 18-year-old brother Jeremy was reportedly offered $300 of the insurance money to help burn down the home. Three kids died in the house. Armin’s wife barely survived the fire, but she lost her unborn child. The couple’s two-year-old daughter escaped. Armin Wand faces eight felony charges, and his brother seven – and both men face four counts each of first-degree intentional homicide. The judge and lawyers in Jeremy’s case will get together February 20th to review the status of that case. A trial date could be set at that time.
A Green Bay man is trying for a third time to get out of a homicide conviction for the death of his four-month-old son. 24-year-old Jeremiah Felton has asked a state appeals court to reconsider a ruling earlier this month which upheld his conviction. The court refused to buy Felton’s claims that a prosecutor made an inaccurate statement at his trial – and that his lawyer was ineffective. Felton is serving a life prison term for smashing four-year-old J.J Felton’s head into a door in 2008. The father reportedly got frustrated while giving the infant a bath. Right after he was convicted, Felton lost another bid for a new trial, claiming that a juror got a text message from a co-worker about the case. It was sent just before the verdict came down, but officials said the juror’s phone was turned off – and it was not received at the time.
Wisconsin’s attorney general says one of his top priorities over the next two years is to fight the sex trafficking of children. The state Justice Department says some kids are babies when they’re forced into the sex slave trading business – and nationally, the average age of a child who’s first exploited this way is 13. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen calls it the “worst form of torture” he can imagine. And his agency has asked Governor Scott Walker to budget $900,000 over the next two years to fight the sex trafficking of kids. The funding would hire five new agents and two criminal analysts to work specifically on trafficking. The governor’s office says the proposal is under advisement. Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck says the agency does not count the numbers of sex trafficking cases in Wisconsin – but she says it would be naïve to conclude that it’s not happening. She says it happens all over the state. Van Hollen says he has people working on the problem – but they’re being taken away from child pornography cases. The attorney general says he also hopes to raise public awareness about child trafficking – and to show people they’re not being trafficked by choice. Van Hollen plans to host a summit on the topic this fall, in his role as the incoming president of the National Association of Attorneys General.
Wisconsin’s federal lawmakers are returning to Washington with hopes that their negotiators can somehow manage a last-second deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) said he was given new hope by his party’s leader. Mitch McConnell reached out to a long-time friend, Vice President Joe Biden, to help break the impasse. And according to Johnson, McConnell left a meeting yesterday with what he called his first serious discussions with the White House on the matter. If a deal is not reached before the New Year, sweeping tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts will take effect. Tax cuts passed in 2001-and-2003 expire at midnight – and workers could see more money withheld from their first checks in January. And federal agencies might have to put furlough notices to its employees if a deal is not reached. Johnson told WLUK-TV in Green Bay that Wisconsin voters are divided over the question of whether taxes should go up – even for the wealthy. Sherwood U.S. House Republican Reid Ribble’s phone was so jammed up from constituents, its voice mail locked up. At this point, negotiators expect only a stop-gap measure, if that.
Nearly five-thousand Wisconsin football fans held a rally in downtown Los Angeles yesterday, to cheer on the Badgers as they get ready to play in the Rose Bowl tomorrow. But after losing the last two Rose Bowls, the crowd for this rally was much smaller – not even half of the over 10,000 fans which similar rallies had the past two years at the Santa Monica Pier. Former coach Barry Alvarez – who decided to coach the Badgers after Bret Bielema suddenly left – was greeted with the chant of “Barry, Barry.” He said nobody should apologize for Wisconsin being at Pasadena, despite a five-loss season and an elevation to the Big Ten title game as the result of penalties to Penn State and Ohio State. 1999 Heisman winner Ron Dayne, who played for Alvarez, said he wished he could come out of retirement and play again tomorrow. The Badgers will play eighth-ranked Stanford, and Alvarez says his team does not have to be the best in the nation – but only good enough to beat the Cardinal tomorrow. The rally also featured Badger players and a video of the team’s 2012 season.
His attorney calls it a “long shot,” but Milwaukee serial killer Walter Ellis has asked the State Supreme Court to throw out his seven murder convictions. Ellis pleaded no contest last year to killing seven women over 21 years in the same Milwaukee neighborhood. His lawyer, Richard Hart, said Ellis agreed to the pleas only because he did not think he could get a fair trial. Ellis wanted all seven of his homicide and murder cases to be tried separately, saying jurors might use evidence in one case to pre-judge him in the others. And he wanted a jury from outside Milwaukee County to hear his trials, saying his home county had been quote, “hostile to him.” A circuit judge rejected both requests, and so did a state appeals court. Hart says there’s only a slim chance that the Supreme Court would review the case – but the attorney says he wants to protect all of Ellis’s rights, and that his case is fully litigated. Ellis was accused of strangling all seven of his victims between 1986 and 2007. One victim was also strangled. Ellis was arrested in 2009, after his DNA was found on six women and his blood was discovered on another woman’s pepper spray. His arrest exposed flaws in the state’s process for collecting DNA from convicted felons, for a database that helps police solve past-and-future crimes. Ellis had skipped out on his requirement to submit DNA while in prison for a previous conviction several years before his latest arrest.
The Wisconsin State Supreme Court will hold a hearing February 25th on a Racine businessman’s request to review the mental health records of a girl he’s accused of molesting. 57-year-old Curt Johnson, an heir to the S.C. Johnson fortune, has pleaded innocent to having illegal sexual contact up to 20 times with a girl from 2007-to-2010. The girl is now 17. She and her mother no longer live in Wisconsin, and they’re fighting Johnson’s request to obtain the girl’s medical records which are pertinent to the case. A circuit judge agreed to release the records to attorneys on both sides, after deciding which ones are pertinent. The criminal case is on hold, while the Supreme Court decides the constitutional issue involving the release of the mental health records. Curt Johnson was previously the chairman of Diversey Incorporated, a cleaning products firm that was spun off from S.C. Johnson. He has since retired.
Milwaukee Police are looking for the killer of a 33-year-old man. The victim was found shot-to-death early yesterday in his apartment on the city’s west side. Officials said the victim was shot just after midnight, and there were no suspects at last word.