Afternoon State News Briefs: Walker to make overseas trade visitWisconsin News
-- Governor Scott Walker will make his first overseas trade mission in April. Officials announced this afternoon that the Republican governor will go to China, to encourage several types of businesses to buy Wisconsin products.
MADISON - Governor Scott Walker will make his first overseas trade mission in April. Officials announced this afternoon that the Republican governor will go to China, to encourage several types of businesses to buy Wisconsin products.
They included advanced manufacturers, food processors, and clean energy-and-water companies. Walker will be joined by staffers from the state Agriculture Department and the state’s Economic Development Corporation. He’s also inviting business leaders from the targeted fields to come along. The trade mission to China will take place April 12th-through-21st. It will include stops in Beijing, Shanghai, Hefei, and Harbin. Walker did not make any foreign trips during his first two years in office, while he was embroiled by protests over his bill to limit public union bargaining – and a resulting effort to recall him. The governor has visited other states to promote economic development.
Wisconsin had six-percent more traffic deaths last year than the previous year. The state DOT said this afternoon that 601 people were killed on state highways in 2012. That’s 36 more than the year before – and it’s two more than the average for the past five years. It also ended a string of four years with fewer than 600 traffic deaths – the first time that’s happened since 1927. State Patrol Major Sandra Huxtable said motorcycle deaths rose by 34-percent last year, due mainly to dry weather and an early spring that kept motorcyclists on the roads longer. One-hundred-14 bikers were killed throughout Wisconsin, the most since the record year of 1979. Also, deaths by car-and-truck passengers jumped 37-percent. Huxtable said it was because fewer people were wearing their seat belts – and many of those people were ejected or thrown violently in their vehicles. She said about 80-percent of Wisconsin motorists buckle up – less than the national average of 86-percent, and less than the 90-plus percent compliance rates in neighboring states.
Federal officials have cited two Wisconsin builders for violations connected with the collapse of a crane last July at a bridge construction site near Oshkosh. The Occupational Safety-and-Health Administration said today it issued a total of 10 citations against Lunda Construction of Black River Falls and Choice Construction of Menomonee Falls. Authorities said the crane collapsed while it was trying to lift a beam on the Highway 41 bridge over Lake Butte des Morts. 35-year-old Joseph Bidler of Green Bay, a truck driver for Spancrete, died after he was hit by the crane’s boom that overturned in the collapse. A Lunda Construction employee was seriously hurt when he was thrown from the crane’s cab. OSHA said Lunda was given cited for one willful safety violation and five serious violations. Choice Construction was cited for four serious violations. Among other things, the government said it did not create an effective safety program for the workers. Lunda was also cited last fall for three serious violations after a worker was hit by a section of a crane on another part of the Highway 41 construction project near De Pere. Lunda is challenging those citations. OSHA proposed penalties of 105-thousand-dollars for Lunda in the new citations – plus 13-thousand for Choice. The firms have 15 days to either pay the fines, contest the citations, or seek a settlement conference with OSHA.
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has been named to Senate committees working on the federal budget, foreign relations and small business. Johnson will serve on two of those committees with incoming Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. She was sworn-in earlier today. Both will serve on the Senate Budget Committee and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Johnson’s office says he is glad his assignments will help him focus on slowing down the excessive size and scope of the federal government. He says that’s why he ran for office in the first place.
You can now call her Senator Baldwin. Democrat Tammy Baldwin was sworn in just after 11 this morning as Wisconsin’s newest United States Senator. The newly-elected senators were summoned to the podium four at a time, in alphabetical order. And Baldwin’s name was the first to be called. She took her oath from Vice President Joe Biden, as she officially replaced fellow Democrat Herb Kohl – who retired after 24 years in the Senate. House members were to take their oaths early this afternoon. That includes Madison Democrat Mark Pocan, who’s the only newly-elected member in Wisconsin’s eight-person delegation. Pocan replaces Baldwin, who spent 14 years in the House. And he’ll waste no time getting to work. Pocan tells WKOW-TV in Madison that he’ll be voting on things tomorrow – and not just basic rules for the 113th Congress. Pocan says the agenda includes flood relief, and possibly some other issues. Pocan – a former chair of the state Legislature’s finance committee – says he wants to protect Social Security and Medicare as lawmakers consider spending cuts in the next couple months. He said the government needs to return to good fiscal health quote, “without really affecting the middle class.”
A state law that requires public schools to drop their Indian mascots and team names received a new lease on life today. The Second District Appeals Court reversed a circuit judge’s ruling that the state violated due process, in ordering that Mukwonago High School drop its nickname of the Indians. The appellate court ruled that the two taxpayers who sued over the state’s order – Craig Verta and James Schoolcraft – did not have the legal standing to file their action. The 2010 law allows anyone offended by a school’s Indian moniker to have the state Department of Public Instruction hold a hearing – and then decide whether the name discriminates against Indians. If so, the affected school board must make a change or face large penalties. Schoolcraft and Verta convinced a Waukesha County judge that a DPI employee who ordered the Mukwonago name change had a high risk of bias. But the appellate court said Verta and Schoolcraft were never part of the hearing process, and therefore had no right to sue. Their attorney, Sam Hall, disagrees – and he promises an appeal to the State Supreme Court. Hall said all taxpayers should be able to challenge a process that quote, “could cost them thousands of dollars and otherwise impact their community.”
Wisconsinites are about to lose the right to see how their public school principals are performing. Governor Scott Walker and state lawmakers approved a new system last year for evaluating teachers and principals. And the Wisconsin State Journal says the law prohibits the public release of those evaluations as an exemption to the state’s Open Records Law. Teacher evaluations have always been confidential, but the law has traditionally allowed principal evaluations to be released. Media attorney Bob Dreps says the records of elected officials, department heads, and administrators have always been considered open – and principals are the equivalent of department heads. He said a new bill would have to be passed to maintain the status quo. And Bill Lueders of the state’s Freedom of Information Council urged legislators to make the change. He says there are few things more important to people than the quality of their children’s education – and for that reason, the evaluations of principals should stay open. But Jim Lynch of the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators tells the State Journal that the new assessments are meant for school teachers and leaders to learn and grow. And Lynch said quote, “That is done best in a confidential environment.” Several districts are trying out the new evaluation standards this year. The rest are supposed to be on board by the fall of 2014.
Wisconsin has a new poet laureate. UW-Eau Claire English professor Max Garland will spend the next two years taking part in literary events as requested by the governor, schools, and literary groups. The state used to kick in two-thousand-dollars a year for the post. But it became a victim of the deficit-cutting efforts from 2011. Now, the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters runs the poet laureate program – and while the job does not have a salary, the person does get reimbursed for travel expenses. The Academy says Garland wants to promote quote, “the connection between poetry and place.” He’ll urge people to write about the places they know and quote, “explore their relationships with those places in poetry.” Garland replaces Bruce Dethlefsen of Westfield as the state’s poet laureate.
Last year’s drought continues into 2013 with no let-up in Wisconsin. The U.S. Drought Monitor says 88-and-a-half percent of the state’s land area is abnormally dry or worse – and that figure has not budged for the last three weeks. But today’s report contains one piece of good news. The amount of land that’s in a severe drought declined by almost one-and-a-half percent over the last week. Almost 24-and-a-half percent of the Badger State is listed as being in a severe drought – including much of north central and west central areas, and most of far southern Wisconsin. A dozen east-central counties remain the only ones not having drought conditions. That territory stretches from about Adams-Friendship to the west, to between Door and Sheboygan counties to the east. The heavy snows we received two weeks ago have blown around considerably, but very little of it has apparently seeped in. It hasn’t been warm enough for that. But there could be some melting over the next few days, as highs are expected to reach the low 30’s tomorrow and Sunday, with dry weather at least through next Monday.
An appeals court said it was okay for the state prison in Green Bay not to let have an inmate have pornography. The Fourth District Appellate Court in Madison said no today to letting Charles Downing re-instate a lawsuit, after a circuit judge threw it out. Downing said Green Bay prison officials were wrong to confiscate books which included “The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices.” He also challenged the prison’s refusal to let him order two collections of letters to Penthouse magazine – and to put eight other books that he wanted on a list of prohibited items. The appellate court agreed that Downing had no right to sue over the matter.
Iraq War veteran Ben Sebena waived his right to a preliminary hearing today, on charges that he killed his wife while she was on duty as a Wauwatosa police officer. A court commissioner ordered the 30-year-old Sebena to stand trial on a Milwaukee County charge of first-degree intentional homicide. He’s scheduled to enter a plea to that charge on January 24th. Sebena was arrested on Christmas Eve, just hours after he allegedly stalked, shot, and killed his 30-year-old wife Jennifer right after she left Wauwatosa’s downtown fire station where she taking a break. Prosecutors said she was about to patrol alone when she was shot five times in the head. He told investigators he was jealous of his wife – but police have not released a motive for the killing. Ben Sebena was brought into court in a wheelchair – and he was wearing a suicide prevention jacket. He remains in jail under a one-million-dollar cash bond.
An 18-year-old Manitowoc County man will spend four years in prison for killing two 16-year-olds in a one-vehicle crash. Zachary Gauthier of Whitelaw must also spend 10 years under extended supervision when he’s no longer behind bars. Gauthier pleaded no contest to two counts of homicide by negligent driving. Authorities said he drove into to a tree at up to 85-miles-an-hour last March and killed two passengers – Zachary Zahn and Chelsie Harding, both 16-year-old sophomores at Manitowoc Lincoln High School. Several other cases were dropped in a plea deal. They included driving a stolen vehicle, taking his mother’s prescription drugs, missing court appearances, and possessing child pornography. The defense asked for five years of probation. But Circuit Judge Gary Bendix said he needed to send a message to young people about the consequences of reckless driving. And the judge ordered Gauthier to tell that story himself to school groups after gets out of prison. He must also visit the victims’ graves.
After all the snow we had two weeks ago, you probably think there’d be enough for the Antigo sled dog races. But you’d be wrong. Today, the Antigo-Langlade County Chamber of Commerce postponed the sled-dog event from the weekend of January 12th-and-13th to sometime in February. The region had in the neighborhood of a foot-of-snow just 14 days ago. But Chamber director Deena Grabowski says there’s not enough snow on some parts of the sledding course – mainly in open fields where strong winds have left bare patches in some spots. Grabowski said the sled dog races could be held in mid-to-late February. It would depend on the weather – and she notes that a snowmobile race is already scheduled for February 23rd-and-24th in Antigo. The sled dog races need to get in sometime, though. That’s because they’re a qualifying event for this year’s world championships in North Pole Alaska, sponsored by the International Federation of Sled-Dog Sports.