Afternoon State News Briefs: Gogebic will return if new mining law passesWisconsin News
-- Gogebic Taconite said today that it would return to Wisconsin and build an iron ore mine near Hurley, if legislators would relax the state’s regulations on mining.
MADISON - Gogebic Taconite said today that it would return to Wisconsin and build an iron ore mine near Hurley, if legislators would relax the state’s regulations on mining.
The company left the state last spring, after the Senate voted down a package which set a deadline to approve a state permit, eased environmental restrictions, and banned certain legal challenges. Last week, majority Republicans in both houses offered a similar package – plus the relaxing of wetland requirements – in the name of creating jobs. And Gogebic Taconite lobbyist Bob Seitz said many of those jobs would be filled by Wisconsin residents. He rebuffed a claim by one Democrat that most of the workers would be experienced miners from Minnesota and Michigan. Earlier today, legislative leaders said the final package would definitely be different than it is now – and the GOP might consider some of items in an alternative bill proposed by Janesville Senate Democrat Tim Cullen.
Among other things, his bill would lengthen the permit approval deadline by the proposed 480 days, and would not relax environmental laws. If the package is favorable to Gogebic, Seitz said work would begin as soon as Governor Scott Walker signs the bill – and at the point, the company would spill out its plans in detail. Gogebic Taconite president Bill Williams said the mine would be highly-efficient, and would be built with workers from all parts of the state. Hurley restaurant owner Gary Pelkola pleaded with lawmakers to pass the bill – because the area needs the jobs so badly. But Mick Isham, chairman of the Great Lakes Indian Fish-and-Wildlife Commission, again expressed environmental concerns. And he said lawmakers should have consulted with tribes as they drew up the bill.
Three top Republican sponsors of the bill to encourage new mining in Wisconsin said today they’d be willing to meet with Democrats who support an alternative package. And they might incorporate elements of the Democratic package in their final bill. Assembly Republicans Scott Suder and Mark Honadel, and Senate Republican Tom Tiffany, made their comments at a news conference outside of where a public hearing was being held on their current package. Suder said there would definitely be changes – but they indicated that there would not be a hearing on whatever emerges, and they could not say when a mining package might be approved. Meanwhile, tensions were high in the jam-packed hearing room as mining panels in both houses prepared to hear 12 hours of testimony. Assembly Chair Mary Williams said lawmakers could only ask two questions of everyone who spoke. And when the bill’s Republican authors came forward, Democratic members were angry when Williams used the rule to cut off their questions. Madison Assembly Democrat Brett Hulsey called the proceeding a “kangaroo court.” Capitol Police provided extra security, as dozens of people watched the hearing in two overflow rooms.
The Wisconsin Wetlands Association says it’s disappointed that GOP lawmakers went against a promise made a year ago, and included looser wetland standards in their new mining bill. The governor and Legislature approved a streamlining of the state’s wetland regulations – and one of its main authors promised at the time it would have nothing to do with mining. Now, Republican lawmakers have included the looser wetland rules in their mining bill that’s up for a public hearing today before committees in both houses. The measure would allow mining companies to tap into wetlands, as long as they create an equal amount of wetlands elsewhere. Erin O’Brien of the Wetlands Association said her group worked in good faith with the Senate sponsor of the wetland bill – Elkhorn Republican Sen. Neal Kedzie – as well as others. At a public hearing a year ago, Kedzie promised that his wetland package quote, “does not set the stage, nor does it create any kind of back-door for mining.” But after seeing the new wetland rules in the mining bill, O’Brien told the Madison Capital Times, “Obviously we didn’t connect all the dots.” She said the looser wetland rules for mining were quote, “somebody’s objective.” It’s not known whether Kedzie knew his measure would end up in the mining bill. He has not commented, and O’Brien said she had not spoken with Kedzie since the mining package was introduced a week ago.
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) said Hillary Clinton dodged his questions this morning, at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the administration’s handling of last fall’s attack in Libya. The Wisconsin Republican got testy replies to his questions, and the exchange has gone viral on the Internet. Johnson told the outgoing Secretary of State that U.S officials were trying to mislead the public, by waiting so long to refute UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s claim that protests spurred the U.S. embassy raid that killed four Americans. After the hearing, Johnson accused Clinton of engaging in theatrics with her answers. He said he was surprised by the reaction and quote, “She simply couldn’t respond to a pretty simple question.” Johnson asked why somebody didn’t pick up the phone to check out the claim that Rice made just five days after the attack. Clinton said it was more important now to step up security at U.S. missions around the globe, and make sure such a terrorist attack does not happen again.
Prosecutors in Milwaukee County say they’re considering charges in several voter fraud cases from the November presidential election. Two of the cases were made public because they required subpoenas. Investigators are seeking records that might have shown that Leonard Brown voted twice in Milwaukee and West Milwaukee. The other subpoena indicated that Chad Vander Hyden of Mukwonago voted both in his home town and in West Allis. Authorities said they arrested him, after he refused to meet with West Allis detective to discuss his signatures on poll books. Prosecutors are subpoenaing employer records that would verify his handwriting. Brown told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he voted in his former home village of West Milwaukee – and he also registered in Milwaukee after moving there, but did not vote there in November.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will deliver his budget address to the state Legislature on February 20th. Walker notified the state Senate earlier today of the official date. He has been discussing some portions of the two-year spending plan for the past several weeks, but has been holding back the details. Yesterday, the Republican announced he hopes to include an income tax reduction of about $342 million. After the budget plan is delivered, Republican legislative leaders will start holding public hearings, discuss the plan among themselves and make some changes before bringing it to a vote. That vote could come next June.
The attorney for a 14-year old Sheboygan boy charged in his great-grandmother’s murder says his client will end his effort to move the case from adult court. The motion had been filed to have the trial in juvenile court, but that effort has been ended. Attorney George Limbeck offered no comment on the change. The defendant and a friend of the same age are accused of beating 78 year old Barbara Olson to death at her home in Sheboygan Falls. Investigators say the two ransacked her house and stole money to buy marijuana and pizza September 17th. They were both 13 years old at the time. Attorneys for the other defendant also filed a motion to move his case to juvenile court.
Wisconsin members split 4-4 today, when the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to suspend the federal debt ceiling until May 19th and borrow enough until then to avoid a government default. Majority Republicans backed away from previous demands to increase the debt limit only when equal amounts of spending cuts are made. Republicans Tom Petri of Fond du Lac and Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls voted against that, as did Democrats Gwen Moore of Milwaukee and Mark Pocan of Madison. La Crosse Democrat Ron Kind voted in favor of raising the debt ceiling, as did Republicans Paul Ryan of Janesville, Reid Ribble of Sherwood, and Sean Duffy of Weston. The total vote was a bi-partisan 285-to-144. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said his Democratically-controlled chamber would immediately pass the legislation – and President Obama said this afternoon he would sign it.
The package also includes a “no budget, no pay” provision in which salaries are withheld when the House or Senate fails to pass a budget plan. The Senate has not passed one in four years, but they say they’ll act on a budget this time. Ryan, the House Budget chairman, says the provision encourages Congress to do its job. He said the debt ceiling was temporarily lifted so Congress can have the debate it needs to have over taxes, spending, and the federal deficits. For now, a borrowing cap of 16-point-four trillion dollars would be lifted.
Members of a task force urged Governor Scott Walker today to take a serious look at the group’s proposals to jack up fees to maintain the state’s transportation network. The bi-partisan Transportation Finance-and-Policy Commission gave its final approval to fee hikes that would raise $479-million a year over the next decade. Officials say the money’s needed just to maintain the roads and transportation systems that what we have, and not let them get worse. The Republican Walker and top legislative leaders have already rejected the group’s proposed five-cent-a-gallon gas tax hike. The panel also recommends higher license plate fees based on a vehicle’s mileage, higher driver license fees, and the end of a sales tax break on trade-ins. Panel member John Antaramian, a former Democratic lawmaker and Kenosha mayor, said it would be an uphill battle to get the measures approved. But he says Walker and the Republican Legislature must look at the state’s needs, and the importance of addressing them. The group says its proposals would cost the average motorist an extra $120 a year. Antaramian says he has faith that lawmakers will deal with the issue. Walker has says improving the infrastructure is one of his top priorities – and he’ll lay out his ideas next month when he proposes his new state budget.
Three men have been charged with the beating of a Milwaukee rap music artist who was apparently killed in a gruesome gang murder. Prosecutors issued a criminal complaint which described the suffocating, beating, and shooting of Ebony Young. But police have not seen the victim’s body, because she’s been missing since New Year’s Day. Therefore, prosecutors have only charged the three defendants with substantial battery with the intent to cause harm. According to the complaint, Young’s roommate Billy Griffin first told police she got into a car with somebody on January first and was never seen after that. But the 26-year-old Griffin later told prosecutors that two gang members – 19-year-old Ashanti McAlister and 27-year-old Victor Stewart came to his house with others. And they told Griffin he’d be allowed back into their group if he killed Young. But instead, they choked Young with a chain, taped a plastic bag over her head, and beat her. And when Griffin went upstairs, he said he heard three gunshots. Stewart reportedly told Griffin later, quote, “the deed is done.” Griffin, Stewart, and McAlister are all being held on $200,000 bonds. All three are due back in court a week from tomorrow for preliminary hearings.
A West Allis woman is due back in court on Friday, after she was charged with threatening an Ozaukee County judge. According to prosecutors, 48-year-old Shelly Froelich called the county jail at 2:20 in the morning last week to ask whether Judge Thomas Wolfgram was in. She was told he’d be there later in the day, and Froelich reportedly said, “Good … Tell him I have a hit on him.” She then hung up, but officers traced the call to Froelich’s phone. Her son, Jason Twieg, is being held at the jail – and so is his mother, on a one-thousand-dollar cash bond. Prosecutors said Froelich denied making the call at first, but her husband reportedly said quote, “She is always calling the jail and making threats.” Froelich is charged with a felony count of threat-or-battery to a judge, and a misdemeanor count of threatening harm on the phone. At her next court proceeding, a different judge will decide if there’s enough evidence to put the woman on trial.