Afternoon State News Briefs: State Senate votes to strip LaFollette's power over bill publishingWisconsin News
-- The nation’s longest-serving state legislator scolded opposing Republicans today for quickly passing a bill which further reduces the secretary-of-state’s authority.
MADISON - The nation’s longest-serving state legislator scolded opposing Republicans today for quickly passing a bill which further reduces the secretary-of-state’s authority.
The Senate voted 17-14 to have the Legislative Reference Bureau publish and enact most bills one day after the governor signs them. Right now, Democratic Secretary of State Douglas La Follette has that power – and he can take up to 10 days to publish and enact a bill after it’s signed. Madison Senate Democrat Fred Risser, who’s starting his 57th year in the Legislature, said the current system has worked well for decades. And he accused Republicans of trying to quote, “gut the power of the one Democrat left in statewide office.” And Risser added, “So much for bi-partisanship.” La Follette rankled Republicans two years ago when he temporarily held up the law which virtually ended collective bargaining by public employee unions. And Democrats called today’s move political payback for that. The bill’s chief author, West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman, said the secretary-of-state should have no business determining when a law takes effect. He says that’s the role of the governor and the Legislature. The bill now goes to the state Assembly, where it’s almost certain to pass consider the 20-vote majority Republicans have in that house. Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) favors the measure – and the earliest the Assembly can consider it is the week of February 12th. Governor Scott Walker’s office has not decided whether to sign it.
The Racine County Board was treated to a breakfast full of blame by their state legislators. As they drank coffee and ate donuts, county supervisors were also served a plateful of partisan sniping yesterday from GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington and Assembly Democratic leader Peter Barca of Kenosha. Each blamed the other for raiding designated state funds. Vos suggested that Democrats voted down last year’s mining bill on purpose, to try and get Governor Scott Walker to lose his recall election. But Barca reminded Vos that it was one of his own Republicans – Senator Dale Schultz of Richland Center – who killed the mining package in the Senate. Other lawmakers who serve Racine County spoke without the partisan rancor. Senate Democrat John Lehman of Racine said the county is in a wonderful position, because Assembly leaders in both parties represent the area. The lawmakers did agree that mental health issues need to be addressed in the wake of recent gun violence – and unnecessary state regulations need to be dropped.
A national law enforcement group has put Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke on a list of 219 sheriffs and groups that have vowed to fight President Obama’s gun control measures. Clarke is the only Wisconsin sheriff on the list, put together by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. The head of that group, former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, said Clarke earned his place on the list with his controversial radio message last week. He urged people to protect themselves by learning to use a gun, and stop waiting for 911 to save them. Mack told the Journal Sentinel his group loves Clarke and quote, “He has taken a fantastic position … Every sheriff should be telling this to his citizens.” Mack said Clarke never asked to be on the list. He’d be removed if he wanted, but Mack said nobody has ever asked to be taken off. Mack said he also love to have Clarke speak to his group. In Mack’s words, “We have too many sheriffs sitting on the fence, worrying which way the political winds are blowing.” Mack is a member of the National Rifle Association’s Hall-of-Fame.
Madison and Milwaukee set new record high temperatures this afternoon, while most of Wisconsin struggled to get a few degrees above freezing. The far southern and southeast parts of the Badger State got both rain and surprising warmth when a cold front began to move in. It got up to 60 degrees in Milwaukee and 54 in Madison before cooling off a few degrees late in the afternoon. Both cities broke record highs set in 1914. It’s just another weird weather story in a day full of them. Governor Scott Walker had to cancel a trip to Wausau because of freezing rain. An ambulance slammed into a tree from an icy road in Chippewa County – and the neither the crew nor the patient inside had life-threatening injuries. The Platteville area had over two-inches of rain, causing flooded-out roads. A flood warning was issued for the Fox River in Kenosha County, which was two-and-a-half feet below its flood stage at New Munster at three o’clock. And finally, forecasters say a big snowstorm is headed toward Wisconsin. Three-to-nine inches are predicted by this time tomorrow – with the biggest amounts along a path from Platteville to Marinette.
Today’s bad weather in Wisconsin put a crimp into Governor Scott Walker’s schedule. He’s making several stops to TV markets to introduce the new Economic Development Corporation director, Reed Hall. But they had to cancel a stop in Wausau due to the freezing rain that hit northern Wisconsin. A number of school districts from Adams-Friendship northward shut their doors today. And in Menominee County, Highway 47 around Neopit was closed both ways due to slick ice. Meanwhile, southern Wisconsin was hit with heavy rains and hail last night and early today. In Grant County, the National Weather Service reports almost two-point-two inches of rain overnight at Lancaster – and it forced several roads to close. More rain is expected later today in southeast Wisconsin. And about the southern half of the Badger State is expected to get up to six-inches of snow tomorrow in advance of another cold spell.
Rain, hail, sleet, snow, fog, and floods have made things messy in Wisconsin since the weekend – and forecasters say it’s only the beginning. Winter storm watches are in effect tonight and tomorrow for about southern two-thirds of the Badger State – and about six-inches of snow are predicted in most locations. In the meantime, flood advisories stayed in effect until mid-morning in far southwest Wisconsin – where the Platte River in Grant County had a rapid rise of 6-to-9-feet before falling slightly. One Grant County road had a three-inch mudslide, while a highway bridge north of Platteville had water running over it. Richland Center had almost an inch of rain by seven a.m. Folks in Rock, Dodge, and Walworth counties had a rare January hailstorm. And freezing rain has fallen since last night in northern Wisconsin. Parts of the state had dense fog this morning. Forecasters say heavy rains are possible this afternoon and tonight in far southeast Wisconsin, where flood watches have been issued. Colder air and brisk northwest winds are expected to move in tonight as a cold front moves in. Many places in the southern half of the state could get a rain-and-snow mix this evening, before it turns to all snow during the night. Once the precipitation moves out, Arctic cold temperatures could stay with us at least through Friday.
Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan is offering some support for what is being called a bipartisan effort on immigration reform. The current proposal would give undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. a way to earn their citizenship. The plan would also make it easier for students to earn a green card, track and penalize employers who hire undocumented workers and create a guest worker program. Ryan says he believes a bill which offers immigrants the option of an “earned citizenship” has a chance in Congress. The Republican says it’s just not viable to round up the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living here and changes are needed. He says the current system isn’t working. The Janesville Representative says the issue is “ripe for reaching a compromise” which respect the rule of law.
One watchdog group says the state of Wisconsin shouldn’t spend so much on new roads. Even though many people living here are driving fewer miles each year, the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group says its study finds almost 30 percent of the State Transportation Improvement Plan has been earmarked for new road capacity. WISPIRG says that spending is out of pace with the expected demand. For example, Minnesota has double Wisconsin’s expected population growth, but it’s only spending six percent of its funding on new roads. WISPIRG says the focus should be on upgrading the 43 percent of existing roads said to be in “less than good” condition and the 1,100 bridges found to be structurally deficient.
When a staff member at Brown Deer High School overhead a student remark about a gun in the school, officials put it into lockdown immediately. The comment was reported to the district administration and Brown Deer police were contacted. The district’s safety protocol was initiated and the high school was locked down at 9:35 a.m. After 40 minutes, students were released to return to class at 10:15 a.m. That happened after police and school staff had completed a search of the building and determined there was no gun. School administrators and police say they are following up and they will take the appropriate disciplinary action.
Two University of Wisconsin schools have made Kiplinger’s annual list of the nation’s Top-100 values in public higher education. UW-Madison is ranked 13th among the country’s public four-year campuses – and UW-La Crosse is 73rd in the same department. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance says it first ranks schools according to their academic quality, and then they figure in each school’s student costs and available financial aid. The report said Madison has a 50-percent admission rate, meaning that half those apply get in. And it said 53-percent of freshmen graduate in four years, with average student debts of just over $24,000. Total yearly costs for in-state residents are just over $19,000, or 13-thousand after need-based financial aid. Kiplinger’s quoted La Crosse as having a 73-percent admission rate, a 33-percent graduation rate in four years, and average student of $23,000. Total in-state costs are $15,000 per year, just over $9,300 after need-based aid.
A woman killed in a Milwaukee traffic crash was identified today as 57-year-old Corrine Strahl of Glendale. Authorities said she drove into the back of a parked delivery truck late yesterday afternoon on a busy street on Milwaukee’s north side. The crash remains under investigation. Police said it was the city’s second fatal mishap within 24 hours.
The interim director of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation was given the job permanently today. Governor Scott Walker named Reed Hall to head the public-private job creation agency that replaced the state Commerce Department two years ago. Hall was named the interim director last October, after Paul Jadin left to head a regional economic group in Madison. After he left, reports surfaced that the WEDC failed to keep track of past-due loans to businesses from the former Commerce Department. The corporation’s chief financial officer left after that. And in December, an audit uncovered missing safeguards, sloppy bookkeeping, and high turnover in the WEDC. Auditors said it resulted in unrecorded financial deals, credit card records that were not checked for errors, plus the reports of uncollected loan payments. Hall says he’s quote, “fully aware of the challenges and opportunities” that lie ahead. He was the Marshfield Clinic’s executive director from 2000-to-2010, and was its general counsel for two dozen years. Walker said Hall’s experience and record of effective management make him a perfect fit for the job. State Senate GOP Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said Hall has a superb reputation and quote, “His robust experience will serve him well.” Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha said he hoped there would have been a national search for somebody with extensive economic development experience. But he said Hall quote, “seems like a capable business-person,” and Barca says he’ll work with anyone to help achieve the state’s economic goals.
A northeast Wisconsin man has been sentenced to six months in prison for breaking federal wildlife laws while operating a business as a bear hunting guide. 48-year-old John Kellogg of Gillett was one on four people sentenced after a six-year investigation ended in 2011 with charges filed. Kellogg hired houndsmen to buy other people’s bear hunting tags for a-thousand dollars each, and to arrange to have Kellogg paid as a guide for the illegal bear hunting. By then, authorities caught wind of the scheme and arranged undercover officers from Kentucky to be the houndsmen. Three others who took part in the scheme were also sentenced on lesser convictions. 53-year-old Michael Renken of Merrill, 41-year-old Christopher Halfmann of Green Bay, and 53-year-old Mark Barlament of Mint Hill North Carolina were put on probation ranging from 1-to-3 years. They’ll pay one-thousand to-five-thousand-dollars each, and lose sporting privileges for 5-to-6 years. Besides his prison time, Kellogg must spend three years under federal supervision. He must also pay 10-thousand dollars to state-and-federal conservation funds. And Kellogg lost his hunting, trapping, and fishing privileges for 15 years.
Authorities in Pulaski say they’re confident that no one else is involved in a high school prescription drug ring, other than the 10 former students who face charges. Only one appears to be heading to adult court – a 17-year-old boy whose case is being reviewed by Brown County prosecutors. Seven boys and two girls ranging in age from 14-to-16 have been referred for possible juvenile delinquency actions in the counties where they live – Brown, Shawano, and Oconto. Pulaski Police say the ringleader in the operation was 14, and most of the drugs sold were the students’ own medicines aimed at treating attention deficit disorder. Officials said some students also stole pills from family members, including pain-killers. Authorities were tipped off to the drug ring in early December through a student program that’s similar to Crime Stoppers. One student left the Pulaski district, and the other nine were expelled.