Afternoon State News Briefs: Republicans questioning Walker's budget itemsWisconsin News
-- No governor gets everything he initially asks for in the massive state budget, regardless of which party controls the Legislature. So it’s not surprising that some of Governor Scott Walker’s fellow Republicans are speaking out against a few of the measures he proposed yesterday.
MADISON - No governor gets everything he initially asks for in the massive state budget, regardless of which party controls the Legislature. So it’s not surprising that some of Governor Scott Walker’s fellow Republicans are speaking out against a few of the measures he proposed yesterday.
Senate Finance chair Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) is against Walker’s plan to borrow $824-million for new-and-improved transportation facilities. Darling said lawmakers could spend more money from the general fund on DOT projects than the $199-million that Walker proposed from that funding source. She also said the state could get more revenue than expected because of a growing economy – and those dollars could be used instead of borrowing for them. Darling says another option is to delay some projects. But that idea would certainly get opposition from road-builders and lawmakers who’ve been waiting for various projects in their districts. Also, both Darling and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) say they’re concerned about the 710 new full-time state employees that Walker wants to add. Vos says he’s biased against expanding the state’s payroll – but if it can be proven that the extra employees save money, he could accept it. Walker proposed 180 extra DOT engineers and technicians. He says they’re cheaper than private engineers – and it would save taxpayers almost three-million dollars a year. In addition, Walker has said he would be willing to work with GOP senators who object to parts of his plan to expand private school vouchers to nine new school districts.
Some officials are not sure what to make of Governor Scott Walker’s budget measure to end residency requirements for local public employees throughout Wisconsin. Jon Hochkammer of the Wisconsin Counties Association says Milwaukee County is the only one that makes its employees live within the county lines. Dan Thompson of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities said the impact might be larger in smaller towns where it could be harder to find people with government expertise. Therefore, he says it’s more likely that non-residents would be hired for some positions. Thompson says he’ll discuss Walker’s proposal with his member communities within the next couple weeks, before the group takes a position. Thompson did say he was surprised that ending residency mandates is part of the massive state budget – and he wished the issue could have been debated as a separate bill. The Milwaukee-Journal said 127 local governments would be affected. Milwaukee has required for years that all its employees live in the city – and its police and fire unions want the requirement dropped. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says the unions are getting paid back for supporting Walker in the last two governor’s elections, including last June’s recall vote.
If the governor gets his way, the agency that settles disputes between state unions and management would get smaller – and it would fall under a larger department. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has been digging through Republican Governor Scott Walker’s proposed state budget. And it found that the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission would lose half its three-million-dollar annual budget, and two thirds of its 26 employees. And instead of being its own agency, like it’s been for decades, the Walker budget would place it under the Department of Workforce Development. Much of the agency’s work was eliminated two years ago, when Republicans got rid of most collective bargaining for state employee unions. But the WERC also picked up some new duties – like running the annual re-certification votes that unions must have if they want to stay in existence. A federal judge struck down those votes last spring, but an appeals court later re-instated them. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the proposed cuts reflect a reduction in the WERC’s workload. The Journal- Sentinel also found that for the first time in a decade, more state tax dollars would be spent on the public university system than on prisons.
A Wisconsin state Assembly election in Waukesha County might be decided by 154 absentee ballots that were not returned as of today. The Election Night totals showed that Adam Neylon won a Republican primary by just 30 votes over Pewaukee Police Chief Ed Baumann, out of five-thousand cast. The winner of Tuesday’s primary will effectively win the 98th District Assembly seat, since there are no Democratic candidates. The district is made up of five communities, and the clerks are waiting to receive the unreturned absentee ballots by a deadline of four p.m. tomorrow. State law requires those ballots to be counted, as long as they were postmarked on Election Day. Neylon, a window cleaning business owner, received 2,003 to 1,973 for Pewaukee chief Baumann. Three others also ran. A final pre-canvass tally is expected Monday in the Assembly race. And the results will be made official on Tuesday when the ballots are canvassed. The eventual winner will replace former Pewaukee GOP Representative Paul Farrow, who won a special election in December for a vacant state Senate seat.
The county sheriff in Wausau takes issue with a report that he’s hardly spending any time in his office these days. The Wausau Daily Herald checked electronic access records at the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department – and they found that Sheriff Randy Hoenisch was only in the building for two hours since January first. Those records also showed that he spent an average of just over seven hours a week in his office during 2012. Hoenisch admits that he’s spent a lot of time helping his wife Kim get through an addiction to painkillers. She was fired from her job as a state probation-and-parole agent, not long before she was convicted of taking pills from offenders under her supervision. But Sheriff Hoenisch says he works harder than what the records indicate. He said he spends time working in the community and at training sessions – and he told reporters he uses a regular key to enter the sheriff’s facility instead of an electronic swipe card. Hoenisch has been the sheriff since 2001 – and he’s reportedly considering retirement before his current term ends in just over 22 months. In the meantime, Chief Deputy Scott Parks has handled more of the sheriff’s business.
It was a month ago tonight when a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy shot a prisoner to death at a hospital room in Elkhorn. Sheriff David Graves says investigators from nearby Waukesha County are still trying to figure out what happened and why. And he’s finally releasing the name of the deputy involved. He’s Richard Lagle, who’s been on the sheriff’s force since 2009. Officials said 18-year-old jail inmate Alfredo Villarreal was taken to Elkhorn’s Aurora Lakeland Medical Center to get tested for an undisclosed medical issue – and Villarreal tried to escape by breaking a window, and then hitting Deputy Lagle over his head with a chair. That’s when the officer reportedly shot Villarreal. Graves could not say when the investigation could be finished – but the results could be sent to the district attorney’s office for possible charges as early as next week. For now, Lagle remains on administrative duty.
A teacher in the Colby School District is on paid administrative leave, while officials investigate a claim that the instructor sexually assaulted an 18-year-old man over three years ago. District Administrator Steve Kolden confirms that a staff member brought an allegation forward on February 12th – and five days before that, the alleged victim contacted police in Marshfield. Police Chief Gary Jepsen said his officers determined that a fourth-degree sexual assault was allegedly committed against a victim who’s legally an adult. Jepsen said today it was not true that police confirmed that a fourth-degree assault was committed, as indicated in an earlier Wheeler News Service report. The statute-of-limitations in that circumstance is three years, and Jepsen said the case goes beyond that time limit. Therefore, criminal charges will not be sought – and the Colby School District will decide on any appropriate punishment. Kolden says he’s not sure when the school’s investigation will be finished. And he would not give until details until then.
An inquest jury recommended criminal charges today against three Milwaukee police officers in the death of Derek Williams. The ruling is not binding. The district attorney’s office will make the final decision on charges that were recommended against officers Richard Ticcioni, Jason Bleichwehl, and Jeffrey Cline. After hearing over a week of testimony, the jury agreed with special prosecutor John Franke’s suggestion that the three be charged with misdemeanor counts of failing to render aid by law enforcement. The 22-year-old Williams died in a police squad car, soon after he was arrested for a street robbery in 2011. A video released last year showed that Williams had trouble breathing and collapsed. The inquest jury said there was probably cause that Williams died from sickle cell crisis, after running a block-and-a-half to avoid arrest. The testimony showed that Ticcioni placed a knee on Williams’ back during the arrest – and the other two were in the squad car when he gasped for air. It’s been over a quarter century since a Milwaukee inquest jury endorsed charges in fatal police shootings or deaths while in police custody.
The Wisconsin Medical Examining Board and its staff will get more training to carry out its roles to investigate and discipline doctors who run into trouble. Board members also said they needed more staffers, but the administration says the board has enough people. The panel has discussed a recent Wisconsin State Journal newspaper series which showed that the Badger State is among the most lenient in the nation in disciplining doctors. That’s because of its heavy use of reprimands instead of harsher penalties – while Ohio actually has guidelines for minimum and maximum punishments. Board vice chairman Kenneth Simons said one-and-a-quarter million dollars in doctor license fees were cut from its budget last year – and it left the board with inadequate staff and training. Jeanette Lytle of the state Department of Safety-and-Professional Services said the board’s staff and funding are adequate. But she said her agency plans to re-establish a training program for board members, and they’ll consider sending members for national training.
Forecasters now say that all of Wisconsin will get 2-to-6 inches of snow tonight and tomorrow, as part of a massive storm that’s expected to reach two dozen states before it’s through. Winter storm watches have been posted until tomorrow evening for all but far northwest Wisconsin – where the lightest totals are expected. The storm built steam in Colorado, where Monarch Pass got 17-and-a-half inches. Up to 14 inches fell in Kansas, where the governor told everyone just to stay home. Thunder-snow rumbled through parts of Kansas and Missouri – unstable air accompanied by rapid snowfalls of up to two-inches-an-hour. State legislatures shut down in both Kansas and Missouri – along with Nebraska, Iowa, and Arkansas. At least two traffic deaths are blamed on the storm. It’s expected to lose some of its punch by the time it arrives in the Badger State this evening. The La Crosse, Madison, and Milwaukee areas could get up to five inches by tomorrow morning’s rush hour – and most parts of the south expect 5-to-6 inches. Three-to-five inches of total snow are predicted for the state’s midsection and into the northeast. Superior and Bayfield could get 2-to-3 inches. Forecasters say the storm will taper off tomorrow night from southern to northern Wisconsin. And a chance of snow showers will remain on Saturday. Weekend highs are projected to be in the low-30’s.
Fewer Wisconsinites are behind on their mortgages, as the state’s housing market continues to heal from the Great Recession. As of December 31st, about five-point-eight percent of home mortgages in the Badger State were at least 30 days overdue. That’s one-tenth-of-a-percent less than at the end of 2011. The Mortgage Bankers Association says the delinquency rates include loans that are at least one payment overdue – but are not in danger of foreclosing. Wisconsin homeowners continue to do better than their national counterparts in keeping up with their mortgages. The national delinquency rate is almost seven-point-one percent – about a point-and-a-half lower than Wisconsin. The national rate is down by almost a half-percentage-point from the previous year – and it’s the lowest since 2008, when the recession began in earnest. Wisconsin also has the second-lowest mortgage delinquency rate in the Midwest. Minnesota is the best, at four-point-eight percent.
Racine County sheriff’s deputies spent the day talking to students and reviewing school video, after a 15-year-old girl at Waterford Union High School said somebody tried to abduct her. Sheriff’s lieutenant Steve Sikora says his officers consider it a legitimate incident. Officials said the youngster was walking home from school yesterday when a man in a silver car stopped, got out, and asked the girl if she had a boyfriend. She said no, and the man reportedly grabbed her as she was starting to run away. He then tried to pull her into the auto. But she broke free and screamed, and the man drove off without her.