Evening State News Briefs: Join Finance votes in favor of mining billWisconsin News
-- A state committee voted 12-4 this afternoon to endorse an easing of Wisconsin’s mining restrictions, so an iron ore mine could be built in Ashland and Iron counties.
MADISON - A state committee voted 12-4 this afternoon to endorse an easing of Wisconsin’s mining restrictions, so an iron ore mine could be built in Ashland and Iron counties.
All Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee voted yes. All Democrats voted no, and they proposed a half-dozen amendments which were shot down. They dealt with mining taxes, fees, and allowing public challenges to DNR decisions in contested case hearings. The committee sent the package to the state Senate, where it’s expected to be considered on Wednesday.
The average Wisconsin family would get an income tax break of $83 a year under Governor Scott Walker’s proposed tax cut. The state government’s non-partisan Fiscal Bureau came up with the figure – and it’s almost $25-dollars less than what another a liberal fiscal agency had projected a few days ago. The Republican Walker wants to use a surplus of $343-million dollars in the current budget to give income tax breaks over the next two years. The Fiscal Bureau said the top 25-percent of Wisconsin households would get more than half of what’s being returned. But lower-income families in the $30,000 range would get the largest percentage tax cut, at 3.3 percent. Walker has proposed reductions in the three lowest tax brackets among the five the state uses.
A federal court ordered the Wisconsin Legislature today to grant access to three computers that were used to help create the Republicans’ new Assembly and Senate districts. The maps were drawn in secret by the GOP majority in 2011 – and the court told the GOP to release the contents of the three computers to Democratic and Hispanic groups that sued over the redistricting. A three-judge panel unanimously agreed the computers are quote, “likely to contain relevant and responsive materials that should have been disclosed” in last year’s lawsuit. The plaintiffs lost most of their case, as the court found that all but two of the 132 legislative districts were constitutionally drawn correctly. But after the decision, the groups discovered documents that should have been released to them during the lawsuit, but were not. Now, the plaintiffs want to find out if GOP lawmakers improperly withheld other documents before a trial in the case began.
Southeast Wisconsin will not get nearly as much snow tomorrow as was earlier predicted. The National Weather Service has called off a winter storm watch for 10 counties southeast of a line from Beloit to Sheboygan, including Milwaukee. The region is now expected to get 3-to-5 inches – and not the 5-to-9 inches which had been forecast as of yesterday. Strong winds of up to 30-miles-an-hour are still expected from the storm, which precedes a low-pressure system moving from Texas to Indiana over the next day or so. Snow has also been taken out of tomorrow’s daytime forecast for other parts of Wisconsin. Light snow is due in tomorrow night, with a chance of lingering snow on Wednesday.
The regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is not reacting to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s so-called “hybrid plan” for reforming Medicaid. Ken Munson said it’s extremely valuable for states to expand their Medicaid coverage under the Obama health reform law. The Republican Walker refused the expansion as part of his proposed state budget. He’s opting instead to put more impoverished childless adults on programs like Badger Care, while transferring those over the poverty level to the new insurance purchasing exchanges that begin in 2014. Munson said states can change their minds at any time about joining the Medicaid expansion – and tailoring their own exchanges, which Walker also refused to do. Munson spoke at a Madison conference organized by the health advocacy group ABC for Health. Those attending the conference in Madison are learning more today about how the new federal health insurance purchasing exchanges will work. Those who don’t get coverage from their employers or other government programs will use the exchanges to buy insurance that will be mandated under the Obama health law starting in 2014. Wisconsin had a chance to tailor an exchange to its own needs. But Republican Governor Scott Walker turned down the opportunity, saying it would have cost state taxpayers more money in the long run. Earlier this month, Walker announced plans to drop Medicaid’s Badger Care coverage to individuals making more than the poverty level. His proposed state budget would move those people into the federal exchanges, where Walker says they’ll get coverage for as low as $19 a month.
A Milwaukee man found dead after getting into a brawl was identified today as 50-year-old Kenneth Pierce. Police said his body was found outside a north home early yesterday, after he got into a fight with several people. Officials said today that an autopsy was still being conducted.
Activities have been halted for at least a week at one of Wisconsin’s largest prisons. Waupun Warden Bill Pollard said today that all prison activities – including visits – have been canceled while officers perform what he calls a routine lockdown. Pollard says it’s been planned for several months, so officials can conduct searches for contraband like tobacco, illegal drugs, weapons, and cell-phones. The warden said the prison would gradually return to normal operations when the searches are finished.
Wisconsin prisons are getting an extra nine-million tax dollars, because inmate populations have not dropped as expected. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted 16-0 today in favor of the additional funding. The current state budget assumed that the prisons would lose a net of 2,800 inmates over the two-year budget period that ends June 30th. Instead, the population of male prisoners has gone up by almost 700 from what was expected in the current fiscal year. Lawmakers had cut $52-million from the corrections’ budget.
UW students from around the state converged on the Capitol today, to ask legislators to limit their tuition increases for this fall. Students from all but six of the 26 university campuses held a news conference, calling for a limit of three-to-four percent in tuition hikes. In recent years, the Board of Regents approved tuition hikes of five-and-a-half percent, the maximum set by law. That’s because the schools’ lost state funding in the recent past. Now, Governor Scott Walker is asking for $180-million dollars more for the UW System – and to remove the limit on tuition and fees so the university can decide those things for themselves. UW spokesman David Giroux says a modest increase can be expected. The Board of Regents will determine the amount over the summer.
The Badger State has recorded its 16th snowmobile death of the winter. Bayfield County authorities said 26-year-old Justin Mulder of Munster Indiana lost control of his machine at a corner. It left a road, and crashed in a wooded area. The mishap occurred yesterday afternoon, and the state DNR said alcohol and speed are both possible factors. An investigation is continuing.
A trust fund with advance payments from Wisconsinites for future burials has covered the cost of 500 funerals since going into receivership. John Wirth, the court-appointed receiver for the Wisconsin Funeral Trust, said some of the costs of the trust have been reduced since going into receivership last year. In a report to the Dane County courts, Wirth said over two-point-three million dollars has been paid to cover over 500 prepaid funerals. That covered about 60-percent of the actual burial costs – and funeral homes paid for the rest in the hopes of getting paid back later. In the meantime, Wirth said almost a half-million dollars was paid to trust administrators, and for various financial fees. After Wirth became the receiver, he fired the Bluepoint investment firm as the trust’s money manager. And Funeral Directors Association director Scott Peterson was let go, after a shortfall of $20-million in the prepaid burial fund became known. The fund was supposed to have $70-million – and it’s short around 23-million at last word.
Wisconsin’s largest city is about to get up to 100 additional jobs – 50 from an existing plant, and 50 from a company that plans to move from another location. Mayor Tom Barrett announced the jobs in his annual “State of the City” address this morning. He said Inge-team – a maker of energy-efficient components – is looking to add people at its plant just east of the Miller Park baseball stadium. Barrett also said the environmental engineering firm of Natural Resources Technology would move in from Pewaukee in neighboring Waukesha County. Its 50 employees will move to Milwaukee’s water technology facility.
A Wisconsin man is recovering, after a wild turkey broke through the windshield of a church group’s tour bus in Pennsylvania. Authorities said 53-year-old Joseph Rychecky of Oak Creek was driving his group back to Chicago from a religious conference, when the second of two flying turkeys hit the windshield. It happened Saturday afternoon about 35 miles north of Pittsburgh on Highway 422. The group was from Chicago’s University Bible Fellowship. None of the 40 passengers on the bus were hurt, and Rychecky did not need hospitalization.
A 76-year-old Sheboygan woman could spend 45 days in jail and 10 years on probation for killing her baby daughter back in 1957. A judge accepted a plea deal this morning in the case of Ruby Klokow. She pleaded no contest to her original charge of second-degree murder. District Attorney Joe DeCecco said she could not have been sentenced on a lesser charge, since the statutes-of-limitations have long expired for those offenses. He said Klokow’s advanced age and health factors were among the reasons for the sentence the two sides had agreed upon. A judge will have the final say on April 15th. Klokow was convicted of killing her nine-month-old daughter Jeaneen 56 years ago. She claimed at the time that the infant fell from a couch to a carpeted floor – and authorities then decided not to seek charges. But in 2008, Klokow’s son James went to police with graphic stories of child abuse in his family – and he wondered if today’s modern investigative techniques could uncover evidence in Jeaneen’s killing. Prosecutors filed the murder charge in early 2011. Her plea deal called off a trial that was scheduled to begin this morning.
Classes began as normal today at Lake-Shore Middle School in Mequon, after a suspicious object was found there yesterday. Somebody found what was thought to be a pipe-bomb while cleaning up the school’s wood-shop area. The Milwaukee County Bomb Squad came out. They moved the pipe to a safe spot and detonated. It turned out to be nothing more than discarded plumbing parts. Officials said the entire school was searched twice – and nothing else was found that appeared to be suspicious.