Friday State News Briefs: Walker clearned in John Doe probeWisconsin News
-- Wisconsin’s governor no longer has a criminal investigation hanging over his head. Judge Neal Nettesheim has ended a nearly three-year John Doe probe into Walker’s former aides when he was the Milwaukee County executive. And the chief prosecutor, Milwaukee DA John Chisholm, released the news this morning.
MILWAUKEE - Wisconsin’s governor no longer has a criminal investigation hanging over his head. Judge Neal Nettesheim has ended a nearly three-year John Doe probe into Walker’s former aides when he was the Milwaukee County executive. And the chief prosecutor, Milwaukee DA John Chisholm, released the news this morning.
Five people were convicted in the probe. Chisholm said it’s been months since his office took any new testimony. But he’s been waiting for the court cases to be finished before wrapping things up. Walker had long insisted that he was never a target of the John Doe. The governor responded by saying he appreciated the investigative effort and quote, “appropriate matters were brought to justice.” State Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski said it was quote, “no feather in his cap” that Walker avoided prosecution. Zielinski said the governor was quote, “clearly connected to criminal activity,” stemming from an apparent belief by Walker that he is quote, “above the law.”
Two ex-Walker associates – Kevin Kavanaugh and ex-chief-of-staff Tim Russell – were each sentenced to two years in prison, for embezzling thousands-of-dollars from an event that honored Wisconsin veterans. Another top county Walker aide, Kelly Rindfleisch, got six months in jail for doing campaign work on county time. Former county constituent relations director Darlene Wink was fined a-thousand dollars on the same violation. And a domestic partner of Russell’s was fined 21-hundred dollars for an unrelated sex charge that was uncovered during the John Doe.
Foreclosure rates continue to go down in Wisconsin’s most populous area. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s review of court records shows that 707 new foreclosure cases were filed in February in seven southeastern counties. That’s 28-percent less than the same month a year ago. Last February, there was short of a-thousand new cases that sought home foreclosures in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha, Walworth, Racine, and Kenosha counties. For the first two months of the New Year, lenders filed just over 14-hundred total cases in the seven counties – almost 29-percent fewer than at the start of 2012.
We know that Wisconsin Lottery players will buy $20 scratch-off tickets – but will they spend 30 on a single game? We could find out later this year. The state Revenue Department has told the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee that the lottery wants to offer a 30-dollar game sometime after the state’s new fiscal year begins on July first. It said that 75-percent of the sales would go to winners – but the report did not say what type of payouts there might be. Revenue officials also say $30 scratch-off games appear to be doing well in other states. The Wisconsin Lottery is coming off a record-setting sales year with sales of over 547-million, due in part to a record jackpot for Mega Millions. Reports indicate that the lottery expects slightly lower sales figures of around 540-million for the current year that ends June 30th.
A group in Hartford has sent out its five-thousandth care package to Wisconsin troops serving overseas. The program is called “Support the Troops-Wisconsin,” and it ships out comfort items for troops that range from Chunky Soup and T-shirts to toothbrushes and bug spray. LeAnn Boudwine started the project six years ago, after her son in Iraq said some of his friends got very little mail from back home. She assumed she would send about 100 care packages right away, and be done with it. But once the word got out, more of the folks back home wanted to donate. Boudwine asked her local VFW and American Legion posts to raise money for the packages, and the costs of shipping them. And folks have never stopped donating comfort items. Boudwine figures that her group has spent $56,000 on postage. And her son, Marine Sergeant David Scott, says the troops are touched and gratified. Scott says it’s an “indescribable” feeling to get a care package because quote, “It feels like you’re home, even if it’s only for a second.”
Wisconsin has a better than even chance of getting above-average precipitation from now until the end of May. And if that forecast holds true, assistant state climatologist Ed Hopkins says we probably will have dug ourselves out of the drought that has plagued the Badger State since last summer. New figures show that about 85-percent of Wisconsin’s land area remains abnormally dry or worse – and much of the northwest part of the state is still in a severe drought. But conditions have improved this winter in certain parts of the state, especially in the Milwaukee region which just recently lost its moderate drought status. Climatologist Brian Fuchs of the U.S. Drought Monitor says we won’t know the impact of the snowy winter until it all meets – and we see how much seeps into the ground instead of running off. Some UW experts say farmers still face a lot of uncertainty. UW-Madison agronomy professor Joe Lauer says farmers should keep as many options open as possible. Forecasters expect dry weather throughout Wisconsin into early next week, except for scattered flurries tomorrow night and a slight chance of snow on Monday and Tuesday.
Investigators are looking into a fire this morning at the UW Medical Sciences Center on the Madison campus. Fire Department spokeswoman Lori Wirth said it started on the fourth floor in one-or-more rooms near the back of the structure. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The sixth floor of the medical facility had a number of animals – and at least one had to be removed while the others appeared to be okay. Fire-fighters were called just after eight a-m. The fire was under control in less than an hour, but units were still on the scene late this morning to ventilate smoke and make sure there were no smoldering hot-spots. The main Medical Sciences building along University Avenue in Madison had to be evacuated, along with two others just to the north of the structure.
A plant in Beloit that makes plastic bottles is expected to close by May. Southeastern Container has reportedly told its 50 employees that the Beloit production will be moved to either Effingham, Illinois, or Bowling Green, Ohio. The company opened a large plant in Beloit with almost a quarter-million square feet in 2007. Officials said the Beloit could transfer to where the production’s going – but only 10 slots are available at Effingham, and eight at Bowling Green.
Four anti-smoking groups say a surcharge on health insurance is the wrong way to try-and-get those hooked on cigarettes to kick-the-habit. Governor Scott Walker’s budget would require state employees to sign affidavits promising that they don’t smoke – or else they’d get hit with a $50-a-month surcharge on their health plans. Smoke-Free Wisconsin is against the fee – and so are the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. They say there’s very little evidence to prove that financial penalties, or incentives cause smokers to quit. But administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis says smokers cost a-third more to insure than non-smokers. She told the Wisconsin State Journal the proposed fee would affect 10-percent of the state government workforce, and it would save taxpayers around $2.7 million dollars over the next two years.
Governor Scott Walker says all 11 Wisconsin Indian tribes will have to give their blessings before he approves any new casino off a tribe’s reservation. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs is reportedly close to deciding whether tribal casinos should be built in Kenosha and Beloit, hundreds of miles from the tribes’ reservations. If the Bureau says yes, the governor would have to concur. Today, the Republican Walker told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s editorial board that a consensus of all the tribes is necessary for a project – or else the door could be opened to a host of new casinos in lucrative areas. Walker’s stance appears to kill a proposal first made in the 1990’s for a Kenosha casino organized by the Menominee tribe at the site of the old Dairyland Greyhound Park. The Potawatomi tribe has long opposed the possible gaming house and resort, because it would cut into profits from the Potawatomi Casino, the only one that’s in Milwaukee.
As Milwaukeeans dig out from Wednesday's snow, about 250 motorists got quite a surprise. They either got 50-dollar tickets or their vehicles were towed to the city’s impound lot for violating the city’s snow emergency ordinance. Sandy Rusch Walton of the Milwaukee public works department said cars are not supposed to park on unplowed streets after it snows for at least four inches. If there are no signs on the affected streets, tickets are issued. But for posted snow routes, violators’ cars get towed away – and it costs $105 to retrieve them, plus 20-dollars for every day the cars remain in the impound lot. Milwaukee had 10 inches of snow Wednesday night and yesterday. Other parts of Wisconsin’s eastern shore were also pounded. Sheboygan had around 15 inches. Kenosha and Racine had 13-to-14 inches.
An appeals court says most state government employees are not entitled to paid sabbatical days to off-set the 16 unpaid furlough days they were forced to take for two years. Former Governor Jim Doyle ordered all state workers to get docked for the furlough days, to help reduce a six-point-six billion dollar deficit in the state budget from mid-2009 through mid-2011. But assistant prosecutors argued that the contract called only 10 days on layoff – and that’s all they took. Marty Beil of the State Employees Union then said other workers should be treated the same. He filed a request with the state Office of Employment Relations to get back the six paid days in the form of sabbaticals – but he was rejected. The union then filed a lawsuit – and a Dane County judge turned down a later request by the state to drop it. The state then filed an appeal, saying it had sovereign immunity in the matter. That meant a court could not stop Doyle’s action unless the Legislature allowed it – which it didn’t. Today, the Fourth District Appellate Court in Madison said the sovereign immunity applies, and so did the 16 furlough days for most workers.