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WISCONSIN STATE NEWS BRIEFS: Body IDed from Chippewa River

EAU CLAIRE - A body pulled from the Chippewa River on Monday is that of a UW-Eau Claire student missing since April 19th.  Authorities identified him today as 20-year-old David Rodgers of Northfield, Minnesota. 

He was a sophomore majoring in math education.  Authorities said he apparently fell off a pedestrian bridge near the Eau Claire campus.  His body was discovered Monday evening by canoeists on the river.  He graduated from Northfield High School in Minnesota in 2011.

The Wisconsin State Assembly has ratified over two dozen last-minute changes to the proposed state budget.  The vote was 59-36 late this morning to approve a series of Republican amendments that included the scrapping of new limits on property tax breaks for disabled veterans – and a one-year delay on making it easier for mega-dairies to get permits for high-capacity water wells.  Two other last-minute changes were scrapped by Republican leaders earlier this morning.   One would have restricted access by protestors on public lands near the Gogebic Taconite mining site in Iron and Ashland counties.  GOP leaders also changed their minds about measures that would have let 750 additional Racine area residents get state vouchers to attend private schools.  The proposed statewide expansion of the school choice program remains in the budget – along with a $650-million income tax cut, a refusal to take new federal Medicaid funds under Obama-care, a two-year UW tuition freeze, allowing private parties to buy certain state-owned buildings, a return of bail bondsmen, and forcing arrested felons to give D-N-A samples to police before they know if they’re convicted.  Majority Republicans met longer behind closed doors than expected over the past two days – but the Assembly still plans to vote at 5:30 this afternoon on their version of the budget.  If that happens, the Senate will take up the two-year, $68-billion package tomorrow.

The trial of an Eau Claire doctor accused of molesting 16 patients will be held in Superior, unless there’s a last-minute plea deal.  Eau Claire County Circuit Judge Michael Schumacher announced the location for Doctor David Van de Loo’s trial, after ruling a month-and-a-half ago that he could not get a fair trial in his home area.  The trial is scheduled to begin January 21st, and it could run for up to three weeks.   Bayfield, Marathon, and Washburn counties were other possible locations considered.  Schumacher agreed that a trial needed to be held elsewhere due to the doctor’s status in his community – and because of heavy publicity about the criminal and civil charges against him.  The 60-year-old Van de Loo was charged last fall with 17 criminal counts, all but one involving first-or-second-degree child sexual assault. Authorities said he had sexual contact with male patients while serving as a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire.  Besides the criminal case, five civil suits involving seven former patients are pending.  Van de Loo worked at the Mayo Health System from 1994 until he was let go last September.

A new Wisconsin bill would make it a crime for doctors to ask their patients if they own firearms.  Freshman Assembly Republican Michael Schraa of Oshkosh proposed the bill.  He says the decision to own a gun is a personal one – and doctors have no business harassing patients over it.  Health groups oppose the measure, saying it interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.  UW-Madison pediatrician Dipesh Navsaria tells the Wisconsin State Journal it’s routine for doctors to ask about gun ownership.  He says it’s no different than asking about other safety measures, like bike helmets.  Under Schraa’s bill, doctors could sent to prison for nine months, or fined up to $25,000 for violations.   Schraa is the same lawmaker who proposed a bill last week to stop police from enforcing federal gun restrictions on guns made-and-sold in the Badger State – and technically, are not covered under interstate commerce.

It was a year ago today when 6-to-10 inches of rain caused millions-of-dollars of flood damage in the Duluth-Superior region in northwest Wisconsin and northeast Minnesota.  The Duluth News-Tribune says there are conflicting totals of the numbers of homes damaged.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency said 17 homes were destroyed, while local assessors put the figure at 72.  In all, FEMA counted 479 homes with reportable damage – none in Wisconsin – while local officials counted 3,100 Minnesota homes with reportable damage, and 320 more in the Superior region in Douglas County.  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker did not ask FEMA for federal disaster aid, saying there was not enough damage for individual homeowners to qualify.  Walker did apply for aid from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the agency came through with low-interest disaster loans for Douglas, Bayfield, Sawyer, Washburn, and Burnett counties.  In addition, the storms dumped up to nine-feet of water in the campus library at UW-Superior and caused over $23-million in damage as floods hit all but one campus building. 

State officials hope to reduce the numbers of people in the W-2 Welfare-to-Work program, by offering cash incentives.  About 15,000 people, mostly from Milwaukee County, are in the program which has been around since the 1990’s.  Recipients must get job training and look for work in order to get cash benefits.  They also get other benefits like child care.  Now, the Wisconsin State Journal says officials are trying new cash incentives to reduce the W-2 rolls.  There’s an initial payment for those who stay on a job for 31 days – and a second payment for those on the job for four months.  There also cash incentives to strive for promotions and higher-paying jobs, with a goal to having more recipients not needing the welfare anymore.  Among other things, officials hope to avoid cases in which people take jobs, get payments, and then quit work a few days later. 

A Manitowoc man has pleaded innocent to 18 charges in the drunk driving deaths of two men.  21-year-old Dylan Karnitz is accused of driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.  Authorities said his car plowed into the side of another vehicle at a Manitowoc intersection on March third.  The second driver, 23-year-old Christopher Mark of Manitowoc, was killed along with his 24-year-old passenger Zachary Gates of Two Rivers.  Four others were hurt, including one who’s still recovering from serious injuries after being treated at a Green Bay hospital.  Karnitz’ charges include causing deaths and injuries by drunk driving and under a controlled substance.  He’s due back in court in early October.  A three-day trial is tentatively set for December 17th.

Wisconsin’s first state-run venture capital fund for new businesses is one step away from reality. Governor Scott Walker said he looks forward to signing a bill passed by both houses yesterday. It creates $25-million in tax funds, plus $50-million more from private sources, to help companies in five key areas get off the ground – agriculture, information technology, medical devices, engineering, and advanced manufacturing. State Assembly GOP sponsor Mike Kuglitsch of New Berlin said it will re-invigorate entrepreneurship. Most Democrats voted for the bill, even though they said more tax money should have been allocated – and some industries like medical bio-tech firms should not have been excluded. Republicans said they targeted the industries that could achieve the fastest growth. The Senate passed the measure 29-3. The only no votes were from Racine Democrat John Lehman, Madison Democrat Fred Risser, and West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman. The Assembly approved the bill 91-2 earlier this month, but they had to ratify a Senate clarification on how the new fund manager is selected. A five-member selection panel would have two Administration representatives instead of one. It would no longer have a member from the state’s Technology Council.

A medical examiner said a 78-year-old Sheboygan Falls woman was struck at least 27 times with sharp-and-blunt objects while being murdered in her home last fall. Doug Kelley testified for the prosecution yesterday at the trial of 14-year-old Nathan Paape, one of two teens charged in the slaying and robbery of Barbara Olson. Jurors were shown photos of the victim’s body. They saw fractures and gashes on her head, face, hands, and arms. Kelley said his estimate of the wounds was conservative. Paape and his 14-year-old friend Antonio Barbeau were accused of attacking Olson with a hammer and a hatchet, and then ransacking her house for money. Olson was Barbeau’s great-grandmother. Barbeau pleaded no contest to his homicide charge last week, in the hopes of getting a lighter sentence. Paape’s lawyer contends that Barbeau planned and carried out the whole scenario, while Paape watched. The state contends that both teens planned and pulled off the murder.

Archaeology divers say a wooden beam found on the bottom of northern Lake Michigan appears to have been there for centuries. However, French officials say it’s not enough to confirm the presence of the Griffin – a French ship that vanished in the 17th century while exploring the Great Lakes. Scientists have been watching as commercial divers started excavating last week at the base of the wood beam, trying to determine if it was part of the Griffin. Michel L’Hour, head of the French Department of Underwater Archaeological Research, said the beam appears to be a “bowsprit” – a pole that extends from the stem of a vessel. It extends over 10 feet above the lake bed off Fairport Michigan. Excavators have been opening a pit at the base of the post to see if it’s connected to anything. The ship was commanded by the French explorer Rene Cavelier de la Salle. He set sail from an island near the Bay of Green Bay in 1679, and was never seen again.

The U.S. House is scheduled to start voting today on dozens of amendments to a new five-year Farm Bill.  The main bone of contention is a proposed reduction of two-billion dollars a year in food stamps – plus tighter eligibility requirements for the poor to receive aid.  Efforts to both expand and reduce the size of the proposed cuts are among 226 amendments offered to the five-year package of government farm programs – which passed the Senate last week by a 3-to-1 margin.  Senators called for a $400-million cut in food stamps, something Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson of Oshkosh said was not enough.  Other amendments would make changes to various subsidies, and replace the market stabilization and margin protection plans for dairy producers.  President Obama has said that he would veto the current House version of the Farm Bill.  He’s against reducing food assistance.  The president also says the House package does not do enough to reform crop insurance and commodity programs – and does not provide funds for renewable energy.  However, it’s not likely that a House version would get to the president’s desk.  Speaker John Boehner says he favors sending the Farm Bill to a House-Senate conference committee, and let them hammer out the disagreements. 

Those who invested in 63 new companies in Wisconsin last year received $12-million in tax credits for doing so.  The state’s Economic Development Corporation is announcing results today of a program that’s designed to create start-up funds for a host of young high-tech businesses.  The report said the tax credits helped generate a total of 165-million dollars for the affected companies in 2012.  Lisa Johnson of the WEDC says bio-tech firms and information technology companies make up about 60-percent of the start-up firms in the program.   Nationally, Johnson says venture capital funds have made a switch toward computer technology operations – and in Wisconsin, those firms have given the most certifications.  Johnson says it’s exciting to see IT businesses take off, but more needs to be done to support bio-science companies.  She says the industry has higher-paying jobs than the IT field.  Meanwhile, the proposed state budget would end a lifetime limit of $47-and-a-half million in angel investments in the tax credit program. 

Members of Wisconsin’s Sikh religion will hold special observances and a fund-raising run-and-walk to mark the first anniversary of the Oak Creek shooting massacre.  It was a year ago on August fifth when Wade Michael Page killed six worshippers and wounded four others, after opening fire at the Sikh Temple in the hours before a weekly service.  Page then killed himself in a shootout with police.  Temple leader Pardeep Kaleka says the anniversary will be preceded by a ceremony in which priests will read the entire Sikh holy book aloud, cover-to-cover.   Other ceremonies will purify the temple.  Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi says the city and temple will work together on a six-kilometer run-and-walk in honor of the victims.  

Gogebic Taconite says about a dozen protestors are camping without permission, close to where the firm is conducting early drilling for a new iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.  Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz says protestors are walking on the mining site and yelling threats to workers.  That was about a week after protestors caused about two-thousand dollars in vandalism damage.  A worker’s cell phone was stolen in that incident.  The proposed mining site in Ashland and Iron counties includes public recreation land.  Seitz tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that something needs to be done to keep intruders away – or else there could be more vandalism.  Yesterday, Assembly Republican Mark Honadel of South Milwaukee put an item into the new state budget to address the issue.   It was not clear whether the proposed limits would affect land other than the Gogebic Taconite mining site.  Honadel says tensions cannot escalate any more than they already have.  He said he hopes the DNR can do something quote, “before someone gets shot up there.”  Senate Democrat Bob Jauch of Poplar, who represents the place where the mine would go, says Republicans are quote, “over-reacting to the illegal actions of a few who haven’t been seen or heard from since.” 

A Catholic religious order says at least 23 of its past-and-present friars sexually abused minors over the past 80 years – and many of those incidents were in Wisconsin.  The Capuchin Franciscans released the results yesterday of a year-long audit of abuse by its friars.  The report said the actual numbers of cases could be higher, but there was not enough documentation to confirm all the incidents.  The report said the Capuchins moved offending friars from one position to another, without disclosing the past abuse.  They rarely reported cases to law enforcement – and they spent more on lawyers than on caring for victims.   Provincial Minister John Celichowski said the order failed abuse victims, their families, and the religious order throughout the decades.   He said improvements have been made in recent years – and he admitted it could take many more years for the Capuchins to regain the trust it lost.  The order is based in Detroit, with a number of local parishes in Wisconsin.

A man who helped provide marijuana to teachers and school staffers in Antigo and Merrill has been sentenced to six months in jail.  47-year-old Bradley Maahs of Wittenberg must also spend two years on probation, along with 150 hours of community service.  He was originally charged with four counts of manufacturing marijuana in Langlade County, and three counts in Shawano County.  Four of the charges were dropped in a plea bargain.  He’ll start his jail time August 16th in either Langlade or Shawano counties – his choice – and if jail officials allow it, he could arrange to take care of his ailing father.  Maahs were one of over a dozen people charged a year ago in the school marijuana ring. It resulted in the resignation of Antigo High School football coach and elementary principal John Lund. 

Wisconsin’s population of ruffed grouse has dropped nine-percent over the past year.  That’s according to a roadside survey by the state DNR, the U.S. Forest Service, Indian tribal staff members, and volunteers.  For almost 50 years, surveyors have monitored 10 breeding sites for ruffed grouse, counting the numbers of drumming sounds that the male grouse produce.  Ecologists blamed the reduction on a loss of brushy-and-dense areas which grouse need for cover.

A state wildlife expert says it’s really unusual for one black bear to attack a human – much less two.  Northern Wisconsin had its second bear attack in two months on Monday night, when Jerry Brown of rural Shell Lake and his dog were hurt in their yard.  State DNR carnivore specialist David MacFarland said Brown’s dog was apparently the first to have contact with the bear – and the animal then mauled Brown.  McFarland said Brown’s brother came out of a cabin, and shot the bear.  The injured animal then ran away.  Officials were still looking for the bear at last word.  Brown was taken to a hospital in Shell Lake, and then flown to a facility in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.  He was in critical but stable condition at last word.  MacFarland says black bear are normally not aggressive enough to attack humans.  Last month, a dog tangled with a bear in Marinette County before the bear attacked Gerre Ninneman.  His wife then the bear’s head with a gun, and a sheriff’s deputy shot-and-killed the animal.

State Representative Brett Hulsey of Madison is thinking about leaving the Democratic party, and becoming an independent.  GOP Speaker Robin Vos said Hulsey told both him and Minority Leader Peter Barca about his possible switch.  Hulsey would not comment, saying he was too busy dealing with the state budget at the moment.  He’s been a leader of several environmental groups – but he’s had virtually no political power in the Assembly ever since he took office in January of 2011.  That was when Governor Scott Walker and a host of fellow Republicans took control of the executive branch and both houses.  The Assembly now has a 60-39 GOP majority.  The last independent in the Assembly was Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc.  He was also a Democrat who sided with Republicans on some notable issues.  Before that, Jeff Wood of Chippewa Falls was fed up with the Republican Party before becoming an independent.  He left the Assembly about two-and-a-half years ago, after three OWI arrests. 

The Stillwater Lift Bridge between northwest Wisconsin and Minnesota will be closed this afternoon.  A cable was snapped Sunday night, cutting off boat traffic that normally goes under the bridge on the Saint Croix River at Stillwater.  Minnesota’s DOT says the bridge will shut down at today and reopen to car-and-truck traffic by 4 p.m.  Besides fixing the cable, crews say they’ll also inspect the lift system.  They hope to re-open the 80-year-old Stillwater bridge to water traffic by the end of this week, weather permitting.   

Authorities say alcohol may have been a factor in a deadly crash on I-43 in Ozaukee County on Monday night. The Ozaukee County Sheriff's office says 61-year-old Michael Kniech died of his injuries after rolling his Dodge Caravan off the interstate. Witnesses say Kniech was allegedly weaving through traffic and speeding before the crash. An investigation continues.

Wisconsin is one of nine states that dramatically reduced its numbers of teens in detention centers during the last decade.  That’s according to a report issued today by the National Juvenile Justice Network and the Center for Effective Justice in Texas.  The report said the numbers of incarcerated youths dropped by 43-percent from 2001-through-2010.   That’s four-percent more than the national decline of 39-percent.  Back in 2000, the Badger State had 109-thousand juveniles who were held in detention centers either awaiting trials, or found delinquent by judges.  That number dropped to 66-thousand by the end of 2010.  Wisconsin and the other eight states all had huge increases in incarcerated youths from 1985-through-2000.  Jim Moeser of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families said the drop in teen detentions was due to strategic reforms at the state-and-local level which provided services to youths-and-families instead of just incarcerations.  The other states recognized today were Washington, New York, Mississippi, Illinois, Texas, Ohio, California, and Connecticut.

Lincoln County authorities now say a murder suspect apparently started a fire at his home several hours before he claimed he did.  Sheriff’s deputies are asking witnesses to come forward, so they can prove their contention.  49-year-old Mark Bucki of the Merrill area is charged in the death of his estranged wife Anita.  Investigators said they learned that he spent the afternoon of April 26th trying to destroy evidence of his wife’s belongings.  Court records indicate that Mark Bucki burned a ripped-out portion of carpet – but he said it was late in the afternoon.  Lincoln County officers said it appeared that huge fire was burning from 4-to-7 a-m on April 26th at the couple’s home on Wegner Road in the town of Corning.  It might have been in a burning barrel.  Officials say any eyewitness accounts of such a fire would be helpful in their investigation.  Authorities have not said how the blaze might have been connected to Anita’s killing.  Her body wasn’t found until a couple weeks after she was discovered missing.  Mark Bucki is due back in court June 27th on charges of homicide, hiding a corpse, and strangulation-and-suffocation.

Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin was named this morning as a U-S envoy to a troubled region of Africa.  U.S. Secretary-of-State John Kerry announced Feingold’s appointment at a State Department media briefing in Washington.  Feingold headed the Senate Foreign Relations’ sub-committee on Africa when he served in the Senate from 1993 through 2010.  Kerry said Feingold would help U-S efforts in what he called a “long-troubled region” in the Congo.  Kerry said the stakes in that part of the world are very significant – and when the two served together in the Senate, Kerry said Feingold was quote, “the leading advocate and expert on Africa.”  The nation’s top diplomat said there’s a need to help those involved in the conflicts find a path to peace, make those committing human rights abuses accountable, and break down barriers between humanitarian aid and civilians who need it.  Feingold was unseated by Republican Ron Johnson in 2010.  Since then, he has written a book.  He’s also been a visiting professor at Marquette University, Lawrence College, and Stanford.   Assuming he serves through the rest of the Obama administration, Feingold would not be available to run for governor in 2014.  One poll earlier this year showed that Feingold would be the most likely Democrat to defeat Republican Governor Scott Walker.

Majority Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly have agreed to wait for at least a year to make it easier for mega-dairies to run high-capacity water wells.  They’ve also agreed to remove a limit on property tax breaks for disabled veterans and their spouses.  Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) announced the changes late this morning, before his house was to begin debate on the two-year, $68-billion-dollar budget for the next two years.  Vos said other major parts of the budget – including an income tax cut, an expansion of private school choice, the rejection of federal Medicaid funds under Obama-care, and police taking DNA from suspects arrested but not convicted – would not be changed during the Assembly’s debate.  At least one conservative Republican has strayed from the party line, but the GOP still has a potential 59 votes for the budget as opposed to 39 Democrats.  An Assembly vote on the budget is expected tomorrow.  One of the scrapped budget items would have prevented the DNR from being sued for not reviewing the environmental effects of a high-capacity well on neighbors.  Critics said it might have helped the developer of a mega-dairy win a lawsuit by its neighbors. 

A state appeals court has refused to throw out a sex offender’s conviction, just because a judge called the man’s crimes an abomination in the sight of God.  41-year-old Robert Betters of Green Bay was convicted in 2011 of having repeated sexual contact with his girlfriend’s two teenage sons.  Brown County Circuit Judge Donald Zuidmulder sentenced Betters in 2011 to 25 years in prison and 15 years of extended supervision – and at the time, the judge said every child is a gift from God, and Betters’ conduct was an abomination in the sight of God.  Betters appealed, saying the judge relied on religious doctrine in his sentence.  The Third District Appellate Court in Wausau said the remarks were ill-advised – but Zuidmulder correctly considered the seriousness and nature of the offenses in his sentence.  Betters pleaded no contest on repeated child sexual assault and possessing child pornography.  A second child sex assault charge was dropped in a plea bargain.