Weather Forecast


WISCONSIN NEWS BRIEFS: Twenty counties applying for Obamacare on their own

LA CROSSE - Twenty Wisconsin counties are trying a new approach to get extra federal Medicaid funds under the Affordable Care Act. La Crosse County is among those trying to tip-toe around Governor Scott Walker’s refusal to accept additional Medicaid dollars statewide for recipients of programs like Badger-Care.

La Crosse County Supervisor Monica Kruse said her county and the other 19 have asked State Health Services Secretary Kitty Rhoades to pursue something recently done in Ohio. There, Republican lawmakers rejected Obama-care’s additional Medicaid funds. Still, a demonstration project was arranged in which the extra funding passes through the state of Ohio to the county with Cleveland in it, where a medical center serves low-income residents. The Wisconsin Citizen Action Group plans a telephone news conference today to promote the same idea for the Badger State.

The new state budget gives Badger-Care only to those under the poverty line – and the rest would buy coverage under the federal government’s new insurance purchasing exchange. Kruse tells the La Crosse Tribune that the Walker plan will remove 35,000 from Badger-Care in La Crosse, Buffalo, Clark, Jackson, Monroe, Pepin, Vernon, and Trempealeau counties. She’ll participate in Citizen Action’s news conference, along with officials from Dane, Brown, and Eau Claire counties. In March, the executives of Dane and Outagamie counties called for expanded Medicaid funds for their counties only. That was before the Ohio arrangement was made, and the state said no at that time.   


A 91-year-old woman was killed yesterday afternoon in a two-car crash at an intersection on the Highway 29 expressway in west central Wisconsin. Clark County sheriff’s deputies said Clara Sandel of Thorp was driving south on County Trunk “O” near Withee when she drove through a stop sign, and collided with a car driven by a 26-year-old Menomonie man. The man swerved to avoid the accident, but couldn’t. Officials said both drivers were wearing their seat belts. The crash occurred at a graded intersection on the four-lane Highway 29 which did not have freeway-style exits. The mishap is still being investigated. 


Maranatha Baptist Bible College of Watertown is mourning the deaths of two former students, their unborn baby, and the mother of a former student in a bus crash last Saturday in Indianapolis. Chad and Courtney Phelps attended Maranatha, and their father Chuck is a former president of the school. Courtney was just one month away from having her second child. Tonya Weindorf (win-dwarf) was the only other person killed. She’s the mother of a Maranatha Baptist nursing student. On its Web site yesterday, the Watertown Bible school said its prayers go out to those killed. Thirty-three others were hurt in the bus crash, mostly teenagers. They and their chaperones almost made it home from a summer church camp in Michigan when their bus fell down an exit ramp on Interstate-465 and hit a concrete median. The driver said the brakes failed, but police have not confirmed that it caused the crash. One of the most seriously injured was moved out of an intensive care unit yesterday. Two other teens were hospitalized in good condition. Chad Phelps was the youth pastor at Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis. Weindorf was a teacher at the Colonial Christian School. Investigators now say it could take a week or longer to determine a cause – and whether anyone’s at fault. The Indianapolis Star says non-profit groups like churches are not required to keep vehicle inspection records, and they don’t get the same scrutiny as commercial buses. For now, the church refuses comment on the condition of its 1986 vehicle, which it acquired 11 years ago


Wisconsin farmers were just getting caught up with their crops when some hit a brick wall last week. Some of the state’s crop reporters said the corn-and-the-hay almost stopped growing because it got so cool. Nighttime lows reached the 40’s in parts of the Badger State, while daytime temperatures were 4-to-7 degrees below normal. The Wisconsin corn averages about 68-inches, a half-foot below normal for this time of year – but the height varies widely throughout the state. The quality is not bad, though, as 88-percent of the corn is rated fair-to-excellent. About half the soybeans are blooming, down from the normal two-thirds. Ninety-percent of the crop is fair-to-excellent. Some farmers are still making their first crop of hay to feed their cows. Three-quarters of the second crop is made, 10-percent below the norm. Some farmers are cutting a third hay crop. 


An eastern Wisconsin man has struck a plea deal on federal charges that he helped a group of hackers with a cyber-attack on Koch (coke) Industries. 37-year-old Eric Rosol of Black Creek has told a federal court that he plans to change his innocent pleas. A hearing on that is set for September 11th in Kansas where Koch is located. His attorney says he won’t comment on the plea deal until the case has been resolved. In March, Rosol was indicted on a charge of damaging a computer, and conspiracy to damage a computer. Prosecutors said Rosol joined the hack group “Anonymous” in jamming Koch’s Web site so that it shut down in 2011. Rosol was also accused of sending a code which damaged a Koch computer. Defense lawyer Kurt Kerns said back in April that nothing was hacked, and none of Koch’s protected information was lost.


Governor Scott Walker’s campaign staff helped coordinate the release of information about the 2010 Milwaukee parking ramp accident that killed a teenager. That’s according to newly-released e-mails stemming from a lawsuit by the victim’s family. A 15-year-old boy was on his way to Summerfest when he was leaving the O’Donnell Park ramp, and an exterior concrete panel fell onto him from the second story. Milwaukee County owns the ramp, and Walker was the county executive who was running for governor at the time. According to the new e-mails, county Walker aide Cindy Archer was concerned that the executive’s office might be responding too quickly to requests for information about the incident from political opponents. The State Democratic Party and Walker’s GOP primary opponent had asked for the records. One draft statement quoted Walker as saying, “It is disgusting that anyone would use a tragedy for such blatant political purposes.” Archer said she was told by Walker’s campaign manager that the governor’s general election opponent – Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett – waited three months before acknowledging requests for public records. Former Walker aide Tim Russell speculated that a car might have pushed the concrete slab to the ground. The company that built the slab is using that theory as a key defense point in its lawsuit. 


Governor Scott Walker says Detroit would not be bankrupt, and Chicago schools would be a lot better, if they had clamped down on public unions like he did in Wisconsin. That’s what the Republican governor told attending the annual Governmental Research Association policy conference at UW-Milwaukee yesterday. In what some observers called a possible stump speech for a 2016 presidential campaign, Walker compared himself to Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He said FDR did not see a need for public sector bargaining because quote, “the government is the people.” Walker said he and his fellow legislative Republicans have empowered state employees and affirmed their greatness. He said the Act-10 limits give taxpayers – and not unions – control of how their money is spent. Walker said he would make similar remarks to the nation’s governors when they meet in Milwaukee this weekend. In answering an audience question, he said some lawmakers are now talking about extending the union bargaining limits to police-and-fire personnel, which were exempted from Act-10. The governor told reporters afterward that he would not propose such a change, but he would consider it if lawmakers sent such a bill to his desk. Before Walker’s speech, two protestors yelled and one played a snare drum. Both were removed. 


Federal energy officials have accused J.P. Morgan-Chase of manipulating electric prices in Wisconsin, 14 other Midwest states, and California. In a notice yesterday, the Energy Regulatory Commission said the bank used improper bidding strategies to get excessive payments from the operators of the power grids in the Midwest and California. Media reports say Morgan-Chase is trying to negotiate a settlement over the allegations. The bank is not commenting on that. Recently, the government fined Barclays $453-million for manipulating the prices of electricity in Western states that include California. The regulatory agency said it found evidence of improper trading practices at Morgan’s energy corporation in Houston. The firm has contracts with various power producers to trade electricity. The government said Morgan-Chase was given special fees to put power plants on advance stand-by modes, thus allowing the plants to sell power at higher prices for users to meet last-minute energy needs. One of Morgan-Chase’s deals involved the Mid-Continent Independent System Operator, which shuttles power between 15 states in the nation’s mid-section, including Wisconsin and three of its neighboring states – Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois.


Business is great for a Waukesha company that makes back-up electric generators. Generac Holdings reports a 45-percent sales increase from the same time a year ago. The firm had sales of almost $347-million from April-through-June, up from $239-million in the same quarter of 2012. Profits totaled $28-million, or 40-cents a share. That’s about triple the profits from last year at this time. Generac said more homes are getting stand-by electric generators – and there’s been a sales increase in certain commercial-and-industrial markets. The company’s distribution has also grown. Generac continues to benefit from the favorable publicity it has received for providing back-up generators to victims of Hurricane Sandy and others.


Wisconsin’s maker of military vehicles has found another way to make money. The Oshkosh Corporation cites strong sales of commercial construction lifts, in reporting a quarterly profit of $148-million. That’s 1.67-a-share for the company’s fiscal third-quarter from April-through-June, up from 84-cents a share at the same time a year ago. Sales were up by just over two-percent, to two-point-two billion dollars. Oshkosh has been losing defense business as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been winding down. The company said its sales of aerial construction platforms, scissor lifts, and tele-handlers grew by over 15-and-a-half percent in the last quarter. The firm said the demand was caused by higher activity from builders and leasing companies. Oshkosh says it now expects its full-year earnings to be $3.60-to-$3.70 a share, up from its previous estimate of $2.90-to-$3.15. 


A Mukwonago company that makes measuring tools and levels says it’s doing more to go after Chinese firms which make and sell copy-cat products. The Empire Level Manufacturing Company has been in business for 94 years. It invented the leveling tool that’s used today by builders and do-it-yourselfers. Company president Jenni Becker said her firm has spent over a decade fighting Chinese copy-cats. It goes in spurts, and Becker says there’s been a resurgence in copyright thefts over the past two years. Empire has issued dozens of cease-and-desist letters to Chinese manufacturers – and the U.S. distributors and stores which handle the products. She said Empire has also recovered legal fees in certain cases, but it can be hard to trace the manufacturing culprits because they operate under a variety of names. Becker said most retailers are cooperative once they learn that they’re selling counterfeit items.


Final approval has been given to the sale of a corn-based ethanol plant near Oshkosh. Stockholders of Ace Ethanol in Stanley have agreed to buy the shuttered Utica Energy plant, which closed last fall after being 30-million dollars in debt. The purchase price is $16.5 million dollars for the 60-million-gallon Utica facility. A Winnebago County judge approved Ace’s bid on July 11th. The sale was part of bankruptcy proceedings involving Renew Energy and Olsen’s Mill. Ace Ethanol expects to re-open the Oshkosh plant this fall, and re-name it “Fox Valley Ethanol.” Ace opened its Stanley plant in 2002, and company officials expect the Oshkosh plant to be profitable in a relatively short amount of time. Wisconsin now has nine ethanol production facilities.   


A former central Wisconsin girls’ high school basketball coach and his wife have been ordered to stand trial, for committing perjury on the witness stand in a previous case. 56-year-old Rory McKellips of Mosinee was charged with perjury and bail jumping – both felonies – as he awaits sentencing for using a computer to facilitate a sex crime and obstructing police. A Marathon County jury found him guilty of those charges on June 29th, while finding him innocent on two other sex charges in the molesting of an Athens girls’ basketball player in 2011. The new charges accuse McKellips and his 57-year-old wife Constance of lying to that jury about the condition of the coach’s private area – something the victim contradicted. Rory McKellips has a bond hearing a week from today on his two new counts. Constance McKellips is due back in court August 13th for a pre-trial conference. She’s free on a $2,500. Rory McKellips won a state title during a 16-year tenure at Mosinee High School before going to Wisconsin Valley Lutheran for a year, and then to Athens. 


A Milwaukee man has been sentenced to 21 months in prison on a bank fraud conviction tied a scheme connected with sub-prime mortgages. Federal Judge Lynn Adelman (ay’-dle-man) gave 34-year-old Randez Long a term that was only a-third of the minimum sentencing guideline of 63 months. Long must also spend three years on a supervised release once he leaves prison. He was also told to pay $984,000 in restitution. Authorities said Long bought properties in the names of his relatives, and he arranged mortgages for more than the actual purchase prices. Long did not make payments on the mortgages and later arranged short sales. A plea agreement listed one case in which Long bought a house for $44,000, then got a $73,000 loan in his sister’s name. About $38,000 from the loan eventually went to a company that was owned by Long. He tried to convince the judge that he was a victim to others who pulled strings in the mortgage fraud scheme. The prosecutor and the judge didn’t buy that. Prosecutor Matt Jacobs said money was consistently going to Long and his businesses.


A Madison man has pleaded innocent to drugging women, and molesting and photographing them while they were unconscious and nude. The attorney for 28-year-old Brian Stowe entered pleas yesterday to 62 felony charges in Dane County Circuit Court. Thirty-three counts are for second-degree sexual assault, 27 for capturing nude images without the subjects’ consent, and two charges are for possessing recordings of non-consensual nudity. Stowe is due back in court Sept. 5. Prosecutors said he drugged and assaulted seven women – six of them co-workers at a Verona software company. Stowe was arrested at work on May 31st. He also faces a federal charge of producing child pornography with a 17-year-old girl.   


A $200,000 cash bond was set yesterday for a western Wisconsin woman accused of drugging her boyfriend’s young daughter to death. 22-year-old Amanda Butts of Fairchild is due back in court next Monday, when a judge will decide if there’s enough evidence to put her on trial for first-degree reckless homicide. 22-month-old Alexis Behlke died June 22nd at a hospital in Osseo, where Butts lived before moving to Fairchild recently. Trempealeau County prosecutors said Butts was caring for the youngster while her boyfriend was at work. Officials said Alexis had cuts and bruises on her face and forehead, and she was given a mix of allergy medication and a prescription pain-killer. Authorities said Butts first claimed that she gave Alexis anything but Children’s Tylenol. She claimed that the bruises were caused by removing part of a peanut butter sandwich from the girl’s mouth.


Two young girls reported missing in Milwaukee over the weekend have been found safe-and-sound. Police said last night that 13-year-old Sanaria Norwood was located – but they did not give other details. The other girl, 11-year-old Kiara Miller, was found late Sunday night by her father while she was crossing Milwaukee’s 27th Street Viaduct. Both girls were last seen Saturday afternoon, when they were heading to Washington Park to play. They were supposed to be home by eight Saturday night, but they didn’t make it. Family members then started searching for the girls.