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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: State Supreme Court hears arguments on Act 10

MADISON - The Wisconsin Supreme Court took longer than expected today to hear arguments on whether Act-10 is unconstitutional for local government and school unions.  The justices only budgeted 90 minutes to hear both sides -- but it took the state an-hour-and-45 minutes to defend the law which virtually ended most collective bargaining. 

The unions began making their case after lunch.  This is the first time the Supreme Court is hearing Act-10 on its merits.  The last time it was before the court, the question was whether the Legislature broke the state's Open Meeting Law in passing it.  The court said the lawmakers acted legally.  Some of the state's arguments today dealt with the importance of having local unions hold their annual re-certification elections if Act-10 is found to be constitutional.  They said the time period is running out for those votes.  Justice officials said the votes could still be held this year if the court acted quickly.  On Friday, the justices voted 4-3 that the unions which won a contempt order against the holding of the elections, could not participate in today's arguments.  That's because those unions were not involved in the original lawsuit -- which was filed by Madison Teachers and a Milwaukee city union.


Governor Scott Walker said today he wants a more in-depth review of the proposed Kenosha casino, to try and maximize job creation.  In a statement, the Republican Walker said he wants Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch to begin extensive discussions with the tribes because quote, "creating more jobs is my No. 1 priority."  Walker said he wanted to create jobs without losing jobs elsewhere in the state.  He also said the administration should focus on the criteria he originally developed for the proposed Menominee-Hard Rock Casino-Resort.  That means it must be approved by the state's 11 Indian tribes, have community support, and new result in new net gaming in Wisconsin.  The Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk tribes oppose the project, even though the Menominee says it has promised to mitigate any losses from the other tribes' casinos.  Walker did not say when he plans to make a decision.  He told reporters in Glendale today he's quote, "trying to get a win-win and taking the time to do that."  Potawatomi attorney general Jeff Crawford said he expects Walker's review to show that the Kenosha casino does not meet his criteria and is not quote, "in the best interests of Wisconsin."


Governor Scott Walker says he does not want any of the parties interested in the Kenosha casino project to give him campaign money.  However, he stopped short today of saying he would refuse such donations.  The Republican Walker has the final decision over the Menominee tribe's proposed Hard Rock casino-and-resort in Kenosha.  Supporters say it will create thousands of jobs and bring in more visitors from Illinois -- while opponents say it will take both jobs and revenue away from other Indian casinos in southern Wisconsin.  Today, Walker asked the administration department to do an in-depth review of the jobs issue.  He told reporters in Milwaukee the best thing the tribes can do with their money is to supply information to help him make an informed decision.  Walker said TV ads that urge him to decide one-way-or-the-other would not be helpful.


A Wisconsin State Senate committee will decide tomorrow morning whether to recommend the legalizing of raw milk sales.  The Senate's rural issues panel is scheduled to take a vote on a bill from West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman.  The measure has attracted support from lawmakers of both parties -- but the prospects of approval are far from certain.  For one thing, tomorrow is the end of the full Senate's deliberations for the year -- which means that the raw milk bill would most likely have to wait until January.  Also, Republican Governor Scott Walker has said he wants to be sure that raw milk does not harm the state's multi-billion-dollar dairy industry.  The bill's supporters say raw milk has its own health benefits, and is totally safe.  Opponents say it's a risk not to pasteurize milk.  Former Governor Jim Doyle vetoed similar raw milk legislation in 2010.  That was after the dairy industry convinced him that even one disease outbreak would damage Wisconsin's reputation as America's Dairyland. 


Starting tomorrow, the state will mail paper applications to the 77,000 Wisconsinites who must apply for Obamacare because they're losing Badger-Care.  Those people -- like millions of others -- have had problems using the Web site for the federal insurance exchange,  Deputy health services secretary Kevin Moore tells the Oshkosh Northwestern that people are succeeding with applications on paper, or over the phone.  That's why they'll send the application forms, an explanation of all the options for applying, plus a list of local people who can help with the application process.  The state will spend almost $125,000 to mail the extra forms.  Last week, a number of health advocacy groups asked Governor Scott Walker what his backup plan is, if the people he moved into the exchanges cannot get coverage by the deadline of December 15th.  Gov. Walker chose not to accept federal Medicaid funds to cover Badger-Care recipients making up to 138-percent of the federal poverty level.  Among other things, he said it would create more room for poor people who really need the coverage.  Moore says he has faith that the problems with the Obamacare Web site would be resolved this month as the White House has promised.  Moore did not say if the state has a back-up if that doesn't happen.  


Wisconsin did not have to look far to find its new chief conservation warden.  Todd Schaller, a 24-year veteran of the DNR's warden service, was named today to replace Randy Stark.  Stark is retiring next month after 30 years with the DNR, the last 11 as the head of its law enforcement bureau.  DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp made the announcement today.  Stepp said she had a tough decision among several well-qualified candidates.  Schaller said he was honored, and he's eager to begin his new role.  Schaller is a native of Bangor, near La Crosse, and he's a graduate of UW-Stevens Point.  He started his DNR career in 1989 as a field warden and spent 12 years at various locations.  He then became a supervisor for the Oshkosh Warden team for eight years.  For the past four years, Schaller has been the DNR's chief of recreation enforcement-and-education.  


Milwaukee's police chief said today that a man who was shot-to-death by officers had tried to car-jack a driver this morning in the city's downtown.  Ed Flynn said investigators were still trying to identify the suspect at last word.  It all began around seven o'clock, when a 56-year-old driver stopped at an intersection.  Chief Flynn said the alleged car-jacker tried opening a locked passenger side door.  The driver got startled and pulled away, and the suspect fired a single shot at the vehicle and missed.  The driver then circled back and gave officers a description of the man -- and three officers found him in the nearby Milwaukee County Transit Center.  Flynn said the man ignored officers' orders to drop his gun -- and when he acted in a threatening manner, officers shot him an unspecified number of times.  The chief said the investigation is continuing.  He also said it's rare to have a shooting in downtown Milwaukee -- because it's one of the safest areas of the city.  The three officers involved were placed on administrative leave for now.


At least 20 lawsuits have now been filed against Milwaukee Police, for allegedly using illegal strip-searches to try and find evidence.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said many of the lawsuits involved cavity searches by former Milwaukee officer Michael Vagnini.  He's serving 26 months in prison for those actions.  One lawsuit from Joe Bohannon accused Bagnini of pulling his vehicle over, and conducting a strip search in which the officer pulled a plastic bag of cocaine from Bohannon's rear cavity.  The plaintiff said officers kicked-and-beat him when he tried escaping.  Also, a new lawsuit last week accused a female officer of groping a girl's genital area in 2011 to look for illegal drugs.  


We Energies has started using wood and sawdust to make electricity near Wausau.  The utility said today that it fired up its new bio-mass plant at the Domtar paper mill in Rothschild last Friday.  Things like waste wood and sawdust are expected to produce about 50 megawatts of power.  It will also provide steam for the paper mill's usage.  We Energies said the facility cost almost 300-million dollars.  CEO Gale Klappa said it will allow the utility to produce renewable energy on demand -- which is not possible with solar-or-wind power.  The new plant is designed to make We Energies fall in line with the state's requirement of producing just over eight-percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015.


Saint Norbert College in De Pere is one of the first in the nation to develop a program that gives students credit for volunteering for a year, before they start on campus.  Saint Norbert is working with the Good News Project, a humanitarian non-profit group, on creating a formal "gap year" -- the time after a student graduates from high school, and before the start of college.  European students often have "gap years" in which they're encouraged to travel or pursue personal interests.  The idea is to arrive at college more refreshed, and more focused on their studies.  Saint Norbert president Thomas Kunkel tells Gannett Wisconsin Media that its one-year gap would provide quote, "a journey of self-discovery, even as it helps prepare these students for college and work-life."  As part of the program, Saint Norbert's income freshmen could take leadership course, volunteer with service groups, and then six weeks on an international service project with the "Good News" organization.  It offers humanitarian aid to several Caribbean countries.  Students would earn college credits for their work.  


Folks in central and southern Wisconsin are seeing their first real snow of the season today -- while up north, it's old hat.  Gile in Iron County already had two inches on the ground before another two-and-a-half came down by 9:45 this morning.  Upson in Iron County picked up two inches.  That's part of the Lake Superior Snow Belt, which has had light snow on-and-off for a couple weeks.  Central and southern areas may have had some flurries -- but many places have not seen their grass covered with snow until this morning.  It's hardly enough to bring out the snow-blowers just yet -- most parts of the state expect no more than an inch.  A couple inches were predicted for northern areas.  Mother Nature will keep blowing much of it away.  Wind gusts were as high as 29-miles-an-hour at Sturgeon Bay at 10 a.m.  The National Weather Service warned boaters of strong shifting winds on Lake Michigan from Sheboygan to a few miles past the Wisconsin-Illinois line.  Most parts of the state can expect highs in the 20's today and tomorrow.  A slight warming trend is due in Wednesday, with highs possibly reaching the upper-30's.


An eastern Wisconsin man who died while chopping down a tree was identified today as 73-year-old Lee Fischer of Whitelaw.  The Manitowoc County coroner said Fischer died from chest and spinal cord injuries.  Foul play is not suspected.  The mishap took place on Saturday morning in the town of Franklin.  Fischer died later at a hospital.


A five-year-old Kenosha boy has survived an attack by a pit bull.  The youngster was hospitalized in stable condition at last word with a deep wound to the back of his head, plus injuries to neck, shoulder, and upper back.  Police said the boy's family was watching the pit bull for its owner, when the dog forced the child to go face down while being bit on the back of his head.  His mother pried the dog's teeth from her son's head, but the dog then bit into one of the boy's shoulders.  She pulled the dog off, and chained it up before calling 911.  The dog was taken to Kenosha's Safe Harbor Humane Society.  


Here's something the police don't get too often -- a complaint that somebody's snoring too loudly.  It happened early this morning in Waukesha.  According to the MIlwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Waukesha-Now Web site, man called 911 around 4:20 a.m., and asked an officer to remove a woman because she was snoring.  Police said the man sounded intoxicated, and he claimed at first he didn't know how the woman entered his apartment.  He then admitted to a dispatcher that he invited the woman in, they drank together, they quote, "had relations," and she fell asleep.  He said he couldn't wake up the woman, so he called police.  It was determined that she had sleep apnea.  The solution?  The man agreed to sleep on the couch, and work out the issue in the morning.