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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: U.S. Senate changes filibuster rules

WASHINGTON D.C. - U.S. Senate Democrats, in a historic rule change, strip Republicans of the ability to block judicial and executive branch nominees from the White House. The move comes as a surprise to UW political scientist David Canon, who notes Senators have talked about doing this in the past, but always brokers a deal. Democrats, exasperated by Republican delay on appeals court nominees, changed the balance of power by reducing number of votes needed to end the procedural roadblocks. The change does not apply to Supreme Court nominees - although Republican promise to extend it there if they regain control of the Senate.


 A group founded by former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold has announced the formation of a political action committee, with the goal of defeating Governor Scott Walker in the upcoming election. Progressives United made the announcement, saying the state PAC will also aim at supporting “future progressive leaders” and return the state Senate under Democratic control. The group has already endorsed gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke. A spokesperson for the group says the decision was based on feedback from its members that state government has a larger impact on their lives than the federal government. 


Wisconsin's unemployment rate is the lowest since late 2008, when the Great Recession was just starting to build momentum.  State officials said today that the seasonally-adjusted jobless rate for October was six-and-a-half percent, down one-tenth of a point from September.  Wisconsin's new rate is just under a percent lower than the national figure of seven-point-three.  Preliminary numbers show that Wisconsin added six-thousand manufacturing jobs last month, 43-hundred retail posts, and 25-hundred educational and health jobs.  However, those figures are based on only a small percentage of employer surveys.  Governor Walker's administration takes more stock in federal quarterly reports that survey virtually all employers, but don't get a lot of publicity because they have a time lag of several months.  Today, the state said it told federal officials that Wisconsin created just under 24-thousand private sector jobs during the year ending in June.  Manufacturing, the state's biggest job sector, lost 119 positions during the year.  Also, we don't know yet how Wisconsin's overall job increase compares to other states.  We'll find out next month, when the national Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages is released.


 As it stands now, two state employee unions will not be officially recognized next year, after both voted against re-certifying.  However, one of those unions filed suit, claiming it did not have to hold its election.  That group consists of correctional officers who were given its first official status less than four months ago.  Dane County Circuit Judge John Albert said he wanted to know the election results before deciding whether the vote should have been held -- so that union's status remains up in the air.  The other union losing its official status is an education unit of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.  The annual re-certification votes are part of the Act-10 collective bargaining limits passed in 2011.  The law made it harder to re-certify, because 51-percent of all members must vote yes.  Before, just over 50-percent of those voting could re-certify -- so those who don't vote are counted as voting no.  Three other state unions said yes to staying in existence for another year -- the Association of State Prosecutors, the State Attorneys Association, and the state Building Trades organization.  The state unions remain under the requirements of Act-10, while the law's on hold for local government and school employees as a lawsuit gets appealed.


Three unnamed plaintiffs say the state has no authority to hire a special prosecutor for the current John Doe probe into campaign fund-raising for the state's recall elections.  The "Daily Caller," a conservative Internet news outlet, said the prosecutor's authority is one reason that the John Doe probe should be halted.  The report said there were other reasons, but the "Daily Caller" report did not name them.  Media reports said prosecutor Francis Schmitz has subpoenaed records from dozens of conservative groups, to check their fund-raising procedures for the Wisconsin recall elections in 2011-and-2012 that targeted Governor Scott Walker and numerous state senators of both parties.  The lawsuit to halt the John Doe probe became known earlier this week, after a new judge confirmed that he was presiding over the secret investigation.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says prosecutors are determining whether conservative groups illegally coordinated with Republican candidates during the recall drives.  The petitions to halt the John Doe probe are sealed, and one of the plaintiffs' lawyers has asked to keep it that way.  


 The IRS is investigating a charity run by former Green Bay Packers' All-Pro safety LeRoy Butler.  Gannett Wisconsin Media said the government wants to know why Butler only made one annual filing, even though it's been raising money for more than a decade.  Gannett said the LeRoy Butler Foundation has not filed a report with the IRS since 2002, even though it kept raising funds through this year.  A scholarship fund started in 2009 lost its tax-exempt status after Butler's foundation had not filed its returns by 2012.  A short-form filing from 2011 was the only one submitted for the scholarship fund.  The 45-year-old Butler played for the Packers from 1990 through 2001, and he won a Super Bowl ring in the 1996 season.  Butler has not commented to reporters.  On social media, Butler said he was doing an independent review -- and a media report made him look "money hungry" when he was only trying to help people.  Gannett published a story earlier this week about athletes' charities that don't report expenses and returns correctly.  The foundation said almost a week ago it would shut down after a final fund-raising cruise next February.


 The Quad/Graphics printing plant in Lomira is getting back to work this afternoon, after a late morning fire that was quickly put out.  Early reports said there was an explosion-and-fire which started in a paper storage room on the east side of the two-million square foot plant, that stretches along Highway 41 about 10 miles south of Fond du Lac.  Quad spokeswoman Claire Ho said fire-fighters were called, but employees and the building's sprinkler system had the flames out quickly.  Ho said early this afternoon that the building was open again -- and as soon as the water was cleaned up, operations would resume.  No injuries were reported, and officials said all the employees were accounted for.  Quad-Graphics is one of the nation's largest printers, and the Lomira plant is the largest printing facility in Wisconsin.  


 The Kohl's department store chain has scrapped plans to build a new quarter-billion-dollar headquarters facility in Menomonee Falls.   Instead, the firm said today it would buy two vacant existing buildings near its current headquarters in Menomonee Falls.  Kohl's did not say why it moved toward a less-expensive expansion plan.  The Journal Sentinel said it might be because of Kohl's recent report of lower sales, and quarterly earnings that were 18-percent less than a year ago.  Kohl's said it would convert the former Innoware plant -- a 300-thousand-square foot structure -- into a new information technology facility.  Also, Kohls is buying a 28-thousand square foot building, and will use it for an expanded employee wellness center.  That stucture used to be owned by the Pro-Health medical firm.  Kohl's did not say what it would pay for either building.  The firm said it would continue operating its three other facilities in the Milwaukee area which house offices, a credit center, and a photo studio. 


The former owner of the Golden Guernsey Dairy in Waukesha has been told to pay over a-million dollars to those left without jobs when the plant closed in January with no notice.  The state Department of Workforce Development has ruled that Open Gate Capital owes $335,000 in wages that 112 people had earned.  The firm also owes what the employees would have made had Golden Guernsey given 60 days notice of its closure, as required by Wisconsin's plant closing law.  The sudden shutdown caused school officials in southeast Wisconsin to scramble during a weekend to find new suppliers for their students' milk.  Golden Guernsey filed for bankruptcy in January.  It has 10 days to appeal the state's finding, and Open Gate Capital has not said what it would do.  The Waukesha plant was sold in May to Lifeway Foods of suburban Chicago for almost seven-and-a-half million dollars.  That firm says it plans to re-open the plant by the end of this year, and rehire at least some of those who worked there before.


 A semi-truck driver was hospitalized in critical condition at last word, after a deer jumped into his rig in northwest Wisconsin.  35-year-old Jacob Haas of Chetek was taken to Regions' Hospital in Saint Paul after the crash.  It occurred Tuesday afternoon on Hwy. 8 just east of Turtle Lake.  Barron County authorities and the State Patrol are still investigating.  Officials said Haas was driving for the Jennie-"O" turkey firm when a car was approaching and they ran into a group of deer.  The car driver, an 18-year-old Chippewa Falls woman, struck a deer and suffered minor injuries.  Haas was hurt when a broke his windshield on the driver's side.  It was not immediately known if the same animal was involved. 


A Manitowoc man suspected of starting a road-rage chase that ended with a fatal hit-and-run crash is free-on-bond.  22-year-old Shawn Lischka was released from jail after posting five-thousand-dollars.  A judge ordered him not to drive, or have any contact with the survivors of the crash.  19-year-old Eric Neuman of Two Rivers was killed in the incident.  A 16-year-old boy in Neuman's pick-up truck had minor injuries.   Two other men in the truck were not hurt.  It happened late Tuesday night, when Neuman and the other three went to a factory in Manitowoc, apparently to settle a score with Lischka.  Police said a fight did not break out at the plant, but Lischka left to chase the four men in Neuman's pick-up.  Police said Lischka sideswiped the truck and kept going.  The truck hit a guard-rail and stopped.  Charges against Lischka are pending.


A Milwaukee father and son faces several charges in an alleged sex trafficking ring. 45-year-old David Moore and 22-year-old Najee Moore have been federally indicted on 11 counts related to the case. According to court records, the duo are accused of trafficking young teenage girls in 2008 and from 2011 to 2013. Investigators also learned of a six-page letter written in 2011 to Najee from his father in prison, instructing him on how to run his prostitution ring. If convicted on all counts, each of them could face the possibility of life in prison.


Authorities in Racine County said at least one person died early this morning in a house fire in Mount Pleasant.  At last word, firefighters could not enter the house because of its structural damage -- however, officials said a body could be seen on the basement floor.  Units were called around three this morning.  The South Shore Fire Department and Mount Pleasant Police are investigating.