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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Assembly GOP caucus replaces Kramer with Strachota as majority leader

MADISON -Wisconsin Assembly Republicans elected Pat Strachota of West Bend this afternoon as their new majority leader.  She replaces Bill Kramer of Waukesha, who was removed from the post earlier today amid allegations that he groped a female legislative staffer and made lewd remarks to a woman lobbyist last week.  

The 58-year-old Strachota becomes the first female majority leader in the lower house in Wisconsin history.  This is her 12th year in the Assembly, and she announced recently that she would not seek re-election this fall. Between now and then, Strachota will help get the GOP's priorities approved in the final weeks of the current session.  Then, she'll help Republicans win elections this fall.  The GOP now holds a 60-39 majority in the Assembly.  Meanwhile, Speaker Robin Vos (R-Bulrington) says Kramer should not run for re-election to his Assembly seat this fall, although the choice is up to him as to whether he'll resign.  Kramer has registered as a candidate, along with Libertarian Chuck Schilling.  Vos also said actions would be taken to protect anyone who feels uncomfortable around Kramer, should he return to the Capitol.  He checked into a treatment facility last weekend, and there's no word on when he would be released.


The Wisconsin State Senate's mining committee has scheduled a vote for tomorrow on a controversial bill to protect existing frac-sand mines from unexpected regulations.  Mining panels from both houses held a joint hearing on the measure yesterday.  At least one supporter doubted the ability of local governments to properly keep tabs on the industry.  Critics cited a loss of local control, and the inability of communities to keep their regulations abreast with future technology.  Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst said he was concerned that local governments don't over-regulate frac-sand mines to the point that they'll leave.  He also wanted tighter limits on regulating future mines -- but as a compromise, he gave that up so existing mines won't have to worry about local rule changes down the road.


Should you be able to smoke electronic cigarettes while you're out for dinner?  State lawmakers will explore that question this afternoon, when they hold a hearing on a bill to exempt e-cigarettes from the statewide indoor public smoking ban.  State Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend first proposed the exemption late last year.  Assembly Republican John Jagler of Watertown has drafted a similar bill in his house.  Wisconsin's statewide smoking ban from 2010 does not single-out e-cigarettes, and Grothman wants them legalized before opponents can organize a bid to ban them.  The American Lung Association said in January it planned to oppose the bill.  The Assembly State Affairs Committee is holding today's hearing.  


A Milwaukee man is about to get one step closer to being compensated by the state, for spending 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.  The state Assembly State Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing this afternoon on a bill to pay Robert Stinson at least $115,000.  He was convicted of raping and killing a Milwaukee woman in 1984, and was freed five years ago after another man confessed.  The State Claims Board approved the maximum it could allocate -- $25,000 -- and it urged lawmakers to grant more.  Stinson asked for $115,000, so the proposed Assembly bill would add $90,000 to what the Claims Board okayed.  When the Senate approved the compensation a few weeks ago, West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman arranged to add another $21,000  in a last-minute amendment -- for a total payment of $136,000.


The Saint Louis College of Pharmacy is offering a $10,000 dollar reward for information leading to the killer of a student from Waukesha.  20-year-old Nicholas Kapusniak was shot early Saturday during a Mardi Gras party in a Saint Louis neighborhood.  Police said he was standing with friends in a backyard when a vehicle drove by, and one of its occupants fired shots into the crowd.  The school says its reward adds to a one-thousand-dollar reward offered by the local Crime-Stoppers' program.  The College of Pharmacy is planning a candle-light vigil, plus a memorial service when Kapusniak's parents can be there.  Police say they have interviewed people and canvassed the neighborhood for information, but no arrests have been made.  Kapusniak graduated from Waukesha Catholic Memorial High School in 2011.  He was in the third year of a six-year pharmacy program at Saint Louis.


A 37-year-old Appleton man is facing charges, after he got into a 45-mile high-speed chase that damaged two squad cars.  It all began around 7:30 last night, when authorities said they learned of a reckless driver heading south on the Highway 41 expressway in Winnebago County.  State troopers and a Fond sheriff's deputy tried stopping the vehicle just west of Fond du Lac -- but the driver kept going and so did the chase.  Authorities said the offending vehicle struck the deputy's squad car and caused it to roll over.  The 46-year-old officer was treated at a hospital and later released.  Meanwhile, the chase kept going south of Fond du Lac and into Dodge County before another Fond du Lac County sheriff's car struck the suspect and ended the chase.  The suspect was then taken into custody without being hurt.


A 20-year-old man has pleaded innocent to causing a traffic death while driving drunk in Manitowoc County.  Codi Olson waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and he entered pleas to felony counts of O-W-I homicide, and causing death while driving with a suspended license.  Authorities said Olson's vehicle slammed into another on Highway 10 in Manitowoc Rapids on February 16th.  26-year-old Derek Waterman died.  Olson's lawyer asked that a five-thousand-dollar bond be reduced in half, claiming he's not a risk of leaving and missing future court appearances.  Circuit Judge Gary Bendix said no to the request.


Prosecutors failed today to send a Milwaukee man to a state prison for 15 years, for voting twice in the 2012 presidential contest.  56-year-old Leonard Brown was given two years of probation, which includes nine months in the Milwaukee County jail with work release privileges.  Defense lawyer Christopher Hartley told the judge it was "outrageous" that prosecutors considered the offenses bad enough to order prison time.  The attorney said Brown was being snapped up in the political debate over Wisconsin's stalled voter ID law, and his criminal case was the wrong place for that.  Brown pleaded guilty last fall to five counts of voting in West Milwaukee for various elections after he stopped living there.  A jury convicted him in January for double-voting, and making false statements to an election worker.  Prosecutor Bruce Landgraf recommended 12-hundred dollars in fines.  But the judge rejected that, saying Brown already had to pay 250-dollars for each of the seven counts to have his DNA in the state's criminal data-base.


Menomonee Falls has a lot to brag about.  The northwest Milwaukee suburb has been rated the 62nd-safest community with more than 25,000 residents.  The Neighborhood Scout Web site came up with the list, based on FBI crime data from 2012.  Police Chief Anna Ruzinski said Menomonee Falls is the only Wisconsin community that made the Top-100.  The village's violent crime rate was only one-tenth the national average, while property crimes were about a-third of the norm.  Ruzinski told village trustees that she credits the low crime rate to quote, "the hard work of the Menomonee Falls Police Department, and the way we interact with the community."


A former Wisconsin secretary-of-state has been honored by her hometown of Milwaukee.  The Common Council passed a resolution this morning in honor of Vel Phillips, after she turned 90 on February 18th.  Phillips became the first woman and the first African-American to be elected to the Milwaukee council in 1956.  In 1967, she fought for a year to have the council pass a fair housing ordinance -- and it got done in '68.  Three years later, Phillips became first woman to serve as a judge in Milwaukee.  In '78, Phillips was elected Wisconsin's secretary-of-state -- and she became the first female and African-American to hold a statewide constitutional office.  She served one four-year term in that post.  Today, Phillips was led to the Council president's chair where she asked, "Where's the gavel" to a round of laughs and warm applause.  Also today, the Milwaukee council honored its former president Willie Hines.  He served 18 years as an alderman, before he became the associate director of Milwaukee's Housing Authority last month.