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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Mass transit riding up except in Wisconsin

The number of Americans riding mass transit is the highest since 1956, but Wisconsin is bucking that trend.  The American Public Transportation Association said riders nationally took almost ten-point-seven billion trips on public buses, trains, and subways last year.  That's up one-percent from 2012.  Statewide figures for Wisconsin were not part of the report, but it did say that Milwaukee County buses attracted two-percent fewer riders last year, for a total of 43-million.  

The new data also shows that ridership was down in Racine and Port Washington, and up a little in Madison.  Racine transit manager Al Stanek blames a ten-percent cut in the state's transit aid in 2012.  He said Racine had to increase fares and reduce services.  Stanek said Racine's mid-day bus service was cut to one run per hour.  A federal grant helped Milwaukee County avoid such reductions, but a spokesman for County Executive Chris Abele  said the system has been cutting service and raising fares for a decade. The head of Milwaukee's Public Policy Forum, Rob Henken, says Wisconsin discourages mass transit by commuters with a lack of express bus lanes and rapid transit.  The current state budget does increase mass transit funds by four-percent next year, with additional increases to serve elderly and disabled riders.


At least three people were killed in Wisconsin snowmobile crashes this weekend, including a fire-fighter from the western part of the state.  As of mid-morning, 20-year-old Brandon Semingson of Eleva was the only victim who was publicly identified.  Chippewa County authorities said he was riding with three others when his machine left a trail and hit a tree on Friday night near Chippewa Falls in the town of Wheaton.  Semingson was a member of the Eleva Fire Department.  State DNR investigators said high speed was a factor.  Also, a 56-year-old man was killed Saturday night in Sawyer County.  The DNR said his machine was going fast when it went airborne and crashed onto Spider Lake.  Investigators said alcohol and the high speed were possible factors.  A 51-year-old man was killed late yesterday afternoon on a Bayfield County snowmobile trail.  Officials said the man's machine struck a tree just before getting to a curve -- and speed and alcohol were possible factors.  At least 21 people have now died in Wisconsin snowmobile crashes this winter.


f you're looking for a job, your chances of finding one in Wisconsin could improve greatly over the next three months.  A quarterly survey by Milwaukee's Manpower Incorporated shows that 21-percent more companies plan to add employees from April through June than those expecting layoffs.  Manpower calls that difference the "net employment outlook," and Wisconsin is the nation's fourth-highest.  North Dakota has the highest net improvement at 25-percent, followed by Alaska and Utah.  In Metro Milwaukee, the Manpower survey calls for a 22-percent net employment outlook.  Twenty-seven percent of Milwaukee area firms plan to add workers this spring, while five-percent expect layoffs.  Sixty-six percent expect no changes, and two-percent are undecided.  Chris Layden of Manpower says companies are getting more comfortable operating in quote, "an environmental of global uncertainty."  Nationally, Manpower says 13-percent more companies plan to add workers than to lay-off people from April through June.  If the predictions hold true, Wisconsin could see a real turnaround in its job growth.  Federal figures show that the Badger State has created new jobs at only half the national pace in the government's latest quarterly employment census.


Wisconsinites who are about to lose their state-funded health insurance are being reminded to sign up for Obama-care by the end of March.  Claire Smith of the state Health Services agency says there will not be a gap in coverage for those who buy insurance on the federal exchange by March 31st -- three weeks from today.  Otherwise, around 70-thousand people on Badger-Care Plus and the state's Health Insurance Risk-Sharing plan will lose coverage on the first of April.  Concerns have been raised about temporary losses of coverage, but Smith says it won't happen if the affected recipients sign up by the 31st.  Wisconsinites without health coverage are also reminded that they have until Saturday to buy insurance that takes effect April first.  Those signing up in the latter half of March won't get covered until May 1st.


Most, but not all rural Wisconsin school districts have seen drops in their enrollments.  In the central part of the state, places like Stratford, Abbotsford, and the Tomorrow River (Amherst) district have had 15-to-20 percent increases in student populations over the past decade.  A boom in the region's Hispanic population is one reason for the growth.  The Marshfield News-Herald says the Abbotsford district has gained about 100 youngsters -- and almost all of them are attributed to an influx of Hispanic immigrants. Higher enrollments also bring more problems for local school administrators.  They're concerned that the state's revenue limits won't be enough to cover expenses.  Also, they're trying to avoid building costs by fitting more students into existing classroom space.


An investigation continues into a weekend shooting at a dance on the UW-Oshkosh campus.  The Reeve Memorial Union was evacuated late Saturday night.  Police said somebody shot a gun into the air in the dance hall.  Up to 300 people were at the dance, both students and non-students.  Nobody was hurt.  At last word, no arrests were made.


State and local officials are trying to figure out why chunks of concrete fell yesterday morning from an Interstate overpass onto Highway 20 in Sturtevant.   It happened around 10:10 and Racine County officials immediately closed Highway 20 in both directions. No vehicles were struck by the concrete, which fell from an overpass on Interstate-94.  Nobody was hurt.


A former high school teacher charged last month with having a sexual relationship with two students is now accused of having later contact with one of them.  An arrest warrant was issued last Friday for 25-year-old Andy Follen of Spencer -- and he was found and brought into Clark County Circuit Court yesterday.  He's free again after posting a $7,500 cash bond on two felony counts of bail jumping and a misdemeanor count of intimidating a witness.  Follen resigned in late January from Abbotsford High School, where he taught math before the original sex allegations surfaced.  He was charged in early February with five felony counts of sexual assault by a school staffer.  Prosecutors said he later claimed to be with an Eau Claire softball team when he got one of his victims to set up an instant messaging account so the two could chat.  Officials said he later told the girl he loved her, and urged her to call the district attorney's office to ask that his charges be reduced.  Follen is due back in court March 25th for a pre-trial conference on all eight of his charges.____________________________

A central Wisconsin child care provider is due in court a week from Thursday, after she allegedly cut and bruised a baby while spanking her.  Carla Blood of Birnamwood is charged in Marathon County with felony child abuse.  According to prosecutors, a grandfather of the eleven-month-old victim was told that the girl was out of control, and the 45-year-old Blood spanked her because she quoted, "needed discipline."  The grandfather took the girl to a hospital in Antigo.  Police said a doctor found that the injuries came from a foreign object which struck the baby.


A 27-year-old man has pleaded innocent to allegations that he shot and dismembered a Minnesota man in Wausau.  Kou Thao was found mentally competent yesterday to resume his court case, after defense lawyer Steven Kohn said he would not challenge the findings of a third doctor who examined his client.  Marathon County Circuit Judge Michael Moran then ruled there was enough evidence for Thao to stand trial on charges of homicide, hiding a corpse, and illegal firearm possession.  Thao then issued his pleas.  A date for further proceedings was not immediately set.  Thao is charged in the death last spring of 58-year-old Tong Pao Hang of Saint Paul.  Prosecutors said Thao shot Hang between the eyes, cut his head off, and then drove the body parts to Milwaukee where they were found a week after Hang was reported missing.


Six people have been arrested in Madison for a violent home invasion in which the wrong house was apparently targeted.  Police said yesterday that the assailants were armed when they forced their way into a north side Madison residence on February 23rd. Officials said they beat and robbed an innocent couple inside -- and several men sexually-assaulted a woman who was six months' pregnant.  Police said the attack went on for 40-to-50 minutes before the couple went to a nearby business to call 911.  Officials said two of the suspects were later caught on video trying to hide or destroy items stolen in the home invasion.   Dane County's Crime Response Team has been providing services to the victims -- the woman and a 30-year-old man.  Police said they believe the suspects knew they were in the wrong house very early during the ordeal, and they carried it out anyway.  The suspects are all 20-to-23 years old.  Police said they could face numerous charges which include armed robbery and first-degree sexual assault.


A Dane County couple who spanked their children with wooden dowels in accordance with their church teachings will be sentenced May second for child abuse.  A jury convicted 29-year-old Matthew Caminiti of Black Earth last Friday on four felony counts of child abuse, and he was acquitted on another count.  His 27-year-old wife Alina was convicted on all three of her abuse charges.  Matthew is the son of Philip Caminiti, who led the Aleitheia Bible Church.  The church taught parents to strike children on their bare bottoms with wooden dowels in order to teach them proper behavior.  The couple's attorneys said there was no evidence that spankings actually took place.  Their trial was delayed due to constitutional challenges which claimed that the Caminitis had the right to practice religion and discipline their children as they chose.  Several church members were arrested in 2010, and Philip Caminiti was convicted two years later for conspiracy to commit child abuse.


A Dodge County woman cannot see her two young children without supervision, after she was accused of allowing them to live in squalor.  25-year-old Secoy Koch-Miller made her first court appearance yesterday on charges of felony and misdemeanor child neglect.  Authorities said they found her newborn baby and a two-year-old living among mice and human waste last week, in a house in the town of Burnett which has been condemned.  Reports said the toddler was under-weight, and had spiders and bug bites.  The children's grandmother denied to a reporter that the children were neglected, and they were in the process of moving out of a bad situation.  Koch-Miller is due back in court May first for a preliminary hearing.  She's under a one-thousand dollar bond with an order that she not her children without being supervised.  


Classes resumed today at Saint Lawrence Seminary in Fond du Lac County, where a 152-year-old building was destroyed by fire over the weekend.  Fifteen classes were moved to other parts of the Mount Calvary campus in the aftermath of the blaze.  Authorities are still trying to determine what started the fire, which destroyed Saint Joseph Hall at the Catholic boarding school.  The building housed music programs and several classrooms.  The main classroom on the campus is adjacent to Saint Joseph Hall.  It received smoke and water damage.


Two Milwaukee men were killed in separate car crashes which happened the same way on the same day.  Police said both drivers struck trees yesterday.  Investigators said a 26-year-old man left a north side Milwaukee street around 10:30 last night and hit several trees.  He died later at a hospital.  Earlier in the day, a 35-year-old slammed his SUV into a tree on the city's north side.  Both crashes remain under investigation.  Police said speed was an apparent factor in last night's mishap.


A former medical training official at Fort McCoy will become the new head of a state veterans' home in Hot Springs, South Dakota.  Bradley Richardson has worked at the fort's regional medical training site in western Wisconsin since 2010.  Richardson is originally from Aberdeen South Dakota.  He has degrees from three universities, including Viterbo in La Crosse.  South Dakota veterans' affairs secretary Larry Zimmerman says Richardson is well-qualified to lead the Michael Fitzmaurice Veterans' Home.  He has 29 years of experience and leadership in military health care and management.  Richardson will begin his new duties on June 11th.


The immense popularity of the Lake Superior ice caves will pay big dividends this summer for tourism in the Bayfield area.  The local Chamber of Commerce reports an increase in summer lodging reservations.  And officials at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore say they're getting inquiries from kayakers who want to return to the sea-caves this summer.  The National Park Service estimates that over 120-thousand people have seen the ice caves this winter -- normally the same number of visitors at the Apostles for an entire year.  The ice is melting, but the caves are still attracting large numbers of visitors until the ice conditions for hikers change.  This is the first time they've been open to the public since 2009.  This is also the first time they've become a famous attraction, thanks to social media and international news coverage.