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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Ho-Chunk casino expansion to create 320 jobs

WISCONSIN DELLS - The Ho-Chunk Indian tribe will spend $144-million for improvements at four of its casinos throughout Wisconsin.  

Various expansions and upgrades are planned at the tribe's two largest gaming houses at Wisconsin Dells and Black River Falls.  A hotel, conference center, and more gambling space will be added to the tribe's smallest full-fledged casino near Nekoosa -- plus a hotel and conference center at the newest Ho-Chunk location near Wittenberg.  Tribal officials say the work will begin this fall, with parking ramps to be added first at each site.  The governor's office confirms that state approval will not be needed, since the casinos are on tribal-owned property and they appear to be in line with the Ho-Chunk's current gaming agreement with the state. Almost 320 total jobs would be added at the four properties.


Would you want your home town to secede from the United States?  Your state legislator is most likely against that.  Fifty state Assembly Republicans are urging their party's convention delegates to reject a proposed GOP platform plank that would not only allow Wisconsin to secede from the U.S. -- but to reject any federal laws the state chooses, like Obama-care.  It's one of 23 resolutions up for a vote tomorrow at the State Republican Convention in Milwaukee.  A letter to the delegates was signed by Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington, finance chair John Nygren of Marinette, and 48 other Republicans.  They called the tea party idea a worthless distraction, and said the GOP cannot win elections under those ideals.  The letter said the secessionist movement gives up on the American idea -- and they ask how different the country would be today if Abraham Lincoln allowed the southern states to withdraw.   


Wisconsin continues to have fewer but larger dairy farms.  That's according to data released this afternoon from the latest U-S Census of Agriculture.  Around 10,400 dairy farms were operating in the Badger State in 2012 -- 2,600 less than five years earlier. Meanwhile, Wisconsin added 20,000 cows during that time period, as more mega-farms settled in.  The census reported a total of 1,270,000 dairy cows as of 2012.  The agricultural census is taken every five years, to make sure farmers get their proper federal aid and programs.  Officially, a dairy farm is counted only if its main business is to produce milk.  But the census showed that around 1,500 farms had dairy cows while putting an emphasis on another aspect of production.


Relatives of a mentally ill man held a rally today at a park in downtown Milwaukee where the man was shot-and-killed by a police officer.  Dontre Hamilton's family cried for him, placed stuffed animals on the park's monument, and called on police and the government to do more to help the mentally ill.  Officials said Hamilton got into a scuffle Wednesday with an officer who was called to check him out.  Hamilton reportedly grabbed the officer's baton and hit him in the head before the officer fired up to ten shots and killed him.  Dontre's brother, Nathaniel Hamilton, said he hopes the investigation into the officer's shooting will be done with "truth and honesty."  It's the first test of a new state law which requires outside investigators to look into officer-involved deaths. Until now, Milwaukee Police investigated their own.  


After 14 years, people who go to sporting events at Milwaukee's downtown U.S. Cellular Arena will have to call the place something else.  U.S. Cellular said today it would not renew its naming rights arrangement for the 11,000 seat arena where the UW Milwaukee men's basketball team plays -- as well as the Milwaukee Wave soccer team.  It's been informally called "The Cell" since 2000.  In a renewal contract in 2007, the Wisconsin Center District received cash and wireless services totaling $2.4 million dollars.  The current naming rights end on May 31st -- a tough time for the district, as it plans to add a new scoreboard and seat replacements in time for this fall.  U.S. Cellular did not say why it was pulling out -- only that it was doing so after what it called "careful consideration."  


Wisconsin's April showers were a lot wetter than normal.  The National Weather Service said La Crosse received almost twice as much precipitation for the month as normal.  Just over seven inches of rain fell in La Crosse during April -- about three-point-seven inches above the norm.  Almost an-inch-and-a-quarter fell in one day in La Crosse, on April 13th.  That broke a rainfall record for the date which stood for 102 years.  A lingering cold front has kept things cool and rainy for much of the week throughout Wisconsin.  It's supposed to partially clear up tonight and tomorrow -- but there are continued chances of rain in the forecast at least through next Tuesday, with a warm-up into the 60's on Monday.


We keep hearing about new after-effects from the brutal winter.  Now, state officials are trying to see if they can get federal disaster aid -- at least for government problems like infrastructure damage and overtime for street-and-water workers.  Marathon County Emergency Management Director Steve Hagman says the state has approached officials in each county, to see if they can get damage and overtime estimates.  Hagman says the statewide cost has been significant considering all the road damage, frozen water pipes, and other effects from some of the heaviest snow in years and wind-chills that got as low as 55-below.  Hagman says it's a real long shot to get disaster aid.  He said the last time there was a federal cold weather declaration was in Michigan in 1994.  If Washington does approve this, it would pay up to 75-percent of repairs and extra staffing costs.  In 2011, federal disaster aid was approved for ten southern Wisconsin hit by the "Groundhog Blizzard."  Up to 26-inches of snow fell around Groundhog Day, and four people were killed.


The nation's first lawsuit that accused Tesla Motors of making a defective new car has been moved from a Wisconsin state court to a federal court.  That's after the San Francisco area luxury car-maker rejected a settlement offer from the plaintiff, Robert Montgomery of Franklin.  His lawyer, Vince Megna, wanted over $108,000 to settle the Lemon Law complaint.  He said Tesla offered $16,000 less, so the case moves on.  Tesla moved to have the federal courts settle the matter, noting that the parties operate in different states.  It's been assigned to Milwaukee Judge Lynn Adelman.  The lawsuit has drawn national attention, in part of because of Tesla's unique business model that sells cars directly to buyers instead of through dealerships.  Tesla's blog recently noted that Montgomery could have caused some of the problems he cites in his Lemon Law case -- and Megna filed a previous Lemon Law suit targeted against Volvo, which gave him a refund.  Megna alleges that Montgomery's Tesla was in a shop for about two months for problems that included the vehicle not starting.


We've been willing to spend more money on tourist-related things in Wisconsin every year since the Great Recession ended -- and this past year was no exception.  The governor's office said today that Wisconsin travelers spent $10.8 billion dollars in 2013 on things like hotels, restaurants, and other leisure activities.  That's four-and-a-half percent more than the year before -- and 18 percent more since 2010.  State Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett said the past three years have been "outstanding" for tourist-related businesses.  The Philadelphia-based firm of Tourism Economics conducts the annual Wisconsin tourist surveys.  It estimates that leisure travel accounted for 88-percent of all visitor spending in the state last year -- and overnight visitors for both business and pleasure represented two-thirds of the total.  The study found that Wisconsin travel spending supported 131-thousand jobs in 2013.  Milwaukee is always the state's most popular tourist destination -- and the same was true last year.  The Madison area was second followed by Sauk County, which has part of the Wisconsin Dells.  Milwaukee's neighboring county Waukesha was fourth, followed by Brown County -- the home of the Green Bay Packers.


Milwaukee's chief bankruptcy judge has been selected for an open federal district judgeship for the eastern half of Wisconsin.  Pamela Pepper was nominated by President Obama, after being recommended by a state judicial panel headed by U.S. Senators Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison).  The eastern district is based in Milwaukee, with a satellite court facility in Green Bay.  If the Senate confirms her, Pepper would become the first female judge in the Eastern District -- but that's hardly groundbreaking for Wisconsin, since Barbara Crabb has spent 35 years as a federal judge for the western half of the state.  Pepper has been a federal bankruptcy judge in Milwaukee for the last nine years.  Before that was a federal prosecutor, a criminal defense lawyer, and a clerk for a federal appeals judge.