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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Joint Finance agrees to give DOT $27 million

MADISON - Highway departments will not have to worry about cutting back on road maintenance this summer.  The state Legislature's Joint Finance Committee agreed today to give the DOT almost $27.5 million dollars.  

It's supposed to cover the state and the counties' extra costs of plowing snow and buying road salt during the brutal winter.  Some counties said they had already spent their entire 2014 snow-and-ice control budgets -- and more.  Without the extra state funding, they feared cutbacks in summer highway maintenance.  The state was forced to buy an extra 150,000 tons of salt at premium prices.  Also today, the finance panel agreed to have the firm of Sun Mountain Kegonsa manage the state's new $25-million-venture capital fund to help new Wisconsin businesses get off the ground.


Criminal charges were expected this afternoon in a stabbing incident in Janesville, allegedly committed by a man tied to at least one separate homicide.  Police confirmed the impending charges today against 28-year-old Clayton Courtney.  They would not say what the charges would be, but Courtney was booked on possible counts of attempted reckless homicide, attempted arson, criminal damage, and disorderly conduct.  The stabbing was reported during a fight at a Janesville home on Sunday night in which he reported claimed he had killed three people that evening.  Investigators then followed up on a report that Courtney was going drink and take drugs with a woman near a downtown Rock River bridge.  Officers later found his girlfriend dead.  They identified her today as 21-year-old Britney Cross.  Preliminary autopsy results showed that she died from blunt force trauma.  Officials said they were looking for evidence of the other two murders Courtney apparently claimed he committed.  Police released a mug shot of Courtney with mud on his face and a frontal tattoo across his shoulders reading "Pure Hate."


Charges are pending against a 56-year-old man who allegedly ran a sophisticated marijuana growing operation at two houses he owns in southwest and northwest Wisconsin.  Vernon County sheriff's deputies said they were tipped off about drug trafficking which involved local high school students.  It led officers the man's residence in Stoddard, where they found processed marijuana, guns, and cash -- and to the man's residential property about 200 miles to the north in Hayward, where a pot-growing operation was found with over 65 plants.  State and regional offices helped Vernon and Sawyer county sheriff's deputies with the case -- which is still under investigation.  More arrests are possible, as at least two more Wisconsin counties have reportedly been linked.  


A state appeals court says Milwaukee schools did the right thing by refusing to give a man public records about an employee he was ordered to stay away from -- and didn't.  33-year-old Korry Ardell sued the state's largest school district, saying the Open Records Law is not supposed to consider a requester's identity in deciding whether to release records.  The First District Court of Appeals in Milwaukee said the public's interest in protecting the employee clearly outweighed giving Ardell what he wanted -- records about the employee's sick leave, disciplinary actions, investigations, and more.  MPS first told Ardell it would release what he wanted, with certain things blacked out -- but once officials contacted the subject of the records, they denied total access.  The appellate court unanimously said Ardell's record puts him into a class of people, like prisoners and mental patients, who are denied the same access to public records that most people get.


A Milwaukee man was given a new trial today, after an appeals court said he was wrongly sent to prison for killing his parents.  Corey Kucharski, who's 39, was convicted of two counts of homicide for shooting Ralph and Pamela Kucharski to death in 2010 in the home where all three had lived.  Corey was found to hire schizophrenia, but Circuit Judge Jean DiMotto refused to accept his insanity plea.  The judge said Kucharski knew what he was doing when he murdered his parents -- but on a 2-to-1 vote this morning, the First District Appellate Court said the defendant was clearly in a psychotic state, and there was no other way his behavior could be explained.  Had the judge ruled Kucharski insane, he would have gone to a mental institution for an indefinite commitment.  Instead, he was given life behind bars.  The state Justice Department tried striking down Kucharski's appeal.  Today, a spokeswoman said the state might ask the Supreme Court to reinstate the prison term.  


Authorities in Madison have released the names of two women who died in a double-stabbing, and the man suspected of killing them who was shot by police.  The Dane County medical examiner's office identified the three this morning as 57-year-old Robin Grossmann and her 34-year-old daughter Charity Grossmann.  The dead suspect was 33-year-old Londrell Johnson.  Madison Police said at least one officer shot Johnson soon after police entered an apartment on Friday afternoon in response to a 911 call on the city's northeast side.  Johnson was taken to a hospital where he died.  Police said he stabbed three people, and one survived.  All the victims are from Madison.  Police continue to investigate the stabbings.  The state Justice Department is investigating the officer-involved shooting.  


A fourth Republican will leave the Wisconsin Senate after this year.  Neal Kedzie of Elkhorn said today he will not seek a fourth four-year term in the upper house in November.  After 16 years in Madison, Kedzie said he wanted to spend more time with his family, and look for other opportunities outside of state government.  Kedzie spent four years in the Assembly before being elected to the Senate in 2002.  In this term, he chaired the Senate's natural resources committee.


A state committee has been brought back to determine how communities should get state reimbursements for the effects of mining in their areas.  Governor Scott Walker has announced seven members to what used to be called the "Mining Impact Fund Board." The Madison Capital Times newspaper said Walker took out the word "mining," and it's now just called the "Investment and Local Impact Fund Board."  Two northern Wisconsin Democrats -- Assemblywoman Janet Bewley and outgoing state Senator Bob Jauch -- said communities have spent a lot of time and money on studies and local agreements connected with the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine near Mellen.  The two lawmakers said their areas have "scarce resources," and they'll need state assistance to cover their costs.  The Cap Times says the fund has around $280,000.  Gogebic Taconite kicked in $75,000 of that.


In a case from Wisconsin, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified today how restitution must be determined in mortgage fraud cases.  In a unanimous decision, the justices said that restitution to a defrauded bank must be based on the value of a property when it's actually sold -- not on an earlier date during which a bank forecloses on the property.  National media reports said the case involved a fraudulent loan application for the purchases of two houses in Wisconsin for 470-thousand dollars.  The banks foreclosed on the mortgages in 2006, but the homes were sold for a much smaller amount of 280-thousand dollars after the real estate market collapsed in 2008.  The Supreme Court said the amount of restitution must be off-set by the actual selling price the banks received -- not a higher value that was in place when the banks foreclosed.


The Madison judge who tried halting Wisconsin's public union bargaining limits will retire at the end of this month.  Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi announced her plans today.  Former Governor Tommy Thompson appointed her in 1998.  In 2011, Sumi ruled that Republican lawmakers broke the state Open Meetings Law.  She said a key committee did not give enough public notice before voting on the measure that had drawn thousands of protesters to the State Capitol at the time.  The law virtually stripped most state and local public union workers of their collective bargaining privileges.  Conservative justices on the State Supreme Court overturned Sumi's ruling two months later, and the Act-10 law was allowed to take effect in the summer of 2011.  The law itself has survived a number of court challenges.  However, the State Supreme Court must still decide whether Act-10 applies only to state workers -- and not local government and public school employees. 


The Mississippi River is over its banks today on about the southern half of Wisconsin's western border.  The National Weather Service predicts only minor flooding in all locations -- even though the river is more than a foot above its flood stages at several spots including Prairie du Chien.  Flood warnings are in effect until late Sunday night at Wabasha Minnesota, Saturday night at Winona, Friday afternoon at La Crosse, until at least Friday at Prairie du Chien, and until next Tuesday at Guttenberg, Iowa across from Grant County.  It hasn't rained for a couple days in much of the Badger State, but that could change soon.  There's a chance of rain tonight and tomorrow.  Thunderstorms are likely on Thursday, with a chance of rain lingering into the weekend.


Wisconsin's largest airport continues to see more business.  Milwaukee's Mitchell International reports a 5.1 percent increase in passenger traffic in March, compared to the same month a year ago.  Almost 632,000 people flew in and out of Mitchell in March. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said passenger traffic has grown in three of the last four months.  Officials give themselves part of the credit -- for making people more aware of the non-stop flights they won't find on sites like Expedia and Travelocity. Southwest Airlines now has the largest market share at Milwaukee -- and online customers will find those flights only on that company's Web site.  Airport director Terry Blue said his people began an educational campaign in January to get more fliers to use their airline's Web site instead of third-party sites.  Milwaukee County owns and operates Mitchell International.  


The company that brought us the famous Milwaukee Brewers' racing sausages has been sold to a private equity firm in San Francisco.  Tall Tree Foods, which is owned by Altamont Capital Partners, said this morning that it bought Milwaukee-based Klement Sausage.  Terms were not disclosed.  The announcement said Klement would keep the offices, plants, and management team that it has in Milwaukee.  Klements' CEO Ray Booth will stay in that role.  Former chairman John Klement said Tall Tree Foods will grow the brand.  Among other things, that firm owns the Blue Ribbon Bacon-and-Sausage company in Texas, and Richard's Cajun Foods of Louisiana.  Altamont Capital Partners oversees $1.3 billion of investments.  There was no immediate word on the fate of the Klements' racing sausages, which have enjoyed national notoriety for years.  Other Major League teams have imitated the long-running Klements' sausage races at Brewers' home games.  Two incidents involving the sausages attracted heavy national publicity in recent years -- the tripping of a sausage by former Pittsburgh slugger Randall Simon, and the theft of a sausage costume from an event in suburban Milwaukee.


The mayor of Milwaukee says there's something missing in the debate over taxes in Wisconsin.  Tom Barrett says homeowners have paid a higher share of the tax burden for years, as businesses get more-and-more tax breaks.  Now, Barrett is spilling the beans on a state bill introduced late in the last session, but was never acted on.  State Assembly Republican Mary Williams of Medford, who's not running for re-election, wanted to eliminate the local tax on a company's personal property -- and to cut off state aid to communities which is based on the value of computer equipment exempt from property taxes.  Williams' aide Charles Bellin said his boss never expected the bill to go anywhere now -- but she wanted to get the idea out there.  Barrett, a Democrat who lost twice for governor against Scott Walker, says he wonders if the GOP wants to push the measure through as part of next year's state budget.  Walker's office says it has not looked at the proposal.  Barrett tells the Milwaukee  Journal-Sentinel that bills like Williams' do nothing to lower total taxes -- and he wants a full debate over having homeowners pick up a growing amount of the tab.


An overnight fire has destroyed a plant in central Wisconsin that makes wood pallets.  Units from over a half-dozen area fire departments were called to S-V Pallet south of Marshfield on Highway 80 at County Trunk "N."  The first fire-fighters responded about midnight.  The building was a total loss.  No injuries were reported.  The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.


A man killed in one-car crash in Waukesha was identified today as 61-year-old Dale Kolter of Muskego.  Authorities said his vehicle was speeding when it slammed into a tree early yesterday morning near an intersection along Highway 164.  Kolter died at the scene.  No one else was in the vehicle at the time.


About 2,400 gallons of diesel fuel that seeped into the ground following a train accident near Waterford will be cleaned up within 24 hours.  That's according to Fire Chief Richard Mueller.  He said the contaminated soil will most likely be replaced with new dirt. The accident occurred late last night in the Racine County town of Waterford.  Officials said a Canadian National fuel train hit a piece of metal on a track and punctured a diesel tank.  About four-thousand gallons were spilled, and 1,600 of that was recovered.  No one was hurt, and no area residents were evacuated.


A baby from Menasha who died soon after being born is having his burial delayed, while police investigate reports of bruises on his body.  Police said they were never told about possible issues until just before the infant's funeral last Saturday -- so officers waited outside the funeral home until the service was over, and they interviewed the parents as they left.  Menasha officer Aaron Zemlock tells WLUK-TV in Green Bay that he and his fellow officers did not disrupt the service, but procedures required them to be there.  The baby died on April 26th, but the local medical examiner was never contacted by two hospitals which saw the infant.  One performed a cesarean section in which the baby was born premature, and the other hospital is where the infant died.  Zemlock said they were waiting for an autopsy report, and the infant's possible bruises could have been caused by medical conditions.  ______________________________

Bird lovers have been flocking to northwest Wisconsin to see a rare species of duck.  The garangey, which is from Eurasia, was first spotted at the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area near Grantsburg on April 25th.  Resource educator Kim Wheeler said it was still them yesterday.  Wheeler tells the Saint Paul Pioneer Press that bird enthusiasts from all over the Midwest have come to see the garangey because they may never have a chance to see it again.  Ryan Brady of the state DNR said Eurasian birds rarely find their way to an inland state like Wisconsin -- or any of the 48 mainland states, for that matter.  Brady said no one's sure how the duck made it to Grantsburg.  He said it might have crossed through the Arctic region and traveled south into North America, spending the winter at an unknown spot before swooping into Wisconsin this spring.  Brady said he expects the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology to declare this as the state's first official garangey sighting.  The Saint Paul paper said it's been spotted twice in neighboring Minnesota -- that being in 1987 and '93.


Somebody wanted Wisconsin's most famous dog to serve on a suburban Milwaukee school board.  Brown Deer counted one write-in vote for Hank in the April first school board election.  Hank is the dog who touched people's hearts when he showed up as an orphan as the Milwaukee Brewers had their spring training in Phoenix.  Nobody claimed him, so the family of a Brewers' vice president adopted him -- and Hank now has a home at Miller Park where he occasionally shows up to greet his thousands of fans.  Brown Deer Village Clerk Jill Kenda-Lubetski joked that Hank will need more publicity if he wants to run for something in the future.  The problem is, his write-in ballots might not be counted anymore.  Governor Scott Walker signed a state new law just over a month ago in which write-in votes for Hank, Mickey Mouse, and other famous characters and people no longer be counted in the interest of saving time.  Starting in August, the only write-ins that must be counted are of candidates who register beforehand.  Those who die or withdraw after getting on the ballot would still have their votes counted, as normal.