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WISCONSIN NEWS BRIEFS: Schools back in session in Wisconsin

Thousands of Wisconsin school youngsters ended their summer vacations this morning. It’s the first day of fall classes for the vast majority of the state’s 424 public school districts – plus private schools, colleges, and universities.

Governor Scott Walker was scheduled to take part in a bell-ringing ceremony at Garland Elementary School in Milwaukee. At Glendale Nicolet High School, parents and residents continued a tradition of applauding students as they walked on a red carpet into the building. State public school Superintendent Tony Evers was set to be at a middle school in Mequon, encouraging youngsters to think about what they want to do after they graduate from high school. 


Council of UW Student Governments says it would give those who pay tuition and attend classes a greater voice in picking their representation. Jambrek said it would assure quote, “good, thoughtful, involved, and critical students to be our student regents.” In June, Josh Inglett of UW-Platteville had his nomination as a student Regent withdrawn, after it was learned that he signed the recall petition against Governor Scott Walker. Last month, Walker made his second appointment for the opening, by naming Platteville student Chad Landes. He’s an animal science major who travels to high schools around the Midwest to recruit ag students to Platteville. Landes did not sign the Walker recall petition.


A Wisconsin state Senate Democrat wants to give UW students more of a say in picking the two student members of the university’s Board of Regents. Under a bill from Madison’s Fred Risser, student governments on each campus would provide nominees whom the governor would have to choose from when there’s an opening. Risser says it would guarantee that the student Regents will quote, “be a representative of the student community."


As thousands of Wisconsin college students begin their fall classes today, many have saved money by renting textbooks instead of buying them. Most of the smaller four-year UW campuses have rental programs with set-prices for the year, ranging from $143 at River Falls to almost $203 at Eau Claire. The state’s largest public campuses at Madison and Milwaukee do not have textbook rental programs. Students at the UW’s flagship Madison campus pay around $1,200  a year for their books, although the privately-owned University Bookstore rents limited numbers of books for the more popular courses. A task force studied the idea of a rental program for the Madison campus in 2007. It concluded that such an idea would not work, mainly because of the sheer size of the 40-thousand student institution. The task force thought Internet-based textbooks were on the horizon – but according to the National Association of College Stores, 77-percent of students still prefer the good-old-fashioned printed books. The Government Accountability Office says textbook prices have jumped by six-percent a year, and 82-percent over the last decade. The national bookstore group says rental programs now exist at almost all of its three-thousand member stores. Only a tenth that many schools had rental programs as recently as 2009.


The University of Wisconsin’s policy-setting body wants to rebuild its relationship with state legislators. The Board of Regents plans to meet on Thursday with lawmakers from both parties, in the hopes of patching things up. Legislators were upset earlier this year, when they learned that UW campuses were sitting on at least $650-million in reserves while making students pay five-and-a-half percent more each year in tuition. Republicans responded by freezing the university’s tuition levels for the first time since the UW-Wisconsin State Colleges merger in the early 1970’s. State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) will attend Thursday’s Regents’ meeting along with Republican Assemblyman Pat Strachota of West Bend, state Senate Finance chair Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), state Senate Republican Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls, and state Assembly Democrat Jill Billings of La Crosse.


A steamy week of weather came to an abrupt halt in Wisconsin over the Labor Day Weekend. Places where the heat index was over 100 last week plunged into the 30’s and 40’s overnight. Volk Field in Juneau County got down to 34 degrees this morning – just two degrees above freezing. By 10 o’clock, temperatures had warmed up nicely throughout the Badger State. Prairie du Chien was the cool spot at that hour with 56 degrees. Kenosha was the warm spot with 67. All of Wisconsin is enjoying a sunny day, as a high pressure system engulfs the state. Afternoon highs are expected in the 70’s, about normal for early September. Tomorrow, highs are forecast in the low-80’s in central and southern Wisconsin, as the high pressure system moves eastward. The state forecast does not mention the word “showers” until Saturday, when there’s a chance of rain. 


Milwaukee Brewers’ baseball fans were upset to learn that two monuments at the Miller Park stadium were spray-painted and defaced over the weekend. A 54-year-old Mukwonago woman was arrested on Sunday, the same day of the incident. WTMJ-TV quoted witnesses as saying that a woman targeted the statue of Major League Commissioner and former Brewers’ owner Bud Selig. A memorial near home plate was also defaced, honoring the iron workers killed during a construction accident at Miller Park which delayed the opening of the stadium by a year, until 2001. Several fans told WTMJ they were angry about the vandalism – and they were hard-pressed to explain to their kids what happened. A Brewers’ spokesman said clean-up efforts were continuing yesterday.   


Neighboring Minnesota has recorded two deaths from the West Nile virus. Health officials report 29 human cases of the mosquito-borne virus in the Gopher State this year, many more than Wisconsin reported as of six days ago. The Health Services Department’s Web site in the Badger State reports four probable human cases in Eau Claire, Dane, Rock, and Walworth counties. None have been confirmed yet. Also, Wisconsin has not reported any deaths this year – but that can still happen, since West Nile cases in the Upper Midwest are most common in August and September. Last year was unusually severe for West Nile, with hundreds of deaths throughout the nation’s mid-section. Wisconsin had four deaths in 2012, plus 53 human cases – the most since officials began tracking the West Nile virus in 2002. Minnesota had 103 total human cases a year ago, almost twice as many as the Badger State.


At least three people were murdered in Milwaukee since Saturday. Police said a man was shot-and-killed overnight in a north side neighborhood, but no other details were immediately released. Another shooting death was reported around 1:30 yesterday afternoon on Milwaukee’s south side. There was no word on suspects or a motive. Also, a 25-year-old woman was shot-to-death Saturday night on the north side. Police said an argument preceded the shooting, and a known suspect was being sought at last word.


Wisconsin’s most-populated county will consider a living-wage ordinance this fall. Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen announced the measure during a Labor Day rally yesterday. Private firms that are contracted by the county would have to pay their employees at least a standard wage based on federal poverty guidelines. Bowen said companies that take public tax money have an obligation to invest it back into the community. Earlier this summer, the Milwaukee County Board endorsed a living wage requirement for a proposed hotel at the Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa. It would have required the hotel to provide sick pay, plus wages at least 125-percent of the poverty level. County Executive Chris Abele vetoed it, saying the hotel project would not be competitive – and it would eventually be killed. Bowen said he remains undaunted in seeking a living wage mandate. Janet Veum of the group Wisconsin Jobs Now says firms that get tax money should keep their workers off public assistance. Otherwise, she says taxpayers pay twice – once for the contractor, and once to support its workers on public aid.


A Plover man is scheduled to appear in court this afternoon, on suspicion of sexually assaulting and killing a neighbor, then setting her body on fire in an abandoned car. Charges against 32-year-old Jose Flores Aca have been pending since he was placed under a one-million-dollar cash bond on August 13th. Flores Aca is suspected of killing 36-year-old Jamie Koch at the apartment complex where they both lived. Her body was found August sixth in a burned vehicle in neighboring Waupaca County. Online court records do not show any charges filed yet. At last word, Portage County prosecutors were planning to file counts of homicide, hiding-and-mutilating a corpse, and sexual assault. That was while the case was still being investigated.


The driver of an SUV was killed overnight, after the vehicle slammed into a semi-truck on the Highway 29 expressway in Shawano County. It happened just after midnight near Pulaski, just west of Highway 160. According to WLUK-TV in Green Bay, the SUV driver was going the wrong way on the four-lane road, and it struck the oncoming semi. Two people in the semi reportedly had non-life-threatening injuries. The eastbound lanes of 29 were re-opened in time for the morning rush hour.


The Highway 51 freeway near Tomahawk looked like a NASCAR track yesterday afternoon, as flying debris caused traffic to slow down while the road was cleared. According to Lincoln County sheriff’s deputies, the hood from a 16-year-old car broke off and flew backwards – and it punctured a tire on a 20-foot camper-trailer. The sheriff’s department did not mention any injuries in a statement about the mishap. The driver of the camper, from Kaukauna, swerved to avoid hitting the loose car hood, but that failed. The car driver, from Schofield, was ticketed for not having vehicle insurance. Traffic was slowed down for almost two hours.


 Wisconsin Lottery players have failed to claim more than 50-million dollars in prizes since 1997. According to Appleton Post-Crescent Media, $2.8 million dollars in prize money went unclaimed in the last fiscal year alone – and that’s just for computer lotto games like Powerball. It does not include the winning instant scratch tickets that get thrown away. State lottery spokesman Andrew Bohage says two-to-four million dollars in prizes go unclaimed during a normal year. He says the amount tends to rise when jackpots like Powerball skyrocket. That attracts new players who may not realize there are lots of smaller prizes. For example, there were 14-thousand-144 winners in last Saturday night’s Powerball drawing – and all but two of them won 200-dollars or less. Almost seven-thousand of those players won four-dollars just by matching the Powerball. Bohage says a lot of people don’t think it’s worth it to cash in such a small prize. Winners have 180 days to collect their prizes. Whatever is not claimed goes to Wisconsin homeowners for property tax relief. By the way, tonight’s Mega Millions jackpot is $85-million. Powerball is at $169-million for tomorrow night.


A 41-year-old man was killed over the weekend, after a boat flipped over while it was pulled by a pick-up truck on a rural road in Waupaca County. The victim was identified yesterday as James Wall of Orland Park Illinois. Sheriff’s deputies said Wall and a 13-year-old boy were riding in the boat on Saturday evening when it overturned. Wall died at the scene from massive head injuries. The teenager was not hurt. The truck driver, a 58-year-old man from Manhattan Illinois, was arrested on suspicion of driving drunk.


 A state appeals court is being asked to decide whether certain people convicted of domestic violence should be allowed to carry concealed weapons. 68-year-old Robert Evans Junior of Cottage Grove in Dane County is the first to challenge the rejection of a state permit since the concealed carry law took effect 22 months ago. The state cited a federal ban adopted in 1996, in which those convicted of domestic violence cannot possess guns. Evans pleaded no contest in 2002 to disorderly conduct-domestic violence. Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust ruled in February that the state was correct in rejecting the concealed carry permit. The issue is now before the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals. Evans claims his conviction is not covered under the federal weapons’ ban, known as the Laufenberg Amendment. He said his case does not meet the federal definition of domestic violence, which requires that a person use force against somebody in order to be convicted. Evans said he merely pushed his step-daughter outside a door, and he did not have a domestic relationship with the victim as the federal law requires. The State Justice Department disagrees with Evans on both counts. The state said its disorderly conduct law includes physical force, and Evans indeed had a domestic relationship with his adult step-daughter.


Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor will help recruit fellow Republican women as candidates for next year’s elections throughout the nation. Rebecca Kleefisch is a co-chair of the group “Right Women, Right Now.” It seeks to recruit 300 female GOP candidates for the current two-year election cycle. Kleefisch will be among the featured speakers at the group’s national summit in Nashville in October. She tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel there are several barriers women face in running for public office. Kleefisch says they include family duties, fund-raising, and a lack of internal initiative. She says women often need to be asked or encouraged to run. The 38-year-old Kleefisch often tours the state to promote Governor Scott Walker’s agenda for boosting the economy, creating jobs, and helping small businesses. Kleefisch is now cancer-free, after suffering colon cancer during her first election campaign for lieutenant governor in 2010.


A western Wisconsin man killed in a weekend all-terrain-vehicle crash was identified as 28-year-old Austin Johnson of Galesville. Trempealeau County authorities said Johnson was among a group of riders on Saturday night – and when they returned to a farm, the others discovered that Johnson was not with them. Several riders went back to look for Johnson, and they found him lying on the ground next to his vehicle. Deputies said Johnson apparently lost control of his ATV on a curve.