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STATE NEWS ROUNDUP: Fireworks number one expense on July 4th

Wisconsinites generally don’t spend much money for the Fourth-of-July – unless they’re caught with illegal fireworks. In Milwaukee, all fireworks are illegal – even the sparklers, smoke bombs, and little ground displays that are allowed in many Wisconsin communities. Fines range up to a-thousand-dollars. Officials encourage folks to check their local laws before stocking up. The state Justice Department says anything that explodes or leaves the ground requires a permit, and those without permits can face fines of up to a-thousand dollars. And that doesn’t include the cost of fires and injuries that result when things like firecrackers go awry. The National Fire Protection Association says almost 18-thousand blazes were started by fireworks in 2011. In the same year, officials said almost 10-thousand Americans were seen in hospital emergency rooms with fireworks injuries. Sparklers and small items accounted for about a-third of those injuries. 


Governor Scott Walker has changed his mind about making state employees who smoke pay 50-dollars-a-month more for their health insurance. It was not exactly a change-of-heart. The Republican Walker said new federal rules would have made the mandate too cumbersome. Walker proposed the insurance surcharge in the state budget he introduced in February, saying health care is more expensive for smokers. Lawmakers approved it, but Walker vetoed it because the new federal rules came along after he first proposed the surcharge. Among other things, he said smokers could have side-stepped the fee by joining a cessation program. Yesterday, Walker visited Green Bay, La Crosse, and Chippewa Falls to promote those parts of the budget he says is “Working for Wisconsin” – like the new 650-million-dollar income tax cut. Walker continues his tour today in Hayward and Rhinelander. 


Just over half of Wisconsin school districts will see their general state aid go down this fall, despite a statewide increase of just over one-percent. The Department of Public Instruction released preliminary district-by-district totals yesterday. Madison is among the hardest hit, losing 15-percent of its state assistance. That translates to a reduction of almost nine-million dollars. School aid is based on each district’s spending and property values. Richer districts normally get less. All 424 Wisconsin school systems will share four-and-a-third billion dollars. That’s up by 50-million from a year ago, but it’s still about a quarter-billion less than in Jim Doyle’s final term as governor. In 2011, current Governor Scott Walker reduced school aid to help cover a state deficit. He said schools could make up for the lost funding through limits on collective bargaining, and making employees pay more for their health care and retirements. That helped schools recover only two-thirds of what they lost. This year, Walker wanted schools to earn their increases in state aid by having voters approve them in revenue cap referendums. But that idea was scrapped after complaints from some of Walker’s own G-O-P lawmakers.


The federal budget sequester will start hitting home next week for employees at Fort McCoy. The Army base between Tomah and Sparta will start furloughs next Monday for its 15-hundred civilian workers. They’ll each lose one-day-a-week of work and pay through the end of the federal fiscal year September 30th. It’s part of the 85-billion dollars in automatic federal spending cuts which took effect in March. About half the cuts affect the military.


One of Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands is closed to overnight camping, after a black bear ate people’s food and damaged property. Sand Island remains open for day use. Visitors are being urged to keep an eye on their lunch at all times – and immediately report any bear activity. The bear was visiting campsites after eating somebody’s food. Officials said they’ll keep an eye on the animal, and they’ll decide on a weekly basis when to lift the ban on overnight camping. It will resume once the bear is re-trained to stay away from people. Sand Island is part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in the National Park System.