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STATE CRIME AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Lawmaker against raising the beer tax to cover incarceration costs

A state lawmaker who wants more-and-longer prison terms for drunk drivers is against raising the beer tax to help cover the incarceration costs. Assembly Republican Jim Ott of Mequon said those who drink responsibly should not have to pay for those who choose to drink-and-drive. He says one problem is that the beer tax money goes into the state's general fund. Ott tells the Central Wisconsin Sunday newspaper he would favor higher fines and surcharges for those convicted of O-W-I. An Assembly committee held a public hearing last week on Ott's bill to make three-and-four-time-O-W-I a felony, require a minimum six-month jail term for causing injury by drunk driving, and a mandatory 10-year prison term for killing a motorist while driving drunk. Critics say the extra prison costs are too high. Corrections' officials say the housing costs for prisoners would rise by 220-million dollars a year -- and another 230-million would be needed for more prison space. Wisconsin has the 13th lowest alcohol taxes in the country. Madison Assembly Democrat Terese Berceau has tried and failed for years to increase the beer tax. 


Janesville Republican Paul Ryan has raised three times as much as any other Wisconsin House incumbent for their next campaigns in 2014. Federal records show that Ryan brought in one-point-seven million dollars to his House war-chest in the first six months of this year. Individuals make up about three-fourths of Ryan’s donations, many from out-of-state. He raised just over 400-thousand dollars this year from special interest political action committees. Campaign finance director Susan Jacobson said millions of people outside of Wisconsin became familiar with Ryan’s message after he ran for vice president in 2012. Bob Biersack of the Center for Responsive Politics says Ryan’s second term as the House Budget chair doesn’t hurt his fund-raising ability, either. Ryan is often mentioned as a 2016 presidential hopeful. A year ago, he ran for both vice president and congress, with the intent of resigning his House seat had Mitt Romney been elected to the White House. La Crosse House Democrat Ron Kind raised the second-highest amount among the state’s 10 members of Congress this year, with 585-thousand-dollars. Menomonee Falls House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner only raised 66-thousand, leading to speculation that he might step down in 2014. However, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says Sensenbrenner has already filed papers to run for 37th and 38th years in the House in next year’s elections.


A cyber-terrorism expert says states should do more to deal with international attacks from hackers. Matt Devost of the Terrorism Research Center was among the final speakers yesterday at the National Governors Association’s annual meeting in Milwaukee. Last fall, a hacker broke into Revenue Department files in South Carolina and gained access to three-point-six million income tax returns – along with credit-and-debit-card numbers. Devost said it could happen anywhere, and governors should do more to detect cyber-attacks, share information with other states, and keep any damage to a minimum. Governor Scott Walker says Wisconsin has done a good job of that, and officials are always looking for more ways to do it better. Walker says the National Guard has a lot of expertise in information security – and the administration works with Adjutant General Don Dunbar to keep state government safe from cyber-terrorism. A team from the Navy met with Wisconsin officials last year to brief them about the problem. 


The next court hearing is August 27th in a wrongful death suit filed by the mother of a woman who died while choking on a bagel at an assisted living center in Burlington. Linda Berger recently sued the Wanda Frogg Villa-Meadowhaven home, accusing the owner and others of negligence. 49-year-old Kelly Jorgenson was brain-damaged since birth. Her mother said she wasn’t supposed to eat without supervision, so her food wouldn’t go down too quickly. Berger said it’s exactly what happened when Jorgenson was left unsupervised, rapidly ate bagels and peanut butter, and then ran to her room where she collapsed. Berger’s attorney said Jorgenson died from a lack of oxygen to her brain, and he’s suing for unspecified damages. In its response, the Wanda Frogg Villa center denied the allegations and filed a request to drop the lawsuit. The defendants in Berger’s lawsuit include U-S Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the state Department of Health Services, the Homes for Independent Living, Oconomowoc Residential Programs, and several insurance companies. 


The state Justice Department says it’s considering legal action for three environmental violations connected with the rapid increase in frac-sand mining. D-N-R officials say additional cases could be referred for prosecution, after the agency issued 20 violation notices to 19 companies since late 2011. The D-N-R said five frac-sand companies violated storm-water permits in April and May of this year, when melting snow and rains pushed debris into streams-and-wetlands in Trempealeau and Barron counties. Frac-sand mining is a relatively new process – and officials say both sand companies and regulators are still getting accustomed to their proper roles. The western half of Wisconsin, with its favorable soils, has become of the nation’s hot-spots for frac-sand mining. The process uses water-and-chemicals as part of the extraction of domestic oil-and-natural gas deposits that could never be tapped until now. A new federal report shows how frac-sand has cut into the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. The U-S Energy Information Agency said last week that oil-and-gas companies added almost four-billion barrels of oil reserves in 2011 – the most since 1977. 


Two federal agencies agree that a pilot’s error caused the crash of a single-engine plane in Burlington last November, killing a father and daughter from Illinois. 50-year-old Todd Parfitt of Antioch, Illinois and 14-year-old Nicole Parfitt were both killed. The National Transportation Safety Board said Todd’s lack of recent flight experience caused the single-engine plane to spin out of control, just before it went down in a cornfield. An earlier finding from the F-A-A said the pilot mismanaged the controls just before the spin began. Parfitt was apparently trying to land at the Burlington Municipal Airport when the plane lost control. Both he and his daughter were thrown from the craft upon impact. The Safety Board said Parfitt had not flown for almost six months before the crash. 


Wisconsin’s largest city reduced its overtime costs for public employees by almost 30-percent last year. The Journal Sentinel said the state’s Act-10 public union bargaining limits helped the city of Milwaukee rewrite some of its compensation ordinances to cut down on overtime and other expenses. The Public Works Department had the city’s largest reduction in O-T, a drop of 65-percent last year to two-point-two million dollars. Officials cited better planning-and-budgeting – plus drier-than-normal weather last year that resulted in fewer water-main breaks. Milwaukee Police still have the largest overtime expenses in the city, around 14-million dollars last year. That was down by two-and-a-half million dollars from 2011. Police Chief Ed Flynn said he has taken a number of steps to reduce overtime – including a reduction of officers who appear in court, and an overlap of shifts to reduce the need for extra time to brief officers to ongoing matters at the start of their workdays. 

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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