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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: UW-Stout students to study brain activity to determine person's honesty

U-W Stout students will try to find a better way to tell if we’re lying about something. Two students from the Menomonie campus will hook up with two students from South Carolina-Aiken, to set up a study during the upcoming school year. About two dozen subjects will have their brain activity examined with electrodes, to see if a brain signal turns up which can indicate a lie. Previous research has shown that the reading of brain activity is more reliable than traditional polygraph tests – but U-W Stout psychology professor Desiree Budd says the reliability of the new test has been debated. The National Science Foundation is putting up 400-thousand dollars for the Stout-and-South Carolina study. The data will be analyzed next spring. The results could lead to more research by others. Budd says law enforcement is interested in the new lie-detecting research. That’s because subjects who are bent on beating arousal-inspired polygraph tests can do so. 


Three more drunk driving bills will get a public hearing this week in the Wisconsin Legislature. The Assembly Judiciary Committee will hear comments on Thursday about making first-time O-W-I a criminal misdemeanor, if the driver’s blood alcohol level is point-15 or higher. Wisconsin is the only state where first-time drunk driving is generally a citation and not a criminal offense. The only exception is when a young child is in the vehicle. The other two bills in Thursday’s hearing would let authorize seize the vehicles of certain drunk drivers – and require all O-W-I suspects to appear in court at least once. The bills are authored by Assembly Republican Jim Ott of Mequon and Senate Republican Alberta Darling of River Hills. They also sponsored three other bills which had hearings recently. Those measures would make three-and-four-time drunk driving a felony, and require longer prison terms for those who kill or injure motorists by driving drunk. 


More teachers are being fired in Wisconsin, now that unions lost a lot of their bargaining power under Act-10. Nobody is keeping track of how many teachers have been let go since Act-10 took effect two years ago. Officials of the state’s largest teachers union and the state School Boards’ Association both say they’ve seen a noticeable increase in firings and non-renewals of teacher contracts. It used to be that school boards needed proof of wrongdoing before they could let teachers go – but that’s no longer the case now the unions have lost virtually all of their bargaining power. Supporters of Act-10 said too many bad teachers were being kept on the job – while unions said the law allows teachers to be fired arbitrarily. Christina Brey of the WEAC teachers’ union tells the Oshkosh Northwestern quote, “So many districts have thrown the idea of just-cause out the window.” She says it has become an unfair process for quote, “educators who might be targeted.” Oshkosh school official Mike Nault says there does not appear to be an increase in teacher firings in his district. He said the key is to treat teachers fairly. In many school districts, teachers can appeal their firings to their school boards. There are no independent arbitrators. 


Some of Wisconsin’s public libraries are getting involved in the trend toward locally-produced food. The La Crosse Public Library is among those which check out heirloom seeds. Folks plant them in their gardens, and then return seeds from the original plants once the growing season is over. Kelly Becker said over 600 groups of seeds have been checked out since La Crosse began its program in February. She said the demand was almost overwhelming at first, as more people become interested in quote, “eating local” and knowing where their food comes from. Libraries in Green Lake, Wonewoc, and LaFarge have similar lending programs – and Madison is among those looking at the idea, to see if it could be sustainable.


The state Natural Resources Board will start deciding on Wednesday how to deal with new cuts in the Stewardship Program which preserves nature-and-recreational lands. At a meeting in Baraboo, the board will discuss the cuts made in the new state budget by Governor Scott Walker and his fellow Republican legislators. They slashed the program’s bonding authority to buy new lands from 60-million dollars a year to 47-and-a-half million over the next year, and 54-and-a-half million the year after that. Also, the D-N-R cannot buy any land outside of existing project boundaries – and the agency must sell 10-thousand acres of Stewardship lands to private interests by 2017. The Stewardship program was started in 1989, mainly with the goal of preserving Wisconsin’s most pristine nature lands. Since then, Republicans say the program’s debt has spiraled out of control. Minority Democrats said the cuts would reduce opportunities for outdoor recreation. Environmental groups lamented that nature has become polarized, just like most other politics. 


Cindy Archer – the former Walker aide who had her home in Madison raided two years ago – is starting a new job with the state today. She’ll become the administrative services director for the Public Defender’s office. Governor Scott Walker brought Archer with him to Madison, after she served as one of Walker’s top aides in the Milwaukee County executive’s office. Most everyday Wisconsinites never heard of Archer until F-B-I agents and other law enforcement seized records from her home in 2011, as part of the John Doe investigation into Walker’s former Milwaukee County aides. Archer was never charged. At the time, she suddenly resigned as the Number-two official in the state Administration Department and later became a legislative liaison for the state Department of Children-and-Families. That used to be a civil service job until it recently became a politically-appointed position. State Public Defender Kelli Thompson tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Archer won her new job through a civil service exam. She said nobody, including the governor’s office, pressured her into hiring Archer. 


The Wisconsin State Fair ended last night in West Allis – and it appears to be one of the most successful in its 160-year history. The 11-day expo had a tough act to follow, after attracting 921-thousand people last year – the most in well over a decade. It’ll be a few days before we know the final attendance numbers, but organizers say the just-completed fair appears to have drawn almost a million people. Mild weather helped, as last week’s heavy storms stayed to the north. Large crowds showed up for yesterday’s final day, despite a threat of rain. Country star Miranda Lambert was the final major act. There are a couple of big indicators that this year’s State Fair was more successful than the last. Total receipts for the Governor’s Red, White, and Blue Ribbon animal sale were almost nine-percent higher. Also, the Wisconsin Bakers Association said last Thursday it was on track to sell over 400-thousand of its signature cream puffs for the only second time since 1924. 

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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