State Board approves recreation plan despite lawsuit; former juror to be questioned for alleged improper behavior; and 11 more state news stories


MADISON -- The state Natural Resources Board has voted to allow off road motorcycle riding and model rockets at a nature area, despite a lawsuit to ban those activities.

The board voted 7-0 Wednesday for a master plan at the Sauk Prairie State Recreation area, on the site of the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant south of Baraboo.

The DNR has spent several years working with various interests on the use of the 3,000-acre recreation site.

A Madison high school rocket club says the activity helps them gain science and engineering skills -- but the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance says it could threaten bird populations on the site, and the motorcycle riding could hurt native plants and cause too much. But the board approved the activities anyway, after a DNR attorney said the group's lawsuit filed last week had no merit.


Former juror to be questioned for alleged improper behavior

MILWAUKEE -- A juror who voted to award almost $2 million in a case against Milwaukee Police will be questioned for alleged improper activity during the trial.

Federal Magistrate Judge William Duffin plans to question the juror Friday -- and perhaps the jury foreman -- after the city alleged that the juror commented on the case on Facebook, did his own research on jury awards in similar cases and never told the lawyers in the case that he had psychology training and was an "advocate" for those who could not express themselves.

The city had asked that all the jurors be questioned, but a lawyer for the plaintiff said it would be like "eavesdropping" on jurors.

The case involved Willie Newman, who was found to have his civil rights violated by a former Milwaukee officer who strip searched him for drugs while two officers looked the other way.


Medical college plans residency program for family doctors

MILWAUKEE -- The Medical College of Wisconsin will try to attract more family doctors to southeast Wisconsin, by starting a residency program for those candidates.

Ken Simons, a senior associate dean at the Milwaukee medical school, says students who serve their residencies in Wisconsin have a 70 percent chance of finding a job close to where they train.

The new program is designed to help relieve a shortage of family physicians, the field that's been most "in demand" nationally for the last 10 years.

The Medical College and the adjoining Froedtert Hospital plan to have 18 doctors complete their training in Milwaukee starting next summer -- and they'll serve three-year residencies after their final classes.

Officials say state grants will cover the cost -- along with Medicare funds that Froedtert could receive.


Report: House campaigns used group's hacked material

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- House Speaker Paul Ryan of Janesville is not commenting on whether a leadership group he endorses should have avoided using material from hackers in an ad against a Democrat.

The New York Times says a group with alleged ties to Russia exposed dirt on Florida House Democrat Joe Garcia -- and the Congressional Leadership Fund supported by Ryan and other GOP leaders used the material in an ad against Garcia.

Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong says the speaker has long insisted that it's "unacceptable" to have foreign intervention in U.S. elections. But state Democratic spokesman Brandon Weathersby says Ryan should be more aggressive in preventing the use of hacked material, saying he should put America's well being above "partisan gains."


Deputies: Human chain rescues man who fell through ice

WONEWOC -- Friends of a Reedsburg man who fell through the ice formed a human chain to pull him out.

Sauk County sheriff's deputies say 28-year-old Lucas Tourdot was among five people who went ice fishing Wednesday on Dutch Hollow Lake near Wonewoc. As they walked about 150 yards from a boat landing, Tourdot fell in, and 20-year-old Krue Meisel of Reedsburg partially went through the ice.

Deputies say Jacob Meyer and Joanne Leader of Reedsburg and Cole Yerkes of LaValle created a human chain, pulled Tourdot from the water, rescued Meisel, and got both safely to the shore where an ambulance took them to a Hillsboro hospital.


State bank leaders expect little consumer impact from interest hike

MADISON -- The CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association says credit users should not have to worry about a large hike in their interest payments. That's after the Federal Reserve increased the rate that banks pay for overnight loans by one quarter of 1 percent -- only the second such rise in 10 years, with three more increases to come in 2017.

Rose Oswald Poels of the state bankers' group says any loans tied to the prime rate -- like credit cards, home equity accounts and variable rate mortgages -- will see interest costs rise only a little.

She says consumer borrowing will stay at "historically" low rates while savers will only get a small hike in interest payments.

Senior vice president Joel Huffman of U.S. Bank in Milwaukee said the one-quarter basis point increase will not make a "huge" difference for consumers, but it reflects a healthy economy.


Former UWM transgender student fights back after speaker slams him

MILWAUKEE -- A former UW-Milwaukee transgender student fights back, after a controversial speaker criticized him by name for protesting a campus policy on locker rooms.

"Alt right" speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, who writes for Breitbart, spoke to 350 people Tuesday night at UWM. Soon afterward, Chancellor Mark Mone issued a campus-wide email that condemned the criticism but said he could not stop it due to First Amendment free speech rights.

That drew a stinging rebuke from the former student Wednesday, as he told the student publication "Media Milwaukee" the school is "cowardly" and will do nothing else in response.

Yiannopolouos accused the student -- who left UWM in October -- of trying to use women's locker rooms, by using a woman's sauna while in the physical process of changing from a man to a woman. The school later required transgender students to cover "non conforming genitalia."


Green Bay driver strikes plea deal for killing couple in crash

GREEN BAY -- A Green Bay man has struck a plea deal that convicts him of four charges, including reckless homicide, in a drunk driving crash that killed a man and his wife.

Fifteen other charges were dropped against 28-year-old Daniel Boucher. He'll be sentenced Feb. 10, after he was accused of being drunk during a Feb. 19 crash in Green Bay that killed James and Wendy Rush of Hobart and injured the defendant's fiancee.

Prosecutors say Boucher knew he was driving with a revoked license at the time of the crash -- and according to the charges, he was caught with marijuana.


Missing Lakeland student found dead

PLYMOUTH -- Sheboygan County sheriff's deputies do not suspect foul play in the death of a Lakeland University student from North Carolina.

Eighteen-year-old Kaelin O'Neal was last seen by his roommate on the Plymouth campus late Sunday morning -- and rescue divers found his body Wednesday in a campus pond. Deputies are still trying to find out how and why O'Neal died.


Walker: State and local tax burdens drop

MADISON -- Wisconsin home and business owners are getting their annual property tax bills this week that bear some good news, compared to the recent past.

The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance cites census figures showing that state residents paid 10.8 percent of their incomes to state and local taxes in 2014, down by one tenth of 1 percent from the year before. That dropped Wisconsin's state and local tax burden to the 16th highest in the nation, down from 15th the previous year.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Scott Walker says the average property tax bill would be $426 higher, if it wasn't for the large tax cuts adopted by him and GOP lawmakers since they took control of state government in 2011.

Minority Democrats say the reductions are at the expense of public education. Walker says more funds will be devoted to public schools in the next two-year state budget he'll submit to lawmakers in February.


Baldwin, Collins proposal to help young researchers becomes law

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A bill co-written by Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin that seeks to support young researchers has been signed into law. Baldwin and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins co-authored the legislation.

The goal of the Next Generation Researchers Act is to grow opportunities for young people in research, science and innovation. President Barack Obama signed the proposal into law on Tuesday.

The act will establish an initiative within the National Institutes of Health to promote opportunities for new scientists. It will also boost the institutes' loan repayment program for trainees from $35,000 per year to $50,000 per year.


Woman killed in western wisconsin interstate crash identified

BALDWIN -- A suburban Milwaukee woman killed in a four-vehicle Interstate crash in western Wisconsin was identified Wednesday as 65-year-old Cheryl Gromacki of Brookfield.

The State Patrol says Gromacki's eastbound SUV crossed a median on I-94 near Baldwin in St. Croix County and hit two oncoming cars.

The SUV and one of the cars was then hit by a semi truck. Three people in both cars were hurt. The trucker, a 41-year-old man from Deerfield in Dane County, escaped injury. The crash happened at about 9 a.m. Monday.


Wisconsin holding unclaimed property auction

MADISON -- The State of Wisconsin is holding an auction for unclaimed property.

The Department of Revenue is looking to unload items like collectible stamps, jewelry, coins and more.

Wisconsin holds unclaimed property for three years. If no one claims it, state law requires the Department of Revenue to sell it at a public auction. The auction goes through Dec. 27.