Claims for 'Sandy' damage hit Wisconsin’s property insurers; Presidential hopefuls stopping here again; Judge rules Walker's clout doesn't trump Evers'; more state newsWisconsin News
As winds from epic hurricane Sandy dissipated over the Great Lakes Tuesday, the phones started to ring at property insurance firms headquartered in Wisconsin. Also, a Dane County judge has ruled that Gov. Scott Walker doesn't have more authority to set school rules than elected school Superintendent Tony Evers. Plus stories about former state senator Randy Hopper, a cheap-gas campaign event and an age discrimination lawsuit.
Wisconsin’s property insurers are already getting damage claims from their East Coast customers affected by Superstorm Sandy.
American Family Insurance of Madison received about 75 property damage claims Tuesday from northeast Ohio – mostly in the Cleveland area. Spokesman Steve Witmer said most of the claims were for relatively minor wind and rain damage. Some were for flooding and sewage backups as the result of power outages that knocked out sump pumps.
Witmer said American Family plans to send additional claims adjusters to the Eastern U.S. to expedite settlements.
At Sentry Insurance in Stevens Point, adjusters are dealing with almost 30 damage claims as of Tuesday – including 16 from businesses. Spokeswoman Mary Weller said most were due to trees falling on homes and vehicles. Some businesses reported roof damage.
Church Mutual of Merrill says its busiest day should be Monday after the churches and religious facilities the company insures determine the scope of their damages.
Analysts say it’s too early to determine the insured damages from Sandy. Scientists at UW-Madison knew a week ago that Superstorm Sandy would hit landfall in New Jersey – which it did on Monday night. The university’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Studies shared satellite images and a host of data it developed with an unprecedented 5-6 days of lead time.
Senior researcher Chris Velden said the computer models gave the National Hurricane Center plenty of time to finetune its forecasts and as a result, many lives were saved. As it was, at least 51 people died, damage is in the billions, and over eight million people remain without power in 17 states.
Seven UW scientists are continuing to monitor satellite images of Sandy, and they’re working closely with federal weather officials.
In Wisconsin, there were some reports of erosion along Lake Michigan caused by the storm, but for most of the state, the effects of Superstorm Sandy have blown away.
Door County is the only place remaining under a wind advisory Wednesday morning. Sturgeon Bay still had winds up to 35 mph at 5 a.m. Wednesday's gusts were as high as 53 mph at Sheboygan. Officials warned of traffic problems and utility breakdowns in Door County, but the Wisconsin Public Service utility reported no outages there as of 5 a.m.
With little work to do here, utility workers have joined Red Cross volunteers and others in helping millions in the Eastern U.S. who are still without power. Xcel Energy sent eight linemen from its Eau Claire office to West Virginia.
Meanwhile, the calmer winds have also brought colder temperatures to northwest Wisconsin. It was only 14 degrees at Hayward at 5 a.m., and Land O’Lakes in Vilas County reported light snow.
Clouds are expected to disappear through the morning, and forecasters expect a sunny day with highs in the 40’s. Halloween trick-or-treaters will have clear weather with temperatures falling into the 20’s and 30’s by Thursday morning. The next chance of rain or snow is on Saturday.
Presidential hopefuls court state’s college students
Wisconsin’s colleges have been the preferred battleground for the White House candidates and their lieutenants.
President Obama heavily courted younger voters in 2008 when he carried the Badger State by 14 points. This year, the race is extremely tight, and as polls show reduced enthusiasm by younger people, both major parties are trying to prop up the youth vote.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke at four UW campuses during his last three visits to Wisconsin since mid-September. President Obama held a rally at UW Madison earlier this month. Chris Hoffman of the UW College Democrats said over a 1,000 young people at that rally registered to vote while waiting to see the president.
Republicans have also tried to court the youth vote. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan of Janesville spoke at Carroll College in Waukesha this month, and he’s been tailgating with young fans at college football games in Ohio. On Wednesday, Ryan has campaign rallies planned in Eau Claire, Green Bay and Racine.
Biden returns to the state on Friday for appearances at Beloit and Superior. Obama will hold a rally at Green Bay’s airport tomorrow after canceling an appearance in that city Tuesday night due to Superstorm Sandy.
Judge: Education is Evers’ domain, not Walker’s
MADISON -- A judge in Madison has ruled that Gov. Scott Walker is not more powerful than the elected school superintendent in setting rules for public education.
Dane County Judge Amy Smith ruled Tuesday that a 2011 law which gives the governor the power to veto the administrative rules of state agencies is unconstitutional. But the ruling only applies to the Department of Public Instruction because the voters elect the head of that agency, whereas the governor appoints leaders for the other state departments.
The governor’s office promised an appeal. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said he was confident that the governor would eventually win.
The Department of Justice said it would review the case before deciding whether to represent Walker in an appeal.
State Supt. Tony Evers praised the ruling, saying he knew all along that the governor’s power over his agency is unconstitutional.
State and local teachers’ unions filed a lawsuit challenging Walker’s powers over public schools. The governor said he needed the authority to veto the rules that agencies adopt in carrying out new law, because many bureaucrats had overstepped their boundaries and hurt businesses in the process.
Former Sen. Hopper resigns EDC post after another arrest
SHEBOYGAN -- Former state Senator Randy Hopper resigned Tuesday as the head of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation.
Hopper was arrested 10 days ago for the second time since he was recalled from his Senate post in the summer of 2011. He faces several charges after police said he got into a fight with another man at the home of his ex-wife near Fond du Lac.
Hopper, 46, lives in Fond du Lac. He was placed on unpaid leave following his most recent arrest. Dane Checolinski, a community specialist with the economic development group, was named its interim director.
Hopper was freed on bond after his Oct. 21 arrest. Charges are pending.
A year ago, he was arrested for drunk driving while heading home from a Packers game. A jury found him not guilty in March.
Hopper lost his Senate seat to Democrat Jessica King in a wave of recalls over the Republicans’ support for the law that ended most public union bargaining at the time.
Conservative group offers $1.84 gas, political message
WAUSAU -- A conservative group offered cheap gas near Wausau Tuesday to convince voters that President Obama’s economic policies have failed them.
Hundreds of drivers lined up at a Mobil station in the town of Rib Mountain, where the Americans for Prosperity offered fuel at the same price motorists paid when Obama took office in 2009 – $1.84 a gallon. For four hours, the group paid the difference of $1.70 per gallon.
The drivers were asked to sign petitions, highlighting what the group called Obama’s failed agenda, but they didn’t have to sign to get the cheap fuel.
The liberal group “We Are Wisconsin” filed a complaint with the state Government Accountability Board, claiming the Americans for Prosperity illegally gave away items of value in exchange for votes.
Shawano woman wins $32,500 for age bias
SHAWANO -- A 60-year-old Shawano woman has been awarded $32,500 after her ex-employer settled a federal lawsuit for age discrimination.
Sharon Passon was fired in 2010 from her job as a billing specialist at Computer Systems of Shawano, where she had worked for 38 years. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the firm kept a 34-year-old employee who was less qualified than Passon.
The company was sold six months after Passon was let go, and the government said the new owner has no obligations in the case.
'Kids & Bees Expo' teaches youngsters the wonders of honey
WAUPACA -- School kids in eastern Wisconsin are learning more about the honey industry and the roles played by the state’s 500-plus bee keepers.
American Honey Princess Danielle Dale of Sparta is visiting schools in advance of a large “Kids and Bees Expo” Saturday afternoon in Waupaca.
Dale says the commercial honey industry has been in a decline over the last 20 years due to pressure from mites and colony collapses, but it has opened the door to individual beekeepers, and there are groups throughout the state to help people get started.
Today, only 1% of beekeepers are considered commercial, and many of those operations have thousands of hives.
Dale reminds the youngsters that honey is a tasty and versatile product. She says it’s legendary for healing sore throats and cuts because honey is “naturally anti-bacterial.” Dale also says bees are important in pollinating a number of Wisconsin’s farm crops.
At Saturday’s expo, youngsters can see live hives, learn how to roll beeswax candles and taste a variety of honey flavors.
The event is free, and it runs from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at the Best Western Grand Seasons in Waupaca.
Man gets plea deal on charged of killing his father
A Wittenberg man has struck a plea deal in which he’ll go to a mental health facility instead of prison for the brutal killing of his father.
Joshua Johnson pleaded guilty Tuesday to a homicide charge and was found to be insane when he killed Donald Johnson, 53, in late February.
Prosecutors have recommended that Johnson, 21, be institutionalized for the rest of his life while the defense says he should have a chance for freedom after he’s treated.
A judge will consider the matter after Shawano County social service officials review the case.
The elder Johnson was shot, beaten and stabbed repeatedly.
Two doctors called by the defense said that the younger Johnson suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and he was getting messages from his TV screen that told him to kill his father.
Former firefighter admits setting several fires, pleads not guilty to two other arson charges
A man suspected of starting a number of fires in northeast Wisconsin has pleaded not guilty to two of those blazes.
Drew Christensen, 28, of Suring entered the pleas Tuesday in Oconto County Circuit Court. He waived a preliminary hearing and was ordered to stand trial.
Christensen is currently charged with two counts of arson for allegedly setting a garage and a mobile home on fire since last August. He’s due back in court on Dec. 10.
Prosecutors said Christensen has admitted setting about a half-dozen fires, including one that heavily damaged the Klondike Community Church in March.
State justice investigators are trying to determine if he had anything to do with about three dozen other fires in Oconto and surrounding counties in recent years. Christensen spent six years on the Brazeau Fire Department, but he was released about 18 months ago for missing department meetings due to his job.
Teen dies in Sheboygan County crash
A 16-year-old boy was killed late Tuesday in a one-car crash in Sheboygan County.
Sheriff’s deputies said the mishap occurred about 5:15 p.m. on a rural road in the town of Lyndon. The boy was driving the car, and he died at the scene. His 14-year-old sibling was riding along but was not hurt.
Authorities have not said how the crash happened, and they’re still investigating.
They said the gravel road conditions helped cause the mishap along with the driver’s inexperience.