MADISON - Governor Scott Walker says he'll spell out the highlights of his proposed two-year state budget on February third in an address to the Legislature.
Walker announced the date today, when he spoke at a luncheon of the Wisconsin Bankers Association in Madison. Walker normally highlights the major items of the two-year spending and revenue package. Then, reporters and lawmakers usually dig out a number of budget provisions that are either less urgent or not politically popular. Among other things, Walker expects to unveil his proposal to pay for new-and-improved highways. He promised an alternative to the DOT's package of over $750-million in tax and fee hikes. Walker has also promised to lay out more tax relief measures, although legislative leaders have warned that the state might not be able to afford major property and income tax cuts this time around. That's due to a $2.2 billion dollar shortfall expected in the current budget and the next one.
State representatives who stay overnight in Madison will get their daily expense reimbursements increased by 56-percent -- while commuters to their home districts get 22-percent less. The state Assembly's Organization Committee voted unanimously to raise the per-diem reimbursements for overnight stays from $88 to $138, while cutting the allowances to $69 for those who don't stay overnight. The panel has five Republicans and three Democrats, and its action does not require full Assembly approval. They also agreed never to have such a vote again, by granting automatic increases in accordance with the rates that federal officials get for expenses in Madison. The state Senate is not changing its standard per diems of $88, or $44 for those living close to Madison. Both houses have had those reimbursement rates since 2001.
A public hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday on the school accountability package unveiled this week by Wisconsin Assembly Republicans. The Education Committee of the lower house will hear testimony on a package that has raised concerns from the sponsors' GOP counterparts in the state Senate. Much of the criticism centers around the proposed creation of an academic review board. It would set up performance requirements for all public schools -- plus private schools that get state tax funds from the student voucher program. The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law-and-Liberty came out against the package today. It said the 13-member panel, which would include the state superintendent, would strengthen the Department of Public Instruction's power over school choice. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says one state Senate Republican privately wonders if such a board is legal. Others said the part-time panel would have too much to oversee. The state Assembly package would also give letter grades for school performance, and convert failing public schools to independent charter schools. Senate Republicans were expected to talk about their own version of a school accountability package today.
A new state Assembly bill would make it a felony to see or take pictures of somebody's private areas without their consent. The Assembly Judiciary Committee scheduled a public hearing on the measure late this morning. Madison Democrat Melissa Sargent and Mequon Republican Jim Ott are co-sponsoring the bill, which would create tougher penalties for "up-skirting" -- snapping photos under skirts. WISC-TV said Madison Police have made multiple arrests for up-skirting in the past year -- including a 38-year-old man who was caught doing it five times since 2008. Sargent said she was upset to learn that a Dane County prosecutor could not win such a case under the invasion-of-privacy law, if the victim was wearing underwear. Sergeant calls it "creepy, egregious" behavior -- and more needs to be done to protect communities from it. The new bill would add a felony penalty to the current privacy invasion law for those caught viewing or filming a person's breasts, genitals, or buttocks without the person's consent.
Wisconsin's new attorney general was asked today to issue on an opinion on whether it was wrong for a Milwaukee County Board member to raise funds for her father's funeral. Deanna Alexander went on Facebook in November to say she was seeking funds at YouCaring.com to raise just over $10,000 to cover the costs of a funeral for her father, who died last October. The liberal group One Wisconsin Now raised questions of whether the anonymous donations could buy secret influence in her county government position. Alexander raised over $14,000, and said she would donate the excess to charity. She denied any connection between her family affairs and county business. One Wisconsin Now says the law clearly states that elected officials cannot use their public profiles for their private benefit, even on a social media page. The Milwaukee County Ethics Board took no action on a complaint in November from One Wisconsin Now.
State Supreme Court candidate James Daley has backed away from his earlier comments that justices should choose their leader, and that voters should decide a judge's competency instead of the person's age. Today, the state Assembly Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment to let the seven judges pick their own chief. Right now, the justice with the most seniority holds the post. Daley, a Rock County circuit judge, told the Associated Press he had no opinions on changing the procedure -- and he had no opinion on another bill to make judges retire at age 75. Last month, the 67-year-old Daley told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that voters should be the ones to decide the competency of judges -- and he supported the right of the Supreme Court justices to choose their own chief. A Daley spokesman clarified that later, saying Daley personally supports the chief justice selection change, but voters should be the ones to approve it. The spokesman did not address the mandatory retirement proposal, which has not moved forward at the Capitol yet. Both measures would effectively remove Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, one of two liberals on the seven-member court. Daley is running against the other liberal, 20-year incumbent Ann Walsh Bradley.
Governor Scott Walker continues to do what presidential candidates do, although he's still coy about whether he'll run. Walker's campaign says the Republican governor will appear at the Iowa Freedom Summit on January 24th in Des Moines. It's sponsored by Citizens United and Congressman Steve King. Some national Republican giants will be there -- including Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and Mike Huckabee. Most of the potential 2016 GOP White House hopefuls will be there with two notable exceptions -- Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Rand Paul. Tom Evenson of the Walker campaign says the governor looks forward, as he put it, "to sharing the story of Wisconsin's successful reforms and common-sense message with grassroots conservatives."
U.S. House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse believes his party can forge more cooperation with the Republicans, even though the GOP has a firmer hold on Capitol Hill. Kind hopes an improved economy will help crank out solutions to key issues. He mentions a fairer-and-simpler tax system, giving an interest break to adults with student loan debt, and raising revenues to improve highways and bridges. Kind did not mention anything specific -- like the 15-cent-a-gallon gas tax hike that retired Wisconsin House Republican Tom Petri proposed just a month before he walked out the door. Kind did say he'd work with new House Ways and Means committee chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville to bring in people with different ideas for boosting transportation funding -- and to build momentum on a growing economy in which more people are working.
U.S. Senate Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is sponsoring a bill to end federal funding for motorcycle safety checkpoints. A number of senators from both parties are re-introducing the bill, after it failed to pass in the last session. It would prohibit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from giving grants to states to have police stop motorcycles and make sure they meet state standards for things like noise, tire-pressure, and handle-bar lengths. New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen says there are no checkpoints that stop cars to check their tire pressures, so there should not be checkpoints for motorcycles either. Five senators, including Johnson, have introduced the new bill. The others are Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Rallies are being held in Milwaukee and other U.S. cities to show support for police officers involved in killing those in custody. The Wisconsin chapter of "Concerns of Police Survivors," or COPS, is holding a two-hour rally this evening at the city's fire union hall. In addition, the group and the Milwaukee police union are urging folks to share positive law enforcement stories on social media -- or just thank officers when people see them. Denise Held of the Wisconsin COPS group said "Law Enforcement Appreciation Day" was established in response to what she called "negative publicity" of the police shootings in New York and Ferguson, Missouri. And she included the Milwaukee Police shooting of Dontre Hamilton. Held says that throughout the country, "the sentiment seems to be that all law enforcement officers are bad -- and that's just not true."
A Milwaukee County Board member wants his colleagues to re-name the county's Red Arrow Park as Dontre Hamilton Square. Supervisor Khalif Rainey plans to introduce his resolution at a park committee meeting this month. He expects a lot of controversy over the matter. But he said he was compelled to do it, after seeing people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds join in the protests over DA John Chisholm's decision not to charge fired Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney. Manney, who's white, shot and killed Hamilton, who's black, during a scuffle at Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee last April. The police chief fired Manney, saying he violated policy by sneaking up behind Hamilton to frisk him. An appeal of the termination is pending. Chisholm said Manney acted in self-defense. Rainey said it would be the honorable thing to do to re-name the park in Hamilton's honor, and his family supports the idea.
Milwaukee's Fire-and-Police Commission is expected to consider an appeal next month of officer Christopher Manney's firing. Manney is the city police officer who shot Dontre Hamilton to death last April during a scuffle at the downtown Red Arrow Park. Police Chief Ed Flynn terminated Manney last October, saying the officer violated his department's policy by approaching a subject from behind to frisk the person. Last night, about 20 Hamilton supporters gathered at Red Arrow Park, then walked to City Hall where the commission was meeting. Hamilton's family and friends have asked for a full review of Milwaukee police procedures in the wake of the shooting. and a decision by the DA not to charge Manney. The local U-S attorney's office is investigating whether the 31-year-old Hamilton had his civil rights violated.
A suburban Milwaukee attorney pleaded innocent today to 33 federal charges, for allegedly defrauding four clients of over two-million dollars. Thirty-five year old Sarah Laux of Mequon is free on a signature bond, after her initial appearance on 20 money laundering charges, nine of wire fraud, and other counts that include filing a false tax return. A tentative trial date was set for March 16th in federal court in Milwaukee. Prosecutors said Laux defrauded four clients from 2010-through-2012, including the heirs of early 20th century industrial leader Charles Pfister Vogel. Officials said Laux targeted older clients with estate planning and trust services -- and she had a related insurance operation which she occasionally claimed was a non-profit group. Last year, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quoted Vogel's heirs as saying that Laux used over one-and-a-half million dollars to buy real estate in Mequon and pay her personal expenses. The state revoked her insurance license in late 2013. The IRS seized her property and bank accounts early last year. Laux has a hearing slated in April on an amended state ethics complaint filed by the Office of Lawyer Regulation.
A state appeals court says a prisoner must use his-or-her real name when sending out correspondence. The Fourth District Appellate Court in Madison ordered the inmate to use his given name, Norman Green, instead of a long five-word spiritual name which he claims to have legally adopted. Green was convicted of homicide 24 years ago. He said a prison policy allows inmates to use new names if they were changed legally. The appellate judges rejected that idea. They said the use of spiritual names would slow down the prison mail system, and hurt the ability of staff members to watch for gang activity. The court did not say that Green could use both his names on his correspondence, if he so chooses.
Doctors say a three-year-old Milwaukee girl is okay, after she went out to play overnight in the bitter cold and got locked out of her house. Somebody spotted the youngster just after midnight, and called 911. Police alerted the public around 6 a.m. By 7:15, police found the girl's parents. Officers took the young girl to a police station as soon as they found her. She told police she woke up, and wanted to play outside -- so she put on a jacket, pants, and shoes and went out -- but a door got locked before she could go back in. That trapped her outdoors in temperatures around zero with wind-chills in the minus-20's. Medical personnel checked her out, and she was found to be all right.
A man killed in a two-vehicle Interstate crash near Baraboo was identified today as 62-year-old Gary Metcalf of Sycamore, Illinois. The State Patrol said Metcalf's pick-up truck was going westbound on I-90-94 early yesterday afternoon, when it crossed the median into the opposite lanes. An eastbound semi-truck hit the pick-up, ejecting Metcalf. The semi then overturned and slid in a nearby field. The trucker, a 53-year-old man from Coleman, was treated at a Baraboo hospital for non-life-threatening injuries. A report on the crash did not state whether it was snowing at the time. The area received a couple inches yesterday afternoon. The mishap remains under investigation.
A state labor investigator has found probable cause that Marshfield schools discriminated against a dance coach who was fired for using Robin Thicke's song "Blurred Lines" at a prep football game. An administrative law judge will hold a hearing next Wednesday in Wisconsin Rapids to determine if the school district broke state law. Lisa Joling was fired in 2013 after her dance team performed to "Blurred Lines," which critics say promotes violence against women. Joling filed a complaint with the state Equal Rights Division, saying that male coaches were not terminated or disciplined for playing the same music. Equal rights officer Matthew White wrote that the "disparate treatment" suggests that the law was broken. Joling tells the Marshfield News-Herald her firing left the school district with a lot of questions that remain unanswered. She hopes to get to the bottom of the matter at the hearing. Marshfield hired a new superintendent last summer. Dee Wells says she wants to speak with other district officials before commenting.
Spin-outs continued this morning on streets and highways where it's too cold for road salt to work. The Highway 41-45 freeway northwest of Milwaukee was shut down for an hour during this morning's rush hour. Also, the state DOT said the eastbound lanes of the Highway 10 four-lane were shut down late this morning in Waupaca County due to a serious crash. A Chicago man was killed when an SUV hit a pick-up truck on a snow-covered road near Stoughton, south of Madison.
One person was killed and three others were hurt this morning, when an SUV slammed into a pick-up truck with a snow-plow in Dane County. It happened around 7:40 this morning near Stoughton on County Trunk "N." Sheriff's deputies said an SUV driven by a 44-year-old Madison woman lost control and slid into the opposite lane where it collided with the pick-up. A 35-year-old Chicago man died at the scene. He was a passenger in the SUV. A seven-year-old in the SUV was flown to UW Hospital in Madison with serious injuries. The drivers of both vehicles were also taken to hospitals for treatment of their injuries. Officials said slippery roads were apparently to blame. The area had received a couple inches of snow yesterday.
The Wisconsin-based company that makes Ray-o-vac batteries and Remington shavers has started to look for a new CEO. Sixty-year-old David Lumley has been the president and CEO of Spectrum Brands of Middleton since April of 2010. He'll stay on at least through the end of September, when the company's fiscal year ends, to help provide a smooth transition to the firm's new leadership. Lumley will also remain on Spectrum's board of directors after he retires. Spectrum says it will consider both internal and external candidates for its new top official, which it expects to hire sometime this year. Besides batteries and shavers, Spectrum supplies faucets and hardware under the Black-and-Decker and Farberware labels, among others. Lumley said Spectrum Brands has enjoyed five straight years of record performance -- and now is a good time for him to complete a move to Colorado and handle family affairs and outside board memberships. Spectrum's stock rose ten cents a share in early trading today. It had a 36-percent increase last year.
An ice-covered freighter has pulled into Duluth-Superior for its winter lay-up. The American Integrity arrived yesterday at the Twin Ports. The Duluth Seaway Port Authority expects five other ships to arrive next week at their winter docks. Crews will do electrical and engine work, and make repairs so the vessels can be ready for the 2015 shipping season which is due to begin in late March.