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Job creation half what Walker predicted; Baldwin, Johnson split on immigration vote; lad mending after lightning strike, more state news

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MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker says Wisconsin is making good progress in creating jobs, even though it’s only half the pace of what he promised before he was elected.

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A quarterly federal report released Thursday said Wisconsin ranked 33rd among the 50 states in the growth rate of private sector jobs last year. That’s up from 44th three months earlier.

The report said Wisconsin added just over 32,000 private sector jobs last year, a 1.4 percent increase from the previous year. The national increase was 2.3 percent.

In the past, the Republican Walker partially blamed the state’s slow job growth on the political turmoil from the recall effort against him. Thursday, Walker tweeted that the 2012 job numbers reflected the recall fervor and now, “We need to build off momentum.”

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said he was pleased with what he called a “slight uptick.” He said Wisconsin has a long way to go to get back to the national norm, and the state’s goal should not be, “bringing up the rear.”

In his 2010 campaign, Walker promised the state would create a quarter-million jobs by the start of 2015. Some 62,000 jobs were created in the first half of the term, putting Walker on pace for a total of 124,000.

Ex-lumberjack Duffy urges more logging access in Chequamegon

WASHINGTON D.C. -- There’s apparently been a dramatic drop-off in the amount of timber harvested from the national forest that covers much of northern Wisconsin.

Congressman Sean Duffy said on the House floor yesterday that the lumber harvested from the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest dropped from 150 million board feet per year about a quarter century ago, to 98 million now.

Duffy, a Republican from the Wausau area, says the current harvest is well below what the U.S. Forest Service suggests to keep the forest healthy and sustainable. That recommendation calls for an annual harvest of 131 million board feet.

Duffy told his colleagues that the Forest Service should open up its national forests, instead of letting what he called a “noble resource” rot and burn.

Duffy, a former lumberjack competitor, said more logging at the Chequamegon-Nicolet would be a big economic boost for Wisconsin. He Said it could create up to 4,000 jobs, with a total economic impact of over $200 million.

Baldwin, Johnson split votes on immigration reform package

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Wisconsin cast a split vote Thusday, when the U.S. Senate passed an historic immigration reform package.

Tammy Baldwin joined all 51 other Democrats in supporting the measure. Ron Johnson joined 31 other Republicans in voting no. Fourteen GOP senators and two independents voted yes, as the reform bill passed 68-to-32.

Johnson said there was a lot to like in the Senate package – including a more workable system for the 40 percent of Wisconsin dairy workers who are immigrants.

In the end, Johnson said he concluded that the package would not solve the nation’s current immigration problem. He agreed with a Congressional Budget Office estimate that 7.5 million more undocumented immigrants would move into the U.S. by 2033. Johnson said it would only cause more confusion and fear in the next generation of those immigrants’ families.

The Senate endorsed a path to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants – and it called for massive spending increases to secure the U.S. border with Mexico.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner now says his chamber will take up its own immigration package. He refused to say if anything could make him support a pathway to citizenship, but he said securing the border was a top priority.

Finally -- a dry weekend for most of Wisconsin

SULLIVAN -- A weather system that produced heavy thunderstorms over the last week is finally leaving Wisconsin Friday.

The National Weather Service says an area of low pressure that hovered over the state all week will gradually move south over the next two days.

There’s still a chance of more rain Friday – but by Sunday, all of Wisconsin is likely to have clear skies and much cooler temperatures. Severe storms hit northern and eastern regions Thursday, with a number of trees and power lines down – plus hail of up 2.5 inches in Manitowoc. Elkhart Lake had 60 miles per hour winds.

On Friday morning, Hayward was the only Wisconsin city to report rain. The Wisconsin Public Service utility reports only a couple of people without power, after more than 6,000 customers were left in the dark Thursday morning in northeast and north central areas.

State officials are still gathering damage estimates from the past week, with the possibility of seeking federal disaster aid for flood damage. Grant County in southwest Wisconsin was hit the hardest. It’s been muggy for most of the week, with highs in the 80’s in many places.

The Weather Service says the frontal movement will make things at least 10 degrees cooler Friday. It might not hit 70 in many parts of Wisconsin Friday. Highs in the 70’s are projected for the weekend.

Two charged with theft from U.S. Marshal's car

PORT WASHINGTON -- A man and a woman from Ozaukee County face numerous charges, after they allegedly entered the car of a deputy U-S Marshal and stole a rifle and other gear.

Clifford Fiene, 23, of Port Washington is charged with five felony counts that include theft, and possessing an electronic weapon and a silencer. He’s due in court on July 10th on those counts, along with six previous charges of theft and forgery.

Reports said Fiene’s girlfriend, Ana Radke, 22, was also charged with theft although online court records did not list the case Friday morning.

The deputy Marshal, Zachary Kadish, is under an internal investigation and his office could not comment on the incident. Prosecutors said Kadish’s car was parked in Saukville on June 20th, and he noticed the next day that his law enforcement items were taken. There was no word on whether the vehicle was locked at the time.

Fiene was arrested the same day for previous warrants – and officials said his relatives called police after noticing that his cell phone had messages about the selling of a gun for drugs.

Traffic stop winds up as maternity assist for cops

MILWAUKEE -- Two Milwaukee police officers were planning to ticket a speeding driver. Instead, they helped deliver a passenger’s baby.

Officers Adam Bradley and Xavier Benitez were on a downtown patrol Wednesday night, when they saw a car racing up Water Street.

When they pulled it over, they saw 21-year-old Brenda Alva in labor. Benitez saw the baby coming out as he stepped up to the passenger’s window – so they called for help, grabbed plastic gloves, and handled the baby girl as she was entering the world.

Minutes later, Isabella Alva was officially born. The challenge then was for the officers to get the family to Columbia-Saint Mary’s Hospital, darting as best they could through heavy traffic leaving the nearby Summerfest.

Bradley says it’s something they don’t teach in the Police Academy. Both officers visited the hospital with presents Thursday, as Alva’s family looked on.

No speeding citation was written.

DNR veteran named to oversee Wisconsin’s frac-sand activity

WISCONSIN RAPIDS -- A 22-year veteran of the state DNR will oversee Wisconsin’s rapidly-growing frac-sand industry.

Deb Dix has been named the interim lead official for handling inquiries about state frac-sand regulations and similar matters. She replaces Tom Woletz, who retired earlier this month as the DNR’s chief expert on frac-sand mining – the relatively-new phenomenon of digging for silica sand that’s used by the oil and gas industry to lubricate drilling equipment.

Under Woletz, Wisconsin has developed over 100 frac sand mines – the most in the nation – plus 65 processing sites.

Dix will be based in the DNR’s Wisconsin Rapids office, and will serve until a permanent lead official is named. She’s been with the agency since 1990, and was most recently involved in the DNR’s environmental enforcement program – including frac-sand enforcement actions.

In a recent retirement interview, Woletz said no frac-sand company has ever been taken to the court by the state, but the Justice Department has several cases pending.

He said Wisconsin has good frac-sand mining regulations, but the DNR can use more staffers to assure compliance.

Eau Claire's downtown Ramada moves toward sale

EAU CLAIRE -- Want to buy a hotel? The Ramada Hotel and Convention Center in downtown Eau Claire will be auctioned off at a sheriff’s sale on Tuesday.

The previous owner, S.B. Hotel Management, owes more than $1.6 million to its lender and Ramada Worldwide.

A court-appointed operator is running the facility until it’s sold. That operator is reportedly looking into re-launching the hotel under a new name, after Ramada said it no longer wanted the downtown Eau Claire site in its chain.

S.B. Hotel Management tried delaying the sheriff’s sale, but a judge said the company would have to pay off its entire debt to avoid the auction.

State school Superintendent Tony Evers begins second term Monday

MADISON -- Wisconsin’s public school superintendent will begin his second four-year term on Monday.

Tony Evers will be sworn-in by Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley during a ceremony at Madison La Follette High School. He also plans to deliver an inaugural address.

Evers was re-elected in April, defeating State Assembly Republican Don Pridemore with almost 61 percent of the vote.

Trial of coach accused of abuse wrapping up

The defense was expected to make case Friday in the trial of Rory McKellips, a former central Wisconsin girls’ high school basketball coach accused of sexually assaulting a player.

Marathon County prosecutors rested their case Thursday after more than three days of testimony. It was not known whether McKellips, 56, would testify in his own defense. He’s accused of having sexual contact three times in the summer of 2011 with a girl who was 15.

McKellips was coaching at Athens High School at the time. McKellips previous coached at Mosinee High School for 16 years, where he won a state Division Two championship. He also spent a year coaching at Wisconsin Valley Lutheran High School.

In Thursday’s testimony, jurors were told that McKellips and the girl exchanged almost 2,000 text messages, and numerous phone calls – and he gave her a prepaid cell-phone after her parents expressed concerns about their repeated calls.

The trial was scheduled to wrap up Friday, but officials say it could run into the weekend.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Repair shop owner facing federal fraud indictment

RHINELANDER -- A new federal indictment accuses the owner of four automotive businesses in Rhinelander of defrauding insurance companies of almost $20,000.

John Henricks III, 42, was charged in federal court with identity theft and three counts of mail fraud. That was after similar state charges were filed almost a month ago.

Federal prosecutors allege Henricks filed a false insurance claim using another person’s identity. An indictment said he also used one incident of vehicle damage to file multiple claims with different insurers. Henricks owns an auto body repair shop in Rhinelander, plus three towing businesses.

The federal charges are the result of an investigation by the FBI and Oneida County sheriff’s deputies. Henricks also faces state charges of identity theft and three counts of making fraudulent insurance claims.

He’s due in Oneida County Circuit Court July 3 for a motion hearing on those felony charges. A preliminary hearing in the state matter is set for Aug. 15th.

-- Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander

Two hurt in crash involving military wrecker, Humvee

JANESVILLE -- Two people were injured after a chain reaction Interstate crash near Janesville that involved two military vehicles.

The State Patrol said a car merged from Hwy. 26 onto I-39-90 – and it stopped at the top of the ramp.

A military Humvee hit the brakes to avoid hitting the car. A military tow truck swerved to avoid the Humvee, and it collided with a semi. The tow truck then broke through the wall of a bridge – and debris fell on Highway 26 below, damaging another vehicle.

The two injured people, a man and his female passenger -- both from Illinois -- were in the tow truck that hung off the bridge overpass. They were taken to a Janesville hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The crash occurred about 11:15 a.m. Thursday and tied up traffic for hours. One lane of the freeway was closed in each direction. They were expected to re-open last evening.

Rock County public works officials said the tow truck put a large hole into the bridge wall – but the bridge itself did not have any structural damage.

Youngster survives lightning strike

MADISON -- An eight-year-old boy remains hospitalized with second-degree burns from being struck by lightning.

Blake Draeger was struck Wednesday night while riding a mini-bike on his great-uncle’s farm near Edgar, west of Wausau.

WAOW TV reported there were holes were in the ground at the spot where the lightning hit.

The great-uncle, Jim Draeger, said the hit occurred before it started raining. The boy’s father was working on a back-hoe on the farm when he suddenly ran to help his son. The father used CPR to revive him.

Relatives said young Blake was thrown off his mini-bike – and he was knocked unconscious even though he was wearing a helmet. The family said the prospects are good that Blake will recover.

They said he was in critical but stable condition at last word at the UW Burn Center in Madison.

He has burns to about 15 percent of his body on his head, shoulders, and feet.

Delta flight from MSP makes emergency landing

MILWAUKEE -- A Delta Airlines plane made an emergency landing in Milwaukee Thursday night.

Delta said the pilot noticed an indicator light flashing for a possible problem with the hydraulic system. The pilot declared an emergency as a precaution, and Delta said the plane landed without incident.

It was Flight 927 from Minneapolis to Milwaukee’s Mitchell International with 160 passengers. Nobody was hurt.

Officials said the Boeing M-D-90 aircraft was being inspected last night.

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Steve Dzubay
Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer since 1995. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.
(715) 426-1054
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