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Law to curb circuit judge's powers wins approval; poll says slight majority favor Walker's performance; more state briefs

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MADISON -- State laws that are struck down by circuit judges could stay in effect while they're appealed, under a bill that got preliminary approval in the Assembly Tuesday.

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Democrats used a procedural move to block a final vote until next month.

Republicans proposed the bill after they were frustrated that Dane County judges struck down their photo ID requirement for voting, and parts of the Act 10 limits on unions - and they're still not in place while the appellate courts review them.

Attorneys for the non-partisan Legislative Council had said it could be unconstitutional for a law to take effect right after judge strikes it down. The issue was debated not long after the Dalai Lama spoke to lawmakers Tuesday afternoon.

The spiritual leader of Tibet called America the "greatest Democracy" in the world. Democrats cited those remarks, as they claimed that Republicans were trampling on the Constitution.

GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos countered that the bill would not "fundamentally change the balance of power."

Other Republicans said it's wrong that a judge from one county can strike down a law that affects the entire state.

Milwaukee County Board powers reigned in

MADISON -- Wisconsin lawmakers have given their final approval to a bill that reduces the powers of the Milwaukee County Board.

The Senate okayed the measure 19 to 14 Tuesday. The Assembly later ratified some recent changes made by a Senate committee.

The bill was then sent to Gov. Scott Walker, who said he favors it.

Wauwatosa Republican Leah Vukmir said the state needed to step in to reduce what she called "out of control" spending and power by supervisors in Wisconsin's largest county.

Senate President Mike Ellis got behind the bill after it was learned that the board authorized talks with a county employee union that was decertified.

Milwaukee Democrat Tim Carpenter accused lawmakers of picking on his home county. "We are really feeling under siege," he said.

Despite the slim-down of the County Board, lawmakers are considering measures to restrict residency rules for Milwaukee's public employees, and to make it harder to start a city street-car project.

The county measure would reduce the board's budget by two-thirds and limit supervisors' power.

A referendum would be held next year on cutting the members' pay by 50 percent.

WEDC employees likely to come under greater scrutiny

MADISON -- Employees of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation are one step closer to being barred from negotiating contracts in which they have a financial stake.

The state Assembly approved the negotiating ban Tuesday on a vote of 80 to 15. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Greenfield Republican Jeff Stone authored the measure, which prohibits WEDC employees from having any discretion in contracts with firms in which they have monetary interests.

The vote came after a stinging audit two weeks ago, which criticized the WEDC's lack of policies and accountability procedures in doling out tax funds to help businesses create jobs.

Also Tuesday, the Assembly passed a measure that lets drivers use smart-phones to show police officers that they have the required auto insurance. Right now, motorists must show written evidence of insurance if they're stopped by the police.

The Senate approved the smart-phone evidence last month. The bill now goes to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.

New poll shows Wisconsinites still split on Walker

MILWAUKEE -- Just over half of Wisconsinites approve of Governor Scott Walker's job performance. That's according to a new Marquette Law School poll released Tuesday.

Fifty-one percent of almost 720 registered voters approved of the governor's work, while 45 percent disapproved. The poll was taken last Tuesday through Friday. It has an error margin of 4.4 percent either way.

Walker continues to make job creation his top priority, but 49 percent in the new poll say Wisconsin is lagging behind other states in creating jobs.

Only 9 percent said the Badger State is creating jobs faster than others, while 35 percent said the state is about on pace with others.

Pollster Charles Franklin says there's a partisan split on the issue. Only 26 percent of Republicans thought Wisconsin was lagging behind others in creating jobs, while 47 percent of independents and 70 percent of Democrats felt that way.

New landlord-tenant legislation blocked by procedural move

MADISON -- A bill to give landlords more power over their tenants was temporarily blocked in the Wisconsin Assembly Tuesday.

Democrats used a procedural move to delay a final vote on the measure until June.

The measure was debated for over an hour, and Democrats failed to get several amendments approved.

The bill's main sponsor, Saukville Republican Duey Strobel, said it would ease burdensome requirements for landlords and it would hold tenants more responsible for damages. Landlords could dispose of anything tenants leave behind without advance notice. Building owners could also have tenant vehicles towed if they're illegally parked.

They could also evict tenants if crimes occur in their units, regardless of whether the tenants could have prevented them. Victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and stalking could not be evicted.

Sun Prairie Democrat Gary Hebl called the bill an "attack on the little guy." He and others said it tramples on consumer rights. Other critics feared violent confrontations between tenants and the landlords who toss them out.

State income tax for troops killed in combat approved by Legislature

The Wisconsin Senate and Assembly have both voted unanimously to forgive state income taxes for military troops killed in combat.

The approval came after the father of Dodge County soldier Lt. David Johnson, who had been killed in Afghanistan, said he was shocked that the state would not forgive his son's taxes on his military income.

The Internal Revenue Service forgave the soldier's federal taxes.

Assembly Republican Mark Born of Beaver Dam told his colleagues, "Nothing further is needed from soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice."

State taxes would be forgiven for the year in which a soldier or Marine dies, plus the year before. It would also reduce the taxes on the soldiers' estates. The measure now goes to Gov. Scott Walker.

Food co-op pledges to persevere in wake of damaging fire

A FARGE -- The head of the nation's largest organic food co-op vows to keep going, after a fire damaged two-thirds of its headquarters in southwest Wisconsin.

Authorities are trying to determine what started the blaze at the Organic Valley Cooperative in La Farge. It broke out late Tuesday afternoon, as employees were about to leave for the day. Nobody was hurt.

CEO George Siemon said the fire was small when it started, but it spread quickly.

Workers watched as the co-op's offices and human resources department burned. Firefighters from five departments had to open the roof and cut around solar panels to get to the flames.

The fire was put out last evening when a dinner had been scheduled in the building. About 400 people work at Organic Valley, and it has over 1,800 members in the U.S. and Canada.

Simeon said a new facility at Cashton could serve as temporary headquarters until it can be seen how much of the La Farge building can be salvaged. He said the co-op has contingency plans.

Whoops. Retailer discovers deep wine discount violated state law

Wisconsin wine connoisseurs got a rude awakening recently, when they were told about a bargain they were not entitled to get.

World Market recently e-mailed its members about a 20-percent discount for buying four-or-more bottles of white wine. The company later reduced the Wisconsin discount to 10 percent, after learning that the original offer violated the state's 74-year-old minimum markup law.

Spokeswoman Marissa Durazzo said the discounted price was below its cost for buying the product. That's illegal in Wisconsin, where stores must sell most merchandise at a certain percentage above wholesale costs unless competitors go lower.

As a result, World Market's Wisconsin stores must sell some brands in the sale 30 percent higher than elsewhere. Durazzo said World Market offered the discounts in 21 states, and it later withdrew the offers in 10 states for various reasons.

This is just the latest flap involving the minimum markup law. A few years ago, lawmakers granted an exception so seniors could take advantage of price breaks on medicines.

Also, a federal judge struck down the markup for gasoline in 2008, but an appellate court restored it a year-and-a-half later.

Clear, cool Wednesday forecast statewide

SULLIVAN -- A clear-and-cooler day is expected throughout Wisconsin, after a short heat wave came to a stormy end in the southern part of the state.

Temperatures reached the 90's Tuesday in the southwest quarter of Wisconsin. It was 95 in Boscobel and Muscoda. It was 94 as far north as Black River Falls.

The National Weather Service said a large barn blew down near Waterloo in Jefferson County, as heavy thunderstorms rumbled through the southern part of the state last night. Trees and power lines fell in Waukesha County and parts of Milwaukee and Rock counties.

High winds also damaged a house near Marshall in Dane County. A tree fell across a road a couple miles north of Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport and winds hit 68 miles an hour at Oconomowoc.

We Energies said 3,300 hundred electric customers were without power this morning in southeast Wisconsin. That's after 16,000 were in the dark last night. The heat and strong winds have also fueled a large wildfire in Douglas and Bayfield counties in far northwest Wisconsin.

State renews battle against leaf-eating gypsy moth and tree-killing ash borer

MADISON -- State agriculture officials are renewing their battles against the leaf-killing gypsy moth, and the tree-killing emerald ash borer.

Aerial spraying will resume in late May, and officials will use the non-toxic BTK to go after the gypsy moths.

The low-flying planes will begin spraying in southern Wisconsin and move northward, ending in July or August. Twenty-five counties are being targeted this year, generally in the western third of the Badger State. The counties of Pierce, St. Croix, Pepin and Buffalo are not effected.

Spraying updates will be available online at http://gypsymoth.wi.gov/.

Meanwhile, federal and state workers are putting up 1,100 traps around the state to check for the presence of the emerald ash borer.

Most traps will be placed in counties where the beetle has not made its presence known. The ash borer has caused tree damage in 13 Wisconsin counties, and some communities may put up traps to check for any new infestations. People are asked not to touch the purple-trap boxes.

The emerald ash borer has been confirmed in Brown, Crawford, Kenosha, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Rock, Trempealeau, Vernon, Walworth, Washington, and Waukesha counties.

Ex-boyfriend gets 19 years for beating death of 5-year-old

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee man will spend 19 years in prison for beating his ex-girlfriend's son to death.

Marcus Colin, 22, was also told to spend 14 years under extended supervision, after being convicted of second-degree reckless homicide and felony child neglect.

Colin killed five-year-old Jayden Banda-Goodman last October, while Colin was waiting to be sentenced for attacking the boy's mother. Alyssa Banda suffered facial injuries and a broken finger after she tried breaking up with Colin. Banda told a social worker that the youngster fell down a flight of stairs while helping carry groceries to her south side Milwaukee apartment.

Doctors said a fall was not enough to explain the youngster's extensive injuries which included a blood infection and numerous bruises.

The mother later told police that Colin was boxing with Jayden to try-and-make him tougher and he played too rough. Colin told a judge that he never took out anger on the child. The mother pleaded guilty to child neglect while causing death. She's scheduled to be sentenced later this month.

Bond set at $2 million for Merrill man accused of killing wife

MERRILL -- A $2 million bond was set Tuesday for a Merrill area man charged in the death of his wife.

Mark Bucki, 49, is charged in Lincoln County with homicide, hiding a corpse, and strangulation-and-suffocation.

Authorities said he and his 48-year-old wife Anita Bucki were discussing a divorce just before she went missing on April 25th.

Her remains were found last Friday in a wooded area near Medford, and Mark Bucki was arrested on Monday. He waived the state's time limits for a preliminary hearing, and the status of his case will be reviewed a week from Thursday.

District Attorney Donald Dunphy said blood evidence was taken from the defendant's home, truck, and other property. Officials are still waiting for lab results to determine whether it was human blood, since Mark Bucki is an avid hunter.

A pathologist observed bruises on Anita's throat that were reportedly consistent with strangulation. She also had seven knife wounds.

A friend said the couple was separated for a month. Mark Bucki admitted to investigators that he had a new girlfriend.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

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