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Lawmaker tinkering with DNA bill caused problems, AG says; Weather bungs up corn planting; more state briefs

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MADISON -- Wisconsin’s attorney general says a last-minute budget change will only confuse police officers as they take DNA samples from those arrested for felonies before convictions.

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One of the most heavily-publicized budget measures called for an extra 68,000 DNA samples each year for a statewide database that helps police solve crimes.

Lawmakers concerned about due process rights added new limits to the Joint Finance Committee version of the budget – and they were later approved by both houses. Police can send DNA samples to the database only when arrests are made with warrants or if a judge rules there’s enough evidence to order a felony trial or if a defendant misses an initial court appearance, or waives-or-misses a preliminary hearing.

All samples not sent to the state within a year of an arrest would be destroyed. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the budget measure “left some holes in the program” and police will be confused about whether to send DNA samples to the state. Currently, only convicted felons and major sex offenders have their DNA placed in the database.

Van Hollen said more crimes could be solved by adding the genetic makeup of arrested suspects to the state’s database.

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Proposal would nix post-Labor Day school start

MADISON -- Wisconsin schools would not have to wait until September to start classes, under a bill that two Republicans are proposing.

Mequon Representative Jim Ott and River Hills Senator Alberta Darling are seeking co-sponsors for their measure.

Many rural schools used to open in mid-August, so farm kids could finish their classes in May and help their families with spring planting and field work. That didn’t help tourist businesses, many of which lost their summer help before Labor Day.

In the late 1990’s, former Gov. Tommy Thompson agreed to make schools wait to open until September, unless they held public hearings and passed resolutions to start earlier.

 Dozens of schools did just that – so in 2001, former Gov. Scott McCallum closed the loophole, and said schools had to prove a hardship to open in August. They didn’t bother.

In 2009, Senate Democrat John Lehman of Racine proposed a bill to abolish the mandatory September start date. That measure went nowhere.

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Damp, cool spring continues to hobble state's farmers

MADISON -- part of Wisconsin’s corn crop is really hurting due to the cool and wet season that got worse over the last four days, when heavy rains and floods hit.

 Officials said only about half of last week’s weather was suitable for long-delayed field work. Eight-percent of the state’s corn crop has still not been planted – and some of the corn that’s in the ground may not survive. Only 84-percent of the crop had emerged as of last Sunday, at a time when much of the corn is normally at least a couple feet tall.

 Only seven of every 10 soybean crops have emerged, and 15 percent of the beans have not yet been planted. Some farmers chose to round up as much hay as possible last week, so they can feed their cows.

 Sixty-one percent of the state’s first hay crop is in, up from 36 percent a week ago. Total precipitation for the year is now 11.75 inches above normal in Madison, and 10.5 inches above normal in Eau Claire.

 Meanwhile, another bout of heavy rains and floods hit southwest Wisconsin late last night. The National Weather Service said a mobile home was evacuated at Bagley in Grant County, and there was highway flooding at Bagley and nearby Patch Grove.

 Prairie du Chien had almost 1.75 inches in just over 90 minues. To the east, Janesville had 58 mph winds just after 1:30 a.m., Tuesday.

 Meanwhile, clean-up continues in Grant County and Boscobel, which had up to 14 inches of rain during the weekend. Over 100 volunteers helped homeowners with their flood damage – including firefighters who pumped water from basements.

 Steve Braun of Grant County Emergency Management said damage to local roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure is well over $3 million. About 600 homes in the county had at least some flooding, and 20 were severely damaged. Elsewhere in the region, Highway 61 remains closed in Crawford County due to a large mudslide. Officials said it might be a few days before it re-opens.

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Ryan says Senate action moves immigration reform forward

Janesville House Republican Paul Ryan says the U.S. Senate has made it easier for all sides to agree on a new immigration reform law.

On Monday, the Senate voted to advance an amendment that would double the numbers of Border Patrol agents, and create hundreds of miles of new fencing at the U.S.-Mexican border.

 Ryan told “CBS This Morning” that the House will craft its own immigration reform package – and it will not take up the Senate bill if it’s passed this week. However, Ryan said most Republicans in his chamber to support the stronger border provisions endorsed by the Senate.

 He says they’re generally more-in-line with the views of the majority Republicans in the House and it will help “make this final passage even more likely.”

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Kind proposes bill aimed at helping seniors, cutting health care costs

A Wisconsin House Democrat proposes a bill to help seniors cut the fat, and get healthier.

 Ron Kind of La Crosse is responding to a recent United Health Foundation report, which said that 80 percent of Wisconsin seniors have four or more chronic conditions that lead to growing health care costs. Kind said obesity is the main reason that the nation spends 160-billion-dollars a year managing chronic diseases.

 He told the Wisconsin Radio Network his measure would give Medicare recipients and their health providers more access to good nutrition, exercise activities, plus treatments to deal with obesity. That would include new prescription drugs, and counseling services for losing weight.

 Kind also says there needs to be improved data-sharing. He emphasizes that he’s not advocating bans on junk food and large soft drinks. Instead, Kind says people need to be encouraged to make good personal choices. He says that’s vital, as health care costs remain the largest-and-fastest area of spending for governments, businesses, and families.

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DNR proposes campground relocation

NECEDAH -- The DNR wants to know what people think about moving the location of a future campground at Buckhorn State Park near Necedah in Juneau County.

Officials say the location that’s spelled out in the park’s master plan is no longer conducive to quality camping, because oak wilt is killing trees at that spot. Instead, the DNR wants to locate the campground closer to the Castle Rock Flowage on the Wisconsin River.

It has a healthy mix hardwood trees and evergreen canopy cover. The new facility would have 60 campsites, showers, and a playground.

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Study shows Wisconsin near-worst in dental care to poor kids

Wisconsin is the second-worst state in the country in providing dental care to low-income kids.

A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that 71.5 percent of Wisconsin children on Medicaid did not see a dentist in 2011. Only Florida was worse.

The Pew study also said Wisconsin dentists get the nation’s fifth-lowest reimbursements to serve patients in programs like Badger Care. Milwaukee dentist Monica Hebl, a past president of the Wisconsin Dental Association, says the state spends less than one percent of its Medicaid budget on dental care and the reimbursement rates have not been raised in years.

 Because of that, most dentists limit the number of Medicaid patients they see. Hebl says many people assume that dental health is only a cosmetic thing – and it’s not. She says poor dental care has been linked to heart problems and diabetes. Some studies show that poor dental care by pregnant women is linked to underweight babies.

 Claire Smith of the state Health Services Department says her agency does what it can within its budget constraints. Smith says the state provides funding to a number of facilities to serve low-income kids.

 The state also supports a program that provides dental screenings and sealants in poorer schools. Smith also said the new state budget would add more affordable dental care, by increasing the numbers of dentists in underserved communities.

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Past prep standout facing charges he murdered his brother

MANITOWOC -- A judge is expected to set bond Tuesday for a 65-year-old Manitowoc man suspected of shooting his 62-year-old brother to death.

An autopsy was conducted Monday on Carey Sullivan. Charges are still pending against his brother, Robert Sullivan – who was honored in 2009 as one of the Top 25 basketball players in Wisconsin high school history.

The Manitowoc Herald-Times Reporter said Robert Sullivan was an all-stater for two years at Manitowoc Lincoln in the early 1960’s.

He helped his team win the state title in ‘63. He then went to the University of Michigan, where he was a starter for three years.

The shooting occurred Sunday morning in a home the two brothers shared in Manitowoc. Police Chief Tony Dick said a motive has not been determined, but the two had an ongoing dispute over finances and money – including the estate of their dead parents.

Authorities said it was not known if drugs or alcohol played a role in the shooting.

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Taylor County woman facing charges in attempted asphyxiation of kids

A Taylor County woman is due in court this afternoon for allegedly trying to kill four of her six kids.

Heidi Mann, 37, of Rib Lake has an initial court appearance scheduled after she was charged last week with four counts of attempted homicide.

Prosecutors said Mann wanted to spare the kids from being hurt by her pending divorce, so she allegedly tried to asphyxiate them so they could join her in Heaven. Authorities said she placed the youngsters in a sport utility vehicle with its engine running for two hours in a closed garage.

The kids – ages 3, 6, 9, and 12 – all survived. Officials say they’re all okay and living with other relatives.

The incident happened in March, but sheriff’s investigators said they were not made aware of it until earlier this month.

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Father, daughter die in apparent murder-suicide

MILWAUKEE -- A man and his young daughter killed in an apparent murder-suicide in Milwaukee have been identified as 28-year-old Jeramie King and six-year-old Jakyla King.

Police said Jeramie and the child’s mother were fighting on Sunday morning. She went to work and then reported the spat to police.

Officers went to the King home and saw the father-and-daughter dead, each with single gunshot wounds. Investigators said Jeramie King shot-and-killed the young girl before turning the gun on himself.

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Two Fox Valley men killed by trains

Two Fox Valley men were struck and killed by trains Monday.

In Appleton, police said several intersections were blocked for six hours after a 64-year-old man killed himself around 1:20 a.m.

Officials said he was lying on the tracks, and did not respond to repeated whistles. He was dragged for about 300 feet.

In Oshkosh, a 52-year-old man died after being hit by a train about 1:45 Monday afternoon.

Police said they were not sure why he was on the tracks. Several intersections were closed, but have since re-opened.

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Deputy exonerated in traffic fatality; back pay awarded

LACROSSE -- A state arbitrator has ordered La Crosse County to rehire a sheriff’s deputy who was fired for causing a traffic death while on duty.

The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission also ordered 20 months of back pay for Deputy Trisha Stratman.

The firing came soon after Stratman was found innocent of negligent homicide in the 2010 death of 16-year-old Brandon Jennings. The officer was rushing to Holmen to help officers with a tavern disturbance, when she drove through a red light at 90-miles-an-hour and killed Jennings after his car entered the intersection from one of her sides.

 The arbitrator agreed that Stratman violated a sheriff’s policy by not slowing down at the intersection – but it wasn’t enough to fire her. The WERC ordered a 30-day suspension.

The state’s professional police association represented Stratman in appealing her dismissal. The group’s director, Jim Palmer, said Stratman is eager to get back to work, but it would take a while.

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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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