Major winter storm smacks southeastern Wisconsin; Milwaukee gun control debate spills onto CNN; no shortage of chicken wings; more state briefs
Dozens of Wisconsin schools were closed Wednesday, as a major snowstorm swept into the Badger state Wednesday morning.
Marshfield schools announced their closure Tuesday evening ahead of a forecast of 5- to 9 inches of snow.
Similar accumulations are expected in a path from southwest Wisconsin to Madison, and northward to central and northeast Wisconsin. Other places expect lesser snow totals, but strong northwest winds could create drifting later on.
Metro Milwaukee could get up to three inches, while Eau Claire and northwest Wisconsin might escape with as little as an inch.
In Milwaukee, folks were playing golf Tuesday afternoon as the mercury hit a record high of 60, but the Madison and Milwaukee areas were pounded by up 2.25 inches of rain last night and then temperatures plunged as the rain changed to snow.
There was flooding reported at a Kenosha park, and on streets in Kenosha and Racine counties. A flood warning remains in effect on the Sheboygan River, which is 18 inchese below flood stage.
Arctic air will move in after the snow moves out. Wednesday's lows are expected to be around zero statewide.
Lawmakers want insight on prison system, plans for new guards' union
MADISON -- Wisconsin lawmakers want to learn more Wednesday about what's going on in the state's prison system, and a plan by guards to start their own union.
Corrections Department Secretary Ed Wall and other agency officials will speak an informational hearing put on by the Assembly corrections' panel. Marty Beil, head of the Wisconsin State Employees' Union, is also scheduled to appear.
Last summer, guards at two Waupun men's prisons and the Taycheedah women's prison voted to break apart from the State Employees Union - which has represented them for decades.
The leader of the proposed new union said the concerns of correctional workers have been lost under the larger umbrella of the State Employees' Union and the new limits on collective bargaining have resulted in a lot less communication between guards and bosses, affecting employee safety
Beil denies giving prison workers the short shrift, saying they've been represented well for decades.
Assembly candidate backs away from discrimination claim
WAUKESHA -- A state Assembly candidate has backed off from her claim that she was pushed out of her top job in the lieutenant governor's office due to age discrimination.
Jeanne Tarantino is one of five Republicans running in a primary next month for a vacant Assembly seat from Waukesha County. Two media reports surfaced last week that said Tarantino had mentioned numerous times in a deposition in a divorce case that she was replaced as the chief-of-staff for Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, because she's a 46-year-old woman.
She transferred to another state agency last September for the same salary, and has since quit that job to run for the Legislature.
Gov. Scott Walker has denied that discrimination was ever involved in her transfer. Kleefisch said the same - and in fact, she's endorsing Tarantino in the Assembly primary.
Tarantino issued a statement Tuesday regretting what she said in her deposition. She blamed pressure from the divorce proceedings, calling them deeply personal and painful. But the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday that Tarantino did not give a full denial that the discrimination happened. In her deposition, she said she never filed a complaint because it would have hurt her chances of getting another state job.
Walker, Barrett, speaking at school choice event
MILWAUKEE -- Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are the featured speakers this morning at a national school choice event. It's part of a week-long "Whistle Stop Train Tour" put on by those who support giving tax-funded vouchers to low-income kids to try and improve their education in private schools.
Leaders of schools, education groups, and others are attending Wednesday's program in downtown Milwaukee.
Republican Walker has long supported private school vouchers and he's considering an expansion of the state's voucher program as part of the next state budget.
Barrett says the state's voucher program hurts taxpayers by taking funds away from public schools. The mayor has said he's willing to consider alternatives which keep the voucher program going, as long as all public schools statewide get more money from the state.
Former mortgage firm owner denies alleged embezzlements
WAUSAU -- A former owner of a Wausau mortgage firm has pleaded innocent to 25 criminal charges, for allegedly embezzling over $1 million from his former clients.
Jay Fischer, 52, who now owns a campground at Marion, was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on 21 felonies and four misdemeanors that include racketeering, forgery, embezzlement, and tax law violations. Those charges were filed last July in Marathon County.
Authorities said Fischer took money he was supposed to use to pay off mortgages for eight clients in his role as the owner of Valley Title in Wausau. Also, Fischer was charged earlier this month in Marathon County with child sexual assault, incest, and bail jumping and he's been ordered to stand trial on those charges as well. No new court dates have been set in either case.
Fischer remains in jail under a 50-thousand-dollar bond.
-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau
Amish couple's court appeal over smoke alarm fails
WAUSAU -- A state appeals court said an Amish couple did not prove that their religious beliefs kept them from following a local building code in Eau Claire County.
Clemens and Christine Borntreger failed to convince the Third District Appellate Court in Wausau that their religious objections to smoke detectors stopped them maintaining a house near Fairchild. Eau Claire County officials say the house is not structurally sound, and they believe that the tenants who rented the house still live there.
The appeals court upheld a $2,500 fine levied by a circuit judge last July for building code violations.
The Borntregers said the building code goes against beliefs of the Old Amish Order, because of its requirements for electronic devices.
Their attorney, George Miller, told the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram that the Borntregers had faced an uphill battle from the start because they were trying to re-open a case that was closed and decided.
The Borntregers had previously missed a deadline to respond to Eau Claire County's original action against them and a judge issued a default judgment in the county's favor.
Gas prices jump 12 cents in past week
Wisconsin gas prices have jumped by over 12 cents a gallon in the past week due to a surge in crude oil prices, and problems at two fuel refineries in Illinois.
The state's American Automobile Association said the average price of regular unleaded was almost $3.36 Wednesday morning. That's up four cents from Tuesday and 12.5 cents higher than last Tuesday.
Crude oil traded at $97 a barrel in New York Tuesday, the highest since last September. Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service says crude oil prices have risen for seven straight weeks, due to renewed optimism about the economy.
AAA spokeswoman Pam Moen speculates that if crude keeps rising, so will the pump price for gas. Supplies have gotten tighter because of problems at a number of refineries around the country.
Moen said the troubles in Illinois are having the biggest impact on Wisconsin's prices and that factor could go away soon, as the refineries go back on line and resume their normal output.
Mayor, sheriff debate gun control on CNN
Milwaukee's mayor, Tom Barrett and county sheriff David Clarke debated gun control Tuesday night on CNN.
"Piers Morgan Tonight" zeroed in on Clarke's recent suggestions that people learn how to use guns and protect themselves, and not count on officers to respond rapidly to 9-1-1 calls.
Barrett, a strong supporter of President Obama's gun control package, said it was irresponsible of the sheriff to imply calling 9-1-1 won't help people. Clarke was especially put on the hot seat by Morgan, who asked how many Milwaukeeans had defended their families and homes by firing guns.
Clarke said he didn't have the numbers and he didn't want to give a ballpark figure. Morgan quickly replied -- "You haven't got a clue."
Clarke responded that if Mayor Barrett had a gun and a plan to defend himself, the 2009 incident in the mayor was attacked by a man with a tire iron might have ended differently. Barrett also says Clarke's deputies respond to relatively few violent crimes especially in the city of Milwaukee, where the city's police department handles 9-1-1 calls.
Clarke countered that his department is the top law enforcement agency for Milwaukee County and it can handle anything.
Meanwhile, a Milwaukee woman had earlier told police that she fired a gun after a drunken argument with her niece because Sheriff Clarke said it was okay. Police quoted 36-year-old Makisha Cooper as saying when she got into a fight with her niece last Saturday, she ran to her car, grabbed a gun, and fired it once outside.
Cooper told officers she knows her rights and she showed them a 40-caliber Smith-and-Wesson semi-automatic handgun.
Cooper was charged with two misdemeanor counts of illegally carrying a concealed weapon, and operating a gun while intoxicated. Her court case was delayed so a public defender could be appointed. She remains free on a signature bond.
Ignore the rumors -- plenty of chicken wings to go around
MILWAUKEE -- Despite some rumors, a Milwaukee chicken supplier says you won't have to do without wings for Sunday's Super Bowl but consumers will have to pay more.
Greg Schmidt of Milwaukee's Tower Chicken Farm said a pound of wings has jumped from $3.59 at the New Year's holiday to a record-high $3.99 now. His place is providing the meat for some big Super Bowl parties even though the Packers won't be the featured entertainment.
Schmidt received an order Tuesday for 320 pounds of chicken wings and another 600 pounds will be delivered on Friday, which is double his normal business.
The National Chicken Council ruffled some feathers when it said that farmers grew one percent fewer chickens last year due to high feed prices and that raised fears of possible shortages.
Schmidt said the reduced supply naturally led to higher prices, but there should still be plenty of wings to go around.
Fisherman escape splashdown into Green Bay
GREEN BAY -- Two ice fishermen are okay, after their truck fell into the Bay of Green Bay in heavy fog.
The driver told authorities they were moving from one spot to another on the bay, when they hit a wet spot and fell in. The truck was half-submerged in several feet of water.
The incident occurred Tuesday morning about a mile from the shoreline of a park in Suamico. Brown County sheriff's deputies said the fog made it hard to find the two men and the fishermen could not see the shore from where they fell.
Rescuers used lights and sirens on squad cars to get the pair back to Suamico. No one was injured.
Appleton man is season's 6th snowmobile fatality
Six people have been killed in Wisconsin snowmobile crashes this winter.
The latest victim is William Donker, 70, of Appleton, who died late Monday afternoon near Wabeno in Forest County. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said Donker's machine left a snowmobile trail and struck a tree. Early indications were that the machine hit a bump on the trail before going out of control.
The DNR said speed was a possible factor, but officials are still investigating. Donker was the second fatal snowmobile victim in Wisconsin in the last three days and those were the first in 2013. The other four deaths occurred in late December.
-- Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander