Republicans add last-minute school choice measures, mine-area restrictions; Shell Lake man mauled by bear, more state news
MADISON -- A debate over the new state budget lasted only 15 minutes in the Assembly Tuesday, as majority Republicans spent most of their time behind closed doors adding some last-minute items.
The debate was scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m., Wednesday and a vote was set for 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, under new rules aimed at discouraging all-night sessions.
The Senate is currently scheduled to take up the two-year, $68 billion budget Thursday. GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says the two houses are not in full agreement of a package yet - and talks among Republican leaders continue.
Among the Assembly's last-minute budget items is a larger expansion of Wisconsin's private school choice program that would add an estimated 750 students. Once parents are in the program, they would not have to leave if their incomes go above state limits.
An extra $5 million was added for youngsters in the Racine area. It would let qualifying students in private schools enter the choice program if their schools are added in the future. Racine was first added to the voucher program two years ago.
Also, Republicans added DNR rules to keep people away from Gogebic Taconite's exploration drilling site in Iron County for a new iron ore mine. That's after protestors started showing up. The GOP also scrapped controversial limits on property tax breaks for disabled veterans and their spouses. They decided not to have the state take over local storm-water control standards.
The GOP also ordered a one-year delay on rules which make it easier for large dairies to install high-capacity wells.
Walker will sign venture capital bill OK by lawmakers Tuesday
MADISON -- Wisconsin's first state-run venture capital fund for new businesses is one step away from reality.
Gov. Scott Walker said he looks forward to signing a bill passed by both houses Tuesday. It creates $25 million in tax funds, plus $50 million more from private sources, to help companies in five key areas get off the ground - agriculture, information technology, medical devices, engineering, and advanced manufacturing.
Assembly GOP sponsor Mike Kuglitsch of New Berlin said it will re-invigorate entrepreneurship.
Most Democrats voted for the bill, even though they said more tax money should have been allocated - and some industries like medical bio-tech firms should not have been excluded.
Republicans said they targeted the industries that could achieve the fastest growth.
The Senate passed the measure 29-to-3. The only no votes were from Racine Democrat John Lehman, Madison Democrat Fred Risser, and West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman.
The Assembly approved the bill 91-to-2 earlier this month, but they had to ratify a Senate clarification on how the new fund manager is selected.
A five-member selection panel would have two Administration representatives instead of one. It would no longer have a member from the state's Technology Council.
Shell Lake man critical after black bear attack
SHELL LAKE -- A state wildlife expert says it's really unusual for one black bear to attack a human - much less two.
Northern Wisconsin had its second bear attack in two months on Monday night, when Jerry Brown of rural Shell Lake and his dog were hurt in their yard. State DNR carnivore specialist David MacFarland said Brown's dog was apparently the first to have contact with the bear - and the animal then mauled Brown.
McFarland said Brown's brother came out of a cabin, and shot the bear. The injured animal then ran away. Officials were still looking for the bear at last word. Brown was taken to a hospital in Shell Lake, and then flown to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Minn.
He was in critical but stable condition at last word. MacFarland says black bear are normally not aggressive enough to attack humans. Last month, a dog tangled with a bear in Marinette County before the bear attacked Gerre Ninneman. His wife then hit the bear's head with a gun, and a sheriff's deputy shot and killed the animal.
House voting on Farm Bill amendments expected Wednesday
WASHINGTON D.C. -- The U.S. House was expected to begin voting Wednesday on dozens of amendments to a new five-year Farm Bill.
The main bone of contention is a proposed reduction of $2 billion a year in food stamps - plus tighter eligibility requirements for the poor to receive aid.
Efforts to both expand and reduce the size of the proposed cuts are among 226 amendments offered to the five-year package of government farm programs - which passed the Senate last week by a 3-to-1 margin. Senators called for a $400 million cut in food stamps, something Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson said was not enough.
Other amendments would make changes to various subsidies, and replace the market stabilization and margin protection plans for dairy producers.
President Obama has said that he would veto the current House version of the Farm Bill. He's against reducing food assistance. The president also says the House package does not do enough to reform crop insurance and commodity programs - and does not provide funds for renewable energy. However, it's not likely that a House version would get to the president's desk.
Speaker John Boehner says he favors sending the Farm Bill to a House-Senate conference committee, and let them hammer out the disagreements.
Protestors creating a stir in taconite exploration area
Gogebic Taconite says about a dozen protestors are camping without permission, close to where the firm is conducting early drilling for a new iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.
Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz says protestors are walking on the mining site and yelling threats to workers. That was about a week after protestors caused about $2,000 in vandalism damage. A worker's cell phone was stolen in that incident.
The proposed mining site in Ashland and Iron counties includes public recreation land. Seitz tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that something needs to be done to keep intruders away - or else there could be more vandalism.
On Tuesday, Assembly Republican Mark Honadel of South Milwaukee put an item into the new state budget to address the issue. It was not clear whether the proposed limits would affect land other than the Gogebic Taconite mining site.
Honadel says tensions cannot escalate any more than they already have. He said he hopes the DNR can do something "before someone gets shot up there."
Senate Democrat Bob Jauch, who represents the place where the mine would go, says Republicans are "over-reacting to the illegal actions of a few who haven't been seen or heard from since."
Capuchin order reveals 23 friars sexually abused minors
A Catholic religious order says at least 23 of its past- and present friars sexually abused minors over the past 80 years - and many of those incidents were in Wisconsin.
The Capuchin Franciscans released the results Tuesday of a year-long audit of abuse by its friars. The report said the actual numbers of cases could be higher, but there was not enough documentation to confirm all the incidents.
The report said the Capuchins moved offending friars from one position to another, without disclosing the past abuse. They rarely reported cases to law enforcement - and they spent more on lawyers than on caring for victims.
Provincial Minister John Celichowski said the order failed abuse victims, their families, and the religious order throughout the decades. He said improvements have been made in recent years - and he admitted it could take many more years for the Capuchins to regain the trust it lost.
The order is based in Detroit, with a number of local parishes in Wisconsin.
Divers speculate wooden beam found in Lake Michigan is centuries old
Archaeology divers say a wooden beam found on the bottom of northern Lake Michigan appears to have been there for centuries.
However, French officials say it's not enough to confirm the presence of the Griffin - a French ship that vanished in the 17th century while exploring the Great Lakes.
Scientists have been watching as commercial divers started excavating last week at the base of the wood beam, trying to determine if it was part of the Griffin.
Michel L'Hour, head of the French Department of Underwater Archaeological Research, said the beam appears to be a "bowsprit" - a pole that extends from the stem of a vessel. It extends over 10 feet above the lake bed off Fairport Michigan. Excavators have been opening a pit at the base of the post to see if it's connected to anything.
The ship was commanded by the French explorer Rene Cavelier de la Salle. He set sail from an island near the Bay of Green Bay in 1679, and was never seen again.
Grouse population down 9 percent YOY
MADISON -- Wisconsin's population of ruffed grouse has dropped 9 percent over the past year. That's according to a roadside survey by the state DNR, the U.S. Forest Service, Indian tribal staff members, and volunteers.
For almost 50 years, surveyors have monitored 10 breeding sites for ruffed grouse, counting the numbers of drumming sounds that the male grouse produce.
Ecologists blame the reduction on a loss of brushy and dense areas which grouse need for cover.
Testimony indicates woman was bludgeoned to death
A medical examiner said a 78-year-old Sheboygan Falls woman was struck at least 27 times with sharp-and-blunt objects while being murdered in her home last fall.
Doug Kelley testified for the prosecution Tuesday at the trial of 14-year-old Nathan Paape, one of two teens charged in the slaying and robbery of Barbara Olson.
Jurors were shown photos of the victim's body. They saw fractures and gashes on her head, face, hands, and arms. Kelley said his estimate of the wounds was conservative.
Paape and his 14-year-old friend Antonio Barbeau were accused of attacking Olson with a hammer and a hatchet, and then ransacking her house for money.
Olson was Barbeau's great-grandmother. Barbeau pleaded no contest to his homicide charge last week, in the hopes of getting a lighter sentence. Paape's lawyer contends that Barbeau planned and carried out the whole scenario, while Paape watched. The state contends that both teens planned and pulled off the murder.