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Stillwater Lift Bridge open again; Rhoades takes leave for hip surgery; Budget moves on to Senate; more state news

One of the main links between northwest Wisconsin and Minnesota is completely open again -- much earlier than expected.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation completed repairs Wednesday on a frayed cable that blocked boats from going under the Stillwater Lift Bridge on the St. Croix River. The bridge was stuck in the “down” position since Sunday night due to the damaged cable.

Wednesday officials closed the structure to traffic for four hours so they could fix the cable and inspect the lift system on the 82-year-old bridge.

Officials had been hoping to get boat traffic moving again by the end of the week, but that turned out to be a much shorter delay. Car and truck drivers were expecting a four-hour closure Wednesday – and that’s exactly how long the shutdown was.


Rhoades takes leave for hip surgery

Wisconsin’s health secretary will take some time off due to a health issue.

Kitty Rhoades, Hudson, took a leave of absence Wednesday so she can have a hip replaced. She expects to be back fulltime by the end of next month.

Rhoades said she’ll be briefed about agency matters and will make decisions as her recovery allows.

She said she wanted to take a vacation this summer, but “This isn’t exactly how I planned to do it.”

Rhoades, a former Republican legislator from Hudson, became the state’s Health Services secretary in late February.


Budget moves on to Senate

The Wisconsin Senate appears to have the votes to approve a Republican version of the new state budget today.

The two-year spending and policy package was approved by the Assembly 55-42 Wednesday after minority Democrats decided not to debate over 210 amendments they drafted.

Democrats said their decision to not debate the state budget was strategic. Minority leader Peter Barca was the only Democrat to speak, saying the bill was so bad that even if a couple of their proposed amendments were voted on, no Democrat would vote for the proposal. Democrats say the strategy is to focus on the public's understanding of the budget so that the people vote Republican lawmakers out of office next election.

The vote will be much closer in the 33-member Senate, where two Republican defectors could derail the GOP package or send it to a conference committee. Democrats were hoping that Republicans Dale Schultz of Richland Center and Rob Cowles of Green Bay would vote no, but Cowles now said he’ll vote yes, saying the budget “basically subscribes to Republican principles.” Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he was confident he has the votes.

In the Assembly, Republicans Steve Kestell, Steve Nass and Howard Marklein joined all Democrats in rejecting the budget.

Kestell said he couldn’t justify having 90 non-fiscal policy items in the package. Nass said the package does not do enough to expand private school vouchers, and he was against the return of bail bondsmen.

Marklein – who plans to run in a GOP primary against Senator Schultz next year – said the package was not fiscally responsible.

The budget would cut income taxes by $650 million, but it leaves a $505 million deficit for the next budget in 2015. It also freezes UW tuition for two years, and it forces felony suspects to give their DNA to law enforcement before they know if they’ll be convicted.


Accused murderer accused prosecutors of trying to make him look dangerous

A South Dakota man says he’s tired of being called a monster after he was arrested near Madison last July for killing a nurse and threatening to kill President Obama.

James McVay, 43, spoke out of turn several times during a court hearing Wednesday in Sioux Falls.

He later apologized, but not before accusing prosecutors of cherry-picking information to make him look dangerous. Because of that, McVay said news reporters are “deciding whether I live or die.”

McVay pleaded guilty by insanity to killing Maybelle Schein, 75, at her home last July. He then allegedly stole her car and headed toward Wisconsin. Prosecutors said McVay planned to kill somebody in Madison and ambush a police officer to steal a gun.

After his arrest, he told police and a TV reporter that he wanted to drive to Washington to kill Obama while he was playing golf.

McVay faces the death penalty for his South Dakota conviction, but a judge is being asked to decide whether it’s an appropriate punishment for a mentally ill convict.


Milk production climbing; state hopes to meet 2020 goal

Wisconsin continues to make progress in an ambitious plan to increase its milk production to 30 billion pounds a year by 2020.

Last month, federal officials said the state had another increase in its milk output that’s above the national average while top-producing California saw its production drop again.

Wisconsin made just over 2.33 billion pounds of milk in May, up 1.2% from the same month a year ago. The national increase was .8%. The 23 major milk-producing states saw an increase of .9%. Fifteen of those states had increases, while first-place California had a decline of .5% to 3.7 billion pounds.

Wisconsin’s milk-boosting campaign was highlighted earlier this month when 44 farms received “Grow Wisconsin Dairy Grants” for planning and improvements to make their operations more profitable.

Gov. Scott Walker announced over a year ago that the state would help new and current dairy farms hit the 30-billion-pound mark by 2020. It would be a 15% jump from last year’s output.


Layoffs prompt hospital to drop treatment unit

An Oshkosh hospital is the latest to drop one of its treatment units after its parent firm announced up to 250 layoffs throughout its health system.

Mercy Medical Center of Oshkosh plans to close its sub-acute care unit a week from tomorrow. It helps serves patients who are recovering from major problems like strokes and surgeries.

Ministry Health Care says it’s working with other local groups to provide short-term rehab services. Company officials in Marshfield said the same thing last week when St. Joseph’s Hospital announced that it would close its drug and alcohol rehab program which serves 1,000 patients a year.

Ministry Health Care announced its impending layoffs almost a month ago for its 15 hospitals and 47 clinics in Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. Ministry blamed declines in the numbers of patients, due to higher deductibles for health insurance. The firm also said the federal budget sequester reduced its Medicare revenues by $10 million.


DNR seeks help monitoring beaches, lakes

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says it’s looking at starting a program to gather voluntary data of beach and lake conditions across Wisconsin.

That’s one of many solutions the department is looking at due to budget cuts.

Sequestrations to the federal Environmental Protection Agency budget forced the department to get less than usual funding to test the water conditions of 192 beaches across the state.

The coordinator for Great Lakes quality assurance said there is an existing volunteer program through the Alliance of the Great Lakes called "Adopt a Beach," where volunteers collect litter and look for potential contamination sources at the beach. They also do water testing, but not the same test used by the department so the results can't be used for the DNR’s data.


DNR says bear attacks should serve as warning

Two bear attacks this spring are prompting a warning and safety tips from local officials.

Mike Zeckmeister with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the last the two attacks are a reminder that black bears are powerful animals and should be respected.

Last month, a man got between his dog and a bear in Marinette County. Zeckmeister said it might be a tough pill to swallow, but pet owners should never step between their pet and a bear. He also recommends making loud noises and keeping a good distance from any advancing bear.

In a separate incident in Burnett County on Monday night, a man was mauled by a bear attracted to a chicken dinner. The victim is recovering at a Twin Cities hospital, listed in stable condition. Zeckmeister says in this case, the bear appeared to have no fear towards humans -- making it a very dangerous situation.\


Body was that of missing UW-Claire student

A body pulled from the Chippewa River on Monday is that of a UW-Eau Claire student missing since April 19.

Authorities identified him as David Rodgers, 20, of Northfield, Minn. He was a sophomore majoring in math education. Authorities said he apparently fell off a pedestrian bridge near the Eau Claire campus.

His body was discovered Monday evening by canoeists on the river. He graduated from Northfield High School in Minnesota in 2011.


Wisconsin a leader in medical imaging

Almost 7,000 people work in the medical imaging industry in Wisconsin.

That makes the state one of the nation’s Top Five employers in that field.

The Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance issued a new study Wednesday, showing the locations of the seven-largest medical imaging companies in the U.S. The firms make such things as X-ray and M-R-I equipment. The seven companies in the survey account for three-fourths of the industry’s sales.

They include GE Healthcare, one of Wisconsin’s largest employers. It has imaging equipment facilities in Waukesha and Wauwatosa.


Eau Claire doctor’s trial moved to Superior

The trial of an Eau Claire doctor accused of molesting 16 patients will be held in Superior unless there’s a last-minute plea deal.

Eau Claire County Circuit Judge Michael Schumacher announced the location for Doctor David Van de Loo’s trial after ruling a month and a half ago that he could not get a fair trial in his home area.

The trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 21, and it could run for up to three weeks.

Bayfield, Marathon and Washburn counties were other possible locations considered. Schumacher agreed that a trial needed to be held elsewhere due to the doctor’s status in his community and because of heavy publicity about the criminal and civil charges against him.

Van de Loo, 60, was charged last fall with 17 criminal counts, all but one involving first or second degree child sexual assault. Authorities said he had sexual contact with male patients while serving as a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire.

Besides the criminal case, five civil suits involving seven former patients are pending.

Van de Loo worked at the Mayo Health System from 1994 until he was let go last September.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

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