Trempealeau town OK's new sand mine; Wausau begins probe into holiday music dustup; 10 more state stories
A Trempealeau County moratorium on new frac-sand mines is not stopping one proposal from moving forward. The Independence City Council voted 5-to-1 last night to annex property to include part a proposed silica-sand mine for Hi-Crush Partners of Texas.
Because the facility would be under municipal regulations, it would step around a temporary county moratorium on new frac-sand mines. The Whitehall City Council will also decide next Monday whether to annex part of the Hi-Crush property. The firm has already spent around $4 million to prepare the site for the $75 million mine, which would provide the fine type of sand that oil and gas companies use in their drilling equipment.The mine would cover about 1,000 acres, and create 61 jobs. Trempealeau County's moratorium was designed to study the potential health effects of frac-sand mining on local residents.
Sensenbrenner bill would overhaul NSA practices
WASHINGTON D.C. -- Wisconsin House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner plans to offer a bill as early as Tuesday to limit the government's ability to read citizen e-mails and see who we're calling.
The Menomonee Falls lawmaker says he'll propose an overhaul of the National Security Agency that's similar to a plan drafted by Democrats. The House Intelligence Committee is considering more modest changes.
That panel was expected to hear from top U.S. intelligence leaders who are expected to defend current surveillance efforts in the name of fighting terrorism.
National pundits say Sensenbrenner has done a flip-flop on security issues. That's after he championed the U.S.A. Patriot Act following 9-11, and accused privacy advocates of "exaggeration" for raising concerns about domestic spying when the act was re-authorized in 2006.
Sensenbrenner said the NSA's sweep of millions of Americans' phone and Internet records goes far beyond what he ever intended in the Patriot Act. He recently told an interviewer there needs to be a balance between security and civil liberties.
Sensenbrenner said the intelligence committee has gotten into trouble because "They apparently do not see why civil liberties have got to be protected."
UW research shows why it's tough to shake a cold
MADISON -- You've heard it forever -- there's no cure for the common cold. Now, we know why, thanks to new research at U-W Madison.
On Monday, the journal Virology published a pair of UW studies which show that three strains of the rhino-virus make up around 85 percent of all colds. However, there's no cure for the third strain known as the "C"-strain, and that's the one which gives us the classic cold symptoms like coughs and runny noses.
What's more, lead researcher Ann Palmenberg says the "C"-strain accounts for up to half the colds that children get -- that puts kids even more at risk. The "C"-strain is also factor in respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and asthma.
Rhino-virus "C" was only discovered seven years ago, and it tends to cause problems deep in the lungs.
Palmenberg says the next step is find a receptor that's unique to the "C"-strain and develop medicines for it. That could take a long time. Palmenberg says it's not easy to come up with a compound that would be both effective and safe.
Walker's book drawing flak before its even released
MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker's book will not hit the stores for another three weeks -- but already, critics are taking issue with segments reported in the media.
Walker's book "Unintimidated" quotes Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville as saying he would have persuaded his 13 Democratic colleagues not to leave the state in 2011, had he been at the meeting where they decided to leave town to try and block a vote on Walker's Act 10 union law.
Cullen tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he never said that. Walker also wrote that he would have laid off hundreds of workers if a Milwaukee County union did not make concessions -- and he quoted the union chief as saying, "Go ahead and do it."
Union leader Rich Abelson tells the Journal Sentinel quote, "That is frankly just a lie ... He has no proof, and no witnesses of that." The Republican Walker says he cannot comment on the book until it goes on sale Nov. 19th. However, he told WKOW TV in Madison the book relies on extensive research from him, his aides, and legislators.
Walker said people will see that his overview of what happened over the last two-and-a-half years is the most comprehensive to date. Walker's book was co-written by the governor and former White House speech writer Mark Thiessen.
Amendment advancing that would remodel Supreme Court
MADISON -- A constitutional amendment is quietly speeding through the state Legislature to change the way Wisconsin's chief justice is chosen. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday afternoon to have a majority of the Supreme Court pick its chief justice every two years, and to limit that person from serving more than six years in a row.
The Assembly Judiciary panel is scheduled to vote Thursday on the amendment -- which would need approval in two consecutive legislative sessions, and then by the voters in a statewide referendum.
Just over two dozen Republicans are sponsoring the change, which would make it more likely that the chief justice would have the same political philosophy as the rest of the Supreme Court.
The court currently has the same conservative majority as the rest of state government. Shirley Abrahamson, one of two liberals on the seven-member court, has been the chief justice for 17 years. The chief is currently the justice with the most seniority, and there's no limit on that term.
The Supreme Court has had a number of sharp public disagreements in recent years, but things appear to have quieted down in the last few months.
Wausau schools launch probe into holiday music clash
WAUSAU -- Wausau school taxpayers will spend up to $4,000 to have a law firm investigate a now-scrapped idea to limit holiday music by students.
The school board voted Monday night to have legal researchers from Ruder Ware find out who came up with the idea -- who made the calls -- and the community uproar once the word got out.
The controversy began earlier this month, when the Wausau West High School Master Singers were put on hiatus. That was after director Phil Buch was told to ease up on the Christmas music his group normally sings at 15 community events during the holiday season.
Other Wausau schools put their holiday concerts on hold, amid reports that a quota was developed for the numbers of Christmas songs compared to those of other cultures and religions.
The policy was later scrapped. Now, people want to know who did what-and-when.
Wausau Superintendent Kathleen Williams came under fire throughout the process. She wants school board members to be part of the investigation, and see if they fanned the flames on social media.
-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau
Tax review shows 22 charities suffered embezzlement
Almost two dozen Wisconsin charities lost millions-of-dollars to inside thieves over the past five years. The Washington Post found that over a thousand non-profit groups in the U.S. -- and 22 in Wisconsin -- reported fraudulent "diversions" of assets on their federal tax returns from 2008 through last year.
The Post said the 10 largest diversions drained over a $500 million from charities.
The list included the Oneida Golf and Country Club in Green Bay, which reported on its 2008 return that a former controller embezzled $2.6 million dollars over eight years.
Waukesha Memorial Hospital lost $1.4 million dollars over five years when an employee created a fake billing scheme. Shepherds' Baptist Ministries of Union Grove reported a $500,000 embezzlement from its ex-controller, Michael Lowstetter. The president of Shepherds Ministries, William Amstutz, said it raised concerns about trust which affected his entire organization emotionally but "It has not rocked our faith."
All told, four Wisconsin credit unions reported fraudulent diversions on their tax returns -- as well as a land trust, a volunteer fire department, and a chamber of commerce.
The Washington Post said the reported losses represent only a small fraction of the total. The diversion box on the tax return is relatively new, and it only applies to larger charities.
Many don't report the amounts of their losses, or the reasons -- even though both are supposed to be listed.
Some embezzlements were made public soon after they occurred, but many never were.
See the complete story here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/local/nonprofit-diversions-database/
Firm pays neighbors to settle contamination lawsuit
MADISON -- A factory in Madison has agreed to pay 32 of its residential neighbors to settle a federal environment lawsuit.
Judge Barbara Crabb approved a settlement Monday in which Madison-Kipp will pay $4.6 million dollars. The settlement was reached in July.
The homeowners will get money and pollution control equipment. They'll also get clean fill to replace the top 12 inches of their soil, which Madison-Kipp will remove.
The Wisconsin State Journal said the federal agreement is similar to one approved by a state court judge in Dane County last month. That one involved 52 neighbors, and it cost Madison-Kipp another $2.6 million.
Both lawsuits accused the company of lowering the neighbors' property values due to industrial contamination. The firm denied those allegations.
Madison-Kipp makes machine components for industrial, transportation, and lawn and garden customers. The company still faces a state environmental suit. It accuses the firm of not disclosing discharges of harmful PCB's in the 1960's and '70's.
Body identified as that of West Allis woman
A Wisconsin woman found dead in a car trunk in Chicago was identified Monday as 30-year-old Erin Ziemendorf of West Allis.
Kenosha Police arrested a 40-year-old man she was dating.
WLS TV in Chicago said the man confessed to the slaying, and he led police to her body.
Ziemendorf was left in a parked car near a Greyhound bus station in Chicago's West Loop area.
A medical examiner performed an autopsy, and found that Ziemendorf died from blunt neck trauma caused by an assault.
Search continues for missing Milwaukee woman
Milwaukee Police investigators will spend a fourth day combing through a landfill to look for evidence involving the disappearance of Kelly Dwyer. The 27-year-old Dwyer disappeared Oct. 10th. Media reports said her boyfriend was the last to see her before she vanished.
Kris Zocco, 38, has since been arrested twice on what authorities said were unrelated charges. On Monday, Zocco pleaded innocent to five drug-related charges. His lawyer tried but failed to drop two felony counts of maintaining a drug house, and possessing marijuana with the intent to sell it.
Zocco is also charged with possessing narcotics, cocaine, and drug paraphernalia. All sides in the case will meet Nov. 19th, when a trial date could be set.
Meanwhile, Zocco is scheduled to make his first court appearance Wednesday on 17 child pornography charges resulting from his second recent arrest late last week.
Innocence Project focusing on 21-year-old paper mill homicide
GREEN BAY -- The Minnesota Innocence Project and a Minneapolis law firm are digging for legal flaws that could free five men convicted of killing a co-worker in Green Bay 21 years ago. The five were convicted of killing Tom Monfils in 1992 at what was then the James River paper mill.
On Monday evening, some 45 people took part in an annual walk and rally for the defendants.
Program emcee Denis Gullickson told them that two Minneapolis attorneys are examining the case for free -- and so is Minnesota's equivalent of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, that has freed a number of high-profile inmates who were wrongly convicted.
Monfils, 35, was found in a pulp vat, killed by co-workers reportedly upset that he went to police when one of the defendants stole scrap wire.
Michael Piaskowski was freed by a federal court 12 years ago. The other five have been trying unsuccessfully to get paroled -- Keith Kutska, Michael Johnson, Dale Basten, Reymond Moore, and Michael Hirn.
Stoughton research lab will close
STOUGHTON -- Forty-five years ago, Stoughton became the first place in the world where synchrotron light sources were used to study human cells and make huge medical breakthroughs. Now, something newer has come along -- and the Synchrotron Radiation Center will close for good on Jan. 6th.
Thirty UW Madison scientists will be put out of work. The National Science Foundation cut the center's funding, after scientists began using the "Aladdin" X-ray machine to improve their understanding of how cells are put together.
WKOW TV in Madison says about half of the first-generation of synchrotron light sources remain in Stoughton, and the rest are immortalized at the Smithsonian.
Over the years, the Wisconsin scientists have found some of the answers to Alzheimer's, computer chip materials, and the use of algae as an alternative fuel. They also discovered non-invasive treatments for brain cancer.
Center director Joseph Biognano said his facility used advanced hard drives that only later became more common. Other UW officials say it's part of a more general trend to cut federal funds for basic science.
About 10 of the 30 scientists at Stoughton are on leave. The rest are winding down long-time experiments.