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Walker cancels $500,000 grant to sportsman's group; moldy Chobani products recalled; 10 more state stories

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Walker cancels $500,000 grant to sportsman's group; moldy Chobani products recalled; 10 more state stories
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MADISON -- A politically connected group will not get a state grant to encourage more Wisconsinites to go hunting and fishing.

Gov. Scott Walker Thursday night canceled the $500,000 grant awarded eight days ago to the United Sportsmen Foundation.


The action came after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the group's leader, Andy Pantzlaff, was fined in 2005 for hunting with an improper license in Langlade County.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, who gave final approval to the grant last Thursday, said Walker wants her agency to find other ways to promote the state's sporting heritage.

They agreed that any group which gets state tax money needs to have the public's trust in being able to produce results.

The Journal Sentinel said the United Sportsmen never had experience in training people to hunt, fish or trap -- and some training groups were not allowed by Republican lawmakers to apply, while others didn't know the grant existed until it was too late. The United Sportsmen was the only group to apply.

On Wednesday, United Sportsmen apologized for a misunderstanding. That was after Pantzlaff told the state committee his group received tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service while it's actually in the process of doing that.

Meanwhile, some Democrats are crying foul after the DNR told the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation to stop operating the state's MacKenzie Environmental Education Center at Poynette.

The agency said the center was the only bidder for the project when it was approved in 2006. The DNR said it would start running the center itself next year.


Bill would give 17-year-old first-offenders a break

MADISON -- Seventeen-year-old criminal suspects would no longer be automatically charged as adults in Wisconsin under a new bill in the state Legislature.

State Bar president and former Madison judge Patrick Fiedler was among the bill's supporters who held a news conference Thursday. He said it would give first-time, non-violent 17-year-olds a chance at more treatment options in the juvenile justice system.

Fiedler said it would also reduce repeat offenders, give non-violent youngsters a second chance and still protect the public.

Those who commit violent crimes like homicide or rape would still be charged as adults. So would repeat offenders. Supporters say around 2,000 17-year-old defendants would be moved back to the juvenile system.

The state Public Defender office and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference endorse the bill. It also has bipartisan support from lawmakers such as Door County Assembly Republican Garey Bies -- a former chief sheriff's deputy -- and Assembly Democrat Fred Kessler of Milwaukee, a former judge.

Efforts to put 17-year-olds back into the juvenile system have failed in recent years. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is open to reviewing it this time. Senate leaders and Gov. Scott Walker are non-committal.

Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen opposes the change, saying prosecutors already have discretion in charging teens and diversion programs are available for non-violent teen offenders.

Only 10 other states automatically charge youngsters under 18 as adults. Wisconsin started doing it in the mid-1990's.


Lawmakers, Regents hold 'summit' to help mend fences

MADISON -- State lawmakers and University of Wisconsin officials agree that the current funding system for the university no longer works -- and they must find ways to keep the quality high in the face of fewer state dollars and tuition pressures.

The Board of Regents held a summit Thursday with state legislative leaders after last spring's report that the UW was sitting on $650 million in reserves while ordering maximum tuition increases year after year.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he lost trust in the Board of Regents and it will take a long time to get it back.

Assembly Republican Pat Strachota of West Bend said the UW should not expect future increases in state funding because the state has so many other pressing needs.

Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said Michigan subsidizes its in-state students by charging out-of-staters $14,000 more per year than Wisconsin does. She wonders why the UW is not "importing" more dollars from out of state.

Federal research funds make up 30% of the revenues at UW-Madison. Blank told lawmakers not to put that money in jeopardy, by forcing faculty members to teach in classes a lot more.


Walker administration admits error in boosting police chief's pay

The Walker administration admits making a mistake by giving State Capitol Police Chief David Erwin a retroactive pay raise.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel obtained a memo from the administration's chief lawyer, saying it will take back $720 given to the chief.

 Last month, Walker's people insisted they followed the rules when they gave the retroactive raise to Erwin by transferring him to a fake job, then putting him back into his real post with the large raise added on. That raise totaled almost $12,000 a year.

In state government, retroactive raises can only be given in limited circumstances such as posting errors.

The administration said it erred in posting the maximum salary for Erwin's job. The correction put the chief on par with his predecessor, Charles Tubbs.

Assembly Democrat Jon Richards of Milwaukee said he's glad the administration admitted a mistake on Erwin's retroactive pay. Still, Richards said he wants a review of the entire process, including the use of phantom jobs to facilitate large raises for officials.

Richards' fellow Democrats have used the tactic in the past too.

In the Jim Doyle years, some appointees were moved into civil service jobs for a day or two, which guaranteed they'd have state jobs even when losing their political appointments.


Sweltering heat returns to Wisconsin

SULLIVAN -- Wisconsinites may need to crank up that air conditioner the next couple days. The National Weather Service says temperatures will return to the mid- to upper-80's Friday in the western half of the state, while the mercury should stay around 80 in the eastern half with only a slight chance of rain.

On Saturday, 90-degree weather is predicted for both La Crosse and Eau Claire before a cold front brings a better chance of rain throughout Wisconsin.

Cooler, less humid weather is predicted for Saturday night and Sunday. Warmer and more humid conditions are due back in on Monday along with a chance for more rain.

Oconto was the cool spot at 6 a.m. Friday with 43 degrees while in River Falls, it was 65 at that hour.


Van Hollen opposes more complex investigations into officer shootings

MADISON -- Wisconsin's attorney general says he's against the idea of requiring more outsiders to investigate shooting deaths committed by police officers.

J.B. Van Hollen calls the measure "unnecessary, unworkable and an expansion of government's already too-burdensome bureaucracy."

Assembly Republican Garey Bies, a former Door County chief deputy, introduced the bill Thursday.

It requires police departments to have at least two investigators from outside agencies in determining whether officers are justified or not when they shoot someone.

The state Justice Department generally provides a review for smaller police forces, while larger police agencies often investigate themselves -- something Bies says hurts public confidence in law enforcement.

Van Hollen says there have been no showings of failures by those investigating officer-involved deaths.



Patrol will join in national truck brake-inspection campaign

Wisconsin has a lower-than-average accident rate involving big rigs, and the State Patrol wants to keep it that way.

Beginning Sunday, troopers will take part in a national "Brake Safety Week."

The State Patrol will step up its inspections of brake systems on large commercial vehicles and identify problems that need to be fixed. Inspectors also plan to show drivers, mechanics and commercial vehicle firms about the importance of checking brakes on a routine basis and maintaining them properly.

The safety week runs through next Saturday and is sponsored by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Association.

Wisconsin has seen a 26% drop in large truck crashes over the last decade.


Self-help author won't appeal convictions in sweat-lodge deaths

MILWAUKEE -- Self-help author James Arthur Ray has decided not to appeal his convictions in the deaths of a Milwaukee man and two others at a sweat lodge ceremony Ray put on.

A state appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments in the appeal next week, but Ray said it might open him up to a new trial with another guilty verdict and sentencing.

Ray has completed a two-year prison term. He remains on parole until October on charges that his heated sweat lodge caused the deaths of James Shore of Milwaukee, Liz Neuman of Prior Lake, Minn., and Kirby Brown of New York State.

The deaths occurred during a spiritual healing ceremony in the fall of 2009 near Sedona, Ariz., as part of a weekend spiritual festival.

Ray was convicted on three Arizona counts of negligent homicide. Ray's attorneys quickly appealed, claiming that prosecutors committed misconduct and jurors received improper instructions.

Ray still contends his convictions were flawed, but the state disagrees.

Prosecutor Sheila Polk praised Ray's decision to stop his appeal, saying it will provide closure to the victims' families.


OWI conviction tossed on deputy's blunder

WAUSAU -- A Wausau man had a drunk driving conviction dropped because a sheriff's officer missed a detail while gathering evidence.

The state's Third District Appellate Court in Wausau dismissed a first-time OWI case against Eric Fischer, who's now 60. He crashed his motorcycle three years ago this month while trying to avoid hitting turkeys at a rural intersection.

Marathon County sheriff's Deputy Joseph Heindel gave a breath test showing Fischer's blood alcohol level at .06 -- not enough to cite the biker for his first OWI case.

An emergency room nurse told the deputy that a hospital blood test revealed a level of .15 -- which could have convicted Fischer had the officer obtained the name of the nurse who provided the incriminating number.

Appeals Judge Mark Mangerson also said the officer needed more than a tip to establish a probable cause to arrest Fischer. Prosecutors have 20 days to decide whether to appeal the dismissal to the State Supreme Court.

 -- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau



Cardinal Tim Dolan labels 'church flight' as Catholics' biggest problem

MILWAUKEE -- New York Cardinal Tim Dolan told Milwaukee area Catholics Thursday night to embrace their church as a spiritual family and oppose secular efforts to destroy the religion.

Dolan spoke to about 4,000 people at the downtown Milwaukee Theatre in the 10th annual Pallium Lecture series.

Dolan started the event when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009.

He said one of the biggest problems in the church is the large number of people who identify themselves as former Catholics -- those who left because of what they call the "sinful behavior" of priests and other top church leaders.

Dolan did not specifically mention the sex abuse by Catholic priests, but he did say people have left the church because they were "shocked, saddened and nauseated" by the behavior of its members. Dolan said Catholics should not hide from it, and they should "fess up to the sinful side of the church."

He said those who love the Catholic Church do so despite its problems, and he asked members "Are you prepared to defend your faith from those who would take it from us?"


Braun calling Brewers' fans to apologize for his behavior

MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun is calling Milwaukee Brewers' baseball fans to personally apologize for taking performance-enhancing drugs and then denying it for almost two years.

Braun was the first to be suspended in late July for reportedly taking part in a PED performance program laid out by the former Biogenesis clinic. A dozen other players were later punished.

Brewers' executive Rick Schlesinger told WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee that it was Braun's idea to call ticket buyers, listen to their concerns and discuss his situation.

He didn't want publicity, but hardly anything about Braun's case appears not to have been leaked out.

Schlesinger said Braun is concerned that his mistakes don't discourage people from attending Brewers' games and being a fan.

Some people don't believe it's him on the phone, but most do recognize him eventually and give him credit for calling.

In public, Braun has relied on carefully crafted written statements to get his message out. Hardly any players caught with PED's have publicly identified their drugs and we don't know whether the Biogenesis players received immunity from possible prosecution so they could give fans the whole story if they choose.

 Schlesinger said Braun has said nothing about calling a news conference where he could answer questions without a script.


Chobani Greek yogurt pulled following mold outbreak

Hundreds of Wisconsin grocery stores have removed Chobani Greek yogurt from their shelves after a moldy production process in Idaho caused the product to go bad.

The company said this week that mold at its plant in Twin Falls caused yogurt to spoil before its expiration date. Some customers say they've had containers explode as a result.

The cause of the mold has not been determined. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has the complete list of affected products on its Web site:

Dozens of Wisconsinites have complained to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about bloated and exploding Chobani containers. Brookfield school student Natalie Neals said her Strawberry Flip yogurt blew up while it was in her lunch box Thursday. Emily Gellings of Franklin said she had several Chobani yogurt packs burst in her refrigerator.

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.
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