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Walker touring today, explaining details of newly signed state budget; TL man struck and killed near casino; more state news

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Walker touring today, explaining details of newly signed state budget; TL man struck and killed near casino; more state news
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker was to depart Madison Monday morning, promoting the new state budget he signed into law Sunday afternoon.

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At a ceremony in Pleasant Prairie, the Republican Walker said the two-year, $70 billion package is “a sharp contrast from where we were two years ago.”

Walker said structural reforms and tough prudent decisions led to “a great investment in the people of Wisconsin.” He’s expected to sound those same themes during visits to Green Bay, Chippewa Falls, and La Crosse as the budget takes effect Monday.

It reduces income taxes by over $650 million, raises local property taxes by 1 percent a year, expands private school choice statewide, and freezes UW tuition for two years.

It also forces certain arrested felons to give their DNA to law enforcement before they’re convicted – and it forces Badger-Care recipients above the poverty line to enter the state’s Obama-care health exchange.

Walker vetoed 57 items, including the return of bail bondsmen – and preventing any UW involvement in the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

The vetoes did nothing to reduce Democratic criticism of the budget. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said the budget fails the middle class. He says it will make it harder for those people to pay property taxes, send their kids to school, and count on basic state services.

Milwaukee’s mayor also cried foul, after Walker vetoed money in the new state budget to tear down vacant foreclosed homes.

The new state budget would have spent $3.5 million to help Wisconsin communities demolish those houses. The issue might come back to the state Legislature this fall.

Republican Senate Finance co-chair Alberta Darling and Milwaukee Assembly Democrat Jon Richards both say Mayor Tom Barrett raises legitimate concerns. They expect the foreclosure funding to be a separate bill after lawmakers return to session in September.

Milwaukee has an estimated 1,700-plus vacant homes with foreclosures. Barrett calls them eyesores which breed crime and reduce neighboring property values.

The mayor said the Republican governor decided the problem doesn’t exist. Barrett said the funding should have come from Wisconsin’s $140 million share of a national settlement of a mortgage-abuse lawsuit against five big banks.

Foreclosed homeowners have received a share of that money, and the state used $25 million of it to cover a general deficit in the last state budget. Barrett has often said the money should have been used to help clean up the foreclosure mess, instead of cleaning up the state government’s books.

Walker defends school choice expansion

PLEASANT PRAIRIE -- Gov. Scott Walker said he wanted to show that his “word was good” by limiting the expansion of Wisconsin’s private school choice program to what he negotiated with Republican moderates.

Assembly Republicans tried at the last minute to sneak in a budget amendment that could have eliminated the enrollment limits – but when signing the budget Sunday, Walker held firm to his agreement from a few weeks ago.

It expands the use of state-funded private school vouchers for low-income kids statewide. Enrollments will be limited to 500 students this fall outside Milwaukee County and Racine, where the choice program currently operates. The limit would rise to 1,000 the following year, and Walker has said he hopes the program will be popular enough for people to want a further expansion in the 2015 budget.

The last-minute Assembly item would have allowed the current voucher schools to accept students throughout Wisconsin without counting them toward the caps.

State Superintendent Tony Evers said it could have resulted in private choice schools popping up statewide.

Walker vetoed 57 items – a miniscule amount in a 1,400-page budget approved by legislative Republicans without a single Democratic vote.

It's official: Kringle is state's newest symbol

Wisconsin finally has its 27th state symbol. Gov. Scott Walker not only approved the kringle as the official state pastry – he served it to those attending Sunday's ceremony in Pleasant Prairie where he signed the new state budget.

The kringle is king in Racine, where President Obama went to a bakery to taste the sweet treat when he ran for re-election last year. State lawmakers of both parties agreed to add the kringle to the budget, after separate bills to create four other state symbols failed to pass during the last four years.

In the 2009 session, bills to create an official state microbe and an official motorcycle passed one house but not the other. A bill in the same session would have named cheese as the official state snack, but it never came up for a vote.

In the 2011 session, an effort to name the cream puff as the official state dessert got weighed down in a controversial session highlighted by the near-elimination of public union bargaining, and the resulting recall efforts.

AIDS remains big health threat but testing is diminishing

MILWAUKEE -- AIDS is still a major health threat – but lots of folks in Milwaukee apparently don’t believe it.

On Saturday, only 31 people were tested for the HIV virus at an event sponsored by over 30 local health agencies. That’s about a-third of the 90 people who were tested there a year ago.

At one Milwaukee pharmacy, only two people came in during the National HIV Testing Day last week. Seventeen showed up there in 2012.

The National Centers for Disease Control said last fall that three of every 100,000 Wisconsinites carry HIV, about the same as the national average.

The CDC says six of every 10 Americans have the precursor to AIDS, and don’t know it.

AIDS used to be considered a death sentence when it was first discovered in the 1980’s. It was first regarded as a disease predominantly among gay people – but basketball star Magic Johnson said he tried to dispel that notion when he admitted having AIDS in the ‘90’s.

Doctors say the disease is Treatable, as Johnson has proven. Still, HIV is an expensive disease which doctors say can never be totally cured.

Pepin Co. judge named to appellate panel

Judge James Duvall, a Pepin and Buffalo County jurist who also frequently hears cases in Pierce County, is one of two judges named to help oversee administrative matters in Wisconsin’s circuit and appellate courts.

The Supreme Court has named Duvall and Rock County Judge James Daley to the state’s Committee of Chief Judges.

Both will begin two-year terms on Aug. 1st. They replace William Foust of Dane County and William Dyke of Iowa County, both of whom have served the maximum six years on the panel.

The group is made up of one judge from each of the state’s 10 judicial administrative districts.

The panel meets about seven times each year.

Child care centers can boost stature by sending workers to college

Hundreds of Wisconsin child care workers are going to college for the first time, so the places where they work can get higher ratings and new business.

The state’s two-year-old “Young Star” rating system gives a meager-looking two-star rating out of five to about two-thirds of the state’s 46-hundred child care centers.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that most centers won’t get higher ratings until more of their workers get college training – but many staffers wonder if it’s worth staying in jobs that pay $11 an hour once they get degrees.

The state offers college scholarships for child care workers that total almost $5 million a year. Some centers also subsidize part of an employee’s college tuition, in exchange for commitments to keep working at those centers for a certain amount of time.

The State Journal says many such arrangements include bonuses and-or pay raises to those completing the training.

State officials said they designed the first ratings so that most would get two stars – but day-care centers say many parents will look at a facility’s two-star rating, and then conclude that it’s not good enough.

Changes implemented at jail in wake of officers' attack

WAUSAU -- Marathon County’s new sheriff is not waiting for a committee’s recommendations to reduce the possibility of another guard being attacked. Scott Parks said his department adopted new rules for prisoners, gave Taser stun guns to corrections’ officers, and added film on windows so inmates cannot see guards walking down a hall when they’re on the phone. Inmate Fredrick Morris has pleaded insanity to charges that he attacked corrections’ officers Julie Christensen and Denny Woodward at the Wausau jail in March.

A jail study committee was formed in response to that incident. Its recommendations for jail improvements are expected a week from Monday.

Parks, who became the sheriff a few weeks ago, says he looks forward to the panel’s ideas. In the meantime, Parks says he’ll seek two more jail staffers for next year – and to consider 12-hour shifts for the corrections’ officers, to guarantee adequate staffing at critical times.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

ake Superior fishery recovering well a year after the Great Flood

DULUTH -- Experts say the fish population in Lake Superior is doing much better than expected, in the wake of last year’s heavy rains that sent tons of sediment into the big lake.

Up to 10 inches of rain fell at Duluth last June, and over six inches on the Wisconsin side of the region.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the Gopher State’s DNR said it appears that the fish have weathered flood waters, the sediment infusion, and the re-arranging of stream beds.

Duluth professor Elizabeth Minor says the jury’s still out on the long-term effects, although she says Lake Superior has proven to be resilient. For now, Don Schreiner of Minnesota’s DNR says fishing is “gang-busters.”

He says large numbers of trout, Chinook salmon, and coho are being caught.

Report: Majority of those killed in boating accidents didn't have life-jackets

Over 200 people have been killed in Wisconsin boating accidents over the last 11 years – and according to Gannett Wisconsin Media, 85 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets.

Winnebago County sheriff’s Lt. Steven Verwiel said it’s more important to wear a life jacket on boat, than it is to wear a seat belt in a car. That’s because people fall out of boats more easily and if they go unconscious without life jackets, they drown.

The state DNR said Lake Michigan had reports of 103 boating accidents from 2002 through 2012. Geneva Lake had the most mishaps among Wisconsin’s inland lakes with 77.

Seven years ago, the state began requiring safety classes for boaters born in 1989 or later. Gannett said officials were hoping it would encourage more people to wear life vests on the water. However, the numbers of boating deaths on Wisconsin waters have remained consistent since 2002, averaging almost 17 per year.

An effort by state lawmakers to require life vests for those 12 and under failed to get to the floor of either house in 2011.

Those under 13 are required to wear life jackets on federal waters – including Lakes Michigan and Superior, Lake Winnebago, and the Bay of Green Bay.

Windsurfer's death under investigation

FOND DU LAC -- State and local authorities are investigating the death of an experienced windsurfer on Lake Winnebago.

Searchers found the body of a 71-year-old Sheboygan Falls man on Saturday evening along the shore near Fond du Lac. That was about 2.5 hours after his windsurfing board was found washed up along Winnebago’s east shore.

Investigators are waiting for a final medical report on the victim before determining the cause of death. They do not suspect foul play.

Gusty winds appeared to play a role in the incident. The state DNR is heading the investigation into the mishap. The victim’s name was not immediately released, pending notification of relatives.

The owner of a windsurfing business told the Fond du Lac Reporter that the man had enjoyed the sport for many years.

Turtle Lake man struck and killed near casino, Friday night

Turtle Lake police and the Barron County Sheriff's Department continue to investigate the death of a man who was struck and killed by a truck outside the St. Croix Casino in Turtle Lake late Friday night.

Donald Hatalla, 79, of Turtle Lake was hit by a truck on Hwy. 8 and died at the scene.

The truck was driven by Kenneth Bonner, 74, of Almena.

Officers say rain and darkness were factors in the crash and alcohol was not involved.

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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.
(715) 426-1054
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