For 10th year, telemarketers picked as greatest annoyance; law would mandate gas tax is used for roads; UW-LaX OKs co-habitation in dormsWisconsin News
Telemarketers topped bad landlords and other potential scams as Wisconsin consumers' greatest irritation. Also, Assembly members may advance a constitutional amendment to assure gas taxes go to fix roads and mull a tougher drunk driving law. Plus other state stories related to the Pope, college rules and the Capitol.
MADISON -- For the 10th year in a row, telemarketers are the number one consumer complaint in Wisconsin.
The state’s Consumer Protection agency will release its annual Top 10 list of the complaint letters it received in 2012. Almost 2,000 people were bothered enough by unwanted sales calls to write out complaints to Madison. The Wisconsin State Journal said over 300 cease-and-desist orders were sent to telemarketers last year.
Illegal robo-calls are almost impossible to stop, even for those on the state’s do-not-call list. Consumer protection administrator Sandy Chalmers says those on the receiving end should hang up when getting one of those calls and if you press a key or speak to an operator, you’ll just invite other telemarketers to call you.
Landlord-tenant disputes were a distant second on the state’s list, with 940 written complaints. Various tele-communication complaints were third, followed by identity theft – especially the thefts of Social Security numbers.
Home improvement scams are fifth, followed by appliance store complaints. Over 200 complaints were filed when Milwaukee’s Appliance World closed, affecting buyers who paid for merchandise but never had it delivered. State officials intervened, and they said over $89,000 in goods were returned. Motor vehicle sales were the seventh most common complaint.
Gas pump inaccuracies, vehicle repairs, and contests round out the top 10.
Amendment would mandate gas tax, fees are used for roads
MADISON -- The Wisconsin Assembly is expected to give its final approval Tuesday to a constitutional amendment requiring that transportation fees be used for nothing else.
The measure would prohibit raids on the gas tax fund for things like public schools – something former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle did in the previous decade.
Both houses approved the ban in the last session, after Republicans took control. If they do the same this session, the amendment would go to the voters for final approval. Doyle rankled GOP lawmakers when he diverted $1.3 million dollars from the transportation fund to prop up schools and a host of other items.
The amendment would allow money from the gas tax, vehicle registration fees, driver licenses, and titles to be used only for programs run by the Transportation Department.
Assembly members are also expected to decide Tuesdy whether veterinarians should be exempt from a state law to report prescriptions to a statewide database.
Under a law passed in 2009, all 1,200 drug dispensers in the Badger State must report their transactions so it’s easier for law enforcement to track painkillers like Oxycontin which are often stolen and abused by others.
The state’s Veterinary Medical Association tried but failed in the last session to get an exemption from the reporting mandate. They say that very few people try to abuse drugs which are meant for animals and the reporting would be expensive, because many vets don’t keep records electronically like most pharmacies do.
Drug dispensers have been required since January first to collect the prescription data but the state’s not ready to accept it yet. It was recently reported that the state’s still negotiating details with an Alabama firm that will provide the database – and the deal is expected to be finalized soon.
'Snowbelt' receives 9 inches fresh stuff
SULLIVAN -- Light snow continued Monday in far northern Wisconsin, where up to nine inches fell by late evening at places close to Lake Superior.
Gile in Iron County has had the most snow since the latest storm began on Sunday. Parts of Vilas County reported over seven inches, and Sayner had two inches Monday evening alone. Superior had almost nine inches at last word.
Meanwhile, the high winds that hit the Badger State Mondayy have subsided. Winds are less than 20 mph statewide Tuesday morning, after gusts of 49 Monday at Platteville and 48 at Racine.
The snow was expected to move out Tuesday, and dry weather is in the forecast for at least the next two days – until another “clipper” moves into Wisconsin Wednesday night and Thursday. Relatively mild temperatures are predicted for the next couple days, with highs in the 20’s and 30’s and lows in the teens. It’s likely to get colder on Thursday night. Friday’s highs could struggle to reach the low 20’s.
Cardinals with Wisconsin ties may help choose the next pope
Three Catholic cardinals with ties to Wisconsin are among the 118 who are eligible to choose the next pope.
They include former La Crosse Bishop Raymond Burke, who’s now the chief justice of the highest court at the Vatican; Milwaukee native James Harvey, who’s an archpriest for one of four major basilicas in Rome; and former Milwaukee Archbishop Tim Dolan, who now heads the church in New York.
Dolan and Harvey were both elevated last year. All cardinals under age-80 are eligible to choose the next pope, and that’s expected in March after Benedict XVI announced Monday that he’ll resign at the end of the month.
Dolan was mentioned in the early speculation about Benedict’s replacement but Georgetown theologian Thomas Reese says an American probably doesn’t have a chance of being elected.
Vatican correspondent John Allen, who wrote a book-length interview with Dolan in 2011, said the former Milwaukee leader’s chances are remote but “that in itself is more than you can say for any previous American candidate.”
The 85-year-old Benedict says he no longer has the proper mind and body to serve as he should. He’s been the pope since 2005.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki said he saw Benedict last February and November and he noticed a drop in the pope’s energy level the second time.
Listecki said Benedict’s schedule would “kill a horse” and he said the workload was most likely a factor in becoming the first pope in 600 years not to die as the pontiff.
UW La Crosse OKs co-habitation in dorms
Times have changed. Back in the 1970’s, Wisconsin college dorm residents were just starting to earn the right to have friends from the opposite sex visit their rooms. Now, UW La Crosse is about to let male and female students live together in suite-style residence halls.
It will start this fall and campus residence life director Nick Nicklaus tells Wisconsin Public Radio that La Crosse will also provide space for lesbian, gay, and transgendered couples.
The UW Board of Regents prohibits co-ed housing as a statewide policy so each campus needs approval from its chancellor for dorm living arrangements.
Nicklaus says the school wants to provide a safe and comfortable place for all students to live – and it will be quote, “one less worry that’s taken off their plate” while they focus on their academic experience.
UW Madison is also offering a new living option next semester called “Open House – Gender Learning Community.” It will be open to students of all sexual orientations and backgrounds, and they’ll take part in weekly seminars.
Trial in 'sexting' case starts Tuesday
A federal court trial is scheduled to begin a week from today for the first woman who accused former prosecutor Ken Kratz of sexually harassing her. Stephanie Van Groll is seeking unspecified damages from the former Calumet County district attorney, who filed for bankruptcy last April.
She said Kratz violated her civil rights, by sending racy text messages and trying to start up an affair in 2009 while he was prosecuting her boyfriend for abusing her. The word didn’t get out about that until 2010 and when it did, several other women said Kratz made sexually-suggestive remarks to them.
A couple months later, Kratz resigned after former Gov. Jim Doyle started proceedings to remove him. Later, Kratz ran a private law practice in the Fox Valley for a while and he has since moved to Florida.
Last year, the state’s Office of Lawyer Regulation asked the Supreme Court to suspend Kratz’s law license for six months. The justices have not made a decision.
Tougher OWI laws under consideration
MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos say they support a crackdown on drunk drivers but they stopped short of endorsing the package of bills introduced Monday by two fellow Republicans.
Mequon Rep. Jim Ott and Senate Finance Chair Alberta Darling of River Hills have pushed for a long time to pass tougher Operating While Intoxicated laws. Their newest package would make third-time drunk driving a felony, which would send more of those offenders to prison and there would be mandatory sentences for drunk drivers who injure or kill others, including a 10-year minimum sentence for drunken homicide.
Even hardline Republicans have shot down those kinds of measures in the past, saying the state cannot afford the millions in extra court-and prison costs. But Darling asked what it says about victims and the state’s intolerance for drunk drivers when “not only do we give you a do-over, we give you three of them.”
Speaker Vos says there needs to be an agreement on the how to best use state resources to fight drunk driving. Walker’s office would only say they’ll evaluate whatever gets to his desk.
Ott and Darling also want to make all first-time OWI suspects at least appear before a judge. Wisconsin is the only state that does not criminalize first-time drunk driving except when kids are in the vehicle and many who get cited pay their fines without going to court.
They also want to make the first offense a crime if the blood alcohol level is .15 or higher and they would seize the vehicles used in third-and subsequent offenses.
Roggensack holds financial edge over challengers
With a week to go until the primary, State Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack still has a big financial edge over her two challengers.
New reports filed Monday show that Roggensack raised over $200,000 since the start of the year and she had $219,000 in her campaign accounts of Feb. 4th.
Marquette law professor Ed Fallone only had about a third of that amount on hand, almost $64,000 and he raised $75,000 in the previous five weeks. Milwaukee lemon law attorney Vince Megna did not raise any money this year, and he has about $5,300 on hand. Roggensack’s money allowed her to run a campaign TV ad and the conservative Club for Growth has also run an ad on her behalf.
Roggensack is part of the Supreme Court’s four-member conservative majority, while Megna makes no bones about the fact that he’s trying to tilt the state’s highest court to the left, but Democrats who’ve made endorsements are backing Fallone – including former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and former House Democrat David Obey.
Megna told the Associated Press that he hates asking people for money, but he agrees it would be necessary once the primary’s over. He has the smallest number of endorsements, mostly from consumer groups. Megna has put $10,000 of his own money into the race.
ACLU fighting Capitol protest rules
MADISON -- The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Walker administration Monday. The group wants the state to stop requiring permits to demonstrate at the Capitol and to stop arresting protestors who don’t have those permits.
Walker officials responded to the massive pro-union protests at the Capitol in 2011 by requiring permits for all Capitol citizen activities with four or more people, 72 hours in advance.
The ACLU’s lawsuit mentions UW medical physics professor Michael Kissick, who said he stopped demonstrating in September for fear of arrest. In a statement, Kissick resented being “treated as a criminal for speaking freely in a public forum.”
But state officials say the protestors have harassed their political opponents. Stephanie Marquis of the Administration Department says Wisconsin’s policy is in line with those at other statehouses and both state-and federal courts have found those to be constitutional.
She said Capitol Police have issued hundreds of activity permits each year regardless of the political leanings. The Solidarity Singers, which continue to protest Walker and his fellow Republicans in daily noon-time sing-alongs, refuse to obtain the permits. Some of their participants have been arrested.
A Dane County judge dropped a number of cases, saying the policy applies to organizers and not those who merely participate.
State may sue former Capitol cleaning service
MADISON -- Wisconsin officials say they might sue a cleaning company that’s blamed for damaging some of the marble floors in the State Capitol.
The administration department said Peterson Cleaning of Rockford Illinois stained about 100 marble stones before the work was halted last August. Facilities’ management official Paula Veltum said the stones had milky white marks and they indicated that one of Peterson’s cleaning machines had leaked battery acid.
State workers began cleaning up the marble last week. Officials say it could take a couple of months to restore, at an extra cost to taxpayers of $16,000.
Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis says it’s considering legal action to make Peterson pay to repair the damages. She said the agency is also reviewing the original cleaning contract to challenge some invoices that remain outstanding.
Tracy Fraser of Peterson Cleaning said her firm has not had any recent contacts with the state and she’s not commenting on the possible lawsuit.
Elderly man arrested in neighbor's death
BELOIT -- A hospitalized man was arrested Mondy, after he allegedly killed a neighbor before shooting himself at his rural property west of Beloit.
Rock County authorities said Daniel Bellard, 75, faces a possible charge of first-degree intentional homicide. He remains in stable condition at UW Hospital in Madison under a police guard. The incident happened last Wednesday.
Sheriff’s deputies said the arrest was based on evidence gathered at the property, statements by witnesses, and interviews by investigators. Authorities allege that Bellard shot and killed 59-year-old Christine Gesterich. Her body was found in a barn on his property and officers later found Bellard shot and wounded in another of his buildings.
New evidence released in police custody death
MILWAUKEE -- New medical information came out Monday, as an inquest began into the death of a Milwaukee man while in police custody.
A jury expects to hear seven days of testimony from over 40 witnesses in the 2011 death of 22-year-old Derek Williams.
Assistant medical examiner Christopher Poulos testified Monday that a critical bone in Williams’ neck was not cracked, as initial tests had indicated. Poulos also explained his finding that Williams died from sickle cell crisis, the first such ruling in a thousand cases Poulos has handled over the past five years.
The medical examiner said it was brought on by stress and exertion, after Williams had been chased by officers who saw him rob a couple on a Milwaukee street.
A video released last summer showed that Williams collapsed in a squad car. Once that information became public, Poulos changed the cause of death from natural causes to homicide. He was expected to explain the reasoning for that move when he returned to the stand Tuesday.
Special prosecutor John Franke is questioning the witnesses, with no cross-examinations by a defense. The jury is expected to help Franke eventually decide whether charges should be filed in Williams’ death.