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Delegation splits farm bill vote on party lines; Jauch labels protesters 'idiots'; more state news

WASHINGTON D.C. -- All five Wisconsin Republicans voted yes, and all three Democrats voted no as the House took food stamps out of the farm bill and then approved a five-year package of farm programs Thursday.

Majority Republicans removed food stamps from the farm package on a near-party line vote of 216-to-208. It raised fears by Democrats that the GOP would push for bigger cuts in food aid than the 3 percent reduction in the previous Farm Bill that was defeated in the House a month ago.

Indiana Republican Marlin Stutzman said a separate food stamp bill would “give taxpayers an honest look at how Washington spends our money.”

Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern said some Republicans believe this is their chance to end the food stamp program as we know it and “The question is whether they will succeed or not.” Democrats are against any cuts in food stamps. Senate Democrats have indicated they will not consider a split in farm-and-food aid measures.

The White House has threatened to veto what the House approved.

High Court upholds surrogate mother contracts, urges Legislative solution

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court says the Legislature should pass some type of law that deals with surrogate mother agreements.

In the meantime, the court issued a ground-breaking decision Thursday that upholds such agreements.

On a unanimous vote, the justices said it’s a valid contract when a woman agrees to give birth for another couple who cannot conceive – except when it’s not in the child’s best interest.

The case involved David and Marcia Rosecky of Menomonee Falls. Marcia could not conceive, so the couple agreed to have life-long friend Monica Schissel of Columbus carry the baby with Rosecky’s sperm that was artificially inseminated.

A written contract called for Schissel to give up the baby and her parental rights to the Roseckys when the child was born. She changed her mind, and David Rosecky sued for breach-of-contract.

At a trial in 2011, a Columbia County judge gave Rosecky sole custody but said Schissel could have the child every other weekend at varying times. The Roseckys appealed. The Supreme Court said the Roseckys have custody and primary placement rights, but Schissel did not lose her birth rights. The case now goes back to the circuit court to review the visitation issue.

Appleton attorney Richard Schoenbohm praised the Supreme Court’s ruling. He represents two national groups for parents’ rights in surrogate agreements, and says the ruling removes uncertainty in the law.

State OK's rate freeze for Madison Gas & Electric clients

MADISON -- Folks in the Madison area will not have to budget for higher electric bills next year. The state Public Service Commission has endorsed a proposal by Madison Gas & Electric to freeze its rates for 2014.

Those customers pay the highest rates of Wisconsin’s five major investor-owned utilities – just over $94 a month for 600 kilowatt hours. Officials said Madison Gas & Electric overbilled customers for fuel costs last year, when it had $6 million dollars in savings. Those savings will off-set rising costs for a coal-fired power plant it owns with two other power firms.

Commission chairman Phil Montgomery says electric customers need a break from rising rates, in light of the slow economic recovery. He said three other large utilities have had rate freezes in recent years, and it’s Madison’s turn.

The PSC said Madison Gas-and-Electric will still get a rate-of-return of just over 10 percent – the same return that’s been in place since last year. The utility says its rates for natural gas will also stay unchanged next year.

New foreclosures lowest in 7 years

New foreclosure cases in southeast Wisconsin are at their lowest in seven years.

Lenders in seven Milwaukee area counties filed 520 new cases last month against homeowners behind on their mortgages.

That’s 41 percent less than the 887 new cases the previous June. For the first half of the year, 3,700 foreclosure cases were filed in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Racine, Kenosha, and Walworth counties.

Those cases were 37 percent fewer than in January-through-June of 2012.

UW Whitewater professor Russ Kashian says the big reduction indicates that the foreclosure crisis from the Great Recession is probably over.

Milwaukee Wells Fargo economist Brian Jacobsen says the drop in foreclosed homes means that neighboring properties won’t have their values dragged down.

Jauch labels some mining protesters 'idiots'

A state Senate Democrat says the mining protestors who vandalized Gogebic Taconite’s drilling site did not speak for anyone but themselves.

TV stations have been showing a You-Tube video of the June 11th incident where exploratory drilling began for the proposed iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.

The video showed protestors swearing at mining workers, and making threats. Senator Bob Jauch called the protestors “idiots.” He said they do not represent “the 99.9 percent of the citizens of Wisconsin” who have respect for the rule of law, regardless of their views on mining.

Authorities said the protestors vandalized company equipment and stole a worker’s camera. 26-year-old Katie Kloth of Stevens Point is due in Iron County Circuit Court on Monday, after being charged with felony robbery and three misdemeanors. The incident prompted Gogebic Taconite to hire an Arizona firm with military-style security guards.

They were temporarily removed on Wednesday, after it was learned that the company did not have a state license – which it’s in the process of getting.

Beloit house explosion victim dies of injuries

BELOIT -- A man injured in a house explosion in Beloit died Thursday.

The Rock County coroner said 37-year-old Todd Purdy died from second-and-third degree burns and smoke inhalation.

Purdy and his 33-year-old wife Tara were both hospitalized in Madison, after the home they rented blew up last Sunday night. Tara Purdy was in fair condition at last word.

Authorities said the couple was installing a new gas stove, and they did not realize that a natural gas line in the basement was uncapped. The basement became filled with gas, and investigators said something ignited it.

Child hurt by fallen power lines

An eight-year-old child was hurt in a freak accident in Sheboygan County.

Sheriff’s deputies said the youngster was playing in a front yard when a car slammed into a utility pole – and it knocked down power lines which struck the child. Deputies did not say if it was a boy or a girl.

The youngster was taken to Milwaukee Children’s Hospital, and a condition report was not immediately released. The mishap occurred around 8:30 Thursday evening on Sheboygan County Trunk E-H in the town of Rhine.

Deputies said the vehicle was going east when it lost control, veered into a ditch, hit the stop sign, and then the utility pole. As the wires fell, the car drove into the front yard and hit a parked vehicle.

Investigators said alcohol appeared to be a factor.

Steve Dzubay

Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer from 1995-2016. 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.