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Petition-signers urge hands-off FMLA; heavy storms pummel South Shore; 11 more state stories

MADISON -- Petitions with over 1,200 signatures were presented Monday, urging Wisconsin’s largest business group not to try and repeal the state’s Family Medical Leave Act.

The law gives employees the right to be away from their jobs for up to six consecutive weeks to tend to various family matters like child-birth or a sick spouse.

Former Governor Tommy Thompson signed the act 25 years ago on Women’s Equality Day. During yesterday’s Equality Day, hundreds of women rallied at the State Capitol to preserve the state family leave act – which is more generous than a similar national law.

Jim Pugh of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce received the petitions, and said his group would not push to repeal the state law. He said his group would keep monitoring the policy and do what’s best for the group and its business members.

The Capitol rally also criticized Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans for passing numerous bills that restrict women’s access to equal pay protections, sick leave, abortion, birth control, health coverage, and sex education.

Former State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager said the state was “taking two steps forward and one step back.”

Homeowner complaints against lenders continue

It’s been 18 months since the nation’s largest banks promised to end abuses which led to home foreclosures – and hundreds of Wisconsinites are still filing complaints.

The state Justice Department says it’s giving special attention to about 400 cases, many dealing with the same problems seen nationally.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reviewed almost half the Wisconsin cases. Just over a-third involve communication problems when financially-distressed homeowners ask lenders to modify terms of their mortgages. Another third involve paperwork that was mishandled. Other complaints are about the improper denials of mortgage modifications.

Back in February, 2012, five large U.S. banks agreed to pay $25 billion to settle lawsuits in Wisconsin and other states alleging various foreclosure abuses.

Joseph Smith, the official monitor of the settlement, says some homeowners continue to have problems but most get worked out eventually. Nationally, Smith said about 650,000 people have been helped by the settlement.

Excessive heat warnings posted along Mississippi counties

SULLIVAN -- A late-summer heat wave was expected to continue Tuesday in most of Wisconsin.

The National Weather Service posted excessive heat warnings until midnight in counties along the Mississippi River between La Crosse and Prescott. Much of western and southern Wisconsin has heat advisories, including Milwaukee and Madison.

Monday's highs ranged from the mid-80’s in the north to the upper-90’s in west central areas. The heat index reached 109 Monday near Mauston, Galesville, and east of Dubuque in Grant County.

Heavy storms pounded the far north for the second night in a row. A funnel cloud was spotted near Sheldon in Rusk County just after 11 p.m. Trees and power lines fell in Sawyer and Bayfield counties.

Another 1.2 inches of rain fell north of Bayfield, where almost 4 inches came down Sunday night and early Monday. Torrential rains hit the same region early Tuesday morning, with forecasts of up to 4 inches between 4- and 6 a.m. Parts of Price, Sawyer, Ashland, and Iron counties were under flood advisories until 7:30 a.m.

The Weather Service predicts a high-pressure system will move in Wednesday, with less humid weather and highs still approaching 90. The heat continues for the rest of the week, with more storms expected Thursday through Saturday.

Fifth Amendment rights to be tested in porn case

A West Allis man has pleaded innocent to six federal charges of possessing child pornography.

Jeffrey Feldman’s case attracted national interest, because he was trying to protect his constitutional right against self-incrimination. He fought off government efforts to make him decrypt his computers and hand over evidence against him – but investigators said they eventually unlocked two of Feldman’s hard drives without his help.

The government took the evidence to a federal grand jury, which indicted the 46-year-old man Feldman last week. He’s been in custody for two weeks, and he’s been fired from his job at Rockwell Automation – where he spent 19 years as a developer of software.

Prosecutors want Feldman to forfeit possession of a computer and 15 external hard drives that were seized by investigators from his condo in January.

Corn slowly maturing amid dry conditions

The weather is both good and bad for Wisconsin farmers.

Officials said the crops were helped by warmer temperatures that rose above normal for the first time in over a month, but the rain was spotty last week – and the massive downpours over the last few days generally come too fast to soak in.

Just 28 percent of Wisconsin farm fields had adequate top-soil moisture by the end of Sunday, and 35 percent had adequate sub-soil moisture. The state’s corn crop continues to develop more slowly than normal.

Eighty-two percent of the corn is rated fair-to excellent, 2 percent less than a week ago. Eighty-five percent of Wisconsin soybeans are fair-to excellent, down one point from the previous week. Almost 80 percent of the oats for grain are harvested. Yields are average to good.

Lawmaker proposing state language says action would unify Wisconsin

For the second time in four years, Wisconsin lawmakers are being asked to make English the state’s official language.

Assembly Republican Andre Jacque of De Pere has proposed a bill requiring state-and-local governments to write all of their documents in English.

Exceptions would be allowed to protect an individual’s rights in criminal cases – or when teaching foreign languages. Former Assembly Democrat Marlin Schneider of Wisconsin Rapids introduced the same measure in 2009. His party controlled all of state government at the time, and the bill never got a public hearing.

Since then, the federal government ordered Milwaukee to print its election ballots in Spanish in 2011 under the Voting Rights Act. That’s because Hispanics made up 17 percent of Milwaukee’s population at the time.

Jacque says his bill would help unify Wisconsin, and two dozen other states already make English their official language. He also said there’s a widespread agreement that English is critical to integrating with American society, and for future success. Milwaukee Assembly Democrat JoCasta Zamarippa said the bill would hurt Republican efforts to grow a Latino constituency, after the party lost its bids for the White House and control of the U.S. Senate in 2012.

A spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, only says he would consider Jacque’s bill if gets to his desk.

Flock of DNR pheasants will bolster autumn hunts

POYNETTE -- Wisconsin pheasant hunters will have more targets this fall.

The state DNR says it will release 75,000 birds about a week before the pheasant season opens on Oct. 19th. That’s almost a-third more than last year’s release of 54,000.

The pheasants will be spread across 92 public properties statewide, including 22 new sites in eastern, southern, and northwest parts of the state. Also, the DNR gave about 36,000 pheasant chicks to 34 conservation clubs this year.

They’ll be raised and eventually released on both public- and private lands.

Walleye restocked in ailing central Wisconsin lake

Things are looking up at the Big Eau Pleine (plain) Flowage in central Wisconsin. Lower water levels and a lack of oxygen killed thousands of fish this spring, and back in 2009.

Now, the Wisconsin River flowage between Marshfield and Mosinee has 165,000 new walleye fingerlings – part of a large statewide walleye expansion in the new state budget. The state’s four public fish hatcheries have just released 2.3 million tiny walleye, as part of the new Wisconsin Walleye Initiative. That’s about 560,000 more than originally expected.

DNR fisheries’ director Mike Staggs said over 400,000 large fingerlings will be stocked this year – and considering their longer survival rate, it will translate into a lot more fish for anglers to catch.

On the Eau Pleine, the new walleye were 1- to 3 inches long when they entered. Officials say they should make up for at least some of the losses in this winter’s fish kill.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Bed-sharing kills another infant

MILWAUKEE -- A baby girl has become the seventh infant to die in Milwaukee County this year after sleeping with an adult in bed.

A two-month-old Milwaukee girl died on Saturday. A medical examiner’s report said the mother told conflicting stories to authorities.

An ambulance worker quoted the mother as saying the girl died in her own crib – while a police officer said the woman admitted falling asleep with the baby in a bed cluttered by things like boxes and a laundry basket. She said she went to another bed during the night, and saw the baby bleeding in the morning.

Co-sleeping deaths have been a big problem in Milwaukee in recent years. Officials say the safest way for a baby to sleep is in his or her own crib without blankets, pillows, or toys.

Walker snips ribbon rebuilt factory, then hits campaign trail

MERRILL -- Before he hit the national political trail Monday, Gov. Scott Walker went to Merrill to help Northern Wire celebrate its 40th anniversary.

The plant had major damage in a tornado two years ago. Walker said the company has demonstrated resilience by overcoming its setback, rebuilding, and expanding. Northern Wire was recently acquired by the Elgin Fastener Corp. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Liter says the firm continues to expand in Merrill, working on new engineered parts that require expertise – and bringing higher-paying jobs to the Merrill area.

The Republican Walker was then off to Greenville, S.C. where he helped that state’s governor – Nikki Haley – announce her campaign for a second term.

Also, the Washington news Web site “Politico” said Walker will be among a small group of GOP leaders to headline a fundraiser in New York City on Sept. 23rd for the Republican National Committee.

Politico says the event will feature “stars and potential 2016 nominees” of which Walker is one. They’ll be at the home of New York Jets’ owner Woody Johnson.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Dog struggle costs Tomahawk man his life

A Tomahawk man who drowned after a dog pushed him underwater was identified Monday as David Lewicki, age 67.

Lincoln County authorities said Lewicki and the dog jumped from a pontoon boat into the Spirit Flowage, south of Tomahawk, to cool off Sunday.

When the man tried to get the pet closer to the boat, the dog climbed on him and pushed him down one- or two times. The dog escaped unharmed, but Lewicki went under.

His body was recovered a couple hours later in about five feet of water.

'Cow-chip' shortage leaves contest in peril

PRAIRIE DU SAC -- For the second year in a row, a shortage of cow chips is raising concerns for the State Cow-Chip Throwing Contest at Prairie du Sac in Sauk County.

Last year, the drought forced cattle to stay near their barns and keep cool – and there was not enough manure that could be dried-and-flattened in time for the event. This year, a wet spring dissolved the manure.

Event chairwoman Marietta Reuter says she’ll pull out three barrels of reserve chips, so the competition can go on this weekend – but sooner or later, they’ll need a normal year to get some fresh manure. The contest is part of a festival that will take place on Friday and Saturday in Prairie du Sac.

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.