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Contractor says right-to-work may jeopardize his business; hearing ends abruptly after unionists threaten disruption; 8 more Wisconsin stories

MADISON -- The owner of a Black River Falls construction firm said Tuesday that the Wisconsin right-to-work bill that's up for a Senate vote Wednesday could devastate his business.

James Hoffman of Hoffman Construction said he relies on the Operating Engineers' union to train employees for his company and if workers no longer have to pay union dues, Hoffman feared that the training efforts will be scaled back and he could no longer rely on a steady stream of qualified builders.

Hoffman stated his concerns during a public hearing of the Senate's labor committee Tuesday.

Plumbing contractor Paul Christensen asked who would provide training for his unionized workers. He guessed it would be the taxpayers and in Christensen's words -- "I don't want that. I want to stand on my own two feet."

The state's largest business group takes issue with the idea that right-to-work would eliminate union-sponsored worker training.

Scott Manley of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce group said union dues don't pay for that. He also said non-union companies manage to provide training programs.

WMC is a strong supporter of the right-to-work bill. That group and others say workers should not be forced to join unions or pay dues to work in a union shop even though the unions are required to give them the same benefits and protections as their members get.

The National Football League Players' Association also came out against the bill on Tuesday.

Union director DeMaurice Smith says his group "stands together" with Wisconsin's working families and organized labor in what he called "current attacks against their right to stand together as a team."

Smith said the bill would jeopardize the livelihoods of food and commercial workers at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.

"Governor Scott Walker may not value these vital employees but as union members, we do," said Smith.

Football players know first-hand how banding together can "overcome decades of poor workplace conditions, and drastically improve pensions and benefits."

Meanwhile, Walker kept his distance from Madison Tuesday but picketers greeted him when he showed up at Riverview Hospital in Wisconsin Rapids to announce new sites for "Project Search," which helps young adults with disabilities get job training.

He made a similar appearance in Green Bay, where he was pressed about what the Journal Sentinel's Politi-Fact called a "flip-flop" on his public remarks over right-to-work.

Walker told reporters he has always supported the concept but he didn't think it was the right time to pursue it in 2012, a year removed from the massive protests over his Act 10 public union restrictions. Walker said employers needed more stability from state government at the time, and people needed to be confident that Wisconsin was on the right track.

In his re-election campaign last fall, Walker repeatedly said he would not push for right-to-work in the current session but he was careful not to say whether he'd sign it if the bill got to his desk.

Last week, after leaders of both houses said they had the votes to pass it, Walker said he would sign the measure.

At Wisconsin Rapids, Walker said it's a good time for lawmakers to take up right-to-work, before they get to work on the new state budget.

Critics have accused the GOP of pushing the union issue so people forget about the budget and pressing it through quickly to minimize the national impact on the bill on Walker's possible White House candidacy.

Tuesday's public hearing on the issue ended abuptly Tuesday night, when Senate labor committee chair Steve Nass cut off testimony a half-hour earlier than planned, and he called for a vote.

It was 3- to 1 in favor of right-to-work, which would make it illegal to require union membership or dues as a condition of employment.

Nass said he received a "credible threat" in which unions were planning to disrupt the committee vote if he didn't let everyone testify beyond the announced cut-off time of 7 p.m.

An official of the Service Employees' International Union and a regional public union leader confirmed the planned disruption, but said it was a "sham" for Nass to call it a "threat."

Democrat Chris Larson argued against the timing of the committee's vote instead of voting on the bill.

The only other Democrat on the panel, Bob Wirch, voted no while Nass and two other Republicans voted yes.

As union supporters shouted "Shame! Shame!" police escorted the GOP lawmakers from the hearing room.

Capitol Police told reporters there was one arrest before the building closed for the night. Unlike the Act 10 saga, overnight campers were not allowed in the Capitol building. Signs were posted at the entrances which banned items like sleeping bags.

If right-to-work is approved, police and fire unions would be the only ones to be guaranteed the powers they had before Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans took control of state government following the 2010 elections.

Feingold alludes to possible Senate run

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold has ended an 18-month diplomatic mission to Africa, raising speculation that he'll try to win his old Senate post back next year.

Feingold delivered his final speech Tuesday as a special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa. He said a lot of progress has been made there in neutralizing armed organizations, while increasing U.S. involvement in the region. Feingold has said very little about his future ambitions.

In his final diplomatic speech, he thanked his assistant Mary Irvine, whom he described as his "once, current, and I hope future chief-of-staff."

Feingold, a Democrat from Middleton, spent 18 years in the U.S. Senate before he was defeated by Ron Johnson in a national Republican wave during the 2010 elections.

One poll in 2013 showed that Feingold had the best chance of defeating Gov. Scott Walker in his re-election bid last November but that talk was snuffed out after Feingold accepted the diplomatic post in Africa.

V.A. clients invited to speak-up at town hall meeting

TOMAH -- The Veterans' Administration is holding a series of town hall meetings to address issues involving its health care. One of those meetings will be held next month in Tomah.

The agency has been under fire for alleged management gaffes at the Tomah facility which include over-dosing of painkillers, alleged retaliation against whistle-blowing employees, and circumstances surrounding the deaths of three patients.

The meeting will begin at 5 p.m., Thursday, March 12 in the chapel of the Tomah V.A. Medical Center. The V.A. official who's heading an investigation at Tomah will join staffers to hear from patients, their families, and the general public about the quality of treatment.

The proceeding is separate from a hearing that's planned by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. A date for that hearing has not been set.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Great Lakes group lobbies for full funding

WASHINGTON D.C. -- The Great Lakes Commission is a hosting a two-day summit in Washington to discuss water quality issues and to lobby for the restoring of federal funds.

The commission oversees environmental activities on the Great Lakes, representing eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.

On Tuesday, the panel heard ideas for reducing the run-off of nutrients which have been blamed for outbreaks of toxic algae.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the group was expected to team up with the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. They'll urge Congress to restore $50 million that was cut from President Obama's next federal budget for various clean-up projects.

Obama is proposing a $250 million allocation for fiscal 2016, down from the current year's spending of $300 million.

Teen shot by police was pointing fake assault rifle

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Police say a teenager who was shot by an officer last weekend was pointing a non-lethal Airsoft gun which looked like an assault rifle.

The 18-year-old man was still hospitalized at last word, while the 50-year-old officer remained on administrative duty as the State Justice Department investigates the case.

The incident occurred Saturday, Feb. 21.

According to reports, the teen was at a home where the Milwaukee Fire Department was first called to deal with a medical emergency. Rescuers called police, saying they found evidence of a violent encounter at the home.

Police said they searched the home after removing other people and the teen emerged holding a long gun, prompting the officer to fire his service weapon.

Airsoft guns normally have orange tips to show that they're not real but police said the replica in Saturday's incident did not have such a colored tip.

Meanwhile, police say they'll ask prosecutors to pursue a domestic violence case against the teenager.

UW officials want assurance from contractor for Fond du Lac student housing

FOND DU LAC -- Officials of the two-year U-W colleges want an Iowa developer to guarantee that a new student housing complex will open on time this fall at the Fond du Lac campus. They also want a promise that the new building will be free of problems which affected similar complexes at the colleges in Marshfield and Baraboo.

Bluffstone, of Bettendorf, Iowa, has asked for a one-semester delay in completing its new three-story, 84-bed structure at Fond du Lac.

If the delay is granted, Fond du Lac County might opt-out of a lease agreement with Bluffstone since the deal required the building to be ready by fall.

Previous media reports indicated that students have been living in the Marshfield and Baraboo housing facilities without occupancy permits from local building inspectors.

Also, sub-contractors have complained that they have not been paid for the work they did at those two sites.

Bluffstone's Tim Baldwin said a Kentucky firm which hired the sub-contractors was the one that didn't pay up.

Man killed after stabbing Green Bay officer

GREEN BAY -- Green Bay Police shot and killed a man Tuesday evening after he reportedly stabbed an officer in the arm.

Authorities said two officers were called to an apartment building around 7:30 p.m. to check on a man who may have been suicidal.

Police captain Jeremy Muraski said that when the two encountered the man, he produced an "edged weapon" and stabbed one of the officers. Both officers then shot at the man, and he died at the scene.

The wounded officer was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and is expected to make a full recovery.

The state Justice Department is investigating the officers' roles in the incident, as part of a new state law on officer-involved shootings.

The names of the officers and the shooting victim were not immediately released.

Suspect arrested for allegedly burning sex offender's future home

MADISON -- A 50-year-old man is under arrest in Dane County, for allegedly starting a second fire at a house where a convicted sex offender was planning to move in.

Sheriff's officials said the Cottage Grove man became a person of interest early in the investigation into Sunday night's arson blaze in the town of Cottage Grove.

Detectives went to the suspect's home, but were told he had left the area. The man was later found at Muscoda in southwest Wisconsin.

Doctors at the University of Wisconsin hospital examined him, and he was then booked into the Dane County Jail.

The burned-out house was also targeted by an arsonist in December. It was repaired, but it's now considered a total loss.

The state had arranged for a 40-year-old sex offender to move there by the end of February.

Milwaukee woman's exposure death prompts investigation

MILWAUKEE -- New questions are being raised about the death of a Milwaukee woman from exposure to this month's cold weather.

Janet Johnson's father said a case-worker from Wisconsin Community Services allowed her to be released from jail without a warm place to stay.

Now, the Journal Sentinel has reported the agency is under a Milwaukee County investigation along with the United Community Center. Both have contracts with the county to provide mental health care.

Police found the 40-year-old Johnson half-naked on a north side Milwaukee street last Wednesday morning, when it was four-below zero. Officials said Johnson was holding a crack-cocaine pipe, wearing only a hooded sweat-shirt and carrying just 58 cents. She died three hours later at a Milwaukee hospital, and the medical examiner said it was due from exposure to the cold.

Johnson had just spent two months in jail in a drug-related case. Her father told the Journal Sentinel she had schizophrenia as a teen, and has been in and out of treatment facilities numerous times. The agencies that are under investigation have not commented on Johnson's case.

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