Wisconsin roundup: Walker to present budget at 4 p.m.; competency exam ordered in Rusk County officer-slaying case; 10 more state news stories
MADISON — Republican Scott Walker will present the fourth two year state budget of his governorship Thursday afternoon.
He'll hit the high points in a speech to lawmakers at 4 p.m. at the Capitol, which will be streamed live on the governor's office website. Walker announced one of the biggest parts of his two year package Tuesday, when he proposed a 5 percent tuition cut for Wisconsin resident undergrads in the state's higher education system. But it will be a tough sell for legislators, as GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he'd rather give higher financial aid than tuition cuts, and Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he hasn't seen "much excitement" for it.
The tax cut would be funded by $35 million to the UW, on top of $11 million for university pay raises -- plus $42 million in performance aid that hinges on the numbers of grads who get jobs, and how it long it takes for students to get their degrees.
Competency exam ordered for alleged cop killer
LADYSMITH — A mental exam will determine whether a 44-year-old man can help prepare his defense for the shooting death of a northwest Wisconsin sheriff's deputy.
Rusk County Circuit Judge Steven Anderson approved the defense request for a competency exam Tuesday, when Doug Nitek of Conrath appeared in court on 31 criminal charges -- and a hearing April 18 could determine whether Nitek is competent to stand trial. He's accused of shooting Deputy Dan Glaze last October while the officer was in his squad car at Nitek's property, and endangering several other officers as they were arresting him -- four days after he reportedly told a DNR warden he was tired of contacts with law enforcement and he would shoot the next officer who comes on his property.
The judge did not consider Nitek's request for a gag order to prevent both sides from talking to reporters, after the defendant wrote that he's been slandered by the media. The judge ordered a $1 million bond.
No word on possible appeal in $11.5M Polk County jury verdict
AMERY — There's no word on whether Polk County or a former jailer will appeal an $11.5 million dollar jury verdict against them.
A federal court jury in Madison awarded the damages to two women sexually assaulted by 50-year-old Darryl Christensen. The former Polk County jailer and Amery fire chief is serving a 30-year prison term on criminal convictions for alleged sexual contact with five female inmates at the jail, dating back to 2011. All five women have filed civil suits against Christensen and Polk County, and the recent jury verdict was for the first two cases.
Each woman was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages, plus $3.75 million three-and-three-quarter million in punitive damages to be paid by Christensen -- but his lawyer says he can only afford nominal damages.
Temps fall, making frozen drizzle slick in spots
The National Weather Service says sidewalks and untreated roads could be slick Wednesday morning, as light drizzle fell in much of Wisconsin before it got cold.
It got down to one degree in Superior, Siren, New Richmond, and Osceola by 6 a.m. -- and it was generally in the teens in central Wisconsin and the 20s in the south. It's not supposed to be much warmer than that throughout the day, and it could get below zero in the northern half of Wisconsin by this time Thursday before the mercury rises back into the 30s and 40s by Friday. Forecasters say it will be a dry day except for some light snow in the north.
State Senate to vote on more union limits, CBD oil
MADISON — The Wisconsin Senate will vote Wednesday on a bill to stop local governments from having mandatory labor agreements for public building projects.
Supporters say it would encourage more non-union contractors to seek government work -- but Democrats and labor unions say the bill is all about paying workers less and reducing local government control of its own projects.
Also, the Senate is scheduled to vote on a modified bill to make it easier for parents of children with seizures to obtain the marijuana derivative cannabidiol for treatment. The Assembly only has one bill on its calendar for Wednesday -- letting Oostburg in Sheboygan County use tax incremental financing to help provide streets and other public amenities for a $30 million cheese packaging plant for Masters Gallery Foods. It was the first bill passed by the Senate last month.
U.S. Senate pulls second straight all-nighter on confirmations
WASHINGTON — For the second straight night, the lights stayed on late in the U.S. Senate chamber as Democrats held up a confirmation vote on Jeff Sessions' nomination as attorney general.
Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren was silenced until the end of the debate, for impugning a fellow senator by quoting a letter from Coretta Scott King when she opposed the current Alabama senator when he was seeking a federal judgeship. On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie to confirm Michigan school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos as the new education secretary -- but unlike DeVos, there has been no word of GOP senators breaking ranks to oppose Sessions.
Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson confirmed DeVos, and Democrat Tammy Baldwin voted no as her fellow Democrats denied orchestrating the opposition by themselves, with Baldwin saying she has never seen such massive public input on any matter since joined the Senate in 2013.
Madison OKs 'safe places' for immigrants; Milwaukee fights travel ban
Wisconsin's two largest cities took swipes at President Donald Trump's immigration policies.
In Madison, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to designate the council's main office and public libraries as "safe places" where immigrants can get information about their rights, and phone interpreter services. In Milwaukee, the Common Council voted 13-2 to oppose Trump's travel ban to the United States for immigrants from Muslim dominated nations. Alderman Jose Perez, who sponsored the resolution, says the ban is not what America is -- but Alderman Bob Donovan, one of the two "no" voters, says Milwaukee needs to assure the safety of its citizens.
Madison's "safe place" measure also attacked Trump's policies -- and it was modified after Mayor Paul Soglin expressed fears of a state government backlash with an original plan for a "safe space" in the Council office where all residents could be protected.
UW-Madison student scraps effort to create pro-white campus group
MADISON — A UW-Madison student has scrapped his effort to start a pro-white group on campus.
Daniel Dropik of Oconomowoc was planning to start a chapter of the American Freedom Party -- but those plans were derailed after hundreds of students protested. That's because the 33-year-old Dropik was sentenced to five years in a federal prison for starting fires at two predominantly black churches in Milwaukee and in Lansing, Michigan in 2007.
That spurred Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank to ask the UW-Board of Regents to reconsider its policy of admitting students without regard to their criminal records. But last week, it was learned that the Regents did not have to get involved after UW-System President Ray Cross promised an administrative review.
Shelter asks public to help 39 dogs taken from rescue facility
SUGAR CAMP — A humane society in northern Wisconsin has asked people to donate food and blankets for 39 dogs removed from an animal rescue facility.
The Oneida County Sheriff's Department and Humane Society seized the animals Monday from It Matters to One, a rescue site near Sugar Camp. Sheriff's officials say an investigation began last month after it appeared that a dog was severely neglected for months -- and deputies say their main concern right now is for the health of the pets, which have more than tripled the numbers at the Humane Society's animal shelter.
On Facebook Tuesday, It Matters to One said it rescues animals from "undesirable circumstances," and it's "extremely unsettling" to be accused of neglect. Sheriff's officials, meanwhile, say they were still looking for the group's founder at last word, and for people fostering dogs from the facility.
Professors' workload would go under microscope in UW proposal
A UW tuition would be cut by 5 percent for all state resident undergrads, as part of a budget measure the governor announced Tuesday on a tour of campuses at La Crosse, Eau Claire, and Green Bay.
Republican Scott Walker said the university would get an extra $35 million in state funds to make up for the lost revenue from the tuition cut. Walker also announced other new initiatives, including $42.5 million dollars to be split among campuses according to performance standards that include securing employment after graduation.
Other measures Walker proposed include a three-year degree option in addition to the minimum four, monitoring workloads to see how long professors actually teach, letting students opt out of some segregated fees and requiring hands-on work experience before UW students can graduate. The items will be part of the two-year budget he submits to lawmakers Wednesday. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he's against the UW cut, preferring instead more financial aid.
New state safety secretary named
MADISON — A leader in Milwaukee's private school voucher program will become the top official in the state Department of Safety and Professional Services.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says Laura Gutierrez has been chosen by Gov. Scott Walker. She would replace Dave Ross, who recently took charge of the state Transportation Department. Gutierrez is a vice president at St. Anthony School in Milwaukee.
School president Jose Vasquez says Gutierrez is familiar with the state's licensing process as it applies to school teachers. Her appointment comes at a time when Republicans are looking at easing requirements for what's now about 200 licensing requirements for various professions throughout Wisconsin. The department was created after Walker became governor in 2011.
EPA approves state's phosphorous work-around
MADISON — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a plan from two Republican Wisconsin state lawmakers that allows companies to pay to delay compliance with strict phosphorous pollution standards.
Sen. Robert Cowles and Rep. Amy Loudenbeck said Tuesday that the plan allows companies to pay fees in exchange for a longer timeline over which to reduce their phosphorous pollution levels. The fees go toward reducing phosphorous runoff from other sites. Companies will be able to apply to the Department of Natural Resources for a variance permit.