Wisconsin roundup: Lawmakers to get earful on high-capacity well bill; state to purge nonvoters from voter rolls; 8 more state news stories
MADISON — Wisconsin lawmakers will hear up to nine hours of testimony Wednesday on a controversial bill to relax state rules for high capacity water wells.
The measure from Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald would end DNR oversight for the repairs, replacements, and ownership transfers of wells that pump more than 100,000 gallons per day — and it would also study waters in the Central Sands region, to see if steps are needed to preserve levels of streams and lakes.
The Senate passed the bill in the last session, but the Assembly killed it. Farm groups have said the measure provides a more certain regulatory climate — while conservation groups have opposed the bill, saying it put waterways in danger. The Assembly Agriculture Committee and the Senate's labor panel are holding a single joint hearing on the bill.
State to purge nonvoters from voter rolls
MADISON — If you have not voted for at least four years, you can expect to hear from the state Elections Commission by June.
The panel agreed Tuesay to send postcards to an estimated 800,000 Wisconsinites — including those on the voter rolls who may have died or moved. Recipients of the postcards will be told to update their information, or else they'll be removed from the state's voter list.
State officials have sent such postcards to nonvoters soon after previous presidential and gubernatorial elections, removing names of those who don't respond in 30 days. Those who need to register can do so online, using a system the Elections Commission began in January.
Wisconsin led nation in drunk drivers blocked by interlock system last year
MADISON — A new report says Wisconsin led the country last year in drunken drivers blocked from starting vehicles by an ignition interlock.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) released a report Tuesday that found interlock devices stopped 37,299 people from starting their vehicles from December 2015 to December 2016. California was second with close to 36,000 stops. The report is based on data MADD gathered from 11 interlock companies.
Wisconsin law requires first-time drunken drivers with blood alcohol contents of at least 0.15 percent as well as all repeat offenders to use interlocks. Drivers breathe into the devices, which can detect whether they're above the legal blood alcohol content limit for driving. If a driver is over the limit, the device prevents the vehicle from starting.
UW-Madison charged with sex crimes expelled from campus
MADISON — UW-Madison student Alec Cook has been expelled, after a campus review committee ruled that his sex-related criminal case showed he violated student policies against violence.
Cook, a 21-year-old business major from Edina, Minn., was suspended last October after he was charged with 21 counts of sexually assaulting six women, and groping and stalking four others since March 2015. A judge refused to drop four of the charges in January, when a defense lawyer said the allegations were no worse than what the character Fonzie did on the 1970s TV comedy "Happy Days."
Cook is due back in Dane County Circuit Court March 31 for a pretrial hearing, and he has until March 24 to appeal his expulsion. In a statement, Cook's lawyers said the UW jumped the gun in announcing the expulsion, and they claimed that "people get more due process when the state wants to take away their driver's license than when the UW-Madison wants to strip you of your entire educational future."
DNR secretary defends agency's wastewater enforcement efforts
MADISON — State DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp defended her agency's efforts to enforce water pollution rules, and said her agency is addressing longtime problems after a critical audit came out last June.
The Joint Audit Committee heard testimony on Tuesday about a drop in the DNR's enforcement of sewage violations since 2005, continuing into the Walker administration. Stepp put much of the blame on a state hiring freeze and deep personnel cuts — while environmentalists and Democrats said the agency should have been more aggressive in asking lawmakers to approve more workers.
Stepp told the panel it plans to make regular checks of wastewater facilities, add staffers to review large farming operations, and reduce backlogs in requests for wastewater permits. Senate GOP panel chair Rob Cowles says he wants an update from the DNR in three months.
Six years after victim disappears, trial begins in her murder
WAUSAU — A murder trial continues Wednesday in Wausau for Kristropher "Spider" Torgerson.
He's accused of killing 22-year-old Stephanie Low in Wausau in October 2010, then letting a search take place for four years until he showed officers where he hid her body in Forest County. A jury was picked in Eau Claire County due to heavy pretrial publicity about Low's disappearance and murder in Marathon County — where Torgerson is charged with homicide, armed robbery, and hiding a corpse.
Witnesses testified that Torgerson went to Low's house to look for cocaine just before she disappeared, and officials say friends knew that both were selling cocaine at the time. In its opening argument, the defense told jurors to focus on Torgerson's efforts to turn up Low's body and find justice for her.
Popular Milwaukee zoo sea lion dies at 30
MILWAUKEE — A popular sea lion at the Milwaukee County Zoo has died from natural causes.
Thirty-year-old Slick died last Friday, and zoo officials announced the death Tuesday after a necropsy. Slick was the oldest living California Sea Lion that was cared by people — and he lived at the Milwaukee zoo since 1991. He was also the star attraction at the Zoo's "Oceans of Fun Seal and Sea Lion Show."
Show president Shelley Ballmann called Slick the "dominant male who led his colony very firmly and very gently." Ballman said he was in good health the day before his surprise death, and the necropsy did not show anything abnormal so a cause of death could not be determined.
Ryan: Too early to discuss major amendment to health package
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan of Janesville says it's too early to discuss a "manager's amendment" to the Obamacare replacement bill that the White House says it's working on with the House GOP.
The Washington news outlet "The Hill" says the changes appear to be aimed at getting more hard-line conservatives on board, as at least 13 House Republicans are against the health package in its current form — and The Hill says the bill could be halted with only eight more GOP defections.
Among other things, a conservative study panel is looking to end Obamacare's Medicaid expansion in 2018 instead of 2020. Democrats say it would force millions to lose coverage. But GOP Gov. Scott Walker says it should not have a big impact in Wisconsin — since he never accepted the Obamacare offer of more Medicaid funds to treat those in need.
Deputies cleared in shooting death of suicidal man
BLACK RIVER FALLS — No charges will be filed against three western Wisconsin sheriff's deputies involved in the shooting death of a suicidal man.
Jackson County District Attoney Gerald Fox said the use of deadly force was justified against Donovan Scheurich St. on Jan. 25 near Millston. An investigation showed that the deputies responded to a report of a man who talked about threatening officers and killing himself — and as soon as they got there, Scheurich began shooting at them.
Reports say Sgt. Evan Mazur and deputies Aaron Johnson and Michael Bartlett fired 11 shots and four hit Scheurich. He had the active ingredient of marijuana in his system at the time, with a blood alcohol level of 0.33 — more than four times the legal intoxication limit for drunk drivers.
Two boys arrested for bringing loaded gun to school
MANITOWOC — Two 14-year-old boys have been arrested for bringing a loaded gun and extra ammunition to their school in Manitowoc.
Police say two other students at Wilson Junior High gave tips to the school's resource officer — and school officials later found a loaded revolver in one boy's backpack, and .22-caliber ammunition in another backpack. Everything was seized without incident on Tuesday.
Officials said the gun came from relatives of one of the boys, who felt he needed the weapon to protect himself. Police say the boys were in a dispute with another group of students, but they could not say what it involved. In a message to parents, school principal Lee Thennes said an investigation continues — and he was especially proud of the students who reported the discovery of the gun.