Wisconsin roundup: St. Croix no-wake zone among high-water river developments; 9 more state news stories
Recent rains have closed parks on the Mississippi River, just as Memorial Day weekend visitors are about to arrive.
The state DNR says some of its parks and trails were shut down this week due to high water — and on Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed Blackhawk Park at De Soto until conditions improve. The National Weather Service has flood warnings posted until Saturday on the Mississippi at Winona, Monday at La Crosse and Winona, next Wednesday near Nelson — and until further notice at Prairie du Chien and Guttenberg, Iowa.
Minor flooding is forecast in all those places. The Wisconsin River at Portage and the Trempealeau River at Dodge are also above their flood stages. Washington County officials in Minnesota have declared a no wake zone for boats on the St. Croix between Prescott and St. Croix Falls.
Study: Green Bay replaces Appleton as 'Drunkest City in America'
NEW YORK — Appleton is no longer the "Drunkest City in America."
That distinction was turned over to neighboring Green Bay, according to the latest study by the business website 24 Seven Wall Street. The home of the Packers has 27 percent of adults reporting that they drank heavily, or went on binges sometime in the last 30 days — and the Green Bay area is one of just five in the United States where more than half of all fatal car crashes involve alcohol, as Wisconsin remains the only state where first time OWI is not a criminal offense.
Appleton received a lot of national notoriety after last year's study came out — and it dropped to the third "drunkest city" with Eau Claire second, Madison fourth, Oshkosh sixth, Wausau ninth, and La Crosse 10th. It's the second straight year that Wisconsin had seven of the Top 10 drunkest cities, with Milwaukee 20th.
Small businesses tell state to drop personal property tax
MADISON — Owners of small businesses lined up to urge state lawmakers to drop the personal property tax.
The Senate Revenue Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on a measure to end the tax on business equipment and furniture. Republican Duey Strobel of Saukville says it's an outdated tax that goes back to the days before Wisconsin had the technology to administer the income tax and others — and small businesses say it hurts them the most as others have been exempted throughout the years, while small firms say it's hard for them to do business as they have to come up with values for used equipment.
The state would lose $261 million if the personal property tax is repealed — and while Strobel says other spending would be cut, Senate Democrat Janice Ringhand of Evansville says we need to know what those cuts will be. In her words, "We certainly can't afford more cuts to education."
Analysis: GOP health plan to leave 23 million more uninsured
WASHINGTON — Twenty-three million more Americans will be without health insurance by 2026 if the House replacement to Obamacare becomes law.
That's according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in a report that Wisconsin Democrats used to slam majority Republicans. Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse predicted less access for those with pre-existing conditions, and a $10,000 annual premium hike for older state residents. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin repeated that she wasn't elected to take people's health care away.
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Janesville highlighted the CBO's prediction of falling premiums by 2020, and saying it would lower the federal deficit. The new report says the House package would jack up premiums 20-percent next year and 5 percent more in 2019 before they start to fall.
DNR says it followed GOP's order to put up 10,000 acres for sale
MADISON — The state DNR says it has completed an order from Republican lawmakers to put 10,000 acres of nature land up for sale.
The mandate was part of the 2013 state budget, designed to reduce interest costs on borrowing to buy and preserve nature lands in the DNR's long running Stewardship Program. At a meeting of the state Natural Resources Board Wednesday, lands director Terry Bay said almost 10,200 acres were offered for sale, and about 2,800 have been sold for $3.6 million.
There are also 27 more sales pending — and if they're all completed, they would bring in another $5 million pay toward interest costs for Stewardship borrowing, which have criticized by the GOP as being too high.
State: Unemployment drops in metros, north suffers most
MADISON — Unemployment rates have dropped below 3 percent in nine of Wisconsin's 12 metro areas.
Figures released Wednesday show that the actual unadjusted jobless rates went down in all 12 metros with Janesville, Racine, and Milwaukee as the only ones above 3 percent. Racine had the highest rate at three-point-eight, Madison was the lowest as usual at 2.1 and Milwaukee's rate dropped by 0.5 percent to 3.2.
Thirteen counties in far northern Wisconsin had the highest unadjusted unemployment rates among the 72 counties, while 44 had record lows for April. Iron County was the highest at 7.4 and Dane County was the lowest at 2.1.
Northern hunters can shoot more does this fall
MADISON — Hunters in northern Wisconsin can shoot more anterless deer this fall.
The state Natural Resources Board voted unanimously Wednesday to reduce the numbers of northern counties where hunters can take only bucks. Antlerless females will still be off limits in Vilas, Iron, and Ashland counties to give the herds in those locations a chance to grow — and the eastern half of Eau Claire County will also allow buck harvests only. DNR officials say recent mild winters have increased deer numbers in the north, after 19 counties were off limits to doe hunting in 2014.
Homeless man dies in Green Bay dumpster
GREEN BAY — A homeless man has died after he was found sleeping in a dumpster in downtown Green Bay.
Media reports say Thomas Worth was trying to stay dry when it was raining Tuesday night — and a garbage truck driver who emptied the dumpster called police after hearing him make noise to get noticed. Worth told officers he fell asleep in the dumpster and woke up in the truck. He was taken to a hospital where he died a couple hours later, and there was no word on the extent of his injuries or the cause of death.
Wis. judge drops power line construction ban
LA CROSSE — A judge has reversed his decision to halt construction of a seven-mile stretch of a high-voltage power line in western Wisconsin.
The La Crosse Tribune reports Judge Todd Bjerke agreed to lift the construction ban Tuesday after reviewing environmental studies regarding the impact of the Badger-Coulee transmission line. Earlier this month, Bjerke ordered construction to stop, saying the Wisconsin Public Service Commission failed to provide such documents. Bjerke also ordered the commission to reconsider their decision to place the site on separate poles across the highway from another high-voltage line because it "lacked any rational basis." The town of Holland in Brown County sued last year to overturn the commission's approval of the line, saying the panel wasn't protecting consumers when it authorized the $580 million project.
Walker signs bill allowing unaccompanied minors at music festivals
MADISON — Governor Scott Walker signed a bill Wednesday making clear that unaccompanied minors can attend music festivals where alcohol is being served.
Walker says it makes sense to allow the exemption, which also exists for hotels, grocery stores, bowling alleys, movie theaters and sports stadiums. Supporters in the Legislature introduced the bill after state officials told festival organizers they were going to enforce a state law that prohibits minors from attending such events without a parent or guardian. Under the new law, minors could attend festivals where alcohol is served on private property where attendance is expected to exceed 2,500 people. The same rules are already in place for festivals on public property like Milwaukee's Summerfest.