Wisconsin roundup: Assembly to act on recount requests, more; 8 more state news stories
MADISON — Recounts could only be sought by those who lose elections by 1 percent or less in a bill that's up for a vote in the Wisconsin Assembly Wednesday.
It comes after Green Party candidate Jill Stein forced a full recount of the state's presidential vote last December, even though she finished fourth. Stein said she wanted to find out if somebody hacked the voting, but the bill's sponsors say most Wisconsinites saw the recount as an abuse of the system, even though Stein's camp paid for it — and Gov. Scott Walker accused her of using the publicity to bolster her campaign coffers for the future.
The Assembly will also take up bills to reduce time periods for deer feeding bans in counties with chronic wasting disease — boost penalties for using credit card scanners to commit identity theft — let chiropractors give physicals for school sports — make private voucher schools check backgrounds of employees — and allow year round hunting of woodchucks.
Assembly considers crackdown on souped-up fentanyl
MADISON — Expect the midnight oil to burn at the State Capitol, as the Wisconsin Assembly acts on a number of major bills before it turns its full attention to the new state budget.
Among other things, the bills try to let conservatives speak their peace on UW campuses without major disruptions — limit those who can seek recounts after losing elections — and make it easier for prosecutors to go after those selling more potent fentanyl substance. The bill would more clearly define fentanyl analogs which are up to 100 times stronger than morphine, and can kill users when its secretly slipped into other opioid painkillers and heroin.
In Milwaukee County alone, 42 people have been reported dead from overdoses as the result of exposure fentanyl or its souped up analogs. The Assembly session is scheduled to begin at one Wednesday afternoon.
Report: Taxpayers to be hit hard by dumping prevailing wage
MADISON — Wisconsin Democrats and veterans are still trying to preserve the prevailing wage for private workers on state government construction projects.
At a Tuesday news conference, opponents of a bill to repeal the minimum pay requirements said it would hit taxpayers hard, because it would drive down wages to the point in which more people would go on welfare. The Midwest Economic Policy Institute says the extra safety net pressures would cause taxpayers statewide to shell out $336 million each year.
Republicans say it would reduce taxpayers' costs for construction work, and there are not many companies that would be affected. Republicans repealed the prevailing wage in 2015 for local government projects.
Bakers' bill could cool on the shelf
MADISON — A bill to end state licensing requirements for bakers in Wisconsin might not come out of the oven until this fall.
A spokeswoman says Assembly Speaker Robin Vos will introduce a revised measure soon — but after today's floor session, another one won't be set until fall, except to approve the next state budget which is due by July 1.
A bill introduced earlier this session would drop licensing mandates and regulations for home bakers so they could sell their homemade pies and such. But Vos, who owns a popcorn factory in Racine County, says the bill was not fair to commercial food sellers — and he offered to propose a measure to drop mandates for commercial bakers as well as those based at home.
Wisconsinites could soon be able to text 911
MADISON — Wisconsinites could one day text 911 instead of having to call for police, fire, and ambulance services.
The governor's proposed state budget would spend $ million to modernize copper landline wires to dispatch facilities and create what's called "Next Generation 911." Kathy Sukus of the Rock County Communication Center says it's a big change that's "much overdue."
She says wireless texting would save tax dollars, make the system more secure, and let people submit photos and videos of emergencies — thus giving dispatchers more information — and for those who can't provide exact locations, the system would show responders where to go more quickly and precisely. WKOW-TV in Madison says Next Generation 911 is being used in neighboring Iowa and three other states, and others are working to adopt it.
State to offer electronic poll books for voters to sign
MADISON — Wisconsin voters could sign electronic books to help confirm their identities at the polls.
The state Elections Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to have its staff create software, and offer the computerized poll books to local election clerks starting next February on a pilot basis — and to clerks statewide by the next partisan primaries in August 2018. More than two dozen states now use electronic poll books, and experts say it saves time by making operations and voter eligibility checks more efficient, with the possibility of shortening long lines of voters at check in stations. Elections Commission chairman Mark Thomsen says a strong encryption and protection system will be needed to prevent hacking.
Jury deliberations underway in officer shooting trial
MILWAUKEE — Jury deliberations resumed Wednesday to decide the fate of former Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan Brown.
Jurors spent five hours late Tuesday reviewing almost one week of testimony, and they have the option of convicting him on one of two lesser charges. The 25-year-old Heaggan Brown is currently charged with first degree reckless homicide in the shooting death of Sylville Smith last August that spurred two nights of violence in Milwaukee's Sherman Park.
In his closing argument, defense lawyer Jonathan Smith said the officer was working overtime in a high crime area when he shot the victim in self defense. The attorney said Heaggan Brown followed police training procedures. But District Attorney John Chisholm told jurors that Smith was "signaling complete surrender" when he was killed.
Deputies: Man made 'vague' threat about blimp before crash
ERIN — Sheriff's deputies say a landowner made an apparent "vague threat" against an advertising blimp, two hours before it crashed at the U.S. Open golf tournament.
But after meeting with the man, Washington County officers were convinced he was not a threat — and foul play is not suspected in last Thursday's incident.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash of the blimp about one mile from where the national pro golf major was being played, and pilot Trevor Thompson was seriously burned as panels ripped from the blimp's side before it fell. On Tuesday, deputies said a nearby landowner complained that the blimp's noise was scaring his farm animals — and he asked if he could "shoot it down," but officers became convinced that the man was sarcastic about that.
Popular state park cancels program due to bat deaths
BARABOO — One of Wisconsin's most popular state parks has been hit hard with the fungal bat disease white nose syndrome.
A naturalist at Devils Lake State Park near Baraboo says it lost nine of every 10 brown bats during the past year. The park now has about 20 left, not enough to offer a bat-watching program at the park this summer. The state DNR recently said the deadly bat disease has been confirmed in 14 counties, covering much of the southern one third of the state plus counties close to the Mississippi River. White nose syndrome first arrived in southwest Wisconsin three years ago, raising concerns for cave explorer as well as farmers who rely on bats for eating insects before they can damage crops.