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No offense meant with cleaning supply grad gifts, says superintendent; Xcel asks for 3.2% rate hike; 11 more state news briefs

The Stevens Point school superintendent has apologized after a teacher gave a graduation gift of cleaning supplies to a student and reportedly told her she'll be “scrubbing toilets.”

Alyssa Alvarado's family was offended by a gift bag from Sue Felder, a teacher in the Point high school Life Skills Center. It helps students with cognitive disabilities learn things like cooking, cleaning and housekeeping.

Alyssa's mother, Lisa Kingsbury, told WSAU Radio in Wausau she was offended by some of the items in the teacher's gift bag -- like a toilet bowl brush and cleanser. She asked Alyssa why she was given those things, and she quoted the teacher as saying she'd be scrubbing toilets.

Superintendent Attila Wedinger said Felder gave items she thought her graduates could use and she had no intent to demean the students.

A counselor passed that message on to Kingsbury, but she didn't buy it. She thought the teacher should be fired. Wedinger said a firing would be inappropriate.

In the future, the superintendent said gifts to Life Skills students will be “appropriate for graduation” and won't be like those Felder gave out.

The incident comes more than a month after Stevens Point school transportation manager John Shepard sent a memo to bus drivers calling special needs students “window lickers.”

Wedinger says the incidents are not related, and she insists there is not a "culture issue" in her district.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Xcel asks for 3.2% rate hike

Electric customers in much of northwest Wisconsin could pay 3.2% more for their power starting next year.

Xcel Energy has asked the state Public Service Commission for approval to increase its revenues by just over $20 million. The utility says it needs the money to upgrade power plants and transmission lines.

The typical residential customer would pay about $3.12 more per month under Xcel's proposal. The utility expects the PSC to act on the rate hike request in December.


Obama announces grant for Wisconsin college to study head injuries in youth sports

The Medical College of Wisconsin will lead a national study on the impacts of concussions and head injuries in youth sports.

President Obama announced the $30 million study yesterday at a White House summit on the effects of concussions by young athletes. He said young people make 250,000 hospital visits each year for sports and recreation related injuries.

The Department of Defense and the NCAA will pay for the study. The Medical College expects to choose participants for the study within the next 30 days. Participants will include school football and soccer players and athletes from major college conferences and military academies.

Michael McCrea, the college's director of brain injury research, says 1,200 Division One NCAA athletes will be studied for three years on the effects of head impacts and concussions. He said the goal is to create more scientific ways to report head injuries and to evaluate their extent and treatments.

The chosen athletes will wear sensors to help determine where the injuries take place, the person's angle and velocity at the time and future effects on the head. Beside the Medical College, researchers from the universities of Indiana and Michigan will also work on the study.


$250,000 bond set for teen accused of shooting girl

A $250,000 bond has been set for a Milwaukee teen accused of getting into a gun battle with another teen and injuring a 10-year-old girl caught in the crossfire.

Sylvester Lewis, 18, made his initial court appearance yesterday on charges of reckless injury, reckless endangerment and illegally possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. Lewis is due back in court next Friday when officials will determine if there's evidence to order a trial.

A second suspect, a 28-year-old man, is still under investigation in the incident.  He was arrested Wednesday but has not been charged.

Prosecutors said Lewis rode past five men on a bicycle last Wednesday evening, and one confronted him while another pointed a gun and threatened to kill him. Lewis told officers he then drew his own weapon and shot at the group.

The Journal Sentinel said the second suspect was convicted in another shooting death in 2003, just one block from the playground where Sierra Guyton was shot and wounded last week.


Airfield will be renamed in honor of ace pilot

Wisconsin's first jet pilot ace will be honored in Stevens Point this weekend.

A ceremony will be held Sunday at Point's Air Show to rename the airfield after Conrad "Connie" Mattson. He flew fighter planes in World War II and Korea.

Mattson was in the Air Force until New Year's Day of 1970 when he retired. He died in August of 2001.

Many of his family members will be at the ceremony. That includes his niece, Carole Cassidy, who worked with Stevens Point city and airport officials to rename the airfield.

Board members of the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame support the rededication even though Mattson has not been inducted in the hall. But there appears to be a good chance of his induction in the future. He's been nominated once.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Rejected high-speed trains moved out of state

Two ill-fated high-speed trains have left Wisconsin, and they could end up being used as transit units in neighboring Michigan.

Former governor Jim Doyle brought in Talgo of Spain to build the trains, which were going to be used for a high-speed route from Milwaukee to Madison and eventually to Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Current Gov. Scott Walker killed the project and gave $810 million back to the federal government for the Milwaukee-Madison stretch.

Wisconsin taxpayers shelled out $52 million for the Talgo trains before the state ended the payments. The trains have been at Talgo's Milwaukee facility since then, but the company says they'll now go to an Amtrak maintenance building in Beech Grove, Ind. Talgo says it will have lower storage costs there.

Michigan's Department of Transportation is considering a purchase of the trains for its transit fleet.


Milwaukee DA says soft-on-crime claim is nonsense

Milwaukee County's chief prosecutor refutes a claim from the Wisconsin Assembly speaker that he's soft on crime.

Democrat John Chisholm says it's "propaganda and nonsense" that he reduces charges against too many violent offenders while he spends time prosecuting a John Doe probe against politically conservative groups.

GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos made those claims this week reacting to the recent shooting of a ten-year-old girl by two men exchanging gunfire at a Milwaukee playground.

Chisholm told the Journal Sentinel that Vos was speaking from "complete ignorance." The DA said he invites critics to spend time in his courtrooms to see what's really happening.

He said homicide cases are handled every day, and they're trying domestic violence cases "by the dozen." He also urged folks to visit community prosecutors and see their work.

Chisholm said he challenges anybody who claims his policies are soft on crime. He said people often take one violent incident and claim it exposes flaws in the entire justice system.


Walker is headliner in New York state fundraiser

Gov. Scott Walker is in a tight reelection battle this fall, but he still has enough star power to help raise money for other Republican candidates.

Walker will be the main speaker at a fundraiser on June 9 for New York state gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino. Tickets begin at $500 for the event, which will be held at the Union League Club in Manhattan.

Astorino is the Westchester County executive. He's challenging Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo this fall.

Walker admits he'll have a tight race with Democrat Mary Burke. Both were tied in a recent Marquette Law School poll.


Try again, judge tells abortion doctor

A federal judge told a Milwaukee abortion doctor yesterday to try again to get hospital admitting privileges.

Judge William Conley said if Dennis Christensen of Affiliated Medical Services can get patient admitting privileges at one of two hospitals, it could settle a lawsuit against a state law requiring such privileges.

Conley said yesterday he was "bewildered" that Christensen could not get responses from any Milwaukee hospitals. He said the doctor should demand better answers from the two hospitals where he sought the privileges.

Conley said he takes no pleasure in striking down a state law, and if there's a way Christensen can get the hospital privileges, he should do that.

Planned Parenthood and AMS filed suit against the 2013 state law, saying the AMS clinic in Milwaukee would have to close because it's virtually impossible to get hospital privileges.

Planned Parenthood was able to get those privileges for its clinic in Appleton, but the group said it could not pick up the slack in Milwaukee if AMS couldn't do the same.

The state argues that continuous hospital care is needed for the abortion operations that develop complications at clinics

Rather than the state law, an expert that Judge Conley brought in suggested transfer agreements between hospitals and abortion clinics. A state expert said transfer agreements would not help if a woman gets complications after leaving an abortion facility.


Xcel says it’s doubled use of renewable energy sources

The main electric utility for northwest Wisconsin has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by almost 20% from 2005 through last year.

Xcel Energy said it has exceeded President Obama's announced goal of a 17% emissions cut by 2020.

Xcel released its 10th annual Corporate Responsibility report yesterday. It said the utility has more than doubled its use of clean, renewable resources from 7% of its energy mix in 2004 to 20% last year with a goal of reaching 27% by 2020.

As part of that effort, Xcel said it would add another 1,900 megawatts of wind power and 170 megawatts of solar energy, which would all be cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives.

Xcel Energy is based in Minneapolis with regional facilities in Eau Claire.

CEO Ben Fawke said his company has spent a decade investing in cost-effective clean energy, which has benefited both customers and the environment.

The report comes as President Obama expects to announce a sweeping EPA regulation Monday that would slash carbon pollution from the 600 coal-fired power plants in the U.S.


Folk drops out of secretary of state contest

One of three Republican candidates for Wisconsin secretary of state is dropping out of the race.

Bill Folk said he wanted to restore the oversight of elections to that office along with state licensing functions. However, Folk said he does not believe the Legislature would go along with his ideas if he's elected.

A few Republicans have long called for the secretary of state and state treasurer's offices to be abolished. But the GOP governor and Legislature have refused to go that far, opting instead to eliminate most of the major duties from both offices.

Doug La Follette, the state's only Democratic constitutional officer, is running for the post again this fall. Both he and Republican hopeful Julian Bradley have said they want some of the duties returned.

Assembly Republican Garey Bies of Sister Bay is also running for secretary of state. He says he'll do what his colleagues and voters want him to do if he wins.


Conditions at rescue shelter called ‘deplorable’

Authorities are removing about 70 animals from a rescue shelter in Racine County, due to alleged unsafe conditions.

Officers from Caledonia said they discovered the problems while conducting an annual fire inspection at the Orphaned Kanines facility.

The building was being vented yesterday. A hazardous materials unit from Racine responded and said ammonia levels in the structure were unsafe for humans. Several police officers put on oxygen masks and protective jumpsuits before going in.

A preliminary count by police showed that the shelter had 57 dogs, ten cats and a pig.

The Wisconsin Humane Society of Milwaukee was asked to assist at the site. The society's Angela Speed called the conditions "absolutely deplorable." The family that owns the rescue facility did not comment.


Wisconsin cities lose out in ‘Best Town’ competition

It's down to the final eight in Outside Magazine's online voting to determine the Best Town in America.

No Wisconsin cities remain in the competition. La Crosse dropped out of the tournament last night after it only got 36% of about 40,000 online votes over the past three days.

Duluth, Minn., beat out Wisconsin's largest Mississippi River town. Duluth now faces Minneapolis in the final eight. The winner will be announced June 15 after the two finalists square off.

Madison was the only other Wisconsin city among the 64 originally chosen for the "Best Towns" contest. Madison lost to Houghton, Mich., 52% 48% in Round 32.

The other six towns still in the running are Louisville; Asheville, N.C.; Ithaca, N. Y.; Burlington, Vt.; Provo, Utah; and Anchorage, Alaska.