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Judge dismisses Sen. Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit; Forecast: Cooldown coming; 11 more state news items

A federal judge in Green Bay threw out a lawsuit yesterday from U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, who claimed that an Obamacare rule forced him to treat his staff members differently.

Judge William Griesbach ruled that the Wisconsin Republican and his aide Brooke Ericson did not have legal grounds to file the suit because they did not prove they were hurt personally.

Johnson was challenging a requirement that lawmakers and their official staff members use the Obamacare exchanges to get their tax-subsidized health insurance. Those who are not official office staff still get their previous employee health benefits.

Johnson said the rule forced him to choose which staff members are official and which are not. He also said he was being forced to take part in a program he believes is illegal, and he would look bad to voters because his staff would get tax subsidies the general public does not receive.

Griesbach says Johnson's beliefs about the legality of Obamacare are not enough to win his lawsuit and neither was the claim that voters would see him in a negative light.

Johnson said it was unfortunate that the judge dropped his lawsuit on a technicality without going into the legal merits of it. His office says Johnson is consulting with lawyers before deciding whether to appeal.



Forecast: Cooldown coming

Parts of Wisconsin can expect one more hot day before a major cool down tomorrow.

Highs close to 90 are expected in the south and the 80's everywhere else. The humidity will remain high, and so will the heat index in a lot of places.

Northwest Wisconsin was the hottest yesterday as expected. Officials said it felt like 104 degrees in River Falls. Other heat indices were 101 at Hudson, 100 in Osceola and 97 at Loyal in central Wisconsin.

A band of thunderstorms went through the far north overnight. Ashland had winds of 46 mph and three-quarter-inch hail covered the ground about 20 miles east of Hayward in Sawyer County about 4 a.m. this morning.

Another round of thunderstorms is possible this afternoon as a cold front sweeps across Wisconsin. Once it goes through, clear and much cooler weather is predicted for the next couple days.

Highs tomorrow are supposed to be in the 70's statewide, and it could get down to the 40's by early Thursday morning.


Walker spent $320,000 in campaign money to fight John Doe probe

Gov. Scott Walker's campaign donors paid over $320,000 to defense lawyers in the first half of the year as Walker fought off a second John Doe probe.

A state report filed yesterday showed that Walker gave $213,000 from his campaign account to the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin, $83,000 to the Biskupic and Jacobs law firm of Mequon and $25,000 to Milwaukee attorney Michael Steinle.

The governor has spent a total of almost $1 million in the past three years on a pair of John Doe investigations -- one dealing with embezzlement and illegal campaigning by former aides during his time as Milwaukee County executive and the other dealing with alleged illegal coordination of his and other Republican recall campaigns with outside conservative groups. Prosecutors said the governor himself was not a target in either investigation.

Earlier, it was reported that Walker raised more than twice as much campaign money as his major Democratic challenger Mary Burke in the first six months of the year. Walker also had three times as much cash on hand as Burke as of July 1.


Former lawmaker accused of using campaign funds to fight sexual assault charges

Former state Assembly Majority Leader Bill Kramer might be in trouble again -- this time for having campaign donors pay part of his legal fees to fight his sexual assault charges.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says politicians are only allowed to use campaign funds for legal fees in cases involving election-related law violations. The paper said Kramer's latest financial report showed he made two payments of $5,000 each to defense lawyer James Gatzke.

A Government Accountability Board official has not immediately commented.

Kramer, a Waukesha Republican, has pleaded not guilty to a pair of sexual assault charges for allegedly pushing, kissing and groping a female congressional staffer following a GOP function in Muskego in 2011. Those charges came after reports that Kramer groped one woman and sexually harassed another on a Republican fundraising trip to Washington in February.

Kramer was removed as the Assembly's majority leader, but he's keeping his Assembly seat until the end of the year. He's not running for reelection.

Kramer has a new lawyer in his pending court case. A status hearing is scheduled for Friday in Waukesha County Circuit Court.


Vet sends real Purple Heart to injured girl

A 12-year-old stabbing victim in Waukesha continues to get purple hearts on paper from well-wishers around the world.

This morning, her family said an anonymous military veteran sent his real Purple Heart award to the girl. He said it was the only heart he could find, and he told her to "Be strong!"

The military Purple Heart is given to those wounded or killed in action. The girl was stabbed 19 times in May, allegedly by a pair of 12-year-old classmates who are charged as adults.

The defendants told police they were showing allegiance to the fictional online horror character Slender Man.

The victim is recovering at home. Her family has encouraged folks to send paper hearts with her favorite color purple.


Poor weather blamed for smaller than expected sales of motorcycles

Harley-Davidson reports a 30% increase in its latest quarterly profits.

However, the Milwaukee motorcycle firm had a smaller than expected sales increase due to poor weather this spring in much of the United States.

This morning, Harley reported a net income of $354 million from April through June, up from $272 million at the same time a year ago. Stockholders earned $1.62 a share, up from $1.21 in the same quarter of 2013.

Harley said its strong profits were due to more efficient manufacturing operations. The company had a slight increase in its worldwide motorcycle sales, but U.S. sales were down slightly to just over 58,000 bikes.

In response, Harley CEO Keith Wandell said the company would reduce its projected increase in motorcycle shipments to dealers for the rest of the year. It expects a shipping increase of up to 5.5% -- down from the earlier projected maximum of 9%.


Supreme Court expected to rule on van-on-tracks case

Wisconsin's rail traffic could be affected by a State Supreme Court ruling that's expected today.

The justices will decide whether Scott Partenfelder, his wife Monica and Elm Grove police Officer John Krahn are entitled to damages after a Soo Line train struck the Partenfelders' van in heavy traffic just before Elm Grove's Memorial Day parade in 2009.

Scott Partenfelder was seriously hurt as he was trying to get his two-year-old son out of the van, and Officer Krahn was hurt while trying to save Monica, who had to stop the van on the tracks. The parade was canceled in the wake of the crash.

Among other things, the couple said the railroad should have known there would be extra traffic due to the parade, and local governments should have the right to control train speeds at those times.

The railroad said it would have to deviate from federal requirements if it was subject to local speed rules, even for relatively mundane events.


Kleefisch campaign fund nears $700,000

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch has almost $700,000 in her campaign fund even though she does not have a primary challenger next month.

The Republican Kleefisch raised about $520,000 from January through June.

State Senate Democrat John Lehman of Racine raised about $38,000 in the first half of the year. He had $17,000 on hand at the start of July.

His primary opponent, Mary Jo Walters of Madison, raised about $800 and has no cash on hand.

Lieutenant governor candidates run by themselves in the primaries. After that, they run on the same tickets as the parties' candidates for governor.


Farmers make hay during dryer weather

The recent cool and dry weather slowed down the maturity of Wisconsin's corn crop, but it let farmers make a lot of hay this past week.

Officials say two-thirds of the year's second hay crop is in, a 22% jump from the week before.

Just over 75% of the Wisconsin corn and soybean crops are in good to excellent condition. Twenty-two percent of the corn is silking, down from the normal of 31% at this time. It means the crop is not maturing at its average pace.

Despite the recent dryness, three-fourths of Wisconsin farm fields still have adequate moisture. Some fields are short of moisture for the first time in a while. Nine percent of statewide fields are now in that short category.


Ban on photographing voters stands

The Wisconsin elections panel has said no to letting poll observers photograph voters.

The Government Accountability Board voted 4-2 yesterday to uphold a previous ban on observers taking pictures of voters, including themselves and their relatives.

The updated rule was sent to the Legislature, but lawmakers won't be able to change it until next year, which means the photo ban will stay in place for at least the Aug. 12 primaries and the Nov. 4 general elections.

Board members Tim Vocke and Harold Froelich favored removing the provision temporarily to see if cameras could be used responsibly in the primaries set for three weeks from today.

Partisan observers say they want to make sure the elections are run honestly.

Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler told the board that allowing observers to use cameras would make voters uncomfortable, and the last thing she wants is a hostile environment.

Earlier this year, Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill letting observers get as close as three feet to the tables where voters check in.

Board Secretary Kevin Kennedy said a photo ban is needed, in part, to make sure observers don't use zoom lenses to see how people fill out their ballots. Also yesterday, the board voted to require election observers show photo ID's before they can claim their spots at the polls.


Convict says prior relationship with victim should have been brought up

The State Supreme Court will decide today whether a man convicted of sexual assault should have been allowed to introduce evidence that prior sex with his victim was consensual.

The case involves Muhammad Sarfraz of Milwaukee. He was sent to prison for ten years after a jury found him guilty in 2011 of second-degree sexual assault.

He claims that his trial judge wrongly refused to allow evidence of previous consensual sex with the alleged victim.

A state appeals court agreed with Sarfraz, saying the jury could have questioned the allegations based on the full extent of the two people's relationship. The appellate court ordered a new trial, but the state asked the Supreme Court to restore the earlier conviction.


Blaze causes $1 million in damages to Pulaski feed mill

A fire caused over $1 million in damage to a livestock feed mill in northeast Wisconsin.

There were no reports of injuries in the blaze, which started yesterday afternoon at the Nutrition Service Company's grain processing plant northwest of Pulaski. Officials said there were some employees inside, but they all got out safely.

At least 16 area fire departments helped put out the blaze, which was reported about 1:30 p.m. Crews were still working to put out hot spots last evening.

The cause remains under investigation.



14-year-old drowns in Wauwatosa

Milwaukee County sheriff's deputies have identified a 14-year-old drowning victim as Van Sang Vanmauipial.

The Milwaukee youngster was swimming with friends Saturday when he went under.

Rescue divers later found the child close to where he was last seen. He died later at Milwaukee Children's Hospital.

The incident occurred in the Menomonee River at Hoyt Park in Wauwatosa.