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State Supreme Court upholds Act 10; U.S. attorneys file brief opposing state’s photo ID voting law; More Wisconsin news

Wisconsin public school and local government employees were dealt a blow this morning by the State Supreme Court.

On a 5-2 vote, the justices threw out previous rulings from Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas who said that the Act 10 public union bargaining limits did not apply to local and school unions. It was among several lawsuits which challenged the constitutionality of Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker's signature legislation from 2011 which banned collective bargaining except for pay raises at or above inflation.

Today's ruling was the final one pending in the state and federal courts, and Republicans won them all. They can now claim full victory over preserving Act 10 as Walker and most GOP lawmakers run for reelection this fall.

After massive protests in 2011, Walker was put up for recall the following year over Act- 10. He became the first governor in U.S. history to survive such an effort.

Today's ruling could also put a feather in Walker's cap nationally where conservatives regard him as a hero for taking on public unions. Therefore, today's ruling could be a boost to Walker's possible presidential bid for 2016.

Democratic challenger Mary Burke recently said she would try to restore many of the bargaining aspects of Act10 while leaving the higher employee health and retirement contribution requirements in place.


Domestic partner registry upheld

Also this morning, the Supreme Court upheld the state's domestic partner registry which gives same-sex couples about 40% of the legal benefits of married couples.

It was a defeat for the Wisconsin Family Action group, which tried unsuccessfully to get the justices to strike down the registry just before it came into existence in 2009.

The group bypassed the lower courts, saying the registry went against the state's previous constitutional ban on gay marriage. The justices told Family Action to get in line and follow the normal procedure -- which it did.

Former Gov. Jim Doyle and his majority Democrats at the time said the registry provides fairness for gay couples. It provides things like hospital visitation rights and various end-of-life decisions to about 2,300 couples which have applied.

When the GOP took over in 2011, it took the pro-family side, and the Fair Wisconsin group intervened to defend the registry.

Now the registry's future might be a moot point if the federal courts eventually throw out the state's ban on gay marriage. Federal Judge Barbara Crabb tossed it out in June, and the state's now appealing that move.


U.S. attorneys file brief opposing state’s photo ID voting law

Both of Wisconsin's U.S. attorneys say the state's photo ID law for voting violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

Milwaukee's chief federal prosecutor James Santelle and Madison's John Vaudreuil filed a brief yesterday with the Seventh Circuit Appellate Court in Chicago, where the state Department of Justice is challenging Federal Judge Lynn Adelman's recent decision to strike down the voter ID law passed by state Republicans in 2011.

Two civil rights attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice also joined in the prosecutors' arguments. They pointed to court records showing that 300,000 Wisconsinites don't have the photo ID's they need to vote. That alone, they say, is evidence that the state requirement discriminates against minorities and therefore goes against the national Voting Rights law.

State Attorney General JB Van Hollen contends that the law is constitutional and it's needed to fight voter fraud. To reinstate it, Van Hollen must win his federal case -- along with two similar Wisconsin cases which will be ruled upon today by the State Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin law was only used once in a primary election in February of 2012.


11-day Wisconsin State Fair opens

The Wisconsin State Fair opens this morning in West Allis.

The 11-day expo has a tough act to follow after last year's fair drew more than a million people -- its largest crowds since 1969.

It's where young people go to have their animals and other creations judged, where state businesses show off their progress, and where folks can get a plethora of entertainment.

It’s not just Wisconsinites who look forward to the State Fair. Bryce Alpers told WTMJ Radio that he and his sister drive from Indianapolis each year in part to enjoy the fair's funnel cake. Others come for the fair's signature cream puffs, which fell just short of selling 400,000 last year for only the second time since 1924.

More of the fair's neighbors also expect to cash in this year. Fewer parking spots are available on the grounds so more neighbors have prepared their lawns and backyards to handle the overflow. WTMJ says they'll charge up to $20 a parking space.

Of course, the weather has a lot to do with the State Fair's success. Forecasters say there's a chance of rain each afternoon for the next few days. Tonight's main stage act is country singer Phil Vassar.


Golf ball-sized hail falls in Washburn County

For the second day in a row, parts of Wisconsin had hail storms yesterday. Golf ball-sized hail fell in the late afternoon west of Hayward in Washburn County.

Parts of Rusk, Sawyer, Vilas and Forest counties also had small hail

The National Weather Service said power was knocked out last night in much of Ladysmith, where hail fell for four minutes straight. Xcel Energy said almost everybody had their power restored by 7 a.m. today. Several trees also fell near Ladysmith.

Forecasters said a stagnant upper-level low pressure will continue to hang around Wisconsin for at least the next few days. Thunderstorms are possible, generally in the afternoons and early evenings.

Temperatures remain a little below normal for this time of year. Afternoon highs are expected to reach close to 80 at least through Monday.


Silver Alerts help locate at-risk adults

For about a decade, statewide Amber Alerts have helped authorities track down missing and abducted children.

Starting tomorrow, a similar service begins to help find missing older adults who are at-risk.

The Silver Alert program will use the state's Crime Alert Network to send messages to Wisconsin radio and TV stations. The idea is to quickly get out information that can help find mainly those with dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

The state Legislature unanimously approved the new Silver Alert system, and Gov. Scott Walker signed it in April. About 30 states have similar networks in place.


Archdiocese ordered to pay over $1 million to abuse victims’ attorneys

The Milwaukee Archdiocese must soon come up with $1.33 million to pay lawyers for those who are owed money in the church's bankruptcy case.

Federal Bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley ruled yesterday that the church must pay around 20% of what's owed to the attorneys. The lawyers must file applications for the money by mid-August.

Kelley agreed to suspend the payments 17 months ago to help the ten-county Catholic archdiocese meet its current obligations while reorganizing its finances.

Now, she says the attorneys -- who represent mainly 575 victims of sex abuse by priests -- have waited long enough for their compensation.

Also yesterday, Kelley told both sides to try for a second time to mediate a final settlement the 3-year-old bankruptcy case. The first such effort failed in 2012.

The church has a reorganization that would compensate just over a quarter of the sex abuse victims who filed claims in the case. Both sides have four weeks to submit statements to the mediator. Those talks could begin in September.


72-year-old woman on trial for mistreating five horses

An elderly woman from east central Wisconsin is on trial for allegedly mistreating five horses that died.

Testimony began yesterday in the case of Barbara Thiry, 72, of Clintonville.

She's charged in Waupaca County with 15 misdemeanors in the deaths of five horses at a farm where she used to live in Kewaunee County.

According to prosecutors, Thiry moved from the farm in 2010 and the new owner found some of the horse heads in the house, which had to be torn down because it was so filthy.

The owner also reportedly found horse carcasses in a barn while removing deep piles of manure. Authorities said the horses were not properly fed, watered or sheltered and they had poor health care.

A jury heard testimony from four witnesses in the trial's opening day, and the judge accepted several photos into evidence. The trial is expected to run through tomorrow before Circuit Judge Raymond Huber.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Kidnapping case goes to jury

A jury in Madison could decide today whether a Colorado woman is guilty of kidnapping her baby nephew near Beloit and leaving him in sub-zero cold behind a gas station in Iowa.

Testimony ended yesterday in the federal court trial of Kristen Smith, 31. Attorneys will present their closing arguments this morning before jurors begin their deliberations.

Smith faces up to life in prison if she's convicted of her single kidnapping charge.

She testified yesterday that she took five-day-old Kayden Powell from her mother in February because the boy's family was planning to move in with her near Denver, and the father suggested that she take him ahead of time.

Police stopped Smith after the boy's mother was distraught. Officers said the child was gone by then, and Smith claimed she didn't know where he was. Prosecution testimony also indicated that Smith might have tried passing off the baby as her own at one point.

The youngster survived 29 hours in a cold bin behind a gas station at West Branch, Iowa.


Abuse shelter named to honor counselor killed by boyfriend

A domestic abuse shelter in Marinette is being renamed in honor of a counselor who was killed by her boyfriend.

A memorial plaque was unveiled yesterday at the former Rainbow House, which is now called the Patricia Waschbisch Center against Domestic Violence.

Waschbisch, 45, was a longtime advocate for domestic abuse victims. She was stabbed to death in April of last year by Brent Kaempf, 49, of Peshtigo after she said she was going to break up with him.

Kaempf was sentenced in January to life in prison with no chance for a supervised release. He had pleaded no contest to first-degree intentional homicide.

The newly named Waschbisch Center provides services for domestic abuse victims in Marinette and Oconto counties in Wisconsin and Menominee County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.


Cargill closes Milwaukee beef-processing plant

The droughts of 2011 and 2012 hurt the cattle industry so much that there's not enough livestock to support all U.S. beef plants.

That's what Cargill said yesterday when it said it would close its Milwaukee beef-processing facility tomorrow.

Six hundred employees can apply for work at other Cargill facilities in the Midwest. The company will hold a job fair next week.

Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said many cattle herders are breeding animals instead of selling them. As a result, the nation's beef cattle herd at its lowest since 1951.

The company said the Milwaukee closure comes after an 18-month review of cattle supplies. The plant is one of Cargill's smallest, processing around 1,400 cattle per day. Some jobs were cut yesterday, according to a notice filed with the state Department of Workforce Development.

Plants must file 60-day advance notices of closures and major layoffs except in emergency situations. Cargill says it will give all affected employees 60 days of pay after the plant shuts down.

The move does not affect another plant on the same site where 200 people process ground beef. A ground beef in suburban Butler will also stay open.


Journal Communications to merge with Scripps, spin off Journal Sentinel

There's a major ownership change involving Wisconsin's largest media company. Journal Communications of Milwaukee and the Scripps Company of Cincinnati have agreed to merge their radio and TV operations, while spinning off their 14 newspapers into a separate public entity.

The newspaper branch will be called the Journal Media Group and will be based in Milwaukee where the state's largest newspaper, the Journal Sentinel, is located. The paper's community and digital products will be part of the new group, along with Scripps products which include the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Scripps will control the broadcast side from Cincinnati. That group will include WTMJ Radio and TV in Milwaukee, plus other stations in 26 U.S. markets. It will become the nation's fifth-largest TV group.

Journal CEO Steve Smith will stay on as the non-executive chairman of Journal Media. He says both companies see the move as a great "cultural fit" with great value.

Scripps Senior Vice President Tim Stautberg becomes the CEO of Journal Media as well as a director. Scripps CEO Richard Boehne remains in that role.

Boards of both companies have OKed the deal. Stockholders and regulators must still give their blessing.

Scripps shareholders would get 69% of the combined broadcasting group and 59% of Journal Media. Journal stockholders would get the rest. Scripps stockholders also get a total of $60 million in cash dividends. The changes are expected to be finalized next year.


Semi driver dies in crash that spills 300 gallons of fertilizer

A semi-truck driver was killed in a crash near Beloit that spilled up to 300 gallons of liquid fertilizer around 2 p.m. yesterday on Hwy. 81 in the Rock County town of Newark.

According to sheriff's deputies, Willard Trewyn, 75, of Janesville was driving a semi that was carrying a bulk tanker trailer when it rear-ended a car that stopped to turn into a driveway.

Officials said the truck rolled over and landed in the right ditch. Trewyn died at the scene. Three elderly women in the car, all in their 70's and 80's, escaped injury. Officials said the fertilizer spill did not create a safety hazard to the public.