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Funerals held for truckers who died in river; Toddler killed by pit bulls; more briefs

Funeral services were quickly arranged for two Minneapolis men who died when their semi-truck plunged into a river from a snowy I-94 in near Menomonie.

The body of the truck driver, Batrodin Siyad, 25, was recovered from the submerged semi on the Red Cedar River Tuesday. His funeral was held Wednesday in Minneapolis.

His passenger, Mohammed Malin, 26, was pulled from the Red Cedar River just yesterday, and his funeral is today.

Siyad's brother said the two truckers were best friends. And they were "connected so long" that they were just like family. Ayan Gutale said the two men were always happy when they stopped by her office in Minneapolis to collect their mail.

The State Patrol said the semi-truck, owned by a Michigan firm, was going west when it crossed the median into the opposite lanes where it went down an embankment and into the river. It was snowing at the time, but Patrol Lieutenant Jeff Lorentz says it may never be known if the weather caused the crash because there were no witnesses.

The truck was heading from Ohio to Minnesota.


Toddler killed by pit bulls

A 14-month-old boy died after he was attacked by two pit bulls near Walworth in far southeast Wisconsin.

Walworth County sheriff's deputies were told that both the child and Susan Iwicki, 30, were attacked just before noon yesterday by pit bulls that the woman owned.

The boy died 3 1/2 hours later at a Milwaukee area hospital. Both victims suffered multiple injuries. Authorities did not say if or how they were related. Relatives said Iwicki was babysitting the child at the time.

Officials said the dogs were taken from the property and euthanized. Deputies continue to investigate.

It's been almost 11 years since a Wisconsin child was reported to be fatally attacked by pit bulls. Alicia Clark, 10, was mauled by six Rottweilers in 2002 at a friend's home at Elroy.


Most GOP senators balk at school-voucher expansion plan

Wisconsin Senate leaders say Gov. Scott Walker will not get the full expansion of private school vouchers that he proposed in the next state budget.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he arranged a meeting this week with Walker aides, Assembly leaders and voucher school officials to see if a compromise could be worked out.

That was after most GOP senators shied away from the governor's plan to let students in Madison, Green Bay and seven other new school districts use tax-funded vouchers to attend private schools as an option to low-performing public schools that would lose state aid.

Senate President Mike Ellis said a number of Republicans want the issue dealt with separately and not in the massive budget.

Ellis said GOP senators are especially against letting disabled students around the state get private school vouchers. Some parents of those youngsters have said their kids would lose federal protections if they left the public system.

Walker's office says it will keep working with lawmakers on the subject. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said his majority Republicans remain committed to expanding voucher schools.


Danou blasts Republicans for changing bill implementation timeline

"Small, vindictive and petty." That's how Democratic Rep. Chris Danou described Assembly Republicans yesterday when they voted to chip away at Secretary of State Doug La Follette's authority.

La Follette, a Democrat, angered Republicans two years ago when he held up the start of the GOP's limits on public union bargaining by not having the law published right after it was signed.

Yesterday, the Assembly voted 59-37 to have bills take effect one day after they're signed, unless lawmakers specify another date. All Democrats voted no.

The Senate passed the same measure last month so it now goes to Gov. Scott Walker. It ends the practice of giving La Follette up to 10 days to get bills published.

Whitewater Republican Steve Nass says it will treat all bills the same, and it removes politics from the process.

But Democrat Danou, who's from Trempealeau, said the bill's only purpose was for the GOP to "grind an axe." Madison Democrat Chris Taylor compared the Republicans to playground bullies. That earned her an admonishment from GOP Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer.

La Follette said he almost routinely waits 10 days to get bills published, and it was clear the Republicans wanted payback by stopping that. He said he hopes Walker would veto the bill, but he doubts that will happen.


Assembly bill would give benefits to workers whose hours are cut

Wisconsin workers could be partially laid off and still collect unemployment benefits under a bill passed by the state Assembly Wednesday.

On a vote of 74-22, the Assembly agreed to give employers more flexibility under the unemployment compensation rules. It would let bosses reduce work hours for all workers in a certain group instead of having to lay off just a few.

The measure would bring in federal money to implement the change and to pay workers' benefits.

Speaker Robin Vos said it would protect at least some employees from full layoffs, and put more money in employees' pockets throughout the state.

But Republicans eliminated a provision endorsed by the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council. It would have warned employers to abide by collective bargaining agreements in designing their work reductions. Republicans said the warning is not necessary because the law already requires companies to respect union agreements.

The bill now goes to the Senate.


Governor's Mansion shooting might not have been an accident

Newly released records show that a former State Capitol police officer was fired soon after shooting her handgun inside the Governor's Mansion last October.

The Wisconsin State Journal said the shooting may not have been an accident as it was first claimed to be.

Photos obtained by the Madison newspaper showed that a bullet went right through the eye of a decorative ghost that was displayed for Halloween in the mansion's security office. But officials said it was never determined why the shot was fired. The bullet went through the decoration before it pierced a window and its metal blinds.

According to the report, Officer Kimberly Tesch told other responding officers that somebody outside the mansion fired the shot. She was fired after the shooting was investigated.

In a letter to Tesch, Capitol Police Chief David Erwin said she was "untruthful" and tried to mislead her department. Just a few days before the incident, Tesch had an initial 12-month probationary period extended so she could complete firearms training.

Gov. Scott Walker and family members were not at the mansion at the time, and nobody was hurt.


Supreme Court candidates agree on one thing: public financing

Both candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court say they'd like to see public financing come back for judicial races -- a rare point of agreement between incumbent Pat Roggensack and her challenger Ed Fallone.

The two agreed on public financing when they appeared together at a meeting of the Madison Rotary Club.

A separate public financing system for court races was adopted a few years ago, and it was used for the first time in 2011 when Justice David Prosser defeated JoAnne Kloppenburg. The system was hailed as a way to get special interests to stop trying to influence justice, but a lawsuit claimed it violated the First Amendment. Lawmakers eliminated the public financing later in 2011 before the lawsuit could be ruled upon.

Roggensack said after Wednesday's forum that enough public money should be provided to counter special interests that are allowed to advertise under the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision from 2010.

Fallone criticized Roggensack for voting in favor of a State Supreme Court rule which lets judges act on cases involving parties which gave money to their campaigns.


Automatic federal budget cuts would slow Great Lakes cleanup, say local leaders

A long-range plan to clean up the Great Lakes is being hurt by the new automatic cuts in federal spending.

That's what local leaders in the Great Lakes Region told lawmakers Wednesday during their annual lobbying trip to Capitol Hill.

State and local government officials, business owners and environmental groups asked to get a break from the $85 billion in automatic cuts. They said if the cuts continue, local economies could be hurt at times of low water levels.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has spent $300 million in each of the last two years to clean up sewage and improve shorelines and water quality. If the "sequester" cuts continue, this year's allocation would shrink to $275 million.

Jeff Skedling of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition said it would not save Americans one penny.

Michigan House Republican Candace Miller said the Great Lakes cleanup must stay a top priority, but the reality is that some spending cuts must be made. She vowed not to make the cleanups take the brunt of the cuts unfairly.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a report card yesterday on the Great Lakes project. It said a million cubic yards of contaminated sediment was cleaned up in fiscal 2011 and progress was made in removing toxic hotspots.


House adopts bill to avoid March 27 federal shutdowns

Wisconsin Republicans helped the U.S. House vote to avert a federal government shutdown on March 27.

Their bill also gives the military and its veterans more flexibility to deal with the short-term automatic spending cuts that took effect last Friday.

The House passed the GOP package 267-151 Wednesday. Fifty-three Democrats voted yes, but Wisconsin's three Democrats were not among them.

All five of the state's Republicans voted in favor of the bill, which extends federal funding authority until the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30. Most Democrats, meanwhile, sought their own bill that included tax increases.

President Obama had dinner last night with a dozen GOP senators to seek support for a bipartisan plan that includes tax hikes.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville said he expects some kind of deal this summer after the debate hits a "crescendo." Ryan, a Republican, said the two parties would have to talk eventually about delaying a debt crisis and "how to save this country from a fiscal train wreck that's coming."

Ryan said he spoke with the president a few days ago but did not give details.