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Financial help for schools dominant theme at first hearing; regents voting on 2 new chancellors; silo mishap claims Catawba man, more state news

GREENDALE -- Public school officials say they've squeezed out as much savings as they possibly can - and they need more state aid.

Gov. Scott Walker's decision to freeze public school aid, while spending more on private school vouchers, was a major topic Thursday at the Joint Finance Committee's first public hearing on the new state budget.

Hundreds of people attended the all-day hearing, held in the Milwaukee suburb of Greendale.

Kettle Moraine Superintendent Patricia Deklotz said her district took full advantage of the 2011 law that allowed schools to cut employee benefits. But now, she says Walker's plan to expand charter-and-voucher schools without local school board input would be damaging to districts like Kettle Moraine.

"The proposed budget feels like a sledge-hammer when what we need is a scalpel," said Deklotz.

She asked lawmakers to approve a GOP alternative for a small property tax increase to give an extra $150 per student in state aid over the next two years. Officials of voucher schools praised the original Walker plan. Chuck Moore, a board member for the Choice Schools Association, said the state should invest in all children and "not value some less than others, because parents have exercised their constitutional right to choose."

The finance panel also heard criticisms of Walker's budget plans to reform Medicaid, and end local residency requirements for public employees.

The finance committee will hold three more budget hearings on Monday in Green Bay, Wednesday in Lake Delton, and April 18th in Baldwin.

UW-RF, other campuses offer up business development concepts

U-W campuses are coming up with new programs to encourage business development and they hope to get competitive grants for those programs, which Gov. Scott Walker proposed for the next state budget.

Walker has asked lawmakers to approve $20 million in incentive grants and while the funding is not a done deal, chancellors at Platteville, River Falls, and Whitewater already explained their proposals to the U-W Board of Regents Thursday in La Crosse.

Officials say every campus in the system is working on at least one idea.

Platteville hopes to start a regional innovation center for 14 counties in southwest Wisconsin. It would provide mentoring and business services for entrepreneurs.

River Falls is a small business development center aimed at smaller companies, which would build on the campus's strengths that include food marketing and bio-medical services.

Whitewater hopes to open a central office to help coordinate efforts by 11 local economic development organizations.

Regents voting today on two new chancellors

LA CROSSE -- The UW Board of Regents were to vote Friday on hiring two new chancellors, including Rebecca Blank at the Madison campus.

The Regents are meeting at U-W La Crosse. They were also to consider hiring James Schmidt as the new chancellor at Eau Claire.

A search committee recommended Blank, who's been the acting secretary for the U.S. Commerce Department. Among other things, Blank promises a strong emphasis on fund-raising for the state's flagship school.

State Assembly Colleges Committee chairman Steve Nass opposes the selection. Nass, a Republican from Whitewater, says Blank has impressive credentials but he's worried that her policies would eventually make tuition unaffordable for many Wisconsin students.

Blank would replace Biddy Martin, who left for a private college two years ago in part because she was tired of dealing with political pressure from Nass and other lawmakers.

Former chancellor David Ward has filled in since then and the tension between the campus and the Capitol has quieted down.

At Eau Claire, Schmidt would replace Brian Levin-Stankevich, who left a year ago to become the president of a college in Salt Lake City. Schmidt is currently a vice president at Winona State University in Minnesota.

Milwaukee's homicides down during first quarter; officer rarely pull their sidearms

MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin's largest city reports a drop in homicides for the first three months of the year. Milwaukee Police said there were 15 murders from January through March, down from 19 a year ago. Only one of those 15 homicides remains unsolved.

All but three of the killings involved guns, and Police Chief Ed Flynn says he continues to support gun control measures like universal background checks, and stopping repeat criminals from carrying firearms.

Currently, Flynn says the young criminal mindset is that it's more dangerous to be caught without a gun in Milwaukee than with it. The Journal Sentinel keeps a database of Milwaukee homicides, and it has counted 22 so far - seven more than the police figures. But the newspaper said three of its murders did not fit the FBI's definition of criminal homicide and autopsies are still pending in a couple other cases.

Meanwhile, a new report shows that Milwaukee police officers fire their guns a lot less than the public might think

The Fire and Police Commission said officers intentionally fired their weapons at suspects only eight times last year in Wisconsin's largest city. That's down from 15 the year before. Commission director Michael Tobin said officer-involved shootings are extremely rare, considering that Milwaukee Police were called to a quarter-million incidents last year.

Five of the eight shootings in 2012 were ruled to be justified. Three are still being investigated, including the shooting death of an armed robbery suspect last November. Officials said the alleged robber reached into his pocket and then pointed toward an officer that was chasing him. The officer fired eight shots in response.

Assistant Police Chief James Harpole said Milwaukee officers have reduced their use of force after new training procedures were adopted in 2011. The new report also said there was only one non-intentional gun discharge, down from seven the year before.

Milwaukee officers killed 28 unruly dogs last year, down by almost 25 percent.

Walker waffles on Dane Co. judge comment

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker has back-tracked a little on his earlier statement that he might not fill any more judicial vacancies in Dane County, after two of his appointees lost their bids for election.

Rebecca Saint John and Roger Allen lost their elections for full terms, after their opponents made Walker the issue. Saint John lost on Tuesday - and the next day, Walker accused Dane County voters of choosing judges for political purposes instead of on their merits. He also talked about leaving future vacancies alone until their next elections.

On Thursday, Walker modified that stance. He said he would probably appoint retired judges and lawyers to vacant Dane County judgeships, if they don't plan to run for election when their partial terms are up.

In Milwaukee County, Walker judicial appointee Rebecca Bradley was elected this week to a full term as a circuit judge.

Governor touring Northwoods today

HAYWARD -- Gov. Scott Walker was to get a closer look at the forest industry in northwest Wisconsin on Fridy.

Walker was to visit a logging site near Springbrook and three plants in Hayward - the Futurewood Corporation, Louisiana-Pacific, and the wood-yard at Great Lakes Renewable Energy. Walker's office said forestry officials invited the governor to get a first-hand look at the issues the industry faces.

The governor's office also announced that he's added a California event to his out-of-state speaking schedule.

Walker will appear at a fund-raiser for the Republican Jewish Coalition on June 9th in Beverly Hills.

Walker is beefing up his travel schedule amid speculation that he could run for president in 2016. He's also speaking at a Reagan Day Dinner in Fayetteville Arkansas later this month and on May 23rd, he'll headline a GOP fund-raising dinner in Iowa - joining a list of previous GOP White House hopefuls that include Newt Gingrich.

Froedtert staffer contracted TB

MILWAUKEE -- About 40 patients and 100 employees at Milwaukee's Froedtert Hospital can get free tests for tuberculosis, after a staff member came down with an early stage of TB.

The female employee was diagnosed last Friday at the hospital's main facility in Wauwatosa. She's getting treatment at home, and a full recovery is expected. Hospital officials said tuberculosis does not spread easily, and it's unlikely that those who came in contact with the infected staffer caught the disease. Still, Froedtert said it would offer free TB tests to those who may have had contact.

Wisconsin had 71 cases of tuberculosis last year, up from 55 in 2010.

Senate leader would allow higher deposits for car batteries

MADISON -- The Democratic leader of the state Senate has introduced a bill to let stores increase their deposits for car batteries.

South Milwaukee Senator Chris Larson wants to remove a $5 limit on what retailers can charge to encourage motorists to turn in their old auto and lead-acid batteries when they buy new ones.

Larson says the $5 deposit is enough to discourage folks from throwing their used batteries in the trash and it hurts retailers, because they have to pay manufacturers more than $15 in deposits for each battery they put on their shelves.

A similar bill was defeated in the Assembly last year. The new measure has sponsors from both parties.

Heavy snow predicted for northern Wisconsin

SULLIVAN -- Spring was supposed to be sprung 16 days ago but up to seven inches of new snow are in the forecast in northern Wisconsin.

Winter weather advisories have been posted for Friday night into Saturday. Three- to seven inches are expected in Superior, Ashland, Bayfield, and Hurley. Hayward and Park Falls could get 2 to 4 inches.

Three-to-five inches of snow, plus sleet, are predicted for Rhinelander, Eagle River, and Antigo and the National Weather Service says all of Wisconsin will get mixed precipitation Friday and Saturday, with a chance of thunderstorms Saturday evening. Meanwhile, flood warnings continue on the Rock River at Newville and Afton in Rock County. Only minor floods are predicted for both places.

In Trempealeau County, a flood advisory was posted until 6:30 Friday, after the Trempealeau River at Arcadia got close to its flood stage during the night.

Silo accident claims life of Ladysmith-area man

A man killed in a farm accident in northwest Wisconsin has been identified as 53-year-old Robert Wanish of rural Catawba.

Price County authorities said he was trying to remove frozen silage from the inside of a silo, when the material came down on top of him.

He was flown to a Marshfield hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The accident occurred on Monday.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Day care owner who bilked state gets a year in prison

MILWAUKEE -- The owner of a Milwaukee day care center has become the third member of her family to be sent to prison, for defrauding the state's child care program for the working poor.

Shirley Howard, 70, was sentenced Thursday to one year in prison, for getting at least $178,000 in false reimbursements from the Wisconsin Shares program. Prosecutors said she overbilled the state for children in her care, and claimed reimbursements for kids who never went to her center.

Howard must also spend 18 months under extended supervision once she leaves prison. Her daughter and grandson were also given prison terms for defrauding Wisconsin Shares - which is supposed to low-income parents keep jobs by having the state pick up their child care bills.

Auditors later found over $20 million in fraud, which resulted in a crackdown on the reimbursement system.

State officials say about $100 million has been saved since then.

Over 30 people have been criminally charged with defrauding Wisconsin Shares and over 200 centers suspected of bilking the program have been shut down.

Another CWD-positive deer found in Waukesha County

The county just west of Milwaukee has had a second deer test positive for chronic wasting disease.

The DNR said Thursday that a 3.5 year old buck in Waukesha County was found to have the fatal brain disorder.

That's after an older doe near Delafield tested positive for CWD earlier this year. The latest infected animal was found wandering in a stupor in Wales on March 3rd, and a law enforcement officer killed the deer.

The two findings were the first in Waukesha County in 11 years of testing. They will not affect hunters' restrictions in the county, since a ban on baiting-and-feeding deer had been imposed earlier. The Delafield case caused similar bans to be imposed in neighboring Washington County.