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Act 10 survives another court challenge; As Obamacare hits snags, Ryan calls for health secretary’s resignation; More state news

Wisconsin Republicans have scored another legal victory for Act 10.

Dane County Circuit Judge John Markson refused yesterday to throw out the 2011 law that virtually eliminated collective bargaining for most public employee unions.

In rejecting a challenge from the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association, the judge said the law does not violate union members' rights to free speech and association. The plaintiffs said it treats different types of police employees differently, exempting state troopers but not Capitol or University of Wisconsin police officers.

In a 46-page decision, Judge Markson said it might have been “rank political favoritism” on the part of Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP to exempt state troopers from Act 10. However, Markson said that’s legally irrelevant because the constitutional questions take precedence.

The judge said the union tried to equate collective bargaining with the constitutional right of free association. He said the two are not the same because the state has the power to limit bargaining without infringing on the union's right to freely associate.

Walker and the Republicans have won several lawsuits challenging Act 10. The only suit they haven't won was filed by the Madison teachers and a Milwaukee city employee union. Madison Judge Juan Colas ruled that Act 10 is unconstitutional for local government and public school employees. The state is currently appealing that ruling before the State Supreme Court.


As Obamacare hits snags, Ryan calls for health secretary’s resignation

If Paul Ryan has his way, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would be the one to pay for the computer snags in Obamacare.

Ryan, the House Budget chairman from Janesville, wants Sebelius to resign, but not before she spells out the costs of fixing the troubled site where millions of uninsured Americans are required to buy coverage.

Yesterday Ryan made a phone appearance with Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli and agreed with Cuccinelli that Sebelius should go.

Ryan said he remembered when Sebelius promised that the rollout for would be “almost flawless.” Instead, he said, it's been a “fiasco.”

A Sebelius spokesman said the secretary would testify before Congress next week. In the meantime, the White House says the agency will start holding weekly media briefings about the problems which officials have said very little about.

Leaders of the company which built the Website, CGI Federal, will appear at a congressional hearing today.

President Obama this week promised what he called a “tech surge” to fix the Website, which is used by people in Wisconsin and 35 other states that don't have their own purchasing exchanges. Up to 700,000 Wisconsinites need to get insurance through by Dec. 15 or face fines. Some Democrats are calling for a three-month delay of that deadline.


Bookkeeper embezzled $500,000 from parents’ company

A former bookkeeper has been convicted of embezzling over $500,000 from her parents' business in northern Wisconsin.

Lisa Saykally, 46, struck a plea deal this week in Oneida County Circuit Court. She pleaded no contest to six felony embezzlement charges and one count of preparing fraudulent income tax returns. Nine similar charges were dropped, but they'll be considered when she's sentenced Jan. 9.

The money was stolen from Aqualand Manufacturing of Woodruff, which makes custom lake equipment including piers, docks, boat-lifts and boat tracking systems -- plus other items like stairs and picnic grills.

The defendant's parents own the business. Online court records list Seakally's current address as Bottineau, N.D.


Man gets prison term in barcode scam

A southwest Wisconsin man has been sentenced to 14 months in a federal prison for using fake barcodes to get big price breaks at a number of stores.

Jeremy Fishnick, 27, of Lancaster was sentenced yesterday by Federal Judge Linda Reade in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He'll spend three years under a supervised release when he leaves prison, and he must pay $33,000 in restitution.

Fishnick admitted printing his own UPC codes on labels and covering them over the actual codes to get large discounts on hardware and equipment. In one case, Fishnick bought an $890 welding unit for just under $150.

He used his system between July and November of last year at stores in Prairie du Chien and six Iowa cities including Dubuque. Fishnick struck a plea deal this summer. He pleaded guilty in early July to a single count of wire fraud.


Two tribes still oppose Menominee casino

Two Wisconsin Indian tribes have reaffirmed their opposition to a new Menominee off-reservation casino at Kenosha.

Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi leaders both take issue with the Menominee's claim that they consented to the project when they signed new gaming agreements with the state a decade ago.

“I don't know where they read that into our compact,” said Ho-Chunk President Jon Greendeer.

Yesterday Menominee leaders asked Gov. Scott Walker to approve the Kenosha casino and to accept their contention that the other tribes signed away their opposition to it a long time ago.

Walker wanted all 11 state tribes to endorse the project. He's expected to make his final decision by the end of the week.

The owners of the Hard Rock Café and casino chains would build and manage the new facility. The Menominee tribe says it would pay more of its gaming revenue to the state to help the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk offset declines in their own casino revenues.

Hard Rock chairman James Allen said two-thirds of the Kenosha business would come from Illinois gamblers, and if the casino's not built, most of those people would play in their own state. A marketing research reports says just over one-third of gamblers at Milwaukee's Potawatomi Casino come up from Illinois.


Old no-stick chemical seems to be causing swallow decline

Tree swallows in Wisconsin and Minnesota appear to be dying from an old household chemical, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which studied the effects of PFAS.

The substance is found in no-stick cookware and household stain repellents. Makers of those products started phasing out the chemical 13 years ago when the exposure concerns were first raised.

Federal scientist Christine Custer said the chemicals are not common anymore, but high concentrations are still found throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and other hot spots.

Researchers studied nests at eight locations and found that hatching rates for tree swallows were less in place with the most contamination from PFAS. The study recognizes that other factors may also be causing the declines.


Employee cleaning accident caused Wendy’s fire

A cleaning accident by employees started the fire that destroyed a Wendy's restaurant near Wausau two weeks ago.

Rib Mountain Deputy Fire Chief John Lauer told WAOW TV that four employees were cleaning a fryer for cooking chicken when they pulled it from a wall and disconnected a natural gas line. Investigators say they're still not sure how the gas ignited, but it could have started from the pilot light of another appliance.

The late-night blaze on Oct. 10 caused $1.5 million of damage, destroying a restaurant built in the 1990's.

Lauer said the workers heard hissing, and they immediately knew there was a gas problem. They ran outside and called their manager. One worker went back in to turn off a valve. When that happened, Lauer said the flames erupted. He said the employees were lucky they were not killed, especially the one who rushed back inside.


Committee chairman says local governments too strict with frac-sand mining

A Wisconsin senator is forging ahead with his bill to take away most local government authority to regulate frac-sand mines.

The Senate's mining committee, chaired by Hazelhurst Republican Tom Tiffany, will take testimony this morning. His bill can’t get final approval until next spring at the earliest because the other house won't act on it until then.

The bill nullifies a State Supreme Court ruling which allows towns to use police powers to regulate things like blasting and the hours frac-sand mines could operate. Tiffany says local governments have exceeded their authority while being too restrictive. He said it would be a lot easier for the mining firms if the state took control.

Communities could still use zoning powers on frac-sand projects, but most places where mines are located don't have such zoning.

Also, Senate Democrat Kathleen Vinehout of Alma said communities would no longer be able to reduce pollution from smokestacks. She said the bill would make it far too difficult for local officials to protect people's health and safety.

GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he'll wait until next spring to take up the matter in his house. He said he favors Tiffany's measure, but he wants to hear all the possible ramifications before he forges ahead.


Supreme Court hears arguments against domestic-partner registry

Lawyers for a family group tried to convince the State Supreme Court yesterday to end legal benefits for domestic same-sex partners.

Members of Wisconsin Family Action finally got a hearing in its third effort to drop the domestic partner registry adopted by Democrats in 2009. The registry provides about 40 of the 200 benefits given to married couples -- things like the right to hospital visits and end-of-life decisions.

Family Action says the registry goes against the state's seven-year-old constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions. Group attorney Austin Nimocks said the registry is “mimicking a blueprint of marriage.”

Lambda Legal attorney Christopher Clark says the registry is nothing like marriage. He said domestic partners do not enter civil contracts which are enforced in court like traditional marriages and the registry is not recognized in other states like marriage is.

Justices asked the lawyers if they could eliminate qualifying requirements for the registry and leave certain parts intact. Nimocks said it's possible, but he'd rather see the whole thing scrapped.

As of last year, 232 same-sex couples were in the statewide registry. The court has not said when it would rule on the matter.


New law allows larger lumber loads

Loggers in northern Wisconsin will be helped by a bill Gov. Scott Walker signed into law Wednesday.

The new law will let trucks carry bigger loads of lumber in the Northwoods to stay competitive with wood products firms in Upper Michigan. The measure is known as the "Michigan Configuration."

Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon, a main author, said forestry is a huge industry, and the state needs to help keep it thriving to create jobs and commerce.

The governor said the new law will do just that and promote Wisconsin's forest products industry across state lines. Republican Jeff Mursau of Crivitz was the bill's main Assembly author. Both houses approved it on voice votes this month.

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau)


Federal officials say butterflies endangered

Federal wildlife officials want to designate two types of butterflies as endangered or threatened species because their populations are rapidly declining.

The Poweshiek skipperling used to thrive in eight states and Canada, but now it's found only in native prairies in Wisconsin, Michigan and Manitoba Canada.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants approval to designate 63 properties where the Poweshiek butterfly would be protected. The sites range from 23 acres to almost 3,000 acres in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and the Dakotas.

Also the agency wants to protect the Dakota skipper butterfly, found in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Canada. Their numbers have dropped to the point in which they occupy only half the sites where they used to live.

The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to release its proposal in today's Federal Register. Five public meetings have been scheduled in the subject, including one in Wisconsin. That's set for the evening of Nov. 14, starting at 4:30 p.m. at the public library at Berlin in Green Lake County.