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UPDATED: Vinehout confirms that she won't run for governor; Reward offered for help solving hit and run deaths; more Wisconsin news

Kathleen Vinehout

ALMA -- Kathleen Vinehout, who represents the majority of Pierce and Pepin county citizens in the Wisconsin Senate, confirmed Friday morning that she will not run for Wisconsin governor.

“The severity of the injury received in the car accident last month -- a splintering of the bone in my upper right arm – and the time required to recover and rehabilitate make it impossible for me to run the intense, grassroots campaign that I want to run and would be necessary to win," said Vinehout in a press release.

It gives Democrat Mary Burke a clear path to challenge Republican Scott Walker in November.

Vinehout, a Democrat, injured her arm last month in a snow-related traffic crash in Racine County, where she was testing the waters for a possible gubernatorial bid. She was an unbelted passenger in the back seat of a car being driven by a volunteer.

She wished for success to Mary Burke and "others who may offer their time and talents in leading our state."

Vinehout reportedly told Madison teachers' union chief John Matthews of her decision Thursday. He emailed other activists, and newspapers in Madison and Milwaukee picked it up. Vinehout issued her own comments in an overnight email to supporters and media.

She ran and lost for governor in 2012 in the Democratic primary for the Walker recall election.


Reward offered for help solving hit and run deaths

BALSAM LAKE -- A $5,000 reward is being offered to help find a hit and run driver who struck and killed two men last weekend in northern Polk County.

Polk County sheriff's deputies announced the reward Thursday.

Rick Cobenais Jr.They're seeking information about the driver who killed Benjamin Juarez, 28, of Frederic and Richard Cobenais Jr., 41, of Luck.

Authorities said both were fighting at a house in the Round Lake Indian community last Saturday night. The brawl spilled onto County Road E where both were hit by a pickup truck that never stopped.

Ben JuarezDeputies now say the vehicle was a black Ford F-150 with a model year between 1997 and 2003. It received damage to the passenger side's headlight area.

Photos of the deceased men were released Thursday afternoon by Polk County Sheriff Peter Johnson.


UPDATED: Polk Co. man charged with drunken snowmobiling after passenger dies

A northwest Wisconsin man was cited for drunken snowmobiling after a crash with an ice fishing shanty that killed his passenger.

The crash victim was identified as Victoria G. Henderson, 20, of Luck.

Investigation indicated the sled never actually struck the house -- only Henderson's upper torso.

She was wearing a helmet but still suffered severe head injuries.

Polk County authorities said two snowmobiles were heading north on Bone Lake near Luck late Wednesday night when one machine swerved near the ice house. The snowmobile driver, 21-year-old Nicholas Krenz of St. Croix Falls man, was later arrested.He was uninjured.

Henderson is the eighth person to die in Wisconsin snowmobile crashes this winter.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau



Interests vie for say in spending $1 billion state budget surplus

The political madness is on in Madison where lawmakers and special interests are spewing out ideas for spending a new $1 billion state budget surplus.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said yesterday that the state's tax collections will be around $900- million higher than projected through mid-2015.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker wants to give it back to the taxpayers in property and income tax relief. His office has not decided on a final plan, and Walker won't announce it until his State of the State address Wednesday night.

With a majority in both houses, Republicans will call the shots -- and they're getting lots of advice. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wants to reduce the local tax levy for technical colleges, saying it would assure solid tax relief for all home and business owners.

Republican Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald says some of his members want the state to keep at least some of the money for ongoing spending commitments. Fitzgerald is not sure what type of tax relief his house would support.

Minority Democrats and liberal groups want more public school aid, higher education, worker training and Medicaid. Assembly Democratic leader Peter Barca said any tax relief should be geared to the middle class.

David Riemer, a budget director under former governor Jim Doyle, said the state's Medicaid shortfall needs to be addressed. The state has a $93 million deficit in tax-funded health care for the poor, plus a $19 million dollar shortfall in the W-2 welfare-to-work program.



Environmentalists plan ‘citizen’s summit’ on frac-sand mining

Opponents of frac-sand mining plan to attend a "citizen's summit" Saturday (Jan. 18) just across the Wisconsin border in Winona, Minn.

Crispin Pierce, who heads the environmental public health program at UW-Eau Claire, will be among the speakers. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine is also scheduled to appear.

The Land Stewardship Project is sponsoring the day-long summit at Winona State University.

Over 110 frac-sand mines have popped up in Wisconsin in recent years as oil and gas drillers found that the region's fine silica sand is perfect to help lubricate their machinery.

Critics say the industry is raising environmental and health concerns in rural areas -- although the Wisconsin DNR has denied that after extensive studies.


DNR: Rare frogs may die, but not many, as bridge is replaced

The state Department of Natural Resources says the replacement of a bridge in southwest Wisconsin might kill some rare frogs, but not enough to wipe out the species.

Grant County officials want to replace a bridge over the Platte River in the town of Ellenboro. The endangered northern cricket frog is close by.

The DNR says the construction could result in the incidental taking of some frogs, and the agency is granting preliminary authorization to allow it for now. It's taking public comments on the matter through Feb. 11.

DNR officials say the project will not jeopardize the cricket frog's continued existence or recovery, and the agency agrees that the new bridge would be a benefit to the public.


Legislature plans vote on program to locate shots fired in Milwaukee

State Assembly Republicans have changed their minds about not expanding a program that tells Milwaukee police where gunshots are being fired.

Speaker Robin Vos said Thursday that his house will vote next month on adding $175,000 for ShotSpotter -- a network of sensors that shows police where gunshots are being fired in real time.

Last year, Majority Republicans refused to budget $445,000 to expand the coverage area for the ShotSpotter system. It currently covers a radius of three square miles. The proposed new state funding, along with local money, would expand the area to 10 square miles.

Mayor Tom Barrett and Police Chief Ed Flynn kept lobbying state lawmakers for the program even after the funding was dropped a year ago. Barrett said he knew lawmakers would be sold on it once they saw it.  Police say the Shot-Spotter has partially resulted in solving 14 Milwaukee homicides.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he's seen the unit in action, and he'd support state funding although others in his chamber would have to get up to speed on it. Scott Walker's office says the governor supports the partial funding restoration.


Milwaukee suburb schools locked down after robbery

A third suspect was still being sought at last word in a credit union robbery which caused lockdowns at two nearby schools in suburban Milwaukee.

Brown Deer police said two men entered the Credit Union Services Center yesterday. They demanded money and fled in a getaway car driven by a third person.

Glendale police tried stopping the vehicle, but two suspects jumped out and ran away. A foot chase followed. Officials said two people are now in custody and the third was still at large.

Cardinal Stritch University and Glendale Nicolet High School locked students and staffers inside their buildings as a precaution. That was soon after the robbery took place around 11:30 a.m. yesterday. The arrests were made around 12:50 p.m., and the lock-downs ended just after 1 p.m.


Johnson votes against budget, citing ‘phantom spending’

Wisconsin's Ron Johnson was one of 26 Senate Republicans who voted against the federal budget that got final congressional approval yesterday. Seventeen other Republicans joined all Democrats in approving the $1.1 trillion package.

Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin voted yes to the appropriations designed to keep Washington in business through end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Johnson said his colleagues must start removing waste from federal programs. He contends that the package includes "phantom spending" with billions of dollars in programs that don't appear in the appropriations documents.

The new budget reflects an agreement endorsed a few weeks ago in talks that included House Republican Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville. Johnson said he supported the agreement so Congress could have a chance to prioritize spending, but that never happened.

Baldwin said the new budget makes "essential investments in economic growth at a time when far too many people in Wisconsin are looking for work." She said the package would help rebuild the economy with new roads and bridges and investments in science, research and workforce readiness.

Baldwin also said Wisconsin will get its own benefits -- like funding for new two littoral combat ships to be built at Marinette Marine.


BadgerCare changes signed into law

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill yesterday that tweaks the eligibility changes for BadgerCare that were approved recently.

Wisconsin adults who make more than poverty-level wages could still get BadgerCare through March 31 if they sign up by the end of January.

Starting Feb. 1, only those making poverty wages or less can apply for the Medicaid-funded BadgerCare. Those above the poverty line who apply after Feb. 1 would have to get coverage from the Obamacare exchanges.

The Legislature approved the newest changes earlier this week after a recent settlement between Walker's office and the federal Medicaid agency.

About 77,000 existing BadgerCare recipients above the poverty line will lose their coverage at the end of March, and about 83,000 who are in poverty will get coverage for the first time. Those changes were supposed to be made Jan. 1, but the governor and Legislature approved a three-month delay due to problems that people originally had in signing up under the federal exchanges.


DJ won’t be charged in Rhinelander bar patron’s death

No charges will be filed in the death of a man at a tavern in Rhinelander about an hour into the New Year.

James Tanner, 48, of Rhinelander died after his sternum broke and punctured his heart when it was pushed onto the bar by a disc jockey who was trying to break up a fight.

Oneida County District Attorney Michael Schiek said the 59-year-old DJ was not sure what Tanner would do next and that's why he gave Tanner a bear hug and moved him toward the bar area to restrain him.  Schiek said there was a "one in a million" chance that Tanner's sternum would hit the bar the way it did and the DJ had no intention of killing the man.

The prosecutor said he looked over the bar area, reviewed autopsy evidence and conducted almost two dozen interviews before deciding he didn't have enough to convict the DJ of second-degree reckless homicide. Schiek said a final toxicology report is due in a few days, but it will not change the basic facts of what happened.

--Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander


UW-Madison employee dies after being hit by campus delivery truck

A 60-year-old UW-Madison employee was killed after she was hit by a delivery truck on a court near the campus Memorial Union.

Authorities said the truck was backing up when it hit the woman, who was walking behind it. WKOW TV said the truck's back-up alarm was sounding, and police are not aware of any reason that the woman might not have heard it.

The victim died at a hospital. Her name was not immediately released.

The truck is owned by UW-Madison, and the driver was reported to be a man in his 20's. Madison police continue to investigate.