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Wisconsin roundup: Panel wants legislative oversight of veterans fund transfers; bill to punish campus speech disruptions gets public hearing; and 11 more state news stories

MADISON -- State lawmakers want more of a say in a trust fund for veterans' benefits, after $55 million were transferred to that fund from the King Veterans Home.

The Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously Thursday to make the veterans' agency notify the panel about proposed fund transfers, giving lawmakers two weeks to object. The fund transfers from King happened while the facility was delaying $20 million in needed maintenance work.

GOP Senate finance chair Alberta Darling says it's important that transfers the Veterans Trust Fund are "valid and transparent."

The Wisconsin State Journal says Gov. Scott Walker vetoed a similar legislative mandate in the last state budget, and Assembly finance chair John Nygren says it might happen again. Walker's office is not commenting on that.

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Bill to punish campus speech disruptions gets public hearing

MADISON -- A Republican bill to punish those who disrupt speakers on Wisconsin college campuses gets a public hearing at the State Capitol.

GOP Speaker Robin Vos told the Assembly Colleges Committee Thursday that there's a "trend toward suppression of ideas, as speakers have been shouted down and verbally assaulted by those who do not share their beliefs."

Republican Jesse Kremer of Kewaskum is a chief sponsor of the bill, that orders the UW Regents to set up a policy for expulsions and lesser punishments to those who engage twice in violence or disorderly conduct. He also wanted penalties for students who are "unreasonably loud," profane, and indecent -- but there are reports that Kremer would drop some of those categories as concerns are raised about whether the bill is constitutional.

Some of the bill's opponents, like Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, say the measure is designed to interfere with free speech, not protecting it as the GOP supporters claim.

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Kohl's, other department store stocks take beating

NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Stocks for department stores are taking a beating on Wall Street, as the Wisconsin based Kohl's and other chains report falling sales.

Kohl's stock price dropped by almost 8 percent on Thursday, while Macy's stock fell by 17 percent.

Kohl's, based in Menomonee Falls, cited tighter spending for a nearly 300 percent increase in its net profit from one year ago -- and CEO Kevin Mansell also credits a new emphasis on active wear and wellness items, saying they exceeded Kohl's expectations in every category.

Mansell told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Kohl's pricing and sales strategies differ from other large department store chains.

Still, Kohl's had 2.7 percent drop in same store sales in the past three months -- a smaller decline than at least several other chains.

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Mother's Day gas prices cheaper than last month

MADISON -- Driving to your Mom's house for Mother's Day is more expensive than last year, but cheaper than it was around Easter.

The Wisconsin Triple "A" says the average price for one gallon of regular unleaded is $2 and 29 cents Friday morning. That's the same as Thursday, 10 cents cheaper than at this time last month, and 10 cents more expensive than last Mother's Day.

The Wisconsin price is also one nickel cheaper than the current national average of $2.34. The Triple "A" credits the latest price drop to a "unseasonable glut" of gas in the U.S. market -- along with moderate demand, record high refinery production, and lower crude oil prices.

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Puppies from flooded Arkansas sent to Wisconsin

NEILSVILLE-- Thirty-one dogs that were displaced by flooding in Arkansas have been transferred to central Wisconsin for adoption.

Puppies are among the pets sent from the Jonesboro area to the Clark County Humane Society's shelter at Neillsville. The dogs were sent away from Arkansas to make room for pets whose owners did not want to leave them in their homes after they evacuated from the flooding.

Cheri Wegner of the Clark County Humane Society tells WISC TV in Madison that about 100 applications have been submitted to adopt the pets -- and the interest has been very high.

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Walker: Don't take road funding out of state budget

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker's office says there is no reason to take the year's most controversial item out of the state budget.

GOP finance chairs John Nygren and Alberta Darling said Thursday it might be a good idea to make funding for highways a separate bill. Nygren says there are some big budget items that Republicans in both houses agree upon, like millions more for public schools -- and he says the Joint Finance Committee can work out those matters and see where the political winds blow on transportation at that time.

The GOP's divide on road funding got deeper last week, when Assembly Republicans got behind a plan to raise tax revenues on gas while phasing in a big reduction of income taxes.

Walker and Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald both came out against the plan -- and the governor still opposes any gas tax hike while Fitzgerald favors tolls and borrowing to bring in money for new and improved roads.

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Fatal Manitowoc fire victim identified

MANITOWOC -- The Manitowoc County coroner's office says it could take up to three months to find out why an apartment dweller died in a fire on Wednesday.

An autopsy has been performed on 57-year-old Dana Bushman, who died in the apartment where the fire started at the Parkview Haven complex in Manitowoc. Two other residents were treated at a hospital and later released, and police say an improved fire alarm system was installed at the complex Monday, just in time to help save lives.  

TV reports say about 30 of the 88 residents are staying in a junior high school gym for now -- and the Red Cross will try to find other living arrangements for them during the next week.

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Kayaker drowns near Lake Geneva

LAKE GENEVA -- A kayaker drowned after he helped his partner make it to shore on Geneva Lake in far southeast Wisconsin.

A Lake Geneva fire captain says both boats flipped just before 6:30 Thursday night on the water just west of Lake Geneva near the Covenant Harbor Bible Camp.

A 22-year-old man from the Lake Geneva area was not wearing a life vest when he helped rescue a 21-year-old woman, and then disappeared below the surface.

A search began a short time later, and rescuers found the victim about one hour later in ten feet of water. They performed CPR but failed to rescue the man, whose name was not immediately released.

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Latex paint spills into Fond Du Lac River

FOND DU LAC -- A cleanup continues on the Fond du Lac River, where latex paint used for marking streets spilled from a Fond du Lac County highway garage.

WISN TV of Milwaukee says about 30 gallons of a paint and water mixture spilled down a storm sewer during a cleaning operation, and crews later worked to remove the paint from the sewer.

Officials say Thursday's spill is contained, and the state DNR is looking into it -- although fire officials do not believe the paint hurt the environment or the fish in the river.

No one was injured, and officials say there was never a threat to anyone near the incident.

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Businesses seek Highway 23 expansion funds, despite court action

PLYMOUTH -- Eastern Wisconsin business leaders plan to meet with state lawmakers Friday to request that funds to expand Highway 23 from Fond du Lac to Plymouth be put in the state budget.

A federal judge put the project on hold in 2015, saying the DOT inflated its traffic estimates to justify an expansion from two lanes to four. That cut off federal funding for the project.

The state's appealing that ruling to the Seventh Circuit Court in Chicago.

But, some local leaders want to give up the federal money and use state dollars only. They cite two serious traffic accidents in the past week that injured seven people, two critically, as a need for the expressway. But the state has a $1 billion road funding shortfall, and the debate in Madison is about funding or delaying work that's already budgeted.

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Schneider National issues first public financial report

GREEN BAY -- The Schneider National trucking firm of Green Bay is out with its first financial report since it completed an initial public stock offering last month.

It's reporting a nearly 20 percent drop in its net income, to almost $23 million from January through March on an 8.4 percent revenue increase.

Schneider blames the decline in profits on unfavorable market conditions and lower volume levels. The public stock offering netted $280 million dollars for Schneider. And even though none of the Schneider family members are executives of the firm, the family maintains control with a non-traded stock with 10 votes for each share.

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La Crosse County finds contaminated private wells

LA CROSSE -- Health officials in La Crosse County are finding increased levels of nitrates in private wells.

Wisconsin Public Radio reports that the La Crosse County Health Department told 2,000 households last month that their private wells may be contaminated. More than 450 wells have since been tested for nitrates, and 29 percent show levels over the permissible 10 parts per million.

County board member Monica Kruse says the county began worrying about possible contamination after a state audit last year found issues with the Wisconsin DNR's regulation of a concentrated animal feeding operation in the area.

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UWM students present plans for downtown's future

MILWAUKEE -- Those who could be in charge of Milwaukee's future are offering a glimpse of their vision.  

Urban planning students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee presented plans this week on how they would revitalize parts of the downtown. Their ideas include a new home for the Milwaukee Public Museum along the river and more public spaces that encourage walking.  

An architect who advised the students tells the "Milwaukee Business Journal" he'd like to adopt some of the concepts into his projects around West Wisconsin Avenue.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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