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Republicans downplay concept of state succession; Milwaukee major hears shots as officer kills suspect; more state stories

MILWAUKEE -- Two Wisconsin legislative leaders are thumbing their noses at giving the state the power to nullify federal laws and secede from the United States.

A resolution to that effect made it onto the agenda for this weekend's Republican State Convention in Milwaukee.

State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he doesn't foresee that secession or a pull-back of federal laws will happen.

Joint Finance co-chair John Nygren said the way to deal with federal legislation is to win elections at the federal level.

Republican party leaders confirmed earlier that a resolution to secede from the union is among 23 measures to be voted on Saturday, but the language of that measure didn't come out until now.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the resolution endorses the idea of rejecting any federal law the party considers excessive like Obama-care. Gov. Scott Walker has criticized the proposal.

Party executive committee member Michael Murphy says secession is as "American as apple pie," but he fears that Democrats would use it to attack Walker in his re-election bid.


Bitter winter benefits WE Energies' coffers; lawmakers scrutinize the issue

Wisconsin utilities are counting up the extra money they earned while keeping homes and businesses warm during the bitter cold winter.

Wisconsin Energy, the parent firm of WE Energies, reports an 18 percent increase in its quarterly earnings. The state's largest electric and natural gas utility netted $208 million from January through March, up from almost $177 million the year before.

Shareholders saw their earnings rise from 76 cents a share to 9 cents. That was seven cents higher than what outside analysts projected.

Record natural gas usage – along with higher electric sales -- is credited for the earnings increase. We Energies CEO Gale Klappa said this past winter was the coldest since his company started offering natural gas service seven decades ago.

Meanwhile, the winter's propane heating fuel shortage was to go under the microscope on Capitol Hill Thursday.

A U.S. Senate committee will examine the reasons for the shortage, and how to avoid the problem in the future.

Drastic price hikes in January and February left a number of rural Wisconsin residents in the cold, and many customers had their fuel contracts broken. Supplies were already smaller after farmers used more propane than usual to dry their crops last fall -- and the extreme Wisconsin cold made the shortages a lot worse.

Senate Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota said one possible solution is beef up storages of propane. That idea was expected to be discussed during Thursday's hearing -- along with the supplies and delivery infrastructure for propane.


Justice Prosser still paying off 2011 election bill

State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser still owes about $200,000 from his extremely close reelection battle three years ago.

Prosser defeated JoAnne Kloppenburg by just 7,000 votes after the first statewide recount in over 20 years. It was a relatively sleepy campaign until Prosser's opponents turned it into a referendum on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's law that took collective bargaining away from most public employee unions in Wisconsin.

Prosser's campaign spent $700,000. Public financing and outside special-interest money also poured into the race.

Prosser is a former GOP state Assembly speaker, and former Gov. Tommy Thompson -- who appointed Prosser to the bench -- recently sent out an appeal to donors to repay what he called a "debt of gratitude" to the justice.

According to the Associated Press, most of Prosser's debt is to a Milwaukee law firm that provided legal services for the election and the recount. His campaign director at the time, Brian Nemoir, says retiring debt has been challenged by a "near-constant election cycle" since 2011, which included recall efforts against Walker and several senators.


High ozone levels in lakeside counties catches Lung Association venom

Wisconsin counties along Lake Michigan have too many days with high ozone levels.

That's what the American Lung Association says in its annual "State of the Air" report. Door, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Ozaukee, Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties were all given grades of "F" for their numbers of high ozone days.

Brown, Outagamie, and Fond du Lac counties around the Fox Valley had grades of "D." Ten other counties had grades of "A" to "C."

Dane County, where Madison's located, scored a "B." Ashland, La Crosse, Marathon, and Vilas counties all had grades of "A" for their relatively low ozone days. The Lung Association also graded 16 counties on their particle pollution. Brown County had the only failing grade. The counties with Milwaukee and Madison both had "C's." The others had "A's" and "B's."

Nationally, the Lung Association found that about half of Americans lived in counties with unhealthy air -- but it was still better than a decade ago.


Judge won't toss ACLU lawsuit on gay marriage ban

MADISON -- A federal judge said no yesterday to dropping a lawsuit against Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage, but the state's revenue secretary is no longer a defendant, and neither are two local prosecutors.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in February on behalf of four same-sex couples. They want to throw out the state's 2006 constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions, plus a state law which makes it a crime for Wisconsin same-sex couples to get married elsewhere.

State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the lawsuit should be dropped because the allegations are not specific enough.

Federal Judge Barbara Crabb of Madison didn't buy that, and she allowed the suit to proceed.

She did drop Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler from the lawsuit. Crabb said he was not directly responsible for deciding the policies that deny certain tax benefits to same-sex couples.

The judge also said the district attorneys of Milwaukee and Eau Claire counties should no longer be defendants. That's because they agreed not to prosecute same-sex plaintiffs who live in their counties but had weddings out of state.


Ryan meets with Congressional Black Caucus

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Wisconsin House Republican Paul Ryan said he had a productive one-hour meeting Wednesday with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

That was after the House budget chairman from Janesville came under fire for a talk show remark about poverty and inner cities.

Both Ryan and caucus members said their meeting was cordial, and it did not produce any new policy breakthroughs for fighting poverty. Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio said everyone agreed that poverty is an important issue, but they could not agree on how to deal with it.

Ryan stirred up African-American lawmakers a few weeks ago when he described what he called a "tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working."

Democrats said the comment had racial undertones. Soon after, Ryan said he was not articulate about the point he was trying to make, and he promised to speak with the Congressional Black Caucus about it. Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, has tried to make poverty a signature issue. He hosted a hearing on the subject Wednesday in his role as the House budget chairman.


Officer kills suspect within sight of City Hall; new investigation law in-play

MILWAUKEE -- A shooting death by a police officer near Milwaukee's City Hall has the mayor defending the downtown's safety and investigators using a new state law for the first time.

Police Chief Ed Flynn said a 38-year-old officer was sent to Red Arrow Park around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday to check out a call about a suspect. He said the officer started patting the man down when they got into a scuffle. Flynn said the suspect took the officer's baton and started beating him in the head. The officer pulled his weapon and fired up to ten shots.

Mayor Tom Barrett said he heard at least five shots from his City Hall office. The shooting shook up numerous bystanders and workers in the area as 30 officers converged in response. A nearby matinee had just ended, and several theatergoers could not get to their cars because they were cordoned off in the crime scene.

The suspect died there with the officer's baton under his body. The officer -- a 13-year Milwaukee police veteran -- was treated at a hospital and later released.

Barrett said it would be the first test of a new state law signed a week ago that requires outside investigators to look into the deaths of suspects in police custody. Until now, Milwaukee's internal affairs division handled those probes.

The new law requires at least two officers from another agency to investigate, and if charges are not filed, the investigative reports must be made public.

The mayor also said the shooting was an isolated incident, and downtown Milwaukee remains extremely safe.


Spooner man gets prison term for role in teen's death

SHELL LAKE -- A northwest Wisconsin man will spend six and one-half years in prison for killing a 15-year-old boy in a high-speed sport utility crash.

Wade Richey, 23, of Spooner must also spend just over six years under extended supervision once he gets out.

Authorities said Richey drove over 90 mph and slid around curves in Barron County in 2012, knowing he had bad brakes.

It resulted in a crash that killed Triston Sager, 15,who was riding in the cargo portion of Richey's SUV.

Richey was found guilty of vehicular homicide while using controlled substances and causing great bodily harm by reckless driving.

During his supervision, Richey was told to spend at least 40 hours a year speaking to high school students and impact groups and discourage them from repeating his behavior.


Caregiver's theft of credit card nets her jail time

A central Wisconsin woman is in jail for stealing a dementia patient's credit card at a nursing home where she used to work.

Crystal Schillinger, 34, of Spencer had pleaded guilty to Wood County charges of felony theft and identity theft. She was ordered to pay nearly $3,000 in restitution, plus almost $800 in fines and court costs. Her jail term runs for 30 days with work release privileges. Schillinger was also given four years of probation.

Prosecutors said she took the dementia patient's credit card last July to pay utility and veterinary bills. Schillinger was employed at the facility until late October.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Webster man charged in motel assault on young boy

EAU CLAIRE -- A northwest Wisconsin man is due back in court next Tuesday for allegedly causing numerous injuries to his girlfriend's two-year-old son in a motel room in Eau Claire.

Dustin Riley, 21, of Webster was put under a $5,000 cash bond this week.

Eau Claire police were called to America's Best Value Inn on Tuesday. Officers said they found the toddler with bruises and red marks on his face, head and other parts of his body. Authorities said marijuana was also found in the room.

Riley is charged with felony child abuse and reckless endangerment and misdemeanor counts of possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He also has a plea hearing set for June 2 on an unrelated disorderly conduct charge in Barron County.


Toddler survives ejection during rollover; carseat reminder issued

GREEN BAY -- A toddler thrown from a car in a crash near Green Bay was either not restrained at all -- or was not properly buckled in.

Bellevue police said it was a miracle that the 22-month-old boy survived because most young children die in that situation.

The crash happened last Sunday afternoon on a ramp to a westbound expressway on Hwy. 172.

The driver, Nicholas Verhaagh, 23, of Green Bay, apparently rolled the car several times and died after being ejected.

Brown County sheriff's captain Randy Schultz said high speed and a lack of proper restraints were both factors.

The boy was treated at a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries and was returned to his mother.

Schultz said the car had two child safety seats, and neither was fastened properly.

That's not unusual. The Center for Childhood Safety in Green Bay said 73 percent of car seats are not installed correctly.