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Wisconsin roundup: Lawmakers speak up in response to Comey firing; 9 more state news stories

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, shown here in a 2016 photo, was among critics calling for a special prosecutor to investigate possible Russian involvement in the 2016 election. File photo

WASHINGTON — A Republican congressman from Wisconsin joined a chorus of voices raising concerns about the timing of President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican representing the Green Bay area, unleashed a tweet-storm Tuesday morning that called on the investigation “into Russian interference in our country continue unimpeded and unaltered.” Gallagher also tweeted he has “serious concerns and unanswered questions about the timing of Director Comey's dismissal.”

U.S. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is among those calling for a special prosecutor to investigate alleged Russian influence in the 2016 elections. Baldwin says the "American people deserve answers" on whether the Trump campaign "colluded with Russia" to influence last November's voting.

La Crosse House Democrat Ron Kind called Comey's firing a "rash decision" and a "grotesque abuse of power" — and Kind wants congressional hearings, saying he hopes the firing was not tied to the Russian controversy. Wisconsin Republicans did not issue immediate statements, as their party's president said he acted on recommendations from his two top officials in the Justice Department — which criticized Comey for his probe into Hillary Clinton's email servers which did not result in charges.


Walker, administration chief slam rejection of self insurance

MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker and Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel both criticize an impending rejection of their plan to have the state self insure its employees.

On Tuesday, the two Republican chairs of the Joint Finance Committee said they expected the panel to turn down six contracts from private insurers to help the state provide its own health coverage to 250,000 workers and their families. Walker tweeted it's the "wrong direction to dismiss $60 million worth of proven savings at a time when some are asking to spend more on transportation," and Neitzel added there's no reason not to accept self insurance.

But Assembly finance chair John Nygren says there are too many unanswered questions about the savings' estimates — and Senate chair Alberta Darling says she's not convinced the change is needed. Nygren says the panel will look elsewhere to cover the $60 millioin estimate that's included in the governor's budget package.


Questions raised about using land sales to fund scholarships

MADISON — Questions are being raised about a plan to have the DNR borrow money to buy public land from another state agency — and use proceeds to give Wisconsin's best students merit scholarships to the UW-System.

The DNR says it has not reviewed the proposal, and it won't comment until it does. Jonathan Barry, head of state Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, says he's not sure if his agency's lands that would be sold are worth the $80 million being claimed — especially because some of the land includes swamps. The main sponsors of the plan, GOP Rep. Tyler August and Whitewater Sen. Steve Nass, highlight the educational benefits of the five-thousand dollar merit scholarships. UW President Ray Cross favors the plan, saying it would help Wisconsin's brightest students stay here, rather than attend college in other states and most likely stay there to work.


Not guilty pleas entered for alleged state Capitol burglar

MADISON — A Beloit man is free on a signature bond, after a judge entered not guilty pleas for a burglary at the State Capitol.

Zachary Bigelow was charged Tuesday, his 27th birthday, with misdemeanor counts of criminal damage and illegal entry — and he's due back in Dane County Circuit Court May 30 to discuss final pretrial matters. Police quote Bigelow as saying he went "exploring" after a night of drinking last Friday, and officers found two broken windows on the Capitol's first and fifth floors, with blood seen throughout the building.

Police say they found Bigelow Sunday with the help of a surveillance camera that showed a license plate number. Officers say he had cuts and scrapes on his forearms and hands as he admitted scaling the Capitol and breaking in.


Panel votes to let state loan money to businesses again

MADISON — Wisconsin's job creation agency could start lending tax dollars to businesses again, after lawmakers voted to restore the program in the new state budget.

The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 Tuesday to bring back the loan program that was cut off two years ago amid problems that resulted in inadequate oversight and accountability for that money. With all Democrats voting no, Republicans also dropped a proposed requirement that the money to be loaned had to come from the paybacks of other business loans.

Senate finance chair Alberta Darling says the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has improved its checks and balances during the past two years. Republicans dismissed several Democratic proposals to put restrictions on other WEDC tax credit and grant programs.


Teen charged with threats that affected 2 school districts

SIREN — A 19-year-old man has been charged with making threats that closed one northwest Wisconsin school district and put another one on lockdown Tuesday.

Burnett County prosecutors filed charges against Jacob Wicklund of rural Siren that triggered an arrest warrant — and officials say he was booked into jail Tuesday morning on a felony count of making terrorist threats and misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Grantsburg schools were closed Tuesday upon word on the threats, and the nearby Siren district had its schools on a 90 minute lockdown with police monitoring after that.

Officials say Wicklund posted threats on a private Facebook page, and his stepfather read the messages later and called police — and he reportedly told officers that Wicklund is bipolar, with drug and alcohol problems. There's no word on when Wicklund will make his first court appearance.


Milwaukee reaches settlement in shooting death lawsuit

MILWAUKEE — Dontre Hamilton's family and lawyers would get $2.3 million in a proposed settlement of a federal lawsuit connected with the police shooting death of Hamilton in 2014.

The deal was made public Tuesday, when a resolution authorizing the city's payment was given to the Common Council's Judiciary committee for approval. Hamilton, an African American man, was shot to death by white Milwaukee officer Christopher Manney in the city's downtown Red Arrow Park — and it drew national attention as part of several controversial police shootings around the country.

It happened during a struggle that was spurred by what Police Chief Ed Flynn called an improper patdown of Hamilton — a patdown which a federal judge called unconstitutional as part of the family's federal lawsuit alleging that the city violated Hamilton's civil rights. The city had appealed the decision, and other parts of the suit were still pending when word of the settlement came down.


Brewers slug their way to victory

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers slugged their way to an 11-7 interleague victory against Boston in the visiting team's first trip to Miller Park in 14 years.

The Brewers jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first inning on pair of two run homers from Eric Thames and Keon Broxton — but it was not enough for the Crew, who had to churn out six more runs in the fourth through seventh innings to secure their win. Broxton drove in four runs and fell a double short of the cycle, and Thames homered for the second time in two games as Milwaukee continues to lead the Majors with 55 home runs on the year.

Left fielder Ryan Braun started for the first time in almost a week, and he hit a key double in the first inning after coming off a strained forearm flexor. Carlos Torres got the win in relief and is now 2-3, while starter Drew Pomeranz took the loss for Boston, which got a leadoff homer from Mookie Betts and a 3-for-4 night from Andrew Benintendi with a pair of RBIs.


Brewers prospect has surgery, Guerra gets better

MILWAUKEE — Brewers pitching prospect Nathan Kirby has hardly played since being drafted in June of 2015.

He had Tommy John surgery on his left throwing elbow in September 2015 — and then on Tuesday, Brewers team doctor William Raasch fixed a nerve issue in the same elbow that will keep Kirby out for another eight to 12 weeks. Kirby is 26th on MLB Pipeline's list of Milwaukee's top prospects.

Meanwhile, Brewers starter Junior Guerra continues to recover from the strained right calf he suffered while running to first base on Opening Day. Manager Craig Counsell says Guerra completed agility drills Monday — and he'll have an extended throwing session before Milwaukee hosts Boston Wednesday.


Romo considers Western Amateur, U.S. Amateur golf tourneys

FT. WORTH, TEXAS — Racine County native Tony Romo says he might try to play in this summer's Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur.

That's after he failed to make the United States Open at a local qualifying event near Fort Worth, Texas. Romo, in his third try for the Open, shot a plus-three 75 and was tied for 40th in his qualifier at the Split Rail Links and Golf Club. This year's Open is being played at Erin Hills near Hartford, close to Romo's hometown of Burlington — and that's a big reason he was really hoping to make it through this week. About 150 Wisconsin players applied for the state's first U.S. Open, and the Wisconsin qualifiers will take place Thursday in Sheboygan Falls and on May 17th at Hartford.