Wisconsin's drought is officially over; Supreme Court urged to review Act 10; smokes swiped from ATF warehouse, more state news
The U.S. Drought Monitor reports the recent rain and snow seen over much of Wisconsin has ended the state's drought.
The latest weekly update indicates less than 13 percent of Wisconsin is in drought, although 14 percent is rated abnormally dry.
More than 60 percent was in drought as this year started.
It's not all good. The heavy rainfall has been delaying the start of planting for some farmers. Farmland in southern Wisconsin is covered by several feet of water in some locations.
That area has received about 10 inches of rain over the past two weeks.
Appeals court urges Supremes to review Act 10
MADISON -- The 4th District Court of Appeals is urging the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take on challenge to the law which effectively did away with collective bargaining for most state employees.
The appeals court says the legal issues brought up by a challenge from two unions needs to be put to rest.
Unions which represent city of Milwaukee workers and Madison school teachers argue the law backed by Gov. Scott Walker is unconstitutional.
A Dane County judge agreed last year, but it isn't clear whether the ruling applies outside Milwaukee and Dane counties.
An effort by the Wisconsin Department of Justice to put the ruling on hold while the appeal plays out was rejected.
Joint Finance largely supportive of Walker's budget
MADISON -- The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee has decided to bounce only a dozen of the 58 non-fiscal policy items in the governor's budget which have been pointed out by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Since Democrats only occupy four of the 16 positions on the budget committee, their protests didn't get very far. The practice isn't unique to either Republican or Democratic governors.
Proposals allowed to stay in the budget plan include private school vouchers for special needs students and putting an end to residency requirements for workers in local governments.
Democrats were told they would have the opportunity to argue against the policy items they don't like as they come up during budget deliberations.
WDNR likely to lose 32 jobs
MADISON -- Budget negotiators at the Capitol have approved the elimination of 32 positions in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
West Bend Republican Senator Glenn Grothman proposed the cuts Thursday. He says the jobs have been open for at least a year, though his formal motion didn't limit the cuts to currently vacant positions.
Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee argued Grothman's proposal wasn't specific enough, failing to include information about the positions he had targeted.
Republicans answered that the positions were apparently not critical, since the DNR has been doing its work without filling them.
Grothman's proposal was approved on a 12-to 4 party-line vote.
ATF cache of smokes swiped from Milwaukee warehouse
MILWAUKEE -- Federal agents conducting a sting aimed at cigarette sellers were stung themselves in Milwaukee.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives has received a lot of unwelcome attention for a botched gun-buying sting, but a year before that federal agents made another expensive mistake. When an effort to target cigarette sellers who were cheating the government out of tax payments ended, more than $82,000 worth were left in a Milwaukee warehouse location.
When agents finally returned to pick up the merchandise, about $10,000 worth of cigarettes had been swiped.
The ATF has a history of losing property. A federal spokesperson says a review is being done and appropriate disciplinary measures will be considered.
Judiciary panel OKs law change affecting doctor-patient conversations
MADISON -- The Wisconsin Judiciary Assembly Committee has approved a change in a law which requires doctors to give patients information about alternative treatments.
The changing of one word in the law would relax the requirement. The measure would change the law from a "reasonable patient standard" to a "reasonable physician standard," when it comes to informed consent.
The change has the backing of many in the Wisconsin medical community, despite concerns some patients won't get helpful information they need.
The bill comes in reaction to a ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court
Researcher predicts 'Obamacare' will lead to consolidation but no cheaper health care
MADISON -- A researcher from Washington, D.C., says the Affordable Care Act seeks to improve the quality of care people get in this country.
James Reschovsky says that doesn't necessarily mean the costs will go down. Reschovsky is a senior fellow at the Central for Studying Health System Change.
He says the new federal health care reform law is pushing states to become more aggressive about finding their own solutions. He says that helps bring on improvements.
Speaking at a health care forum in Madison Thursday, he also said the reforms are leading to consolidation of health care providers. That change could be good or bad.
The intent of Thursday's discussion was to evaluate progress toward implementation of the new health care law backed by the White House.
Future use of old ammo plant acreage still fuzzy
BARABOO -- A dozen years ago plans for the abandoned Badger Army Ammunition Plant included using the land for conservation, education and agriculture, plus low-impact recreational activities like hiking and bird-watching.
Now, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says it has to weigh whether conditions have changed and the use of the approximate 7,200-acre site should change with them.
Petitions have been presented to the state agency bearing the signatures of hundreds of people opposed to changing the first approach. The DNR is going to offer three alternatives this summer, then hold open houses to see what the public wants.
The ATV Association is already asking the state to set aside 500 acres with 20 miles of trails for enthusiasts.
Inmate who beat female guard waives hearing
WAUSAU -- The 20-year old Marathon County Jail inmate who attacked two guards will have to face a trial.
Fredrick Morris made a court appearance Wednesday under heavy security, waiving his right to a preliminary hearing.
More than a dozen law enforcement officers were reportedly in the courtroom at the time, making sure Morris' appearance was a peaceful one.
He's accused of attacking two corrections officers at the jail last month.
Julie Christensen, 36, was knocked unconscious in the attack. She suffered serious injuries and remains in the intensive care unit of Aspirus Wausau Hospital.
Court: Killer was insane when he bludgeoned neighbor with crowbar
EAU CLAIRE -- He isn't going to prison, but a man accused of a fatal attack on his neighbor has been committed to a mental health institution for the rest of his life.
James Olson, 52, was found not guilty by reason of mental illness in the fatal attack on Paul Oberle. Olson used a crowbar to beat Oberle.
He had pleaded guilty to homicide charges in the case, admitting he attacked the victim when he returned home after working an overnight shift at an Eau Claire grocery store last June.
the victim's son found his father's body in the backyard of his home.
Five-day manhunt ends with sex offender's arrest
Registered sex offender Larry Arnold was finally found and arrested in a Washington County field Thursday morning.
Arnold had been the subject of a manhunt in eastern Wisconsin since last weekend. He was wanted on several warrants from Wood County and had failed to comply with the sex offender registry.
The search for Arnold had started last Saturday when he abandoned a car on a hiking trail near the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
Search efforts became more intense when authorities found out he had been breaking into homes. People living near Kewaskum were told to lock their doors last Wednesday.
Arnold could find himself facing additional charges for the break-ins.
Milwaukee claims innocence in deaths of three children
WEST ALLIS -- A 24-year-old whose children were unable to escape a house fire because she'd locked them in a bedroom, has entered a not guilty plea to charges of felony child neglect.
Three of her four children belonging to Angelica D. Belen died in a house fire earlier this month after she left them alone in a locked bedroom.
The West Allis woman said she had to do that because she couldn't get a babysitter and she had to go to work. Her five-year-old daughter and four-year-old twin sons died when the house caught on fire.
Belen also faces six misdemeanor charges in another case. She was accused of leaving the same twins and a one-year-old son unattended last month.
Belen is being held in the Milwaukee County Jail on a $500,000 bond.