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Wisconsin roundup: One dead, 2 missing, 11 injured in ethanol plant fire; 8 more state news stories

Firefighters battled a plant fire that left at least one person dead and several injured Wednesday, May 31, in Cambria, Wis. Photo courtesy of ReadyWisconsin

CAMBRIA — One person is confirmed dead, 11 others are hurt, and two people are missing in the aftermath of an explosion and fire at an ethanol plant in Cambria, between Portage and Beaver Dam.

The numbers come from Columbia County sheriff's officials. Village President Glen Williams says an initial blast occurred around 11 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a smaller explosion 20 minutes later at the Didion Milling plant that converts corn into ethanol for, among other things, a gasoline additive. The structure of up to four stories contained a lab, and Williams says it burned to the ground. Cambria/Friesland schools are closed Thursday, and the district says it must decide whether to move its high school graduation for tomorrow Friday.


Panel: Judges to get raises, but not 16 percent sought

MADISON — State judges would get 2 percent pay raises in each of the next two years in a budget measure endorsed Wednesday by the Legislature's finance panel.

The committee voted 12-4 to give judges the same raises that other state officials and employees would get. But Chief Justice Pat Roggensack asked for raises of 16 percent, saying that only seven other states pay their judges less than Wisconsin. The budget panel also endorsed 2 percent raises for public defenders, while assistant district attorneys would each get about $4,100 more each year, or $2 an hour more.

Also, the finance panel delayed a vote on Gov. Scott Walker's request to end the state portion of the local property tax for forestry operations, and fund it with general state taxes instead — but the panel's GOP leaders say their party will eventually go along with the idea.


Pros, cons of ending concealed carry permits aired

MADISON — A state Senate panel heard the pros and cons of letting people carry concealed weapons without state permits and training, while letting certain people carry guns on school grounds.

Chief GOP Assembly sponsors Mary Felzkowski and Dave Craig say the 2011 concealed carry law is working well without a lot of training — and they point out that people can carry guns openly without permits, which former Attorney General JB Van Hollen confirmed a few years ago. The current AG, Brad Schimel, praised the bill at Wednesday's Senate hearing but did not endorse it — and Dan Rossmiller of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards was against having schools allow more weapons, saying "guns and children are not a good mix."

Senate public safety panel Chairman Van Wanggaard says the GOP will seek an amendment making it easier to let parents keep guns in their vehicles when they drop off and pick up kids at school. Twelve states have the so called "constitutional carry" the Wisconsin bill calls for.


DNR magazine saved from chopping block — for now

MADISON — The state's DNR's outdoors magazine has been saved from the chopping block, for now.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 Wednesday against Gov. Scott Walker's budget plan to scrap Wisconsin Natural Resources, which has been published for 98 years. However, Republicans decided to have it come out every three months instead of two, and to cut one of its two employees — while Democrats said there should be no cuts at all.

The magazine's future became a political hot potato, as critics said Walker was trying to make the DNR weaker — while the GOP governor said private magazines can and do explore many of the magazine's topics and concerns. About 84,000 subscribers pay for it, and it does not cost taxpayers anything. Also Wednesday, the finance panel endorsed a second increase in state park admission and camping fees, after Walker and the GOP withdrew tax support for the park system two years ago.


Walker raises eyebrows at Missouri bill signing

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Scott Walker raised some eyebrows this week by attending a bill signing ceremony in Missouri.

Walker heads the Republican Governors Association, and he lent support to GOP Gov. Eric Greitens as he signed a measure ending a requirement that contractors pay union wages to private workers on tax funded projects — similar to what Walker signed in Wisconsin in April. There's been talk that the first term Greitens is looking at some type of future bid for U.S. Senate, vice president, or the presidency as he builds a national profile with trips to Washington and cable appearances on Fox News.

Walker, who ran for president in 2015, told Learfield's Missourinet he was there for something else and was having dinner with friends — and he wanted to help a fellow GOP governor. As for Walker's ambitions, he has already vowed not to run for president in 2020 if he's re-elected governor next year.


Audit sought for state government's health insurance system

MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker's effort to have the state government run its own health insurance plans for state employees appears to have suffered a setback.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said Wednesday the plan would save $13 million less than the $60 million Walker touted when he first proposed the change in February. Also, the bureau says the current system has built up $18 million more in reserves than the state's actuary recommended as the top limit — and that's got the chairs of the Joint Finance Committee asking why the excess wasn't used to cut employee premiums.

John Nygren and Alberta Darling want an audit of the Group Insurance Board which administers the health plans. The Walker administration countered that the state could save a federal Obamacare tax of $18 million if lawmakers go along with self insurance.


All 3 Wisconsinites eliminated from National Spelling Bee

WASHINGTON — All three Wisconsin youngsters have been eliminated from the National Spelling Bee.

Thirteen-year-old Martius Bautista of Janesville, 13-year-old Hanna Ghouse of Kenosha, and 12-year-old Kieran McKinney of West Salem were not among the 40 spellers who advanced to Thursday's finals. Kieran and Martius spelled both their words correctly in the verbal rounds, but they did not score high enough in Tuesday's written test to advance.

Hanna was eliminated in Wednesday's second round, when she got "McMansion" wrong. The third round of verbal spelling takes place Thursday morning — and the survivors will compete for the championship starting at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.


Milwaukee council OKs $2.3M for family of man killed by officer

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee officials have approved a $2.3 million settlement with the family of a mentally ill black man who was fatally shot in a 2014 confrontation with a white police officer.

The deal for the family of Dontre Hamilton still requires a signature from Mayor Tom Barrett. The Milwaukee Common Council gave its unanimous approval Wednesday for the settlement. Officer Christopher Manney was responding to a complaint of a man sleeping in a downtown Milwaukee park when he encountered Hamilton. Manney says Hamilton attacked him as he frisked him for weapons. The officer says he shot Hamilton in self-defense. Hamilton was shot 14 times. Manney was fired for violating department rules when he encountered Hamilton, not for the fatal shooting. Hamilton's family later sued the city over Dontre's death.


Republicans push constitutional convention measures forward

MADISON — Wisconsin is moving closer to becoming the next state to demand a convention to alter the U.S. Constitution.

An Assembly committee voted Wednesday to advance measures from GOP Sen. Chris Kapenga that would make Wisconsin the 30th of 34 states needed to force a convention. Supporters want to amend the country's guiding document to require a balanced federal budget.

Critics, including Democrats and a handful of spectators who held signs urging committee members to reject the proposals, say it's dangerous to open the Constitution up for editing. The committee also passed an amendment to let delegates remove those who take action outside of the convention's scope. The measures already passed a Senate committee.