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River Falls' Zimmerman seeks crackdown on distracted driving; 9 more state news stories

Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, is one of several lawmakers seeking to enhance penalties for distracted driving in Wisconsin. File photo

MADISON — A River Falls lawmaker is among three Republicans seeking a bigger and more modern crackdown on distracted driving.

Reps. Shannon Zimmerman of River Falls and Ron Tusler of Harrison, along with Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine, unveiled a bill Thursday to increase the maximum fine for texting while driving from $100 to $400 — and to expand the current texting and emailing cellphone ban to include reading and posting on social media, surfing the Internet, and future cell activities that nobody has thought of yet.

Also, the bill's sponsors want an automatic felony of negligent homicide for those who kill people while on their hand held cellphones. They point to 121 deaths last year from distracted driving, and the DOT says it also causes 11,000 injuries each year.


Judge says he'll likely order big changes at Lincoln Hills

MADISON — A federal judge says he agrees that the Lincoln Hills state juvenile institution for boys is a "troubled" facility.

But James Peterson says he's not sure if he'll totally ban the use of pepper spray, restraints, and solitary confinement when he makes a ruling that's expected Friday. He held a daylong hearing Thursday in Madison on a lawsuit by the ACLU on behalf of teen inmates at the Lincoln County site who said they were pepper sprayed numerous times.

Prison officials say they've reduced pepper spraying — and security director Brian Gustke said he wanted to reduce solitary confinement time but the facility is short on staff which leads to confusion. The judge says it appears that Lincoln Hills is run like an adult prison with a lack of programs and mental health care for teens — but he did not believe the state deliberately treated them with indifference.


Heavy rains pounds southern Wis., more expected

Folks in the southern half of Wisconsin will not have much time to dry out before another round of heavy rains move in.

The National Weather Service expects more heavy rains Friday evening, after parts of southern Wisconsin got more than 3 inches of rainfall on Thursday. Reedsburg and LaValle in Sauk County each reported 3 inches in the 24 hours ending at 5 a.m. — and Jefferson had more than 2 inches, while parts of the Milwaukee and Madison areas had close to 2 inches. Rain is in the forecast through the weekend in various parts of Wisconsin — and flood warnings continue on the Wolf River at Shiocton and the Trempealeau River at Dodge, with minor flooding expected into next week. Flood advisories are still in effect on the Wisconsin River around Wausau.


State, federal trial dates set for Jakubowski

Trial dates have been set in both the state and federal court cases against Joseph Jakubowski — the Janesville man who reportedly stole guns, threatened schools, and wrong a long anti Trump manifesto.

A lawyer told a Rock County judge Thursday he expected a plea deal on state charges of theft, burglary, and possessing tools for burglary — but it has not been resolved, so a trial date of October 23rd was set in that case. Jakubowski also has two day trial set for Sept. 25 in federal district court in Madison. Jakubowski was arrested in Vernon County in April after a 10 day search — and officials say he stole 18 weapons in the break in at Armageddon Supply in Janesville.


Indiana man gets virtual death sentence for killing Portage woman

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — A 41-year-old Indiana man has been sentenced to prison for the rest of his life for killing a woman from southern Wisconsin.

Franklin Dent of Fort Wayne was given a 65 year term Thursday for murder, two years for moving the victim's body, and 20 years for being a habitual offender — and if he serves all that time, he's certain to die behind bars. Prosecutors say Dent met Jessica Fecht at a concert in Fort Wayne in 2014, and she moved in with him shortly before her body was found buried in the basement of the house in February of 2015. Dent's lawyer says his client plans to appeal, saying he maintains his innocence.


Johnson among 4 GOP senators opposing quick health vote

WASHINGTON — Wisconsin's Ron Johnson is one of four U.S. Senate Republicans who oppose a quick vote on the Obamacare replacement bill.

Johnson and Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee say they're "open to negotiation and obtaining more information" before it goes to the floor. But the GOP can only have two no votes and still approve the package — so it's possible it could be delayed beyond the July Fourth recess, despite Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's effort to get a vote before then.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson

Johnson has said the Obamacare markets need to be stabilized first — and on MSNBC Thursday, Johnson defended key parts of the bill, including the ending of expanded Medicaid benefits that Obamacare provided. Wisconsin's other senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, called the package heartless and said it would make families pay more to get less.


State to consider appealing latest decision favoring Dassey

MADISON — The state Justice Department is considering its next move, after a federal appeals court agreed that Brendan Dassey's murder conviction should be overturned.

A three judge panel ruled 2-1 Thursday that U.S. Magistrate William Duffin was correct last summer when he threw out Dassey's conviction for the shooting, rape, and burning of Teresa Halbach in 2005 at an auto salvage yard in Manitowoc County owned by the family of Steven Avery — who's also appealing his conviction after it was questioned in the Netflix series "Making a Murderer."

Duffin said Dassey, who was 16 at the time, was coerced into confessing to officers who made false promises to him. A spokesman says the state is considering whether to appeal Thursday's ruling to either the full appellate court in Chicago or the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, Dassey remains in prison.


State justices let 4 golf pros sue city

MADISON — The State Supreme Court is letting four club pros at city-owned golf courses in Madison proceed with a lawsuit alleging they were fired unfairly.

On a 5-2 vote Thursday, the court reversed an appellate court ruling which threw out legal claims from former club pros Tom Benson, Mark Rechlicz, Bill Scheer, and Rob Muranyi. The city decided to replace them in 2012 with a single club pro, some assistants and concession workers.

Justice Annette Ziegler says the city cannot claim government immunity in this case, so the golf pros can pursue allegations of unfair business practices. But Madison City Attorney Michael May tells the Wisconsin State Journal that it's the first time any court applied a law which was meant only for private business dealings. He says the ruling will affect every local government in the state.


Former nuke plant removes all its fuel

KEWAUNEE — The last owner of the former Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant has taken a big step toward its federally required decommissioning.

Dominion Energy says all of the plant's nuclear fuel has been removed from the site, and was taken to a storage location for dry fuel. The first fuel was removed from Kewaunee at the beginning of this year. Dominion closed the Kewaunee plant in May of 2013, saying it was no longer prudent to operate as natural gas became a cheaper alternative for utilities to produce electricity.

The plant had more than 600 employees when it shut down, and about 140 of them stayed on to help with the decommissioning, which Dominion has 60 years to complete. About 90 employees will be released during the next nine months, leaving about 50 still on the job.


Brewers' Shaw has tough balancing act with hospitalized baby

MILWAUKEE — Hitting a 90 mph fastball is duck soup compared to what Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw is going through right now.

He's been spending his mornings and nights at Children's Hospital with his wife Lindy and their new daughter Ryann — who was born with a congenital heart defect earlier this month. She's had multiple open heart surgeries, and she's now making slow but steady progress. The family got into a hospital routine until Shaw boarded an airplane for Atlanta late Thursday afternoon — and he'll have an even heavier heart when his Brewers play the Braves this weekend.

Manager Craig Counsell says Shaw has been a "rock" for his team, ever since he was traded from Boston in the offseason — and the ballpark has been an easy place for him to be, doing his job well as evidenced by his three hits and three runs batted in during a 4-2 home win on Thursday against Pittsburgh.