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Cong. Sensenbrenner -Patriot Act author - says NSA surveillance goes too far; Assembly votes to uphold new laws in dispute, more state news

It was five years ago when images of Wisconsin Dells-area lake homes crumbling into a torrent of water flashed across American TV screens. YouTube image.

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Wisconsin House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner - who wrote the U.S.A. Patriot Act soon after 9-11 - said the secret surveillance of Americans' phone records goes way beyond what the law intended.

A British newspaper uncovered a court order this week that requires Verizon to turn over records of all landline and mobile calls made by its U.S. customers on a daily basis.

Investigators can look for calling patterns that hint of terrorism, and then seek court approval to wire-tap those numbers. House Intelligence Committee leaders say the effort helped thwart at least one terrorism attempt in the U.S., saving American lives.

Despite that, Sensenbrenner - of Menomonee Falls - says there's a consensus from both parties that the surveillance program is a serious over-reach of the Patriot Act, and a violation of privacy.

Former U.S. Senate Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who cast the only vote against the Patriot Act in 2001, said the new revelations are "deeply troubling." He hopes they trigger a new debate on protecting the country while protecting Americans' rights.

Also, the Washington Post says there's another program which lets the FBI and National Security Administration intercept computer photos, audio, video, e-mails, and other things that can track a person's movements and contacts.

Internet companies like Yahoo and Facebook insisted yesterday that it does directly provide the government with direct access to their records.

Dept. of Justice agent alleged to have sold guns illegally

SUPERIOR -- The former head of the state Justice Department's field office in Superior is under a federal investigation for allegedly selling guns without a license.

The Associated Press reports that Jay Smith has been under investigation for several months by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

The AP said fellow agent Dan Bethards of Superior told a justice official last December that Smith was making and selling .45-caliber pistols to three special state agents - and state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen had bought a similar weapon from Smith.

The AP report said Bethards and Smith have been at odds ever since Smith became the field-office leader two years ago.

Bethards, who's on medical leave, also reportedly said his boss sold an assault rifle to a Sawyer County investigators and he never had a firearms license.

Matthews told the AP he questioned the credibility of the allegations but still called the ATF a day later. The Justice Department said it didn't expect Smith to be charged in the matter.

In late May, the agency announced it was closing its Superior field office and Smith could still work in the area for another boss from Eau Claire.

Matthews denies that Bethards' allegations had anything to do with the Superior office closing.

Sunday marks 5 years since floods drained Lake Delton

LAKE DELTON -- It was five years ago Sunday when a highway crumbled, causing Lake Delton and three expensive lake homes to disappear down the Wisconsin River.

It was the symbol of an entire summer marred by heavy rains and floods throughout the southern half of Wisconsin. Those floods started on this date in 2008. The head of Wisconsin Emergency Management, Brian Satula, calls it one of the most devastating flooding events of recent years.

Three people were killed. Thousands of homes, farms, and businesses were damaged or destroyed.

It took months for Rock Springs in Sauk County to lose its flood waters. Wisconsin Dells tourism suffered mightily in 2008, as the mud which held Lake Delton became an eyesore.

Damages totaled $763 million. Federal disaster assistance eventually helped flood victims in 31 counties - including almost 24,000 homes.

The state helped refill Lake Delton, and it was ready for tourists the year after the tragedy.

Satula said the Floods of 2008 provided valuable lessons for authorities. Those lessons were put to good use in 2009, when Gays Mills along the Mississippi River was hit with a second straight year of massive floods.

Plans were made to move about half that Crawford County village to higher ground. State officials said 27 communities received over $28 million in aid to reduce future flood damages.

Assembly votes to keep state laws in place while facing court challenges

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Assembly voted Thursday to keep state laws in place while they're challenged in the courts.

Majority Republicans sent the measure to the Senate on a 57- to 39 vote. The bill's fate in the upper house is uncertain. Leaders say they won't take it up at least until this fall.

GOP lawmakers pushed for the change, after seeing some of their major legislation halted by Dane County circuit judges who struck them down in lawsuits. The 2011 photo I.D. law for voting was only used once before two judges threw it out - and an appeals court refused to put it back in effect while the state appeals the circuit court rulings.

Republicans say it's wrong for a judge in one county to stifle a law meant to be applied throughout Wisconsin.

Democrats say the proposal violates the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches.

A non-partisan legislative bureau says the change might be found unconstitutional if somebody challenges it. Madison lawyer Lester Pines said he would challenge the measure in court if it becomes law.

Former Lutheran bishop pleads innocent in runner's death

SUN PRAIRIE -- A former ELCA Lutheran bishop has pleaded innocent to killing a distance runner in Sun Prairie.

The pleas were entered for Rev. Bruce Burnside, 59, right after he was ordered to stand trial on four Dane County four charges that include drunken homicide and hit-and-run causing death.

Burnside also asked for a new judge to hear his future proceedings.

Prosecutors said Burnside was rushing to a Sun Prairie church on April 7th when he left a freeway exit, knocked down a lamp-post, struck and killed 52-year-old Maureen Mengelt, struck a car down the road, and eventually stopped in a gas station where he was arrested.

Authorities said his blood alcohol level was over 1.5 times the legal limit. Mengelt was training for a 20-mile Syttende Mai running race in Stoughton when she was killed.

Burnside was in the final three months of a term as the bishop for 110,000 ELCA Lutherans in south central Wisconsin. He stepped aside from the post, and went to a treatment facility.

Thieves trot off with Brewers' famous racing sausages

MILWAUKEE -- Sometimes, one or two people can ruin it for everybody - and that's the case with the Milwaukee Brewers' Famous Racing Sausages. Those characters will not appear at a host of celebrations in the Milwaukee area this summer, after a brother and sister stole the Italian sausage Guido from a fundraiser in Germantown in February.

The costumes' owner, Klements' sausage, does not have enough overtime to pay escorts which the company is now requiring.

Klements' spokeswoman Rebecca Quella tells the Journal Sentinel that the sausages have appeared at up to five events during summer weekends - but that's out now.

The Brewers own similar sausage costumes which are used in the actual Sausage Races during Milwaukee home games.

The team says it never lets those costumes out without a guard - and that was true before the February heist.

The thieves tried staying anonymous by returning the costume to a bar. They told USA Today they decided to return Guido because "We have morals."

They were later exposed by the tipsters in social media, and were penalized several hundred dollars.

UW Regents, stung by funding cutbacks, seek authority to grant pay raises

MADISON -- The University of Wisconsin system - stung by recent cutbacks in state funding - could ask state officials to at least give university employees the same pay raises that other state workers get.

The Board of Regents was to consider making the request Friday, when it continues its two-day meeting in Milwaukee.

The measure also seeks permission to let the UW have the flexibility to grant further pay hikes using its own resources. The Regents' finance committee endorsed the proposal Thursday.

It was pointed out that UW employees have not had across-the-board pay hikes since 2008, due to furloughs during the Doyle years and the Walker union law that forced all state workers to pay more for their health insurance and retirement.

UW officials say faculty salaries are now 18 percent less than those at other similar schools - thus raising new concerns that Wisconsin's best-and-brightest professors will leave for more money.

On Thursday, Regents were told the UW will lose a net of $202 million from the cutbacks ordered by lawmakers after they discovered that the university was sitting on millions in reserves.

Some Regents said the university's finances should be more transparent. But Regent Jose Vasquez accused the Legislature of micro-managing the university, and said the Regents were becoming merely ambassadors instead of a policy-setting body.

Taxpayers would invest $25 million to jump-start new business

MADISON -- Wisconsin taxpayers would invest $25 million to help new businesses get started, under a bill passed 91- to 2 Thursday by the state Assembly.

Milwaukee Democrat Dan Riemer and Delafield Republican Chris Kapenga were the only ones to vote no, despite concerns from Democrats that none of the funds would go to medical bio-tech firms.

The bill provides $75 million dollars in venture capital, with two-thirds coming from private sources.

The money would help new firms create jobs in agriculture, information technology, advanced manufacturing, and engineering.

Companies that make medical devices could also get start-up funds. However, majority Republicans left out bio-tech firms. That would include the type of embryonic stem cell studies at UW Madison that many in the GOP have long opposed.

An effort by Democrats to allow all types of firms to get venture capital failed on a 57- to 37 vote.

New Berlin Republican Mike Kuglitsch said the state's venture capital will focus on areas with the most job growth, the most business start-ups, and the fastest-and-best return on investment. He said bio-tech firms require more money, and take longer to develop the types of treatment research that add jobs. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Bill passes giving landlords more clout

MADISON -- A bill that gives landlords more power over their tenants has been approved by majority Assembly Republicans.

Majority Republicans sent the measure to the Senate on a 57-37 party-line vote, as all Democrats who were present voted no.

The bill's main sponsor, Saukville Republican Duey Strobel, said it would ease burdensome requirements for landlords - and it would hold tenants more responsible for damages.

Landlords could dispose of almost anything tenants leave behind without advance notice.

Building owners could also evict tenants if crimes occur in their units, regardless of whether the tenants could have prevented them.

Victims of sexual assault, stalking, and domestic abuse could not be evicted. Democrats said the bill tramples on consumer rights. Other critics, including some in law enforcement, fear violent confrontations between tenants and the landlords who try to toss them out.

Special prosecutor named in case that killed Stanley dentist last week

CHIPPEWA FALLS -- A special prosecutor will consider possible charges against a 27-year-old woman suspected of killing a dentist in a car-bicycle crash last weekend.

Krista Holler of Cadott is free after a posting a $5,000 bond ordered at a hearing Thursday in Chippewa County Circuit Court.

District attorney Steve Gibbs said a prosecutor is being brought in from another county to avoid any conflict, because Holler has a relative in law enforcement.

The special prosecutor is expected to review the case and decide on possible charges before her next scheduled court hearing on July 16th. Holler turned herself in to authorities Thursday.

Sheriff's officials allege she went to a tavern and then a campsite before her vehicle struck bicyclist Dr. Robert Tschabrun around 5 a.m. last Saturday. Tschabrun, 70, had operated a dental practice in Stanley for the past 30 years. Co-workers said he always wore reflective clothing and other safety gear while biking. Media reports said a flashing light on his jacket was still blinking when authorities arrived at the crash scene.

Investigators said the woman called a friend to pick her up after the crash, and she did not alert authorities to the mishap. A passer-by later saw the victim's body in a ditch, with an abandoned car close by.

Holler was booked on possible charges of negligent homicide and causing death while driving with a suspended license. An investigation continues.

Two killed, three hurt in Dodge County crash

MAYVILLE -- Two people were killed and three others were injured when four vehicles collided in Dodge County on Thursday.

The accident happened just before 4 p.m. south of Mayville on Highway 33 in the town of Herman.

Sheriff's deputies said one of the vehicles was passing another just before the crash occurred. Investigators are still trying to determine how each unit got involved. A man who drove a pick-up truck was killed, along with a woman in a sport utility vehicle.

Officials said another woman and a boy toddler were in critical condition at last word. A man in the vehicle was also hurt, but the extent was not immediately known.

Drivers of the other two units - a semi-truck and a car - were not hurt. All four people in the SUV were ejected.

Names and ages of the victims were not immediately released. An investigation continues.

Pedestrian killed along I-94 near Kenosha

Interstate-94 southbound through Kenosha County was closed for a time overnight Thursday after a pedestrian was struck in a construction zone on the freeway.

Authorities said the pedestrian was hit around 3 a.m. on the southbound Interstate near the Highway 142 exit.

All southbound lanes were closed for clean-up and investigation. Officials re-opened the highway just before 6 a.m. as the morning rush hour was getting started.