Cold snap unlikely to prompt waiver of DPI's 180-day rule; fines ordered in mining run-off that soiled the St. Croix; more state news
MADISON -- State law requires public schools to be in session for 180 days a year but some school officials say the mandate should be waived due to Wisconsin's coldest weather since 1996.
State officials say there's almost no chance of that happening. Most Wisconsin schools closed for a second straight day on Tuesday and at least some have used up their allotments of "snow days" they budget each year. It means they'll have to add at least one day to end of their school years in June.
Menomonee Falls Superintendent Pat Greco says it's one thing to plan for snow each winter, but the historic cold justifies an exception to the 180-day class requirement. She said there's at least some interest among superintendents in southeast Wisconsin to ask for a two-day waiver.
But John Johnson of the Department of Public Instruction says schools have faced these types of problems a number of times before and it's no different this time.
It was no problem until about 15 years ago, when schools were forced to wait until after Labor Day to open their fall classes so tourist businesses could keep their teenage workers. That stretched the end of the school year from before Memorial Day to as late as mid-June.
It's supposed to be a few degrees warmer Wednesday -- and many school officials say they'll re-open then.
Meanwhile, almost a-thousand Wisconsin electric customers were without power overnight Monday as the cold snap continued.
We Energies said over 730 customers in Jefferson and Waukesha counties had no electricity at 4 a.m. Most of the outages were near Dousman.
Wisconsin Public Service said 220 customers were out at Sister Bay in Door County, where it's more than 10 degrees colder than it was early Monday.
Madison Gas-and-Electric restored power to all its customers, after 900 in the Monona area were in the dark last evening. Wisconsin Emergency Management had scattered reports of broken water pipes and mains, but spokesman Tod Pritchard said it was generally "so far, so good."
Wisconsin airline passengers are facing numerous delays and cancellations, due mainly to nasty weather in other parts of the country. Early Tuesday temperatures ranged from 12-below at Prairie du Chien to 25-below at Hayward, Rhinelander, Phillips, and Ladysmith. Wind-chills are in the minus-30's-and-40's.
Finalists for U-W System leadership vow work better with lawmakers
MADISON -- All three finalists for the next U-W president vowed to heal the university's strained relationship with lawmakers who provide funding.
State lawmakers slashed funds and imposed tuition freezes last spring, after learning that U-W campuses hid millions in surpluses while raising tuition by maximum limits each year. Soon after that, Kevin Reilly announced his resignation. Reilly stepped down on New Year's Eve. On Monday, the three finalists for Reilly's successor held statewide teleconferences to explain their plans. The Board of Regents expects to pick one of those finalists on Thursday.
U-W Extension & Colleges chancellor Ray Cross said the system must re-establish credibility with all levels of government. He vowed to hold listening sessions within the first 100 days and be "overtly transparent."
Kentucky Post-Secondary Education president Robert King said he knows how legislators think, because he used to be one in New York. He said the public's respect for higher education has eroded, due in part to the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State. King said lawmakers throughout the country responded by cutting funds.
Pennsylvania higher education vice-chancellor Peter Garland said he would need time to learn the U-W's inner workings before going to lawmakers. He said all key leaders in the system would be part of the conversation. Garland also expressed concerns about rising tuition and student debt and he vowed to find a more efficient system for giving out financial aid.
Settlement reached in mining run-off violation near Grantsburg
For the third time in a month, the state Justice Department has reached a settlement in a case against a frac-sand mining operation.
The attorney general's office said Monday that the Tiller Corporation and Interstate Energy Partners agreed to pay $80,000. That was after sediments from a mine near Grantsburg in Burnett County got into a wetland and a creek, and eventually flowed into the St. Croix River. Somebody complained about the spill in late April of 2012. Both companies are from the Twin Cities area.
Last month, settlements were also reached for alleged pollution violations against frac-sand operations in Marshfield and Blair.
About 115 frac-sand mines have cropped up in Wisconsin in recent years, providing fine sand for domestic oil-drilling processes.
Supporters say the mines help the U.S. reduce its dependence on foreign oil, but opponents cite numerous pollution concerns -- and they previously accused the state of being slow to prosecute violators.
The DNR has referred six frac-sand pollution cases to the Justice Department for prosecution. Three of those referrals came since last August.
As of last summer, 19 companies received pollution violation notices from the DNR.
Proposed sales tax holidays to get public hearing
MADISON -- Sales tax holidays for Wisconsin shoppers were to be discussed at the State Capitol Tuesday.
The Assembly's Small Business Development panel will take testimony at 1 p.m. on a Republican plan to not charge sales taxes on two weekends in August and November.
Under the measure, consumers would get a sales tax break for a weekend in August on various back-to-school items. They include school supplies and clothing -- plus certain instructional materials and computer equipment.
The second tax holiday would be held in November for energy-efficient appliances carrying the Energy-Star labels. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos supports the measure, even though it might die in the Senate.
GOP Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald says some of his members view it as a "gimmick."
Conservative Senator seeking vote on two anti-abortion bills
MADISON -- One of Wisconsin's most conservative senators is pushing to get votes on two anti-abortion bills that Senate leaders are holding up.
West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman said Monday that some of his GOP colleagues are afraid of media criticism for focusing on social issues. He said all of them would vote for the pro-life bills if they had the chance.
Last week, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the votes are not there to pass bills to ban public workers' insurance policies from covering abortions -- let religious groups not have to insure contraceptives for their employees and ban abortions based solely on the babies' genders.
The Assembly approved those measures late last year.
Senate Democrat Jon Erpenbach of Middleton had predicted "all out hell" if his chamber was to take up those bills.
Fitzgerald and his spokesman say Republicans want to avoid passing measures that will just get tied up in the courts. They'll wait to act on the pending measures until the federal courts are finished with a held-up law to make abortion doctors get hospital admitting privileges.
Grothman agrees there might not be enough support right now for bills that would die if the Senate doesn't act on them by early April. Grothman's not up for re-election until 2016 but 10 of his G-O-P colleagues are up this fall -- including Fitzgerald and Senate President Mike Ellis.
Assembly veteran announces bid for mayorship as local filing deadline nears
NEENAH -- A 21-year veteran of the Wisconsin Assembly will try to become the next mayor of Neenah.
Dean Kaufert says he'll run against incumbent George Scherck in a non-partisan election in April. Scherck has been Neenah's mayor for 12 years, and he wants another four-year term because he has more he wants to accomplish.
Kaufert says he has long wanted to lead the city he grew up in -- and he wants to see Neenah's residents and businesses succeed.
Kaufert and Scherck have long worked together on issues affecting Neenah at both the state and local levels. Both have been friends for a quarter-century, and Kaufert expects a rare positive campaign that gives voters a chance to pick between two quality people.
Kaufert will not have to give up his Assembly seat if he loses -- and he says he'll run again this fall if that happens. Tuesday is the deadline for local government and school board candidates to file nomination papers for the Wisconsin spring elections. However, school and government clerk's offices which are closed today due to the cold will have their deadlines pushed back until 5 p.m. Wednesday.
New report predicts 25 years, $18 billion to block carp
A new report says it would take up to 25 years and $18 billion to create a permanent solution to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
The Army Corps of Engineers gave Congress eight options Monday without recommending any of them.
Two proposals would create dams in Chicago's waterway system, to close the connection between the carp-infested Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.
Wisconsin and four other states unsuccessfully asked the courts to break off the connection, which Chicago officials say would cut off commercial activity to their region.
The Corps' other options include more and larger electronic barriers, and a new type of navigational lock that treats water to remove floating fish while still letting vessels through.
The Corps reviewed the options since 2009. The study would have continued until 2015, had Congress not demanded that the review be done faster. U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow and Congressman Dave Camp, both of Michigan, said the Corps should have picked one option and examined it more thoroughly.
The Corps said it did what Congress ordered -- and they stand ready to work on whatever solution comes out of Washington. The Corps plans a series of public hearings on its conclusions.
One hearing will take place from 4-7 p.m., Monday at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
Third body recovered from Winona SUV crash
WINONA, Minn. -- A third body was found Monday in the Mississippi River, close to where a sport utility vehicle drove into the water early Sunday on the Minnesota side near Winona.
Rescuers found two people in the vehicle when it was pulled out around midday Sunday. A robotic device was later brought in to find two other missing men who were said to be in the SUV. Blake Overland, 28, of Stewartville, Minn. was found early Monday afternoon.
Andrew Kingsbury, 29, of St. Charles, Minn. was still missing at last word.
The bodies of Christina Hauser, 36, and Matthew Erickson, 30, were found Sunday in the vehicle.
Relatives said the three men were all friends ever since they went to Lanesboro High School in Minnesota. Hauser was an administrative assistant at a Winona hospice and home care program.
Teen faces charges in car theft, chase that ended in the UP
IRON MOUNTAIN, Mich. -- A 15-year-old Wisconsin boy is facing charges for allegedly stealing a car, speeding into Upper Michigan, hitting a trooper's vehicle, and then rolling over.
It happened Monday morning.
The Iron Mountain Daily News in the Upper Peninsula said it was uncertain where the chase began. The newspaper reported the teen was driving a vehicle that may have been stolen in the Appleton area.
Officers picked up the chase in Niagara in Florence County before the driver crossed into Michigan. Officials said the chase went through downtown Iron Mountain before the teen hit a Michigan State Police vehicle near the city, and rolled over a short time later.
The teen and two troopers were treated at a hospital for minor injuries, and were later released. The boy is being held pending possible charges.
Hixton man claims insanity led him to kill his father
BLACK RIVER FALLS -- A west-central Wisconsin man now claims he was insane when he allegedly killed his father and buried him outside the home where they lived.
Lars Helgeson, 20, of Hixton pleaded innocent by insanity Monday to three Jackson County charges of first-degree intentional homicide, hiding a corpse, and vehicle theft.
Helgeson is accused of shooting and burying his 57-year-old father Brian in mid-September.
The defendant reportedly told authorities that his father abused him physically and emotionally, and he killed his dad because he was "just sick of all of it."
Sheriff's officials were not made aware of the slaying until up to six days after it happened. Officials said a tip led them to a stolen vehicle near the Helgeson house -- and they reportedly saw Lars run away as the deputies approached. He was later taken into custody without incident.
His lawyer has asked for a new judge, who is expected to order a mental evaluation for Helgeson.
Mental exam ordered for Fall Creek man accused of abusing his mother
EAU CLAIRE -- A judge has ordered a mental competency exam for an Eau Claire County man accused of burning his elderly mother while he had the power-of-attorney for her medical care.
Kurt Krenz, 49, of Fall Creek failed to make a televised court appearance from his jail cell Monday so Circuit Judge Paul Lenz set bond at $1,000 and ordered an exam to see if he's competent to help with his defense. A hearing is set for Feb. 12th.
Krenz is charged with a felony count of subjecting a person at-risk to possible abuse.
Prosecutors said Krenz burned his 85-year-old mother twice in November and December, while she was dealing with a number of medical problems that included diabetes and a stroke. Krenz reportedly told authorities he warmed his mother's feet for too long, using a hair dryer and an extremely hot water bottle.
The woman, who cannot speak, was taken into protective custody late last week.