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Congressmen will get paid while others don't; Crex controlled burn goes awry; more state news

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The people who brought taxpayers the U.S. government shutdown will continue to get paid while most federal employees will not.

Members of Congress are still drawing their $174,000 annual salaries -- but at least three Wisconsin lawmakers say they won't take the money.

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U.S. Senate Republican Ron Johnson and House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse both say they won't take paychecks during the shutdown. Wausau area House Republican Sean Duffy has asked the House chief administrative officer to withhold his pay -- something that may not be constitutional.

According to the Washington Post, the 27th Amendment says salaries of House and Senate members cannot be changed until after the next elections for their seats. There's also a permanent law that requires everyone that's not on annual appropriations to keep getting paid.

Congress is part of that exception, because their salaries only every change every two- to six years. Some lawmakers have said they'll donate their pay to charity during the shutdown.

Meanwhile, congressional staffers are not getting paid. Those found to be essential are staying around, and are expected to get retroactive pay after the shutdown is over. The rest are being sent home.

Absence of Farm Bill now takes backseat to larger shut-down The last package of federal farm programs expired Tuesday -- and the urgency to pass a new Farm Bill has taken a back seat to the government's partial shutdown.

For Wisconsin farmers, the impact could be staggered over the next few months. Some things are already cut off -- including the Milk Income Loss Contract program, which provides federal subsidies when milk production costs drop below certain levels.

Wisconsin's family farmers have been among the top users of that program. Pat Westhoff of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute says the end of the Farm Bill has cut off some smaller conservation and nutrition programs -- with possibly more to come. The impact could be felt at the grocery store, as some observers predict six-dollar milk by January.

Those who rely on the Farm Service Agency were out of luck Tuesday, when its offices closed due to the shutdown. That agency also provides data for commodity reports which are vital to farmers and processors. At least some reports may not been issued until the congressional deadlock ends.

As for the Farm Bill, Minnesota Congressman Colin Peterson says it might be the end of October before House and Senate negotiators are named to work out a final package.

Iowa Senate Republican Charles Grassley says there's a large gap between the two parties -- but he's still confident that a new Farm Bill could come by the end of the year.

-- Brownfield Ag News & Minnesota News Network

Barron County Turns Down Staffing Help For ACA, Pays Overtime For Implementation BARRON -- Barron County was the only county in Wisconsin to turn down federal and state funding for extra staff to register people for the Affordable Care Act.

With the state’s health insurance exchange's opening Tuesday, Barron County Administrator Jeff French says health department staff are rushing to keep up. “The staff is working overtime and picking up as much work as possible and they’re being paid for overtime for the work that they put in on the weekends.”

Ironically, that same money the county board turned down to add positions is now going towards overtime. Even with the extra funding French is worried they won’t be able to meet registration deadlines. “I don’t believe that they can get all the work done even with the overtime. The governor is projecting there’s about 1,880 uninsured people in Barron County that would be eligible to come through the exchanges.”

But County Board Supervisor Larry Leff, who voted against adding positions, isn’t sounding the alarm. He says Barron County is part of a consortium of counties so citizens can register elsewhere. As for the funding, he says it's temporary, meaning the county could be on the hook in the future. “What happens to the money after the three years are up? Are we going to be stuck finding the money out of our budget to continue paying for these positions? That was one of my major concerns.”

Barron County Health Services Director Judy Demers says she’ll ask for two extra staff in her latest budget proposal, but they won’t be available until 2014.

-- Wisconsin Public Radio

UW will operate its own high-speed internet upon leaving Wisc-Net MADISON -- The University of Wisconsin System says it will convert its data to a new high-speed computer network over the next 18 months.

As part of the new state budget, Republicans ordered the UW to pull away from its current broadband provider -- Wisc-Net -- by January. Wisc-Net provides high-speed Internet service to schools and other public institutions like libraries.

GOP lawmakers said the U-W was subsidizing the non-profit network improperly by providing employees and infra-structure. In a briefing Tuesday, university officials said the UW is no longer represented on the Wisc-Net board -- and its employees will stop working for the provider by January.

They're also asking legislators to extend their deadline until 2015 to stop using Wisc-Net altogether. That will give the System time to arrange its new high-speed network, which will be more expensive.

The UW says it will cost around $33 million to build and run the network over its first five years. That's about $13 million more than what it would cost to stay with Wisc-Net.

Lots of job-grant money still unaccounted for MADISON -- Wisconsin taxpayers are still being left in the dark about some of the money they're giving to private firms to help them create jobs.

As of last month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says one of every five companies failed to file reports on the numbers of jobs they've created. That leaves taxpayers uncertain about whether their investments are paying off in the form of higher tax revenues.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation said 79.5 percent of almost 1,500 companies getting job grants filed their required state reports on time. A year ago, 66-percent of around 16-hundred recipients filed their job data. Officials said the numbers of companies dropped because assistance that involves federal money is now handled by the Administration Department, since the WEDC is both a private and public agency.

Tom Thieding of the WEDC says all of the agency's current loans are now being tracked and when they're past due, they get referred for collections.

Thieding said the reporting will be much improved in a year from now, since the agency has become much more diligent.

Controlled burn gone-awry blackens 600 acres outside Crex Meadows GRANTSBURG -- Firefighters arrested the spread of what was supposed to be a controlled burn that got away in Burnett County, Tuesday afternoon.

The DNR wanted to blacken about 500 acres to restore wildlife habitat in the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area near Grantsburg, according to spokesman Kevin Harter, but the burn got away from firefighters and torched an additional 600 acres including grass, marsh, and upland forests that included jack pine.

No buildings were affected, and no injuries are reported. DNR fire crews got the fire under control with help from an air tanker from Minnesota. Crews worked through the night, and they expect Mother Nature to help extinguish any hot spots Wednesday evening when rain is due to arrive.

Officials said conditions were warm and dry on Tuesday afternoon. The DNR's Web site says the fire danger is only moderate in most of the northern half of Wisconsin, and it's low elsewhere in the state.

The fire is located about 80 miles southwest of this spring's major fire in Douglas County that burned over 7,000 acres and destroyed 17 homes.

Manitowoc boat-maker gets a big order MANITOWOC -- A classic, old-style luxury boat is about to made in Manitowoc.

The Burger Boat Company ( http://www.burgerboat.com/custom) has won a contract to build a 98-foot steel passenger vessel for Chicago's First Lady Cruises. It will be called the "Classic Lady" -- a sister ship to the "Leading Lady" that was made by Burger Boat two years ago.

Seacraft Design of Sturgeon Bay is designing the new boat. It will be styled after the luxury cruising yachts of the 1920's.

Once it's ready, the "Classic Lady" will be dedicated to the Chicago Architecture Foundation's River Cruise line. It will be used for upscale private parties, weddings, and corporate events.

-- Damon Ryan, WOMT, Manitowoc

Amherst man says insanity led him to cash relative's SS checks A Portage County man now claims he was insane when he allegedly helped cash a missing relative's Social Security checks for the last 30-plus years.

Charles Jost, 67, of Amherst pleaded innocent by insanity Tuesday, changing an earlier plea of innocent. A judge ordered that a psychiatrist examine Jost, and the status of the case will be reviewed Nov. 11th.

Jost is accused of conspiring with his sister Delores Disher and her husband Ronald to cash Marie Jost's Social Security checks, after she and her son Theodore vanished in the 1980's.

The checks totaled $175,000. Prosecutors believe the three defendants may have killed Marie and Theodore Jost, and buried their bodies on the family property. Bones were found on the site, but lab tests could not link them to the missing relatives.

Charles Jost was scheduled to go on trial later this month, but the insanity plea delays that. He's charged with four felonies including theft by fraud and forgery.

The 72-year-old Disher is now scheduled to go on trial Jan. 29th. Delores Disher was found to be unfit to stand trial this summer, after she suffered a stroke.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Cyber summit planned next week in Milwaukee MILWAUKEE -- A summit on cyber threats will be held a week from Friday at Marquette University in Milwaukee. The state's Homeland Security Council is hosting the event.

State and local government leaders will learn how they can protect their computers from cyber threats. The FBI will give its perspective on cyber criminals, and South Carolina officials will explain their response to a hacker who stole tax information from millions of residents and businesses.

Wisconsin's homeland security chief, Major General Don Dunbar, says the summit offers a chance to analyze the current environment in cyber-space -- and define the Badger State's role in responding to cyber emergencies.

As expected, glitches accompany Day 1 of exchange signups Shutdown or not, the White House warned there would be glitches on the first day that people could buy health insurance in the Obama-care exchanges.

In Wisconsin, many who tried signing up online yesterday were greeted with a message that "The system is down at the moment." Those signing up by phone had long waits. Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families said the glitches were disappointing, but not surprising for the first day. He hopes that it's not a sign of deeper problems with the system, and that the bugs will be worked out soon.

In Milwaukee, the Progressive Community Health Centers planned to help 27 people buy coverage online Tuesday. Two dozen others walked in for assistance -- and Sarah Bailey said the group could serve none of them.

The Milwaukee Health Department had 40 people come in to sign up. They couldn't get through online, either. In Madison, only a dozen people sought help at the county's Job Center in the first three hours Tuesday. They expected a lot more, as rows of computers sat empty. Marilyn Tavenner of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services insisted that people signed up for the health exchanges online yesterday -- but she couldn't say how many. Up to 700-thousand Wisconsinites who don't have private coverage through employers are required to get insurance by Dec. 15th through the federal government's exchange at http://www.Healthcare.gov.

Convict escapes from work detail EAGLE RIVER -- Authorities are looking for a convicted murderer who walked away from a work-detail Tuesday.

Todd Brecht, 54, is an inmate at the Camp McNaughton state prison in northern Wisconsin. Officials said he was part of a work crew on Highway 70 in Vilas County, when he left the site around noon.

Brecht is serving a life sentence for killing his brother-in-law in 1985, by shooting him in the back with a .22-caliber rifle during an argument.

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Steve Dzubay
Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer since 1995. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.
(715) 426-1054
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