Measure to require more job efforts from food stamp recipients advances; fallen FBI agent with Wisconsin link remembered; more state news
MADISON -- About 63,000 Wisconsinites would have to get work or job training to keep their food stamp benefits under a state budget measure endorsed Tuesday.
The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted 12-to-4, with all Democrats voting no, to make childless adults either work 20 hours a week or get job training, in order to keep their Food-Share assistance.
Assembly Democrat Cory Mason of Racine called it a "mean-spirited" attack on the poor.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that about 31,000 recipients would drop out of the Food-Share program. Mason says the state is "taking away (their) food."
Other Democrats said it would cost the state about $72 million in lost federal Food-Share aid - and the state would spend $36 million more during the next two years to monitor recipients and start job-training programs.
GOP finance co-chair John Nygren says the extra costs are worth it to encourage recipients to find work. Other Republicans said it would bring Wisconsin in line with federal work requirements for food programs.
Also Tuesday, Joint Finance Committee members reshaped a policy proposed by Gov. Scott Walker to allow Wisconsin lawmakers to approve any sale of state-owned property.
On a 12-to-4 vote, Republicans modified Walker's proposal to let him sell state buildings, heating plants, and highway property to help reduce the state's debt.
The panel agreed to prohibit selling any state facility in which at least half the cost was donated or federally-funded. That was meant to address concerns from the UW System, which feared that donors for future buildings would disappear because there's a chance their gifts could be sold off someday.
UW Madison Foundation leader Michael Knetter said the new measure would create an uncertainty that's "the enemy of investment."
The UW says only four buildings at Madison would be banned from a future sale - the Health Sciences Learning Center, the schools of nursing and pharmacy, and a bio-tech addition. Competitive bids would not have to be sought.
Some Democrats said that even the State Capitol could be peddled, to which GOP co-chair Alberta Darling replied, "Let's get real."
Officials say their first sales will be for highway right-of-way land that the state doesn't need anymore.
'Skyward' plea for reconsideration doesn't get Joint Finance attention
MADISON -- The committee that's revamping the proposed state budget did not consider a request yesterday that's aimed at helping Skyward of Stevens Point. The measure is expected to resurface next week.
Assembly Republican Scott Krug of Wisconsin Rapids wants the Joint Finance panel to drop funding to have a single company provide a new statewide student database for Wisconsin's public-and-charter schools.
Both Skyward and Infinite Campus of Minnesota current provide databases for local schools - and the budget measure could pave the way for both firms to have a slice of the statewide system.
Infinite Campus beat out Skyward for the state contract, but Skyward said the process was flawed and it's asking the Walker administration to drop the award. Krug believes there's enough support among lawmakers to de-fund the single vendor contract, and let more than one firm have it.
Separate bills have also been proposed to help Skyward - which says it would have to leave Wisconsin if it doesn't win at least a share of a state contract.
-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau
Who's watching you? Limits on drone-use is Wednesday hearing topic
MADISON -- A public hearing was to be held Wednesday on a bill to prohibit Wisconsin police officers from using drones to spy on you without good cause.
Lawmakers from both parties have supported a bill authored by Assembly Republican Tyler August of Lake Geneva.
It would require law enforcement to get warrants before using unmanned aircraft with video and audio equipment to gather evidence in criminal investigations.
Drones could be used for other legitimate purposes, like rescue operations and manhunts. They could also be used in public areas, where people don't expect to have much privacy.
A number of communities and states have either passed limits on drones - or they're in the process of doing so.
Frac-sand interests have given candidates $758,000 since 2007
MADISON -- As frac-sand mining grew in Wisconsin, so did the money the industry gave to state political candidates.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign found that the sand mining and natural gas industries gave $758,000 since 2007. That's way up from just $19,000 in 2007 when only a handful of frac-sand mines were operating in the Badger State.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker got the most, with $520,000.
Last year, about 100 mines were operating - and the frac-sand and natural gas industries donated $413,000 to state candidates.
The DNR has struggled to keep up with the growth in frac-sand mines, which provide ultra-smooth sand used in drilling equipment for oil and gas.
Gov. Scott Walker proposed two additional frac-sand mining inspectors in the new state budget. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee endorsed that request Tuesday.
Oklahoma tornado's strength rivaled twister that leveled New Richmond in 1899
Wisconsin has only recorded six tornadoes as strong as the one that hit suburban Oklahoma City on Monday.
There's now a revised total of 24 deaths and 200 injuries in what was classified as an "E-F-5" tornado - the worst on a five-point scale.
The National Weather Service says the Badger State has only had a half-dozen storms of "E-F-5" strength.
The latest was in Oakfield in Fond du Lac County in 1996, when 12 people were hurt and $40 million in damage was reported.
The tornado that nearly destroyed Barneveld in 1984 was also an "EF-5."
Others were in St. Croix and Dunn counties in 1958 - the New Richmond area in 1899 - a stretch from Eau Claire to Antigo in 1898 - and the Darlington area in 1893.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Red Cross chapter was expecting to get a call Tuesday to send trained responders to help Oklahoma tornado victims. Wisconsin electric utilities could also provide assistance, after they helped turn the lights back on after Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast last fall.
An official of the Wisconsin Public Service utility says it's too early to get a request for aid yet. The Red Cross is taking donations from those interested in helping.
Consumer officials are already warning folks to watch for possible scams. The Better Business Bureau says you should be cautious when giving online - especially those who send you unsolicited messages.
If somebody calls, the BBB says donors should ask if the groups are providing direct aid, or just helping somebody else.
Man accused of cashing dead relative's SS checks for 33 years remains jailed
PORTAGE -- One of three central Wisconsin residents accused of cashing a relative's Social Security checks since the 1980's failed to get his bond reduced Tuesday.
A Portage County judge rejected a request by Ronald Disher, 72, of Almond to reduce his $1,000 bond so he could get out of jail.
Disher also asked for permission to see his 70-year-old wife Delores in a hospital, and to attend her funeral if she doesn't recover. The judge said the latter request would be a possibility.
Delores is also charged in the Social Security benefit theft, along with her brother Charles Jost. All three are accused of hiding the death of Marie Jost, who disappeared in 1980, and cashing Marie's benefit checks that never stopped coming. Their charges include forgery and mail fraud.
Delores Disher is scheduled to appear in court July first, when a judge could decide if she's mentally competent to stand trial. Disher's husband will have the status of his case reviewed the week of Oct. 21st. Jost has a trial scheduled for that same week.
Meanwhile, authorities are waiting for test results from a Texas lab, to see if bone fragments found on the Jost family property are those of Marie. She'd be 101 if she was still alive.
-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau
Minocqua youngster competing in National Geographic Bee
WASHINGTON D.C. -- A seventh-grader from Minocqua is one of 10 youngsters competing today in the finals of the National Geographic Bee in Washington.
Asha Jain, 13, is the younger sister of Vansh Jain, who finished second in the national bee a year ago. Asha was among 54 state winners who competed in a preliminary round on Monday.
"Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek will ask the 10 finalists about landmarks, climates, cultures, and history.
The winner will get a $25,000 college scholarship, a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.
Wednesday morning's competition will be televised Thursday evening on the National Geographic Channel.
Ministry Health layoffs blamed on federal sequester
It's been almost three months since the automatic federal spending cuts took effect - and government jobs are not the only ones being dropped anymore.
Ministry Health Care said Tuesday that it would cut about 225- to 250 full-time equivalent employees at its 15 hospitals and 47 clinics in Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota.
The company said the federal sequester reduced its Medicare revenues by $10 million and as deductibles rise for health insurance, people are making fewer visits to doctors and out-patient facilities.
Spokesman Geoffrey Huys said Ministry hopes to achieve the employment cuts through resignations as well as layoffs. He said the process is in the beginning stages, and he could not say what types of jobs would be cut or when they would take effect.
Steve Brenton of the Wisconsin Hospital Association says the federal sequester has dropped Medicare payments by two-percent - and the total reduction is about $100 million at hospitals statewide.
Despite spending cuts, schools still received more money per student than last year
MADISON -- Despite the uproar over massive spending cuts, Wisconsin public schools still received more money per student in 2011 than the previous year - and the Badger State was still in the top-third of all states in per-pupil spending.
The U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday that Wisconsin taxpayers spent $11,774 per student in 2011. That's 3.6 percent more than the previous year, while school spending nationally dropped a half-percent to $10,560 per student.
Wisconsin had the 16th highest school spending among the 50 states and Washington D.C.
Wisconsin's increase came in spite of Gov. Scott Walker's first budget, which cut $834 million in state school aid while putting new limits on what schools could get from property taxes.
Dale Knapp of the state's Taxpayers Alliance said the numbers show that other states had already cut school spending, and Wisconsin was "a bit late to the party."
Milwaukee school officials say the Census numbers are artificially high. They believe the figures include tax money for low-income kids in private schools under the state's voucher program.
Fallen FBI agent got career start in Milwaukee
QUANTICO, VA -- A private FBI ceremony was held Tuesday to honor two agents who died in a helicopter training flight - one of whom started his career in Wisconsin.
Christopher Lorek, 41, had his first FBI field assignment in Milwaukee in 1998.
He and agent Stephen Shaw, 40, fell to their deaths last Friday, when their chopper ran into trouble during a maritime counter-terrorism exercise off the coast at Virginia Beach.
They were about to go down a rope onto a ship when they fell and died. Lorek and Shaw were both members of the FBI's elite hostage rescue team - which recently saved a boy from a kidnapper in an underground bunker in Alabama.
FBI Director Robert Mueller praised the two agents at Tuesday's ceremony. He said both displayed "true and unerring valor."
The service took place at the Marine Corps' Memorial Chapel in Quantico Virginia.