Obama's Waukesha remarks to focus on job training; beer truck robber shot and killed; more state news
MILWAUKEE -- Gov. Scott Walker and his main election challenger were both in contact with President Obama before his speech in Wisconsin Thursday. Neither the Republican Walker nor Democrat Mary Burke was planning to be on hand when Obama speaks about job training and his economic agenda at a General Electric plant in Waukesha.
The governor said he had to chair a meeting of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Board in Madison Thursday. Burke said she had campaign stops scheduled in northwest Wisconsin. She spoke to Obama by phone Wednesday on how to speed up the state's job creation rate.
The Republican Walker was planning to greet the Democrat Obama upon his arrival in Milwaukee Thursday morning. Walker said he wanted to reinforce points he made in a letter to the president Wednesday, dealing with the acute shortage of propane fuel.
The governor asked the president to waive limits on how many hours propane drivers can be on the road -- monitor for price-gouging -- and speed up releases of federal fuel assistance for the poor.
Republicans tried to make political hay of Burke's situation, accusing her of hiding from a president with falling popularity. State Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate said he's certain that Burke will be happy to campaign with Obama before the November election.
Obama is expected to discuss job training Thursday morning at GE, where about 700 people make natural gas engines. Job training is a priority among both parties in state government. A White House official says Obama will talk about the executive orders he plans to impose to reform federal job training programs. He's also expected to highlight other parts of his State of the Union speech from Tuesday which caused friction between the parties -- especially his desire to boost the minimum wage, and to be more forceful about sidestepping Congress and use executive orders to boost his agenda when he believes it's necessary.
Obama is visiting Wisconsin at a time when his approval ratings have slipped to their lowest levels in two years.
A Marquette Law School poll this week said 44 percent of Wisconsin voters approved of the job the president's doing -- down from 49 percent last October.
Wisconsin delegation splits on proposed Farm Bill
WASHINGTON D.C. -- The U.S. Senate is expected to vote in the next week on the five-year Farm Bill that the House approved Wednesday.
Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow says her chamber has passed the legislation twice with "overwhelming" bi-partisan support -- and she expects the same again. The Wisconsin House delegation voted four- to four on the five-year, $100 billion annual package of farm programs.
The state's three Democrats and Menomonee Falls Republican Jim Sensenbrenner voted no -- in part because the level of food-stamp spending was not to their liking. Some Republicans said the one percent cut in food aid was too little, while many Democrats said it was too much.
Wisconsin dairy farmers are already trying to figure out how the new margin insurance program would work. It's expected to replace the current dairy price support system.
Karen Gefvert of the state's Farm Bureau Federation calls it the biggest dairy policy reform in a generation and it will provide certainty to dairy producers in the way they'll run their business over the next year.
Board member Mike North of the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association says the new system gives farmers the chance to decide for themselves how much they'll produce. Orders to limit milk production in times of over-supplies were scrapped from the Farm Bill.
School accountability legislation may not happen this session
MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker says Wisconsin lawmakers should make it a top priority this spring to make schools more accountable but Senate Education Committee chairman Luther Olsen has canceled a vote he had planned on a major reform package he unveiled this week.
Olsen, a Republican from Ripon, said he didn't have the votes to approve the package and it might have to wait until next year's session. The bill would create more definitive letter grades for evaluating public schools, force failing schools to either close or become charter schools, and release test results for tax-funded private school students in the voucher program.
Olsen said Democrats and Senate Republican Paul Farrow of Pewaukee opposed the plan. Farrow said he wants an "accountability council" to be formed in the Department of Public Instruction. He also wants all voucher schools to be judged by test data, not just the tax-funded students within those schools.
The Republican governor re-iterated that he wants a school reform bill on his desk by early April, when the legislative session is due to end. Walker says he's talking to leaders of both houses about the matter.
He said parents need to be able to compare schools, to decide which ones are best for their children.
'Rail riders' group alleges crude oil trains are disrupting Amtrak schedules
An Amtrak passenger train that goes through Wisconsin is getting disrupted more often. A riders' group says part of the problem is massive rail shipments of crude oil from North Dakota.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers says it's gotten so bad, it's asking U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to intervene.
Another problem is the cold and snowy winter.
Westbound Amtrak trains bypassed several stops in North Dakota this week, and used buses to get riders to their destinations. That caused delays of up to 10 hours.
Amtrak's Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago through Wisconsin to Seattle, uses a Burlington Northern-Santa Fe route that has seen higher oil shipments from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Montana.
Amtrak and the BNSF have had talks on resolving the delays but oil freight companies have told Amtrak not to expect improvements for months.
Ross Capon, head of the railroad passengers' group, says the delays are intolerable.
"Crude oil is being given priority over people," said Capon
The Empire Builder is Amtrak's most popular long-distance overnight train. Its Wisconsin stops are at Milwaukee, Columbus, Portage, Wisconsin Dells, Tomah, and La Crosse.
Woman's exposure death ruled accidental
MILWAUKEE -- Authorities now say an elderly Milwaukee woman died from hypothermia during this week's cold snap. Dorothy Schneider, 87, was found dead Tuesday on a sidewalk in her backyard.
Relatives couldn't reach her on the phone, so they went to her house to check on her. Schneider lived alone, and officials said she had a history of dementia.
Her body temperature was just 37 degrees, and her body was partially frozen. The medical examiner ruled the death an accident.
It's the only reported death that was directly related to the cold wave, in which temperatures dropped to 30-below and wind-chills hit minus-48 in parts of Wisconsin between Monday and yesterday morning.
Beer truck robbery ends in police killing of suspect
MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee police officer shot and killed an armed robbery suspect late Wednesday. It started around 5:30 p.m. when two beer delivery men were robbed at gunpoint. Police Chief Ed Flynn said an officer saw the suspect a short time later, and caught up to him behind a house after a chase on foot.
Flynn said the two men got into a struggle, the robbery suspect pulled a loaded semi-automatic handgun on the officer and the patrolman drew his service weapon and shot the suspect, who died at the scene.
The chief said the robber's gun was reported to be stolen from another state. Officers recovered the weapon, along with a face mask and an undisclosed amount of money taken in the robbery.
Flynn said the 30-year-old officer was a nine-year veteran of the Milwaukee police force. He'll be put on administrative duty while the shooting is being investigated.
Police pursuit ends in death for suspect
A driver who was being chased by Sheboygan County sheriff's deputies was killed last night, after he slammed into a utility pole.
Somebody called 9-1-1 around 7 p.m. to report an erratic driver and it turned out that the vehicle's owner was wanted on a temporary warrant for domestic violence.
Sheboygan County officers said they tried stopping the vehicle on a road in the town of Holland -- but a chase ensued at speeds of over 100 miles an hour.
The driver was ejected upon hitting the utility pole. He was the only person in the vehicle.
Sheriff's deputies asked the State Patrol to investigate.
The Town of Holland is located along the western shore of Lake Michigan, in the south east corner of Sheboygan County.
Fire destroys building supply warehouse
MADISON -- Federal, state, and local investigators are still looking into a fire from Tuesday that destroyed an industrial warehouse in Madison.
Damage is estimated at $1- to $2 million from a blaze at Windsor Building Systems, which makes wood trusses and other building components.
Officials said the fire appears to have started in a maintenance room and there's no evidence of foul play. The fire began around 6 a.m., Tuesday and firefighters spent all day putting it out.
The State Justice Department and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are among the agencies helping with the investigation.
The firm is located on South Stoughton Road, off Hwy. 51 between Lake Monona and I-94/90.
Harley motorcycle sales continue to grow
MILWAUKEE -- Harley-Davidson made more money than expected in its last quarter, as the Milwaukee firm sees a continued increase in its motorcycle sales.
Thursday morning, Harley reported profits of $75.4 million from October through December. That's up by almost $5 million from the same time a year ago.
Earnings totaled 34 cents per share -- a penny higher than what outside analysts projected, and 3 cents higher than in the same quarter of 2012. Revenues topped $1 billion.
Davidson credits a nearly 6 percent quarterly motorcycle sales increase from the preceding year. For the year as a whole, Harley reported a 4.4 percent hike in sales, saying buyers are responding well to the company's new lineup of models.
Keep 'fat tire' bikes off sno-mo trails, DNR warns
MADISON -- The new "fat bikes" were a hit at this month's Badger State Winter Games around Wausau but they're not compatible on many snowmobile trails.
The state DNR is warning riders that the mountain bikes with wide, low-pressure tires may not be allowed on the same trails as the much faster snowmobiles and if they are allowed, riders should be extremely careful.
The DNR says fat bikes can be used on state trails which allow bicycling at other times of the year but not on trails with cross-country skiing.
State officials says cyclists should check the regulations of their favorite trails before venturing out. That's because the snowmobile trail system runs through a variety of public and private lands with different rules.