T-shirts, cell phones banished from Assembly sessions; January thaw on the retreat; former Wheeler chief gets 14 years for sex crimes, more state news
MADISON -- The Wisconsin Assembly has approved a dress code for its members, and imposed new restrictions on spectators at its meetings.
The changes were made as part of the Assembly's operating rules for the new session. Men must wear coats-and-ties at their desks on the Assembly floor and women must wear appropriate business attire. If they don't, they won't be allowed to take part in that day's debates.
In the last session, Democrats showed their opposition to public union bargaining limits by wearing orange solidarity T-shirts on the Assembly floor. Most Democrats apparently want to keep that privilege as only one supported the new dress code when Republicans pushed it through on a 59-to-37 vote.
Also, the Assembly set rules to curb disruptive behavior by spectators that was common in the last session. Visitors will not be able to use cell-phones, wear hats, or eat food in the galleries. Democrats called those unconstitutional restrictions on the people's right to watch their government but Republicans said the Assembly needs to bring some type of decorum to their chamber.
Also Thursday, Assembly leaders agreed to set time limits for debating each bill, to avoid the all-night meetings that were common in the last session.
Meanwhile, the first trial is scheduled later this month in a crackdown on protests at the State Capitol that began last summer.
Jason Huberty, 37, of Madison is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 23rd on a non-criminal citation for obstructing access to a passageway. Three other citations against Huberty were also set for trials that day but they've been dismissed, along with two other citations in which trials had been set for later dates.
He and other protestors are being represented for free by former Kenosha County prosecutor and state Department of Transportation attorney Robert Jambois. He told the Madison Capital Times that prosecutors are trying to tie his access obstruction charge to what the state calls an unpermitted demonstration by the Solidarity Singers.
That group continues to sing protest songs at the Capitol each day attacking Gov. Scott Walker and his administration and the group refuses to get a permit that the state requires for activities inside the Capitol building.
Huberty still has three other citations in which two trials are pending in early February.
Sides quarrel over potential tax cuts more help for working poor
MADISON -- A Democratic leader says that if Gov. Scott Walker wants to cut state income taxes, he should also say how he'd pay for it with other new revenues or spending cuts.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca also says the poor and the elderly should get a larger share of any income tax break. He said it would make up for what Republicans did two years ago, when they scaled back the earned income tax credit for the working poor and blocked a scheduled expansion of a tax break for seniors.
Barca said the middle class should then be the next to benefit. The Walker told Wisconsin bankers Thursday that an individual income tax cut is the best way to boost the state's economy. He'll propose a reduction that's phased in over several years, and he'll start spelling it out Tuesday night during his annual State-of-the-State address. Walker will hold back the complete details until he unveils his proposed new state budget next month. The governor said he would not propose cuts in local property taxes but he wants new controls to keep those taxes from going up.
By phasing in an income tax cut, Walker would increase the state's structural deficit - money that's needed to cover future obligations beyond the next budget period. Republican Senate President Mike Ellis has been a vocal opponent of structural deficits but he said he would support a long-term income tax cut, as long as it includes an automatic mechanism which halts the reduction if state revenues drop sharply.
Vet student is new 'Fairest of the Fair'
WISCONSIN DELLS -- A veterinary medicine student from Dodge County has been crowned as Wisconsin's "Fairest of the Fair."
Steffani Koch, 22, of Mayville won the title at the annual convention of the Wisconsin Association of Fairs.
Koch was named "Fairest of the Fair" in Dodge County last year, and she beat out 41 similar contestants from throughout the state.
Koch is working on her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at UW Madison and she hopes to have a veterinary practice that's related to the dairy industry.
Among other things, Koch will be the official host for the Wisconsin State Fair in August and she'll appear at county and local fairs throughout the Badger State.
January thaw waning; teen temps forecast next week
SULLIVAN -- Wisconsin's January thaw will last for only a couple more days. Most parts of the Badger State are above freezing Friday morning - and parts of northern and west central Wisconsin has had freezing rain while showers fell in the rest of the state.
Readstown had the most in southwest Wisconsin, just over four-tenths of an inch of rain.
Temperatures are expected to remain above freezing, with scattered showers predicted off and on, Friday along with dense fog in some areas and highs in the 40's.
There's a slight chance for light snow Saturday as temperatures cool off, then a large cold front is expected to drop high temperatures into the teens throughout the state on Sunday and into next week.
Senator calls for scrutiny of UW HR practices in wake overpayments
MADISON -- A state senator wants to take a closer look at the U-W's new Human Resource System. That's after the Legislative Audit Bureau found that the university overpaid $33 million in employee health and retirement benefits in the last fiscal year.
Joint Audit Committee co-chair Rob Cowles of Green Bay said the audit raised concerns about a lack of monitoring and oversight for the UW's fringe benefit payments. Cowles said it reflects a "recurring trend of fiscal mismanagement by the UW System." But university spokesman David Giroux said the problems have already been resolved.
He said UW staffers identified the overpayments, and have adopted new procedures to prevent similar problems in the future. The complex Human Resource System started operating almost two years ago, and Giroux said the errors took place during what he called a "period of stabilization" for the system.
The audit showed that the UW overpaid $15.5 million for health coverage, including $8 million to over 900 employees who had been fired. The UW was only able to recover $228,000 of the premiums for the fired workers. The overpayments to the state retirement system were credited back to the university.
Law enforcement leaders say gun control won't stem all street violence
MINNEAPOLIS -- Law enforcement leaders from Wisconsin and the Midwest say other things are needed beside gun control to reduce the street violence they see each day.
Those attending a summit in Minneapolis Thursday wanted stronger community partnerships along with more cooperation between various government agencies. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak planned the day-long meeting a year ago - months before mass slayings took place in their areas, plus the Connecticut school tragedy.
Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said those mass shootings need federal action but he said daily killings cannot be ignored, either. Flynn called those a "slow-motion mass murder."
Barrett said he and other mayors feel pressure from those opposed to changing gun laws. "We are fighting for the freedom of the people of this country to be safe."
The summit took place on the same day that Vice President Joe Biden announced a consensus on some federal gun control measures, including a ban on assault weapons, which he'll give to the president next week.
Rybak said the federal measures are helpful, but they won't limit what the Upper Midwest needs to do. For one thing, Rybak says federal laws must be changed so law enforcement can share information about firearms with each other.
Rybak said he was appalled when he went to a crime scene, and saw that a federal firearms agent could not legally give information to the local police about the guns or suspects in that crime. The local authorities also said they need more information about the mental health of those seeking gun licenses.
Former Wheeler chief gets 14 years for sex crimes
MENOMONIE -- The former Wheeler Police Chief will spend 14 years in prison for committing numerous sex-related crimes.
A Dunn County judge sentenced 57-year-old Gary Wayerski this week. He must also spend up to 16 years of extended supervision once he's no longer behind bars.
Wayerski was the part-time police chief in Wheeler when he arrested two teenaged boys in March of 2011 for breaking into a church. Authorities said he was mentoring the boys when he fondled them, and showed them pornographic movies and computer images.
The village attorney also said Wayerski admitted letting minors drink in his home. The chief was charged in July of 2011, and he was fired three months later before he went on trial.
A judge convicted him of 16 felony counts - half of which were the sexual assaults of children by those who work with youngsters. His other charges included child enticement, and exposing children to harmful materials.
San Fran QB has Wisconsin roots
NEW LONDON -- At least one family in northeast Wisconsin will not be rooting for the Packers Saturday night.
The Kaepernick family of New London will cheer for San Francisco because their relative, Colin Kaepernick, is the 49'ers quarterback.
He was born in Milwaukee, and he lived in Fond du Lac and New London before moving out to California at age four. Colin's cousin Kasey is among the relatives still living in New London - and he says the entire family cheers for the 49'ers because it's "family first."
Colin's grandmother Cherie said it would have been nice for the Packers to draft Colin but he would have had to be a back-up to the league's reigning Most Valuable Player, Aaron Rodgers.
Kaepernick became the 49'ers starting quarterback in November after Alex Smith got hurt.
Actually, Kaepernick did get to play in Lambeau Field this season. He was brought in for one play late in the first half against the Packers - and he had a 17-yard scamper up the middle which set up a field goal in the Packers' 30-to-22 loss to the Niners back in September.
On Saturday night, the two teams play for a spot in the National Football League championship game - one game away from Super Bowl 47.
Gambling addiction hotline getting more calls
A Wisconsin hotline to get help for gambling addictions took about 8 percent more calls last year but the average size of those people's debts went down dramatically.
The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling said its hotline took just over 14,000 calls in 2012 and the average debt reported by the callers was around $40,000. That's way down from $157,000 the previous year.
Gruber says sports betting Web sites are busy this month especially as Wisconsinites bet on the Green Bay Packers during the NFL playoffs. Gruber says it's really easy for this type of wagering to get out of hand and she says people should only gamble what they can afford to lose.
Hawkins man pleads innocent to wife-slaying
LADYSMITH -- A northwest Wisconsin man has pleaded innocent to shooting his wife to death.
A Rusk County judge ruled Thursday that there's enough evidence to put Donald Lazar, 66, of Hawkins on trial for first-degree intentional homicide.
Prosecutors said Lazar shot his wife Darlene multiple times on Dec. 30th.
The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported Lazar first chided his wife about not flushing a toilet or properly washing her hands, then shot her in the side with a .22 rifle as she called police for help. Police said Lazar then re-loaded the weapon and shot her in the head.
Attorneys in the case are scheduled to meet with the judge by phone on Jan. 25th, and a trial date could be set at that time.
For now, Lazar is jailed under a $500,000.
Milwaukee man sentenced in teen's brutal murder
MILWAUKEE -- An 18-year-old Milwaukee man will spend at least 52 years in prison for the brutal murder of a 15-year-old girl last April. Eduardo Ivanez was given a life term Thursday, after a jury found him guilty of first-degree intentional homicide in the slaying of Stephanie Romero.
Circuit Judge Jeffrey Wagner gave Ivanez a slight chance at freedom, declaring he'll be eligible for a supervised release when he turns 70.
According to prosecutors, Ivanez and Romero went to a nearby vacant house where they had sex and when three friends arrived, they noticed that the girl was bleeding. One of the friends asked what was happening, and Ivanez then stomped on Romero's face and started choking her.
She was then carried to a bathroom, and her personal items were stolen, including a knife that was thrown away. Police said Ivanez then tried having sex with Romero's body before hiding her in a crawl space of the vacant house two days later.
Crashes kill Shawano man, another near Rhinelander
A Shawano man was killed Thursday when his pick-up truck slammed into a semi.
Authorities said 69-year-old William Aderman drove through a stop sign and collided with a semi-truck approaching from his left. Aderman died at the scene. The semi-driver, a 51-year-old Chilton man, was treated at a Shawano hospital for minor injuries and was later released. The crash happened about 3 p.m. on CTH B and Airport Drive near Shawano.
Meanwhile, authorities are investigating a one-vehicle crash near Rhinelander in which a 56-year-old man was injured and later died.
The incident occurred early Thursday evening about 10 miles northeast of Rhinelander in the Oneida County town of Stella.
Sheriff's deputies said the man's car left a rural road and hit a tree. The county medical examiner will determine what caused the driver's death.
Investigators said they were not sure whether the man had died before the mishap - perhaps due to a medical condition. His name was not immediately released.