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Too cold to camp?; Joint Finance pulls UW funding increase; Budget committee endorses collecting DNA from suspects; more state news

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Too cold to camp?; Joint Finance pulls UW funding increase; Budget committee endorses collecting DNA from suspects; more state news
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

It's too cold to camp in much of Wisconsin this morning, but in 24 hours, lots of campgrounds will be full anyway as the Memorial Day weekend begins.


It got down to 27 degrees at six a.m. in Land O'Lakes near the border at Upper Michigan. It was 28 in Eagle River, Tomahawk and Hayward. Central Wisconsin had a few places below freezing, and it was a relatively balmy 45 in Racine.

Freeze and frost warnings have expired as the mercury rose above freezing by 7 a.m. in virtually all of Wisconsin. The National Weather Service said the cold readings were the result of a high-pressure system that brought in clear skies.

Forecasters say it will be somewhat warmer today through the weekend with highs generally in the 60's and lows in the 40's. There's a slight chance of rain throughout the weekend, with a better chance of thunderstorms predicted for Monday.


Joint Finance pulls UW funding increase

On a 14-2 vote last night, the state Legislature's finance committee rejected a proposed funding increase and tuition hike for the University of Wisconsin System.

Lawmakers took their anger out on the UW for imposing maximum tuition increases for six straight years while quietly sitting on $650 million in cash reserves.

The panel said no to Gov. Scott Walker's original plan to increase state funds for the UW by $181 million over the next two years. It would have allowed a 2% tuition hike and the possibility of being more flexible with its finances.

Instead, lawmakers said they would increase their scrutiny of the UW, and students will get a two-year tuition freeze, the first in the System's 42-year history.

About $90 million in planned expenses will have to come from the UW's reserves.

Only Democrats Jon Richards and Cory Mason voted against the committee's rebuke. The proposals now go to the full Legislature as part of the next state budget.

Republican Co-chairwoman Alberta Darling called for the removal of UW System President Kevin Reilly, saying the cash reserves breached a trust with lawmakers.

Ripon GOP Senator Luther Olsen said he believed the UW didn't know how big the reserves got.

If the schools' leaders were in a private company, Olsen said, "The stockholders would fire all of you because you don't know your finances."

UW officials defended the surpluses, calling them a safety net amid volatile circumstances. The System says the panel's funding cuts will leave the university with a $61 million shortfall in its budget for the next year.


Budget committee endorses collecting DNA from suspects

All non-convicted felony suspects and those guilty of misdemeanors would have to give their DNA to police for the first time under a Wisconsin budget measure endorsed last night.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted 13-3 to obtain the genetic makeups of 68,000 more criminal suspects and convicts. Right now, only sex offenders and those convicted of felonies must provide DNA for a state database that helps law enforcement solve past and present crimes.

Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) said it's all about "protecting our citizens," but Senator Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha County) says lawmakers should wait for an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on the subject. The justices are expected to decide soon whether Maryland's law for taking DNA samples upon arrest violates suspects' expectations of privacy.

Wirch said the proposal should be considered in a separate bill instead of being in the budget. He said it's too important not to get its own public hearing.

Harsdorf says it's too important to wait. She said it would help catch career criminals, save lives and save tax money.

Supporters of the measure call DNA a 21st century fingerprint. The American Civil Liberties Union and other critics say the genetic markers also contain crucial health information that can be used against people even if laws are designed to protect against it.


Green Bay fire displaces 107 people

Fire crews near Green Bay are still working to put out a blaze from yesterday that displaced 107 residents of a large apartment complex.

The fire was reported at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Hilltop Place Apartments in Allouez.

The Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at the Langlade Elementary School, and while most residents stayed with relatives last night, about eight people spent the night at the shelter.

Units from 21 fire departments helped fight the blaze.

Fire Lt. Nick Craig said it started in the basement of the 74-unit structure, and it eventually spread up empty spaces into the attic. Craig said firefighters thought they were getting control of the blaze early on, but the older construction design hampered efforts to put it out.


Suspect accused of robbing dead man's house

A Junction City man is due in court next Thursday on allegations that he stole from the dead.

Seth Furgason, 32, is free on a signature bond while facing charges in Chippewa County of armed burglary, theft and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon.

Prosecutors said he stole a chainsaw, old baseball cards and the 1954 debut edition of Sports Illustrated from a dead man's house in the Chippewa County town of Howard.

Authorities said the house had two flashlights which had Furgason's DNA but did not belong to the victim. His girlfriend told authorities that Furgason was involved in similar break-ins in two other counties. She reportedly drove him to the crime scenes, but she has not been charged in Chippewa County.

Furgason was arrested April 16 in Wisconsin Rapids after a brief foot chase. He faces a Wood County charge of resisting arrest.

Investigators said he made phone calls to around 15 potential victims, and he used Caller ID to block his information from being on those phones. Officers said they found it anyway through a search warrant.


No break for rent-to-own businesses

Wisconsin's rent-to-own businesses will have to keep following state consumer protection laws after the Legislature's finance panel said no to looser regulations.

The panel voted 10-6 last night to reject Gov. Scott Walker's request to give the industry a break. The State Supreme Court ruled 20 years ago that rent-to-own contracts are credit transactions, and therefore they must follow state consumer protection disclosures.

Republican committee Co-chair John Nygren said most states treat rent-to-own contracts like leases. He favored the budget measure, which would have allowed stores to have customers sign contracts in which terms like interest rates and total charges are kept blank until they're filled in later.

Also, enforcement would have been transferred to the state Financial Institutions division with no provision to shut down stores for intentionally violating disclosure laws.

Republican senators joined Democrats in opposing the changes - which the rent-to-own industry has sought for years.

Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) was among those saying the businesses prey on the poor.

Nygren says there's a legitimate use for the industry. He noted that Packer players often use rent-to-own contracts to equip their temporary homes in Green Bay during the football season. Nygren promised to bring back the measure as a separate bill later in the current legislative session.


Late spring meant fewer walleyes for tribe, more for other anglers

Wisconsin sport anglers can take a lot more walleye than originally expected after Chippewa spearers failed to meet their goal of taking thousands more fish than normal.

Yesterday the state Department of Natural Resources said it was increasing the daily bag limits on 442 lakes in northern Wisconsin where the Chippewa get to fish first as the result of their long-held treaty rights.

Starting tomorrow, daily bag limits for sport anglers will increase to five walleye on 288 lakes, four per day on three waters, three on 131 lakes, and two on 101 lakes.

The DNR says the ice is finally gone on the northern lakes, and walleye have finished spawning.

Officials said the six Chippewa band speared just over 28,000 walleye this spring. It was the lowest harvest since 2008, and it's about 700 below normal - most likely because of the late spring. The spearers also took 249 musky.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp called higher bag limits great news as thousands more anglers take to the waters during the Memorial Day weekend. The increase also comes a day after Gov. Scott Walker announced a new initiative to greatly increase walleye stocks from Wisconsin's public, private and tribal fish hatcheries.


Development agency gets new CFO - 4th in two years

Stephanie Walker starts June 17 as the fourth chief financial officer in two years for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

She was named yesterday to replace Scott Bowers, who left after just one day in April when his old employer, Marling Lumber, offered him another job.

Walker, who's not related to Gov. Scott Walker, is currently the finance director for the Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood. She held similar posts in Brown Deer and Berwyn, Ill.

Walker is joining a two-year-old public-private agency that was recently called on the carpet for not adopting certain policies and failing to keep adequate checks on grants and loans made to businesses for creating jobs.

Until Bowers was hired, the WEDC went 16 months without a chief financial officer, following the resignation of Mike Klosinski, who was the agency's second CFO.


Milwaukee major road projects delayed

Some Milwaukee area freeway projects will be delayed after state lawmakers worked to eliminate a $63 million shortfall in the transportation fund.

The Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously last night to delay reconstruction work on a part of Milwaukee's Zoo Freeway interchange. That alone saves $33 million. Another interchange on I-94 near the south edge of Milwaukee will be delayed until the 2015 state budget.

Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said the expected completion dates for the Milwaukee freeway projects would not change, but they would lose most of their cushions for dealing with unexpected problems.

About $10 million was dropped from repairs on Milwaukee's Hoan Bridge, leaving $226 million for that project. Repaving and repairs on other state highways were cut by $12 million.

Lawmakers preferred to cut or delay projects instead of raising gas taxes and fees.

The committee also added several local transportation items at the request of individual lawmakers, including directional signs for a shrine in Brown County. Also the panel endorsed the idea of allowing golf carts on roads with speed limits of 25 mph or less.

The measures now go to the full Legislature as part of the next state budget.


Walker lays groundwork for 2016 presidential bid

Gov. Scott Walker kept his 2016 presidential options open last night by telling Iowans he's really one of their own.

The Wisconsin Republican spent seven of his childhood years at Plainfield in northwest Iowa - something he repeated several times during his 40-minute speech to about 600 people at a county GOP fundraiser in Des Moines.

Walker mentioned his accomplishments in getting rid of Wisconsin's budget deficit and the need to push for entitlement reforms to reduce people's dependence on government.

Iowa's caucuses are the first test in the parties' nominating process. Walker joined Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann in using the Des Moines event to lay a possible groundwork for a White House bid. Walker called on Republicans to be more optimistic and courageous and speak in terms that are more relevant.

Longtime Iowa Republican insider Craig Robinson said the full house showed that there's a lot of interest in Walker as a presidential candidate. Robinson told Learfield's Radio Iowa, "He's gone through a political gauntlet that is very similar to a presidential campaign, and none of the other candidates of 2016 have any experience" in that. Robinson was referring to the contentious recall vote in Wisconsin that Walker survived a year ago.

Before his speech, Walker attended a small fundraiser in Des Moines for his 2014 governor's re-election campaign.