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UPDATED: Appeals court rules former Walker aide's e-mail be made public; bill would sting trophy poachers hard; 9 more state stories

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MILWAUKEE -- A state appeals court judge says a former Milwaukee County Walker aide cannot keep evidence of her crimes secret, while she appeals her conviction.

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Kelly Rindfleisch, 45, pleaded guilty in 2012 to doing campaign work for Republicans on taxpayer time while working for Gov. Scott Walker while he was the Milwaukee County executive. She was sentenced to six months in jail, but she's appealing and she wanted her e-mails that were dug up during the investigation to be kept under wraps.

Appellate Judge Patricia Curley said yesterday that only a limited number of Rindfleisch's personal data can be kept secret things like Social Security numbers and medical information. She said other data is routinely released in other people's cases and Curley said Rindfleisch had no right to hide evidence just because she doesn't want it to be made public.

Rindfleisch was given 30 days to review the documents, and ask that specific personal items be kept secret.

Her attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, said it's a heavy burden for his client -- and he's considering an appeal of the order to the State Supreme Court.

Hearings set Wednesday on proposed tax cut, stiffer penalties for trophy poachers

MADISON -- Wisconsinites have the opportunity to comment Wednesday on Gov. Scott Walker's proposed half-billion-dollar tax cut.

The Assembly's economic committee will hold a public hearing on the package that would cut average property-and-income taxes by $177 over the coming year. The money would come from an expected state budget surplus of a billion-dollars and Walker and many of his fellow Republicans say the taxpayers should get most of the excess back.

Democrats and others have proposed other uses for the money like bolstering state aid for public schools and job training programs, and covering the expected $825 million structural deficit at the start of the next budget in mid-2015.

Walker and Assembly leaders believe economic growth can wipe out the structural deficit, but some Senate Republicans don't agree.

Also, a public hearing was to be held Wednesday morning on a Wisconsin bill to create much stiffer penalties for poaching trophy deer.

Fines would not be increases but related surcharges could be hiked dramatically.

Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon and Assembly Republican Mary Williams of Taylor County are the bill's main sponsors. Lawmakers of both parties have signed onto it. Under the current law, a wild-animal protection surcharge of almost $44 is imposed on top of poaching fines.

The proposed surcharges would range from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on a deer's antler spread. Also, the bill would apply the surcharges only to deer -- and not to elk and bear, as adopted earlier.

Petrowski said the surcharges were only meant to keep trophy deer from being stolen and he's not sure how the elk and bear got included.

Food-stamp spending was Farm Bill-buster for Sen. Johnson

WASHINGTON D.C. -- U.S. Senator Ron Johnson said he couldn't stomach all the spending for food stamps in the new Farm Bill -- and that's why he voted against it.

president Obama is expected to sign the five-year package of farm programs and food aid that received final congressional approval Tuesday with a 68-

to 32 Senate vote.

Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin approved the Farm Bill.

Johnson, Wisconsin's other senator, was among 23 Republicans who voted no.

Food stamps represent about 80 percent of the Farm Bill's $100 billion a year price tag, and Johnson said they should have been considered separately.

He also questioned what he called the program's "exponential growth" since the 1970's. Johnson said only five percent of Americans received food stamps when the aid was first linked to the Farm Bill. Now, some 14 percent of Americans get food stamps and Johnson says the cost to taxpayers has doubled twice since 2001.

The compromise package cuts food stamps by one percent -- one-fifth of what the House originally wanted.

Many direct payments were cut in the new package, including price supports for Wisconsin dairy farmers. Instead, they'll get a new margin insurance program. It grants payouts when margins fall below various levels in policies to be purchased by individual farmers.

UPDATE: Menomonie Kmart to close

Kmart stores in Menomonie and Chippewa Falls are closing in mid-May, according to company officials and a report in Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.

The stores are expected to begin liquidation sales on Sunday, Feb. 23. They are being closed because the leases were not renewed and ongoing efforts by parent company Sears Holdings to cut expenses.

Kmart has 66 in Menomonie and 79 employees in Chippewa Falls. Most are part-time or hourly workers.

The company said some eligible workers will receive severance pay and may apply for open positions at area Sears and Kmart stores.

Telemarketers remain our biggest consumer irritation

MADISON -- For the 11th year in a row, telemarketers are Wisconsin's foremost consumer complaint.

Just over 2,000 people were mad enough about false and persistent phone pitches to call the state's consumer protection agency. That's twice as many complaints as the next's highest consumer beef, landlord-tenant disputes.

Division administrator Sandy Chalmers said many of the telemarketer complaints involved automated robo-calls which got seniors to buy fraudulent medical alert devices -- along with other types of senior assistance.

Last month, a federal judge put a halt to 10 Florida companies that allegedly tried tricking seniors into buy medical-alert devices.

Chalmers said her agency helped the federal government with its enforcement effort.

Tele-communications was the state's third-highest consumer complaint, followed by identity theft, home improvement issues, airline tie-ups, inaccurate gas pumps, motor vehicle sales and repairs, and contest promotions.

Gogebic gets pass on emissions permit for test digs/strong>

MADISON -- Gogebic Taconite will not need a state air pollution permit to dig out bulk mineral samples at its proposed iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.

The company asked the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in December for an exemption from the required permit, to excavate 4,000 tons of rock as part of the mine's feasibility studies.

The DNR said it agreed that sampling activities do not require air-or-construction permits. Officials also said the air emissions from the rock sampling should be within the state's acceptable levels. The company will still need to document its air emissions, and keep those records on file for at least five years.

Midwestern snowstorm strikes only glancing blow to state

A big Midwest snowstorm that's making national news veered south overnight, bringing mostly light snow to the southern third of Wisconsin.

Platteville had about an inch before the skies cleared. It was still snowing in south central and southeast areas at 5 a.m. with parts of Kenosha County recording three inchese. Up to four inches was predicted in the Milwaukee region, close to Lake Michigan and the rest of southern Wisconsin was expecting one- to three inches.

Once the moisture departs, more arctic air is due in and residents should expect temperatures down to 15-below by early Thursday morning.

Daytime highs Thursday are projected to be in the single-digits above, before rising to the teens and 20's on Friday and Saturday.

For now, Wisconsin escaped the ravage of a massive storm that hit the eastern two-thirds of the country. Kansas appears to be getting the worst of it. Two people were killed in a car crash there, and Kansas schools and government offices were closed in a state-of-emergency.

Alleged mileage abuse by ex-prison employee tallied $87,000

A former federal prison employee in Wisconsin is accused of stealing over $87,000 in false mileage reimbursements.

A federal grand jury indicted 43-year-old Christopher Seifer of Westfield Tuesday on four counts of mail fraud, and a charge of stealing government property.

According to prosecutors, Seifer was an electronics technician at the federal prison in Oxford when he began submitting expense forms for travel to health clubs to rehabilitate a work injury. That was in 2006.

Investigators said Seifer turned in almost 1,400 false mileage claims that were paid by the U.S. Labor Department over a period of several years.

Drunken driving contributed to deaths of 4

WINONA -- A Minnesota woman was legally drunk when she drove into the Mississippi River, killing herself and three passengers including one from Wisconsin.

Toxicology test results were released Tuesday, showing that 36-year-old Christina Hauser of Winona had a blood alcohol level of .16, twice the Minnesota legal limit for drunk driving.

Authorities said Hauser lost control on a curve in Winona on Jan. 5th while driving with three men who were childhood friends.

Hauser and one man were in the sport utility vehicle when it was pulled from the river the day of the crash. Another man was found the next day.

The Wisconsin victim, 29-year-old Andrew Kingsbury of La Crosse, was not found until two weeks later after an extensive search.

Speed, alcohol factors in double-fatality near Manitowoc

Authorities in Manitowoc County said alcohol and speed were both factors in a one-vehicle crash that killed two men and seriously injured another. The victims were identified as Justin Wieberdink, 29, of Sheboygan and Jonathan Ingram, 26, of Manitowoc. Both died at the scene of the crash, which occurred early Tuesday -- and both were wearing seat-belts.

A 29-year-old Sheboygan man received what officials called an incapacitating injury, and was flown to a Neenah hospital. Officials said Wieberdink was driving a pick-up truck when it veered into a ditch, overturned, and hit a tree and a house. It happened on County Line Road in the Manitowoc County town of Meeme, north of the Sheboygan County line.

Nearby cities include Kiel, Two Rivers and Manitowoc.

The State Patrol has performed a reconstruction of the mishap, and toxicology test results are pending.

-- Damon Ryan, WOMT, Manitowoc

Teenager arrested in brother's stabbing death

A 17-year-old Hartford area boy is under arrest, for allegedly stabbing his 20-year-old brother to death Tuesday afternoon.

Washington County sheriff's deputies said the two got into an argument and the stabbing victim was flown to a hospital in Summit, where he died while undergoing surgery.

The teen faces a possible charge of first-degree reckless homicide. Other details were not immediately released.

'Owl Prowl' set at Horicon Marsh Saturday

Those who enjoy spotting snowy owls in the Horicon Marsh will have a chance to do it with like-minded souls this weekend.

The Wisconsin DNR and the Marsh Bird Club are holding an "owl prowl" event on Saturday. Searching will take place during the day.

The group will then hear a presentation about snowy owls -- and then they'll go back outside on Saturday night to call the birds.

Snowy owls have wing-spans close to five feet. They're among the largest owls in North America, and many hang around Arctic climates year-round.

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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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