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Wisconsinites invited to sound-off on tax reform; fresh effort afoot to nix State Treasurer's post; more state news

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Hudson Star Observer
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River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

MADISON -- Wisconsin residents are getting their chance to sound off on tax reform.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and state Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler has posted a Web site where folks can learn more about the issue, and give their ideas. Gov. Scott Walker promised the Web site a few weeks ago, to help residents begin a conversation on what tax reform should look like in the next state budget for mid-2015.

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Walker promises a major tax change if he's re-elected this fall.

The idea generating the most discussion and debate is the most radical one that Walker has listed. It would eliminate the nation's first state income tax, and boost sales taxes to run state government.

Kleefisch says the new Web site will give everyday Wisconsinites a chance to complain about the taxes they dislike the most -- and give ideas of what they'd like to see changed.

The site also has presentations and past news stories that provide information. Kleefisch and Chandler have been getting ideas mainly from business people at round-tables throughout the state. Suggestions have included reductions in property, income, and estate taxes and ending the tax on retirement benefits. The address for the new Web site is www.taxreform.wi.gov.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Amendment would nix State Treasurer's post

MADISON -- Wisconsin would lose its state treasurer's office, under a constitutional amendment that's scheduled to get its first vote in the state Assembly Tuesday. Republicans have stripped all of the treasurer's former duties the past couple years, except to chair a public lands' board that meets for about 30 minutes each month.

Now, Assembly Republican Michael Schraa of Oshkosh says there's no need for the Treasurer's Office and its $500,000 budget. Even so, a bunch of people are interested in the post.

Republican Kurt Schuller, who ran on a vow to eliminate the office, is seeking re-election this fall along with four challengers -- three of them Democrats. The Associated Press says all four are committed to restoring the treasurer's powers. There have also been efforts for several years to eliminate the Secretary of State's office. Schraa says he'll wait until next year to try that. Democrat Doug La Follette has held the office for over three decades -- and he'll run against five challengers this fall.

A couple have joined La Follette in demanding that the secretary of state's former duties be returned, saying they've gone to unelected and unaccountable state agencies.

La Follette has steadily lost virtually all his duties over the years -- including the publishing of new laws and the running of elections.

Another bill up for a vote Tuesday would let minors take tours of Wisconsin wineries without their parents having to be with them.

The state Senate will vote on an exemption to a current law that requires anyone under 21 from being with a parent, guardian, or spouse on premises with retail alcohol sales. Lawmakers of both parties sponsored a bill to let teens enter banquet-and-hospitality rooms at wineries alone, as long as they're part of tour groups. A Senate panel unanimously endorsed the bill in January.

Also Tuesday, the state Senate will act on a bill to end six-person juries in misdemeanor criminal trials, unless a judge and both sides agree to it.

The bill reflects a State Supreme Court decision from 1998, which said a law that provides six-person juries for misdemeanor cases goes against a constitutional requirement for 12-person juries. The state Assembly passed the measure last month.

Bill would limit providers' workers comp billings

MADISON -- A new bill in the state Legislature would tighten the limits that medical personnel could get for treating worker's compensation patients.

Business and labor groups supported the measure at a recent public hearing, while doctors and hospitals opposed it.

Under the bill, the threshold would be lowered for treatment costs which are considered abnormally high.

In 2015, the state would determine maximum prices that health providers could receive for particular treatments.

Medical officials said the bill would either result in less available care for injured workers, or it could hurt other parts of the health-care market. Business groups said they're paying too much compared to other states, and the new bill could save them a billion dollars over 10 years.

James Buchen of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce said the bill brings "common sense reform" while still giving fair compensation to injured workers. Mark Grapentine of the State Medical Society said the costs for individual procedures may be higher in Wisconsin than elsewhere but he says the superior quality of Wisconsin health providers reduces the need for services for the injured.

Grapentine says the costs per exam are what "most other states can only envy."

Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend, a major sponsor of the package, says over 40 other states use what he's proposing.

The bill's prospects are not certain, with less than two months remaining in the current legislative session.

Judge asked to toss $39 million damage award

MILWAUKEE -- A judge in Milwaukee was expected to be asked Monday to throw out a $39 million damage award to survivors of a freak parking garage mishap in 2010.

Fifteen-year-old Jared Kellner died and two others were hurt, when they were struck by a 13-ton decorative concrete panel which fell from the second floor of a county-owned parking garage.

Last November, a jury awarded millions to the victims and their families. Circuit Judge Christopher Foley has been asked to toss out the damage award and hold a new trial.

Foley must also decide whether to take testimony on the question of letting Advance Cast Stone's insurance company help pay for the damages.

Advance Cast Stone is the Random Lake firm which made-and-installed the decorative panels at the O'Donnell parking garage where the incident occurred.

House fire claims one life

GLENDALE -- Authorities in suburban Milwaukee continue to investigate a house fire which killed one person. It happened late Saturday night in Glendale. North Shore fire officials said the blaze apparently started in a living room on the first floor.

The roof collapsed soon after firefighters got there, and part of the first floor later collapsed into a basement. Crews found the victim inside. The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's office was planning to identify the person, and determine the cause of death. The cause of the fire is also being investigated.

Recovered 'Strad' returning to service

MILWAUKEE -- About 620 people in suburban Milwaukee are expected to attend a concert Monday evening featuring the now-famous Stradivarius violin that was stolen in a recent robbery.

Milwaukee Symphony concert-master Frank Almond has had Monday night's performance on his schedule for about a year. The 300-year-old Lipinski Stradivarius was stolen two weeks ago tonight when robbers shot Almond with a stun gun and took the $5 million instrument.

Milwaukee Police recovered it last week, and two men face charges in the heist. Almond will perform with the violin this evening at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield, as part of his "Frankly Music" series.

The auditorium has 620 seats. About 250 tickets to the classical chamber music performance were sold in 36 hours last week, after it was learned that the stolen Stradivarius was recovered.

Even thick ice didn't support 10-ton 'dozer

EAU CLAIRE -- Snowmobile races were canceled over the weekend on on Lake Wissota where a bulldozer broke through the ice.

Chippewa County authorities said Kirk Brown of Brown Excavation getting a race-track ready on Saturday when his 10-ton bulldozer fell through the ice into 40 feet of water, several hundred yards from the shoreline.

Brown was uninjured. He jumped to safety just before his machine went underwater.

The incident happened about 10:30 p.m. on the lake’s north side.

Quick successes abbreviate state's sturgeon-spearing season

FOND DU LAC -- After just two days, Wisconsin's annual sturgeon spearing season was to end at 1 p.m., Monday on the upriver lakes adjacent to Lake Winnebago.

The DNR also says the season might end before next weekend on Winnebago itself. That's because spearers are a lot more successful than a year ago, thanks to more favorable spearing conditions.

Seventy-seven sturgeon were taken on Lakes Poygan, Winneconne, and Butte des Morts Sunday, bringing the total to 319 since the season began on Saturday. Some 957 sturgeon were taken over the weekend on Lake Winnebago, including 321 on Sunday.

The seasons end when 90 percent of the available fish are taken for any of the available age and gender categories.

DNR experts predicted the quickest season in at least four years due to clearer waters, thicker ice, and a healthy population of sturgeon.

Don Feldner registered the largest sturgeon of the season Sunday at Pipe, northeast of Fond du Lac. It was almost 75 inches long and 148 pounds.

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