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Job situation: Back on track or derailed?; Wood-cutting accident caused wildfire that burned over 8,000 acres; more briefs

Wisconsin's job picture is either exciting or lackluster, depending on which political party you believe.

Republicans call these "exciting times," after the government's most complete employer survey showed that Wisconsin created 62,000 jobs in Gov. Scott Walker's first two years in office.

The new numbers do not compare Wisconsin to other states, and Democrats said the comparison from three months ago showed that Wisconsin had the 44th-lowest percentage of job growth.

Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said the state might not be so far behind in job creation, "If Republicans spent half as much time creating jobs, as they do spinning lackluster job numbers."

GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos declared the Wisconsin economy "back on track." State workforce development spokesman John Dipko says his agency remains committed to pushing toward Walker's goal of creating 250,000 jobs by the end of 2014. The state's about a quarter of the way there at the halfway point of Walker's current term.


Wood-cutting accident caused wildfire that burned over 8,000 acres

Smoke from logging equipment caused this week's massive wildfire in far northwest Wisconsin.

The Department of Natural Resources said yesterday that a contractor was cutting logs on private industrial forest land near Simms Lake in Douglas County when the operator of a large wood cutter saw smoke and tried putting it out. It was almost extinguished when flames suddenly jumped 40 yards into a group of trees. The fire spread quickly from there.

Officials called the fire an accident, and prosecutors said they would not file charges. It's still not known whether the machine burned, or whether it created sparks.

The number of burned acres was downgraded yesterday from just over 9,000 to 8,131 in Douglas and Bayfield counties.

Gov. Scott Walker toured the damage and assured affected landowners that the state would help them recover and rebuild. Seventeen homes and 30 other structures were destroyed. No one was hurt. The blaze is contained, but firefighters continue to attack hot spots. All evacuated residents have been allowed to return. All roads that were closed have since re-opened.

The DNR said the blaze was one of 60 wildfires this week as field conditions became extremely dry. All burning permits have been suspended statewide until further notice.


Bill suggests annual audits of embattled job agency

Wisconsin's job creation agency would be audited every year under a bill introduced by state lawmakers from both parties.

Right now, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is supposed to be audited every two years - and the first audit of the two-year-old agency angered lawmakers concerned about a lack of accountability.

The new bill also requires that WEDC board members be appointed to fixed terms instead of serving for as long as the governor wishes.

A recent audit found that the public-private job agency did not adopt certain policies required by state law, and it did not keep proper track of grants and loans it made to businesses for creating jobs.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee is holding back extra funds for the WEDC until it can show that it has made improvements.


Court commissioner gets jail term for not reporting $68,000 in income

A Milwaukee County court commissioner will spend five days in jail and at least a year on probation for filing false state income tax returns

McKinley, 49, pleaded no contest Thursday to two reduced misdemeanor charges of knowingly submitting false tax documents. She was originally charged with two felony tax fraud counts.

McKinley was convicted of not reporting almost $68,000 in private legal fees and rental income in 2005 and 2006. Allegations that she failed to report another $60,000 in rental income were dropped.

McKinley has been a court commissioner in Milwaukee since 2007. She was placed on 18 months on probation, but she can reduce that by six months if she completes a number of counseling sessions.


Green Bay pays $20,000 to settle police brutality claim

The city of Green Bay paid $20,000 to settle allegations of police brutality.

Anthony Basler, 34, said four officers used batons, shackles and bodily force in September of 2010, causing numerous injuries to his head and body.

Police were called while his estranged wife was moving some of her belongings out. Officials said Basler got agitated, and the officers thought he was reaching for a weapon when they used force. He was treated at a hospital for his injuries.

Basler was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and using pepper spray on police officers.

The charges were later dropped, and Basler filed a damage claim for $50,000. The city settled for $20,000, and one of the officers involved was disciplined.

Officials said there was a chance the city would lose in court so it reached a settlement to avoid the litigation. The Green Bay Press-Gazette said it learned about the settlement while checking damage claims filed against the city since last summer. The paper said most claims were either denied, or the plaintiffs got as low as $50 for property damage and other minor concerns.


Bonduel man ordered to repay $2.5 million in misused loans

A northeast Wisconsin man has been sentenced to four years in prison and was ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution for a series of bank frauds.

Terry Anderson, 57, of Bonduel pleaded guilty to two federal counts of bank fraud.

He's the owner of the Investment Corporation of Green Bay. Prosecutors said Anderson received bank loans for development projects in Shawano, Bowler and Cecil from 2005 to 2008, but the loan proceeds were used for other things.


Winter-kill creates 'worst-case scenario' for dairy farmers

The UW Extension Service will meet with dairy farmers later this month to discuss options for feeding their cows in the wake of heavy alfalfa damage.

Forage agronomist Dan Undersander said the crop probably has its worst winter-kill in over 20 years throughout the Upper Midwest. Losses are up to 80% in central Wisconsin with damage on 20% to 30% of fields in the southern part of the state.

Undersander said much of the alfalfa went dormant last fall without storing up nutrients, and the long winter was too much for the crop to withstand. Low areas also have a good amount of winter-kill.

Officials say the situation has created a worst-case scenario for dairy farmers who are running out of forage and are facing hay shortages. As a result, Undersander says farmers might have to try to salvage stands they would normally replace.

Extension has five meetings planned to discuss feeding options. They'll take place May 28 in Bear Creek and Pulaski, May 29 in Kiel and Kaukauna, and May 30 in Wausau.


Police watching for seatbelt violations

Once again this Memorial Day, Wisconsin authorities will try to convince more of us to buckle up by ticketing those who don't.

The "Click It or Ticket" campaign begins Monday and runs through June 2. Officers will spend more time on the roads looking for those not wearing their seat belts and shoulder harnesses.

State Patrol Major Sandra Huxtable said over 100,000 tickets were issued last year for violating the buckle-up law - the second-highest among all traffic offenses in Wisconsin.

Surveys show that one of every five Wisconsin motorists does not wear seatbelts - more than the national and Midwest averages.

Critics say the real problem is that the state's $10 fine is not high enough. That fine never changed since buckling up became the law 26 years ago.

Gannett Wisconsin Media found that many other states began with low fines but have since raised them. Several states now charge at least $100 for seatbelt violations. In Washington State, it's $124.

Since the Gannett story came out in late February, there's been little or no talk about changing the Wisconsin penalty.


Still no bat disease in Wisconsin

There's still no evidence that a deadly bat disease has hit Wisconsin.

The Department of Natural Resources said a recent survey of 73 hibernating locations found no evidence of white-nose syndrome. The fungal disease has killed close to six million bats in the eastern United States since 2006.

Wisconsin officials are particularly concerned because bats protect farm crops by killing insects.

The disease causes bats to wake up during their hibernation. It rapidly depletes their energy supplies.

Wisconsin has performed three studies, and nothing has turned up so far. Illinois confirmed white-nose syndrome in four counties so far this year. It was detected in 2012 in a cave in Iowa about 30 miles from the Wisconsin border.

The DNR has said it's a matter of time before white-nose syndrome gets to the Badger State, and officials are doing their best to ward it off. Visitors to caves are often asked to wipe off their shoes before entering and leaving to prevent any disease from spreading.

A recent UW-Madison study found that infected caves where bats hibernate continue to have white-nose syndrome for at least two years after all surviving bats have left. It means that bats might not be able to rebuild their populations in a cave where the disease hits.