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Largest teacher's union ignoring Madison, lobbying locally; Honor Flight for Vietnam vets today; 12 more state stories

Wisconsin’s largest teachers’ union says it’s making its case at the local level, instead of spending millions to lobby state legislators for what they want.

A new state report showed that the WEAC teachers’ union spent just $84,000 to lobby lawmakers during the first six months of this year, when they were acting on the new state budget. That’s small potatoes compared to the $2.1 million WEAC spent on lobbying in the first half of 2011, during the last budget period.

At that time, the union was fighting to keep the collective bargaining privileges they eventually lost under Act 10.

Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend said public unions didn’t have much to lobby for this year, since the near-elimination of bargaining no longer required bills to tweak the process.

WEAC, which lost one-third of its teachers after Act 10 was passed, says it’s now working with community coalitions to promote their cause.

Other public unions have also cut their lobbying expenses dramatically, leaving business groups as the biggest spenders.

The Wisconsin Insurance Alliance spent the most to lobby lawmakers in the first half of this year – around $357,000.

Hearing focuses on trade-offs of spending millions to lock up drunk drivers

MADISON -- A public hearing Thursday came down to a debate over whether it’s worth millions of dollars to send more drunk drivers to prison for longer sentences.

The state Assembly’s judiciary committee heard emotional testimony on three bills from Mequon Republican Jim Ott. They would make third- and fourth-time Operating While Intoxicated arrests a felony, require a minimum six-month jail term for injuring others while driving drunk, and create a mandatory 10-year term for homicide by drunk driving.

Paul Jenkins told lawmakers he’s had no closure, after his relative Jennifer Bukosky died in 2008. The popular Oconomowoc teacher and two of her children died after her car was rear-ended by a doctor who was high on prescription drugs with three OWI convictions.

Dawn Johnson of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said Wisconsin laws are “lacking.”

Committee members were sympathetic, but were concerned about the added costs – up to $220 million a year just to send third- and fourth- time offenders to prison, plus another $230 million to build extra prison space.

Counties’ association lobbyist David Callender said it would cost counties an extra $50 a day to jail each new offender – and they don’t have the budgets for it. He said counties would not oppose the bill if the state would pick up the tab.

Ott said he couldn’t imagine telling a victim’s family “It’s going to cost too much, so we are going to have to give them only two years in prison.”

He said Wisconsin does not take drunk driving seriously enough.

Vietnam vets enjoying Honor Flight today OSHKOSH -- This is very special day 100 Vietnam War veterans. They were to depart early Friday morning on an Honor Flight to Washington from the EAA Air-Venture Show in Oshkosh. The group was to spend the day touring the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and other war memorials in the nation’s capital, then fly home, where they are to be honored Friday evening in a special ceremony at the EAA convention.

Also Friday, the new animated comedy “Disney’s Planes” will be shown. Director Klay Hall will tell how the film was made.

Governors gathering offers venue for political self-examination

MILWAUKEE -- As the nation’s governors began meeting in Milwaukee today, questions surface about whether they can keep their conservative dominance after next fall’s elections.

Thirty of the nation’s 50 governors are Republicans. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker was among 16 first-time GOP state leaders elected in 2010 – and he’s among eight in states that elected Democrat Barack Obama for president in both 2008- and 2012.

Those eight have spread conservative principles beyond the normal GOP base of states, with varying degrees of success. Four of those governors have job approval ratings of 40 percent or less, and five national political surveys rate them as among the most vulnerable next fall. The four are Rick Snyder of Michigan, Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, Paul LePage of Maine, and Rick Scott of Florida.

Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich survived rocky starts to emerge as possible favorites in their contests next year. University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that many first-time GOP governors are responding to different coalitions than the ones which normally dominate their states – and those states may not be as conservative as they seem.

Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report said many of the new governors inherited lots of problems. She said they created bold moves to solve them – and in the process, some created their own drama.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin will become the new chair of the National Governors Association on Sunday. Republican Fallin will take over the top spot from Delaware’s Jack Markell as the head of the organization. A half-dozen members of Fallin’s staff have joined her in Milwaukee. They look forward to learning more about how other states handle major issues like health-care, the economy, transportation, and homeland security.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s workforce development secretary has been elected first vice-president of the National Association of Governmental Labor Officials. Reggie Newson was chosen at the group’s annual meeting in Boston. He was the group’s secretary-treasurer since April. Newson has headed Wisconsin’s labor department since October of 2011.

Portage plant closure will ax 80 jobs

PORTAGE -- Eighty-six people will be out of work when a factory in Portage closes next year.

PolyOne has told state officials it will close its Adams Street plant in Portage around May 1, 2014.

Layoffs are expected to begin at the start of October. The plant makes polymer materials and packaging.

The plant closure wasn't unexpected. PolyOne Corp., which acquired Spartech Corp. last March, announced two weeks ago that it would "realign its North American manufacturing assets to better serve customers and improve efficiencies" in conjunction with the purchase.

The Portage plant closure is one of six such shut-downs aimed at trimming about 250 jobs and $25 million in costs, company officials said.

Bankruptcies down some in Wisconsin, more elsewhere

Bankruptcies are down in Wisconsin this year, but not as much as they are nationally.

Almost 12,300 individuals and businesses filed for bankruptcy in Wisconsin’s federal courts from January- through June. That’s 11 percent fewer than a year ago, while the national decrease was 14 percent.

Bankruptcy filings have dropped steadily since the end of the Great Recession in 2010.

Chapter Seven filings account for about 75 percent of all bankruptcies. That type of filing wipes out credit card and medical debts. Milwaukee attorney James Miller says more people are filing under Chapter 13, which sets up repayment plans for debtors which can help them keep their homes.

Milwaukee lawyer Robert Waud says he’s seeing fewer independent contractors and building trade workers filing for bankruptcy. He says they have must have gone back to work.

Madison bankruptcy lawyer Claire Ann Resop does not expect a large reduction in bankruptcies for the rest of the year. She says there are still not as many good-paying jobs as there used to be.

DNR sets hearing on Gogebic's rock-sampling request

HURLEY -- The state DNR will hold a public hearing Aug. 15th on Gogebic Taconite’s plans to sample 8 million pounds of rock at its iron ore mining site in Ashland and Iron counties.

The firm was originally planning to use explosives to pry out the much of the rock material but after the DNR expressed concerns, Gogebic now says it might not have to blast. The firm says it would use excavating equipment to pull the rock from up to five locations on the property.

The public can learn about the process and make comments at a DNR hearing from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Aug. 15th at Hurley High School. The DNR is also taking written comments on the subject until Sept. 3rd.

Two dozen more citations issued to 'Solidarity Singers'

MADISON -- State Capitol Police issued 24 more citations Thursday, in the second week of a crackdown on a group that refuses to get a state permit for its anti-Walker sing-alongs.

Twenty-three tickets were given to members of the Solidarity Singers for not having permits. Two people were cited twice, and one was ticketed for obstructing officers.

The group has held almost daily sing-alongs since the massive pro-union protests at the State Capitol in 2011. Its leaders say they shouldn’t have to get a permit to carry out their free-speech rights.

Last month, Federal Judge William Conley upheld most of the Walker administration’s permit policy. The crackdown on the Solidarity Singers began soon after that, with over 140 tickets issued in all.

The judge said it’s okay to require permits for groups of 20- or more. The original Walker policy required permits for groups of four or more.

Former police lieutenant claims innocence in exploitation accusations

MADISON -- Innocent pleas have been entered for a former Mount Horeb police lieutenant charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old runaway boy who moved into his apartment.

Dane County Circuit Judge Ellen Berz entered the pleas Thursday to an amended complaint against Dennis Jenks, 44, of Madison.

Online court records show that Jenks is charged with 34 felonies for the molesting of a child originally from Beloit. The charges include repeated child sexual assault, eight counts of child sexploitation, and 24 counts of possessing child pornography.

A pre-trial hearing in Jenks’ case is set for Sept. 27th.

James Gillespie, 48, now of Mackinac Island, Mich., is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 4th for sexually assaulting the same youngster. Gillespie pleaded no contest last month.

Oak Creek veteran claims discrimination from Day 1 of FBI dealings

Oak Creek native Justin Slaby spent 2.5 hours telling a federal jury that he was discriminated against from the first day he applied to become an FBI agent.

The 30-year-old Slaby is a former Army Ranger who lost his left hand while training for his fourth tour-of-duty in the War on Terror.

He applied to become a special agent, and was dismissed from a training academy in 2011 after instructors said he could not properly use his prosthetic left hand to maneuver a weapon.

Slaby insists the agency prejudged and never really gave him an opportunity. The FBI did put him on a hostage rescue team, but he said he’s still frustrated because it does not reflect his real goals.

Slaby’s wife Jennifer said his rejection was quite a blow to their family. She said her husband was the first disabled person to walk through the training academy door and “He won’t be the last.”

The testimony came on the fourth day of Slaby’s discrimination trial in federal court in Alexandria, Virg.

The government will start making its case on Monday. The case is expected to go to the jury early next week.

Former police lieutenant accused of soliciting children

A former Wisconsin Rapids police lieutenant is accused of portrayed himself as a girl online, to of trying to get nude photos of teenage boys for his sexual pleasure.

Steven Lowe, 41, appeared in Wood County Circuit Court Thursday where a judge ordered a $20,000 bond.

Rapids Police and the State Justice Department continue to investigate.

Officials say charges could be filed as early as Friday for child exploitation and enticement, and using a computer to facilitate a sex crime. Lowe was put on administrative leave Thursday, and he resigned before the day was done.

For now, the judge and the prosecutor are coming from Sauk County to avoid possible conflicts of interest.

The Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune quoted court documents as saying that Lowe allegedly portrayed himself as a 15-year-old girl named Abby, asking teen boys online for their nude photos. The paper said the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children caught wind of the matter, and notified the state Justice Department which served a warrant at Lowe’s home on Wednesday.

While officials were there, a special agent reportedly had several phone conversations with Lowe.

Payroll worker accused of $1 million-plus embezzlement

A former payroll specialist at a southeast Wisconsin health care system has been arrested for stealing over a-million-dollars in an elaborate payroll scheme.

Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare said it uncovered a system in which a 49-year-old woman manipulated payroll accounts of hundreds of employees. Glendale Police arrested the woman Thursday night. Officers continue to investigate. They have not recommended possible charges to prosecutors yet

Officials said Wheaton Franciscan lost the money, but there might be a tax impact on almost 850 present and former workers who had their payroll accounts manipulated. The health system said it notified those people this week, and it fired the suspect.

Anne Ballentine of Wheaton Franciscan said the scheme began in 2004 and ran for nine years. About $850,000 was stolen directly from the health care system.

Extra taxes were paid on that money, bringing the total loss to $1.1 million.

Officials said the former payroll specialist added false hours to random co-workers, put those wages into her bank account, and then deleted the work records.

After fish hook mishap, dad on the hook for reckless driving

SUPERIOR -- A Wisconsin man is accused of pushing another car off the road while driving to get his son medical attention after a fish hook mishap.

Shayne Trevor Dalbec, 38, of Maple, faces one count of felony second-degree recklessly endangering safety and misdemeanor hit and run-attended vehicle from the July 20 incident.

According to the criminal complaint, Dalbec reported his child had a fish hook stuck in his carotid artery and drove to meet emergency personnel in a McDonald's parking lot. Authorities saw the child had a three-pronged treble hook stuck in his right cheek, but there was no active bleeding and no injury near the artery.

As an officer was preparing to talk to Dalbec about speeding to get to medical attention, a report came in of a Mustang striking another car.

When questioned by police at the Douglas County Jail, Dalbec admitted hitting the back of the Toyota after the driver had stepped on the brakes. He said the Toyota continued to stop, so he pushed the vehicle onto the sidewalk.

He said that after he got to the hospital with his son, Dalbec felt he'd made a mistake because the injury was nowhere near the carotid artery.

Dalbec has pleaded not guilty to the hit-and-run charge.

-- Superior Telegram

Steve Dzubay

Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer from 1995-2016. 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.