DNR defies federal order to shut down parks; Walker clings to 250,000-job promise; Trevino found guilty of unintentional murder; more state news briefs
Wisconsin officials are refusing to follow a federal order to close popular state park areas that get part of their funding from Washington.
As part of the federal government shutdown, the National Park Service told the state Department of Natural Resources to close Devil's Lake and Interstate state parks, the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine State forest, and the state's portion of the Horicon Marsh.
The state rejected the order since most of the funding for those facilities comes from state dollars, not federal. The DNR then issued a statement Wednesday afternoon declaring all state parks, trails and recreational facilities open.
Also, the DNR re-opened a boat launching area at Wyalusing State Park near Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed the launch Tuesday since it's located on federal property.
But state officials said they had the authority to operate the launch under a joint state and federal agreement signed 53 years ago.
The DNR said the federal government provided $700,000 for state park facilities in the last fiscal year. The funding was cut off Tuesday as a congressional disagreement over Obamacare triggered the partial federal shutdown.
Walker clings to 250,000-job promise
Gov. Scott Walker says he's "still committed" to helping create 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin.
The governor urged about 500 business people at a state meeting in Madison Wednesday to spread the message of what's happening here. The governor's preferred labor report recently showed that the state created 24.000 private sector jobs during the year ending in March, but on a percentage basis, it was the 34th-slowest growth rate in the country.
With the economic recovery still sputtering at times, Walker has tried to downplay the campaign promise that helped get him elected in 2010. Lately, he has called the 250,000 job promise a "goal" instead.
But in his speech to the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce forum, Walker said he wants to make sure everyone in the state who wants a job can get one. The governor also touted some recent positive economic reports -- one of which shows that Wisconsin created 11,590 new businesses since his term began in 2011. That's more than the 10,000 new companies he promised when he ran.
Trevino found guilty of unintentional murder
A Minnesota man was found guilty Wednesday on the lesser of two charges in the murder of his wife who was from the Wausau area.
Jurors deliberated for 17 hours over two days before finding Jeffery Trevino, 39, guilty of second-degree unintentional murder in the February killing of Kira Steger. He was found not guilty on the more serious count of intentional second-degree murder.
Trevino could get up to 20 years in prison when he's sentenced Nov. 25.
Jurors told reporters they had doubts of whether Trevino intended to kill Steger, 30, during a fight in their St. Paul apartment.
Brandon Wilson said he and his fellow jurors believed that Trevino pushed a pillow on Steger's head to quiet her down and not kill her. Earlier testimony indicated that Steger might have been smothered.
Rachel Abraham said she and other jurors could only speculate on what actually happened in the couple's bedroom just before Steger disappeared.
Still, Wilson said the timeframe was so tight that Trevino was the only one who could have been involved in the killing.
Prosecutors said Steger was planning to leave Trevino for another man. Testimony indicated Trevino was hoping to patch up their marriage during a date in which she kept texting her lover. She disappeared later that night, and her body was found in the Mississippi River in early May.
High use jams insurance exchange Website
Federal officials say they're upgrading a computer system that has prevented millions of people from shopping for health insurance in the Obamacare exchanges.
Healthcare.gov has been jammed ever since people were allowed to start enrolling on Tuesday for the coverage they'll be required to have in January. The Milwaukee Health Department has tried to help people enroll online, but they did not get a single application through the system.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services representatives blame high user volumes for the hold-ups. They said over 4.7 million people visited the main exchange Website on Tuesday.
The agency said an "overwhelming interest" is causing the computer crashes and long waits, and it is promising improvements in the coming hours and days.
Up to 700,000 Wisconsinites without employer health coverage are required to use the federal government's purchasing exchange to get insurance lined up by Dec. 15.
A supporter of the Obama law, Robert Kraig of Wisconsin Citizen Action, finds a silver lining in the situation. He says it's good that so many people were interested that it crashed the site. If the bugs cannot be fixed quickly, Kraig said the government should consider delaying the enrollment deadline.
Insurance agent agrees to repay $1 million, but he has no money
A former insurance agent in La Crosse has agreed to pay over $1 million to settle a civil lawsuit, but he apparently won't be paying it anytime soon.
The Securities and Exchange Commission said Jeremy Fisher only had about $95 in all of his bank accounts as of Sept. 9.
The SEC sued Fisher after he allegedly sold fraudulent securities to several clients in his Good Life Financial Group between 2009 and last December. Officials said he raised just over $1 million --which he promised to invest in a trading platform -- from 18 investors.
Once he learned the platform was a scam, the SEC said Fisher said he kept $880,000 for himself, and he used $166,000 to pay returns for other investors. Fisher was allowed not to admit or deny the allegations in settling the lawsuit.
Walker says Washington should be more like Madison
Democrats cried foul yesterday after Gov. Scott Walker said the federal government should be more like Wisconsin.
The Republican Walker said both parties are to blame for the federal government shutdown with gridlock between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate and White House.
The governor cited the end of budget deficits during his term -- in which Republicans have had total control of the executive and legislative branches. Democrats have been virtually ignored on major issues, just like minority parties have been for years.
Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chris Larson said Walker is a polarizing figure who practices “my way or the highway” politics.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca called Wisconsin the most “divided state in the country” and said the GOP's job creation policies are not working.
Melissa Baldauff of the State Democratic Party said it's “beyond laughable” that anyone should look to Walker as an example.
Walker touted his cooperation with legislative leaders by meeting with them weekly, but the Democrats say they're left out of those sessions. Two years ago, 14 Senate Democrats left the state for three weeks in a failed effort to block Walker's signature measure -- the virtual end of most public union bargaining.
Palermo’s Pizza fined for safety violations
Federal workplace safety officials have cited a Milwaukee pizza-maker after an accident in May in which a worker from Burma lost three fingers.
Palermo's Pizza was given three citations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for what's being termed as serious violations. The proposed fines total $13,500.
The injured employee had his hand in a pizza dough mixer at the time of the mishap. OSHA said Palermo's gave inadequate safety instructions and had inadequate electrical and equipment safeguards.
Palermo's spokesman Evan Zeppos said the firm is discussing the matter with OSHA officials. Final penalties are pending, along with penalties from citations issued in May for eight other violations against Palermo's and its frozen pizza company. That case dealt with the handling of an ammonia refrigeration system.
Highway named after Lucey
Former Wisconsin governor Patrick Lucey now has a highway named after him.
Lucey, 95, looked on Wednesday as a marker was unveiled during a ceremony at a scenic overlook in his home town of Ferryville in the southwest part of the state.
Twenty-two miles of Hwy. 35, between Ferryville and Prairie Du Chien, will have Lucey's name on it.
His son David said it's where Lucey learned some of his most important lessons in life -- and where he drew a lot of his strength.
Lucey, a Democrat, was the state's governor from 1971 through 1977. The University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin State University systems were merged under his watch. Lucey also signed the "Age of Majority" bill in 1972 in which Wisconsinites officially became legal adults at age 18 instead of 21.
He resigned as governor in 1977 to become the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He ran for vice president in 1980 as an independent.
UW-Madison has more freshmen than ever before
UW-Madison has its biggest freshman class ever with the largest number of Wisconsin residents since 2001.
According to new figures from the UW System, the flagship Madison campus has a record 6,339 freshmen this fall. Just over 3,800 of those come from Wisconsin – 9.5% more than the numbers accepted a year ago.
UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mike Lowell said the increase at Madison is one reason UWM has 1,300 fewer total students than last fall. Lowell also blames a smaller number of high school graduates available to enroll. Those declines are projected to continue through 2018.
Madison also has more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition. Almost 27% of this year's undergrads at Madison are non-residents. That was after the Board of Regents raised the percentage limit for out-of-state students from 25% to 27.5%.
Meanwhile, Platteville is the fastest-growing UW campus with a record enrollment of over 8,600 – 40% more than in 2005. La Crosse also has a record number of students, at almost 10,500. The freshman class at La Crosse is the largest in 27 years.
State Supreme Court holds session in Sheboygan
Wisconsin's highest court is hitting the road again.
The State Supreme Court will hold a session in Sheboygan today -- the 24th session outside of Madison since 1993. It's part of an outreach initiative to show school students and others throughout the state how the Supreme Court works. Spectators will get to hear arguments in two groundbreaking cases. Both involve the question of whether it's constitutional for police to track down a suspect by obtaining the person's cellphone data without a warrant.
Nicolas Subdiaz-Osorio claims that Kenosha police violated his rights when officers worked with his cellphone provider to track his signal and arrest him for a murder. The second case also involves the police use of cellphone signals to find a murder suspect.
Hearing set on moving 17-year-olds to juvenile court system
Wisconsinites will have their say today on whether 17-year-old suspects for non-violent crimes should be treated as juveniles instead of adults.
The Assembly Criminal Justice Committee will hold public hearing at the Capitol late this morning on a bill to return non-violent 17-year-olds to the juvenile court system.
Supporters say it would give them a better chance of getting treatment, instead of just being locked up with older criminals in prison. The bill reverses a 1996 law that charges all 17-year-olds in adult court. Advocacy groups have been trying to repeal the law in recent years without success.
The new measure is a compromise in which teens charged with the most serious crimes like homicide and rape could still face adult penalties. The same would be true for repeat offenders.
Wisconsin is one of 11 states where defendants under 18 are automatically charged as adults. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the system works just fine.
Those supporting the change include the state Public Defender's office, the State Bar and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
Deputy presented with Purple Heart
An Adams County sheriff's deputy has received a Purple Heart award from his department.
Todd Johnson was shot and wounded Feb. 19 when he showed up at a house in Big Flats to look for a missing couple from suburban Milwaukee. A judge had ordered Thomas Costigan of West Allis to stay away from his wife Karen while the two were having marital problems. When they both turned up missing, West Allis police became concerned for her safety, and they asked Adams County deputies to check the couple's property at Big Flats.
Thomas Costigan, 55, fired several shots at officers after they arrived. One bullet hit Johnson, and Costigan then shot himself to death.
Johnson was away from work for almost seven months before he returned on Sept. 11. Sheriff Sam Wollin and Chief Deputy Terry Fahrenkrug presented Johnson with his Purple Heart award yesterday.
--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau