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Human-trafficking, EdVest change bills up for votes Thursday; Rubber ducks, farm-fresh eggs bills on Assembly’s agenda; 10 other state news briefs

MADISON -- State laws against human trafficking would be tightened under a bill that's up for approval in the Wisconsin Assembly Thursday.

Lawmakers of both parties have gotten behind the measure. It would more broadly define human trafficking as any scheme to control an individual, and prosecutors would no longer have to prove it was done against the victim's consent.

Also trafficking victims who are prostitutes could ask a judge to expunge or vacate their convictions for prostitution. Judges would have to be convinced that society would not be harmed.

Also Thursday, the Assembly will consider letting anyone invest money in a person's 529-EdVest college savings plan.

Under current law, only relatives can invest those funds. The bill would also increase maximum contributions by the rate of inflation each year.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill a month ago.

The Assembly also plans to vote on a bill requiring those who officiate at weddings to be at least 18. Under current law, couples must be at least 18 to get married, but there's no age limit to pronounce them as husband and wife.

Lawmakers will get an update on the state of Wisconsin's 11 Indian tribes. The Menominee tribe's newly-elected chairwoman, Laurie Boivin, will deliver the address.


Rubber ducks, farm-fresh egg bills on Assembly’s agenda

MADISON -- Eggs and rubber ducks will be among the issues of concern in the Wisconsin Assembly Thursday.

The lower house is scheduled to act on bills to let farmers sell eggs from their chickens without a state processing license and to allow charities to put on rubber duck races without running afoul of gambling laws.

De Pere Republican Andre Jacque raced into action after the State Justice Department warned officials in Mishicot that their annual duck race is illegal gambling.

Charities throughout Wisconsin run the duck contests, including the "Ducktona-500" in Sheboygan Falls.

Neighboring Minnesota and Michigan allow those types of races. The egg bill would let people sell their own items at farmers markets without the need for a state license.

The producers could only have less than 150 chickens, and they would need labels showing that the eggs are not graded.


Farmers will pay $100,000 for poisoning bald eagles, 70 other wild animals

A father and son who run a large potato farm in northern Wisconsin will pay $100,000 in restitution for the poisoning deaths of two bald eagles and 70 other wild animals.

Alvin Slowinski, 65, and his 46-year-old son Paul of Sugar Camp in Oneida County have made a plea deal on federal charges of illegal bald eagle possession. They'll have separate plea hearings May 8 before Magistrate Stephen Crocker in Madison.

U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil said wildlife poisoning cases are extremely rare. He has only prosecuted one or two in the last 30 years.

Authorities said the Slowinskis poisoned a host of wildlife -- including at least two eagles, nine coyotes, a bobcat and almost two dozen birds and ravens -- with pesticides between 2007 and 2010. There was no evidence that any wolves -- who were federally-protected at the time -- were poisoned.

Officials said Alvin Slowinski used the insecticide Carbofuran to kill wildlife, and both defendants allowed hunters and trappers to kill predators to make deer and grouse hunting better for their friends. It all happened on an 8,000 acre potato operation in which about half was actively being farmed.

An investigation began in 2007 when a Department of Natural Resources warden found a dead bald eagle, among other animals. Sheriff's deputies and U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel also took part in the probe.


Milwaukee Archdiocese files reorganization plan

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese has paid $19 million in legal fees for its three-year-old bankruptcy case. If a judge won't accept the church's financial reorganization plan, it could cost the Archdiocese another $13 million in pay outs, according to the plan that was filed Wednesday in a federal bankruptcy court.

About 125 victims of sex abuse by clergy members would share $4 million -- by far the lowest among 11 similar bankruptcy cases involving Catholic sectors around the country.

The Milwaukee Archdiocese intends to compensate only about a quarter of the 575 victims who filed claims.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki said more funds could be made available by suing insurance companies who represent some of the victims.

Those victims were hoping to tap into $100 million in church trust funds and parish assets. The Archdiocese, however, insisted that local church coffers are off limits, and a judge said they could not tap into the church's $57 million fund to maintain Catholic cemeteries.

The church plans to borrow $2 million from the cemetery fund to pay part of its legal bills.

Victim advocacy groups were outraged by the church's settlement offer.

Attorney Jeff Anderson said he's never seen a bishop or diocese that's "more purposeful in pouring salt in the wounds of survivors."

Listecki said the church is insolvent, and no amount of money will satisfy the victims -- even though he does recognize their "tremendous hurt."


Warrant would be needed for GPS tracking under proposed bill

MADISON -- Unless they get a warrant, police could not use your cellphone's GPS signals to keep track of you under a bill up for approval Thursday in the state Assembly.

The criminal justice committee in the lower house endorsed the bill on a 9-0 vote earlier this month.

In order to track your phone, law enforcement would have to convince a judge that there's probable cause that a crime has been or will be committed. Officers would also have to show how they could get relevant evidence by tracking a cellphone.

Warrants would not be needed in emergencies where deaths or injuries are at stake or in efforts to find missing persons.

Assembly Democrat Melissa Sargent of Madison proposed the measure. It was introduced in December just before USA Today reported that police agencies around the country were snapping up large amounts of cell data from innocent people.

Among other things, the paper said 25 U.S. police agencies have "Stingrays," which are fake cell towers in which police can go into neighborhoods and gather cell data of residents.


Marathon Co. jailer returns to work nearly a year after assault

WAUSAU -- A jail officer in Wausau is back at work, after she was severely beaten in an attack by an inmate 10 1/2 months ago.

Julie Christensen returned to work Wednesday on a part-time basis.

She and another correctional officer were attacked last March 27 at the Marathon County Jail when they told prisoners in a cellblock they would lose their canteen, phone and TV privileges for not returning meal trays.

Christensen was punched in the face and knocked unconscious. She was in a coma for several months, and doctors were not certain she could fully recover from her head injuries.

Now Sheriff Scott Parks says Christensen has a great attitude and she wants to return to fulltime duty.

For now, though, she's working three days a week in a correctional post that does not put her in direct contact with jail inmates.

The man charged with attacking her, Fredrick Morris, 21, is scheduled to have a three-day trial starting July 8 for aggravated battery and two counts of battery by prisoners.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Tree-cutting accident kills Milladore man

MILLADORE -- A central Wisconsin man was killed Wednesday when a tree he was cutting fell on him.

Wood County authorities said Levi Miller, 20, of Milladore was found by a co-worker. Miller was pinned underneath the tree. Rescuers tried to revive him but couldn't.

The accident happened around 5:30 p.m. in a wooded area in the town of Sherry about 15 miles east of Marshfield.

Miller was pronounced dead at the scene. 

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau


Bill would allow prosecution of persons who help relatives hide from police

Family members would no longer be allowed to help their criminal relatives escape arrest under a bill to be considered today by the Wisconsin Assembly.

The Republican measure would stop preventing families from being convicted of aiding and harboring their relatives who commit felonies. The exemption has applied to a felon's siblings, spouse, parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren.

Former Assembly Democrat Peggy Krusick of Milwaukee tried and failed for years to pass a similar measure before she was defeated for reelection in 2012. She had long argued that it is wrong for relatives to obstruct law enforcement.

However, opponents found various technicalities to reject her bills.

Last month, the Assembly's Criminal Justice Committee endorsed the measure on a 7-3 vote. It includes fines of up to $20,000 and prison terms of up to 10 years, depending on the crimes the suspect is accused of.


Teen charged with beating dad to death

A Sheboygan high school student has been ordered to stand trial for the beating death of his father.

Dorian Torres, 17, had a preliminary hearing yesterday. He is scheduled to enter a plea two weeks from today on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide.

Authorities said the teen hid the body of Emilio Torres, 41, for almost a week before investigators found it Jan. 30 under a bed in the victim's apartment.

Sheboygan police Detective Joe Clark testified that Dorian was seen buying duct tape similar to what was used on a shower curtain that covered his father's body. Also, Clark said, there were numerous transactions on the father's debit card, and a bank was asked for help with one of the older man’s credit cards.

Early police reports indicated that Emilio Torres' ex-wife said their son asked for personal ID's to the bank cards. Dorian reportedly claimed his father had left for Texas and gave him his car before taking off.

Prosecutors do not have a motive for the killing, but the man's ex-wife said he argued often with their son and Dorian had a problem with authority.


Tourism study focuses on ‘silent sports’

Wisconsin's Northwoods is a haven for snowmobiling and ice fishing, but it also has some beautiful and quieter recreation trails you may not know about.

That's according to a three-year study funded by the state tourism department for Vilas, Oneida, Forest, Lincoln and Langlade counties. All five counties have extensive trails for "silent sports" like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Kim Baltus of the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce said the Milwaukee area residents who were surveyed showed a strong interest in those silent sports, and some of those folks don’t like being around the louder motorized activities.

Also the survey showed that travelers who stay in one Northwoods community will often go to nearby places for activities. As a result, Baltus says there's a different marketing approach that recognizes those interested in taking day trips through the region.

--Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander


Baldwin votes for, Johnson votes against extending debt limit

Wisconsin's two U.S. senators voted with their parties yesterday as they agreed to extend the nation's debt limit again.

Democrat Tammy Baldwin voted yes to both the extension and a motion to end the debate while Texas Republican Ted Cruz was trying to clear a hurdle to allow a filibuster.

Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson voted against cutting off debate, saying the debt limit extension represents "the unsustainable growth in the size and scope of government."

However many GOP senators were in no mood for another political battle, as they try to keep the focus on the Democrats' problems with Obamacare during this election year. The motion to end the debate passed 67-31, and the extension of the debt limit was passed on a party-line 55-43 vote.

It now goes to President Obama. The Treasury will borrow as normal for the next 13 months, and then the federal borrowing limit will be reset after that.

The House passed the extension on Tuesday. It lets the government borrow money to pay Social Security benefits, bills from Medicare and Medicaid health providers and government employee salaries.


Authorities say smoking caused fatal fire

Officials in Racine blame careless smoking for the death of a 61-year-old man in a house fire.

The victim was identified yesterday as Mark Halonen.

Firefighters were called to his house just before midnight Tuesday when flames were spewing from the roof.

Once firefighters could get inside, they saw Halonen on a living room couch where the blaze began. He died of thermal injuries from the heat and flames.