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Woman replaces GOP leader accused of groping; Committee sets frac bill vote for tomorrow; more state news

Rep. Pat Strachota

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans elected Pat Strachota of West Bend this afternoon as their new majority leader.

She replaces Bill Kramer, who was removed from the post earlier today amid allegations that he groped a female legislative staffer following a GOP fundraiser in Washington last Wednesday and made lewd remarks to a woman lobbyist on a plane ride home the next day.

After a closed session, Medford Republican Mary Williams made the motion to remove Kramer as the majority leader. She said he has lost the trust and confidence of Assembly Republicans.

Strachota, 58, becomes the first female majority leader in the lower house in Wisconsin history. This is her 12th year in the Assembly, and she announced recently that she would not seek reelection this fall.

Between now and then, Strachota will help get the GOP's priorities approved in the final weeks of the current session. Then, she'll help Republicans win elections this fall.

The GOP now holds a 60-39 majority in the Assembly.

Meanwhile, Speaker Robin Vos said Kramer should not run for reelection to his Assembly seat this fall although the choice is up to him as to whether he'll resign. Kramer has registered as a candidate, along with Libertarian Chuck Schilling.

Vos also said actions would be taken to protect anyone who feels uncomfortable around Kramer should he return to the Capitol. He checked into a treatment facility last weekend, and there's no word on when he would be released.


Committee sets frac bill vote for tomorrow

The Wisconsin Senate's mining committee has scheduled a vote for tomorrow on a controversial bill to protect existing frac-sand mines from unexpected regulations.

Mining panels from both houses held a joint hearing on the measure yesterday. At least one supporter doubted the ability of local governments to properly keep tabs on the industry.

Critics cited a loss of local control and the inability of communities to keep their regulations abreast with future technology. Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst said he was concerned that local governments don't over-regulate frac-sand mines to the point that they'll leave.

He also wanted tighter limits on regulating future mines, but as a compromise, he gave that up so existing mines won't have to worry about local rule changes down the road.


Milwaukeean gets probation for voting twice

Prosecutors failed today to send a Milwaukee man to a state prison for 15 years for voting twice in the 2012 presidential contest.

Leonard Brown, 56, was given two years of probation, which includes nine months in the Milwaukee County jail with work release privileges.

Defense lawyer Christopher Hartley told the judge it was "outrageous" that prosecutors considered the offenses bad enough to order prison time. The attorney said Brown was being snapped up in the political debate over Wisconsin's stalled voter ID law, and his criminal case was the wrong place for that.

Brown pleaded guilty last fall to five counts of voting in West Milwaukee for various elections after he stopped living there. A jury convicted him in January for double-voting and making false statements to an election worker.

Prosecutor Bruce Landgraf recommended $1,200 in fines. But the judge rejected that, saying Brown already had to pay $250 for each of the seven counts to have his DNA in the state's criminal database.


Police chief suggests warning, not jail, is best response to domestic abuse

Milwaukee's police chief raises the question of whether mandatory arrests are the best way to deal with non-felony domestic abuse.

That's after an updated study shows that more abuse victims are likely to die when their attackers are arrested, rather than warned, by police.

The University of Maryland followed up on a Milwaukee study from the late 1980's after Wisconsin started requiring mandatory arrests for domestic abuse calls. The study showed that 64% of the city's abuse victims were more likely to die early from all causes if their partners get arrests instead of warnings. Among African-Americans, the early deaths rise by 98%.

Police Chief Ed Flynn plans to join the study's main researcher -- Lawrence Sherman -- at a policing conference in London tomorrow to present the new findings.

Advocates for abuse victims say the arrests hold abusers accountable, and they question the methods in obtaining the new findings. They say society has changed since the 1980's.

Flynn agrees. He says there's now a much wider array of public and private services to address domestic violence besides just the criminal justice system.


Assembly considers compensation for man falsely imprisoned for 23 years

A Milwaukee man is about to get one step closer to being compensated by the state, for spending 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

The Assembly State Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing this afternoon on a bill to pay Robert Stinson at least $115,000. He was convicted of raping and killing a Milwaukee woman in 1984 and was freed five years ago after another man confessed.

The State Claims Board approved the maximum it could allocate -- $25,000 -- and it urged lawmakers to grant more. Stinson asked for $115,000 so the proposed Assembly bill would add $90,000 to what the Claims Board approved.

When the Senate approved the compensation a few weeks ago, West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman arranged to add another $21,000 in a last-minute amendment -- for a total payment of $136,000.


Manitowoc man pleads not guilty to OWI homicide

A 20-year-old man has pleaded not guilty to causing a traffic death while driving drunk in Manitowoc County.

Codi Olson waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and he entered pleas to felony counts of OWI homicide and causing death while driving with a suspended license.

Authorities said Olson's vehicle slammed into another on Hwy. 10 in Manitowoc Rapids Feb. 16. Derek Waterman, 26, died.

Olson's lawyer asked that a $5,000 bond be reduced in half, claiming Olson is not a risk of leaving and missing future court appearances. Circuit Judge Gary Bendix said no to the request.


Reward offered for information about gunman who killed pharmacy student

The St. Louis College of Pharmacy is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the killer of a student from Waukesha.

Nicholas Kapusniak, 20, was shot early Saturday during a Mardi Gras party in a St. Louis neighborhood. Police said he was standing with friends in a backyard when a vehicle drove by, and one of its occupants fired shots into the crowd.

The school says its reward adds to a $1,000 reward offered by the local Crime-Stoppers program.

The College of Pharmacy is planning a candlelight vigil, plus a memorial service when Kapusniak's parents can be there.

Police say they have interviewed people and canvassed the neighborhood for information, but no arrests have been made.

Kapusniak graduated from Waukesha Catholic Memorial High School in 2011. He was in the third year of a six-year pharmacy program at St. Louis.


Appleton man leads police on 45-mile high-speed chase

A 37-year-old Appleton man is facing charges after he got into a 45-mile high-speed chase that damaged two squad cars.

The chase began around 7:30 last night when authorities said they learned of a reckless driver heading south on the Hwy. 41 expressway in Winnebago County.

State troopers and a sheriff's deputy tried stopping the vehicle just west of Fond du Lac, but the driver kept going and so did the chase.

Authorities said the offending vehicle struck the deputy's squad car and caused it to roll over. The 46-year-old officer was treated at a hospital and later released.

Meanwhile, the chase kept going south of Fond du Lac and into Dodge County before another Fond du Lac County sheriff's car struck the suspect and ended the chase. The suspect was then taken into custody without being hurt.


Merrill woman accused to soliciting hit-man to kill fiancé

A 33-year-old Merrill woman is jailed under a $250,000 bond after she was charged with trying to hire a hit-man to kill her fiancé who's a local attorney.

Jessica Strom appeared in Marathon County Circuit Court yesterday on a charge of conspiracy to commit homicide.

Prosecutors said she tried hiring a former criminal justice classmate to walk into her fiancé’s law office in Merrill and "blow his brains out" before flying the body to Door County. She reportedly said she was in a "bad relationship."

Officials said Strom offered sex and $1,000 to the alleged hit-man when they met at a Wausau restaurant last week. He went to law enforcement instead.

Authorities said Strom was arrested after a sting operation. She's due back in court a week from tomorrow for a preliminary hearing.

WSAU Radio in Wausau said the intended victim was a 49-year-old lawyer and a former prosecutor.

Circuit Judge Michael Moran withdrew from the case after setting Strom's bond, saying he knew the attorney. The station also said a special prosecutor may be necessary since the Marathon County DA's staff is also familiar with the person.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


New law adds another mandatory test for newborns

Wisconsin will soon require all hospitals to offer a $4 test that could save newborns with congenital heart disease.

Gov. Scott Walker went to Milwaukee Children's Hospital yesterday to sign a bill requiring the exam, which will join other mandatory health tests at birth. Walker calls it a "simple little test that can save a life."

The bill had languished in the state Legislature for about two years before it got a push last December from a series of news stories in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That paper found over a dozen hospitals were not performing the Pulse Oximetry test. It also brought forth a 2010 study showing that nine Wisconsin newborns died over a five-year period because their congenital heart disease had not been detected.

As a result of the bill signing, the state Health Services Department will now write new rules for hospitals to follow in administering the test. Over 30 states already require it.