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Access to Apostle Islands ice caves to close by Sunday; Councilman quit $83,000 post for $120,000 job -- now he has neither; 10 more state news briefs

CORNUCOPIA -- Access to the wildly popular ice caves on Lake Superior at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will close for the season no later than Sunday night due to rapidly changing ice conditions, park officials announced Wednesday.

As the ice on Lake Superior breaks up, it is creating day-to-day uncertainty about the safety of reaching the caves along the mainland shore of the lake near Cornucopia, park officials said.

If ice conditions deteriorate before Sunday, access could close sooner, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore officials said.

About 100,000 visitors have made the 1.1-mile trek over Lake Superior’s ice to reach the caves this winter, park officials say.

While the Park Service anticipates that ice conditions will still allow access through this weekend, park rangers will monitor conditions closely and make an immediate announcement if an earlier closure becomes necessary, a park news release stated. The Park Service suggests that people call the automated ice line at (715) 779-3398, ext. 3, for updates or check the park’s Facebook site,

--Forum News Service


Councilman quit $83,000 job for $120,000 post, now he has neither

Willie Hines resigned as the Milwaukee Common Council president so he could take a job with the city's public housing authority. Now, the federal housing agency says Hines must wait at least a year before taking that job.

Hines chaired the board of the Milwaukee Housing Authority when he was on the Council. He stepped down from that post, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said there was a potential for a conflict of interest when Hines immediately became the authority's associate director.

The city asked for a waiver of the one-year waiting period, but HUD turned down the request. That leaves Hines unemployed for now. He made $83,000 a year running Milwaukee's city council. His Housing Authority salary was to be $120,000 per year.


New law gives tax breaks for worker wellness programs

Small businesses in Wisconsin will soon get tax breaks for offering wellness programs to their employees.

Gov. Scott Walker plans to sign the measure into law this morning in the Eau Claire area. He'll visit the Group Health Cooperative in the district of the bill's lead author, Senate Republican Terry Moulton.

Qualifying companies would get a 30% income-and-franchise tax break for offering approved health and fitness programs to workers. Lawmakers of both parties co-sponsored the legislation.


Lawmaker driving illegally keeps mileage payment

A state legislator says she will not reimburse Wisconsin taxpayers who covered her costs while she was driving to and from Madison with a suspended license.

Assemblywoman Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) said she was not aware at the time that she was driving illegally during part of the current legislative session. She said she won't return her travel reimbursement because the Assembly's rules don't require it.

According to the conservative Media Trackers, Sinicki was stopped in October for her fourth offense of driving under a suspended license. She did not appear in court, and she was fined $200 under a default judgment.

Reports said Sinicki never paid the fine until she realized her mistake two weeks later. Her license was reinstated after she paid it.

Lawmakers are entitled to get reimbursed for one round trip each week from their home districts to the Capitol. They get 51 cents a mile. Sinicki filed for 49 trips last year in which she got paid over $4,000.



Bill would prohibit clandestine GPS tracking

A new Wisconsin bill would make it a crime for you to track other people in their vehicles by secretly putting GPS devices on them.

The Assembly's criminal justice committee will hold a public hearing on the measure and then vote on it.

Pewaukee Republican Adam Neylon is the bill's lead author. It has support from lawmakers of both parties.

Under the bill, anyone who secretly puts a GPS tracking device on another person's vehicle or uses information from another vehicle through GPS could be guilty of a criminal misdemeanor.

It's not certain whether the bill could pass both houses before the current session ends early next month.


Hopes dim for e-cigarette bill

A Wisconsin Senate committee is scheduled to vote today on a bill to let people smoke electronic cigarettes in buildings that are open to the public.

The judiciary panel is scheduled to vote on exempting e-cigarettes from the state's 3 1/2 year old public indoor ban on tobacco smoking. West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman introduced the bill late last year, but it did not get a public hearing until last week. The bill's prospects appear to be dim as the current session is about to end in the next couple weeks.

Supporters say e-cigarettes -- and the vapors inhaled -- are an effective way to help tobacco smokers kick the habit. Doctors have opposed the bill. They say the jury's still out on the potential environmental hazards of the products' vapors.


Maintenance man allegedly kills teens who were attacking him

Milwaukee police said two teenagers were shot and killed by a maintenance man whom the teens were assaulting with a baseball bat early yesterday afternoon in a stairwell at a west side apartment building.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said the two teens and a 21-year-old man got into an argument with the 39-year-old maintenance man. That led to a physical altercation in which the maintenance man was being held while one of the three beat him with the baseball bat. The man then pulled a gun and killed a 19-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl.

The 21-year-old survivor was arrested. The maintenance man was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Flynn said the two teenagers killed did not live in the building, but they knew people who lived there. He said there was no indication that a robbery was taking place.


Investigators ask judge to dismiss suit that asks that John Doe probe be stopped

John Doe investigators have asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit which seeks to halt a secret probe into Wisconsin's recall elections and to punish those who filed the suit.

The probe is secretly gathering evidence on alleged illegal campaign coordination between conservative groups and Republican candidates in the 2011 and 2012 recall elections. That includes the failed recall attempt against Gov. Scott Walker.

Prosecutors and investigator Dean Nickel were sued last month by the Wisconsin Club for Growth. The group said the probe violates its constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection.

The defendants in that suit have asked Milwaukee Federal Judge Rudolph Randa to throw it out. As prosecutors, Francis Schmitz and Milwaukee DA John Chisholm said they're immune from such lawsuits. Also, Nickel's lawyer said the plaintiffs should be sanctioned because they should know that federal judges are generally barred from stopping state attempts at criminal prosecution.

Also, the Journal Sentinel says State Farm Insurance has gotten involved. It wants the judge to decide whether it should have to pay some of prosecutor Bruce Landgraf's legal bills under his personal homeowner's and liability policies. The state normally picks up prosecutors' legal bills, and it's not clear why Landgraf wants his personal insurance to cover some of it. Landgraf would not elaborate.


Campaign materials show up in school lounge – again

School officials in Wausau want to know who put campaign literature in the teachers' lounge of an elementary school.

A package of materials urged teachers to support two Wausau School Board incumbents and a newcomer in next month's elections.

Campaign literature is not allowed on school grounds under the school district's policy, and the recent incident could violate state laws against political campaigning using tax-funded time and resources.

WSAW TV said the materials told teachers in part, "Your working conditions and the quality of education for our students depend on your informed vote." The items said, "Keep in lounge." A Wausau school official says they've since been taken away.

A similar incident happened in 2011 when teachers at Wausau West High School were encouraged to boycott businesses that supported Gov. Scott Walker.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Tribe members claim Gogebic needed permit for winter work

A new lawsuit said the Department of Natural Resources acted illegally by not ordering Gogebic Taconite to get a stormwater permit for an exploratory dig last month at its proposed iron ore mining site.

Four mining opponents from the Bad River Indian tribe are among a group of residents who filed suit in Iron County this week. They want a judge to make the DNR order the permit and for Gogebic Taconite to clean up any environmental damage from the excavations in conducted.

The company had applied for a stormwater permit in December for its plan to test 2,400 tons of rock from three sites on its property near Mellen. Last month, the company changed its plans, saying it wanted to dig now while the ground is still frozen and a proposed access road would no longer be needed. The DNR said a permit would not be required under those circumstances.

An official said the excavation began Feb. 17 and ended 10 days later. Gogebic is now doing reclamation work, covering the topsoil it disturbed.

Former Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney Dennis Grzezinski is representing the plaintiffs. He says the group wants the DNR to impose safeguards to avoid damage at the site once the snow melts.

The state Department of Justice, which is defending the lawsuit, has not commented.


Assembly may not take up early-voting-limits bill

A bill to put more limits on early voting in Wisconsin appears to have an uncertain future after the Senate passed it yesterday.

The Assembly has not said whether it would take up the measure, and Senate GOP Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is not sure, either. Also, Gov. Scott Walker is not saying whether he'd sign the bill.

It would prohibit early absentee voting on weekends and after 7 p.m. in the two weeks before election days. That's after Republicans reduced the early voting period in 2011 from three weeks to two.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called it a "mean-spirited" attempt by Republicans to suppress the vote in heavily-Democratic Milwaukee and Madison.

Senate Democrat Lena Taylor of Milwaukee called it "backward-thinking mentality."

"I feel like I'm in 1906, fighting the fights that people who came long before me had to fight," said Taylor.

Fitzgerald repeated GOP concerns that voters in rural areas don't have as many early voting hours as the bigger cities due to a lack of resources. The Senate approved an amendment yesterday that would give about $200,000 in state funds to rural communities to help cover the costs of their early voting.


State has first $1 million winner in $30 scratch game

A Milwaukee man has won $1 million in the Wisconsin Lottery's first $30 instant scratch game.

Richard McClain won the second of four $1 million prizes in the Instant Million game, which started being played less than three weeks ago.

McClain bought his ticket at Milwaukee's National Quick Food Mart. The store got a $20,000 commission for selling it. McClain was given a check for $673,000 after taxes.