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July 4th brings lower-cost picnics; more budget details clarified; picnic bear nixes Sand Island camping, more state briefs

The Wisconsin Farm Bureau says a July 4th picnic featuring hot dogs, cheeseburgers and short ribs will cost less to produce this year than last.

If you’re hosting a Fourth of July picnic, it should cost less than $6 a person to feed whomever you invite.

The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation says the average price of a standard Independence Day meal in 28 cities is $5.59 per tummy. The menu would include hot dogs, cheese burgers and spare ribs – plus potato salad, baked beans, watermelon, chocolate milk and lemonade.

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Wisconsin’s price is about 13 cents less than the average in 21 other states.

Meanwhile, Wisconsinites can save some money by steering clear of illegal fireworks.

In Milwaukee, all fireworks are illegal – even the sparklers, smoke bombs and little ground displays that are allowed in many Wisconsin communities. Fines range up to $1,000.

Officials encourage folks to check their local laws before stocking up. The state Department of Justice says anything that explodes or leaves the ground requires a permit, and those without permits can face fines of up to $1,000. That doesn’t include the cost of fires and injuries that result when things like firecrackers go awry.

The National Fire Protection Association says almost 18,000 blazes were started by fireworks in 2011.

In the same year, officials said almost 10,000 Americans were seen in hospital emergency rooms with fireworks injuries. Sparklers and small items accounted for about one-third of those injuries.


School aids rise but only for less than half state's districts

MADISON -- Just over half of Wisconsin school districts will see their general state aid go down this fall, despite a statewide increase of just over 1 percent.

The Department of Public Instruction released preliminary district by district totals Monday. Madison is among the hardest hit, losing 15% of its state assistance. That translates to a reduction of almost $9 million.

School aid is based on each district’s spending and property values. Richer districts normally get less. All 424 Wisconsin school systems will share about $4.33 billion. That’s up by $50 million from a year ago, but it’s still about a $250 million less than in Jim Doyle’s final term as governor.

In 2011, Gov. Scott Walker reduced school aid to help cover a state deficit. He said schools could make up for the lost funding through limits on collective bargaining, and making employees pay more for their health care and retirements. That helped schools recover only two-thirds of what they lost.

This year, Walker wanted schools to earn their increases in state aid by having voters approve them in revenue cap referendums, but that idea was scrapped after complaints from some of Walker’s own GOP lawmakers.

Smoking state employees catch a break on insurance premium hike

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker has changed his mind about making state employees who smoke pay $50 month more for their health insurance.

It was not exactly a change of heart. The Republican Walker said new federal rules would have made the mandate too cumbersome.

Walker proposed the insurance surcharge in the state budget he introduced in February, saying health care is more expensive for smokers. Lawmakers approved it, but Walker vetoed it because the new federal rules came along after he first proposed the surcharge. Among other things, he said smokers could have side-stepped the fee by joining a cessation program.

On Monday, Walker visited Green Bay, La Crosse and Chippewa Falls to promote those parts of the budget he says is “Working for Wisconsin” – like the new $650 million income tax cut.

Walker was to continue his tour Tuesday in Hayward and Rhinelander.

Furloughs loom for 1,500 civilian workers at Fort McCoy

SPARTA -- The federal budget sequester will start hitting home next week for employees at Fort McCoy.

The Army base between Tomah and Sparta will start furloughs next Monday for its 1,500 civilian workers. They’ll each lose one day a week of work and pay through the end of the federal fiscal year Sept. 30.

It’s part of the $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts which took effect in March. About half the cuts affect the military.


Milwaukee takes up residency rules issue

Milwaukee aldermen were to decide Wednesday whether the city will challenge and/or ignore state-imposed limits on its residency law for public employees.

The new state budget that took effect Monday only gives communities the authority to make their police and firefighters live within 15 miles of the places they serve.

Mayor Tom Barrett says he’s confident that in the end, Milwaukee will keep its previous 75-year-old mandate that all municipal employees live in the city.

The Common Council has two related measures up Wednesday. One would order a lawsuit against the state. The other would simply ignore the state provision and continue the residency rule. Critics say that measure could result in numerous lawsuits from employees if the courts eventually uphold the state’s new limits.

Barrett says the state budget mandate violates home-rule powers granted by the state Constitution since 1924.

Alderman Nik Kovac said Milwaukee has had no problem filling its public employee jobs. He said the residency rule limits would “weaken the city’s tax base and devastate local neighborhoods.”

Gov. Scott Walker says public employees should have the right to decide where to live, just like the rest of us.

'Knee-high' cliche doesn't apply widely this summer

Some of the corn that’s supposed to be “knee-high by the Fourth of July” is not even in the ground yet.

Officials said 96% of the Wisconsin corn was planted as of Sunday – 4% more than a week ago. Ninety-two percent of the crop has emerged. That’s 8% more than the previous week, but another 8% is still underground.

The good news for farmers is that 90% of the Wisconsin corn is rated fair to excellent, and they’re getting more chances to get their work done since the weather has finally dried up.

Forecasters expect dry weather at least until Wednesday afternoon when the Badger State will get its next chance of rain.

The state has been hit hard by heavy rains ever since a late winter ended. La Crosse had its second-wettest January through June on record.

Because of the delays in planting, crop reporters say some of the expected corn acreage has shifted to soybeans. The USDA said late last week that Wisconsin planted 150,000 fewer acres of corn than expected.

Ninety-three percent of the state’s soybeans have been planted. Some 92% are rated fair to excellent.

High Court will rule on neglect allegation against Wausau couple

MADISON -- The State Supreme Court will announce Wednesday whether a Wausau area couple is guilty of homicide for praying instead of getting medical help for her dying daughter.

Dale and Leilani Neumann want the justices to throw out their 2009 convictions for second-degree reckless homicide. Kara Neumann, age 11, died Easter Sunday of 2008 from complications of diabetes after the couple failed to get medical help and insisted on faith healing instead.

State law allows such faith-healing without making parents liable for child abuse. The Justice Department says homicide laws take precedence when a child dies, but the Neumanns’ attorneys say the law is not clear in that regard.

During oral arguments last December, Pat Roggensack was the only justice to give any indication of how she was leaning. She said the Neumanns’ original juries concluded that they crossed the line, and she asked why the Supreme Court should rule differently.

As Madison officer quits, wrongful death claim will disappear

MADISON -- A Madison police officer has agreed to stop patrolling for good in exchange for having a complaint dropped against him for shooting a musician to death.

Steven Heimsness has agreed to resign as of Nov. 23, and Madison Police Chief Noble Wray agreed to withdraw allegations filed last month with the city’s Police and Fire Commission.

Reports said Heimsness shot Paul Heenan, 30, to death last November after Heenan mistakenly entered a neighbor’s house while drunk, and the officer later tried breaking up a scuffle between the two.

The Wisconsin Professional Police Association said Heimsness has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since the shooting. Union director Jim Palmer said the officer’s mental health is his main concern. He was on administrative leave until Sunday and was put on sick leave Monday.

Heimsness will remain on sick leave until his duty disability application is approved or on Nov. 23 – whichever comes first.

Victims’ group accuses Archdiocese of bankruptcy fraud

MILWAUKEE -- A support group for sex abuse victims accuses the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese of bankruptcy fraud by transferring $57 million to a trust account to protect it from legal claims.

Documents released Monday show that former Milwaukee Archbishop Tim Dolan moved cemetery care funds into a trust in 2007, four years before the church filed for bankruptcy.

The Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests said Dolan tried to hide the money from the amount available to pay settlements to victims of abusive priests. Both Dolan and the archdiocese denied such a motive.

Church spokesman Jerry Topczewski said the money was always allocated for cemetery care, and the trust only made it formal.

Thousands of pages of documents were released as part of a settlement in the church’s bankruptcy case. They also showed that Dolan paid some problem priests to leave the church.

He sought permission to have the Rev. Daniel Budzynski defrocked for repeatedly abusing children.

Victims’ attorney Jeffrey Anderson called the revelations “shameful and shocking.” He said the church seemed to worry more about its own reputation than about helping victims.

Former Archbishop Rembert Weakland tried to warn the Vatican in advance of the budding U.S. priest sex abuse scandal, and it took years for church leaders to fully respond.

Weakland resigned in 2002 after he paid off a man not to disclose the sexual relations they had.

Hookers accused of hiding man in a closet as they used his apartment

MILWAUKEE -- After a Milwaukee man died from a heroin overdose, two prostitutes allegedly hid his body in a closet, tried using his credit cards and used his apartment for sex with their customers.

That’s what prosecutors said about Ashley Howard, 35, of Milwaukee and Brittany Clary, 22, of New Berlin. Both were charged Monday with hiding a corpse after the death of 62-year-old Glenn Willis, who worked for a Milwaukee law firm.

His family reported him missing on June 14, and police found his body in his apartment last Friday. Police said they searched the closet when they saw an exercise bike and a bookcase pushed in front of it.

Online court records did not list the new charges against Howard and Clary Tuesday morning, and there was no word on when they would appear in Milwaukee County Circuit Court.

At last word, the cause of Willis’ death had not been confirmed.

Burglary, crash and gunfight leave two dead

POUND -- Authorities in northeast Wisconsin are trying to sort out the details in a pair of shooting deaths late Monday night.

Marinette County sheriff’s deputies were called around 10 p.m. when an armed man broke into a family cabin in Pound.

A short time later, deputies were told that a car crashed into a house in the same area. The driver, in his late 20’s, was found shot. He died later at a Green Bay hospital.

Officers said their investigation led to another man who was apparently in his 70’s. They said they found him in a vehicle with a handgun and a shotgun.

Sheriff Jerome Sauve said the man pointed one of the gun at his deputies, and they opened fire and killed him. None of the officers involved were hurt.

Fake bar codes help man net $30,000 in discounts

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA -- A Grant County man has pleaded guilty to using fake bar codes to get big discounts on thousands of dollars of hardware and equipment at stores in Wisconsin and Iowa.

Jeremy Fishnick of Lancaster pleaded guilty to wire fraud Monday in a federal courtroom in Cedar Rapids.

He admitted printing UPC codes for less expensive products and covering them over the real codes for more expensive items so he could buy them for the lower prices.

In one case, Fishnick bought an $890 welding unit for just under $150.

Authorities said the scheme caused $30,000 in losses at stores in Prairie du Chien and six locations in Iowa, including Dubuque and Cedar Rapids.

Picnic bear forces suspension of camping on Sand Island

RED CLIFF -- One of Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands is closed to overnight camping, after a black bear ate people’s food and damaged property.

Sand Island remains open for day use. Visitors are being urged to keep an eye on their lunch at all times and immediately report any bear activity.

The bear was visiting campsites after eating somebody’s food.

Officials said they’ll keep an eye on the animal, and they’ll decide on a weekly basis when to lift the ban on overnight camping. It will resume once the bear is re-trained to stay away from people.

Sand Island is part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in the National Park System.

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.