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Bill signing Monday frees $35 million for job training; welding likely sparked sawmill fire; 10 more state stories

MADISON -- Just over 3 percent of Wisconsin's billion dollar budget surplus would be used to train new workers, under a bill Gov. Scott Walker was expected to sign into law Monday.

The Republican Walker planned s a mid-morning ceremony at Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville. He'll highlight $35 million in additional worker training efforts through June of next year.

The measure also includes new efforts to help disabled Wisconsinites find jobs.

Meanwhile, the Assembly is expected to take its final vote Tuesday on using just over half the surplus on tax relief. Both houses have approved the use of $504 million for property- and income tax relief for the next 18 months.

The Assembly will be asked to ratify other changes in the package made by the Senate last month. About $100 million that was supposed to go into the state's Rainy Day Fund for emergencies would go into the general fund instead.

Also, the Senate endorsed $38 million in new spending cuts to offset a possible structural deficit to start the next budget in mid-2015.

Walker has agreed to the bill's newest changes.

Also Monday, Walker was scheduled to sign a bill in Milwaukee that could pave the way for a new downtown lakefront hotel and high-rise apartment complex.

However, a local park preservation group says the bill would still make it unconstitutional to build the project, since it would be located on a filled lake-bed.

State lawmakers approved an exception, to allow Milwaukee County's under used Downtown Transit Center to be replaced by a 44-story hotel-and-housing structure called the Couture Building.

The park preservation group says it might file suit to halt the project. It said a map filed in 1884 showed that about two-thirds of the two-acre transit center property was in Lake Michigan before the site was filled.

Citations, prosecution for open records cases rare in Wisconsin Wisconsin's nearly 2,000 state and local government bodies were given only seven citations for holding illegal secret meetings since 2009 and none were cited for illegally withholding public records. That's according to Gannett Wisconsin Media, which also found that 17 other open meeting law violations around the state were cited but later dropped.

Gannett said there's no way to track the actual numbers of open meetings and open records violations statewide. It quoted watchdogs as saying the numbers of violations are much higher than what gets to court.

Bill Lueders of the state's Freedom of Information Council said prosecutors are very reluctant to enforce open government laws and he was surprised there were seven prosecutions.

Fines range up to $1,000 for illegally withholding public records, and $300 for holding closed meetings that don't meet the specific exceptions of the open meeting law.

Prosecutors told Gannett it's most effective to teach local officials about their obligations to the public instead of punishing them for not doing so.

Other observers said the laws give governments a powerful incentive to comply, because if they lose, they must pay the attorneys' fees of those who sue them for such violations.

Ex-Walker aide facing big tax bill

Former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch is in trouble again. She owes $6,200 in state income taxes, according to the Revenue Department's Internet list of delinquent taxpayers.

Her attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, has not commented. Rindfleisch is appealing a six-month jail sentence and three-year probation term for a criminal misconduct conviction.

Rindfleisch was Scott Walker's deputy chief of staff in the Milwaukee County executive's office, when she was caught using taxpayers' time to campaign for 2010 lieutenant governor candidate Brett Davis. Rindfleisch is also a target in a current John Doe investigation into alleged illegal coordination between Republican campaigns and outside political groups in the state recall elections in 2011- and '12.

A list of Wisconsin's delinquent taxpayers, by city, is available here:

Snow-sport conditions remain good in northern Wisconsin

The snowmobile season continues to hang on throughout the northern half of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Tourism says seven counties as far south as Wausau continue to have trails in excellent condition, in spite of the 40- and 50-degree warmth seen in the region last week. A dozen other counties in the north say their snowmobile trails in good shape. A few are fair.

St. Croix County trails remained open at last check but were in poor condition. Pierce trails are closed.

For a county- by county report, visit

A strong low pressure system is expected to bring mainly rain to southern Wisconsin Tuesday while the northern half of the state expects a couple inches of new snow Monday with a chance for more snow Tuesday.

High temperatures Sunday ranged from 16 at Sturgeon Bay to 30 at Mineral Point -- about 10-to-15 degrees below normal statewide. It was expected to be a little warmer Monday, with highs in the 20's and 30's throughout the Badger State. Temperatures could climb to 50 in the south Tuesday.

Clark County sawmill destroyed by fire

GREENWOOD -- A weekend fire that destroyed a sawmill in central Wisconsin is being called an accident.

Greenwood Sawmill owner Dan Wolf said he was welding inside the main building on Thursday night -- and a hot ember from that location may have started the fire the next night. The 300- by 80-foot sawmill building was engulfed in heavy smoke when Greenwood firefighters arrived.

Officials said they had trouble getting enough water to put out the blaze, and they spent eight hours extinguishing the fire with help from the neighboring Loyal Fire Department.

Crews returned Saturday to deal with hot spots. Nobody was injured. Damage was estimated at between $1.5 to $2 million.

A separate welding structure about 30 feet away was not affected.

Wolf told WSAW-TV in Wausau that his family plans to rebuild the sawmill -- and they'll keep the welding business open in the meantime.

Proposal would require coroners, ME's to be licensed

MADISON -- Wisconsin's death investigators would have to get training and continuing education under a proposal from a Republican lawmaker.

Green Bay Representative Chad Weininger says the biggest need is in counties that have elected coroners, as opposed to appointed medical examiners who are generally doctors. Under the measure, both coroners and examiners would need to be licensed and get 40 hours of training.

A new state board would be created to oversee the death investigators, and set requirements for their continuing education.

Weininger says the lack of a current training mandate means that anyone can get elected coroner, and somebody down the road could quote, "get away with murder."

Opponents of the idea say voters should elect who they want and Brown County Sheriff John Gossage says Weininger's proposal might cause state requirements for other local elected officials.

Weininger says that's already happening. Elected county district attorneys need to have Wisconsin law licenses before they can take office.

This is all a moot point for this year, anyway. There are only a few days left in the current two-year legislative session.

Two dozen DNR employees disciplined in 2013

MADISON -- The agency that safeguards Wisconsin's natural resources disciplined more than two dozen of its workers last year.

The Associated Press said state DNR bosses wrote 26 letters which informed workers they were fired, suspended, or reprimanded. The actions involved less than one percent of the agency's 2,600-plus employees.

The DNR wrote seven more disciplinary letters last year than in 2012. All the letters were made public except one, in which a punishment is still being challenged.

Among other things, workers were disciplined for making inappropriate comments, punching a fellow employee, misusing a state-owned boat, and watching pornographic videos on the job.

The employees' names were blacked out of the letters that were released. The DNR's Amber Passno said the names were not needed in order for taxpayers to know how well the agency handles employee discipline.

'Punishment exceeds the crime' says councilman of Appleton's liquor laws

A city council member in Appleton says the punishment exceeded the crime for a restaurant that served a beer to an underage undercover police sting worker. Jeff Jirschele is asking for a review of Appleton's liquor license revocation policy, after T.J's Japanese Steakhouse sold its business over the matter. Appleton has a demerit point system for those who violate liquor laws. It's an 80-point violation for serving somebody under-21.

A liquor license can be revoked after 200 points, and the Appleton Post-Crescent said TJ's exceeded that number. The restaurant surrendered its license before it could be revoked.

Jirschele calls the demerit system an "execution order." Fox Valley developer Bob Gregorski says buildings can be left empty while bars and restaurants move to nearby cities like Oshkosh and Green Bay -- neither of which has demerit systems.

Appleton assistant city attorney Stacy Doucette says the process works exactly as it was intended. She said there were only two liquor license revocation hearings since 2012 -- and it shows little need for the system to be overhauled.

Beloit man crashes, dies, after police encounter BELOIT -- A 22-year-old Beloit man was killed after he drove away from police, struck a vehicle, and slammed into a utility pole.

Officers said they tried to stop the man for speeding around 2 a.m. Sunday in Beloit. He sped off and officers did not chase the vehicle, because the city's policy does not allow high-speed chases for drivers wanted only for speeding.

Police said the car later went through a stop sign, collided with a vehicle coming from the left, and hit the utility pole where the wanted vehicle was cut in half.

A passenger in the offending vehicle, a 22-year-old Beloit woman, was critically injured. Two people in the vehicle escaped injuries.

<strong>Appleton police getting bargain SWAT truck</strong>

APPLETON -- Police in the Appleton area will soon get a surplus military vehicle for high-risk SWAT-type situations. It's a six-wheeled unit called the Caiman Multi-Theater Vehicle.

The truck will be used as a rescue vehicle for hostages, injured officers, and others in high-risk incidents. Appleton Police and the Outagamie County Sheriff's Department applied for the unit under a surplus property program run by the Pentagon.

Appleton Police Sergeant Dave Lund says the two departments currently borrow vehicles from nearby Oshkosh and Green Bay to handle high-risk incidents -- and having their own unit will make response times faster.

The Caiman vehicle normally costs $650,000 but the two Appleton area departments will only have to pay $5,000 to ship it from Texas, plus costs for converting it to police standards.

Ft. McCoy will hold open house on May 17th

TOMAH -- Wisconsin's largest military base will bring back its annual open house, after it was called off a year ago due to federal budget cuts.

Fort McCoy has scheduled its open house for May 17th. That's Armed Forces Day, which honors past and present military members on the third Saturday each May.

Fort McCoy will use the occasion to show off its base between Sparta and Tomah -- something it couldn't do in 2013 because of the automatic "sequester" spending cuts.

McCoy's open house will feature training displays, uniforms and equipment, and other artifacts.

Guided tours of the base will be given, along with a marksmanship test and other activities.

Brewers' 'Ballpark Pup' readied for new season

MILWAUKEE -- The state's most popular dog will get up early Tuesday to meet his fans, after he arrived on Wisconsin soil from Arizona.

Hank the "Ballpark Pup" is scheduled to be at the Milwaukee Brewers' Team Store at Miller Park from 7-8 a.m. Tuesday morning. His body clock was moved up after he flew from Phoenix late Sunday.

Hank was greeted by a sizable crowd of fans at the airport, including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Hank's been a hit with Brewers' fans and others, after he showed up as a stray at Milwaukee's Spring Training site almost a month ago.

His previous owner never came forward, so he stayed with the team and endeared himself to folks in both Arizona and Wisconsin. At the Team Store, fans can buy limited supplies of Brewers-Hank gear -- and 20 percent of the proceeds were to be donated to the Wisconsin Humane Society.

Hank will stay at the home of Brewers' general counsel Marti Wronski, along with her husband Andy and their four kids ages 5- to 11.

Wronski says the Brewers adopted Hank first and foremost, and the family decided collectively to give Hank a home. The Brewers officially made him part of the team last week.

He's arriving before the players do, so he can get neutered.