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Walker shrugs off White House's characterizations of budget cuts on state; 13-year-old is latest sno-machine victim; no Oscar for Wisconsin producer; more state news

Gov. Scott Walker says his desire to improve education is partially why he wants to stop forcing teachers and other public employees to live in the communities where they work. Walker's proposed state budget would end local residency rules for public workers in around 125 communities.

Walker blames the Milwaukee Public Schools' residency requirement for its lack of ability to fill all of its teacher vacancies. The governor said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett makes a weak argument when he claims the city's problem with vacant homes would get worse if city employees were allowed to flee to the suburbs.

Walker says it's like saying, "The only way we can keep people here is to build a wall." The governor said he believes in local government control, but not when it violates personal freedoms.

Barrett says nobody's freedom is being compromised - because job applicants know when they apply that they'd have to live in Milwaukee if they get a city job.

Walker made his first public comments on his residency proposal Sunday when he was interviewed by the Journal Sentinel at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington.

Impact of federal budget cuts

Meanwhile, the White House says the impending federal budget cuts will cost Wisconsinites millions of dollars and put 240 school jobs at risk. The Obama administration put out a report Sunday giving a general idea of how each state would be affected by the "sequestration" cuts.

Republicans called them "scare tactics," and they accused the White House of exaggerating their impact on everyday Americans. The report said Wisconsin schools would lose over $18 million in federal aid for schools and special education.

Obama's staff said Wisconsin would also lose $4 million in environmental control funds, $12 million for the state's civilian military employees, $1.5 million for fish and wildlife protection and $1.4 million in federal substance abuse grants.

The White House also warned of major delays at airports as security screeners and air traffic controllers would have to be laid off plus cuts in unemployment benefits, help for those with mental illnesses, and aid to the homeless.

Walker said he did not expect a big impact of the federal cuts on Wisconsin nor does he understand how the economy would be crippled, like other governors contend. He also said Republicans in Congress are correct in opposing the further tax increases that Obama and other Democrats are pushing for.


First of three mining votes expected soon

MADISON -- Wisconsin lawmakers are planning to take three key votes in the next 10 days on a bill which makes it easier for Gogebic Taconite to open an iron ore mine in the far north.

The Joint Finance Committee was scheduled to vote Monday on a Republican incentive package. The full Senate expects to vote Wednesday. Assembly leaders are planning final legislative approval for a week from Wednesday.

So far, it appears that majority Republicans have enough votes to approve their bill with no help from Democrats.

A year ago, the GOP kept sweeping aside Democratic amendments until Senate Republican Dale Schultz jumped ship and derailed the Senate's approval at the last minute. That was back when the Republicans only had a one-vote majority. It's now three in the Senate, with a 20-vote GOP majority in the Assembly.

Republicans talked a few weeks ago about possibly including some of the Democrats' ideas in the final package. Assembly leaders did concede on a few environmental protections which the Democrats said were not enough.


Law would force requesters would pay for some public records

MADISON -- Some of Wisconsin's public records would be more expensive under a bill that's up for a public hearing in Madison Wednesday.

The Republican measure would let state and local governments charge for the time they spend deleting confidential information from things like police and social service records. The bill would nullify a State Supreme Court ruling from last year, which prohibited the custodians of public records from charging extra for the time it takes to black out confidential items.

The ruling was the result of a lawsuit from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which was billed thousands of dollars after it obtained heavily redacted police records for a series of stories on crime.

The bill's main sponsor, Assembly Republican Garey Bies of Sister Bay, said taxpayers should not have to pay for somebody's research project but open records supporters say the bill would make it harder for people to see what's going on in their government.

The Assembly's Government Operations Committee will hold Wednesday's hearing.


Study? OK, but Republicans here aren't pushing gun control

MADISON -- Wisconsin Republicans say they'll support a study on how mental health issues affect gun violence, but they'll refuse to limit people's access to the guns themselves.

While Congress and other states consider gun control measures, there's been very little talk among lawmakers in Madison to do something. Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend, a member of the National Rifle Association, said he'd be surprised if his GOP majority passes anything this session to restrict gun access.

President Obama has cited last summer's killings of six people at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek as a reason to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and make all gun buyers undergo standard background checks - private sales included.

Senate Democrat Fred Risser of Madison said he's working on a package similar to Obama's, plus a ban on weapons in certain parts of the State Capitol. He expects to have the package ready in a few days.

Risser said it might take several terms to get his proposals passed. He said a bill sometimes "just has to be introduced over and over again before the timing is right."


SE Wisconsin bracing for another round of snow

Folks in southeast Wisconsin are bracing for yet another snowstorm. A winter storm watch has been posted for Tuesday in 10 counties in the southeast corner of the state, where four to seven inches of new snow could fall with winds up to 30 mph. That's a new prediction made overnight by the National Weather Service, which originally forecast a more intense storm of up to nine inches.

Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha are part of the storm watch, along with areas from Sheboygan to the north and Janesville to the west. Madison is not part of this watch, but forecasters say much of southern and central Wisconsin will get light snow from a storm system that moved across Texas Sunday night. It's expected to cross Indiana into northern Michigan by Wednesday morning.

Also, more freezing drizzle is possible throughout Wisconsin Monday night into Tuesday. Afternoon highs are expected to be above freezing each day through at least Wednesday.


Case of the mistaken turban could nix human rights lawsuit

MILWAUKEE -- A human rights lawsuit filed in Milwaukee could hinge on whether the wrong man was summoned as a defendant.

After a four-hour hearing last week, Federal Judge Lynn Adelman said it was apparent that two private West Allis process servers mistook a man wearing a turban for state minister Parkash Singh Badal of India.

Now, the Sikhs for Justice have 30 days to provide more evidence that the right man was served and without that proof, the judge will most likely drop the group's human rights suit.

The Sikhs for Justice are trying to get a U.S. court to rule on its allegations that Badal oversaw the tortures and murders of Sikhs in India. Badal was in the Milwaukee area for a family wedding last August, and he went to Oak Creek High School to meet with relatives of six worshippers who were murdered at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.

The Sikhs for Justice tried to take advantage of Badal's visit to serve him with their suit. The process servers who were hired insisted that their subject matched photos of Badal. But the minister's security team said he was not at the high school when the lawsuit was served. Badal was out shopping instead.


Wisconsin's lone Academy nominee strikes out

Wisconsin's only entry at the Academy Awards was shut out Sunday night.

Wauwatosa native Michael Raisler was the executive producer of "Beasts of the Southern Wild," one of the nominees for Best Picture.

The film was up for four Oscars, but did not win any.

"Argo," the Iranian hostage drama produced and directed by Ben Affleck, won the Best Picture award.


Alcohol linked to at least 11 of 16 snowmobile deaths

MADISON -- Once again this winter, alcohol is the major reason that people dying in Wisconsin snowmobile crashes.

There have been 15 deaths this season, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources snowmobile and ATV program administrator Gary Eddy says at least 11 have involved alcohol.

A year ago, there were only 10 total snowmobile deaths in the state due to a much milder winter, but six of those 10 deaths still involved alcohol.

Eddy says drinking reduces reaction times, and snowmobiling is an activity that requires a high level of alert at all times.

The latest alcohol-related deaths occurred last Wednesday night when two men on a single machine strayed off the ice road between Bayfield and Madeline Island and fell into Lake Superior.

On Friday, a 13-year-old Door County boy was killed after he stopped his snowmobile near a road and then collided with a truck as he was crossing. Officials have not said what caused that mishap.

Indiana man killed in Bayfield County snowmobile crash

Another snowobiler from Indiana was killed in a snowmobile crash Sunday in Bayfield County.

Justin Charles Mulder, 26, of Munster, Ind., was traveling north on Idlewild Road in Barnes Township when his sled failed to negotiate a corner, the Bayfield County Sheriff's Office said. The snowmobile left the road and crashed into a wooded area.

Another snowmobiler came across the crash and notified authorities at 2:54 p.m. Mulder was dead when rescue workers reached him.

It's not known exactly when the crash happened. It appears that Mulder was traveling by himself when the crash happened. Authorities believe that alcohol was a factor in the crash. The crash is still under investigation.

Eddy says there's a lot of winter left, and the DNR is concerned that we'll keep seeing a rise in snowmobile deaths. But he said people can easily reduce the three top factors in those deaths - alcohol, speed and nighttime riding.


Lawmaker wants higher fines for seat belt violations

MADISON -- Assembly Democrat Penny Bernard Schaber of Appleton said she is considering legislation that would increase the $10 fine for not wearing a seat belt.

Schaber's comments came after Gannett's Wisconsin daily newspapers found that the state's annual "Click It Or Ticket" campaign is not working.

Last year, the Department of Transportation spent around $300,000 to get Packers' star Donald Driver to encourage us to buckle up. But it didn't help, as officials said the compliance rate for Wisconsin seatbelt use held about steady at 79%.

More folks did buckle up in 2010 than the year before, but that was because police starting using the so-called "primary enforcement," in which officers no longer had to find another traffic violation to nab you for not buckling up.

The $10 tickets have not gone up ever since the state passed a seatbelt requirement 26 years ago. Washington State charges $124 for seatbelt fines, and a few other states also charge in the triple digits. Erica Holmes of Washington's Traffic Safety Commission said she thought Wisconsin's $10 fine was a "typo."

Gannett said other states also started with low fines, but they've since gone up in many places. A federal study three years ago found that raising the seatbelt fine from $25 to $100 raises the amount of folks buckling up by 7%.


Sturgeon season on Winnebago ends

FOND DU LAC -- For the third year in a row, Wisconsin's spearing season for sturgeon lasted for the entire 16 days on Lake Winnebago.

A dozen fish were taken Sunday just before the season closed. Normally, the season ends early as spearers quickly reach their quota limits. That happened this year on the lakes north and west of Winnebago, but not on the big lake itself.

All told, the DNR said 567 sturgeon were taken - one more than a year ago and 39 of them weighed over 100 pounds.

On the big lake itself, 306 fish were taken and a record 9.5% of them were over 100 pounds.

Emily Walsdorf of Van Dyne caught the biggest sturgeon on the season's final day. It was 70 1/2 inches long and weighed just over 115 pounds.


Trial begins for man accused of torturing daughter

MADISON -- A two-week trial was set to begin Monday for a Madison man accused of torturing and starving his teenage daughter.

Jury selection is set to take place for Chad Chritton, 41. He and his wife Melinda Drabek-Chritton, 43, are each charged in Dane County with six felonies and a misdemeanor.

The woman has a two-week trial scheduled to start April 9.

The girl was 15 when a driver called police last February after seeing the child in pajamas and bare feet in cold weather. The witness said he mistook the girl for an eight-year-old.

Prosecutors said her parents locked her in their basement for almost six years until she escaped, and they allegedly refused to give her food as she slimmed down to 68 pounds.

The girl told police she was beaten, starved and forced to eat feces while she was confined. Officials said the girl is scheduled to testify in both trials.

The charges against both parents include false imprisonment, felony abuse, causing mental harm to a child and reckless endangerment. Also, the girl's stepbrother is accused of sexually assaulting her.