October 7, 2015

Lawmakers launch effort to target child abuse in Wisconsin

Attorney General Brad Schimel and Sen. Rob Cowles announce the "Justice for Children" legislation. (Photo: WRN)

Attorney General Brad Schimel and Sen. Rob Cowles announce the “Justice for Children” legislation. (Photo: WRN)

A package of bill unveiled at the Capitol on Tuesday would make it easier prosecutors and investigators in Wisconsin to crackdown on child abusers, while also opening up more resources for victims of abuse and neglect.

The legislative package from Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Allouez) targets what he said are growing problems with child abuse, neglect, and sexual assault. The Allouez Republican said during a Capitol news conference that “with these bills, we hope we can strive to give kids a violence-free and safe childhood, and deter acts of abuse, neglect and sexual assault in our communities. We all hope that these bills can be a voice of change and bring the criminals preying on children to justice.

One of the bills would give victims of sexual assault, human trafficking or child abuse the right to have a victim advocate accompany them during examinations and interviews with police. Another bill would require social service agencies to report any instances of child abuse or neglect to police. The remaining two would make repeated acts of physical abuse to a child or child neglect formal crimes.

Attorney General Brad Schimel said the proposals will enable prosecutors and law enforcement to do the best they can to keep children safe. “We have no higher responsibility in government than to protect our children,” Schimel said.

The attorney general also announced plans Tuesday to an assistant attorney general as a child abuse resource prosecutor who would assist local district attorneys in child abuse cases. The position will be filled using a current vacancy in Department of Justice staff.

Road project delays could be costly for Wisconsin

Photo: WisDOT

Photo: WisDOT

A new report suggests delaying several major highway projects in Wisconsin could end up costing taxpayers an extra $160 million, while delaying other economic benefits to residents and businesses that would benefit from the improved roads.

The study, released by the Transportation Development Association, was conducted by researchers at the UW-Whitewater. It analyzed the impact of four major projects in the state – an expansion of I-39/90 from Madison to the Wisconsin-Illinois state line, U.S. Highway 10/State Highway 441 in the Fox River Valley, U.S. Highway 151/Verona Road on Madison’s west side, and State Highway 23 between Fond du Lac and Plymouth. The Department of Transportation recently announced it was delaying those projects, along with a fifth not examined in the study, for at least two years.

The report found projects would have short-term impact on Wisconsin’s economy of almost $3 billion, create 4,100 construction jobs, and, when completed, bring $185 million in annual benefits to businesses in the affected area. It also found that inflation would increase the costs of the projects by $80 million over each of the next two years.

TDA Executive Director Craig Thompson said the report “reaffirms what I think we all instinctively know: improving the quality of our roads puts businesses and people in the road construction industry to work, but after completion, additional benefits accrue to businesses in the region from the more efficient access to markets.”

The study comes as Governor Scott Walker has been pushing lawmakers to release additional transportation bonding that was included in the state budget, which requires authorization from the Joint Finance Committee. Thompson says it’s unclear if the $350 million would be enough for all of the projects to get back on schedule or allow just some of the work to move forward.

Walker still mulling Supreme Court vacancy

The Wisconsin Supreme Court (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Governor Scott Walker is offering few clues about who he might appoint to fill a vacancy on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

During a stop in De Pere Monday, Walker said a panel he’s used in the past will review judicial applications over the next “day or so,” and he hopes to conduct interviews for the position later this week after they have made recommendations.

Who Walker appoints will out the remainder of Justice N. Patrick Crooks’ term, after the justice died unexpectedly last month. The term ends in July of next year, and three candidates have already announced plans to run for the seat next spring. Of those, only Appeals Court Judge Rebecca Bradley applied for the appointment. The other two applicants are Madison attorney Claude Covelli and Dane County Circuit Judge Jim Troupis.

Several government watchdog groups have called on the governor to appoint someone who is not currently running for the high court. They worry that it could set-off a heated campaign much earlier than is necessary, while adding to a political divide that has already strained relationships between the justices.

Affiliate WHBY contributed to this report.

National marine sanctuary considered on Lake Michigan

A map of the proposed national marine sanctuary on Lake Michigan. (Image: NOAA)

A map of the proposed national marine sanctuary on Lake Michigan. (Image: NOAA)

The possibility for having a national marine sanctuary along the shoreline of eastern Wisconsin is a step closer to becoming a reality.

President Barack Obama announced Monday that an 875 mile stretch of Lake Michigan is one of two U.S. locations being considered for the designation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The area includes Wisconsin’s eastern shoreline from Port Washington to Two Rivers, and is home to at least 39 known shipwrecks. Of those, 15 are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rolf Johnson, director of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, was greatly excited by the news. Johnson said it “has been years in the making” and serves as recognition of the significance of the area.

The project now heads in to a review and public comment period, where NOAA will draft a management plan and potential regulations for each site. The agency will then make a final decision on whether to grant sanctuary status.

The other location being considered is Mallows Bay in Maryland, which rests in the tidal waters of the Potomac River.

Damon Ryan at affiliate WOMT contributed to this report.

U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal from ex-Walker aide

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down a request to hear an appeal from a former aide to Governor Scott Walker, allowing her political misconduct conviction to stand.

Kelly Rindfleisch was charged with doing political work from her job in the Milwaukee County Executive’s office, during the period when Walker served in that position. She pleaded guilty to the charges in 2012, but later appealed based on arguments that a search warrant prosecutors used to obtain email from her accounts was unconstitutional.

A state appeals court had previously ruled the searches were constitutional and the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to take the case earlier this year. The U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the case without comment.

Rindfleisch was given six months in jail and is currently serving her sentence.