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Published: Tue, 10 May 2011 13:51:57 GMT

Dad, doctor warn about the danger of lawn mowers for kids

Just a month ago, six-year-old Liam Leffelman's life changed forever on what seemed like a normal summer day at his grandmother's house. "Grandma wanted to give rides on the lawn mower," Kevin Leffelman said. "He took a ride.... and then it was his little brother's turn." That's when tragedy struck for the "vibrant" Cottage Grove boy. "I started to follow them," Liam said. "Then I tripped and she had to reverse, and then she ran over my leg." Liam was rushed to American Family Children's Hospital in Madison, with doctors not knowing if they would be able to save his right leg. "We actually went into surgery a week after it happened to have it amputated," Kevin Leffelman said. But after the surgery, Liam discovered a miracle. "First thing he did was rip the blanket off of his foot (and said) 'those are my toes!'," Kevin Leffelman said. Leffelman said Liam's leg healed better than doctors ever thought it could. But even after more than a dozen surgeries, including an operation Friday, doctors said Liam will never regain full function in his leg. "I probably won't be able to run as fast as I used to," Liam said. Doctors said Liam's wounds were extensive. "He lost a lot of muscle, he lost a lot of skin, about half his heel," Dr. Ken Noonan, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at UW Health, said. Noonan said Liam now wears a device on his leg called an external fixator. "It's going to be on for another month, and that's holding his bones in alignment," Noonan said. "At some point, there will be skin grafts taken from one part of his body to put over this, we're just waiting for the tissue to be perfect for that." Until then, Liam has to visit the hospital every few days for surgeries to clean out the wound on his leg. Friday's surgery was Liam's 14th, according to his dad. Noonan said Liam has kept a positive attitude throughout his recovery process. "When he first came in, he was timid and shocky and scared, but basically he's turned into the mayor now," Noonan said. "Everybody has commented how confident he his, how directive he is in his own healthcare, how positive he is." Noonan said he's seen too many kids like Liam lately, injured by lawn mowers in what he called a "preventable" accident. "The national statistics show that last year there were at least 15,000 children in the United States injured by lawn mowers," Noonan said. "If you do the math, that's going to be close to 300 children in Wisconsin alone." Noonan said those statistics represent a three percent increase in lawn mower injuries from 2009. Noonan said injuries often result from accidents involving riding lawn mowers. He said those injuries range from anywhere to a simple burn from touching the muffler to rollovers and instances like Liam's, where a child has been run over by a lawn mower. That's why Noonan and Liam's dad said they're sharing his story, hoping to spread the word to parents that kids shouldn't be around running mowers. "Keep the kids inside when you're mowing the lawn," Leffelman said. "This is not fun at all." "When it comes to mowing the yard, it's for the whole family to be aware that it's going down and that the children are not to be outside, period," Noonan said. "Whether you have to lock the doors, or whether another adult has to make sure they stay in the house, they just have to be inside." Noonan said when it comes to push mowers, guidelines say no child under the age of 12 should operate a push lawn mower. He said when it comes to riding mowers, no one younger than 16 and without proper training should ride one.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 01:35:51 GMT

Hot air balloon crashes in Texas

A hot air balloon believed to be carrying 16 people caught fire in the air and crashed in central Texas on Saturday morning, killing everybody on board, federal and local authorities said. The balloon may have struck power lines when it went down around 7:30 a.m. in pastureland near Lockhart, about 30 miles south of Austin, in an area often used for balloon landings, a county judge and public safety source told CNN. "First I heard a whoosh," Margaret Wylie, who lives near the crash site, told CNN affiliate TWC. "And then a big ball of fire (went) up. I'd say it got as high up as those lower electric lines." If investigators confirm 16 people died, the crash will be the most fatal hot air balloon accident in United States history. Federal Aviation Authority officials said the balloon carrying 16 people caught fire before crashing, but provided few other details. The Caldwell County Sheriff's Office said nobody on board survived. Caldwell County Judge Ken Schawe said it looks like the balloon collided with a power line before catching fire and crashing to the ground. A source with the Texas Department of Public Safety earlier told CNN's Polo Sandoval that investigators believe the hot air balloon struck power lines and caught fire. This is the preliminary working theory, the source said. Reported as a vehicle crash Law enforcement officers responded to a 911 call at 7:44 a.m. (8:44 a.m. ET) about a possible auto accident in the Maxwell area, according to a statement on the Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management's Facebook page. Officers found the balloon basket on fire on the ground, the statement said. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating. The NTSB says it is working with the FBI to document the crash site, which was secured like a crime scene for evidence collection. Authorities have not named any of the people on board. The name of the company involved in the crash is Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, an official with direct knowledge of the investigation told CNN's Rene Marsh. CNN was unable to reach anyone at the company for comment. Balloon flights originate in several locations in central Texas and go to dozens of destinations at $399 per passenger, the company says on its website. NTSB spokesman Christopher O'Neill said 16 was the maximum number of passengers allowed under federal regulations governing hot air balloon operations. 'A safe, competent pilot' Philip Bryant, a balloon pilot, told CNN he knew the pilot of the balloon that crashed. "I knew him to be a safe, competent pilot," Bryant said. "He has done this for a very long time." Bryant said he'd also been told the balloon hit power lines. "I don't know what would distract a pilot from seeing what was in front of him, but in this case that's apparently what happened," he said. O'Neill provided a timetable for part of the investigation. Several days will be spent on field work -- interviewing people and gathering evidence at the scene. Seven to 10 days after field work ends, the agency will issue a preliminary report "that's basically a snapshot of what facts do we know at that point in time." The preliminary report will not include a probable cause of the crash, he said. Egyptian balloon crash killed 19 Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas extended condolences to the families of the people killed in the crash. "As always, Texans are strong in the face of adversity, and we all stand together in support of the families and entire Lockhart community as they respond to and begin to heal from this terrible incident," Cruz said in a statement. The highest number of deaths in a single hot air balloon crash in the country before Saturday was six, in a 1993 accident in Colorado, according to the NTSB. In 2013, 19 people died in a hot air balloon crash in Egypt, near the ancient city of Luxor. That was the world's most fatal hot air balloon accident in at least 20 years. NTSB sought more balloon oversight There's been friction between the FAA and NTSB over hot air balloons, with the NTSB saying more accidents would occur without more regulation. The former head of the NTSB, Chairman Deborah Hersman, urged the FAA in 2014 to address "operational deficiencies" in hot air balloon activities after several incidents resulted in injuries and one death, according to a letter published on the NTSB's website. Hersman cited accidents in 2007, 2008 and 2013, according to the letter publicly posted on the federal agency's site. "Depending on gondola capacity, balloons can carry more than 20 passengers per flight. Given the various safety deficiencies noted in the NTSB's investigations of the above balloon accidents, the potential for a high number of fatalities in a single air tour balloon accident is of particular concern if air tour balloon operators continue to conduct operations under less stringent regulations and oversight," Hersman said in the letter, referring to the 2013 accident in Egypt. In the letter, Hersman recommended requiring commercial balloon operators to acquire and maintain letters of authorization to hold air tour flights and to give passengers "a similar level of safety oversight as passengers of air tour airplane and helicopter operations." In 2015, the FAA responded to the NTSB request, saying the proposed letters of authorization "would not result in a significantly higher level of operational safety." The NTSB fired back in a 2016 statement, saying the FAA's reply was an "unacceptable response." The NTSB argued the letters of authorization would allow for competency checks including pilot certification, safety checklists, and proper flight operation procedures. "We are concerned that, if no action is taken to address this safety issue, we will continue to see such accidents in the future," the NTSB response said. It is unclear whether Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides implemented any of the NTSB's recommended measures. Twenty-five balloon accidents resulting in 4 fatalities and 25 serious injuries occurred since Hersman's 2014 letter and the last warning issued by the NTSB in March 2016, according to the exchange posted on its website. The number does not take into account the fatalities from Saturday's hot air balloon accident near Lockhart, Texas.

Published: Sun, 31 Jul 2016 00:10:45 GMT

6 cool Madison rooftop patios for dinner, drinks

Fresco 227 State St. Tip: If you’re looking for a refreshing sip sans alcohol on this swanky rooftop, Fresco has an excellent selection of mocktails on the menu. Brickhouse BBQ 408 W Gorham St. Tip: Within walking distance from campus, this casual rooftop is a great place on game day. The Madison Blind 601 Langdon St. Tip: Bring. Your. Camera. At the Graduate Hotel’s seventh-floor eatery and bar (pictured right), you have a picturesque view from lake to Capitol building. The Edgewater 1001 Wisconsin Place Tip: Rent the Edgewater’s rooftop spot for your next corporate event or private party. It’s one of the best vantage points in the city. Craftsman Table & Tap 6712 Frank Lloyd Wright Ave., Middleton Tip: Enjoy a cool breeze at one of the only rooftop terrace patios you’ll find in the ’burbs. We highly recommend ordering the cheese curds. Café Hollander 701 Hilldale Court Tip: Hang out on the top deck before live music starts at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays through August at Hilldale West Plaza.  

Published: Fri, 29 Jul 2016 05:00:00 GMT

Huge dinosaur footprint discovered

There's a good chance that if flesh-eating dinosaurs were still around today, we wouldn't just have to worry about their sharp teeth. Scientists recently uncovered a record-setting footprint in Bolivia. It is the biggest print from a carnivorous dinosaur to be discovered worldwide. Until now, the largest track from a meat-eating dinosaur measured at 110 centimeters and was discovered in New Mexico, according to paleontologist Sebastian Apesteguia. Grover Marquina, a tour guide, was trekking through the Maragua Crater about 65 kilometers (40 miles) from the capital Sucre when he stumbled upon the fossilized footprint on July 19. The indentation exceeds 115 centimeters -- nearly 4 feet wide -- Apesteguia told CNN. Normally, these types of prints are between 85 to 100 centimeters, he said. Apesteguia, a scientist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, explained that the likely owner of the footprint belonged to a large dinosaur species, possibly a creature that was a part of the Abelisaurus genus. Predatory creatures in the Abelisaurus family were two-legged beasts that lived about 70 million years ago. With a powerful jaw, 40-foot stature and stunted arms, the features of these animals rival the better known and infamous Tyrannosaurus rex, or maybe even an oversized raptor called a Megaraptor -- a fierce creature that has been identified in the Patagonia region before. Not only does the print set a new record for its size, it also challenges a former belief about the prehistoric creatures that existed in the South America during the Cretaceous period, which is known as the last portion of the "Age of Dinosaurs." The discovery of this footprint means that gigantic dinosaurs did live through the latter part of the period, something that has been ignored up until now, Apesteguia said. Larger dinosaurs were believed to have existed on the continent 100 million years ago, not 70 million years ago, Apesteguia said. For context, scientists believe the apocalyptic asteroid that set in motion the death of the dinosaurs struck Earth about 66 million years ago. Finding similar dinosaur prints in the region is fairly common, Apesteguia said. Fossilized footprints dating back to the early Cretaceous period have been unearthed across Bolivia, and smaller ones have been spotted in Chile, Brazil and Argentina as well. In fact, scientists in January came across a footprint from the same carnivorous species that stretched 104 centimeters. But the latest finding is still impressive because it's helping scientists further understand the landscape of our planet and the creatures who lived on it millions of years ago.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 04:46:18 GMT

Large-sized Waldo entertains patients at children's hospital

A hospital is never a fun place to be -- especially for kids. But for patients at Memorial Children's Hospital of South Bend, a popular children's book character is popping up in surprising spots, and putting smiles on kids' faces, television station WSBT reported. Construction foreman Jason Haney has been working on the Indiana hospital's expansion and built an 8-foot tall Waldo from the famous "Where's Waldo?" books. Haney's creation is moved to different spots around the building and the kids spot it, just like they would find the character in the well-known picture book series. He told CNN the reason he did it was simple: "I just wanted to make kids smile and make them feel better." And not surprisingly, Waldo quickly became a hit with the patients. "When I go up to the hospital to visit the children, a hospital worker told a little girl I was the man who built Waldo. She was so excited. 'You're the guy who made Waldo? Thank you so much!'" Seeing the girl's reaction made it all worthwhile for Haney. "Let's just say I'm glad I had sunglasses on. Seeing the kids' reactions even for a little bit and knowing that for that brief moment they're not concerned with what's going on makes it all worth it." There's a Facebook group where people can see all the places Waldo has popped up at the hospital. One patient's mother, Becky Garza, told CNN affiliate WSBT how much Waldo helped her daughter, "When she woke up in the morning she said, 'Where's Waldo? Where's Waldo?' That helped a lot. Just knowing that she was more focused on that than focused on treatments." Patient Neveah Garza told WSBT that she has a message for Haney. "Thank you for building Waldo and for being happy. Thank you for making me happy."

Published: Fri, 29 Jul 2016 20:21:12 GMT

Federal judge rules parts of Wisconsin voter ID law unconstitutional

 A federal judge in Wisconsin has declared multiple Republican-authored election laws unconstitutional in a sweeping ruling. Two liberal groups filed a lawsuit in May challenging the laws, which included a requirement that voters show photo identification. U.S. District Judge James Peterson issued a ruling Friday that upheld the voter ID law, but struck down a number of GOP-written statutes and policies that restricted voting. Peterson called the state's Voter ID law "a cure worse than the disease," but said prior case law prohibited him from overturning the entire measure.  Instead, he ordered the state to quickly issue credentials valid for voting to anyone trying to obtain a free photo ID for voting, and found multiple items within state elections laws unconstitutional. He struck down a restriction limiting municipalities to one location for in-person absentee voting, time limits on in-person absentee voting, an increase in residency requirements from 10 to 28 days, and a prohibition on using expired, but otherwise qualifying student IDs to vote.  He also found it unconstitutional to include citizenship information on  "dorm lists" used as proof of residency, and to prohibit the distribution of absentee ballots by fax or email. Likely the most major statewide impact could be the expansion of hours for early voting.  Peterson said a restriction on those hours "intentionally discriminates on the basis of race." "I reach this conclusion because I am persuaded that this law was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose," Peterson wrote. "The legislature’s immediate goal was to achieve a partisan objective, but the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans." In a statement, Scot Ross, executive director for One Wisconsin Institute, which brought the lawsuit, said their attorneys argued, "Gov. Walker made it harder for Democrats to vote and easier for Republicans to cheat, and the judge agreed." A spokesman for the Governor says they are reviewing the decision, while a spokesperson for the Attorney General said they plan to appeal it to the Seventh Circuit. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said, “This is a liberal judge’s attempt to undermine our elections less than four months out. It’s also an obvious attempt to usurp the power of the legislature. I’m confident that the laws will be reinstated upon appeal.  The measures did not disenfranchise voters, they protected the integrity of our elections and people’s right to vote.” "We are reviewing the decision in consultation with our attorneys at the Wisconsin Department of Justice," Michael Hass, the interim administrator of the newly-formed Wisconsin Elections Commission said. "If upheld, this decision would make significant changes to election laws affecting voters, which will require the Elections Commission to work very closely with local election officials to implement the changes and to educate voters. We will be providing further guidance to clerks and the public early next week." The changes will not affect the impending August 9 election, as Peterson said he did not want to disrupt the partisan primary. They will be in effect for the November 8 election. A federal appeals court also overturned a voter ID law in North Carolina Friday.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 01:07:50 GMT

Inmate, 69, dies in custody at Monroe County Jail

Monroe County authorities are investigating the death of a 69-year-old jail inmate. Staffers were checking cells at the Monroe County Jail early Saturday when they found the man unresponsive in his cell. An ambulance took the inmate to the Mayo Health System Sparta campus, where he was pronounced dead. The name of the inmate was not released. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office are investigating.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 17:25:28 GMT

37-year-old ejected, killed in rollover crash in Rock County

A 37-year-old driver was ejected and killed in a rollover crash in Rock County Saturday morning, officials said. The Wisconsin State Patrol Southwest Region DeForest Post said a Jeep Grand Cherokee was seen being driven erratically at 7:04 a.m. headed south on Interstate 43 near mile marker 4 near Clinton. A silver Chevrolet Malibu was traveling in the right lane of I-43 south at the same location. According to the report, the Grand Cherokee was driving at a high speed while weaving back and forth from lane to lane. The Grand Cherokee rear-ended the Malibu, then rolled several times. The Milwaukee man driving it was ejected, and vehicle and driver both came to rest in the median. The man died at the scene. The Malibu, driven by 54-year-old Kathryn Jones, of Walworth, came to rest in the right ditch. Jones was taken to Beloit Memorial Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries and neck and back pain. Jones was wearing her seat belt when the crash happened. The driver of the Grand Cherokee was not wearing his seat belt, officials said.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 21:37:50 GMT

Milwaukee man gets 10 years in crash that killed girl

A Milwaukee man will spend 10 years in prison for a drunken driving crash that killed a 3-year-old girl who was in the car. Thirty-five-year-old Marcus Lee was sentenced Friday for the Feb. 26 crash. Lee pleaded guilty last month to homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and driving on a suspended license resulting in death. Assistant District Attorney Karl Hayes said, "Every wrong decision he could make, he made." The Journal Sentinel reported that Lee was drunk and high when he picked up his girlfriend's children in an unsafe car. He failed to put in the children in seat belts, then crashed while talking on the phone and speeding. The crash killed R'Moni N. Little-Smith. She and her 4-year-old brother were thrown from the car. The boy survived.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 18:15:07 GMT

2 men charged in shooting death during botched robbery

Two Chippewa Falls men are charged in the killing of another man who may have had only $10 on him during a botched robbery. Jesse Lloyd and Matthew Labrec, both 21, were charged Friday with first-degree intentional homicide. Lloyd is accused of firing the shot that killed 31-year-old Kenneth Patterson of Eau Claire in March. Patterson's body was found in a yard in the Town of Eagle Point. Labrec told investigators he and Lloyd picked up Patterson, intending to rob him, but Patterson thought the men were going to "deliver narcotics to him." Labrec told investigators Lloyd pulled out a gun and shot Patterson. The complaint says Lloyd shot again while running after Patterson. The Leader-Telegram reported that three other men are accused of harboring the suspects after the shooting.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 20:58:07 GMT

Wisconsin school children and milkweed silk saved lives in World War II

While U.S. soldiers, sailors and marines World War II halfway around the globe, school children in Wisconsin did their part. To help make enough life jackets for the conflict fought across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, school children collected thousands of milkweed pods.  The white wispy floss inside the pods was used to make the life jackets. “The country kids that picked it have never forgotten,” Beverly Walker said. Walker grew up on a farm in McFarland and at the age of 10 would pick milkweed pods as she walked to and from school.  She and her classmates would give the milkweed pods to their teacher.  “I’ll tell you we never, we were told to never leave one behind,” Walker said. The collection of the milkweed pods resonated with the school children because they knew how the life jackets would save lives. “It was for life jackets for our neighbors," she said. "It was to save brothers, neighbors and fathers, yes, absolutely.” Seventy years removed from the collection of the milkweed seed used to make the life jackets, Beverly Walker was able to find one of the jackets for sale.  “I never thought I’d ever have one,” Walker said. When she met a group of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis she learned the significance of the milkweed life jackets.  The Indianapolis was hit with two Japanese torpedoes on July 30, 1945.  It sank in just 12 minutes.  Of the 1,196 on board the Indianapolis, only 317 survived the nearly five days they spent in shark-infested waters. When Walker showed her life jacket to one survivor, it hit home for him. “He looked at me and he’s coming a little bit closer and a little bit closer and then all of a sudden he said, 'That’s the one that saved me,' and he had a tear coming down his cheek,” Walker said. While at the reunion the survivors of the USS Indianapolis signed their names on Walker’s life jacket.  Those names and the life jacket are a reminder to her of the difference milkweed silk made. “I think about how amazing it is that something so little can save so many lives,” Walker said.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 01:47:50 GMT

Adams County ambulance service owner sentenced in child sexual assault case

The former owner of an Adams County ambulance service was sentenced to 18 months in state prison and five and a half years of extended supervision in a child sexual assault case, according to court records. Christopher Quinnell, 40, of Arkdale, was sentenced in Adams County court on July 18, court records show. He was ordered to begin serving his sentence last week. Quinnell pleaded guilty on April 25 to a felony charge of attempted sexual assault of a child under 16 years old. Two other charges, first-degree child sexual assault with a child under 13 years old and incest with a child were dismissed in the case. Quinnell owned Adams County Emergency Services, which was shut down in May amid an investigation by multiple authorities. The Adams County Sheriff's Office had to scramble to cover 911 emergency service calls when ACES was ordered closed.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 21:29:07 GMT

PHOTOS: Madison's all-city swim event day 3

Young swimmers took to the water at pools in the area this week for the 54th Madison All-city Swim and Dive Meet. Find more details at Photos by Rick Blum

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 20:44:07 GMT

Workers dismantle University Avenue landmark

After nearly 47 years, the Pyare Squared building on University Avenue is coming down. Construction crews began dismantling the old building, floor by floor, after many failed efforts to save the unique white round tower that overlooks the city from Madison's west side. The building did not have the easiest of beginnings. Before the Pyare Squared building was even constructed, politicians argued about whether or not the state of Wisconsin should rent work space from a privately owned building. "There were conflicting attorney general opinions as to whether it was legal or wasn't legal," Madison Landmarks Commission historian Stu Levitan said. "Construction started over a year later than it should have on Aug. 1, 1968." The Department of Natural Resources was the first to occupy the building. It leased the space for $350,000 per year. Shorewood Hills village administrator Karl Frantz said many other businesses shuffled in and out of Pyare Squared over the years. A restaurant once held a portion of the building's first floor, but it was mainly a space for offices. When the final occupants moved out in 2005, the tall ornate piece of architecture has stood practically untouched. "We went through a period of 11 years of potential projects to try and utilize that building," Frantz said. The odd shape of the building and low ceilings made it tough to plan any sort of senior living or condominium facility. "And it's difficult to modify things, because the whole building is made of concrete," Frantz said. The final decision came down to money. It would cost much less to demolish Pyare Squared and start fresh than to try and renovate it for other purposes. Frantz said the cost for demolishing the building was somewhere between $750,000 and $1 million. And as it approaches its 47th birthday on Sunday, it's likely people will notice its slow-moving demolition. "I think that people to [some] extent will miss it," Levitan said. "They haven't thought about it in 20 years, but it's like 'Oh, what happened to that building?' 'Oh, we tore it down' 'Oh, darn!.' If all goes as planned, a new 95 unit apartment complex will open in the summer of 2017. Frantz said eight of those units will be set aside for affordable housing.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 19:00:35 GMT

Wisconsin doubles down on dairy distinction with goat farms

Wisconsin is leading the way in dairy goat farming in the U.S. and will soon be home to two of the largest goat dairies in the world. The industry has grown considerably in the past decade, with the number of goat farms in Wisconsin doubling over the past decade to 267. The state has the most dairy goats in the U.S., closely followed by California. Industry experts say both states are doing well in the goat industry because they already had robust dairy cow infrastructure. But farmers and experts also caution that there is little goat-specific research and products like medicine and feed, which could be problematic when goats fall ill or farmers decide to expand or try a new practice.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 17:54:45 GMT

Water bomber damaged making landing on Lake Winnebago

A 70-year-old water bomber had to scrub an appearance during the AirVenture Oshkosh 2016 air show after an emergency landing on Lake Winnebago damaged the plane. Crews noticed an engine problem during a flight from the Wisconsin convention Friday evening. The crew landed the plane on the lake to inspect the problem, but the plane struck an object under the surface, punching a hole in the aircraft's body. The Canadian-based plane was built in 1946 as a cargo plane and later was used as a fire-fighting plane. USA Today Network-Wisconsin reported that the plane was fully loaded with 7,200 gallons of water when it landed Friday. A crew of divers was to inspect damage to the plane, but the bomber won't make an appearance at the air show Saturday night.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 19:28:21 GMT

Courts deal setbacks to GOP voting restrictions in 3 states

Courts dealt setbacks to Republican efforts in three states to restrict voting, blocking a North Carolina law requiring photo identification, loosening a similar measure in Wisconsin and halting strict citizenship requirements in Kansas. The rulings Friday came as the 2016 election moves into its final phase, with Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton locked in a high-stakes presidential race and control of the U.S. Senate possibly hanging in the balance. North Carolina is one of about a dozen swing states in the presidential race, while Wisconsin has voted Democratic in recent presidential elections and Kansas has been solidly Republican. The decisions followed a similar blow earlier this month to what critics said was one of the nation's most restrictive voting laws in Texas. The New Orleans-based U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said Texas' voter ID law is discriminatory and must be weakened before the November election. On Friday, a three-judge panel of the Virginia-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked North Carolina's law that limited to six the number of acceptable photo IDs. The law also curtailed early voting and eliminated same-day registration. The court said the North Carolina provisions targeted African Americans with "almost surgical precision." Critics of photo ID requirements say they fall disproportionately on minority voters and the poor, who are less likely to have an ID such as a driver's license and tend to vote Democratic. Supporters say they photo IDs are needed to combat voter fraud. Election-law expert Richard Hasen of the University of California at Irvine said the Obama administration took on the North Carolina and Texas cases as a bulwark against voting restrictions. "If North Carolina and Texas could get away with these voting restrictions, it would have been a green light for other states to do so," he said. "I think this is a hugely important decision." In the Kansas ruling, a county judge said the state must count thousands of votes in local and state elections from people who did not provide proof of U.S. citizenship when they registered. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national leader in Republican voter restriction efforts, had pushed through a rule that would have set those votes aside, perhaps up to 50,000 by the November election. The Kansas ruling just four days before the state primary election means that about 17,000 voters will have their ballots counted in races for the state Legislature and other local contests. Kobach said the decision would allow people living in the U.S. illegally to vote, although voting rights advocates say there have been few cases of voter fraud in the past. In Wisconsin, a federal judge threw out a host of election laws, while allowing the state's voter ID law to remain in place with substantial limitations. U.S. District Judge James Peterson ordered the state to quickly issue credentials valid for voting to anyone trying to obtain a free photo ID but lacking underlying documents such as birth certificates. He struck down restrictions on absentee and early voting, saying they discriminated against blacks. He also struck down an increase in residency requirements from 10 to 28 days, a prohibition on using expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs to vote and a prohibition on distributing absentee ballots by fax or email. Marc Elias, an attorney whose law firm has challenged voting restrictions in several states including Wisconsin and North Carolina, said the recent rulings are steps toward correcting "voting restriction laws put in place by Republican legislators." There's been a concerted effort by Republicans nationwide since President Barack Obama was elected to peel back voting rights and laws improving access to the polls that had been in place since the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, he said.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 18:03:57 GMT

Janesville looks at ways to cut costs to make up $950k deficit

The city started brainstorming ideas to cut costs and save money to make up a deficit of almost $1 million. Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag said the city’s deficit is normally between $400,000 and $500,000. “I’ve been on the council, this is my sixth year,” Council President Sam Liebert said. “And this is the largest shortfall I’ve seen since I’ve been here. This is about double.” Liebert said the larger deficit comes from a few factors. “The main reason is just the natural pay raises that are built into contracts with our employees, so cost of living adjustment for non-union employees, and then also the built-in raises for police, fire and transit workers,” he said. “But another reason it’s gone up as well is because the city has no direct control over being able to raise its tax levy. So that’s a problem that we face fighting with our legislators in Madison who haven’t given us the tools to keep up with inflation costs.” On Wednesday, the city council held a special meeting with the city manager to start thinking about ideas of where to cut costs. “Wednesday was a brainstorming session more than anything else,” council member Rich Gruber said. “I look at it as just the very beginning.” Freitag presented the council with a slideshow of 37 ideas to consider. Some of those ideas included eliminating nightside bus services, reducing police and fire minimum staffing, increasing ambulance fees, turning off street lights and turning the maintenance of city parks over to citizens. “We’re going to have to go through and make some hard decisions about levels of spending we think will be acceptable to the public,” Gruber said. Some of the ideas were eliminated immediately. “The firm no’s were no reduction in staff, specifically police and fire,” Liebert said. “Other firm no’s were reductions to our bus transit system.” Other ideas were kept on the table, and the council asked Freitag and his staff to take a closer look. “I think maybe turning lights off in commercial or industrial areas is something we could look at, so we did direct the staff to look at that,” Liebert said. Freitag, Gruber and Liebert all emphasized that these ideas were merely suggestions; nothing is final. “The budget process is such that we’ll spend a lot of hours digging through budgets at every possible level to see where we can do what’s in the best interest in the community,” Gruber said. The council said it is interested in hearing the public’s ideas. “I hope to hear from as many people as possible with their ideas on how we can balance a budget in a challenging economic time,” Gruber said. Liebert agrees. “No idea is too small or too big,” he said. “Maybe there’s something that we haven’t thought of, and so we’re looking for more input.” There will be two public hearing sessions: one in October and one in November. People are also invited to call or email the city council members.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 02:02:55 GMT

Flooding damages Madison voting machines just before primary

The Madison City Clerk's office is scrambling to prepare for next month's primary after flooding and humidity damaged the city's voting equipment. A July 21 storm dropped nearly 3 inches of rain on the Madison area. The water flooded the voting equipment storage space in the basement of a city-owned shopping center. More of the voting equipment was damaged than earlier thought. The city clerk's office says 97 of the city's 98 tabulators and 90 other machines used to help voters with physical impairments or language barriers will have to be replaced. City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl told the Wisconsin State Journal the city will use equipment rented from the manufacturer for at least the Aug. 9 primary, and the company will credit the rental cost toward purchasing new equipment.

Published: Sat, 30 Jul 2016 19:31:38 GMT