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Chippewa Falls alumni appear in Super Bowl Halftime Show

A lesson learned locally from Super Bowl LII is that moms are always right.

After a summer 2010 Chippewa Falls High School Marching Cardinals band practice, Erica Boos was ready to quit.

Her mother told her otherwise.

“Erica, you can’t quit because of the heat,” Sarah Boos-Walter recalled saying to her daughter. “You’re going back, and you’re going to try it again.”

Eight years later, a week after she performed with the University of Minnesota marching band in Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl LII halftime show, Boos seems glad she stuck with it.

“It was just luck that I continued it, because I hated it,” Boos said, adding that soon after that summer day she loved being in the marching band and performing in shows.

Boos is just one of a few Chippewa Falls High School alumni who were part of the Super Bowl LII halftime show Sunday, Feb. 4, with the University of Minnesota marching band. Ditching their regular maroon and gold attire for suits and ties, Boos, Chippewa Falls native Allison Prill and their fellow bandmates took to the field with Justin Timberlake to play some of his hits.

“I think it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime things,” Prill said. “It’s not very often that the Super Bowl comes to Minneapolis, and you happen to be in college, in the band. Everything just came together perfectly.”

In terms of the show actually coming together, the band, Boos said, took part in a total of 60 hours worth of practices in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl — some with the star of the show himself.

“The show you see, it looks so simple, but it’s not. There’s so much behind it,” said Boos, who plays the tenor saxophone.

Prill, who plays the cymbals in the band, agreed, adding that the group also had a recording session with some of Timberlake’s musicians.

The band, Prill said, began petitioning to be part of the Super Bowl show last year and got the official acceptance in December. Despite finding out about their national TV appearance in December, they couldn’t tell anyone they were part of the show before it happened.

A self-admitted rule-follower, Prill said she managed to keep the secret from her parents, but they found out through other means. Her mom was joking with her that she should come home on that day, since it’s also her brother’s birthday, knowing full well her daughter was keeping a big secret.

Boos admitted she let the secret slip to her mom in December after finding out, but she swore her to secrecy as well. Despite her proud-mom struggle to keep her daughter’s chance at 15 minutes of fame a secret, Boos-Walter only told her husband, Pete Walter, and her third-grade-aged daughter, Gracie.

“It was killing me,” Boos-Walter said.

But the night of the Super Bowl, as the second quarter winded down, anticipation in the Boos-Walter household grew — right up until they saw their daughter on TV and received a “flood of messages.”

Prill also made her small screen appearance while she was on the field during the show, and it caused many family members and friends to re-connect with her again.

“It was very cool but very weird,” Prill said. “I’m not used to seeing myself on screen.”

Mike Renneke, Chippewa Falls High School band director for the Past six years, said seeing his former students pop up on screen was not what he was expecting while he happened to tune into the game.

“It was certainly a surprise,” Renneke said. “All of a sudden here comes JT, and oh my gosh I think I know that person.”

Both Prill and Boos credited the work and dedication they had marching with the Chippewa Falls Marching Band to their collegiate music transition at the University of Minnesota. Prill said she was unaware just how many schools barely have marching or a concert band — if at all.

“It’s wonderful that we have a great marching program,” Prill said. “I think I took it for granted in high school.”

The power of a music program isn’t lost on Renneke.

“I think the cool thing about music is, it can take kids from anywhere … and unites them,” Renneke said.

It’s a program Boos said she’s glad she never quit. Without it she wouldn’t have made the friendships that she did nor would she have served in a leadership role as drum major during her tenure at Chippewa Falls High School.

It also gives her mom an ultimate “I told you so.” And it was a moment that Boos-Walter will never forget.

“I was so proud of her,” Boos-Walter said upon seeing her daughter in the show. “She has come through so much in her life and just to see something that wonderful and exciting in her senior year. … I was beaming with pride, and I was just so happy for her.”

Farmers trained on using herbicide blamed for crop damage

MINNEAPOLIS — Tens of thousands of soybean and cotton farmers across the country are taking free but mandatory training in how to properly use a weed killer blamed for drifting and damaging crops in neighboring fields.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required the training and other restrictions last fall in a deal with three major agribusiness companies — Monsanto, BASF and DuPont. All three make special formulations of dicamba for use on new soybean and cotton varieties that are genetically engineered to resist the herbicide, using seed technology commercialized by Monsanto. The products are increasingly popular because they give farmers a new weapon against aggressive weeds such as pigweed that have become resistant to other herbicides such as glyphosate, also known as Roundup.

Farmers have used dicamba on a smaller scale for decades. Its tendency to vaporize and drift led the three companies to develop less-volatile formulations for dicamba-tolerant crops, which came into widespread use last year. But farmers who planted older, non-resistant varieties and didn’t use dicamba soon began reporting damage to their crops and blamed nearby farms that did use it.

“It takes focus and time to learn to apply a new product. ... Training and education is critical,” said Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy.

The in-person training sessions are kicking into high gear this month and in March. Monsanto is confident that the training will sharply reduce drift problems this season, Partridge said. Over 91 percent of “off-target applications” last season were a result of farmers not following the label instructions, he said. In Georgia, where training was already mandatory, he said, the state received no complaints of dicamba drift last year.

Monsanto held its first of several sessions in Minnesota on Monday. The company expects to hold several thousand nationwide eventually, Partridge said. BASF and DuPont are making similar pushes across farm country. The manufacturers are conducting the sessions in 26 states, while government agencies in seven others hold similar trainings.

The trainings cover everything from choosing the right spray nozzles, sprayer heights, proper pressures, spray rig speeds, wind speeds and other weather conditions, and best practices for cleaning equipment. They last only about 1½ hours, but he said that’s sufficient to drive home the key points because Monsanto also provides a technical support phone number and other tools. For farmers who don’t have the proper nozzles, Monsanto plans to hand out over 1 million, free of charge. It will also roll out a smartphone app to give farmers real-time weather conditions for their fields.

Nearly 26 million acres were planted in dicamba-tolerant varieties last year, including over 20 million acres of soybeans. Monsanto expects the number of dicamba-tolerant soybean acres will likely double this year, Partridge said, based on the demand the company is seeing from growers. Tests by both Monsanto and independent academic researchers show a 5.7 bushel-per-acre yield increase compared with another popular weed control system for soybeans, he said.

“We’re excited about it and want to do everything we can to make sure that folks have the best experience possible in 2018,” Partridge said.

The new federal restrictions, which made dicamba a “restricted use pesticide,” limit its use to days when winds are under 10 mph and include new record-keeping requirements. But some states have imposed additional restrictions.

Arkansas had the most crop-damage complaints in the country last year at nearly 1,000 and adopted the toughest rules. The state banned dicamba in most cases from April 16-Oct. 31, which essentially rules out using it on soybeans. Monsanto has sued to block that ban from taking effect. Minnesota, which received 253 complaints, set a June 20 cutoff date and prohibited applications on days when temperatures exceed 85 degrees. North Dakota cuts off applications at June 30 or the crop’s first bloom phase, whichever comes first.

Mike Petefish, who farms around 5,000 acres near Claremont in Dodge County of southern Minnesota, said he expects the training sessions will be popular. Farmers generally accept the new restrictions, he said.

“I know farmers are really concerned about keeping the product,” said Petefish, also president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. “I know that for some who have serious herbicide resistance problems with weeds, there really isn’t any other product available.”

Gregg Regimbal, a pesticide manager with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said the training material “certainly looks thorough to me.” Training offered in one state will be accepted in the other states that allow the companies to conduct it, he said.

Monsanto and other manufacturers are being sued by farmers who say their crops were damaged by the herbicide last year. Many of those cases have been consolidated in federal court in St. Louis, Missouri. An Arkansas jury in December convicted a man of second-degree murder in the shooting of a farmer who accused him of using dicamba and damaging his crops.


A farmer shows the damage to soybean plants from dicamba last summer in Marvell, Ark. Soybean and cotton farmers across the country are spending part of their winter undergoing free but mandatory training on how to properly use a weed killer that has been blamed for drifting and damaging crops in neighboring fields. 

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Waste company returns to Lake Hallie with new building proposal

A waste transfer company that withdrew its most recent request to build a new facility in Lake Hallie is back — this time, with a plan that they hope will appeal to the community more.

The Lake Hallie Plan Commission did not come to an agreement Monday to approve or deny a request for a conditional use permit from Eau Claire-based ProVyro Waste Transfer. The proposal entails an approximately 8,400-square-foot transfer facility at the intersection of 120th Street and 40th Avenue.

After almost ten appearances from community members and two failed motions — one to approve the permit, one to deny it — the commission voted unanimously to defer the decision to the Village Board. The board will take up the matter at 7 p.m. on Feb. 19 at the former village hall, 13033 30th Avenue.

The board will consider several community concerns with the proposal, including the lack of wide turn lanes and a possible weight limit on the roads near the proposed facility.

In addition to the waste transfer facility, an 8,200-square-foot combined maintenance shop and office would also be built on a ten-acre portion of the 24 1/2-acre parcel, according to ProVyro’s proposal.

The proposal describes the facility as a place where waste and recycling are compacted before being reloaded into larger vehicles and transported to a “final disposal location.”

The facility would be open 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, with potential “occasional use on Sunday during day hours if operations require.” Trucks would access the facility using 120th Street, the proposal said.

The new proposed site is already zoned for industrial use.

ProVyro co-owner Andrew Holland argued Monday that the newly proposed location — which is not in a predominantly residential area — would be well-hidden from public view. The 30-foot grade of 120th Avenue would also help block odor, Holland said.

However, several community members have concerns.

Jennifer Coyne of Lake Hallie, who lives on 120th Street, said she worries about being sandwiched between a ProVyro facility and Waste Management’s facility at 11888 30th Avenue. “My fear is, we have a nice little gem of the neighborhood back there, big lots, lots of trees, people smile at each other from their cars and from the street. … I’d love to have you in Lake Hallie, I just don’t want you as a neighbor,” Coyne told Holland and co-owner Joe Craven.

Other community members urged the Plan Commission to consider the safety of 120th Avenue’s pedestrian and bicycle traffic in the summer, and a waste facility lowering property value for nearby homeowners.

Village Board president Wayne Walkoviak asked Holland and Craven why they were interested in building in Lake Hallie, a village that has a population of roughly 6,000 and one existing waste transfer facility: “Why Lake Hallie?”

The company is interested in serving their Lake Hallie customer base, Holland said: “From an operational position, it makes sense for us. … I think if you look at every proposal, you’re leaving yourself open to large corporations and not small, local companies.”

It’s the second time in five months ProVyro has approached the village with a building request. In October 2017, the Plan Commission ultimately rejected a proposal to rezone land on 130th Street, near the Highway 53 and Highway 29 interchange, to industrial, and grant ProVyro a conditional use permit. The company withdrew their request hours before a Village Board meeting the next week.

The company’s original proposition was met with similar concerns from the community.

The land ProVyro is currently requesting a conditional use permit for is owned by Rex Technology Park, LLC, according to the proposal.

Supreme Court appears set to strike down union fees on free speech grounds

WASHINGTON — Paying union dues and baking a wedding cake may not seem like classic examples of free speech — except perhaps at the Supreme Court.

This year, the high court is poised to announce its most significant expansion of the First Amendment since the Citizens United decision in 2010, which struck down laws that limited campaign spending by corporations, unions and the very wealthy.

Now the “money is speech” doctrine is back and at the heart of a case to be heard this month that threatens the financial foundation of public employee unions in 22 blue states.

Like Citizens United, the union case is being closely watched for its potential to shift political power in states and across the nation.

The legal attack on the campaign funding laws was brought by conservative activists who hoped that the free flow of money from wealthy donors would boost Republican candidates. And since 2010, the GOP has achieved big gains in Congress and in state legislatures across the nation.

Conservatives also believe the attack on mandatory union fees has the potential to weaken the public sector unions that are strong supporters of the Democratic Party.

“This is a big deal,” Illinois’ Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said in September on the day the Supreme Court said it would hear the lawsuit that he initiated. A court victory would be “transformative for the state of Illinois, transformative for America and the relationship between our taxpayers and the people who work for our taxpayers.”

Still pending before the high court is the case of the baker from Colorado who says he has a free speech right as a Christian to refuse to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. A ruling in his favor would carve out a religious freedom exemption to the civil rights laws in the 21 states that require businesses open to the public to provide full and equal service to all, including gays and lesbians.

At issue in the union case is whether public employees can be required to pay a fee to cover the cost of collective bargaining and resolving grievances, even if they have personal objections to the union.

In 28 states, “right to work” laws prohibit contracts that require employees to join or support a union. In recent years, formerly strong union states including Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana adopted such laws.

But in 22 other states, including California, New York and Pennsylvania as well as Illinois, the law allows employees to form a union which in turn has a legal duty to represent all the employees.

In those states, school boards, transit districts, police departments and state agencies may negotiate contracts that require all workers — even those who do not join the union — to pay a so-called “fair share fee” for the benefits they would receive along with union members, such as higher pay scales.

More than 40 years ago, the Supreme Court gave this arrangement its constitutional blessing. The justices set out a middle position in the case of the case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. They said public employees have a free speech right to opt out of paying the full dues to a union if some of the money is spent for political contributions or lobbying. However, the court said, they may be required to pay a lesser fee to support the union’s workplace activities. Otherwise, “free riders” could benefit from a better contract, but pay nothing.

The Illinois lawsuit asks the court to overturn the Abood decision and strike down forced union fees nationwide.

Soon after taking office in 2015, Rauner had tried to block union fees through an executive order, and when that failed, he filed a suit in federal court contending the payments were unconstitutional.

Illinois’ Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan intervened to defend the state’s labor law, and a judge ruled the governor had no standing since he was not paying the fees. But the suit continued after his lawyers substituted as a plaintiff Mark Janus, a child support specialist. He works for a state agency in Springfield and objects to the $45 fee he pays each month to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The union “takes political positions that he doesn’t support. They advocate for more spending and higher taxes,” said Jacob Huebert, a lawyer for the Liberty Justice Center who represents Janus.

For its part, AFSCME called the case “a political attack on the freedoms of working people by the same corporate billionaires and corporate interests that have for years rigged our economy and politics in their own favor.”

Rauner’s challenge to union fees is likely to win favor from the court’s five more conservative justices, all of them Republican appointees. Two years ago, the court was set to strike down mandatory union fees in a case brought by a California schoolteacher. But the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia left the court split 4 to 4.

Once Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, appointed by President Trump, was confirmed to fill Scalia’s seat, the court said it would decide the union fees issue in the case from Illinois.

“I’m highly confident” about the outcome, Rauner said in December. “With Gorsuch at the Supreme Court, we believe we will prevail.”

Union leaders see the case as a well-funded political attack on public employees. “This is about power. They are attacking us because we fight for a better life for working people,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. They say they are reasonably confident members will continue to pay their dues, even if they are no longer required to do so.

Beyond politics, however, the legal question before the court is whether requiring public employees to pay a fee to a union to cover the cost of collective bargaining amounts to “compelled speech” that violates the First Amendment.

For most of American history, government employees did not have protected rights under the Constitution. The justices often cite Oliver Wendell Holmes’ comment in 1892 that a policeman “may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be policeman.”

It was not until the late 1960s when the court first held that public employees had free speech rights, but only when they were speaking as citizens on a matter of public concern. The justices ruled unanimously in 1968 for Marvin Pickering, an Illinois schoolteacher who was fired for sending a letter to the editor of a local newspaper that was critical of the school board.

But the court has insisted public employees do not have rights to speak out about problems in the workplace. In 2006, the court said the First Amendment does not generally protect government whistleblowers from being punished or demoted. In that case, Garcetti v. Ceballos, the court ruled 5-4 against a Los Angeles county lawyer who said he was demoted for having revealed a police officer may have supplied false information in a search warrant. The court’s conservatives sided with their employer. “A government entity has broader discretion to restrict speech when it acts in its role as employer,” and a public employee “must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom,” wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

Harvard law professor Charles Fried, the U.S. solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan, filed a brief in the union case questioning how the court could say the First Amendment protects public employees from paying a union fee, but not for speaking out about problems in an agency.

Meanwhile, several prominent First Amendment scholars with conservative credentials filed briefs questioning the premise that union fees involve speech.

“We think this is not compelled speech. It’s a compelled payment of money,” said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh. He noted lawyers, doctors and other licensed professionals are required by state laws to pay fees for continuing education classes, including on topics some may oppose.

The Supreme Court upheld mandatory bar dues for lawyers in 1990, relying on the Abood decision. And in 2000, the court rejected a free speech challenge to the required student fees at state universities. Conservative students at the University of Wisconsin had sued, contending they should not be forced to subsidize left-leaning speakers and student groups.

But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. has made clear he thinks the Abood decision must go. It conflicts with the “bedrock principle that, except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support,” he wrote.

Alito, President George W. Bush’s second appointee, played a key role in the Citizens United case. Before his arrival in 2006, the court with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had upheld the McCain-Feingold Act and its limits on campaign money. But when Alito replaced her, he helped form the 5-4 majority that struck down a series of campaign laws on free speech grounds.

He then targeted public sector unions. In 2012, he wrote the court’s opinion in a California case called Knox v. SEIU involving refunds for employees who did not want to pay for the union’s political spending. In that ruling, he questioned the Abood decision and sympathized with employees who would “prefer to keep their own money rather than subsidizing the political agenda of a state-favored union.”

His words in turn prompted lawyers for the National Right to Work Foundation to challenge Abood directly. They sued on behalf of home care workers in Illinois, but fell just short in 2014 in the case of Harris v. Quinn. Alito wrote a long opinion casting doubt on the Abood precedent, but the 5-4 majority decided only that the home care workers were not true state employees.

The four liberal justices, all Democratic appointees, dissented, and noted that thousands of union contracts in more than 20 states rely on the principles set in Abood.

“This is about power. They are attacking us because we fight for a better life for working people.” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers

“This is a big deal. (A court victory would be) transformative for the state of Illinois, transformative for America and the relationship between our taxpayers and the people who work for our Gov. Bruce Rauner, R-Illinois

Anti-union advocates tried again in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, but fell short again because of Scalia’s death. The justices will hear Janus v. AFSCME on Feb. 26, expecting this time to finally resolve the dispute.