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This Monday photo provided by Dakota Snider shows a road lined with trash in Yosemite National Park, Calif. 

Walker plans to spread conservative message, stump for Trump

MADISON — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday that after he leaves office next week he will join a speakers’ bureau to travel the country and talk in new ways about conservative issues while helping in the effort to re-elect President Donald Trump.

The details about his future plans were the first Walker has given publicly since he lost his bid for a third term in November to Democrat Tony Evers, the Wisconsin state superintendent. Evers replaces Walker on Monday.

Walker, in a New Year’s email to his supporters, even made a plug for himself saying, “be sure to consider requesting me for meetings, conferences and other events across the nation.” Walker said he will join a speakers’ bureau and “focus on new methods to articulate a conservative message” while advocating for lowering taxes and overhauling the tax code.

Walker made his name nationally during his first term when he effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers and defeated a recall attempt. He cut taxes by $8 billion over eight years, while enacting a host of conservative priorities, before running for president in 2015. He dropped out shortly after Donald Trump got into the race.

Walker, 51, has been in public office for 25 years including the past eight as governor. His loss to Evers was his first since 1990, when at age 22, he first ran for the state Assembly.

After his loss to Evers, Walker was coy about what he would do next. But he revealed some of his general plans in a New Year’s email sent to his supporters on Tuesday, saying he intends to continue living in Wisconsin with his wife and near his grown sons, mother and his brother’s family.

“We will broaden our scope with an additional focus on returning power to the people in the states — from a federal government grown out-of-control,” Walker wrote. “That is the best way to Drain the Swamp on a permanent basis.”

While advocating for “draining the swamp,” Walker said he also plans to help re-elect Trump and help with candidates and causes in Wisconsin over the next two years. Walker said during his re-election campaign that he wouldn’t run for president again. In his email message, he doesn’t rule out future runs for office, saying only “We will see where God leads us in the future.”

Walker made his name nationally during his first term when he effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers and defeated a recall attempt.

Frozen fortress growing in Lake Geneva

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. (AP) — A little bit of wintertime whimsy is coming to Riviera Beach in Lake Geneva.

Ice Castles, an attraction built completely out of icicles, is getting larger by the day and soon will open.

“Ice Castles was looking for their home in the Midwest, and we believe this partnership will hold really good things,” said Joe Tominaro, of VISIT Lake Geneva. “It’s going to be epic.”

Located in the heart of downtown Lake Geneva, Riviera Beach is a favorite gathering spot year-round. Ice Castles is expected to open Jan. 10, 2019 and draw large crowds.

There are only five other Ice Castles currently open. They are located in Utah, Minnesota, Colorado, New Hampshire and Alberta, Canada.

“There’s an excitement about town and any time we put something out there online about the ice castles it seems to go viral,” Tominaro said.

Site work on Lake Geneva’s frozen fortress began in September. Utah native Jesse Stone has been overseeing the construction process.

“We’re kind of like the circus in that we’re a mobile entertainment company,” Stone said. “We will eventually have 70 to 90 local people working with us.”

It took a bit of experimentation to get work started on the sandy beach, Stone said, but Ice Castles began to really rise at the half-acre site in November.

Each cold night since then, water is sprayed from sprinkler heads installed throughout the castle. The water falls over the top of metal racks and freezes.

The result is approximately 5,000 to 10,000 crystal clear icicles that are hand-harvested in the morning and then get strategically placed to build formations.

“What you see changes every day,” Stone said. “Our goal is to make Ice Castles be like the frozen version of going to Disneyland.”

Once finished, the Lake Geneva ice castle will have tunnels, mazes, fountains and even giant ice slides that are big enough for adults to play on.

Around 120 LED lights also have been frozen inside the castle and those who visit the attraction at night will be greeted to a beautiful glowing display.

“There’s nothing else like this in the world and it’s really showcasing how beautiful nature is,” Stone said.

Lake Geneva’s castle is currently about 10 feet high, but it is expected to hit 30-35 feet by the end of the season.

The outcome depends on Mother Nature, Stone said, nothing that visitors might want to see the attraction a couple times to see how it changes.

“Running a business like this that is completely nature-dependent really requires a lot of faith; especially considering we’ve seen days with a 42 degree difference between them,” Stone said. “You have to believe.”

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Legislature considers changes to pretrial justice process

MADISON — Wisconsin lawmakers could soon take a cue from counties and other states by seeking changes to the increasingly scrutinized process criminal defendants enter into before trial.

While the changes under consideration likely won’t go as far as states such as California, which opted to entirely eliminate cash bail — until recently a hallmark of the pretrial process — a potential overhaul to pretrial practice in Wisconsin could give courts wider authority to detain dangerous criminals with the hopes of simultaneously reducing the number of poor offenders being locked up due to lack of means.

Major pretrial changes are a long shot, but lawmakers on a study committee say their efforts at the very least shed light on practices that need review.

A potential amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution under consideration would make pretrial detention easier and could also pave the way for a pretrial system far less dependent on cash bail than it currently is.

Criminal offenders in the U.S. are presumed innocent before trial and are constitutionally protected from excessive bail. In Wisconsin, the state constitution goes further by guaranteeing offenders in most cases the right to be released with conditions.

Such conditions can be non-monetary, such as a prohibition on use of alcohol and drugs or contacting the alleged victim. Monetary conditions of release can include a signature bond, where a person signs a bond form promising to pay a set amount only if they violate terms of release; or cash bail, where a person is required to pay a set amount to guarantee appearance in court.

Unlike many states, Wisconsin does not have bail bondsmen, which require a nonrefundable payment from an offender — usually 10 percent of the total bond amount — plus collateral to guarantee offender’s appearance in court.

Critics of cash bail argue it favors wealthy offenders while disadvantaging the poor.

In some of the most extreme scenarios, the wealthy pay to be released on the most serious of charges while the poor stay behind bars for petty crimes.

Cash bail practices, for example, allowed Schlitterbahn resort co-owner Jeff Henry to be released pending serious drug and sex trafficking charges in Missouri after he posted $1 million bail in October.

Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania man in July spent more than 40 days behind bars on misdemeanor charges because he couldn’t afford to pay $800 in cash bail to be released.

Wisconsin lawmakers on a study committee exploring pretrial justice practices see those extremes as a problem.

“Your financial means should not determine whether or not you’re incarcerated,” said Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, a member of the committee.

Committee members are considering following in the footsteps of counties such as Milwaukee, which over the past decade have reduced their reliance on cash bail by using technology to release more of the accused on signature bonds instead of imposing cash bail if their chance of coming back to court is relatively high.

Risk assessment tools, as they’re called, use information about the defendant to determine both the risk he or she will fail to return to court or commit a new crime while out on release. Judges can then use the risk assessment to guide their decision on whether to impose cash bail, signature bond or other conditions of release.

Milwaukee has used risk assessment tools to lower the proportion of defendants who are required to post cash bail from 64 percent in 2009, before risk assessment tools were adopted, to 40 percent in 2012.

But if a judge, with or without the guidance of a risk assessment tool, deems a defendant too dangerous to be released on bond, there are few options.

The state constitution has carved out a provision to allow judges to detain dangerous offenders for the most serious crimes, but the process for doing so essentially requires a trial, and so has very rarely been used.

“It’s more difficult to do that than it is to actually have a trial, and that doesn’t make sense,” said Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, who chairs the bail committee.

State law in most cases leaves judges to set very high levels of bail for serious crimes which some view as a stand-in for preventive detention.

“What we have now is a system that’s lying to itself,” Goyke said.

Draft legislation the committee will consider at the end of January would change the Wisconsin Constitution to make the timelines and requirements less burdensome for prosecutors, which would allow judges to more frequently detain defendants deemed too risky to be released.

The draft legislation has prompted concern for defendants’ rights.

“It’s only a bargain if the rule is release and the exception is pretrial detention,” said Goyke.

Because the changes to Wisconsin’s pretrial practices would require a change to the constitution, any legislation would need to be approved under two legislative sessions and put before voters in a statewide referendum.

While lawmakers have pointed out what’s wrong with the pretrial system, gaining consensus on a solution is another story. Goyke, for instance, said he won’t support changes to the pretrial detention statute without measures that would make the use of cash bail impractical.

Meanwhile, while Wanggaard wants to prevent poor defendants from remaining behind bars, he still wants to keep some use of cash bail to ensure appearance in court.

The committee will consider draft legislation at its next meeting in January.

Scott Walker

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Federal shutdown has limited impact in Chippewa Falls

As the partial shutdown of the federal government continues, Chippewa Falls area institutions remain mostly unaffected.

The local Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency is closed, with its employees furloughed for now due to the lapse in government funding.

The Farm Service Agency assists farmers by delivering U.S. agricultural programs.

However, the Natural Resource Conservation Service which shares the same building on Weatherridge Road in Chippewa Falls is open and fully staffed, and receiving funding from a different appropriations bill.

Scott Smith, a member of the board of directors for the area Farm Bureau, said that despite such USDA programs as the FSA shutting down, it was a minor problem compared to the ongoing price and sales issues for milk and commodities like soybeans.

“It’s all just temporary,” Smith said. “It’s going to open again. It always has.”

Smith said he hadn’t heard of farmers having to wait for a second round of direct payments from the Agriculture Department or having new farm loans put on hold so far.

The Post Office is also operating as usual with full staff and pay.

Jake McKown, a supervisor at the Chippewa Post Office, said the office is self-sufficient and wouldn’t generally be affected.

“The government shutdown has to go on for quite a long time before it affects us,” McKown said.

According to Bobbie Jaeger, Economic Support Division Manager for Chippewa County, there has so far been no impact to date on entitlement programs in the county either.

The Associated Press reported that 420,000 federal employees were deemed essential and are working unpaid including about 40,000 law enforcement and corrections officers.

Homeland Security employees still working include about 150,000 from the Coast Guard, TSA and Customs and Border Protection.

About 380,000 federal employees are home without pay, including nearly all of NASA and Housing and Urban Development workers, and about 40,000 from the Commerce Department.

About 16,000 National Park Service employees – 80 percent of the agency’s workforce – are furloughed.

“It’s all just temporary. It’s going to open again. It always has.” Scott Smith, Farm Bureau