- Associated Press - Sunday, March 16, 2014
Wisconsin DNR disciplines 26 workers in 2013

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources disciplined employees last year for misusing a state boat, punching a co-worker, watching videos of girls on a state computer and making inappropriate comments, agency records show.

An Associated Press review of DNR disciplinary documents obtained through an open records request found the agency sent 26 letters reprimanding, suspending or terminating employees in 2013. The agency released 25 letters, saying the 26th worker was challenging the release of his or hers.

The discipline letters give sometimes sordid details of errant behavior, but represent less than 1 percent of the agency’s roughly 2,625 employees. The DNR issued 19 letters in 2012 but couldn’t saw how many were disciplined in 2011.

Department of Administration officials said no single state entity tracks disciplinary actions across the nearly 50 state agencies. The Department of Justice disciplined five of its roughly 600 employees last year, or just less than 1 percent.

DNR spokesman Bill Cosh declined to comment on the letters, saying they speak for themselves. Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, who leads the Senate’s natural resources committee, didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

Rep. Al Ott, R-Forest Junction, chairman of the Assembly natural resources committee, said in an email that he’s confident the DNR is “handling any necessary disciplinary action in accordance with agency policy.” He declined further comment.

Employees’ names and positions were edited out of the letters before they were turned over to the AP. DNR Employment Relations Section Chief Amber Passno said in a letter responding to the request that the names weren’t needed to satisfy the public’s interest in knowing whether the agency properly disciplines workers.


Risser’s anti-cigarette fight dates back 50 years

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - State Sen. Fred Risser has been fighting against cigarettes for more than 50 years, but he says he’s concerned Wisconsin is now taking a step backward with its talk of allowing electronic cigarettes in bars and other public venues.

The Madison Democrat, the longest-serving member of any state legislature in the country, recalls introducing a bill in 1963 that would have barred children under 16 from buying cigarettes. Although the bill failed in committee, it was the beginning of Risser’s long anti-tobacco crusade that helped lead to smoking bans in the state Capitol in 1999 and indoor public places in 2010.

But Risser fears that those gains could be undone by a bill that would exempt electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, from the indoor smoking ban, The Capital Times reported (https://bit.ly/1ibt5kVhttps://bit.ly/1ibt5kV ) in a story published Sunday.

One interest group that registered in support of the bill is RAI Services, formerly known as Reynolds American, one of the largest tobacco companies in the world. Risser said tobacco companies support the bill because they’re trying to reverse the decline in smoking in recent decades.

“It’s nothing more than an effort to increase consumers of smoking,” Risser said. “They’re trying to glamorize the idea of smoking to youth.”

E-cigarettes work by vaporizing a liquid mix of nicotine and other substances, such as flavoring, so smokers inhale and exhale a vapor rather than smoke.

Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation will prevent municipalities from imposing bans on the smoking devices. He said he’s just trying to “protect freedom from the irrational prejudices that may pop into the heads of local officials.”


Appleton to review penalties for serving minors

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) - An Appleton restaurant that served a beer to an undercover police operative ended up going out of business. Now some city officials are asking that the policy for revoking liquor licenses be re-evaluated.

TJ’s Japanese Steakhouse used to be a $2.2 million business. When it was cited in 2012 for serving a beer to a 20-year-old, the restaurant was over the limit for the city’s demerit system, the Post-Crescent Media reported (https://post.cr/OuipTMhttps://post.cr/OuipTM ) Sunday.

That touched off a 16-month process that concluded last month when the owners surrendered their liquor license under threat of revocation and sold the business.

City Alderman Jeff Jirschele wonders if there’s a way to deal with the issue that doesn’t lead to such extreme outcomes.

“My concern is we virtually have an execution order and can serve a financial death sentence to a business owner if they lose their license,” Jirschele said.

Jirschele is calling for a review of the revocation rules in Appleton’s ordinance.

Stacy Doucette, the assistant city attorney who handles the revocation process, said the system works as intended. She also noted there have been only two such hearings since 2012, suggesting little need for an overhaul.


Wis. proposal would require coroners be licensed

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - Those who investigate deaths in Wisconsin could face tougher licensing restrictions under a proposal aimed at preventing missteps that might impede a criminal investigation.

Supporters want coroners and medical examiners to be licensed and receive 40 hours of training. They also want the state to create a board that oversees the state’s elected coroners and sets requirements for continuing education, the Press-Gazette Media reported (https://gbpg.net/1qJAxblhttps://gbpg.net/1qJAxbl ) Saturday.

Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that doesn’t require that coroners and medical examiners have specific training.

The proposal is aimed at counties where coroners are elected to office. The proposed changes must still clear a number of legislative hurdles.

Republican state Rep. Chad Weininger said the current lack of a training requirement means anyone could get elected, regardless of training.

“What that could mean is that somebody down the road could get away with murder,” he said.

The daughter of a man who died in Monroe County in 2010 wonders if that already happened. Robert Lichtie died after a fall that family members consider suspicious, but a coroner allowed his body to be cremated before authorities could rule out foul play.

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