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Conservatives seek immediate purge of voters in Wisconsin


A conservative law firm Thursday asked a judge to find the Wisconsin Elections Commission in contempt and impose $12,000 a day in fines until it immediately purges more than 200,000 voters from the rolls, a move Democrats are fighting.

A judge last month ordered the removal of voters from the rolls who might have moved and didn’t respond within 30 days to a notification sent by the elections commission in October. The bipartisan commission has deadlocked twice on attempts by Republicans to do the purge immediately while an appeal to the court order is pending.

Rick Esenberg, leader of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty that brought the lawsuit, said the commission must purge the voters now. The judge in December ruled that the commission was breaking state law by not removing voters who did not respond to the October mailing asking that they confirm their address.

“Court orders are not suggestions,” Esenberg said on WISN-AM. “They are not rendered inoperative by the fact that you filed an appeal.”

Esenberg filed a motion Thursday in Ozaukee County Court asking the judge to fine the commission and five of the six commissioners $2,000 each, or $12,000 total each day, for being in contempt of the order. The motion does not name one of the three Republicans on the commission who was not on the panel when the legal fight began.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who is representing the elections commission in the case, said it “strongly disagrees” with arguments in the contempt motion.

“This case should not effectively be ended before the appeals process plays out,” Kaul said in a statement.

The affected voters come more heavily from Democratic areas of Wisconsin, a key state in the 2020 presidential election. President Donald Trump won the state in 2016 by fewer than 23,000 votes. Wisconsin once again is expected to be one of the most hotly contested states this year.

Democrats fear forcing voters whose registration was nullified to re-register would create a burden on them and hurt turnout. Republicans argue that removing the voters would ensure that the rolls are not full of people who shouldn’t be voting.

Esenberg’s group has asked that the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court immediately take the state’s appeal of the case. The case is currently before a state appeals court. The commission has asked the appeals court to put the original ruling on hold, but it has not yet acted. The Supreme Court has not said yet whether it will take the case.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin also has filed a federal lawsuit to stop the purge. That lawsuit argues that it would be a violation of constitutional due process rights to deactivate the registrations of the voters without proper notice.

The elections commission in October mailed about 232,500 voters to tell them records indicated they had moved and they needed to verify that the address where they were registered to vote was current. Of those, about 209,000 have not requested continuation at their current address or re-registered at another one.

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Warmer weather helping Edgerton School District referendum project


It’s no secret that bone-chilling cold, icy roads and a few feet of snow are part of winter in Wisconsin.

But recent flashes of almost spring-like weather have been an unexpected—but welcome—gift for the Edgerton School District.

The warmer, drier weather has helped keep the district’s referendum projects on track. That has been especially important given the fast-track approach the district brought to its planning process.

In November 2018, Edgerton voters passed a $40.6 million referendum to renovate and expand Community Elementary School, add secure entrances at multiple buildings, and upgrade science labs, the commons area, band/choir rooms and offices at Edgerton High School.

District officials wanted to complete all of the projects in one year instead of two.

Superintendent Dennis Pauli said the warmth is making that goal a little more attainable.

Angela Major 

A construction worker digs in an area that will become Community Elementary School’s new cafeteria and kitchen Thursday in Edgerton.

“It’s somewhat why we’re able to get ahead of schedule,” he said.

Doug Demrow, the JP Cullen site superintendent for the projects, said he has boosted manpower with extra masonry workers in recent weeks, which has helped speed things up. But he can’t argue with the weather.

Crews can’t work outside once the temperature drops below 5 degrees, and it’s hard to work at all if temperatures hit minus 10, he said. But workers haven’t had to worry about that, and many are outside in long-sleeved shirts and sweatshirts.

“With the weather this good, we save time not having to tent everything,” Demrow said, referring to the structures that protect workers and equipment. “It saves a day of setup and prep.”

So far, the construction and renovations are going well, Demrow and Pauli said, and crews were able to get a lot of work done while students were gone over winter break.

“We haven’t run into any unwanted surprises really, so everything is just kind of like we were hoping it would be,” Demrow said.

Plumbing is one task that’s more difficult in cold weather because frozen ground hampers the installation of pipes. Bricklaying also suffers in extreme cold because the cement in mortar takes longer to cure, and it doesn’t bond as well to the bricks.

Angela Major 

A worker on a lift completes a wall that will form the new office area Thursday at Community Elementary School in Edgerton.

Workers are currently finishing wiring and outer structures on multiple buildings.

The 2018 referendum included a $1.8 million contingency fund to address any major issues that arose during construction.

Pauli said the district hasn’t had to touch the money so far, which means it could be used on other district buildings that aren’t getting updates.

The support beams and metal frames for the new elementary school gymnasium recently were installed, Pauli said.

“A lot of people have been inconvenienced by this,” he said, “but now when we walk over to Community (Elementary) and we see the additions and the inside, you can feel like this is really happening.”

Angela Major 

Work on Community Elementary School’s new gymnasium continues Thursday in Edgerton. The existing gym is being used as a library during construction.

Anthony Wahl 

West Riverside Energy Center is nearing completion in the town of Beloit.

Obituaries and death notices for Jan. 3, 2020

Robert Brown

Susan D. Johnson (Erickson)

Carl W. Raatz

Dorothy M. Weber

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Winter is here: Janesville's first baby of the decade born Thursday


With temperatures climbing past 40 degrees Thursday, it felt like winter was behind schedule.

But for the Lee family of Janesville, Winter arrived right on time.

Sarah and Tom Lee are the parents of the first baby born in Janesville in 2020, Winter Lee, who was born at 8:38 a.m. Thursday at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center.

Winter was due New Year’s Day and was born just hours after that at 7 pounds, 1 ounce and 21 inches long, Sarah said.

Angela Major 

Winter Ann Lee is Janesville’s first baby of the decade.

The couple rang in the new year watching the ball drop on TV and preparing for their first child to arrive.

Sarah and Tom have lived in Janesville for about two years and decided this was the community where they wanted to raise a family, they said.

Before moving to Janesville, the couple lived in a number of cities while Tom, an orthopedic surgeon at Mercyhealth, was in residency.

Sarah is a professional bassoonist with the Erie Philharmonic of Erie, Pennsylvania. She travels a lot for work but will take some time off to take care of Winter, she said.

Tom said going to the hospital Wednesday night with Sarah to have their child delivered was very different from going to the hospital for work. Being on the other side of the health care equation made Tom feel vulnerable, he said.

He also had mixed feelings about Winter being the first baby born in the new year because he typically does not enjoy a lot of attention, he said.

Sarah joked during her pregnancy that Tom, having a medical background, could have helped deliver the baby if something went wrong, but Tom said that could not have been further from the truth.

Obstetrics and orthopedic medicine are very different, and few skills he had from medical school would carry over to delivering a baby, he said.

The couple lauded the birthing team they worked with at Mercyhealth, saying everyone was kind and helpful from day one.

During some rough moments in the pregnancy, Sarah said her doctors and friends rallied around her and helped her feel better.

Winter wore a pink-and-white-striped knitted cap and a 2020 onesie Thursday evening.

Sarah said Winter is the most beautiful baby she has ever seen while acknowledging that most mothers probably feel the same way about their babies.

Angela Major 

Sarah Lee and Tom Lee hold their daughter, Winter Ann Lee, on Thursday at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville.

Trump's plan to curb teen vaping exempts some flavors


U.S. health officials will begin cracking down on most flavored e-cigarettes that are popular with underage teenagers, but their plan includes major exceptions that benefit vaping manufacturers, retailers and adults who use the nicotine-delivery devices.

The Trump administration announced Thursday that it will prohibit fruit, candy, mint and dessert flavors from small, cartridge-based e-cigarettes favored by high school and middle school students. But menthol and tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes will be allowed to remain on the market.

The targeted flavor ban will also entirely exempt large, tank-based vaping devices, which are primarily sold in vape shops that cater to adult smokers.

Together, the two exemptions represent a significant retreat from President Donald Trump’s original plan announced four months ago, which would have banned all vaping flavors—including menthol—from all types of e-cigarettes. The new policy will spare a significant portion of the multibillion-dollar vaping market. And the changes mark a major victory for thousands of vape shop owners who sell the tank-based systems, which allow users to mix customized nicotine flavors.

Vape shop owners expressed relief following the announcement.

“We’re thankful the guidance doesn’t shut down flavors in every aspect,” said Spike Babaian, owner of VapeNY in New York City.

Anti-tobacco advocates immediately condemned the decision to permit menthol and exempt tank-based vapes, accusing the administration of caving to industry pressure.

“It’s disturbing to see the results of industry lobbying to undermine public health protections, especially the lives and health of our youth,” said American Lung Association President and CEO Harold Wimmer. The association and other health groups argue that teenagers who vape will simply shift to using menthol if it remains on the market.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that typically heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable aerosol. They have been pitched to adults as a less-harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes, but there is limited data on their ability to help smokers quit.

The Food and Drug Administration has struggled for years to find the appropriate approach to regulate vaping. No e-cigarettes have yet won FDA approval, but the agency permits their sale under a policy called “enforcement discretion.” Under Thursday’s policy change, the FDA said it would begin targeting companies that continue to sell the targeted products. Companies will have 30 days after the policy is published to halt manufacturing, sales and shipping.

“We have to protect our families,” Trump told reporters Tuesday, ahead of the announcement. “At the same time, it’s a big industry. We want to protect the industry.”

The flavor restrictions apply to e-cigarettes that use prefilled nicotine cartridges mainly sold at gas stations and convenience stores. Juul Labs is the biggest player in that market, but it previously pulled all of its flavors except menthol and tobacco after coming under intense political scrutiny. The small, discreet devices are the most popular brand among underage users.

Many smaller manufacturers continue to sell sweet, fruity flavors like “grape slushie,” “strawberry cotton candy” and “sea salt blueberry.”

The flavor restrictions won’t affect the larger specialty devices sold at vape shops, which typically don’t admit customers under 21. These tank-based systems allow users to fill the device with the flavor of their choice. Sales of these devices represent an estimated 40% of the U.S. vaping business, with sales across some 15,000 to 19,000 shops.

The new policy still represents the federal government’s biggest step yet to combat a surge in teen vaping that officials fear is hooking a generation of young people on nicotine. In the latest government survey, more than 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month. Late last month Trump signed a law raising the minimum age to purchase all tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 nationwide.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the administration decided to exempt menthol after reviewing new data showing the flavor was not popular with teens.

“As we got better data on the flavors, we modified our thinking,” Azar said.

Survey data published in November reported that less than 6% of teens picked menthol as their top choice for vaping. In contrast, mint was the most popular flavor among sophomores and seniors.

Incoming FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the government’s approach attempts to balance the problem of underage vaping with “the potential role that e-cigarettes may play in helping adult smokers transition completely away” from regular cigarettes.