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Foxconn, explosion, budget, misconduct top stories of 2017

MADISON — Foxconn’s arrival. A fatal explosion. A late state budget. Sexual misconduct in the Legislature.

Wisconsin saw another tumultuous year in 2017. Here’s a look at the biggest stories in the state during the past 12 months:

Welcome, Foxconn

Gov. Scott Walker announced in July that Foxconn Technology Group was considering building a massive, $10 billion flat-screen plant in southeastern Wisconsin that could employ as many as 13,000 people. Republican lawmakers in September approved spending up to $3 billion to lure the Taiwanese electronics giant to the state. The legislation was the biggest incentive package ever from any state to a foreign company and was 10 times bigger than anything Wisconsin has extended to a business.

Mill blast

Late in the evening of May 31, Didion Milling Company’s corn processing plant in Cambria exploded, killing five workers and injuring 12 more. Federal labor officials announced in November that an accumulation of highly combustible grain dust probably caused the explosion and slapped the company with 19 safety citations.

Better late than never

Republican infighting over how to pay for road work delayed the 2017-19 state budget for more than two months. The spending plan was supposed to be finished by July 1 but Walker didn’t sign it until Sept. 21. The budget pays for roads by authorizing $400 million in additional borrowing and delaying ongoing projects. It increased public school aid by nearly 6 percent, froze University of Wisconsin tuition and eliminated the state property tax.

#MeToo

Two anonymous women accused Democratic state Rep. Josh Zepnick in December of kissing them without permission in 2011 and 2015. Lawmakers called for Zepnick to resign. He refused; Democrats rescinded his committee assignments and barred him from caucus meetings. Also in December, word broke that the state paid a former legislative aide $75,000 in 2015 to settle her claims that then-state Sen. Spencer Coggs sexually harassed her eight years ago. Coggs, who is now Milwaukee treasurer, has denied the allegations.

Prison problems

A federal judge ruled in July that Wisconsin’s juvenile prison guards had to reduce their use of pepper spray, solitary confinement and restraints. There were a series of violent episodes at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake prisons following the order. In October, an inmate punched teacher Pandora Lobacz and knocked her out. Later that month the prison was locked down after five prison workers ended up in the hospital following clashes with inmates.

Lone gunman

Joseph Jakubowski put southern Wisconsin on edge in April after he stole handguns and rifles from a Janesville gun shop and sent an anti-government manifesto to President Donald Trump. Police spent 10 days searching before capturing Jakubowski at his campsite in a field near Readstown. He was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison in December.

Silver and gold

Walker signed a bill in December lifting the state’s nearly 20-year moratorium on gold and silver mining. Conservationists warned lifting the prohibition would lead to devastating pollution. Republican legislators said mining could help northern Wisconsin’s economy.

The race is on

Touting Foxconn’s jobs promises and the elimination of the state property tax, Walker launched his bid for a third term. More than a dozen Democrats are running or considering a run against him, setting up a crowded partisan primary next summer.

Slender Man

Two teenage girls who attacked their classmate in a Waukesha County park in 2014 to please online horror character Slender Man pleaded guilty to attempted homicide charges. Anissa Weier entered her plea in August and was sentenced to 25 years in a mental hospital in December. Morgan Geyser entered her plea in October and will be sentenced in February. Prosecutors have asked that she spend at least 40 years in a mental hospital.

John Doe redux

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel released a report in December summarizing his investigation into the leak of documents from a secret John Doe investigation into whether Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups. The state Supreme Court ended the investigation in 2015 without any charges being filed.

Schimel couldn’t determine who leaked the documents but blamed the now-defunct Government Accountability Board for not securing them. He recommended nine people be held in contempt for violating judicial secrecy orders. The state Senate’s Republican leaders then authorized Schimel to investigate former GAB employees.


Local
Snow, frigid cold are on tap

Get ready for some snow Thursday, followed by our last icy blast of 2017.

We can expect up to 2 inches of snow overnight and continuing Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service in La Crosse.

The snow will likely result in slippery roads and reduced visibility in southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa and western Wisconsin, according to the weather service.

Thursday’s high is predicted to be 13, with a low overnight of 2 degrees.

That could be our last snow of the year, but more frigid weather is expected to follow: Expect a high of 8 Friday with a low of minus-6.

Saturday may not reach zero.

Sunday is expected to creep into the single digits at 5, then drop to minus-7 to chill New Year’s Eve revelry.

For New Year’s Day, expect a high of 6 and a low of minus-4.


Local
top story
La Crosse jobless rate near 20-year low in November

The local jobless rate dropped 0.1 points in November to its lowest point in nearly two decades as the workforce reached an all-time high.

The seasonally unadjusted 2.3 percent unemployment rate was the lowest for the La Crosse metropolitan area since May 1998, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

In the DWD data, which go back to 1990, the local jobless rate has never been below 2.4 percent in November.

Unemployment rates fell from the previous month in all 12 of the state’s metropolitan areas, according to numbers released Wednesday by the DWD. Rates were down from 0.6 to 1.2 points compared to November 2016.

La Crosse, along with Fond du Lac, had the second-lowest unemployment rate among metro areas.

Wisconsin’s overall unemployment rate was a seasonally adjusted 3.2 percent in November

The number of people working or actively looking for work swelled to more than 80,650, the largest workforce ever reported for the metro area. That’s nearly 1,170 more than in November 2016, but the local economy added nearly 1,850 jobs in the same time, pushing the jobless rate down.

The biggest annual gains were in health care and social assistance, which added about 700 jobs, followed by hospitality (400) and transportation and warehousing (300). Those were offset by a loss of about 800 government jobs and about 100 jobs in the manufacturing and retail sectors.


Eriik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Melrose-Mindoro/G-E-T's Julian Purney wrestles Amery's Mike Smith during last season's Individual Wrestling State Tournament. Purney, a state runner-up as a sophomore, is 12-2 at 126 for his senior season.


Local
Too much video gaming tagged as disorder

It was only a matter of time before health officials diagnosed video game characters such as Mario and Super Mario as addictive, as the World Health Organization basically will do when it adds “gaming disorder” to its disease list next year.

Reiland

The decision is cause for celebration in mental-health circles, with La Crosse therapist Jeff Reiland saying, “I’m excited about it — not that I’m looking for more labels. … We’ve been dancing around this for a decade.”

The addictive nature of video gaming has been a matter of conjecture, and the WHO designation affirms it as a mental-health issue, said Reiland, a child and family therapist at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse who also teaches a class on addictive behaviors at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

His students have been studying the issue of video games’ addictiveness for six years, Reiland said.

Sherman

Also hailing the designation is Amber Sherman, addiction treatment supervisor at Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, who said, “I think that is a big step forward in treatment. We see that type of addiction, and hopefully that will help.”

The draft of WHO’s 11th update of its International Classification of Diseases defines gaming disorder as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline.”

Indications of the disorder that WHO lists include:

  • Impaired control over gaming, such as frequency, intensity and ability to quit.
  • Giving increasing attention to gaming to the extent that it takes precedence over other interests and daily activities.
  • And “continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
mtighe / Associated Press 

"Pong" became so iconic after its appearance as one of the first video games created in 1972, that Atari brought out this nostalgic version in 2005.

Nobody mentioned it, but it’s worth considering that internet phenomena of today such as “Words With Friends,” “Candy Crush” and similar pastimes are as addictive as any. They may not induce the hypnotic trance of “Pong,” Atari’s ping-pong-based creation that was one of the first video games ever made when it hit the market in 1972, but they easily can take over one’s life, and the human interaction is hardly a redeeming factor, being a remote element.

The specification of video gaming as a disorder is expected to prompt insurance companies to cover it in their health plans, an industry observer said.

“A lot of people will be confused that it isn’t tied to something ingested,” Reiland said, adding, “The message here really is that the brain is affected by video gaming” in a fashion similar to that of alcohol and other drugs.

“It is the same neurons, the same nerves … the same rush for gambling or reaching the next level of a video game,” he said. “An addiction is not defined by the substance,” but by the compulsion to do something.

Sherman also mentioned video gaming’s similarity to the risk/reward rush of gambling, adding, “It’s also related with the flashing lights.”

Among addiction cases, “We see it more often than we used to,” she said.

People addicted to video gaming might lie about it, hide it or use it to avoid situations or “might forsake things they have to do,” just as those afflicted with substance abuse do, Reiland said.

People don’t develop addictions of any sort voluntarily, he said.

“Most do it to escape the pain of life” they might be experiencing, he said.

“This is not to say all video gaming is addictive, but its target is younger people with developing brains,” he said.

Preoccupation with video games and playing them virtually nonstop short-circuits young brains’ ability to develop problem-solving and coping skills, as well as strategies to navigate through life, he said.

“It’s like drinking — the younger they start, the harder it is to stop, because it’s hard-wired into the brain,” Reiland said.

Evidence of that might occur if a parent suddenly took away a child’s gaming system without warning, and the child experienced a meltdown, he said.

“Rather than just say get off,” Reiland suggested, “a parent could say here’s what we do first,” listing daily activities such as going to school, doing homework, visiting family and friends and otherwise interacting with people.

“It’s better than if they get up, fired up to get to their game,” and put off interacting with family or doing things they should accomplish “because they’re in the middle of a really cool game,” he said.

Instead, limiting screen time to one or two hours a day “— if it’s like dessert of the work, at the end of the day,” it is likely to be less addictive, he said.


Reiland