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Texas rocker Hamilton Loomis brings his band to The Brickhouse Saturday night for a show that celebrates the release of his seventh album, “The Basics.” Loomis plays in the ballroom upstairs from 8 to 11 p.m.

Chuck Miller, Winona Daily News 

The sun sets behind of the bluffs on the Camp Wenonah yurt last week. The yurt is available for rent to stay in while participating in snow activities.

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Tight supply slows La Crosse County home sales, pushes prices to historic high

A tight supply of homes helped push prices to an all-time high but put a damper on sales in 2017.

The median price for existing homes sold in La Crosse County during the last year was $175,000, meaning half the homes sold for more and half for less, according to numbers released Monday by the Wisconsin Realtors Association.

That’s up from $167,000 in 2016 and 6 percent more than the inflation-adjusted median price in 2007, when the U.S. housing market collapse triggered the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Statewide prices experienced a similar 5 percent growth in 2017, reaching $174,000. Accounting for inflation, that’s about 10 percent below pre-recession levels.

While the statewide sales volume grew by about 1.4 percent, La Crosse County sales were down about 2 percent compared to the previous year.

“It was a great year,” said Judy Gull, president of the La Crosse Area Realtors Association. “We still sold a ton of houses.”

That’s largely because there aren’t enough homes on the market, said David Clarke, a Marquette University economist who works for the WRA.

La Crosse County’s existing home supply dropped to 2.3 months in December, even tighter than the historically tight 3.8 month statewide inventory. A six-month supply is generally considered a balanced market.

“I can’t imagine it getting much tighter,” Clark said.

Still, Clark notes the supply problem is unlikely to rebound quickly, in part because of aging baby boomers who haven’t make the usual transition out of single-family housing.

A study by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies that found people over age 55 were much less likely to move because of the housing downturn than younger homeowners. That translates into a big chunk of a half-generation of sales lost over the decade since the recession.

And Clark notes that home delivery services have only made it easier to age in place.

An uptick in new housing construction may help ease the shortage, and Clark said at some point rising prices will come into play.

“If affordability starts slipping …. You’ll get some dampening of demand,” he said. “On the other hand with 3 percent unemployment, the demand is stimulated by income growth.”

Overall sales in western Wisconsin were up 1.6 compared to 2016, and prices were 6 percent higher. Buffalo, Crawford, Monroe, and Vernon counties were up over the previous year while Jackson and Trempealeau were down.

Inventories in rural counties was about 6.2 months in December.

The challenge for 2018 will be finding enough homes to sell, Gull said. “We’ve got the buyers.”

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Tire tracks form lines in the snow Monday afternoon as an MTU bus makes its way through the intersection of 23rd and Winnebago streets, just as the morning rain switched over to wet snow. Today’s forecast calls for mostly cloudy conditions and a high temperature of 28 degrees.

With deal on ending shutdown, Trump wins immigration leverage

WASHINGTON (TNS) — President Donald Trump won valuable leverage in the fight over young immigrants on Monday after the Democrats’ caving to the White House in agreeing to end the shutdown.

The issue goes way beyond Democrats agreeing to vote to reopen the government. They have also offered to spend billions to build Trump’s signature wall along the southern border. Another sign of the Democrats’ weakened bargaining position on immigration is that House Republicans are not returning their calls. And some Democrats admit now they “don’t care” what is given up to make sure the roughly 800,000 young immigrants brought here illegally as children are protected under the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program.

“This is a white flag,” said a Democratic consultant advising the party’s leadership. “It makes the chances of getting a DACA deal so much lower because Republicans now know Democrats have absolutely no leverage to exact any pain on Republicans if they refuse to pass a DACA deal.”

Still, Democrats simply didn’t have enough support on Monday as Senate leaders recognized only about 10 of their rank-and-file Senate Democrats felt strong enough to sustain a long fight to protect the DACA program. In fact, the final tally to end the government closure was a rout, 81-18.

“I am pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses,” Trump said in a statement.

Even if Senate Democrats had prevailed, they acknowledged prospects in the House were dim for passage of any compromise that included protection for the young immigrants, known as Dreamers. They recognized the difficulty for House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to bring any measure to the floor that a large portion of Republicans, let alone key members of Trump’s inner circle, consider “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

“Congressional Republicans and President Trump have always held the upper hand in DACA negotiations,” said RJ Hauman, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, who is in touch with negotiators. “The American people did not elect President Trump on the promise of a DACA amnesty. In fact, he pledged to rescind the program on his first day in office. The fact that President Trump is even willing to address the DACA population is a major concession, and Democrats would be wise to recognize that.”

Over the weekend, Democrats’ movement toward Trump’s position began to accelerate as leaders like Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and then Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said they’d support wall funding in exchange for protections for Dreamers.

“It’s not about a wall. We’ll build him a wall. Tell us how high you want it. But free the Dreamers,” Gutierrez told CNN.

The backlash from advocates has been harsh.

“It’s official: Chuck Schumer is the worst negotiator in Washington — even worse than Trump,” said Murshed Zaheed, political director of the progressive advocacy group CREDO. “Any plan to protect Dreamers that relies on the word of serial liars like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan or Donald Trump is doomed to fail.”

Schumer had complained that working with Trump is like negotiating with “Jell-O.” He offered Trump the wall, but White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short insisted Sunday that Trump has been upfront about his priorities, which include helping the young immigrant population, increased border security and ending chain migration and the visa lottery program.

A senior Republican aide involved in the immigration negotiations said Democrats are agreeing to more concessions in part because they are being faultedfor shutting down the federal government.

“I don’t think it played out the way the Ds expected it,” said a senior Republican aide involved in the immigration negotiations. “I thought we would get blamed. … I think the Democrats thought they would get out of there clean.”

In the House, Republicans are talking about protections for Dreamers, boosting border security, and ending chain migration and diversity lottery, but not with Democrats. “Zero progress,” a Democratic aide complained.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona told reporters Monday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is committed to taking up the immigration issue, but McConnell warned Democrats against trying to shut down the government again “over the issue of illegal immigration.” He said he’d continue the debate on immigration, but warned that his commitment wasn’t after Feb. 8, when Congress will have to confront this situation again.

“I think if we’ve learned anything during this process, it’s that a strategy to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration is something the American people didn’t understand and would not have understood in the future,” McConnell said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., highlighted the challenges Democrats face defending this position over immigration when he thanked Democratic colleagues for their support despite its unpopularity back home.

“You stuck your necks out and said I’m willing to go on record even if it’s hard to explain back,” Durbin said.

Courtesy of UCONN sports information 

Theresa Knutson, a former star player for the Onalaska co-op girls hockey team, is a senior standout for UCONN women's hockey team. She currently ranks fourth on the Huskies' all-time goals scored list.

Feds: No grounds for class-action suit over unsterilized dental equipment at Tomah VA

The U.S. Department of Justice is asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a group of veterans who said they suffered emotional distress after learning their dentist at the Tomah VA Medical Center might have exposed them to HIV and hepatitis by using unsterilized instruments.

In November 2016, VA officials learned that Thomas Schiller had been re-using drill bits, in violation of VA policy, and not properly sterilizing them for more than a year. The VA notified 592 patients of the possible exposure and urged them to get tested for the blood-borne diseases.

According to the class-action suit filed in November, some patients were forced to wait another six months for testing to make sure they weren’t infected.

No veterans were found to be infected, but the suit seeks compensation for pain and suffering claiming they “were forced to consider that they may have been infected with deadly viruses, may die as a result of having been infected, and/or may have unknowingly infected their loved ones with deadly viruses.”

In a brief filed Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Conway argues that under Wisconsin law, plaintiffs must prove they were exposed to a contaminated source — as opposed to a potentially contaminated one — in order to prevail.

“Because plaintiffs have not alleged that the dental drill bits at issue were contaminated, the Court must dismiss their claims as a matter of law,” the brief states.

The government goes on to argue the case lacks class-action status because the law requires plaintiffs to exhaust all other remedies before filing a lawsuit. The complaint indicates that only the six plaintiffs filed administrative claims against the VA.

According to the lawsuit, in December 2015 Schiller’s dental assistant reported his re-use of unsterile drill bits to the lead hygienist who told the assistant to instead report the infractions to the chief of dental services. The assistant, who had previously reported Schiller for poor hygiene and appearing to sleep at his desk, did not report the unsterilized drill bits for fear of retaliation.

Meanwhile, managers signed off on Schiller’s evaluation, citing “no concerns regarding competency,” according to the complaint.

Schiller wasn’t caught until mid-October when a substitute hygienist witnessed him use a personal bur and reported it to another dentist.

According to an investigation by the VA’s Office of Inspector General, Schiller used unsterilized burs on approximately 112 of the 592 patients he treated during his year with the VA and used other personal supplies on about 243 of them.

Schiller’s clinical privileges were revoked, and he was reported to regulators in Texas, where he was licensed in 1996. The OIG report recommended unannounced inspections of the dental clinic and training for staff on when and how to report issues relating to patient safety.

The government also is asking the court to put proceedings on hold until the judge rules on the request to dismiss the case. Conway argues that looking at test results of the other unnamed veterans would constitute an invasion of their privacy which would be unnecessary if the case doesn’t move forward.

William Rieder, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, declined to comment.

Last year, the government agreed to a $2.3 million settlement with the family of Jason Simcakoski, a former Marine who died in 2014 at the medical center in Tomah from a drug overdose that included opioid painkillers, which critics have said were overprescribed at the medical center.

From Tribune files: Reports about problems at Tomah VA began in 2015