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News from around Wisconsin (9:58 p.m. 1/5/10)

Sheriff: Honey bottles cause Calif airport to shut

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — The suspicious material found inside luggage that prompted the shutdown of a California airport Tuesday morning turned out to be five soft drink bottles filled with what appears to be honey, authorities said.

A passenger’s suitcase tested positive for TNT at Bakersfield’s Meadows Field during a routine swabbing of the bag’s exterior, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said. When Transportation Security Administration officials opened the bag, they found bottles filled with an amber liquid, he said.

The bag’s owner, Francisco Ramirez, 31, told TSA officers that the bottles were filled with honey, Youngblood said. He added that “it gives every appearance of being honey.”

Officials were testing the liquid to determine exactly what it is.

“Why in this day and age would someone take a chance carrying honey in Gatorade bottles?” Youngblood said. “That itself is an alarm. It’s hard to understand.”

Investigators said Ramirez is a gardener from Milwaukee who has been cooperating with authorities. He flew to Bakersfield Dec. 23 to spend Christmas with his sister and was returning Tuesday when the alarm sounded.

When TSA agents opened one of the bottles and tested the contents, the resulting fumes nauseated them, Youngblood said. Both were treated and released at a local hospital.

Public divided on Milwaukee school reform plans

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Nearly everyone who spoke Tuesday at a public hearing on the future of the Wisconsin’s largest school district agreed it needed a fix, but there seemed no clear consensus on what to do.

At least 200 people showed up for the hearing Tuesday morning. But lawmakers took 3-1/2 hours to present three proposals on changing the troubled Milwaukee Public Schools, and by the time the public got to speak, many had left.

Many comments from those remaining focused on a controversial plan for Milwaukee’s mayor to be given the authority to appoint the MPS superintendent.

“I trust this elected (school) board to work with the community for real reform much more than I trust a two-person junta of mayor and superintendent, with no checks and balances,” said Charlie Dee, a 34-year Milwaukee resident and parent of a former MPS student.

“Reform yes, dictatorship no,” he told the Senate Education Committee.

Dee said the current board is the best he’s seen in decades and he’d like to know how the plan would increase student achievement. He said he used to support Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Gov. Jim Doyle — who have been outspoken supporters of the proposal. But he thought the proposal was about “raw power,” he said.

Dee is part of a Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover, which includes 28 community, parent, educator and union groups. Members handed out pins and signs that read “No Takeover” circled with a red line through it.

Madigan: Asian carp injunction request is invalid

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan contends Michigan and other Great Lakes states do not have the legal authority to demand the closing of canal locks within Illinois.

Madigan filed her response Tuesday with the U.S. Supreme Court to a request from several states for an injunction to close the locks to protect the lakes and their $7 billion fishery from the voracious Asian carp. Michigan last month asked the high court to sever a century-old connection between the lakes and the Mississippi River system.

Madigan contends the request has nothing to do with the diversion of Lake Michigan water, and thereby is invalid under the multistate consent decree it cites. She also noted Illinois does not operate the canal locks or the sluice gates Michigan wants closed.

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