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Biden signs $768.2 billion defense spending bill into law

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, authorizing $768.2 billion in military spending, including a 2.7% pay raise for service members, for 2022.

The NDAA authorizes a 5% increase in military spending, and is the product of intense negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over issues ranging from reforms of the military justice system to COVID-19 vaccine requirements for soldiers.

“The Act provides vital benefits and enhances access to justice for military personnel and their families, and includes critical authorities to support our country’s national defense,” Biden said Monday in a statement.

The $768.2 billion price tag marks $25 billion more than Biden initially requested from Congress, a prior proposal that was rejected by members of both parties out of concerns it would undermine U.S. efforts to keep pace militarily with China and Russia.

The new bill passed earlier this month with bipartisan support, with Democrats and Republicans touting wins in the final package.

Democrats applauded provisions in the bill overhauling how the military justice system handles sexual assault and other related crimes, effectively taking prosecutorial jurisdiction over such crimes out of the hands of military commanders.

Republicans, meanwhile, touted success in blocking an effort to add women to the draft, as well as the inclusion of a provision that bars dishonorable discharges for service members who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.

The bill includes $7.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and a statement of congressional support for the defense of Taiwan, measures intended to counteract China’s influence in the region.

It also includes $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a show of support in the face of Russian aggression, as well as $4 billion for the European Defense Initiative.

In his statement, the president also outlined a number of provisions his administration opposes over what he characterized as “constitutional concerns or questions of construction.”

Those planks include provisions that restrict the use of funds to transfer or release individuals detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, which the Biden administration is moving to close. Biden’s statement said the provisions “unduly impair” the executive branch’s ability to decide when and where to prosecute detainees and where to send them when they’re released, and could constrain U.S. negotiations with foreign countries over the transfer of detainees in a way that could undermine national security.


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DA: EC police officer was justified in using deadly force
  • Updated

EAU CLAIRE — An Eau Claire police officer was justified in using deadly force for fatally shooting a 30-year-old man Nov. 3 at a residence in the 400 block of Selma Street, Eau Claire County District Attorney Peter Rindal said Tuesday.

“Kristopher O’Neill’s use of deadly force was justified as a reasonable act of self-defense and defense of others,” Rindal said.

According to police reports of the incident, officers responded to a 911 call at about 2:41 p.m. on Nov. 3 about a man breaking into a home on the 400 block of Selma Street.

LeKenneth Q. Miller had already stabbed a woman multiple times inside the home and a second woman fled before police arrived.

O’Neill and fellow officer Jason Kaveney went into the residence and encountered Miller, who was still armed with a knife. O’Neill fired his gun, striking Miller.

Officers and emergency medical workers attempted lifesaving efforts, but Miller died on the scene.

The woman suffering from serious stab wounds was transported to an Eau Claire hospital and then taken by helicopter to a regional hospital or treatment of her injuries.

In responding to Rindal’s opinion, Eau Claire Police Chief Matt Rokus said O’Neill and Kaveney took decisive and necessary action to protect the community.

“When doing so, they put themselves in harm’s way,” Rokus said. “Once LeKenneth Miller’s violent behavior was stopped, officers immediately began administering life-saving measures to both Miller and the person he was attacking with a knife. The actions of these officers were heroic.”

In addition to Rindal’s review of the incident, the Police Department is in the process of conducting an administrative review, Rokus said.

“The purpose of this review is to determine policy compliance by responding officers,” the chief said. “This policy evaluation will be completed within the next several weeks and will be available for community review.”

Rindal said he reviewed numerous reports from the state Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, which was the lead investigator of this incident.

According to the reports:

Two women were hiding in a locked bedroom because Miller had strangled one of the women — his ex-girlfriend — a week earlier.

Dispatchers released this information to O’Neill, including that Miller was in the house and had a history of violence. Dispatchers also directed Kaveney to respond to the scene.

The women told dispatchers that Miller had gone to the kitchen to get a knife and was attempting to pry open the bedroom door.

Once screaming was heard from inside the residence, O’Neill and Kaveney drew their service weapons and attempted to kick in the front door.

One of the women came out of a side door and screamed that Miller was in the bathroom stabbing the other woman.

The officers went inside and encountered Miller in the kitchen.

Miller raised the knife toward the officers and was ordered to drop the weapon. When Miller moved toward the officers with the knife in his hand, O’Neill struck him with six shots from his service weapon. After a few moments, Miller dropped to the ground and the knife came out of his hand.

Kaveney remained with Miller while O’Neill went to the woman in the bathroom. She had multiple stab wounds to her face, left eye, arms and leg.

O’Neill and Kaveney have 24 and 19 years of law enforcement experience, respectively.


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Year in Review: Part 3
  • Updated

Editor’s note: The following is the third story in a local year-in-review series.

EAU CLAIRE — The third quarter of 2021 was a busy one locally.

Summer brought warm weather and some welcome results from the pandemic-delayed Olympics. Rice Lake’s Kenny Bednarek brought home a silver medal, and Suni Lee became the first Hmong to take gold in the gymnastics all-around.

Two area Catholic schools bucked national enrollment trends, while the food-co-ops in Eau Claire and Menomonie considered a merger. But rising COVID rates as fall approached were a cloud on the horizon.

July

Construction on Eau Claire’s new downtown bus terminal began. While the final result is highly anticipated, the work meant occasional traffic changes in the area.

Improving numbers and relaxing restrictions were the hallmark of the continuing decline in COVID cases. Early summer proved to be the pandemic’s lowest time for new cases.

A former Lake Hallie hotel was transformed into The Hub, a site designed as transitional housing for those trying to leave homelessness behind.

A new COVID variant, named delta, raised concerns but was rare in Wisconsin.

Dr. Sunem Beaton-Garcia took office as the new president at CVTC.

Fourth of July celebrations, which had largely been muted in 2020 amid restrictions on public gatherings, once again drew crowds eager to celebrate. Close on the holiday’s heels was the Northern Wisconsin State Fair.

Minnesota deputies mourned the death of a colleague who died at Country Fest.

Kubb, a game which has found a surprising home in Eau Claire, was back on the schedule as the U.S. National Kubb Championship returned after a year off.

Boyceville’s Madilyn Bailey advanced on America’s Got Talent.

State funding emerged for the creation of new mental health treatment beds in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, partially addressing a need local officials long said was underserved.

Ashley Furniture’s new facility in Chippewa Falls took shape, bringing additional jobs to the area.

Gary King, Eau Claire County’s district attorney, announced his resignation. King was under scrutiny for his behavior in the courtroom and in interactions with colleagues in the district attorney’s office.

The University of Wisconsin regents backed the Sonnentag Center, clearing the way for the facility. The vote followed a strong show of support in a student referendum, which most observers thought helped boost the project in the regents’ eyes.

While Catholic schools nationally continued to see enrollment struggles, two area schools bucked the trend. Both McDonell and Regis officials said they were seeing stronger numbers and interest than usual.

Eau Claire shut down several wells after they were discovered to be contaminated with PFAS chemicals. The “forever chemicals” are widely thought to have come from firefighting foam at the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport, but no official determination was made before the end of the year.

The city council in Eau Claire backed repairs to the High Bridge, which was found to have significant structural issues during an inspection.

The food co-ops in Eau Claire and Menomonie began consideration of a merger. Officials thought such a move would boost the stores’ buying power and lower prices for members.

A Bloomer school employee was arrested after authorities accused him of having sex with students.

Country Jam’s big crowds continued a trend for outdoor events.

Former Altoona Superintendent Daniel Peggs reached a plea agreement. The deal included a guilty plea for possession of child pornography, but dropped the most serious charges federal authorities had brought.

Farm Technology Days arrived in Eau Claire County. The event was originally scheduled for 2020, but wound up being pushed back a year by the pandemic. It still drew more than 45,000 people.

The wrecking ball arrived for Campus View Hotel after plans were announced for its demolition to make way for new apartments.

The local Hmong community celebrated as Sunisa “Suni” Lee first made the U.S. Gymnastics team, then won the all-around gold medal.

An Eau Claire teen died from an accidental shooting in what authorities described as “horseplay” with a gun.

UWEC and UW-Stout students won prizes for getting COVID vaccinations.

The Mayo Clinics announced COVID vaccines would be mandatory for staff.

Eau Claire County received the first bids for a new highway facility, and a case of sticker shock. The initial bids came in $1.3 million over budget.

Strong storms swept through the region, downing trees and doing damage.

August

Bridge work in Eau Claire was delayed by a fast rise in the local rivers.

Health officials advocated a return to use of masks while indoors. While COVID rates remained low compared to previous months, they were once again on the rise.

A proposal for expansion at the Sojourner House shelter was met with concerns from neighbors and kicked off a series of discussions between the two sides.

School officials in Eau Claire said a 2022 referendum could well include expansions for North and Memorial high schools.

Kenny Bednarek ran the race of his life, setting a personal best in the 200-meter dash. It was good enough for a silver medal in Tokyo.

Ron “Duff” Martin, an Eau Claire teacher, was named to the National Education Association’s executive committee.

The homeless tally in Eau Claire showed a big jump from prior years.

Sales taxes, a key source of revenue for Eau Claire County, were strong as consumers continued to spend.

Ron Kind, the longtime U.S. representative for the region, announced he would not seek another term in Congress. The announcement instantly made the race for his seat one of the most watched in the country.

Lake Altoona homeowners said they were being cut off from the lake by a channel silting up. The situation left them unable to get boats onto the main body of water.

The Blue Ox festival announced it would require attendees to show either proof of vaccination against COVID or a negative test.

Data from the 2020 census showed Eau Claire County grew faster than the state as a whole, reflecting the Chippewa Valley’s strength for both business and quality of life.

The L.E. Phillips Memorial Library literally raised the roof as work on the planned third story for the facility began.

Larry Lokken’s bid for an early release ran into a significant hurdle after a judge told him he really needed to hire an attorney.

The Chippewa County supervisors approved expansion from 15 members to 21. The increase will take effect with the April 2022 elections.

Darrell Leitzke, an instantly-recognizable figure to many who show at the Oakwood Mall, marked 25 years of mall walking.

Federal officials announced Fort McCoy could be used to house refugees as the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban took over the country. Area veterans of the war in Afghanistan expressed dismay at the way the U.S. withdrawal was playing out.

Former DEA agent Edward Orgon became the new Lake Hallie police chief.

UW-Stout fired a professor it said had refused to follow the school’s mask policies.

Home sales in the region, which had been red hot for a long time, began to slow as market conditions tightened.

Strong storms did considerable damage throughout the Chippewa Valley.

On the advice of insurers, Eau Claire settled a pair of federal lawsuits over the police department’s use of force.

Area schools split on mask requirements for the upcoming school year. Menomonie decided against such a mandate, while Eau Claire required masks for many students.

The popular Pizza Del Re faced an uncertain future as its owners announced plans to retire. They hoped to sell the restaurant, recipes and all.

The Pablo Center announced plans to cautiously reopen, with some additional precautions in place.

Peter Rindal was appointed as Eau Claire County’s new district attorney.

Eau Claire was named the No. 2 most livable college town in the country in one ranking. The news came as UW-Eau Claire students returned for what everyone hoped would be a more-or-less normal fall semester.

School bus companies said they faced a driver shortage as the new school year loomed.

Xcel prepared to raise electrical rates for area customers.

September

The Fresh Start program in Fall Creek offered an additional safety net for at-risk young adults who had aged out of many other services.

Schools began the 2021-22 academic year, with most fully in-class.

Eau Claire’s bus hub temporarily moved as work proceeded on construction of an upgraded transit hub.

Owners of the former Renaissance Faire grounds announced they had potential plans for a major overhaul.

Brady and Jeanne Foust made twin $1 million donations to the Pablo Center and UW-Eau Claire.

A former county employee pleaded guilty to fraud.

The little library concept took a new form, with five Eau Claire parks getting basketball libraries to encourage use of the parks’ courts.

The Buckshot Run returned to Carson Park.

Officials announced UWEC will play host to the Badger Boys State for the next three years.

VFW Post No. 305 marked a century of service to the community and local veterans.

Chippewa Falls Mayor Greg Hoffman was on the mend after what he described as a near-fatal bout of COVID.

The Wisconsin Sports Show opened at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair’s grounds, drawing good-sized crowds.

Americans paused to mark the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. For the first time the anniversary arrived without U.S. forces in active combat in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

The International Fall Festival in Eau Claire drew thousands of people to downtown.

PESI made a major donation for local law enforcement, giving $950,000 to cover the costs for body cameras and video storage for Eau Claire police and the county sheriff’s department.

Eau Claire’s city council discussed potentially using a smaller committee for the first portion of the latest effort to find a permanent city manager.

Members of the food co-ops in Menomonie and Eau Claire backed a merger. Both groups voted overwhelmingly in favor of the move.

Oktoberfest returned to Chippewa Falls.

Big jumps in positive COVID tests left hundreds of area students in quarantine. The rise locally was mirrored statewide.

The passenger in the 2018 crash which killed several Girl Scouts and one adult received three years in prison for his role in the crash.

Vaccination rates among UW-Eau Claire students hit 70 percent.

Chippewa Falls schools reinstated a mask requirement as COVID numbers climbed.

Four bodies were found in a vehicle in rural Dunn County. The case was tied back to events that began in the Twin Cities.

Classic car fans bought in as the Menard family auctioned off vehicles that were part Larry Menard’s collection.

Dwayne and Eleanor Peterson hit a milestone most couples can only dream of, celebrating their 70th anniversary.

The Eau Claire marathon returned to the streets.

Altoona’s Ginormous Pumpkin Festival drew some of the biggest gourds you’ll ever see to the area.

Hy-Vee opened a massive new grocery store in Eau Claire.

Eau Claire’s Color Block hosted a meet-and-greet with the artists whose work was painted onto the block’s buildings.

Pamela Westby, director of the Eau Claire public library, announced her retirement.


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