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Afternoon State News Briefs: Wisconsin lawmakers want USDA to buy more cranberries

WASHINGTON D.C. - Wisconsin's congressional delegation is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy cranberries for school lunches and other nutrition programs.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) points to unfavorable market conditions after a record crop, forcing some producers to struggle financially. The USDA is being pushed to consider a purchase of 50 million pounds of cranberries. The fruit contains significant amounts of anti-oxidants which might help prevent heart disease, cancer, urinary tract infections and other ailments. More than half of the world's supply of cranberries are produced in Wisconsin.

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A 150-year old oak tree will be leveled in Janesville to make room for an expansion of Wisconsin Highway 26 between Milton and Fort Atkinson. Local residents have been working to save the old oak tree, which has a wide-open crown and a symmetry of branches. Cutting the tree down and moving it to another location is not an option. That could cost up to 200 thousand dollars. State Transportation officials say moving the highway is also not a possibility. Wood is going to be harvested from the tree for many uses. The Jefferson County Parks Department says it wants to use a large slab of the trunk - maybe putting it on a bike trail along Highway 26 north from the Rock County line into Jefferson County.

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Recent rain and snow means the drought is out of here. The U.S. Drought Monitor is reporting less than 13 percent of Wisconsin is in drought, although 14 percent is rated abnormally dry. When 2013 started, more than 60 percent of the state was in drought. The recent heavy precipitation is keeping some farmers out of the fields. They say they will be okay if they can start planting their corn by the middle of next month.

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A cat which showed up on the doorstep of the South Wood County Humane Society will be reunited with its owner. The 10 year old Siamese cat arrived at the organization's front door Monday morning with no tag, no note and nothing to indicate who owned him. When they scanned the cat known as Ace they found he had a microchip and, using it, they discovered Ace was missing from his home in Tucson, Arizona, 18 hundred miles away. Ace disappeared 10 months ago. Shelter officials say they are puzzled about the way the cat may have made it all the way to Wisconsin Rapids, but he's flying home now.

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Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says he doesn't think lawmakers are going to approve a proposed $181 million funding increase for the University of Wisconsin System now. Fitzgerald made the prediction on a conservative radio talk show in Milwaukee yesterday, pointing to the controversy over what he called the system's "slush fund," Over $650 million dollars in reserves were revealed by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Governor Scott Walker originally proposed the $181 million bump in his state budget. Walker now wants the Board of Regents to freeze tuition for the next two years.

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A federal grand jury has indicted a Delavan man in nine robberies at area pharmacies. Thirty-five year old Tony D. Taylor was arrested by police in DeForest after pharmacy employees recognized him. The robberies were committed in Dane County between January 10th and March 29th. The businesses victimized were in Monona, Verona, McFarland and five locations in Madison. If convicted, Taylor could be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in a federal prison on each charge. The FBI and eight different police departments worked together on the investigation.

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Construction starts in spring of next year on huge demolition and renovation projects on Madison's iconic State Street. One project has already started. A public meeting was held earlier this week by city and University of Wisconsin-Madison officials. They were seeking input on the multi-million dollar rehab project on the campus end of the popular street near UW's Library Mall. Some parts of a follow-up project still need to get city approval, including one for 250 to 300 apartments in the 500 block of State Street. That work would take 18-to-24 months and mean several businesses would be displaced.

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The Joint Finance Committee is dropping just 12 of Governor Scott Walker's 58 non-fiscal policy items as identified by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau from the state's two-year budget. Democrats on the panel objected to no avail. Among the proposals left in are a plan to create school vouchers for special needs students and ending residency requirements for local government workers. One of the items taken out by the Republican-majority panel would have changed a state law which prohibits foreign ownership of farms bigger than 640 acres.

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A member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court has notified the other justices he won't be taking part in three cases which had been argued earlier this month. Justice Michael Gableman made the notification through an e-mail from one of his aides. Less than half an hour before the first oral argument was given April 10th, the justices were told Gableman wouldn't be in attendance, "due to unforeseen circumstances." The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has obtained copies of the e-mail which said Gableman would watch the arguments on the Wisconsin Public Affairs Network. Four and a half hours later, the message changed, with Gableman saying he wouldn't be participating. That leaves six justices deciding the cases, meaning a deadlock is now possible. A 3-3 vote would mean the ruling by the last court to take action on a case would stand.

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The troubles continue for the state's relatively-new jobs agency. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation brought on its third chief financial officer in two years Monday. Twenty-four hours later, Scott Bowers resigned to return to his former employer, Marling Lumber Company in Janesville, as chief executive officer. It was apparently a position he had wanted for some time. WEDC has dealt with challenges since it was formed in July 2011. It replaced the former Department of Commerce. Last year, published reports found the agency wasn't tracking more than 12 million dollars in past-due loans. The WEDC had been under-staffed since it was formed when it lost many lower-level employees. It has only recently returned to full-staff levels.

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Students who didn't want to study algebra or social studies yesterday had a get-out-of-class-free pass. A bomb threat written on a bathroom wall made attending classes optional for students at Wauwatosa West High School. The threat was apparently written late Tuesday, prompting school officials to send an e-mail and phone message to parents informing them of the scare. The same message said there was no immediate threat to public safety. Wauwatosa police conducted bag searches at the door yesterday and increased their presence at the school.

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A man being held in the Oconto County Jail on other charges has now entered a not guilty plea in a cold case murder. Fifty-two year old Peter Hanson was charged last month with being a party to first-degree intentional homicide in the death of 19 year old Chad McLean of Green Bay. McLean disappeared after a night of partying in 1998, with his body being discovered a month later under a bridge. Hanson waived his right to a preliminary hearing and entered his plea yesterday. His next court appearance is scheduled for June 4th, with trial set to start in December.

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Three people were inside a Kenosha house yesterday morning when it burst into flames. Two got out. The Kenosha Fire Department reports the call came in at about 9 a.m. A 67 year old woman, who was inside when the house started burning, was taken to Kenosha Hospital Medical Center, then flown to the Milwaukee Burn Center. She died at 2 p.m. Fire investigators say they are trying to determine the cause of the fatal blaze. It had been reported by people working in a business across the street. Thick smoke enveloped the neighborhood and flames could be seen in the structure for several hours. Fire crews stayed on the scene until the afternoon.

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The Florida-based company which bought Metavante Technologies four years ago says it plans to cut 301 employees when it shuts down operations in Milwaukee. Positions will start being eliminated some time after July 1st, continuing until November 1st. FIS informed the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development of its plans in a letter. It says services from its Milwaukee office will be consolidated with other FIS locations. The company closed its Madison operations three years ago. That eliminated almost 160 jobs.

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