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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: High schoolers now have to take three credits of math and science under new law

Wisconsin high school students will have to take more math-and-science courses under a bill signed by Governor Scott Walker yesterday. He said it would help students get better-prepared for computer science careers. The Republican Walker signed the bill at a Madison technology firm during national Computer Science Education Week. The new law requires high school youngsters to take three credits each of math-and-science instead of the current two. Computer science classes will count as math credits for the first time, and agricultural science will count as science credits. Also, schools will get more flexibility in granting math-and-science credits to students who are in technical education and career programs. The measure is designed to put Wisconsin's requirements more in line with its neighbors. State public school superintendent Tony Evers calls it an "important step forward" to help students graduate from college and become ready for careers.

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Tommy Thompson was an endless cheerleader for Wisconsin during his 14 years as governor. Now, he plans to do the same for the entire Midwest. The Republican Thompson is teaming up with Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson to co-chair the new bi-partisan Midwest Council -- which will lobby Congress in the hopes of bringing more federal benefits to a region that's often been overlooked in the past. Thompson was the Badger State's governor from 1987-through-2000, and then spent four years as the nation's Health-and-Human Services secretary. Nelson is a former Nebraska governor and U-S senator. They'll unveil their plans today to the National Press Club in Washington. Thompson says the goal is to give the Midwest a quote, "larger voice in D-C." The Midwest has lost factory jobs in recent years -- and it lost representation in Congress to faster-growing regions like the Southwest. Richard Longworth of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs says the Midwest is "miserable" in speaking up for itself, because the states have a hard time cooperating with each other. So far, the Midwest Council is getting most of its corporate support from Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Nebraska. It hopes to eventually line up 12 states under its wing.

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More of Wisconsin's historic buildings will be preserved by having taxpayers pick up more of the tab. Governor Scott Walker signed a bill yesterday that increases the state income tax credit for historic preservation to 20-percent of a project's cost. That's up from 10-percent, and that amount was doubled just five months ago as part of the new state budget. The Republican Walker signed the bill at the Hotel Northland in downtown Green Bay, which could get some of the new tax breaks in a re-development. The governor said the measure could revitalize downtown districts throughout Wisconsin. Assembly Republican Chad Weininger of Green Bay sponsored it. He said it's needed for Wisconsin to keep up with other states. The National Trust for Historic Preservation says 31 states offer tax credits to preserve older buildings -- most in the 20-to-25 percent range for commercial projects. Lawmakers of both parties approved the new increase, except for a few conservatives who said it might result in a large jump in tax breaks. The new law requires three state agencies to review those costs in 2017, and then decide whether the tax credit should continue. The Joint Finance Committee would have the final say.

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The U-S House is expected to vote today on the federal budget agreement crafted in part by Janesville's Paul Ryan. Most of Wisconsin's other House Republicans are not on board with the plan as of now. Ryan, the House budget chair, worked with his Democratic Senate counterpart on a two-year package announced late Tuesday. It would cut federal spending by an extra 20-billion dollars above previously-intended levels, while backing off on some of the sequestration budget cuts for domestic and military spending. There are also new revenues that include fee hikes. Sean Duffy of Weston was the only Wisconsin House Republican to publicly praise the new package. He said it would provide certainty to families and businesses, and break the congressional gridlock over the budget. House Republicans Reid Ribble, Tom Petri, and Jim Sensenbrenner did not comment, and neither did Democrat Gwen Moore. Democrat Ron Kind called it a fair but not perfect bargain. Democrat Mark Pocan was disappointed that it does not prevent federal jobless benefit money from expiring this month. On the Senate side, Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson said he agreed with Ryan's goals to prevent future government shutdowns. Johnson believes Ryan got the best deal he could, but he has concerns he'll want to address. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin said the deal's not perfect, but it will end quote, "this destructive pattern of drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next."

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New cattle-and-horse pavilions will be built in Madison in time for next fall's World Dairy Expo. The final piece of the funding puzzle was put in place yesterday, when the State Building Commission approved nine-million dollars to build the New Holland Pavilions. Two multi-purpose facilities will replace the current barns at Madison's Alliant Energy Center, for almost 24-million dollars. World Dairy Expo, Dane County, the Wisconsin Horse Council, and the Midwest Horse Fair also provided funding. New Holland spent a half-million dollars for naming rights. The new pavilions will have an extra 100-thousand square feet under roofs. Construction begins after the Horse Fair in April. Also, the Building Commission approved design-and-planning work for a new chemistry-and-biology building at U-W Stevens Point, with more classroom space to ease cramped conditions. The panel also okayed construction of a new student center at U-W La Crosse, and design work for a new science lab facility on that campus. 

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Gogebic Taconite will have to get several approvals from state-and-local officials, before it can check out rock samples at its proposed iron ore mine. The D-N-R has completed its review of a scaled-back proposal to study potential iron ore in the Penokee Hills of Ashland-and-Iron counties. D-N-R project manager Larry Lynch said Gogebic Taconite would have to get a storm-water permit, claim an exemption from an air permit, file notices of tree-cutting, produce a bond for reclamation, and file reports with county clerks and foresters. At first, the company wanted to excavate four-thousand tons of rock at five locations. The D-N-R questioned that plan, and critics spoke out against blasting as part of the work. Gogebic later revised its plans. Iron ore would be extracted from three sites, and blasting would only be used if the firm could not get enough material from its excavation work.

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