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WISCONSIN NEWS BRIEFS: Funnel clouds spotted in severe storms which hit northern Wisconsin

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Pierce County Herald
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Two funnel clouds were spotted in northern Wisconsin, as another round of heavy thunderstorms hit the region late yesterday.

The National Weather Service said there were reports of a funnel in the Stanley-Boyd area around 5:45 p-m, and a funnel cloud near Bonduel in Shawano County just after 7:30. Neither twister touched down. Chippewa Falls had over two-and-a-half inches of rain in a one-hour period. Menomonie had golf-ball-sized hail. The Weather Service said trees fell in Shawano County between Gresham and the Stockbridge Indian Reservation as winds hit 70-miles-an-hour. Officials said a tree also fell onto a building close to a group of campers near Three Lakes in Oneida County. Fallen trees were also reported in Marinette and Lincoln counties. It’s been raining all night in parts of southern Wisconsin. Small hail fell for 10 minutes straight near Waukesha last evening. Just over three-thousand electric customers were in the dark as of 4:45 this morning. Wisconsin Public Service had almost 28-hundred customers out in Marinette and Langlade counties. We Energies had around 250 customers out, mostly in the Shawano area. There’s some lingering rain in southern Wisconsin this morning. Much of the state will be drier and cooler today, with highs from the mid-70’s to the mid-80’s.

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The U.S. Small Business Administration has given fast approval to Wisconsin’s request for disaster aid, after six tornadoes hit the Fox Valley 15 days ago. Governor Scott Walker looked to the SBA for low-interest loans, after the Federal Emergency Management Agency said there was not enough damage to qualify for its disaster grants. The SBA declared Outagamie County a disaster area, after it had $31-million in damage from the August seventh storms. Victims in adjoining counties can also get loans. They include Brown, Calumet, Shawano, Waupaca, and Winnebago counties. Walker’s office says homeowners can get low-interest SBA loans of up to $200,000 to fix-or-replace their houses. Both homeowners and renters can get loans of up to 40-thousand for their personal property. Businesses and non-profit groups can get interest breaks on up to two-million dollars in loans to restore-or-replace buildings, equipment, and more.  

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Authorities have burned over 900 marijuana plants seized in an ongoing drug investigation at the Menominee Indian Reservation in northeast Wisconsin. Federal, state, and tribal agencies are still investigating the operation. As of this morning, no one’s been arrested yet. Officials said the pot was worth just over one-and-a-third million dollars. It’s one of the largest drug discoveries in recent years in the woods of northeast Wisconsin. Twelve people were charged in 2010, and seven others last year, as officers broke up separate marijuana operations at the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest that covers much of northern Wisconsin.  

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About 220 people affected by the recent closing of the Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant will get federal help to move on with their lives. The U.S. Labor Department has awarded an $807,000 dollar emergency grant so workers and homemakers can get skill assessments, training, and help in finding new jobs. The Bay Area Workforce Development Board will dole out the funds. Dominion Resources shut down the Kewaunee nuclear plant in May, after the firm could not find a buyer for it. The plant employed around 650 people.

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Army psychologist Nidal Hasan rested his case today, after he refused to call any witnesses in his military trial on charges that he killed two Wisconsinites and injured six others at Fort Hood. The 42-year-old Hasan faces a possible death sentence after he admitted killing a total of 13 people and injuring 32 others at the Texas base in November of 2009. Amy Krueger of Kiel and Russell Saeger of Mount Pleasant were among those killed. Closing arguments will begin tomorrow morning. Hasan, who’s acting as his own attorney, is expected to make a statement to his jury of 13 officers. If he’s found guilty, the jury must then decide if the death penalty shall be ordered. Military prosecutors called 89 witnesses and submitted 700 pieces of evidence during 11 days of testimony. They described a horrific scene in which Hasan stood from a chair, shouted a religious Arabic phrase, and fired 146 rounds. It ended when Hasan was paralyzed from the chest down in a shootout with police. The attack occurred at a deployment center where units were training for assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan. They included a Madison unit training to help other soldiers deal with stress and personal problems while in Afghanistan. The judge ordered Hasan to have standby attorneys, who complained that Hasan was helping prosecutors put him to death. While calling himself the shooter, Hasan claimed outside the courtroom that he was acting to protect the Taliban and its leaders from American soldiers. The judge refused to let him use the claim as a defense before his jury. 

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will head south tomorrow to make some political hay. His campaign says the Republican governor will hold a fund-raiser at a home in Franklin Tennessee where it will cost at least $2,500 to get in. Tomorrow night, Walker is scheduled to make the keynote address at the Alabama GOP’s summer dinner in Montgomery. Walker is keeping up a national profile amid speculation that he might run for president in 2016. Many analysts say Walker will need to be re-elected as governor next year to have a legitimate shot at the White House. He raised three-and-a-half million dollars during the first half of the year. Walker had $1.2 million dollars in his gubernatorial campaign fund at the end of June, without a Democrat stepping up to run against him yet.   

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Opponents of a new frac-sand mine in a scenic part of southwest Wisconsin filed a lawsuit yesterday to throw out two permits granted by a local town board. The lawsuit alleges that two members of the Bridgeport Town Board in Crawford County had in-laws working for the Pattison Sand Company when they voted for the permits. It also accuses of town of violating zoning ordinances, by not considering potential negative effects. The mine’s neighbors filed the suit, along with an environmental group called the Crawford Stewardship Project. The two board members in question did not immediately comment. Today, the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board is scheduled to vote on a permit for the frac-sand mine, located several miles east of the Mississippi River near the Iowa border. The area is protected for its natural beauty. Some Riverway Board members recently wrote that the mine is a bad idea but a loophole in state law would force them to vote for the permits. Board director Mark Cupp says the new lawsuit does not affect his group directly – and therefore, it should not change his panel’s decision-making process.

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Before the politicians spoke up, the state Transportation Department studied the idea of raising the speed limit to 70 on Wisconsin four-lanes. The agency said all four rural Interstates – 94, 90, 43, and 39 – have lower crash rates than other four-lanes. So the DOT says those four would be the likely candidates for the higher speed limit, along with Highway 41 which is in the process of being improved to Interstate standards. The agency did not recommend raising the current 65-speed limit on the Highway 29 expressway across the state’s mid-section, or other divided highways like 151, 53, 54, and 12. Majority Assembly Republicans came out this week in favor of a 70-speed limit on rural freeways. State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) released the DOT study, and said the agency was wise to look at it. He said Wisconsin will be the only Midwest state still at 65, after Illinois approved 70 this week. Vos noted that the lower speeds in urban areas would not change. Peg Schmitt of the DOT said the report speaks for itself. Her agency has not taken a position on the bill to raise speed limits. Governor Scott Walker is non-committal as well, and the Senate’s GOP leader says it probably won’t come up in his chamber this fall. At least a couple Democrats have expressed concerns. Milwaukee Senator Tim Carpenter and Appleton Representative Penny Bernard-Schaber want to know more from highway officials about the safety risks of a higher speed. 

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The No. 2 leader in the Wisconsin State Assembly confirmed today that he’s leaving the Legislature to take a political job in the state’s utility regulating agency. Both the state Public Service Commission and Governor Scott Walker announced that Scott Suder will become the PSC’s division administrator for Water Compliance and Consumer Affairs. The Abbotsford Republican is leaving the Assembly on the day after Labor Day, after more than 14 years representing a rural district in west-central Wisconsin. He said he’s most proud of letting people keep more of their own money, cracking down on child sex offenders, and ensuring that small businesses could grow and not be ignored by state agencies. Suder became the Assembly’s majority leader in 2011. Media reports say two Republicans are vying to replace him in that post – Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer of Waukesha and second-term representative Tyler August of Lake Geneva. The governor will call a special election for Suder’s Assembly seat after he leaves.  Meanwhile, state Assembly Democrat Amy Sue Vruwink of Milladore said today she will not leave the Legislature to take a job in the state agriculture department. Vruwink says she’ll keep focusing on her district, and help her brother deal with pancreatic cancer. She’s in her 11th year in the lower house. Last year, Vruwink survived a re-election bid despite the Republican re-districting that added more GOP voters to her territory. Vruwink won last November by just 144 votes.

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Two state Assembly Democrats from central Wisconsin say they’re willing to debate Republicans anytime, anywhere on the issue of redistricting. A bill to create a non-partisan redistricting process every 10 years has been buried in Assembly and Senate committees for months. It would end the practice of giving the party in power the perk of re-drawing state and congressional district boundaries after every Census. Instead, the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau would draw the maps. Freshman Democrats Mandy Wright of Wausau and Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point are trying to keep the issue alive by pursuing debates. Shankland says the bill would result in a much fairer and more open process. In previous decades, a federal court redrew the districts because neither party had full control of the Capitol – and they could not agree on new maps. In 2011, Republicans controlled both houses plus the governor’s office, and they secretly drew maps that were challenged in court. A federal panel said the districts met the requirement of having equal populations, but the court decried the GOP’s secrecy. Other critics said lawmakers chose their own voters, instead of the other way around. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says only 15 of 99 the Assembly districts are competitive anymore, along with just four state Senate districts and no U.S. House districts. The paper said it results in lawmakers pleasing their voter bases with polarizing stands on issues, instead of governing to the larger center.   

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A state Senate committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a revised bill to allow crossbow hunting during the fall archery deer season in Wisconsin. The measure passed the Assembly 95-0 in June – but it ran into opposition in the Senate, where a public hearing was scheduled today on a scaled-down version. It calls for a pilot program for an open crossbow season in 2014-and-’15, so the DNR can determine how the season affects the size of the deer herd. Necessary changes could be made during that time. And in 2016, the crossbow hunt would stay in effect unless the full Legislature votes to eliminate it. 

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A sexual harassment claim has been dropped against the head of a job-training agency in Milwaukee who used to be in the governor’s cabinet. A Milwaukee County court commissioner has thrown out a harassment claim against Manny Perez. A request for a temporary restraining order against Perez was also rejected. Perez is now the general manager of Esperanza Unida. A female volunteer in that agency accused Perez of harassment – a claim that Perez denies. The woman also has a mental health clinic in the same building where Esperanza is located. She has asked officials to review the court commissioner’s decisions. Perez joined Esperanza Unida about a year after he left Governor Scott Walker’s administration. He was the state’s Workforce Development secretary for less than five months.   

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Debt collectors are apparently more aggressive in getting money from Wisconsinites – and in some cases, they’re trying to cash in on debts that people don’t have. The state Financial Institutions Department said today that over 100 people submitted written complaints to the agency this year, about debt collectors acting inappropriately. Many folks say the callers threaten to put them in jail if they don’t pay now. State officials say debt collectors have no right to do that, since they’re not law enforcement officers. The Financial Institutions’ Bureau of Consumer Affairs says identity thieves might be trying to collect from people who put personal information on a Web site that was hacked. Also, people with legitimate debts appear to be the targets of illegal practices from collection firms. The consumer bureau suggests that people ask for verification about the debts they’re confronted with – never give personal information over the phone – and don’t buy money orders or debit cards to cover the alleged debts. For those getting calls at work, officials say they should talk to their bosses about how to handle those calls.

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All 12 of Wisconsin’s metro areas saw their unemployment rates go down in July. According to state figures released today, three metros had unadjusted jobless rates higher than the statewide figure of six-point-eight-percent. Racine was the highest at eight-point-nine percent, followed by Janesville and Milwaukee. Wausau’s rate was the same as Wisconsin’s. Madison had the lowest metro unemployment at five-point-two percent. The preliminary figures also showed that four of the 12 metros lost jobs in July. Milwaukee’s loss was 1,600. Sheboygan lost an estimated 700 jobs, Racine 300, and La Crosse 100. The numbers are normally adjusted once larger percentages of employers are surveyed. Actual unemployment also fell or stayed the same in 68-of-the-state’s-72 counties last month. Menominee County had the highest rate at 16.7 percent, followed by Iron County at 11.2. 

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State health officials say they have not confirmed the reported death of a suburban Milwaukee man from Legionnaire’s disease. His family said 56-year-old Ken Luedke of Greenfield died from the respiratory ailment. State health analyst Tom Haupt says it won’t be made official until a death certificate confirms it. Haupt said the state has not been notified of any deaths from Legionnaire’s this year. That includes this summer’s outbreak in the Milwaukee area, in which 46 people in Milwaukee County got sick since June first. Haupt says it’s hard for the state to keep track of Legionnaire’s deaths, because medical facilities only have to report general instances of the disease – and not the numbers of deaths from it. Haupt says Wisconsin has had some Legionnaire’s deaths in recent years, and the state’s working on a way to get an accurate count. Legionnaire’s is contracted by breathing contaminated mist. Luedke’s family it was first thought that he had a cold, but flu symptoms escalated quickly. They said doctors induced a coma – and after being out for 16 days, he was taken off life support about a week ago. 

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Optometrist are warning kids about the dangers of Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS. One doctor says the condition comes from excessive starring at a computer screen, television, tablet or a smartphone. CVS is more common in adults, but doctors say they seeing more kids with the condition. CVS symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, neck pain and dry, irritated eyes. It can also lead to corrective lenses or glasses. Optometrists recommend using the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, try to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. 

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The body of a swimmer was pulled last evening from Lake Mendota near the UW-Madison campus. Authorities said three people went for a swim near a campus boat-house, and one of them went under. Bystanders on the shore were asked to help search for the swimmer, and rescuers were called around 3:30 yesterday afternoon. Dane County sheriff’s divers used sonar equipment to help with the search. Madison fire-fighters said they had trouble searching due to heavy weeds in the water. Officials said a body was discovered around seven last night. It was not immediately known whether the victim was a UW student.

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A 17-year-old girl from central Wisconsin has been missing for 12 days. Jessica Kolz of Mosinee was last seen by her family on August 10th at a strip mall in Stevens Point. The Wisconsin Crime Alert Network posted her information yesterday, saying Kolz is “missing and endangered.” Mosinee police officer Matt Wehn does not go that far. He says the Kolz family assumes she’s endangered – but for now, officers have no direct evidence of that. He says they’re not ruling anything out. Law enforcement agencies have checked several locations where Kolz has been reported to be spotted. They’ve also checked with people she might have been with. The public is asked to call their local law enforcement agencies if they have any tips.

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A 30-year-old man has been charged for a murder in Milwaukee. Charles R. Smith was charged yesterday with first-degree intentional homicide in the stabbing death of 38-year-old Javier Bautista. Authorities said the killing happened at the end of an argument early last Sunday morning in Milwaukee’s south side Bay View neighborhood. 

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A preliminary investigation shows that Madison police officers were justified in shooting a suspect to death last Saturday. Police Chief Noble Wray announced the early finding in the death of 59-year-old Charles Carll. The incident remains under investigation. Police were called to a domestic violence complaint. Officers said they were told that Carll injured his wife with a knife, and was suicidal. When they arrived, the officers said Carll still had the knife, refused to obey the police commands, and failed to be subdued by a Taser stun gun. Officials said Carll moved toward the officers when they shot him. It was later learned that the man’s wife was not hurt. WKOW-TV in Madison said Carll worked for 31 years at the USDA’s Forest Products Lab as a research technologist. He kept volunteering at the lab after he retired in 2011. Neighbors said Carll was also a dedicated participant in his community’s Neighborhood Watch program.  

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The Dodge County sheriff says a brawl at the Dodge County Fair might have ended sooner had witnesses called 911, instead of recording the fracas on their cell-phones. Eighteen citations were issued for disorderly conduct in last Friday night’s incident – 11 girls and seven boys, all age-13-to-17. Sheriff Patricia Ninmann said the citations could have been avoided quote, “if 911 was chosen as a priority over videotaping.” It all started when five girls called each other names – and six more girls jumped in after a lemonade cup was smashed over a girl’s head. Another girl was thrown to the ground, kicked, and punched. The boys told investigators they didn’t seek help because they thought somebody else would. One boy said he hoped the fight would keep going, so a girl he didn’t like would get hurt. The citations were given to teens from Beaver Dam, Juneau, Horicon, Mayville, and Burnett. 

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The number of marriages in Wisconsin is up for the second straight year, after three decades of declines. State officials said this week that almost 31-thousand couples tied-the-knot in 2012, over 650 more than the year before. Still, the latest total is only about three-fourths the record for Wisconsin marriages, at 41-thousand in 1980. Meanwhile, divorces have gone down for the second year in a row. Just over 16-thousand married couples split in 2012, just over 300 more than the previous year. 

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Google has crowned Pewaukee the “Digital Capital” of Wisconsin. The internet giant says the city’s robust online business community helped claim the title. The eCity Award recognizes the strongest online business community in each state and uses independent research and analysis to crown each award winner. One city official says the award is an honor and shows how strong the Waukesha County community is.

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The cost of owning a car is a lot cheaper in Wisconsin than it is elsewhere. A survey from Bankrate-Dot-Com shows that the typical Wisconsinite spends about $2,780 dollars a year to keep a car running. That’s the eighth-lowest state average in the nation, and it’s 13-percent below the national average cost of 32-hundred dollars. Georgia has the highest cost at $4,200. Oregon is the lowest at $2,200. Bankrate said it uses several sources to come up with its figures. They include industry figures for median insurance premiums – average repair costs as listed by Car-MD.com– average taxes and fees listed by the Kelley Blue Book – and average gas costs from Gas-Buddy-Dot-Com. Wisconsin’s averages are just over a-thousand a year for gas, $800 in taxes and fees, $600 for insurance, and $330-dollars for repairs.

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The Menasha Corporation will close its plant in Green Lake at the end of next month, as part of a consolidation effort. According to the company, about 45 workers at the plant were notified earlier this month. They can apply for positions at other Menasha plants in Hartford and Neenah. The Green Lake facility makes corrugated sheet packaging materials.   

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As of yesterday, about a dozen Milwaukee hotels had rooms available for Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebration. The four-day bash begins a week from today, and there are still accommodations for those willing to pay. The Radisson Hotel in Wauwatosa had a four-night package costing over $1,300 dollars for a single room. The Visit Milwaukee group and the Wisconsin Hotel-and-Lodging Association have a Web site listing available rooms up to two hours from Milwaukee. Brent Foerster of Visit Milwaukee says more rooms are being available due to last-minute cancellations – but they should be snapped up by the start of next week. Craigslist and other Web sites have hundreds of ads from people willing to rent parts of their homes, or their land for camping. But nothing’s cheap, even for outsiders planning to stay with their Milwaukee friends. Rick Nemeth of Chicago told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he offered Dave Reesman and his wife plane tickets, so he could rent their home for the Harley bash. The Reesmans plan to visit relatives in Colorado late next week. 

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