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WISCONSIN NEWS BRIEFS: State cheese production continues to increase

Wisconsin cheese-makers continue to be busier than others, as the Badger State extends its lead as the nation's Big Cheese. 

Federal officials said Wisconsin made 233-and-a-half pounds in July.  That's 4.1 percent more than the same month a year ago.  The national increase was three-percent, with about 910-million pounds of cheese being made.  No. 2 California had a smaller increase of 1.6 percent.  Wisconsin saw a nearly six-percent increase in its Italian cheese production for July.  The Cheddar output grew by over three-percent, and the state made almost 2.5 percent more American cheeses.  Nationally, cheese-makers are pumping out one-point-eight percent more during the first seven months of the year, compared to 2012.  Butter production for the year was up by 1.4 percent.


A $10-million federal grant will improve docks and other facilities at the Twin Ports of Duluth-Superior.  A high-ranking federal official is scheduled to appear in Duluth this morning to announce the investments.  U.S. House Democrat-Farm Laborer Rick Nolan of Minnesota says he has a bill in Congress in which harbor maintenance fees paid by ships could not be used for any other purpose.  Nolan says dredging is needed, because declining clearances at the ports are causing the commercial ships to reduce their loads.


Federal officials joined U.S. House Democrat Ron Kind in Eau Claire and Stevens Point yesterday to answer people's questions about Obama-care.  Around a half-million Wisconsinites will be required to enroll for private coverage through the government's purchasing exchanges starting next month.  Kind says over 90-percent of us won't have to do a thing.  He says coverage won't change for those on employer-funded plans, Medicare, or the veterans' VA system.  Those using the exchanges will be the uninsured, workers without access to employer coverage, and 93,000 Wisconsin Badger-Care recipients above the poverty line.  Kind says he's still upset with Governor Scott Walker's decision not to take millions in federal money to expand Medicaid.  The Republican Walker said the state could be left holding the bag once federal Medicaid money dries up -- and he said his plan encourages the poor to live more independently.  Employers got a one-year reprieve from their requirement to either offer health insurance, or pay a fine for not doing so.  Kind says they'll get help from the federal Shop program in offering that coverage.  For now, companies must send letters to their workers by the end of the month stating whether they will or won't offer insurance next year.  As for getting onto the exchanges, has information -- and so do the IRS and Small Business Administration Web sites.


The head of the Clark County Republican Party has changed her mind about running for the state Assembly.  Deb Koncel said yesterday she would not run for the 69th District seat vacated on Tuesday when former Majority Leader Scott Suder left for a state administrator's post.  Koncel, who's also on the Dorchester Village Board, endorsed Stratford businessman Bob Kulp for the Assembly seat.  Two other potential Republicans are also in the mix -- former Marshfield alderman and state Senate candidate Scott Noble, and Granton tavern owner Tom Dahlen.  Dahlen became the first to register for the open seat, after Governor Scott Walker made a special election official yesterday.  Nomination papers must be filed by September 24th.  A primary was set for October 22nd, with the general election November 19th.  The Assembly district covers almost all of Clark County, and parts of Marathon and Wood counties including much of Marshfield.


A Wisconsin Senate committee is scheduled to vote this morning on a bill to close 35-hundred acres of recreational land near Mellen, where Gogebic Taconite is developing its proposed iron ore mine.  The Senate's forestry-and-mining panel took testimony yesterday on the measure, which chairman Sen. Tom Tiffany says is needed to protect mining workers from violent protestors.  The Hazelhurst Republican hopes to get the full Senate to pass the bill this month.  It would then face an uncertain future in the Assembly, where no representatives have co-sponsored it.  The Senate panel was shown a video of a confrontation in June, in which protestors in masks damaged mining equipment and stole a worker's cell phone. Bob Seitz of Gogebic Taconite said the incident caused his firm to spend 30-thousand dollars on security -- and counting.  He said the land closure bill would offer much-needed protection to Gogebic's workers.  Former DNR Secretary George Meyer, who now chairs the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, says generations of hunters have taken deer, black bear, and grouse from the land in question.  He suggested that the land stay open until the company and the DNR reach an agreement to close it.  Instead, the bill closes the land until an agreement is made to re-open it someday.  Technically, the measure provides an exception to the state's managed forest program -- in which landowners get property tax breaks to open their forest lands to hunters, hikers, and other recreational enthusiasts.


Rod Grams, a former Wisconsin TV news anchor and U.S. senator from Minnesota, has gone into hospice care after ending chemotherapy for cancer.  Family spokesman Kent Kaiser said the 65-year-old Grams was diagnosed over a year ago.  He completed two rounds of chemo, and is now getting hospice care at his family's farm in the town of Crown in east central Minnesota.  Kaiser said the family did not want to disclose the type of Grams' cancer.  Kaiser, who volunteered for Grams' political campaigns, said the former Republican lawmaker is upbeat -- and he was very sociable when meeting with a group of Northwestern University students just three weeks ago.  Grams was a news anchor and producer in the late 1970's at what's now WSAW-TV in Wausau, and later at WIFR-TV in Rockford.  After that, he spent a decade anchoring the news on KMSP-TV in the Twin Cities.  Grams was elected to the U.S. House from Minnesota in 1992.  He served a two-year term in the House, and a six-year term in the Senate before stepping down early in 2001.


Wisconsin Republican U.S. senator Ron Johnson from Oshkosh voted no yesterday, when the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee endorsed a U-S military strike against Syria.  The vote was 10-7 to send the measure to the full Senate for a decision next week.  Johnson said he's quote, "highly concerned that the administration's action" for a military strike would be ineffective.  He said an ineffective move would be worse than doing nothing.  Also, Johnson said he does not have quote, "any kind of comfort level" that the Obama White House has done enough planning for the repercussions of attacking Syria -- which has been criticized for making a deadly chemical weapons attack against its people last month.  Also yesterday, U.S. House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls issued a statement against an attack on Syria.  He called the actions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reprehensible -- but Sensenbrenner said Obama's idea of military force would not help the Syrian people, or promote security or freedom in the U.S.  No Wisconsin member of Congress has come out in support of a military strike.  Madison Democrat Mark Pocan says something needs to be done, but he does not believe a military assault makes a lot of sense.  


The State Justice Department is deciding whether to appeal the reversal of a murder conviction against a Milwaukee man.  The First District Appellate Court has thrown out a jury verdict from 2011, which found Raphfeal Myrick guilty of first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting death of Marquise Harris.  Myrick is now 30.  He claimed that his jury should not have been allowed to hear testimony he gave against a co-defendant as part of a plea deal.  The appellate court agreed with Myrick, saying that statements made in plea bargains are not admissible in criminal cases against the defendant seeking the deal.  Online court records show that Myrick pleaded guilty in the same case to charge of possession a firearm as a convicted felon.


Local government clerks fear that a state Senate bill would replace community poll workers with out-of-town partisans appointed by the state's parties.  The bill is one of several measures from Senate Elections Committee chair Mary Lazich which got public hearings yesterday.  The New Berlin Republican also wants to make poll workers keep lists of the documents voters use to prove their residency when they register.  She also suggested firmer rules for marking damaged ballots and securing ballot containers.  Lazich also wants to give the governor more options in choosing nominees for the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin elections.  The bills getting the most criticism would let communities have out-of-town poll workers -- and force both parties to have poll workers in places when the parties use their long-standing power to nominate them.  Accountability Board director Kevin Kennedy said local clerks are concerned that their local poll workers would be replaced by faraway partisans.  Scot Ross of the liberal One Wisconsin Now group said Lazich's bill would create delays and intimidation designed to reduce voting in targeted areas.  Lazich said her goal is to help communities find qualified poll workers, and not replace locals with partisans.


A statewide fund for pre-paid funerals that lost millions in risky investments may soon get a judge's approval to invest in something more conservative.  The court-appointed receiver for the Wisconsin Funeral Trust has asked a Dane County judge for permission to invest most of the fund's assets so it can break even.  A hearing on the matter is set for tomorrow.  Just over a month ago, the trust fund had $41.5 million dollars.  All but four-million of it was in cash, so it could cover pre-paid funerals ordered by families throughout Wisconsin at their local funeral homes.  The fund has a shortfall of $25-million, because it made good on people's funeral investments.  Receiver John Wirth says the fund needs to make $1.7 million a year to break even -- and the only way it will is to allow the money to be put in limited conservative investments.  Federal securities' officials are investigating the riskier investments which led to the massive loss.  Wirth said the fund's new administrators are not the same ones which previously made the bad investments.


A former female teacher in Mayville has been sentenced to two years in prison for having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy.  44-year-old Shannon Cardinal struck a plea deal in which both sides recommended jail time instead of a state prison lockup.  However, Fond du Lac County Circuit Judge Dale English said Cardinal needed to get the message that she should not repeatedly commit sexual assault on a student.  She was originally charged with a dozen felonies.  Cardinal ended up pleading guilty in May to a single count of sexual assault of a student.


A nursing assistant is due in court September 19th for allegedly being drunk while working at a care center in Madison.  41-year-old Retha Moore of New Berlin was charged yesterday in Dane County with three felony counts of neglecting older adults who are at-risk.  A criminal complaint said Moore admitted to investigators that she drank vodka on duty, after a co-worker took a cellphone video of her while she was intoxicated.  It happened at the Pine View Living Center in Madison, where three elderly residents were in Moore's care at the time. 


A 22-year-old man was killed, and a 20-year-old woman was wounded in a drive-by shooting incident on the north side of Milwaukee last night.  According to police, the man was walking to his vehicle when gunshots were fired by somebody in an approaching dark-colored auto.  Both the man and the woman were hit.  Police did not immediately say how seriously the woman was injured.  The incident occurred around seven last evening.


A Powerball ticket sold in Kaukauna won a million dollars last night.  The ticket was sold at Crooks Express, and it matched all five regular numbers but not the Powerball to win the game's second-prize.  It was the sixth time this year that a Wisconsin Powerball player won a million-dollars.  Catherine Andres of Reedsburg was the last to do it on May 25th.  Nobody won the jackpot last night, so it goes up to $203-million for Saturday.  Almost 13,750 Wisconsin players won smaller prizes ranging from four-dollars to 200.  The numbers were 2, 9, 26, 45, and 47.  The Powerball was 11.  Saturday's cash option is just over $115-million to a single winner who takes the whole prize now instead of in 30 annual installments.  In Mega Millions, the top prize is at $95-million for the next drawing tomorrow night.