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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Appeals court says members of commission remain in contempt

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MADISON - A state appeals court says the two members of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission remain in contempt-of-court.  That's because they've been scheduling about 400 re-certification votes for local government and public school unions, although a judge said he struck down those local elections. 

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Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled almost 14 months ago that the Act-10 public union bargaining limits did not apply to local government and school unions, saying it was unconstitutional for them.  The state is challenging the original ruling, and arguments in that case are planned next Monday before the State Supreme Court.  The state also asked to hold up enforcement of Colas's contempt-of-court order, because time was running out to hold recertification votes.  The appellate court said no to that request yesterday. That left open the possibility of an appeal of the contempt order to the Supreme Court -- and the employment relations panel members have until the end of today to appeal that matter.  

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Senior citizens and minorities testified yesterday in a federal court trial that seeks to kill Wisconsin's photo ID requirement for voting.  The plaintiffs are presenting the first witnesses in a trial before Milwaukee federal judge Lynn Adelman  that's expected to last two weeks.  Alice Weddle of Milwaukee testified that she never got a driver's license or other form of ID.  A birth certificate is required, but Weddle said she has no such document because she was born at home in Mississippi.  Eddie Holloway Junior said he couldn't get an ID when he moved to Wisconsin from Illinois, because the name on his birth certificate did not match the one on his driver's license.  Assistant state attorney general Clayton Kawski said in the state's opening argument that it has helped people in unique circumstances get the ID's they need to exercise their right to vote.  He said the law is needed to fight voter fraud, and the state has a "legitimate interest" in ensuring fair elections.  Plaintiffs said a photo ID requirement would only prevent impersonations by voters -- and they say there's been no evidence of that.  Wisconsin's voter ID law has only been used once -- in February of 2012 -- before two state judges in Madison threw out the I-D requirement in a pair of other lawsuits.  The state is appealing those, while defending the federal suit from the ACLU and an Hispanic group. 

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Winter weather advisories are in effect in 17 Wisconsin counties from this evening through mid-day tomorrow.  The National Weather Service says most of northwest Wisconsin will get rain at first, and then snow during the evening.  All snow is predicted for Vilas and Oneida counties in north central Wisconsin.  Two-to-six inches are in the forecast for the northwest, and 2-to-5 inches in north central areas.  Weather Service forecasters in Minneapolis say most of the snow will fall within 4-to-6 hours.  It's expected to be a heavy, wet snow which may cause broken tree limbs and power outages.  Places outside the watch areas could get a rain-and-snow mix, or all rain tonight.  Meanwhile, much of western and central Wisconsin has dense fog this morning, with advisories continuing until 10 a.m.  Dry weather is expected after the precipitation moves east.  Highs are projected to be in the 50's tomorrow and the 40's on Thursday.

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One person was killed overnight when a car collided with a semi-truck near Osseo in Trempealeau County.  The State Patrol said it happened just after 1:20 this morning on eastbound Highway 10 at County Trunk "R."  Troopers said the car started on fire after slamming into the semi.  Other details were not immediately available.

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Monroe County's chief prosecutor has died.  Dan Cary passed away yesterday at his home in Sparta.  The death was discovered after Cary had not showed up for a court appearance.  Authorities are investigating, but foul play is not suspected.  Cary was first elected the Monroe County district attorney in 2003, after serving five years as an assistant DA.  He was honored as the state's District Attorney-of-the-Year in 2012.  Cary specialized in prosecuting some of the county's most severe criminal cases -- including homicide, sexual assault, drug, and child abuse matters.

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A Wisconsin couple said they only had eight pieces of bread and a half-tank of gas left, when their car got stuck in a foot of snow in Wyoming five days before.  It happened last Tuesday, soon after Mark and Kristine Wahnke of Cornell left Yellowstone National Park -- the last of several parks they visited on a week-long vacation.  After being stuck for days, the Wahnkes thought they were goners on Sunday night, and nobody would rescue them as the temperature dipped to seven-below that evening.  They told the Billings Gazette in Montana that they were fortunate to buy food at a local store in the event they got stuck -- but they couldn't imagine it would be so long.  They didn't know that a highway they drove on had been closed for the season -- and it was the reason that nobody came for help until Sunday night.  Rancher Troy Barnett knew that somebody was missing went up the road and found the Wahnkes.  Last night, they were in Cody Wyoming, and eating pizza and expressing gratefulness that someone found them alive.  After days of being alone, they said they resigned to the fact they would die -- and they recorded goodbye messages on their phones.  Mark Wahnke's company, Bell Lumber-and-Pole, planned to fly him and his wife home this afternoon.

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About half of Wisconsin's corn-for-grain has been harvested.  New federal numbers show that 95-percent of that corn is mature.  With moisture levels still relatively good, farmers appear to be in no hurry to haul the product away.  Ninety-seven percent of the corn-for-feed has been harvested.  Eighty-two percent of the Wisconsin soybeans have been harvested -- but a number of reports show there are below-average yields, low pods, and short plants.  Ninety-two percent of the fourth-crop alfalfa is made.  Hay and roughage supplies are said to be 70-percent adequate.  Growing degree days from March through October are above normal throughout Wisconsin.

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Wisconsin cheesemakers increased their output in September -- but not by as much as the nation as a whole.  New federal figures show that the Badger State produced just under 230-million pounds of cheese -- up seven-tenths of one-percent from the same month a year ago.  Nationally, cheese out-put rose 2.3 percent.  Wisconsin remains the country's top cheese-maker, but second-place California caught up a little in September.  The Golden State pumped out 187-million pounds, a 9.8 percent increase from the previous year.  Third-place Idaho and fifth-place New Mexico reported decreases in their cheese production, while fourth-place New York had a nearly six-percent jump.  Wisconsin's Cheddar and American cheese production both dropped from a year earlier.  Italian cheeses rose two-tenths-of-a-percent.

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Mercury Marine has asked Fond du Lac County for a $10-million loan, for an expansion that would add up to 300 new jobs.  The entire expansion would cost $30-million.  The County Board was scheduled to act on the loan today, in an amendment to an earlier $50-million loan agreement from 2009.  That loan -- fueled by a special county sales tax -- helped Mercury merge its outboard motor production, incorporating an Oklahoma plant at Fond du Lac.  In the process, Mercury Marine has doubled its workforce in Fond du Lac County over the last four years.  It now has over three-thousand employees in the region.

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A Wisconsin firm that has made shoes for every president since Ronald Reagan is getting a new owner.  Allen-Edmonds said yesterday it's been sold to a private equity firm in Los Angeles that's affiliated with Brentwood Associates.  Allen-Edmonds will keep its headquarters in Port Washington.  It had been owned since 2006 by the Minneapolis firm of Goldner, Hawn, Johnson, and Morrison.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.  Former Goldner executive Paul Grangaard will stay on as Allen-Edmonds' CEO.  He took over the firm in 2008, and helped it regain its financial footings.  Grangaard said Brentwood is committed to the shoemaker's growth strategy, and it has a similar corporate culture.  There's been recent speculation that Men's Warehouse would buy Allen-Edmonds.  Grangaard would not confirm companies that submitted losing bids.  Allen-Edmonds was founded in 1922, and is one of just a few remaining high-quality shoemakers in America.  It has around a-thousand workers.  About 450 of them work in Port Washington.  

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Just over 280 jobs could be eliminated from a call-center in Green Bay.  APAC Customer Services told state officials yesterday about the impending job cuts.  Human resources vice president Mike Bugaj says the job cuts will take effect at the end of the year, and they result from the loss of a major client.  According to Bugaj, APAC is looking at other business for the call-center.  The firm says it's optimistic it can find new work for many of the folks losing their jobs.  The call-center now employs over 800 people.

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The Wisconsin State Assembly speaker says a new formula that could reduce some public workers' retirement benefits will not be considered in the current session.  Republican Robin Vos of Burlington tells the Wisconsin State Journal it's one idea being examined.  It would base retirement benefits for state and most local employees on a worker's five highest annual earning periods instead of the three highest.  State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says his chamber will wait to see what happens in the Assembly before moving forward on the issue.  Democrats and the state's largest teachers' union says the proposal is not fair -- and it's not likely to save Wisconsin taxpayers much money. 

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Wisconsin state senators are expected to vote today on a compromise bill to protect workers at the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.  Originally, all 3,200 acres of the mining site would have been closed to public hunting and other recreation that's allowed because the site gets state tax breaks under the managed forest law.  Senate Republican Rob Cowles (coles) of Green Bay has proposed a compromise which closes areas around mining equipment and roads at the site.  The DNR could close other land if need be.  Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst first proposed the more extensive ban after a theft-and-vandalism incident at a Gogebic exploration site in June.  A number of people said the original measure was too restrictive, saying it might have cut off lands where people had hunted for years.

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The Wisconsin State Senate will consider a bill today which makes it harder to force public schools to stop using Indian team names and mascots.  The Assembly passed the measure last month 52-41.  It requires Indians to prove they've been hurt by school mascots, instead of school boards having to prove that the monikers don't discriminate.   Complaints would only be considered if petitions are filed with signatures equal to 10-percent of a school's enrollment.  Also, the Administration Department would hear the complaints instead of the state Department of Public Instruction.  The bill would nullify much of the 2009 law passed by Democrats, which created a system in which Indian logos that discriminate have to be dropped -- or else schools could face daily fines.  The GOP bill would nullify the orders made to schools under the '09 law.  Supporters say the previous law does not give schools much of a chance to defend themselves.  The bill's opponents say it would take Wisconsin a step backward in race relations.  

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Supporters and opponents of the proposed Kenosha casino will make their final arguments today, with competing rallies at the State Capitol.  An event is planned by Tea Party groups and other conservatives, urging Republican Governor Scott Walker to reject the Menominee tribe's Hard Rock resort.  Organizers say the $800-million project would cost the state jobs, while creating new money for union members who build the casino and work in it.  The Menominee tribe will hold a gathering to encourage Walker to approve the Kenosha project.  They say it would create 3,500 jobs and be good for the Wisconsin economy.  Walker has the final say on the new casino.  He told reporters in Milwaukee yesterday that he plans to announce his decision in a couple days.  The governor said he's still looking over the project's details, and balance concerns about jobs at the new casino, and possible job losses at other Wisconsin tribal facilities. 

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It would be illegal for Wisconsin employers to ask workers for their social media passwords, under a bill that's up for a committee vote today.  The state Senate's Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider endorsing the measure late this morning.  It prohibits companies from having their workers and job applicants hand over their passwords to their personal Facebook and other accounts.  Lawmakers from both parties support the measure, which they say is needed because more companies are demanding such personal gateways from their workers.  Some firms say they need the access to protect proprietary information or trade secrets, all in the name of complying with federal financial rules.  Others call that an invasion of personal privacy.  

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Starting in January, Wisconsin will join three dozen other states in requiring FBI fingerprint and background checks for child care providers.  Employees and household members in home-based facilities will also come under additional scrutiny.  Wisconsin requires the state Justice Department to conduct background reviews of child care workers -- but until now, the state has not required FBI finger-print checks.  A provision in the new state budget calls for the increased security steps.  Child care advocacy groups say that's important, because criminals could use fake names as long as their fingerprints are not checked.  The group Child Care Aware of America suggests state background checks for everyone connected with care centers -- along with FBI finger-print checks, and reviews of state registries for sex offenders and child abusers.  

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Folks in northern Wisconsin will probably see more ATV and UTV sport and utility vehicles on roads next to the Willow Flowage.  The state Natural Resources Board recently approved a measure that expands access by motorized vehicles.  DNR forester Tom Shockley said the Willow Flowage roads were still under a 13-year-old plan which provided some motorized access.  He said his agency has heard from about 100 people about the change -- and many favored it.  The new plan allows cars, trucks, and off-road vehicles on about eight miles of the flowage's Iron Gate Road.  The entire segment is open from the day after Labor Day through December 15th, and is accessible during most hunting seasons.  Part of the road will also be open earlier.  Shockley said the DNR Board wants a complete review of the Willow Flowage improvement plan by 2015.  

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Wisconsin's wolf hunt is another step closer to being finished.  The DNR says Zone-Four will close at six this evening.  That's mostly in Lincoln, Langlade, and Oconto counties in northeast Wisconsin.  Only two zones remain open -- Zone-Three in the northwest, and Zone-Six, mostly in the lower two-thirds of Wisconsin where fewer wolves are found.  Zone-Four has a quota of 12 wolves, and the DNR said 11 of those animals were taken as of yesterday -- thus prompting its closure.  Officials said 197 wolves have been taken, and only 54 are still available under the expanded quota for this second-annual wolf season.  The hunt is scheduled to run through the end of February -- but once the quota's hit, that's it.  Last year, it took hunters just two-and-a-half months to shoot a quota of 117 -- less than half the size of this year's available take.

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