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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Flooding and snowfall in state's weather forecast

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Pierce County Herald
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Wisconsin's first spring flood warnings have been issued in the southeast corner of the state -- while 400 miles away in the northwest, another big snowstorm is in the offing.  

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The National Weather Service says 6-to-14 inches of snow are possible close to Lake Superior in Iron, Ashland, Bayfield, and Douglas counties.  A winter storm warning is in effect there from midnight tonight until 6 a.m. Wednesday.  Meanwhile, most of the snow is gone along the Fox River in Kenosha County -- except for the flood waters left behind.  The Fox at New Munster was one-and-a-third feet above its flood stage at 11 last night.  The rest of Wisconsin is supposed to get mixed precipitation today and tomorrow.  North central and far northeast Wisconsin can expect 1-to-3 inches of new snow today, and 4-to-6 more inches tomorrow.  Central areas can expect lesser amounts of snow, with freezing rain thrown in.  Only rain is forecast for much of southern Wisconsin. 

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The coldest winter in decades kept Wisconsin home sales down for a second straight month.  The state's Realtors Association said today that its members sold 33-hundred-15 existing homes in February.  That's down about 10-percent from the nearly 37-hundred sold the previous February.  Meanwhile, prices continue to go up.  The median resale price for a home last month was 130-thousand dollars, up almost seven-and-a-half percent from the same time the year before.  Realtors' association chairman Steve Lane said the rising prices affected home sales -- as did the weather and higher interest rates.  The group says February is normally one of the slowest months for home sales, accounting for about five-and-a-half percent of all sales throughout the year.

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Wisconsin state senators are expected to vote on two more bills tomorrow to fight the state's growing abuse of heroin.  One measure would give rapid sanctions to heroin convicts who violate their probation and parole.  The other bill requires the state to create regional opiate treatment centers in areas of the state which don't get that service now.  Assemblyman John Nygren of Marinette sponsored both measures, after his daughter struggled with heroin abuse.  Nygren also wrote four other heroin-related measures which have passed both houses and are now awaiting Governor Scott Walker's signature.  Among other things, those bills would grant limited immunity for those who report heroin overdoses to rescue agencies, and allow trained emergency responders to administer the heroin antidote Narcan. 

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Early voting began today for the April first local and non-partisan elections.  A two-week absentee voting period runs through March 28th, the Friday before the Tuesday contests.  A bill to limit early voting to 45 hours on weekdays was passed by the state Senate last week, and opponents had planned to protest the measure in Milwaukee today.  There are no statewide contests next month.  Almost one of every 10 Wisconsin school districts has referendums -- some of which have been on hold for a while as the economy improves.  Almost 40 school systems have April referendums.  Over two dozen questions will ask voters to exceed state-mandated revenue limits, so they can keep the programs and classes they have.  There are close to 20 bonding requests for various building projects.  The Kettle Moraine district northwest of Milwaukee has the largest referendum, with a $49.6 million dollar bonding request for building maintenance plus technology and security upgrades.  The Sauk-Prairie district northwest of Madison seeks almost 35-million dollars.  Three state appellate courts have elections, with an incumbent unopposed in each -- Patricia Curley, Lisa Neubauer, and Gary Sherman in the Fourth District.  Incumbent circuit judges are being challenged in Jefferson and Forest counties.  About 40 other judicial incumbents are unopposed.  A number of local government and school board posts are also up next month.

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Wisconsin will spend an extra $35-million to help people train for high-demand jobs.  Governor Scott Walker approved the new funding today, in a bill-signing ceremony at Blackhawk Technical College near Janesville.  Both houses of the Legislature recently approved the job-training funds, which come from an expected billion-dollar surplus in the current state budget.  The funds are designed to help Blackhawk and other tech schools reduce their waiting lists for job training in fields with high-demand.  It also provides more training for high school students, plus new efforts to help Wisconsinites with disabilities find work.  The measure attracted strong support from lawmakers of both parties.  

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Wisconsin's attorney general has never taken a state or local government body to court for violating the state's open government laws.  Gannett Wisconsin Media says the Justice Department defers complaints to local district attorney's offices. The DA's generally don't prosecute, saying they don't have enough resources -- and they're asked very seldom to charge open records and open meeting violators, so they don't have the experience that Madison might have.  Gannett, which puts out 10 daily newspapers across Wisconsin's mid-section, says hundreds of residents who complain about government secrecy are caught in the middle.  In one such case, a letter from an assistant attorney general said the state may prosecute in matters of statewide concern.  Justice spokesman Dana Brueck confirmed that Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has handled such a case during his seven-plus years in office.  Gannett said Van Hollen's predecessor, Peg Lautenschlager, only filed court cases twice against open government violators during her four-year tenure.

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UW-Madison said today it's paying $35,000 in fines to the USDA, for violations that involve the care of research animals.  The fines are connected with violations from 2007 through last year.  Two of them involve animal welfare.  Others deal with the conditions of research facilities and the presence of expired drugs.  The UW said a dog and a gerbil had died in the cases under investigation.  A cat that was under anesthesia was burned by hand-warmer, but the animal had fully recovered.  The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have filed complaints with the federal government over the UW use of research animals.  The group is asking the USDA to withdraw federal money from projects in which the university was fined.  The UW says is strives to run a top-notch research program -- and given its size, the numbers of citations and the fines are very small.

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A Wausau woman convicted of poisoning and stabbing her ex-boyfriend's dog will be sentenced this afternoon.  WSAU Radio says 22-year-old Sean Janas could be sentenced to 18 months in a Marathon County lock-up.  But if she gets credit for the time she served during her court case, her final jail term could end up being about three months.  Janas' case attracted worldwide publicity, after we learned that her diary showed how to force her ex-boyfriend's German shepherd and Labrador mix to take pain pills and bleach.  Dozens of animal lovers appeared for an early court hearing in the case.  Social media then spread the story, and a prosecutor said he got thousands of e-mails demanding the maximum penalty.  A plea deal whittled down the charges.  Janas pleaded guilty to felony counts of animal poisoning and fatal animal mistreatment.

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Officials said a Milwaukee appeared to have died from hypothermia during the weekend.  The medical examiner's office said it would determine the final cause of death for 53-year-old Chris Leutenegger once toxicology test results come in.  Authorities said she was last seen by a friend late Saturday night while they drinking as part of a Saint Patrick's Day celebration.  A neighbor reported hearing screams from Leutenegger's house early Sunday.  ________________________________

A police sergeant in Sparta is back at work, after prosecutors said he did nothing wrong when he shot an armed suspect to death.  Monroe County District Attorney Kevin Croninger said Booker Ferguson acted within the law when he shot and killed 21-year-old John Bartholomew last October.  Ferguson responded to a 911 call from Bartholomew's father, who told a dispatcher that his son was drinking and threatening his parents.  The DA said he found that Bartholomew was carrying two knives when he confronted Sergeant Ferguson on a street.  The report said Bartholomew ignored repeated requests to drop the knives -- so the officer shot him three times.  DA Croninger said Ferguson acted correctly, noting there was not enough time to use a less lethal method of getting the suspect into custody.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to finish major construction this year to restore the Cat Islands in the Bay of Green Bay.  Almost two-million dollars are budgeted to help restore islands that have virtually disappeared due to erosion from waves.  The Army Corps is installing four miles of wave barriers -- and they're filling spots around the islands with materials from dredging over the next 30 years.  Brown County port director Dean Haen says a nearby road needs to be repaired before dredging materials can be stored there every other year.  The project is expected to create an additional 270 acres of wildlife habitat.  The Corps is also working to finish Renard Island.  It's being capped with clean soil on top the dredge materials which built the island.  Brown County plans to use the land as a park.

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Madison will host a regional body art festival this week.  About 500 people are expected to attend the Greater Midwest Body-Art Fest which begins on Wednesday and runs through Saturday.  Two professional body painters, Dawn Marie Svanoe and Michelle Soltis, organized the event.  They own a store in Madison that sells specialty makeup.  The festival will include workshops, freestyle painting, a modeling competition, and a runway show.  
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