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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Forty state counties decline in population from 2010-13

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Forty Wisconsin counties declined slightly in population from 2010 to 2013, according to the most recent estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The declines affected mostly smaller counties that have struggled to maintain population levels during the past decade.

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The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Only two counties with more than 100,000 people — Racine and Sheboygan — lost people since 2010. Rusk and Price counties shrank by the largest percentage, both by about 2.2 percent. Wood County lost the greatest number of people at 821. Still, the growth  in some of the larger counties counterbalanced the modest declines in rural Wisconsin. Overall, the state's population increased by 53,653, or less than 1 percent, to 5,742,713. 

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Governor Scott Walker has signed a bill that erases six-person juries in misdemeanor cases. The state Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that a state law providing for a six-person jury in misdemeanor cases conflicted with a provision in the Wisconsin Constitution requiring a 12-person jury in all criminal cases. The bill eliminates the six-person misdemeanor jury and requires a 12-person jury for every criminal case unless the parties involved and a judge agree to a smaller panel.

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Gov. Scott Walker quietly signed a bill opposed by numerous veterans groups and Democrats that changes the process for bringing asbestos exposure lawsuits. The bill was among 29 that Walker signed privately on Thursday morning in Milwaukee. Veterans had been lobbying strongly against the bill, which they say will delay and deny justice to those who have gotten sick due to asbestos exposure.

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The mayors of Wisconsin’s two largest cities believe Governor Scott Walker ought to veto legislation that restricts early voting. The Republican authored bill would allow in-person absentee voting the two weeks prior to the election for a total of 45 hours per week, with no weekend voting hours. It passed the state Assembly and Senate with zero support from Democrats. The bill’s Senate author, Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend), expressed his desire to “nip this in the bud” before the sort of extended early voting made available in Milwaukee and Madison spread to other areas. Republicans claim there’s a fairness issue, since smaller municipalities lack the resources to offer extended voting hours.

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The city of Wausau has reached a deal with its local Humane Society that will enable police to resume picking up stray cats.The deal approved by the city council on Tuesday calls for the Humane Society to be paid $32,400 to house up to 150 strays picked up in Wausau and several surrounding communities. Additional animals will cost $220 each. Officers had stopped picking up strays in January because they had no place to put the animals after the city rejected a proposed $80,000 contract with the Humane Society of Marathon County. Sheltering strays had been handled by Marathon County, but it began phasing out funding for the service this year.

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One of New London's major employers is shutting down. Saputo Cheese says its plant in New London will close by August 23. The closing will put 67 people out of work. The plant has operated in New London for more than 60 years. Saputo says it would be too expensive to update the plant to modern standards. The Montreal-based company is closing three other plants, one in Maryland and two in Canada. The closings are set to begin in May and be finished by December 2015. 

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Settlements are being proposed for cleaning up the Fox River. A federal judge needs to approve the deals reached this week between six companies and two governmental units in the Fox Valley. The deals would add $56 million to the fund to pay for cleaning up contaminated sediments in the river. It’s estimated the PCB cleanup project, the largest in the U.S., will cost over $1 billion. U.S. District Court Judge William Griesbach will make his decision after a 30-day comment period. If Griesbach approves the settlement, the companies could be released from claims that they were partly responsible for polluting the river. The pollutants were discharged into the river during manufacturing between 1954 and 1971.

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Authorities are warning Wood County residents and businesses to be on the alert for scammers calling them claiming to be with law enforcement agencies. According to the Wood County Sheriff's Department a scammer has claimed to be a member of the sheriff's department. Officials say this is associated with a nationwide scam. These scammers claim the victim owes money for a loan and they often have a victim's personal information. Authorities say if you are contacted by these scammers, contact your bank and police.

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The Madison School Board is weighing whether to implement a new student discipline policy across the district next school year or to try it out first for a year in schools with higher numbers of reported behavioral problems. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the proposal to launch the new policy as a pilot program in 11 schools next school year instead of district wide surfaced at a board meeting Tuesday night. District officials and board members want to create a new discipline policy because current practices have disproportionately affected black students. The goal of the new policy, which has been under development for months, is to reduce the number of students who are suspended and expelled and to help them improve their behavior.

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