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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Gas prices rising again in Wisconsin

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You may be paying more for gas in the next week or so. GASBUDDY.com reports prices are expected to rise, after comments from the Fed about reducing their lending pushed oil prices over $100 dollars a barrel last week.

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Analysts say there’s also reports of some refinery problems in the Midwest and the Great Lakes. This is coupled with the usual restriction in wholesale supply as oil companies get ready for end-of-year taxes. Prices are expected to go over $3.20 a gallon.

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Wisconsin always has at least one cold spell each winter -- but it's been so cold for so long in December, that folks are hearing strange noises at home.  Police in Janesville say they've had 11 calls about suspicious residential activity from Sunday afternoon through yesterday morning.  In every one of those cases, police said they were caused by the falling temperatures and a contraction of pipes and other home materials.  According to the Janesville Gazette, one homeowner pulled out a handgun, thinking the odd noises were a burglar breaking in.  Another woman feared the same thing, and she rounded up her kids before calling police.  This morning, it's been colder that the 4-to-10-below the National Weather Service had predicted for northern Wisconsin.  It was minus-14 in Superior at 10 o'clock, and it was below zero as far south as Viroqua.  Wind-chills in the northern half of the state were generally in the minus-20's as of late morning.  Janesville actually got a break.  It was three-above in that city, with no wind chill.  Superior had a minus-30 wind chill early today.  It's supposed to remain cold into the New Year in the northern two-thirds of Wisconsin, while the southern-third gets anywhere from a half-inch to six-inches of snow -- less than forecasters were projecting for this afternoon through New Year's Day.  

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A man killed in a two-vehicle crash in southwest Wisconsin has been identified as 24-year-old Leander Vethanayagamony of the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook.  The crash happened around mid-day yesterday on Highway 18 in Iowa County.  Sheriff's officials said a van driven by a 60-year-old Linden woman veered onto a shoulder -- and when she tried getting back onto the road, she spun into the opposite lane and hit a mini-van driven by the Illinois victim.  He died at the scene.  The other driver was taken to a hospital.  The mishap is still being investigated.

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Authorities said an electrical problem caused a fire that heavily damaged an upscale bed-and-breakfast place in Door County.  The Ephraim Inn was closed for the season, and its resident owners were gone for the weekend, when flames emerged yesterday from the building's north end.  No one was hurt.  Fire-fighters were called around 7:15 a.m, and units from eight departments responded before the blaze was put out early in the afternoon.  Ten of the 17 rooms had at least some damage.  Ephraim Fire Chief Niles Weborg said the village does not have fire hydrants, so water had to be trucked in and pumped from the nearby Bay of Green Bay.  He said the 20-below wind-chills didn't help -- but the winds could have been even worse.  A draft wall protected the building from further damage.  The fire has been ruled an accident.  There is no dollar-estimate of damage yet.

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Two people were killed this morning in house fires near Milwaukee and Wausau.  The first blaze occurred around four a.m in the Wausau suburb of Weston.  Everest Metro Police said four people were in a mobile home that started on fire.  One person died, another escaped with a minor injury, and the other two were unharmed.  The state Fire Marshal is helping investigate.  In the Milwaukee area, a fire broke out around 5 a.m at a home in Brown Deer. 

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Forecasters have down-graded the heavy snow predictions for the southern third of Wisconsin.  Up to nine-inches were forecast for today and tomorrow -- but the National Weather Service says 3-to-6 inches is the most that can be expected south of a line from Milwaukee to Madison to Sauk City.  Places just north of that line could get a-half to two inches.  In southwest Wisconsin, the Weather Service says the bulk of the snow will be from 3-to-8 p.m. today -- just in time to make things slippery for New Year's Eve celebrations.  Winter weather advisories will stretch until 6 a-m tomorrow.  It's supposed to stay dry in northern Wisconsin -- but revelers there will pay for it with continued sub-zero temperatures.  Hayward expects an overnight low of 27-below.  The Wausau and Green Bay regions could get down to 10-below.  Wind chill advisories were in effect until noon today in much of the north, with wind-chills getting down to 40-below near Lake Superior.  It's about 10-degrees colder than expected in parts of the north this morning.  Hayward was down to minus-21, and Siren minus-20 at six o'clock.  Superior had the most brutal wind-chills, at minus-30.

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We'll find out on Thursday who's still in the running to become the next president of the University of Wisconsin System.  Spokesman David Giroux says the UW will release the names of the finalists to replace Kevin Reilly, who said in July he would leave at the end of the year.  A nearly 20-year-old state law requires state-and-local governments to release the finalists' names for their top positions.  However, at least a couple of members of the University's Board of Regents said they knew that a number of candidates shied away from applying, because they feared their names would get out.  Last week, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said the state should not discourage strong applicants from applying -- and so he'd consider a bill to keep the finalists secret for the UW's presidency and campus chancellors.  That brought strong criticism from the head of the state's Freedom-of-Information Council, who said the disclosure law is meant to prevent hiring abuses. 

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Parents and caretakers above the poverty line could still apply for up to two months of BadgerCare, under a new bill to be considered in January.  The federal government asked Wisconsin to consider those above the poverty line who are were not already on BadgerCare.  Those already covered were supposed to be cut off today.  But the governor and Legislature agreed to give them three more months, so they'd have more time to get through to the Obama-care Web site and apply for coverage there.  Yesterday, state Health Services Secretary Kitty Rhoades said it reached an agreement with Washington to try-and-allow those above the poverty line to apply for BadgerCare coverage by February first -- and to wait until then to impose stricter income limits for new applicants.  Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Council on Children-and-Families said the proposed changes will help some low-income families and hurt others.  He said it would make the transition easier, but a small number of parents above the poverty line could lose a month-or-two of state coverage.

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A one-million-dollar bond was set yesterday for a Bayfield County man accused of killing his elderly parents.  44-year-old Jim Crain Junior of Iron River had a bond hearing on five felony charges.  He's accused of killing his 79-year-old father Jim Crain and his 76-year-old wife Eunice at their apartment in Iron River on December 7th.  Authorities said the defendant was living at the apartment on a short-term basis.  The apparent motive for the slayings has not been disclosed.  Officials said the alleged attacker may have stabbed himself during the incident.  He was placed under an induced coma at a Duluth hospital before being transferred to a jail cell a few days ago.  Crain's formal initial appearance is set for January 14th on two charges of first-degree intentional homicide, two counts of battery to law enforcement officers, and a count of not complying with an officer while in custody.

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A man is under arrest for an attempted robbery at a small-town convenience store where the clerk activated a panic alarm instead of handing over the cash.  Police in Plymouth said they got a tip about the 25-year-old suspect, and they arrested him yesterday after seizing evidence from the man's home.  The attempted hold-up occurred Sunday night at Marshall's Westside Pantry in Plymouth.  Police said the man demanded money and made threats -- but he got away with nothing, after the clerk refused to open the cash register.  

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A jury will be allowed to see a key piece of evidence against a Wausau woman of poisoning and stabbing her ex-boyfriend's dog to death.  The attorney for 21-year-old Sean Janas has withdrawn an earlier claim that police illegally obtained her diary.  It said that Janas hated the German shepherd-Labrador mix, and it showed how the pet could be forced to take bleach and pain pills.  Circuit Judge Greg Grau rejected a request to move the possible trial out of Marathon County due to the worldwide publicity the case has attracted.  Prosecutors asked for another delay in the trial, citing scheduling conflicts.  It's currently due to start January 21st, and Grau said it would have to take place by the end of March.  

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A Milwaukee woman has been charged in the stabbing death of her boyfriend.  Prosecutors filed a second-degree reckless homicide charge yesterday against 23-year-old Krista Batchelor.  Authorities said she and 30-year-old Cornell Williams both had knives in their hands as they quarreled last Thursday -- and when the victim went to the bathroom, she allegedly busted in and stabbed Williams once.  He was Milwaukee's 104th homicide victim of the year, giving the city its highest number of murders since 2007.  

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Two 18-year-old men face a total of 66 criminal charges in a two-month spree of burglaries and vandalism in central Wisconsin.  Sawyer Wirkus and Nicholas Nesbitt, both of Mosinee, face a laundry list of charges that has grown as investigators have continued to look into their cases.  Nesbitt is charged with 23 burglary-and-theft counts in Marathon County, 10 charges in Taylor County for theft, burglary, criminal damage, and vehicle theft, and one count of vehicle theft in Wood County.  Wirkus faces almost all of the same charges.  He's charged with a total of 32 counts, and Nesbitt 34.  Nesbitt is due in court in Medford Thursday for an arraignment.  Wirkus is not due in court until February third for a status conference in Taylor County. Authorities said the pair committed at least 10 break-ins this summer.  Prosecutors said they also stole alcohol and weapons, along with vehicles.  

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A central Wisconsin man accused of stealing his mother's Social Security checks for 33 years has been found innocent-by-insanity.  67-year-old Charles Jost of Amherst entered an Alford plea yesterday to two of the four charges against him.  He maintained his innocence, while admitting there was enough evidence to convict him for theft-by-fraud and mail fraud.  Jost and two other relatives were accused of stealing $175,000 in Social Security benefits for Marie Jost, who's been missing since 1988 and is presumed dead.  Portage County Circuit Judge Thomas Flugaur found Jost innocent by reason of mental disease.  A court-appointed psychologist found Jost to be delusional -- even though he would have been mentally-competent to stand trial.  He's due back in court February 17th to determine where he will be placed.  Jost could either be sent to a group home or a full mental institution.  His sister Delores had four charges dismissed earlier this year, after she had a stroke and was found unfit to stand trial.  The woman's husband, Ronald Disher, has a three-day trial set for January 29th, barring a last-minute plea deal.__________________________

A large pledge has been made to help three young kids who lost their parents in a murder-suicide in Milwaukee.  An anonymous donor says he-or-she will put up $10,000, if others match it with the same amount.  Alderman Bob Donovan started the charity fund, after Dontavion Smith shot his girlfriend Janie Jefferson and then killed himself.  It happened six days before Christmas at their home on Milwaukee's south side.  Both parents were 26.  Donovan said the anonymous donor contacted him yesterday.  Contributions are being taken at Tri-City National Bank branches.  

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For the fifth time, a trial is being delayed for a central Wisconsin man accused of killing his girlfriend's two-year-old son.  Once again, an expert witness sought by the defense cannot attend a late February trial for 27-year-old Reymundo Perez.  An eight-day trial has been moved up another three months, and is now due to begin June third in Portage County Circuit Court.  Perez is charged with reckless homicide and reckless child abuse in the death of two-year-old Felix Espinosa-Villa at his girlfriend's mobile home in Bancroft in late October of 2011.  Prosecutors said Perez threw the toddler to the ground because he would not stop crying.  Assistant district attorney Veronica Isherwood said the child's mother is concerned because the case has been pending longer than her son was alive.  Isherwood suggested that the defense find a different expert witness.  Judge John Finn said the doctor would have to submit evidence by the end of February. 

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Wisconsin politicians will not be able to double the size of their election campaign funds.  State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said his chamber would not consider a bill passed by the state Assembly to let people register to vote online, in exchange for letting statewide and legislative candidates double the size of donations they can receive.  The bill would have also doubled the amount of special interest money that the Legislature's party campaign committees could collect, up to $300,000.  Fitzgerald said he and many of his Senate colleagues are against it.  Critics said the measure would have benefited incumbents. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported in August that Republican legislators raised a million-dollars in the first half of the year -- before people back home could even think about running against them next fall.  Minority Democrats had raised $411,000 by June.  The report also said the party campaign committees had raised a total of a half-million dollars.  Jay Heck of the watchdog group Common Cause said a head-count showed that the measure would have passed, but with 13 of the 33 senators voting no.  Heck said next year's candidates would still have healthy contribution limits.  He told the Wisconsin Radio Network quote, "I don't think many people are sad that this is not going anywhere."

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At least some Wisconsin state senators believe a sales tax holiday for back-to-school items is too much of a gimmick.  Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says some of his colleagues would rather see some other type of tax relief for next year.  Others said the state should keep whatever surplus it builds, to make sure the government is doing well financially when it's time to write the 2015 budget.  Fitzgerald says there's a concern that the state's structural deficit -- current obligations to be paid for in 2015 -- is getting higher.  Last week, state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) revived the idea of a sales tax holiday for back-to-school items, but only if the state's next financial report in mid-January is favorable.  Vos said majority Republicans want to provide small types of tax relief in advance of the 2015 budget -- when a major tax reform could be considered.

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If you want to drive 70 in Wisconsin, you'll have to keep breaking the law to do it.  State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says too many of his fellow Republicans oppose the measure that was passed by the Assembly in October. State Senate transportation committee member Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) said people are already driving 70-or-more on rural interstates, and raising the legal limit could cause more traffic deaths.  Also, Fitzgerald told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the state Senate will not consider measures approved by the Assembly to make drunk driving penalties tougher.  Instead, the Senate leader said he'd pursue more funding for specialized courts which focus on treatment for offenders.  Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said he wondered why the state has to choose between tougher sentences and treatment -- and it should be able to do both. Fitzgerald said a number of GOP senators are concerned about the cost of sending more drunk drivers to prison, and having more court cases.  The bills would have made all four-time OWI cases a felony with prison time, made all second-offenses criminal misdemeanors, and required everyone cited for first-time OWI to appear in court. 

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State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says there is likely not enough support on two priority abortion bills in 2014. Fitzgerald, a Republican, says concerns for the bills getting tied up in court is a big reason for the lack of votes. The Assembly passed both bills in June, but faces a road block with the state Senate and Governor Scott Walker. One bill would prohibit public worker’s health insurance from covering abortions and exempting religious organizations from providing contraceptive coverage. The other bill bans abortions based on the sex of the fetus. The state Legislature is scheduled to reconvene in January.

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Wisconsin has 12 state Assembly and Senate districts with predominantly Hispanic and black residents -- but only seven of those districts have minority legislators.  For that reason, the Black-and-Latino Caucus has invited white lawmakers into their group for the first time if most of their constituents are minorities.  State Assembly Democrat Mandela Barnes of Milwaukee chairs the caucus.  He says the goal is to push for issues which affect minorities statewide like unemployment, high rates of minority incarceration, gaps in educational achievement, and voting rights.  Barnes tells the Wisconsin State Journal it's more important to have black and Hispanic communities represented, than to limit the caucus to minorities.  He said he'd like to see more people of color in the Legislature, to better reflect the population.  However, he said he cannot agree to support anyone "just based on race."  The caucus met for the first time in October.  

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About one-of-every-six state government employees were given bonuses and merit pay raises this year.  WLUK-TV of Green Bay found that 6,300 workers were given bonuses-and-merit pay hikes totaling $14-million.  A year ago, about 1,800 state workers received six-million in extra money.  UW-Madison police detectives were given one-time bonuses of 69-hundred dollars which represented about 11-percent of their salaries.  A deputy health services administrator was given an hourly raise of seven-percent.  The Corrections Department gave out the most bonuses, with 1,300-plus workers getting averages of $750 each.  The health services agency gave out the most in bonus money, around two-point-two million.  Republican Governor Scott Walker said the state should find a way to reward employees who save tax dollars, provide better-quality service, and do more with less.  State employees who didn't get bonuses still received one-percent raises, the state's first general pay hike since 2008.

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A man killed in a snowmobile crash in southern Wisconsin was identified today as 36-year-old Jeremy Geertsma of Plymouth, Michigan.  Columbia County authorities said his machine crashed into a tree on private land.  It happened last Friday near Cambria.  Officials said speed and snow conditions may have been factors.  Authorities continue to investigate.

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A medical center in northwest Wisconsin plans to merge with a group of hospitals-and-clinics in Minnesota's Twin Cities' area.  The Amery Regional Medical Center plans to merge with the Health Partners group of Bloomington effective on Wednesday.  Terms were not disclosed.  The system includes Regions Hospital of Saint Paul, plus hospitals in Hudson and New Richmond in Wisconsin.  Health Partners' president Mary Brainerd said her group has worked with the Amery facility for many years, and they have a shared mission of quote, "partnering with the community to improve health."  In the past, the two groups invested together in a new cancer center for far western Wisconsin.  The Amery group has a 25-bed hospital, four clinics, a pair of fitness centers, a dialysis center, and an assisted living facility.  

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Factories in southeast Wisconsin and northern Illinois saw their backlogs of customer orders go down this month.  However, the general health of the region's manufacturing economy got a little better.  Marquette University and the Milwaukee area chapter of the Institute of Supply Management said the area's manufacturing index for December was 54.27 -- slightly higher than the 52.06 in November.  Anything above 50 indicates growth, while anything below 50 reflects a decline.  Backlogs of existing orders dropped from 52.63 in November to just 42.86 this month.  However, the index for manufacturing employment had a healthy increase, from 50-and-a-half to 58.82.  The Marquette-Supply Management survey reported that military suppliers saw less business, exports dropped a little, and prices for some manufacturing items rose -- like paper and natural gas._______________________________

English may be the preferred language in Racine County -- but it's far from the only one.  Court officials say they're getting more requests for interpreters who speak Spanish -- plus other languages based in Europe and Asia.  The Racine Journal-Times said 14 foreign languages were spoken in Racine County courtrooms during the first half of 2013.  Circuit Judge Charles Constantine says interpreters have become more common in criminal cases as well as in divorce and small claims' actions.  Interpreters not only provide assistance in the courtroom -- they're also on hand when defense lawyers meet in jail with their non-English-speaking clients.  Spanish is the most common foreign language spoken by the interpreters.  Others include Portugese, Korean, and Polish. ________________________________ A small town south of Fond du Lac is coming together, to help a family that lost its home to a fire on Christmas Eve.  Don Hanneman's house in the town of Byron was destroyed on the same day that his son came back home from serving in Afghanistan.  The fire spared a nearby shop where he owns H-D Welding and a trucking outfit.  Residents have been splitting wood to help heat his business.  A friend created a bank account where donations can be sent.  The owner of a tattoo parlor has been collecting gift cards and household items for Hanneman's family.  He says he plans to rebuild, and he's got the insurance to do so.  The cause of the fire is still undetermined.

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