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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Land use for ethanol spikes in Wisconsin

 

A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows the amount of land used for corn production in the state has taken a significant jump.

In 2013, just over four million acres of land was used to produce corn in the state… up 700,000 acres from 2006. Other states across the Corn Belt report similar trends. One state expert says a 2006 federal law requiring corn-based ethanol in gasoline and increased demand from foreign trade are reasons for the spike.

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Wisconsin farmers who want to sell raw milk would have to go through an elaborate procedure under a bill endorsed today by a state Senate committee.  The rural issues panel endorsed the measure on a 3-2 party line vote, tilted by Republicans.  The raw milk package now goes to the full Senate, but not at least until early next year.   Governor Scott Walker has said he would not support the bill unless without numerous safeguards against disease outbreaks from unpasteurized milk.  Today, an amended bill was brought forward to try-and-meet those challenges.  Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend says the changes are not needed to protect the public, but they are needed to get approvals.  Raw milk sales would still be limited to the farms of producers who register with the state.  Farmers would have to take samples daily from their cows, and freeze them for 15 days.  They'd have to list the names of all buyers, and make them available to government officials.  Monthly tests would confirm that all raw milk is free of pathogens, and meet bacterial and somatic-cell counts.  Annual tests would confirm that all cows are free of bovine tuberculosis. Finally, farmers who give antibiotics to cows could not sell raw milk from those animals until drug residues are eliminated.

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 The state Senate has passed legislation scaling back Medicaid payback from the estates and surviving spouses of the elderly. The bill passed without debate by a 32-1 vote, Democrat Janesville Senator Tim Cullen was the lone no-vote. Proponents of the bill say the new rules would make the current law less complicated, including the protection of paying the state back for care if a surviving spouse dies. Opponents say the new bill would add additional costs to banks and could be in violation of federal law. The bill now goes to the state Assembly.

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 Wisconsin state senators split along party lines again this afternoon, when the upper house gave its first approval to having the Supreme Court elect its chief justice.  All 18 Republicans favored a proposed constitutional amendment to end the 124-year-old practice of having the justice with the longest seniority serve as the chief.  All 15 Democrats voted no.  They said the measure was clearly aimed at removing liberal Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who's been a justice for 37 years and the chief for the last 17.  Democrats said the Legislature has no business deciding how the court is led.  New Berlin Republican Mary Lazich said the people would have the final say in a statewide referendum as early as 2015.  One Assembly Republican said earlier that having the justices elect their chief would lead to less political derision and more collaborative justice.  The seven justices would choose their leader every two years, and there would be no limit on how long a chief justice could serve.  A limit of six consecutive years was removed today.  The Assembly is scheduled to take up the amendment on Thursday.  If it's passed there, it must pass both houses next session before it goes to the voters.

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Also this afternoon, senators voted unanimously to ban employers from asking workers and job candidates to hand over their Facebook passwords to their bosses.  Also, the Senate passed new requirements for high school students on a voice vote.  Students would have to take three credits each of math and science instead of the present two.  Computer science classes could be counted as a math course, and agricultural science could be a science credit.

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The Wisconsin State Senate voted 31-2 this afternoon to double the state's incentives to preserve historic buildings.  Republicans Glenn Grothman of West Bend and Neal Kedzie of Elkhorn were the only ones to vote no, as the upper house sent the measure to Governor Scott Walker.  The bill would double the tax credit for qualified historic preservation expenses from 10-percent of the cost to 20-percent.  The governor and Legislature approved a five-percent tax credit in the new state budget, and later doubled it to 10.  The bill encourages developers to preserve historic structures built before 1936.  Projects are pending in Green Bay, Racine, and Kenosha among other places.  Based on current activity, the tax credit is expected to cost eight-point-six million dollars from now until mid-2015.  Critics fear the new incentives would drive the tax credits out of control.  The bill orders the Joint Finance Committee to review the expenses in 2015. 

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State lawmakers today will consider a second cut-back of new rules to make survivors repay more of the government's Medicaid health costs for their elderly relatives.  The governor and Legislature approved new payback rules in the state budget in June.  They were first scaled back in September, as concerns grew that middle-class Wisconsinites would not be able to pass down their assets to their children and grandchildren.  Concerns were also raised that elderly couples would get divorced to try-and-shield more assets from the government as a payback for Medicaid.  Any paybacks under the new rules would not be required until both a recipient and a surviving spouse dies.  Both houses were scheduled to take up the proposed second cut-back.

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U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) asked Governor Scott Walker today to let 77.000 Wisconsinites stay on Badger-Care Plus for an extra three months.  In a letter to the Republican governor, Baldwin -- a Wisconsin Democrat -- said those losing their Medicaid coverage will need extra time to sign up for Obama-care under the federal purchasing exchange.  The exchange's Web site has made it hard for people to sign up -- but state officials say that folks are having success signing up by phone and by mail.  So today, the state's health agency began sending paper applications to all 77,000 recipients, confident that they'll sign up for Obama-care coverage by the deadline of December 15th.  Baldwin does not believe that will work.  She says those losing their Badger-Care should be allowed to remain on the program through the end of March.

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A 17-year-old boy who allegedly tried car-jacking a vehicle, and was later killed by police in downtown Milwaukee, was identified today as Shawn Rieves.  Police said Rieves tried but failed to get into a vehicle stopped at an intersection yesterday morning.  The driver sped away, and Rieves fired one shot with his semi-automatic handgun and missed.  The driver then gave officers a description of the suspect, and three officers caught up him inside the nearby Milwaukee County Transit Center.  Officials said Rieves ignored orders to drop his gun -- and when he moved in a threatening manner, the officers shot him.  Investigators were hoping to get video from the transit center -- but the cameras were not running at the time.  Officials said the transit building is rarely used. 

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 Three former employees with the City of Waukesha Public Works, accused of cashing in on scrap metal belonging to the city, have pleaded not guilty in court today. 57-year-old Daniel Llanas, 60-year-old Steven Olson and 48-year-old Daniel Owens are accused of selling over $20,000 in scrap metal from 2009 to 2013. According to a criminal complaint, one of the accused say it’s common practice to sell scrap metal for personal gain… prosecutors say that is not true. All three men were released on one-thousand dollar bond. A hearing is scheduled for January 3.

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About one-of-every-eight UW-Madison students is from a foreign country.  The state's largest campus enrolled 53-hundred international students this fall, about 500 more than a year ago.  Officials say it improves diversity on campus -- and of course, it brings in more revenue since the foreign students pay the higher out-of-state tuition rates.  The Institute of International Education says there's been a big influx of students from China.  UW-Milwaukee has been actively recruiting Chinese students.  In 2011, chancellor Mike Lovell signed an agreement to have 30-to-50 students from China attend UWM last fall.  That number was expected to grow by up to 150 students this fall, with 250 newcomers by 2015.  All told, Milwaukee has almost 1,400international students this fall, a 15-percent increase from a year ago.  China sent the most students by far to U-S colleges-and-universities a year ago, with a total of 236-thousand.  That was way more than the 194,000 Chinese students studying in America the previous year.  India had the second-largest number of U-S college students, with 97,000 last year.  South Korea was third, followed by Saudi Arabia and Canada. 

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Milwaukee's Rockwell Automation plans to buy another maker of automation equipment.  Rockwell said today it would acquire Jacobs Automation of Erlinger Kentucky.  Terms were not disclosed.  Jacobs is a maker of intelligence-tracking motion control equipment.  Jacobs makes the I-Trak system which is used for packaging, material handling, and other functions for the worldwide machine-building market.  Jacobs Automation president Keith Jacobs says the I-Trak system provides more flexibility for machine manufacturers.  Rockwell -- which makes automated industrial equipment and software -- said the acquisition of Jacobs would give its customers more access to new technology, and help them respond faster to changing market demands.  The deal is expected to close in January.  

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Wausau school superintendent Kathleen Williams says she has nothing to apologize for -- not now, at least.  The School Board voted 7-2 last night against a demand that Williams apologize for the recent controversy over a plan to have school choruses limit Christmas music in their holiday concerts.  The idea was scrapped after a high school choral director put his group on hiatus, saying the plan would eliminate his group's 15 Christmas programs to community groups.  The School Board ordered an investigation into the matter -- and Williams said an apology would prematurely judge her guilty.  The superintendent promised to apologize if the investigation blames her in the final analysis.  Also, Williams told both the School Board and the Wausau Daily Herald she received anonymous harassment and threats after the issue became public last month.  She said one woman called her at home, talked about her trees, and asked if Williams would quote, "look good hanging from one."  She found it ironic that quote, "All this ugly e-mail, hoping I'm hurt, all is in the name of Christ."  Lately, Williams said she has received lots of support -- including a long written apology from a pastor in Georgia who earlier wrote what she called a "rather hateful e-mail."

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Wisconsin employers could not ask their workers and job candidates for their social media passwords, under a bill up for a vote in the state Senate today.  Landlords and educational institutions would also be barred from seeking students-and-clients' passwords on Facebook and similar sites.  Some employers say they need to make sure their workers are not violating things like corporate-and-securities laws in discussing where they work.  However, lawmakers of both parties have called it a brash invasion of privacy.  Employers can still monitor their workers' use of company computers, and limit Web site access in the office.  

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It's been six years since Brett Favre played for the Green Bay Packers -- but he and his wife Deanna still donate to a bunch of worthy causes in Wisconsin.  The "Favre-4-Hope" foundation said yesterday it donated $180,000 to charitable groups this year both in the Badger State, and in Favre's home state of Mississippi.  The Wisconsin charities included Ribbon-of-Hope, the Rawhide boys' ranch at New London, and the Brett-and-Deanna Favre Miracle League in Green Bay.  The Favres' donations in Mississippi include Special Olympics and Make-a-Wish, and the athletic scholarship fund at Brett Favre's college alma mater at Southern Mississippi.  Favre has been retired from the NFL for three seasons.  He last played for the Packers in 2007.

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