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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Law drawn up to make e-cigarette's legal

MADISON - A state lawmaker is pushing to make sure electronic cigarettes can be used in bars and restaurants across Wisconsin.

State Senator Glenn Grothman, a Republican from West Bend, says the devices can help people drop traditional tobacco products, and he wants to make it clear that the statewide smoking ban does not apply to them. Grothman is sponsoring a bill that would update the statewide smoking ban to make it clear that e-cigarettes are allowed in public places.


Two Wisconsin nursing home workers have been sentenced for allegedly recording nude elderly patients with their cellphones. 23-year-old Michelle Bulger of Cecil and 20-year-old Ashley Schaumberg of Pulaski were given two years of probation for misdemeanor invasion of privacy and disorderly conduct. Both of the accused also received some jail time (Bulger six months, Schaumberg 30 days). The two caregivers at Brookview Meadows in Howard were accused of recording and sharing images of unclothed patients in 2012. Both suspects were fired after an internal investigation.


Unemployment went up in November in eight of Wisconsin's 12 metro areas.  Milwaukee's actual, un-adjusted jobless rate held steady from October at six-and-a-half percent.  Madison's rate also held steady at four-point-one percent, the lowest among the 12 metros.  Racine saw its jobless rate go down by two-tenths, to seven-point-seven percent -- still the highest in the Badger State.  The La Crosse area also had a slight decrease of one-tenth of a point, to four-point-three.  The other metros had increases of either one-tenth of a percent or two-tenths.  Preliminary figures showed that La Crosse gained a seasonally-adjusted one-thousand jobs during November -- but because of the small numbers of employers sampled, those figures are heavily revised later on.  Madison reported the largest job loss, around 900.  Fifty-three of the state's 72 counties saw their actual unemployment go up in November.  Iron County has the highest jobless rate at 13.2 percent.  Among cities, Racine was the highest at 11.2.  Wisconsin's adjusted jobless rate was six-point-three percent last month, down from six-and-a-half in October.  The new statewide rate was also seven-tenths below the national average.


A well-known Milwaukee criminal defense attorney has been suspended for the second time in two years.  Bridget Boyle was given a six-month suspension today by the State Supreme Court.  It means she'll have to re-apply for her license if she wants to practice law again.  The court said Boyle was punished for the same problems listed in her original suspension -- a lack of communication with clients, charging a fee that was deemed unreasonable, and not returning parts of fees that she didn't earn.  The justices imposed a longer penalty than the four months' recommended by both the state's Office of Lawyer Regulation, and a referee in her new disciplinary case.  The Supreme Court wrote that Boyle cannot practice law again, until she proves that she has taken steps to avoid similar misconduct in the future.  Her first suspension was for 60 days about a year-and-a-half ago, with orders to pay five-thousand-dollars in restitution, and 11-thousand for the costs of prosecuting her case.  Boyle was told to pay $23,000 for costs in the current case.  Three months before that, the federal appeals court in Chicago barred her from practicing law in U.S. courts in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.


A frac-sand processor in central Wisconsin has been ordered to pay $80,000 for allegedly violating state air pollution limits.  The state Justice Department announced the penalty today against Completion Industrial Minerals' Marshfield plant.  Officials said the company did not update its construction permit application to include changes that were made during work at its facility.  The firm was also accused of continuing construction work after its state permit expired.  The Justice Department also cited other violations on the reporting of a dust plan, and not installing a monitor for air emissions.  Completion Industrial Minerals is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas.


For folks in Ashland, the 31-inch snowstorm on Sunday and Monday is a distant memory.  That's because the region continues to get hit with quick bursts of snow, 1-to-2 inches at a time.  That's been the story in much of Wisconsin this month -- and it's really adding up.  Duluth-Superior is known for drowning in the white stuff -- and they're having the third-snowiest December on record.  The Duluth Airport has picked up 39-inches so far, just five-inches short of a record set in 1950.  You'd think that all this snow would eliminate Wisconsin's drought -- but it's not.  The U.S. Drought Monitor said today that 40-percent of the state's land area remains abnormally dry or worse.  That's lower than the 60-percent that was dry three months ago.  Most of the western-third of Wisconsin is still under a drought status, with an eastward spike to the Montello-and-Green Lake areas.  Wisconsin's worst drought in decades ended in the spring of this year, but it came back to a lesser extent in July when heavy June rains disappeared.


It's a lot warmer in Wisconsin today than on Christmas Eve -- but forecasters are already warning us about another cold snap next week.  After a mild day on Saturday, the National Weather Service says temperatures will drop into the single-digits in most of the state for early Sunday -- and then back below zero on Monday morning.  The coldest wind-chills of the season are predicted for southern Wisconsin, at 20-to-30-below from Sunday night through Tuesday morning.  Forecasters say the new cold spell could last a week-or-two -- longer than the ones we've already had.  Milwaukee is already going through its coldest December in five years.  The Weather Service said it's been zero-or-below five times this month in Milwaukee -- the most since December of 2000.  The city also had its first sub-zero days for December since 2008.  It's noticeably warmer now than on Christmas Eve.  At 10 this morning, parts of southwest Wisconsin were in the 20's.  Only the far northern part of the state had readings in the single-digits.  Winds were either light or non-existent, so wind chills are not a problem in most of the state today.  A couple more doses of light snow are possible through tomorrow.  A dry weekend is in store, after up to five-and-a-half inches of snow fell in northern and central areas on Tuesday and Wednesday.


Authorities are investigating a fire that killed a 61-year-old man near Wisconsin Dells on Christmas Day.  Juneau County sheriff's officials said a passer-by reported the blaze around 3:40 yesterday afternoon in the town of Lyndon, five miles north of the Dells. Several people entered the house, and got the victim out -- but he later died from his injuries.  The man's name was not immediately released.  


A suburban Milwaukee lawyer was disbarred today, when the State Supreme Court told him to re-pay 160-thousand dollars to a pair of estates he administered.  Perry Friesler of Mequon agreed to give up his law license, after he said he could not defend the allegations against him.  Friesler was accused of misappropriating 72-thousand-dollars while handling a probate case in Ozaukee County -- plus another 105-thousand from an estate in Milwaukee County.  The re-payment order did not include $17,000 that was charged for his fees.  Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote that the justices were not aware of any criminal prosecution in the matters.  Online court justices did not show any criminal action against the attorney.  


An obscure government agency in Wisconsin has arranged $1.3 billion dollars in mostly tax-free loans to businesses throughout the U.S.  The Wisconsin State Journal of Madison said the Public Finance Authority has helped investors and developers get together on "conduit bonds."  The bonds include federal tax-exempt status on whatever interest the investors earn.  They're not as secure as conventional government bonds, which guarantee that lenders will get their investments repaid.  The State Journal said the Wisconsin authority was created at the urging of the National Association of Counties.  Capital program manager James Hamill says the Wisconsin authority is one of just a few that makes deals not related to their home states, and without having a public employee as its director.  Hamill said only about a quarter of the Wisconsin group's 46 projects over the last three years have involved investments within the state.  Andrew Reschovsky of UW-Madison says the bonds can set lower interest rates for the investors -- and the state can use them to compete with other states for jobs.  However, Reschovsky notes that when somebody's exempt from a tax, other taxpayers must pick up the slack.  Hamill says the Wisconsin projects are only exempt from federal taxes.


Almost 30 Wisconsin public schools offer classes online -- so it stands to reason that UW-Oshkosh is offering specialized virtual teacher training.  The state Department of Public Instruction helped the Oshkosh campus launch its first virtual student-teaching program this year.  Participants are teaching online for nine weeks -- followed by nine weeks of traditional student-teaching in the classroom.  Professor Stacey Skoning tells the Oshkosh Northwestern that some virtual school teachers brought up the idea of specialized training.  Skoning said her school took steps to meet the need.  The DPI says over 67-hundred Wisconsin students are enrolled in 28 virtual charter schools.  Many school districts offer their own virtual classes.  The Oshkosh district has them for middle-and-high school youngsters, and they're incorporated into the traditional brick-and-mortar programs.  


Authorities in northeast Wisconsin continue to investigate a one-vehicle crash that killed a 21-year-old Green Bay woman.  It happened just after 10:30 last night near Little Suamico on Highway 41-141.  Oconto County sheriff's officials said the vehicle was going south on County Trunk "S" when it veered into a ditch and overturned.  The driver -- who was not immediately identified -- was thrown from the vehicle.  She died at the scene.  No one else was in her vehicle.


The blogger who broke the story about Target's security breach now identifies who might have done it.  Brian Krebs -- a former Washington Post reporter who now writes a blog about security issues -- says Andrew Hodirevski from the Ukraine appears to be the likely suspect.  He bases that on comments posted on Web sites used by hackers.  The New York Times says Krebs is not linking Hodirevski to the data breach itself -- but Krebs says the suspect is allegedly offering the scammed debit-and-credit card data to identity thieves for up to 100-dollars a card.  Officials said the hackers appeared to have access to data from all 18-hundred U-S Target stores, including about 40 in Wisconsin.  Krebs first reported last week that somebody broke into computers connected to the boxes where Target customers swipe their cards.  Up to 40-million customers had their data compromised, but there's no way of knowing yet how many actual identity theft victims there could be.  The matter remains under investigation by the Minneapolis-based Target and the federal government.  


The Red Cross is helping a family forced out of its home by a Christmas chimney fire.  Three fire departments were called early last evening to a single-family house in the Jackson County towns of Adams, near Black River Falls.  Officials believe an active fire-place might have caused the larger fire in the chimney and nearby walls.  The house had smoke detectors working, and everybody escaped without injury.