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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: More than half of state residents approve of ACA

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Now that the Affordable Care Act is here, a new poll shows that more half of Wisconsinites support it. 

The Wisconsin Public Radio-Saint Norbert College survey shows that 54-percent favor Obama-care -- up from 46-percent a year ago, and 41-percent back in 2010.  Four-hundred eligible voters were polled by phone between October 9th and Monday, when there was lots of publicity about problems with the Web site for the federal government's purchasing exchange -- and how most people couldn't buy coverage due to all the glitches.  Two-of-every-three uninsured people who answered the poll said they planned to buy individual coverage through the exchange.  They'll have until December 15th to do so.  If they're not covered by January first, they face fines.

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A former La Crosse police lieutenant was scheduled to make his initial court appearance this afternoon, after he was accused of trying to steal painkillers.  44-year-old Brian Thomson was charged earlier today by the state Justice Department with one felony count of possessing narcotics.  He was arrested in mid-August, and was freed on a signature bond.  Prosecutors said others in the La Crosse Police Department became suspicious of Thomson after he started helping clerks file evidence logs, and asking co-workers for pain pills.  Assistant police chief Rob Abraham said he asked Thomson to log evidence of a duffle bag with fake Oxycontin -- and Abraham later noticed the pills were missing.  He also allegedly stole methamphetamines that were tagged as evidence.  Thomson resigned after he was arrested.  He spent 15 years on the La Crosse police force.

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Milwaukee's effort to have fewer teenage mothers has been a resounding success.  Officials said today that the city's teen birth rate was cut in half over the past seven years.  They credited an aggressive campaign that began in 2008 involving city health officials and an array of community groups.  Last year, Milwaukee had just under 26 births for every one-thousand girls ages 15-to-17.  That's less than the city's original goal of 30-births-per-thousand in that age group by 2016.  Mayor Tom Barrett said it was a momentous goal -- and reaching it three years early is a testament to what a community can do when it collaborates in all the right ways.  The campaign involved shock ads, and a new human growth-and-development curriculum in the Milwaukee Public Schools.

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Menominee tribal leaders met for an hour today with Governor Scott Walker, in a last-ditch effort to convince him to approve the tribe's proposed casino in Kenosha.  Tribal chairman Craig Corn said his group got its points across.  Corn confirmed earlier reports that the Menominee will pay a bigger share of its casino winnings to the state, and let the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk tribes pay less to off-set whatever lost revenues they have as a result of the new project.  Corn said the Gov. Walker made no promises -- and he expects an ongoing dialogue with the Walker administration this week.  Walker's office would only confirm that the meeting took place, and a decision would come by the end of the week.  The owners of the Hard Rock Café and casino chain would be in charge of building and managing the $800-million Kenosha casino and resort.  Hard Rock chairman Jim Allen said the Menominee proposal would quote, "backstop any loss of profits" to the state's other tribes.

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U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) is on the committee that's supposed to solve the budget crisis -- he got into verbal sparks with Hillary Clinton over the attack in Libya -- and he's been a fierce opponent of Obamacare.  Despite all that, the Republican Johnson remains somewhat of an unknown to Wisconsin voters in a new poll.  Johnson is the Oshkosh businessman who spent millions of his own money to unseat Democratic Senator Russ Feingold three years ago.  Even so, the Wisconsin Public Radio-Saint Norbert College poll shows that 33-percent have no opinion of Johnson -- or they still haven't heard of him.  The survey covered 400 people from October ninth through Monday, with an error margin of five-percent either way.  The poll makes it clear that Wisconsinites would rather not think of Congress, after their budget feuding led to a federal government shutdown.  Only 15-percent in the Public Radio-Saint Norbert poll gave Congress a favorable approval rating.  Democrats got 36-percent approval, and Republicans 32-percent.  President Obama received a 48-percent approval rating, while Republican Governor Scott Walker was at 50-percent.  Both are down a little from the last poll.

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Wisconsin gasoline prices continue to nudge downward -- a trend that experts say could drive prices down to around three-dollars a gallon by the end of the year.  The U.S. Energy Department reports today that the nation's oil supplies grew by one-point-two percent above a year ago, to almost 380-million barrels.  The total increase was five-point-two million barrels -- over two-million more than what analysts from Platts expected by now.  As a result, crude oil prices fell by almost two-dollars a barrel at one point in today's trading.  In a mid-morning trading, the price for benchmark Texas crude oil was around 97-dollars a barrel.  Oil analyst Jim Ritterbusch of Galena Illinois said we've seen a large buildup of supplies, as production keeps trending higher.  The end result has been a sizable drop in gasoline prices since Labor Day.  The Triple-"A" said today that the statewide average for regular unleaded is $3.33-a-gallon, around 20-cents less than a year ago.  Ritterbusch expects prices in southern Wisconsin to stay in the three-dollar to $3.25 range for the rest of this year.

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Thousands of young adults in Wisconsin are paying back college loans instead of buying cars and houses -- and three Democratic state lawmakers will try to change that.  At a news conference in Milwaukee today, the Democrats described their plan to create a new state authority that would sell bonds to refinance student loans -- and to create a state tax deduction for those who are paying down their loans.  No tax dollars would be used.  Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) is sponsoring the proposal, along with state Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and state Assembly Democrat Cory Mason of Racine.  They say tuitions have doubled since 2001, and Wisconsin graduates are leaving college with student loan debts averaging $22,000. The average monthly repayment is $338, and it takes grads almost 19 years to pay the loans off.  Two-thirds of Wisconsin graduates leave with loans, the 10th-highest rate in the nation.   The lawmakers say the tax deduction would save students $172 a year, and those with higher loan balances could save up to $400.

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A western Wisconsin man will spend three years in prison for killing an 84-year-old woman in a hit-and-run crash.  38-year-old Robert Boles of Hudson must also spend five years under extended supervision.  Saint Croix County authorities said Boles was looking down to make a call on his cell-phone when his car struck-and-killed Lucille Hansen of Roberts on a county road just over 13 months ago.  The vehicle kept going, until police found Boles and stopped his auto after seeing damage and blood on it.  Boles first claimed he hit a deer, and he didn't stop because he was scared.  He pleaded no contest to negligent homicide.  Charges of fatal hit-and-run and driving with a revoked license were dropped in a plea deal.  A judge told Boles to maintain absolutely sobriety, and pay court costs.  Restitution to the victim's family will be determined later.

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Two female staffers at the state prison near Racine are free on signature bonds, after being charged with having consensual sex with a male prisoner.  40-year-old Karina Herrera of Kenosha and 33-year-old Lisa Hawkins of Salem are both charged in Racine County with second-degree sexual assault by correctional employees.  Herrera is also charged with delivering illegal contraband to an inmate, and Hawkins faces a separate count of obstructing police.  According to prosecutors, Herrera gave a cell-phone to the male inmate.  Authorities later checked the phone and found images of the two women in sexual activity.  Prosecutors said there was also a video of Hawkins having sex with the man.  He has since been transferred to another lockup.  Hawkins' lawyer said the case was based on circumstantial evidence, and his client would later plead innocent.  Hawkins' next court appearance is November 14th, and Herrera is due back in court November 7th.  At each proceeding, a judge is expected to decide whether there's enough evidence to order trials.

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The former owners of a Waukesha industry have donated $100-million to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.  Mayo announced today that Robert-and-Patricia Kern agreed in August to give $67-million to the "Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery."  The Kerns gave Mayo another $20-million in 2011 to launch the center, which will use quality-and-engineering principles to improve how patients get their health care.  As part of the gift, the new center will be named in the Kerns' honor.  The couple has also given $13-million dollars in recent years to support Mayo's neuro-science research-and-education.  Robert Kern, who's now 87, started going to the Mayo Clinic at age-5 for specialized care.  He founded Generac Power Systems in Waukesha in 1959.  The company makes portable electric generators, and is now publicly-owned.  Mayo is not the only medical group getting a large donation from the Kerns.  They pledged $10-million dollars to the Medical College of Wisconsin in 2009 to hire researchers and help buy new equipment to identify disease-curing molecules.  The Kerns also donated a million dollars in 2007 for a new fine arts and recreation center in Robert's home town of Osage Iowa.  In 2006, the year the couple sold Generac, they thanked the employees by giving them up to $50,000 each in Christmas bonuses. 

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No criminal charges will be filed in the death of a skydiver near Oshkosh this summer.  Winnebago County prosecutors looked into the July 9th incident that killed skydiving instructor Paul Olsen of Belleville.  District Attorney Christian Gossett blamed it on bad weather and a communication breakdown.  He said Olsen's death could have been prevented, but no single person was at fault.  The 55-year-old Olsen and a skydiving student jumped 10-thousand-feet from a plane when they were blown off-course by a sudden burst of wind from an approaching storm.  Their parachute fell into Lake Butte des Morts.  The student swam to the shore, but Olsen drowned.  According to prosecutors, the owner of Skydive Adventure in Omro radioed Olsen's plane multiple times to try and get the instructor to abort the jump.  However, the pilot said he never got such a message until Olson and his student had already jumped. 

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A Waupun man is due back in court October 31st on charges that he extorted money by impersonating a judge and a police officer.  Dodge County prosecutors said 26-year-old James Dunham learned that a Beaver Dam area man allegedly had sexual contact with a 16-year-old girl and his cousin.  Officials said Dunham then called the man and passed himself off as Beaver Dam police officer Nathan Keener, saying he would keep quiet about the sexual allegations if the subject paid him money.  Officials said Dunham later texted his victim, claiming to be a judge who demanded money -- or else he would forward the allegations to a prosecutor.  The subject told police he had a relationship with a woman he thought was 24 -- and he only learned she was 16 after her mother contacted him.  After two months of calls, the man ended up paying Dunham around 15-hundred dollars -- even though the purported officer insisted it would take nine-thousand dollars to keep him out of prison.  Investigators said no actual officers were involved in the case.  A five-thousand-dollar cash bond was set for Dunham on felony counts of impersonating an officer, identity theft, and making threats.  At his next court appearance, a judge will decide if there's enough evidence to order a trial.

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An appeals court said the Kewaskum School District wrongly ignored an arbitrator's order to re-hire a teacher who was fired before the Act-10 bargaining limits took effect.  The Second District Appellate Court in Waukesha ruled this morning in favor of former special-ed teacher Linda Kiser.  She was fired in 2010 for using physical force against students.  She took the case to binding arbitration, which was eliminated when Act-10 was passed in 2011.  By then, however, the arbitrator gathered evidence in the case.  And in 2012, the arbitrator said much of the alleged force never happened, and Kewaskum officials were told to re-hire Kiser with back pay except for a 30-day suspension.  The school district claimed that the order was mute because it came after Act 10 took effect, even though the firing came before.  The appellate court threw out the argument, saying the arbitration was made when an existing contract was in force -- and therefore, the enforcement of the contract was protected by the Constitution.  Also, the court said the school district ignored the finding that Kiser did not engage in much of the alleged contact -- and re-instating her does not violate the public policy that the new bargaining law intended.  

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A sex abuse victim who got an $80,000 settlement from the Milwaukee Archdiocese cannot get more money from the church's bankruptcy case.  That's according to a new ruling from Federal Judge Rudolph Randa.  The male victim took part in a mediation program set up by the Catholic archdiocese 10 years ago.  He said he deserves to be a creditor in the church's bankruptcy, saying he was lied to during the mediation process.  Judge Randa disagreed.  He said state laws protect what's said during mediation sessions -- and it cannot be used as evidence in the church's bankruptcy proceeding.  Church spokesman Jerry Topczewski (top-shess-kee) praised the ruling, saying it's fair to everyone involved.  Hundreds of people have filed claims in the bankruptcy, saying they should be compensated for being molested by priests in the archdiocese.  The man who questioned his mediation was abused by the late Father Lawrence Murphy -- who was suspected of molesting hundreds of boys at a school for the deaf in suburban Milwaukee. 

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If you have old prescription drugs you're not taking, you're urged to get rid of them on Saturday.  Wisconsin is taking part in the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.  The idea is to keep medicines out of the hands of abusers -- and to discourage folks from flushing them down the toilet and causing sewage pollution.  Wisconsin will have a number of participating drop-off sites.  A list can be found at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Web site at DEA.gov  In April, Wisconsinites disposed of 23 tons of unwanted or expired medicines at 180 Take-Back locations.  Over 30 more tons of drugs were dropped off last year on two similar drop-off days in the Badger State.

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Sean Scallon
Sean Scallon has been a reporter and Sports Editor at the Pierce County Herald newspaper in Ellsworth since 1998. He holds a bachelors degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's also worked at newspapers in Glenwood City, Wisconsin; Marion, Illinois and Shawano, Wisconsin. Sean also works as a sports reporter for other newspapers and websites in RiverTown Multimedia from River Falls to Hudson to New Richmond and Red Wing.
(715) 273-4334
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