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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: State has lowest flu vaccination rate in U.S.

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Wisconsin adults age-18-to-64 have one of the nation's lowest flu vaccination rates -- and they're the ones most likely to be hospitalized this winter.  

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The Trust for America's Health said today that Wisconsin ranks 47th among the 50 states in the percentage of young and middle-aged adults with flu shots.  Also, the Badger State was one of just three in which flu vaccination rates dropped from a year ago.  Kansas and Florida were the others.  State health officials said almost 600 people were hospitalized with the flu from October fifth through January ninth.  About two-thirds of those people were adults 18-to-64 -- not the children and seniors who are normally the biggest targets for hospitalization.  The Trust for America's Health says we only have ourselves to blame.  Just 15-percent of 18-to-24-year-olds had flu shots as of January ninth.  Twenty percent of 25-to-49-year-olds were immunized, as were 35-percent of 50-to-64-year-olds.  Milwaukee has about a quarter of the state's flu hospitalizations -- and city health officials say those cases are 40-percent higher than a year ago.  Also, they're the highest since the swine flu pandemic of 2009.  The H1N1 swine flu is the most common flu in the state again this winter, although not as prevalent as in '09.

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Almost 41,000 Wisconsinites signed up for health insurance by the end of December under the federal government's purchasing exchange.  That's way more than the five-thousand state residents who had signed up by the end of November.  However, just six-percent of the expected 700,000 Wisconsinites who need Obamacare coverage have signed up for it.  That number includes those previously uninsured, plus BadgerCare recipients and high-risk pool members who will lose their state coverage at the end of March.  The Obama-care exchanges opened up in October -- but problems with the Healthcare.gov website made it difficult to sign up through October and much of November.  This year's deadline for getting coverage through the exchanges is March 31st.  Concerns have been raised that not enough young and healthy people will sign up, thus leaving less in premium revenues to treat older and sicker adults.  However, Nancy Delew of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says those 55-to-64 were expected to sign up early -- and younger adults are expected to wait until the enrollment deadline gets closer.

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Wisconsin's Scott Walker was among a bipartisan group of governors scheduled to meet with President Obama at the White House today.  The Republican Walker joined five others from the National Governors Association's executive committee -- including Democrat Mark Dayton from neighboring Minnesota.  Obama and the governors were expected to talk about cooperation between state-and-federal governments.  Walker's office also said the governor was planning to meet on his own with wounded soldiers the Walter Reed Medical Center.  

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Eau Claire County authorities expect to say more this afternoon about an exchange of gunfire in which a deputy wounded a man.  It happened last night in the town of Union.  Deputies said they were called to a domestic violence incident -- and they said a woman appeared to be in danger, so they brought in a tactical unit.  Officials said a man left the house and fired at a deputy with an assault-type rifle.  After an exchange of gunfire, the officer struck the man.  He was taken to a hospital for treatment.  Sheriff's officials said they were familiar with the man, after responding to the home a dozen times over the past two years.  The sheriff's department said the suspect was threatening and uncooperative in previous encounters, and weapons have been removed from the home.  The deputy is on administrative leave.  The Eau Claire city police were called in to investigate.  

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Authorities in Tomah said a man who accidentally shot himself illegally owned the gun that wounded him.  Authorities got a 9-1-1 call yesterday from a man who said he was just shot.  The call was disconnected before a second call was placed -- and a dispatcher heard no one on the line.  Tomah Police went to the man's apartment -- and while that was happening, the man went to a hospital.  He was stabilized and then flown to a hospital in La Crosse.  His condition was not immediately disclosed.  The incident remains under investigation.  Officials said the man was a convicted felon, and he faces a possible charge of illegally possessing a firearm as a felon.

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A 21-year-old woman from Superior died today, after she was implanted with an artificial heart.  The Duluth News-Tribune said Mara Krysiak inspired many people in northwest Wisconsin and northeast Minnesota over the way she fought for her life.  Krysiak was the second person to receive an artificial heart implant at Children's Hospital near Milwaukee on November 11th.  The family said she developed a blood infection just over a week ago.  

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Two men killed by a hit-and-run driver in northwest Wisconsin were identified today as 28-year-old Benjamin Juarez of rural Luck and 41-year-old Richard Cobenais Junior of Frederic.  Polk County authorities said the two men got into a fight that spilled from a house onto County Trunk "E" -- and a pick-up truck killed the two men and kept going.  It happened Saturday night at the Round Lake Indian community.  Investigators said they're looking for a dark-colored pick-up with an auxiliary amber light on top.  The truck might have damage in the area of the passenger side head-light.  

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A La Crosse woman has been convicted of helping her boyfriend try to escape an arrest for murder.  23-year-old Brittany Jones struck a plea deal with prosecutors.  She pleaded guilty yesterday to a felony charge of harboring a felon and misdemeanor bail jumping.  A charge of obstructing an officer as a repeat offender was dropped.  Prosecutors said Jones helped 26-year-old Mitrel Anderson leave town, after he allegedly stabbed 24-year-old Demario Lee to death last June second at a downtown La Crosse convenience store.  Lee was from Rockford, Illinois and was in La Crosse to visit relatives.  Anderson and Jones were arrested in Madison the next day, where police caught them leaving an apartment building.  Jones is scheduled to be sentenced February 18th.  Anderson is scheduled to have a week-long trial starting June ninth for first-degree intentional homicide.

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A construction worker was killed yesterday at the site of a renovation project at the Edgewater Hotel in downtown Madison.  Rescuers were called just after 2 p.m. to the hotel along Madison's Lake Mendota, north of the UW campus. The project's main contractor, J.H. Findorff-and-Son, said there was a "serious accident."  It released almost no other details.  The Dane County dispatch center told WKOW-TV that a call came in about somebody falling 20-feet from the hotel construction site.  Madison police-and-fire crews were called, along with the Dane County Medical Examiner.  An investigator from the U.S. Occupational Safety-and-Health Administration arrived at the site later.  A 98-million-dollar expansion-and-renovation of the Edgewater Hotel began in 2012.  The hotel is scheduled to re-open this summer. 

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A 70-year-old woman killed in a northern Wisconsin snowmobile crash was identified today as Patricia Curran from the Milwaukee suburb of Menomonee Falls.  Sheriff's officials said Curran's machine hit a wire and a tree after leaving a public trail near Phillips on Saturday afternoon.  At least seven people have died in state snowmobile crashes so far this winter. 

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Budget cuts have hit all types of government -- and convicts have told officers it's easier to commit drug crimes in rural areas.  Not true, says Shawano County sheriff's captain Tom Tuma.  He tells the Green Bay Press-Gazette that more rural counties are partnering with others to nab drug dealers on a regional basis -- with the goal of eliminating the perception of "safe zones."  Tuma says rural officers have spoken with jail inmates who are doing time for drug crimes -- and because smaller agencies have fewer resources, drug criminals are working in those areas more extensively.  Tuma says drug officers are trying to get the message out to dealers that quote, "We're on to you" -- and they'll work aggressively to prevent drug criminals from further exploiting remote areas.  State lines are not an issue, either.  In Marinette County, Wisconsin and Menominee County, Michigan, officers made 76 joint arrests last year for distributing illegal drugs.  That's a 50-percent increase from the previous year.  Also, federal agents get involved when drug lines flow to places like Milwaukee and Chicago.

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State Assembly Republican Joel Kleefisch blamed quote, "mis-information" for his decision to pull back a bill to reduce child support payments for wealthy parents.  A public hearing has been scrapped for tomorrow, after the Oconomowoc lawmaker received heaping criticism for letting a campaign donor write much of the measure.  It's been reported that former Columbus Mayor Michael Eisenga was looking to reduce a 15-thousand-dollar child support bill each month -- and that Eisenga has given thousands in campaign money to Kleefisch and his wife, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.  In a statement today, Joel Kleefisch -- said his bill recognized the value of both parents in bringing up a child -- and it's an issue he intends to keep pursuing.  He did not say whether he'd try to bring back the measure he withdrew today.  Critics said the measure would take vital discretion away from the judges that handle divorce cases.  A lawyer for Eisenga's ex-wife said the bill should quote, "never have been submitted in the first place."

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The Wisconsin State Senate unanimously ratified one-year contracts today for five smaller state employee unions.  The state Assembly was scheduled to act on the new deals today.  They would provide one-percent pay raises to about 2,400 professional education-and-legal employee, building trade-and-patient care workers, and research-and-statistical personnel.  Many larger state unions chose not to negotiate under Act-10, which limits bargaining to pay raises at-or-below inflation.  The raises for the five unions are the same as the one-percent pay hikes given to non-union employees in July.  If the Assembly approves them and Governor Scott Walker signs them, the raises would be retroactive to June 30th.  

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Most of Wisconsin's state-and-local government retirees could have something to look forward to this spring -- higher pension checks for the first time since 2008.  State Employee Trust Funds Secretary Robert Conlin says the core fund for retirees grew by 13-and-a-half percent last year -- and a more risky variable fund mushroomed by 29-percent.  All 167,000 people in the state retirement system get pensions from the core fund.  Around 40,000 investors are in the variable fund.  Like most of us, government retirees were hit hard by a loss of their pension funds during the Great Recession.  The state spread the losses over five years of pension checks.  The retirement fund covers state, local, and public school employees except for Milwaukee city-and-county personnel -- which have their own system.  

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Wisconsin's growing problem of heroin abuse will be addressed today at the State Capitol.  The state Assembly is scheduled to vote on a package of four bills authored by Marinette Republican John Nygren, whose teenage daughter almost died from a heroin overdose in 2009.  The bills would let trained emergency responders provide Narcan, which counter-acts heroin overdoses -- provide immunity for those who call 911 to report overdoses -- require ID's to obtain prescription narcotics -- and expand local prescription drug collection drives.  Nygren says the bills are a good start, and none are quote, "silver bullets that are going to stop the problem that we face."  Also today, the Assembly will consider tightening the requirements for candidates who barely lose elections to get free recounts.  To qualify, the margins of defeat would have to be one-quarter-percent instead of the current half percent. Otherwise, recounts would cost $25 per ward instead of the current five-dollars -- and if the losing margin is one-percent or greater, requestors would have to pay the full cost of their recounts no matter what they end up being.

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Legislation being proposed at the Capitol would give police more tools to go after human trafficking. Under the bill, police will have more flexibility when investigating suspected human trafficking cases and allow them to seize property and materials tied to the crimes. Marathon State Senator Jerry Petrowski, a co-sponsor of the bill, says the proposal is part of an initiative by the Department of Justice, law enforcement and legislators to address a problem. The measure would also allow victims who have been charged with prostitution to have those records expunged. Advocates say many victims are afraid to come forward because they fear prosecution for committing a crime.

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Wisconsinites will have their say tomorrow on a bill to ban cell-phone use while driving through construction zones.  The state Senate's transportation panel will hear testimony on a bill introduced last month by Marathon Republican Jerry Petrowski.  Over 15 lawmakers from both parties have co-sponsored the measure.  Petrowski said the highway commissioner in his home county of Marathon suggested the bill -- which is aimed at reducing distracted driving while protecting road workers in the construction zones.  First-offenses would carry a $20 fine.

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For the first time since the September 11th attacks, the first floor doors to the Wisconsin state Capitol have re-opened. The doors had been closed for the past 12 years as a security measure, allowing for just one entryway on the ground floor. Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch says the opening is both a literal and symbolic gesture to show that the Capitol is open and transparent.  

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Gogebic Taconite says the state DNR wants too much information before it will let the company start drilling to test bulk samples from its proposed iron ore mine.  Last month, the DNR asked for 11 clarifications about its excavation plans before it would issue an air pollution permit.  The state also wanted 29 other clarifications before issuing a required storm-water permit.  Yesterday, the DNR released a response from Gogebic Taconite engineer Timothy Meyer.  He said the DNR's questions go far beyond the state's involvement in the bulk sampling process.  But Meyer answered the questions anyway, so the process could keep moving forward.  DNR officials have not commented on the company's contention that it's seeking too much data.  Gogebic's trying to get permission to excavate four-thousand tons of rock at five locations of its proposed mine in Ashland and Iron counties.

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Public hearings begin today on new, permanent rules for hunting in Wisconsin state parks.  The new rules are not much different than the temporary emergency rules adopted a year ago.  That was after the governor and Legislature passed a law in 2012 allowing hunting-and-trapping on state-owned recreational properties.  Under the permanent rules, park hunting seasons would be the same as last year.  Bans on shooting across trails would be made permanent, along with a requirement for dog-proof traps on dry lands.  The DNR's public hearings are set for today in Appleton, January 21st in Eau Claire, the 22nd in Wausau, and the 23rd in Fitchburg.

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Only eight people spoke out at a public meeting in Milwaukee last night on the newest proposals to keep the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.  Most supported options that would close the water link between the carp-infested Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.  The Army Corps of Engineers gave Congress eight options last week, without recommending any of them.  The Corps says a permanent solution would cost up to $18-billion  -- and would take as long as 25 years to complete.  That's way too long, according to Nature Conservancy state director Mary Jean Huston.  She said the economic risks to the Great Lakes are too high for such a long project.  Kenneth Fries of the Little Muskego Lakes Association said the Corps should upgrade its electronic fish barrier west of Chicago, and then work on longer-term solutions.  Wisconsin and most other Great Lakes' states favor closing the Chicago Sanitary-and-Ship Canal to keep the bloated carp out of Lake Michigan -- but Chicago business leaders say the area's commerce would suffer if the canal is cut off.  Last night's public meeting was the second-of-seven planned on the Corps' recommendations.  Today, the Corps will discuss its report with state DNR officials in Madison.

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The state Agriculture Department has a new leader for its natural resource programs.  Keith Foye has been named the director of the Bureau of Land-and-Water Resources.  Foye began his career as a county conservationist in Clark County before joining the ag department in 1988 as a land-and-water planning analyst.  He was named the agency's land management chief in 1992.  The land-and-water bureau is responsible for a host of programs that include farmland preservation, livestock siting, agricultural enterprise areas, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, and ag impact statements.  The bureau is also involved in the state's soil-and-water resource management program.  Foye began his new duties yesterday.  He's replacing Kathy Pielsticker, who recently retired.

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A Milwaukee man will not get a new trial for killing his girlfriend with an ice-pick while their three children hid in a closet and heard the whole thing.  The First District Appeals Court today upheld a homicide conviction against 66-year-old Eddie Lee Anthony.  He's serving a life prison term, after he was found guilty in the 2010 death of 43-year-old Sabrina Junior.  Prosecutors said Anthony stabbed the woman 45 times during an argument.  The appellate court refused to buy Anthony's claim that he should have been allowed to testify that he acted in self-defense.  He also said prosecutors were wrong not to include an African-American minister in his jury.

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A Milwaukee father-and-son are charged in the murder of a man who refused to hand over 50-dollars in a New Year's Eve robbery attempt.  45-year-old Eric Hill was being held under a quarter-million dollar bond on charges of first-degree intentional homicide and attempted armed robbery.  25-year-old Deonte Hill is charged with felony murder, bail jumping, and illegally possessing a gun as a convicted felon.  He's under a 150-thousand dollar bond.  According to prosecutors, both Hills and 36-year-old Fernando Winters were at a northwest side hotel to collect money that a woman owed them.  Eric Hill then allegedly tried robbing Winters of his 50-dollars just outside the hotel.  Prosecutors said Hill ended up shooting Winters twice, and never got his money.  Meanwhile, Deonte Hill told police he was listening to loud music close by, while smoking marijuana -- and he never heard the shots.  A surveillance camera at a nearby hotel caught the shooting on tape. Both Hills are due back in court next Tuesday for preliminary hearings.

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A Milwaukee teenager is facing nine criminal charges, after he allegedly kidnapped a woman who had just broken up with him.  18-year-old Charles Gregory was placed under a 25-thousand-dollar bond during his initial appearance yesterday in Racine County Circuit Court.  Prosecutors said Gregory and a 17-year-old girl fought at the home of one of his relatives in Milwaukee last Sunday.  Officials said he refused to hand over her car keys -- and instead, he pushed her into her vehicle and drove south.  They stopped at a gas station at Sturtevant in Racine County, where she reportedly convinced a clerk to call police before he came in and took her away.  The State Patrol stopped the vehicle in Kenosha County.  Officers said Gregory was apparently trying to drive the girl to Chicago.  He's charged in Racine County with kidnapping, false imprisonment, two counts of reckless endangerment, vehicle theft, two counts of criminal, battery, and bail jumping.  Five of the nine charges are felonies.  A preliminary hearing on those counts is set for January 23rd.

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Milwaukee Police said three children were found to be abused, after they were rescued from a burning duplex and taken to a hospital.  Police said the children's injuries were not related to the fire, which broke out yesterday morning in a duplex on Milwaukee's south side.  A 25-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of physical child abuse.  Officials said the fire may have started in the building's attic, but the exact cause remains under investigation.  Three families were displaced, and the Red Cross was helping them at last word.  No one was hurt as a direct result of the blaze. 

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A Milwaukee man pleaded guilty today to driving a getaway car for a man who allegedly murdered a store clerk in a robbery last August.  29-year-old Mikal Jones was convicted of a reduced charge, and is due to be sentenced March 11th.  Jones was originally charged with felony murder, armed robbery, and bank card fraud.  Authorities said he drove 26-year-old Jason Wandick from a Family Dollar store on Milwaukee's south side.  Wandick is accused of robbing the store and shooting the clerk, 44-year-old William Melendez Junior.  Melendez died the next day.  Wandick is set for a final pre-trial court hearing on Wednesday.  He's scheduled to go on trial two weeks from today on charges of felony murder, armed robbery, resisting an officer, and illegally possessing a gun as a convicted felon.

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A Milwaukee County bus route supervisor was given his old job back today, three months after he was fired for helping a woman who was being assaulted.  47-year-old William Bierman says he'll return to work next week after a meeting between him, the managing director for Milwaukee Transport Services, and attorneys for both.  He'll also get an undetermined amount of back pay.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said Bierman was let go for helping a woman on a street who was attacked by a man who was apparently drunk.  Bierman said he was trying to be a Good Samaritan, but transit officials said he could have exposed them to potential liability.  The Transit System came under heavy criticism once the firing hit the news.  County Executive Chris Abele watched videos which appeared to back up the supervisor's story -- and he asked agency officials to reconsider the termination.  Bierman tells the Journal Sentinel he has mixed feelings about coming back.  He said he missed the drivers he supervised and their passengers -- but he believes he'll have a target on his back. 

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New studies are being planned to try and liven-up a growing dead zone in the Bay of Green Bay.  The Great Lakes Commission and the U.S. Agriculture Department are spear-heading a one-million-dollar experiment to provide oxygen that's currently lacking in the dead zone.  A second project is headed by the Green Bay sewerage district's NEW Water program and the Oneida Indian tribe.  They'll test various methods for reducing phosphorus runoff.   High phosphorus levels are blamed for the dead water, in which there's not enough oxygen to keep fish and other local organisms alive.  Experts say the problem can be corrected -- but it might take a couple decades.  For years, farms have been required to have plans to reduce their runoff into the bay.  Various techniques will start being tested this spring.  The studies will deal with the impact on area farms.  Bill Hafs of the NEW Water program says farms are responsible for over half the phosphorus placed into lower Green Bay and the adjoining Fox River.

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Many Wisconsinites celebrated the end of last week's cold snap by walking outside, and getting hurt in the process.  Doctor Al Salmi of Saint Mary's Hospital in Green Bay says he hadn't seen as many cases of slipping-and-falling as he saw this past weekend.  Temperatures rose above freezing after being well-below zero for the greater part of a week.  Salmi tells WLUK-TV in Green Bay that no extremity is safe when falling on the ice -- and even the most agile person can go down quickly with just one mis-step.  Prevea Health therapist Heidi Gutschow said the best way to walk on the ice is to take shorter steps, so your weight stands a little more upright.  It also helps to turn the feet out a little bit -- and to wear outdoor sport shoes or hiking boots on the ice.  

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Free fishing weekend is this Saturday and Sunday in Wisconsin. Department of Natural Resources education director Theresa Stabo says the free fishing weekend is an opportunity for people of all ages to go out and enjoy some ice fishing. Several state parks and groups are hosting shore and ice fishing events on Saturday. If you’re in need of some fishing gear, several DNR offices and sites will lend out fishing gear for the day. More information on the free fishing weekend and list of scheduled events are on the department’s website at www.dnr.wi.gov. While the fishing is free this weekend, park stickers are still required to enter state parks for the fishing events.

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