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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: State involved in SSM federal appeal in court today

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Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

CHICAGO - State attorneys from Wisconsin and Indiana will tell a federal appeals court today why their states' bans on same-sex marriages should be upheld.  

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The Seventh Circuit appellate court in Chicago will hear arguments this morning.  Federal district judges recently threw out gay marriage bans in both the Badger and Hoosier states, but both remain in place pending the appeals. Each side will get 20 minutes to state their cases before a three-judge panel. The American Civil Liberties' Union and the gay rights' group Lambda Legal filed lawsuits challenging the two states' bans, and they'll speak for their side today.  It's not clear when a ruling will be issued.  The court consolidated the two states' cases in July.  In written briefs, both Wisconsin and Indiana argued that states should be the ones to set marriage standards. The ACLU argues that the freedom to marry is a "core aspect of personal liberty" that's being denied to same-sex couples.   Gay marriage advocates have won over 20 court cases around the country, since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Defense-of-Marriage Act in 2013.  Same-sex marriages are now legal in 19 states and Washington D.C.  Yesterday, more than 50 gay marriage supporters gathered in a plaza near Chicago's federal court building. Some carried signs reading, "Equal Rights from Coast-to-Coast," and "Love is Love."

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James Foley was held in a cell with 18 other hostages -- and they created their own games of checkers, trivia, and Risk to keep up their spirits.  That's according to a letter the Marquette University graduate wrote from a Syrian prison.  His family posted it on Facebook right after a memorial Mass in New Hampshire on Sunday night.  The 40-year-old Foley was beheaded by the Islamic State in a video released last week.  He'll be honored at a memorial vigil in Milwaukee tonight at the Gesu Church on the east edge of the Marquette campus.  Foley, a U.S. freelance journalist, was kidnapped on Thanksgiving of 2012 while covering the Syrian civil war.  His family said he tried writing a number of letters home, but jailers confiscated them.  A fellow hostage memorized one of Foley's letters -- and when that hostage was freed, he called Foley's mother Diane and read it to her.  Foley asked his grandmother to take her medicines, and he promised to take her out to dinner when he got home.  Media reports said the letter appeared to be written sometime this year.  He said he was being fed better, and had regained weight he lost last year.  Foley also told his family to "stay strong."

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A 59-year-old woman was killed in northwest Wisconsin, after she was hit by a train while walking a dog.  Douglas County sheriff's deputies said the woman had just left a grocery store in Solon Springs when she walked around a railroad crossing arm that was lowered, and was hit by a train on the Canadian National tracks.  That was about 6:15 last evening.  Officials said lights and bells were running at the time.  Deputies are investigating, along with the Douglas County medical examiner's office and railroad police.

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Ashley Furniture of Arcadia now says it plans to add jobs -- not cut them, as allowed under an arrangement for a state tax break.  Senior executive Bill Koslo says the company is looking to fill 200 vacancies at its Arcadia plant, and it wants to add more jobs.  The state's Economic Development Corporation approved a deal in January in which Ashley would get up to six-million dollars in tax breaks to expand its headquarters.  The deal also allowed the firm to cut its four-thousand member Wisconsin workforce by up to half in 2018.  The deal has not been signed or carried out yet.  Ashley said it protects the company in the event of another disaster -- like the major flood in its hometown in 2010 which shut down the Arcadia plant temporarily.  The company said yesterday the proposed six-million dollar tax break would go to the city for a flood control project, after the city was rejected for other funding.  According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Ashley Furniture told the state's largest business group it plans to grow its business by seven-percent this year, and open a newly re-furbished plant in Independence this fall. It's also working on a second expansion to its plant in Whitehall in the past two years.  While campaigning in De Pere yesterday, Governor Scott Walker said the city of Arcadia asked for the tax break so it could keep a major employer -- and the amount has not been finalized.  

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Fire destroyed three boats at a marina in Door County.  The blaze started around seven last evening at Skipper Bud's Quarter-Deck Marina in Sturgeon Bay.  Crews worked throughout the night to clean up the area, and keep the fiberglass vessels from sinking so investigators can try to find out what happened.  The three boats were close to each other at the time.  There were no immediate reports of injuries.

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At least 140 Wisconsin electric customers are still without power, after being knocked out by heavy thunderstorms Sunday night and yesterday morning.  Up to 14-thousand customers of the state's five largest utilities were without power at some point yesterday morning.  That doesn't include customers of the smaller municipal utilities -- like Wisconsin Rapids, which had six-thousand customers out at its peak.  The Rapids utility had asked other power companies to assist in getting the lights back on, but many were still working to restore electricity in their own areas yesterday and last evening.

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Dozens of demonstrators marched through downtown Milwaukee yesterday, calling on the federal government to investigate police brutality against minorities.  Two Milwaukee aldermen and a county supervisor were among those rallying in support of Michael Brown, the teen who was killed by an officer in Ferguson Missouri.  They also said the feds should investigate civil rights abuses by officers in the deaths of others -- including Milwaukee's Dontre Hamilton.  The 31-year-old black man was shot a dozen times and killed by a white officer four months ago at Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee.  Dontre's brother Nathaniel Hamilton and other family members met earlier yesterday with two top Milwaukee police officials.  They discussed further rallies after a protest on Friday ended with a sit-in at the city's police administration building. Hamilton said Police Chief Ed Flynn should have been at the meeting but he wasn't.  They also complained that police have not told them much about Dontre's death.  The State Justice Department finished an investigation of the officer's conduct earlier this month.  It has not been released while charges are being considered. 

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A Merrill woman will be sentenced this morning, after she allegedly offered a ex-lover $1,000 plus sex if he would kill her fiancee.  Thirty-three year old Jessica Strom had pleaded no contest in May to a reduced Marathon County charge of soliciting homicide.  A felony count of conspiracy to commit homicide was dropped.  Prosecutors said Strom met twice with a former technical college student and asked him to kill her fiancee, attorney John Schellpfeffer.  Officials said the ex-lover went to police after the first meeting, and officers recorded the second encounter.  Prosecutors said Strom, a mother of two, was trying to get out of a "bad relationship." 

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A former Dane County sheriff's deputy continues to get treatment, after he reportedly tried killing himself on Friday when his wife and sister-in-law were murdered.  Thirty-nine-year-old Andy Steele of Fitchburg -- who was recently diagnosed with ALS -- is under arrest for the deaths of 39-year-old Ashlee Steele and her 38-year-old sister Kacee Tollefsbol.  There's no word on when charges could be filed.  Both women were found shot at the Steeles' home. Andy Steele was a deputy in Madison since 1998.  He retired in June after getting Lou Gehrig's disease.  He took the Ice Bucket Challenge on TV, and his wife raised $75,000 to care for a disease that's often fatal within 2-to-5 years.  Despite that fate, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said nobody who was close to the Steele family expected something like this to happen.  Mahoney said the diagnosis had to affect the family, but they appeared to be moving forward.  Now, a new fund drive seeks to help the two victims' children.  Wells Fargo bank branches are taking donations.  Ashlee Steele and Tollefsbol were originally from Stillwater.  Their funerals will be on Friday at Saint Michael's Church in Stillwater.

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Wisconsin crops are getting a boost from some much-needed rain.  The National Ag Statistics Service said most of the state got 1-to-3 inches of rainfall last week -- and the percentage of farm fields with adequate topsoil moisture jumped to 77-percent as of Sunday, up from 53-percent the week before.  Some places got too much rain -- like Rusk County, which had ten inches last week.  The Wisconsin corn crop is maturing a bit faster, but it's still behind schedule.  Even so, 68-percent of the state's corn is in good-to-excellent condition.  Soybeans are developing normally, and 69-percent are good-to-excellent.  The oat-for-grain harvest is being schedule.  It's at 64-percent, well below the norm of 86.

 ____________________________ If you want to know more about Wisconsin waterfowl hunting, keep your noon hour free tomorrow.  That's when the state DNR is having an online chat with waterfowl hunters.  Experts from the agency will answer questions.  If you want to take part, go to the DNR's Web site, accessible at Wisconsin.gov and search for the keyword "chat."

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UW-Madison graduate Steve Levitan scored big at the Emmys again last night.  Levitan is the co-creator and executive producer of ABC's "Modern Family," which won its record-tying fifth Emmy Award as the best comedy series.  Levitan, a former Madison TV news anchor, signed a four-year deal in March to stay on as "Modern Family's" executive producer.  It tied "Frasier" as the all-time comedy champion.  It also had one other major Emmy winner last night -- Ty Burrell as the best comedy supporting actor.  Meanwhile, Kenosha native Mark Ruffalo was nominated but passed over for lead actor in a movie-or-miniseries.  He starred in the HBO drama "The Normal Heart," which received the Emmy for the best TV movie.

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Bugs who?  Today's college freshmen have always watched Homer Simpson cartoons on Sunday nights, and not Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings.  That's just one of the items in the annual "Beloit College Mindset List" -- 75 items that give professors an idea of what their students' worlds are like.  Most of this fall's college freshmen were born in 1996. To them, a selfie with a celebrity is much more cherished than an autograph -- and the pound sign on the phone has always been the Twitter hash-tag.  They never heard of the old Internet browser "Netscape."  For today's college kids, the NBA has always had female referees -- AIDS was never the death sentence that older people saw in the 1980's -- cloning has always been real -- everybody has always loved Raymond -- and Jon-Benet Ramsey was never alive in the students' lifetimes.  Finally, the Beloit Mindset list shows many of us how old we're getting.  It says Madonna's daughter Lourdes is going to college this fall -- and so is Sylvester Stallone's daughter Sophia.  Beloit College officials Tom McBride and Ron Nief have assembled the Mindset List each year since 1998.

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