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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Study finds state is 13th in nation for children's well-being

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Wisconsin is the 13th-best state for a child's well-being.  That's according to annual "Kids Count" survey released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  

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The state's current ranking is down from 12th a year ago, but higher than the No. 15 ranking from 2012.  Wisconsin was in the Top-10 as recently as 2010.  Wisconsin children scored high marks for their economic well-being.  That's the ninth-best in the country, up from 12th a year ago.  The Badger State remains in the Top-10 for the overall health of its children -- however, the state from third-to-tenth this year. The state's general education ranking also fell from 12th last year to 15th now.  Wisconsin kids had the 18th best family-and-community factors. That's been steady over the past two years.  The "Kids Count" survey is based on 16 factors that involve children's well-being.  The more detailed factors list the most recent data as being from 2012.

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A federal judge in Green Bay threw out a lawsuit yesterday from U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh), who claimed that an Obamacare rule forced him to treat his staff members differently.  Judge William Griesbach ruled that the Wisconsin Republican and his aide Brooke Ericson did not have legal grounds to file the suit, because they did not prove they were hurt personally.  Johnson was challenging a requirement that lawmakers and their official staff members use the Obama-care exchanges to get their tax-subsidized health insurance.  Those who are not official office staff still get their previous employee health benefits.  Johnson said the rule forced him to choose which staff members are official and which are not.  He also said he was being forced to take part in a program he believes is illegal, and he would look bad to voters because his staff would get tax subsidies the general public does not receive.  Griesbach says Johnson's beliefs about the legality of Obamacare are not enough to win his lawsuit -- and neither was the claim that voters would see him in a negative light.  Johnson said it was unfortunate that the judge dropped his lawsuit on a technicality, without going into the legal merits of it.  His office says Johnson is consulting with lawyers before deciding whether to appeal.

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court reinstated a sexual assault conviction this morning against a Milwaukee man.  Muhammad Sarfraz said his jury should have been allowed to hear that he had a previous sexual relationship with the victim.  A state appeals court said the jury might not have convicted Sarfraz, had they known the full history of his relationship with the woman.  But the Supreme Court disagreed, and it upheld Sarfraz's ten-year prison sentence handed down in 2011.  The justices said the evidence was properly excluded under a shield law for sexual assault victims. 

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Wisconsin's rail traffic could be affected by a State Supreme Court ruling that's expected today.  The justices will decide whether Scott Partenfelder, his wife Monica, and Elm Grove police officer John Krahn are entitled to damages after a Soo Line train struck the Partenfelders' van in heavy traffic just before Elm Grove's Memorial Day parade in 2009.  Scott Partenfelder was seriously hurt as he was trying to get his two-year-old son out of the van -- and officer Krahn was hurt while trying to save Monica, who had to stop the van on the tracks. The parade was canceled in the wake of the crash.  Among other things, the couple said the railroad should have known there would be extra traffic due to the parade -- and local governments should have the right to control train speeds at those times.  The railroad said it would have to deviate from federal requirements if it was subject to local speed rules, even for relatively mundane events.

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The ACLU said today there's no need for all ten judges on the federal appeals court in Chicago to rule on the fate of Wisconsin's gay marriage ban.  Normally, three-judge panels decide cases -- but the state Justice Department has asked that the entire appeals court hear the arguments.  Plaintiffs from the ACLU and several same-sex couples say it would delay the appeal, and put an unnecessary burden on the appellate court.  A federal judge in Madison ruled in favor of the ACLU when it struck down Wisconsin's same-sex marriage ban last month.  The appellate court decided to consolidate the Wisconsin case with a similar one from Indiana, which a federal judge also struck down.  Arguments in the states' appeals were set for August 13th -- but the court ordered a delay, and a new date has not been scheduled.

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A woman shot-to-death in Beloit was identified yesterday as 44-year-old Jennifer Falcon of Beloit.  Officers said she was found lying on a road early yesterday morning, and she died later at a hospital.  Officials said the shooting did not appear to be random.  An investigation continues.

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 A 12-year-old Wausau boy was taken to a juvenile shelter, after police said he drank a half-bottle of vodka during the weekend.  A neighbor called 911 after seeing the boy "staggering around."  The boy's 44-year-old mother faces possible child neglect charges.  Police quoted her as saying she let him drink at special occasions in the past -- but she didn't know he was drinking vodka this past weekend and she's not certain how he obtained it.  Wausau police lieutenant Mark Pankow tells reporters the youngster was extremely intoxicated, even for an adult.  He said he never saw anyone as young as 12 so severely drunk.

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A tavern in Appleton has ended its weekly "Lingerie Night" with scantily-clad bartenders.  That's after one of the regular customers of the Eager Beaver Bar reported tried to kidnap one of the women.  Forty-five year old Dennis Mitchell of Appleton is charged with felony kidnapping and a misdemeanor count of seeking prostitution.  He was jailed at last word under a $50,000 cash bond, and he's due back in court Thursday.  Police said Mitchell approached the bartender this month as she walked to her vehicle.  He reportedly tried putting a bag over her head.  She yelled for help, and he ran away after neighbors responded.  Bar owner Christina Coon tells the Appleton Post-Crescent she decided to stop holding the "Lingerie Nights," and she took all mentions of them off the bar's Facebook page.  She said it was done for the safety of the bartenders -- even though she called it an "isolated incident."

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A 12-year-old stabbing victim in Waukesha continues to get purple hearts on paper from well-wishers around the world.  This morning, her family said an anonymous military veteran sent his real Purple Heart award to the girl.  He said it was the only heart he could find, and he told her to "Be strong!"  The military Purple Heart is given to those wounded or killed in action.  The girl was stabbed 19 times in May, allegedly by a pair of 12-year-old classmates who are charged as adults.  The defendants told police they were showing allegiance to the fictional online horror character Slender Man.  The victim is recovering at home.  Her family has encouraged folks to send paper hearts with her favorite color purple. 

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Former state Assembly Majority Leader Bill Kramer might be in trouble again -- this time, for having campaign donors pay part of his legal fees to fight his sexual assault charges.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says politicians are only allowed to use campaign funds for legal fees in cases involving election-related law violations.  The paper said Kramer's latest financial report showed that he made two payments of five-thousand dollars each to defense lawyer James Gatzke.  A Government Accountability Board official has not immediately commented.  Kramer, a Waukesha Republican, has pleaded innocent to a pair of sexual assault charges for allegedly pushing, kissing, and groping a female congressional staffer following a GOP function in Muskego in 2011.  Those charges came after reports that Kramer groped one woman and sexually harassed another on a Republican fund-raising trip to Washington in February.  Kramer was removed as the Assembly's majority leader, but he's keeping his Assembly seat until the end of the year.  He's not running for re-election.  Kramer has a new lawyer in his pending court case.  A status hearing is scheduled for Friday in Waukesha County Circuit Court. 

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All three Democratic candidates for Wisconsin attorney general are expected to appear at a forum in Madison today.  The Dane County Democratic Party is hosting the event involving Assembly Democrat Jon Richards and district attorneys Ismael Ozanne and Susan Happ.  They'll square off in a primary three weeks from today.  The winner will take on the only Republican in the race -- prosecutor Brad Schimel -- in November.  The new attorney general will replace Republican J.B. Van Hollen, who's stepping down after eight years in office.

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Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch has almost $700,000 in her campaign fund, even though she does not have a primary challenger next month.  The Republican Kleefisch raised about 520-thousand dollars from January through June.  State Senate Democrat John Lehman of Racine raised about $38,000 in the first half of the year.  He had $17,000 on hand at the start of July.  His primary opponent, Mary Jo Walters of Madison, raised about $800 and has no cash on hand.  Lieutenant governor candidates run by themselves in the primaries.  After that, they run on the same tickets as the parties' candidates for governor.

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The Wisconsin elections panel has said no to letting poll observers photograph voters.  The Government Accountability Board voted 4-2 yesterday to uphold a previous ban on observers taking pictures of voters -- including themselves and their relatives.  The updated rule was sent to the Legislature -- but lawmakers won't be able to change it until next year, which means the photo ban will stay in place for at least the August 12th primaries and the November fourth general elections.  Board members Tim Vocke and Harold Froelich favored removing the provision temporarily, to see if cameras could be used responsibly in the primaries set for three weeks from today.  Partisan observers say they want to make sure the elections are run honestly.  Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler told the board that allowing observers to use cameras would make voters uncomfortable -- and the last thing she wants is a hostile environment.  Earlier this year, Governor Scott Walker signed a bill letting observers get as close as three-feet to the tables where voters check in.  Board Secretary Kevin Kennedy said a photo ban is needed, in part, to make sure observers don't use zoom lenses to see how people fill out their ballots.  Also yesterday, the board voted to require election observers show photo ID's before they can claim their spots at the polls. 

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Governor Scott Walker's campaign donors paid over $320,000 to defense lawyers in the first half of the year, as Walker fought off a second John Doe probe.  A state report filed yesterday showed that the Republican Walker gave $213,000 from his campaign account to the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin, $83,000 to the Biskupic-and-Jacobs law firm of Mequon, and $25,000 to Milwaukee attorney Michael Steinle.  The governor has spent a total of almost million dollars in the past three years on a pair of John Doe investigations -- one dealing with embezzlement and illegal campaigning by former aides during his time as Milwaukee County executive -- and the other dealing with alleged illegal coordination of his and other Republican recall campaigns with outside conservative groups.  Prosecutors said the governor himself was not a target in either investigation.   Earlier, it was reported that Walker raised more than twice as much campaign money as his major Democratic challenger Mary Burke in the first six months of the year.  Walker also had three times as much cash on hand as Burke as of July 1.

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke says an increase in the state's minimum wage would not affect her family's bicycle business.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel asked the former Trek Bicycle executive today about conservative claims that a minimum wage hike would affect her family's company.  She said workers at the Trek Bicycle plant in Waterloo make more than the state's minimum of $7.25-an-hour.  Burke said it's "ridiculous" to expect employees to support themselves for that much.  In her words, "It ensures they are dependent on the government."  Burke favors a proposed hike in the state minimum wage to $10.10-an-hour.  Governor Scott Walker and other Republicans say jobs would be lost if the minimum wage goes up.

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We should know today where the major state election candidates are getting their campaign money.  Midnight is the deadline for those candidates to file their latest financial reports with the state Government Accountability Board.  The most anticipated reports are for the governor's and attorney general's races.  Last week, Republican incumbent Scott Walker said he raised $8.3 million dollars in the first half of this year, and he had just over seven-and-a-half million on hand as of June 30th.  Democrat Mary Burke reported raising almost half as much as Walker, or $3.6 million dollars.  She only had about a-third as much on hand as the incumbent.  State Assembly Democrat Brett Hulsey of Madison is also running for governor, and had not released his numbers as of yet.   In the attorney general's race, Democrat Jon Richards leads the money race of those who've filed so far.  He had $170,000 in his war-chest, and Jefferson County DA Susan Happ had about $121,000.  The third Democrat, Ismael Ozanne, had not released any figures. Neither had the only Republican in the race, Brad Schimel.

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The recent cool and dry weather slowed down the maturity of Wisconsin's corn crop -- but it let farmers make a lot of hay this past week.  Officials say two-thirds of the year's second hay crop is in, a 22-percent jump from the week before.  Just over three-fourths of the Wisconsin corn and soybean crops are in good-to-excellent condition.  Twenty-two percent of the corn is silking, down from the normal of 31-percent at this time.  It means the crop is not maturing at its average pace.  Despite the recent dryness, three-fourths of Wisconsin farm fields still have adequate moisture.  Some fields are short of moisture for the first time in a while.  Nine-percent of statewide fields are now in that short category.

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Parts of Wisconsin can expect one more hot day before a major cool-down today.  Highs close to 90 are expected in the south, and the 80's everywhere else.  The humidity will remain high, and so will the heat index in a lot of places.  Northwest Wisconsin was the hottest yesterday, as expected.  Officials said it felt like 104-degrees in River Falls.  Other heat indices were 101 at Hudson, 100 in Osceola, and 97 at Loyal in central Wisconsin.  A band of thunderstorms went through the far north overnight.  Ashland had winds of 46-miles-an-hour, and three-quarter-inch hail covered the ground about 20 miles east of Hayward in Sawyer County about four this morning.  Another round of thunderstorms is possible this afternoon, as a cold front sweeps across Wisconsin.  Once it goes through, clear and much cooler weather is predicted for the next couple days.  Highs tomorrow are supposed to be in the 70's statewide -- and it could get down to the 40's by early Thursday morning.

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A fire caused over a million-dollars in damage to a livestock feed mill in northeast Wisconsin.  There were no reports of injuries in the blaze, which started yesterday afternoon at the Nutrition Service Company's grain processing plant northwest of Pulaski.  Officials said there were some employees inside, but they all got out safely.  At least 16 area fire departments helped put out the blaze, which was reported about 1:30 p-m.  Crews were still working to put out hot spots last evening.  The cause remains under investigation.

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Milwaukee County sheriff's deputies have identified a 14-year-old drowning victim as Van Sang Vanmauipial.  The Milwaukee youngster was swimming with friends on Saturday when he went under.  Rescue divers later found the child close to where he was last seen.  He died later at Milwaukee Children's Hospital.  The incident occurred in the Menomonee River at Hoyt Park in Wauwatosa.

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A skydiver killed in an accident in Racine County was publicly identified yesterday as 44-year-old Fredrick Platt Junior of Racine.  Sheriff's deputies said his parachute got tied up with the canopy of another sky-diver, 27-year-old Neil Kulman.  Platt fell rapidly to the ground and died. Kulman landed in a group of trees, and he received minor injuries.  The mishap occurred yesterday afternoon at the Sylvania Airport in the Racine County town of Yorkville.  Authorities are still trying to figure out why it happened.

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Two Canadian National crew members injured when two freight trains collided in Slinger have been released from a hospital.  Railroad officials said today that the train's engineer and conductor were treated for injuries.  Three engines and ten rail cars jumped the tracks last night, when a Wisconsin-and-Southern train hit the Canadian National train near the intersection of two tracks in the central part of Slinger, located about 30 miles north of Milwaukee.  Wisconsin-and-Southern officials said an on-board computer signified an emergency just before the collision -- and investigators plan to find out why.  The derailment caused lumber and about five-thousand gallons of diesel fuel to spill.  Clean-up efforts continue at the site today. 

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For the first time this year, the number of existing houses sold by Wisconsin Realtors was higher than the same month a year ago.  The Realtors Association said today its members sold just over 7,700 homes statewide during June -- four-and-a-half percent more than in June of 2013.  The median sales price was $159,900 dollars, six-tenths of a percent more than the year before.  Steve Lane, who chairs the board of the Realtors' group, called last month's sales "a welcome sign," noting that June is the biggest month for home selling in the Badger State.  He said the housing market is headed in the right direction, and the Realtors' sales growth is "consistent with other economic signals we're seeing."  All parts of Wisconsin reported gains in sales.  However, Lane said the improvement for June would not completely erase reductions in sales during the first part of the year.  Total home sales were down by almost five-percent during the first six months of 2014.  

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The Milwaukee-based Manpower job-staffing company saw its quarterly profits jump by 61-percent over the past year.  The Manpower Group reports a net income of 110-million dollars from April through June, up from $68-million in the same quarter of 2013.  Earnings for shareholders jumped from 87-cents a share to $1.35 -- a few cents higher than what Manpower projected.  Manpower is now the world's third-largest recruiting and staffing company.  C-E-O Jonas Prising said there was especially solid revenue growth in the U.S., Italy, and England in the last quarter.  Total revenues jumped by 5.6 percent, to almost five-and-a-third billion dollars.  U.S. revenues rose by five-percent.

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Harley-Davidson reports a 30-percent increase in its latest quarterly profits. However, the Milwaukee motorcycle firm had a smaller-than-expected sales increase, due to poor weather this spring in much of the U-S.  This morning, Harley reported a net income of $354-million from April through June, up from $272-million at the same time a year ago.  Stockholders earned $1.62-a-share, up from $1.21 in the same quarter of 2013.  Harley said its strong profits were due to more efficient manufacturing operations.  The company had a slight increase in its worldwide motorcycle sales, but U.S. sales were down slightly to just over 58,000 bikes.  In response, Harley CEO Keith Wandell said the company would reduce its projected increase in motorcycle shipments to dealers for the rest of the year.  It expects an shipping increase of up to five-and-a-half percent -- down from the earlier projected maximum of nine-percent.

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Good help is hard to find.  That's according to a new business poll showing that 53-percent of Wisconsin firms are having trouble finding workers -- and three-fourths have problems finding those who are qualified for their operations.  Over 260 executives answered a survey by the state's largest business group, the Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce.  Fifty-six percent of the employers say they expect to add workers by the end of this year, up from 44-percent in WMC's previous survey in January.  Just over six-of-every-ten companies say they've raised salaries to find and-or keep good people.  Also, 71-percent of the executives surveyed expect at least moderate growth in Wisconsin's economy in the next six months.  That's up from 65-percent in January.

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