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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: National report says Wisconsin's voting system is still pretty good

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We keep hearing that Wisconsin's voting system is politically-tattered and broken -- but a national report says it's still pretty good.  According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Badger State had the nation's third-best voting system in the 2012 elections, behind only North Dakota and Minnesota.  Wisconsin's new ranking is down one place from 2008, when Pew gave the state's election system an 80-percent voter rating.  The new figure is 79-percent.  The Badger State was among 40 which improved its operations over the four-year period.  The Pew study measured things like voter registration and turnout, waiting times at the polls, and how military ballots are handled.  It stayed away from the hot-button topics of voter I-D and reductions in early voting -- both of which majority Republicans in Wisconsin have been pursuing.  Wisconsin scored well in most areas -- including online access to information about upcoming elections and where people can vote.  Pew also cited Wisconsin's Election Day voter registration -- which at least some majority Republicans say they want to get rid of.   State Government Accountability Board director Kevin Kennedy said he was pleased at the new rankings, and the report will help officials improve the system. 

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Reading and math scores were generally up from a year ago in the statewide achievement tests given to Wisconsin public school students.  However, minority students kept lagging behind.  Because of that, only 49-percent of students scored in the two highest categories -- proficient and advanced -- in math.  Thirty-seven percent were proficient or advanced in reading.  Results are being announced today for the final Knowledge and Concepts' Exams that have been given on a yearly basis since 1992.  Those tests will be replaced by other yearly exams, and tests that will measure progress much more often during the school year.  The exams are aligned with the state's Common Core standards, and Superintendent Tony Evers says they should help close racial-and-ethnic achievement gaps and prepare students better for college and careers.  Evers says the achievement gaps are too large.  He appointed a task force to examine that problem.  The group will hold its first meeting tomorrow.  Meanwhile, test results will be released later today for youngsters in tax-funded voucher schools.  Also, the Department of Public Instruction plans to release district-by-district test results no later than 9:30 this morning at its Web site.

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Authorities now say a former Wisconsin doctor fell to his death in the Colorado mountains, after he got separated from his hiking partners.  A county coroner said yesterday that 39-year-old James McGrogan died from head trauma and other injuries.  It was ruled an accident.  McGrogan was a hospital emergency room physician in Beloit and Stoughton from 2006 until just recently, when he moved to Indiana to work in a hospital E-R in Mishawaka.  McGrogan disappeared March 14th, when he drifted away from a group that was hiking to a back-country hut.  His party searched for five days, but couldn't find him.  Skiers found McGrogan's body last Thursday north of Vail Colorado.  

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Federal officials say illnesses linked to award-winning Wisconsin cheeses were most likely caused by deficient sanitation in the manufacturing process.  The U-S Centers for Disease Control mentioned last summer's listeria outbreak involving Crave Brothers of Waterloo in its weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report.  The F-D-A said one person in Minnesota died, and another person had a miscarriage.  Five illnesses occurred in four Midwest states but not Wisconsin.  The C-D-C said an inspection revealed quote, "substantial sanitation deficiencies during the cheese-making process itself, after the milk was pasteurized."  The report said the problems quote, "likely led to contamination."  The C-D-C said cheese-making plants should use strict sanitation and micro-biologic monitoring, whether they use pasteurized milk or not.  Crave Brothers did not comment.  It voluntarily stopped cheese production soon after the illnesses came to light, and recalled three award-winning cheeses that were linked to the listeria outbreak.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the company was never fined, and checks of court records did not turn up any lawsuits.  

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The attorney for state Assembly Republican Bill Kramer of Waukesha says both parties are ignoring his client's legal rights so they can score political points.  Yesterday, house Democrats joined Republicans in calling on Kramer to resign now instead of at the end of the year.  Four Democrats also accused the G-O-P of not going far enough to discipline its former majority leader.  They asked for a special ethics committee which would consider the allegations, and perhaps suggest that Kramer be expelled.  Republicans have said they won't try to expel Kramer -- and if the voters want to remove him now, they can seek a quick recall process.  Kramer has already said he won't run for re-election in November.  His lawyer, James Gatzke, says the two parties should not forget Kramer's constitutional rights to due process.  The new charges came after reports that he groped one woman and verbally harassed another on a recent G-O-P fund-raising trip to Washington.  Kramer's due in court a week from today in the Muskego incident. 

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Wisconsin has one flood warning today.  The Peshtigo River in Marinette County was about an inch above its banks this morning at Porterfield.  The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning until further notice.  Officials said the Peshtigo River was slowly rising, and there was no immediate word on when it might crest.  Forecasters had feared heavy floods in parts of Wisconsin because of the heavy snow this winter.  But with a few exceptions, high water has been held down due to cooler-than-normal temperatures for most of the early spring.  The Badger State is seeing a warming trend this week.  Today's highs are projected to be in the 40's-and-50's.  Tomorrow, it's supposed to be in the 50's-and-60's, and some parts of southwest Wisconsin could hit 70.  A slight cool-down is forecast for Thursday and Friday.  Our next chance of rain is on Saturday, and it's supposed to get colder on Sunday with highs only in the 30's in some places.

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State officials are looking for health care workers who can provide assistance during natural disasters and public health emergencies.  This is National Volunteer Week, and the state's health agency is promoting the Wisconsin Emergency Assistance Volunteer Registry.  Both present and retired doctors, nurses, E-M-T's, and other health professionals are encouraged to sign up.  The volunteers help organize relief efforts for major emergencies throughout Wisconsin.  About 14-hundred volunteers are on the 11-year-old state registry.  They've helped Wisconsin flood victims -- and when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, they provided health screenings for evacuees who made their way to the Badger State.  More information is available on the Health Services Department Web site at DHS-Dot-Wisconsin-Dot-Gov.

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A city near Wausau has found another victim of the long cold winter.  A nearly 70-year-old water tower sprung a leak in Schofield.  Public works director Kevin King said it was probably caused by a floating piece of ice inside the 75-thousand gallon tank.  Water is now running down the side of the tower, which is 100-feet tall.  King says the icy ring is two-feet thick and a couple feet wide.  It will have to melt, and then all the water must be drained so the tank can be repaired.  That could take a few weeks, and officials are not sure how much it will cost.  In the meantime, Schofield is well-served by other water supplies.  The city has another tower with a larger capacity of a quarter-million gallons.  It also has an underground water tank.

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