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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Thanks to Mother Nature, kids in southern Wisconsin are getting early start on vacation

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Thousands of school kids in southern Wisconsin are getting an early start to their holiday vacations, thanks to Mother Nature. Many schools from Jefferson westward to the Iowa border are either closed today, or are starting two hours late. Madison and Milwaukee public schools were running as normal -- at least for now. Freezing rain advisories are in effect until three this afternoon for most of south central and southeast Wisconsin. Forecasters say the region will get a mix of freezing rain and light snow throughout the day, in advance of a storm that could bring 4-to-9 inches of snow and more icy conditions to a good share of Wisconsin tomorrow night and Sunday. Parts of Wisconsin's mid-section had up to an-inch-and-a-half of snow overnight, in addition to some freezing rain. Northern areas had up to two-inches of the white stuff. Roads are icy in lots of places -- including Interstate 90-94 from Tomah to Mauston.

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The speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly wants to avoid the usual last-minute rush of bills just before the Legislature ends its two-year session this spring. Republican Robin Vos says the house should pass its most important bills during three days in January, 3-to-5 days in February, and one day in March at the most. Vos says he expects the Assembly to approve new tax cuts, school accountability measures, the Common Core educational standards, and measures dealing with heroin addiction. Both the Assembly and Senate are scheduled to return to session on January 14th. The adjournment date is April third. After that, most lawmakers will focus on their re-election campaigns, barring any last-minute special sessions.

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Phone lines were jammed yesterday at Target's headquarters in Minneapolis, as shoppers wanted to know more about their personal data being compromised. Target said up to 40-million credit-and-debit cards may be at risk, after hackers reportedly got into computers linked to the checkouts where shoppers swipe their cards. Company officials said people might be at risk if they bought anything at Target's 18-hundred U-S locations -- including 40 in Wisconsin -- between November 27th and December 15th. Target shoppers in Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood said they were relieved that the problem has been fixed, and they have no qualms about shopping there. Eric Skrum of the Wisconsin Bankers Association says shoppers should check their online bank-and-credit card reports -- and if they don't have online accounts, now's a good time to create them. If you find something fraudulent, experts say to contact your financial institutions and card issuers right away. You may need to get new account numbers. Debit card holders are liable for more of their losses the longer they wait. Federal law requires credit card users to be protected fully from their fraudulent charges. Meanwhile, the Target incident has resulted in at least one lawsuit. A shopper filed suit in federal court in San Francisco, claiming allegations of negligence and invasion of privacy. 

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Hundreds of Wisconsin public school unions have decided to stay in business for one more year, even with their very limited bargaining powers. Voting ended yesterday for about 400 unions that represent teachers, support staffers, and school office employees. State officials released the results, and Christina Brey of the state's largest teachers' union said about 90-percent of the groups said yes to re-certifying. WEAC union president Betsy Kippers said Wisconsin educators are overcoming "extreme obstacles" -- and they're quote, "standing strong to take their rightful place in their schools and profession." In 2011, school unions lost their right to bargain for things like the school calendar and working conditions. They can only negotiate pay raises at-or-below the rate of inflation. The annual re-certification votes are required under the state's Act-10 bargaining limits for most public unions. The elections were scheduled for earlier in November, but a judge held them up until the Supreme Court ordered that they take place. Under Act-10, unions must meet a tougher standard for staying in existence. Fifty-one percent of all members must vote yes, instead of 50-point-one-percent of those voting. It means that those who don't vote are essentially voting no.

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Governor Scott Walker will sign a bill today that gives up to 100-thousand Wisconsinites three more months to sign up for Obama-care, before they lose their state-funded insurance. The Senate approved the measure 18-to-12 yesterday, with all Democrats present voting no. They objected to a provision that makes 83-thousand impoverished adults wait another three months before they can get Badger-Care Plus for the first time. That's how the state will pay for the delay, and it will save 23-million dollars in the process. Democrats portrayed Republicans as Scrooge and the heartless Tin Man for making some of the state's poorest residents wait until March 31st to get Medicaid. Walker says nothing could be further from the truth. He said that in 2014, all Wisconsinites living in poverty will be covered under Medicaid for the first time, with no more waiting lists and no more enrollment caps. As for the three-month delay, Walker blamed the federal government and its glitches with the Obama-care registration Web site. He said it's quote, "irresponsible to force some Wisconsinites to pay the price for the federal government's failure." Democrats say that's not the point. They say all groups could have been covered from the get-go, had the G-O-P accepted extra federal Medicaid funds under Obama-care. The bill gives 77-thousand Badger-Care recipients above the poverty line until March 31st to sign up for Obama-care before losing their Badger-Care. The same is true for 20-thousand people on the state's high-risk insurance plan that's being phased out next spring.

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A foundation created by the founder of Walmart is putting up six-million dollars, with the goal of doubling the number of students getting tax-funded vouchers to attend private schools. The Walton Family Foundation says some of the money will go to Wisconsin -- but it's not known how much. The Alliance for School Choice will get the funding. A foundation spokeswoman says the goal for the Badger State is to further expand the state's private school choice program, and improve its quality. The overall goal is to double the numbers of students in voucher schools by 2017. Wisconsin's 20-year-old voucher program was expanded this fall beyond Milwaukee County and Racine. Over 500 students were given the chance to attend 25 private schools around the state. Republicans say it gives those stuck in under-performing public school districts a chance to get a better education. Democrats say there's no proof that voucher schools perform better, and the resulting transfers of students cause public schools to lose valuable state aid.  

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If you're looking to make a few bucks this morning, you might want to head to Green Bay if there's time. The Packers have asked their fans to shovel snow from the seating areas of Lambeau Field, to get the stadium ready for Sunday's Packer home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Team officials say they'll need up to 650 shovelers. They'll start at nine this morning. Shovelers need to be at least 15 years old. They'll get 10-dollars an hour, and the Packers will provide the shovels.  

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Two Wisconsin cheese-makers each won a pair of top prizes at the recent World Cheese Awards in England. Carr Valley of LaValle won Super Gold Awards for its "Billy Blue" and "Cave-Aged Marisa" cheeses. Sartori of Plymouth received the same honors for its "Limited edition Pastorale Blend" and its "Reserve Cinnamon Rubbed Bella-Vitano" cheeses. All told, Wisconsin cheese producers won 24 awards in the fourth annual contest, which was part of the Good Food Show put on by England's B-B-C broadcasting group. Wisconsin had the best showing of any U-S state. The contest attracted close to three-thousand entries, and about 80-thousand people tasted the various cheeses after the judging was over.

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