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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Sen. Cullen recovering from open-heart surgery

JANESVILLE - Wisconsin State Senator Tim Cullen is recovering from open heart surgery.

A spokesperson from his office says the 69-year-old Janesville Senator had non-emergency valve replacement surgery on Dec. 5 in Minnesota. Cullen, a Democrat, expects to return to the State Senate when it convenes in January.


Amazon has announced plans to build a second distribution center in the state. Developers say the 500,000-square-ft., $62-million center in Kenosha would add about 575 jobs. The second distribution center is in addition to a one-million square foot center being built, expected to add around 1,100 jobs by 2015. The cost of the first distribution center is estimated over$ 200-million


Public Health officials in Dane County are receiving reports of what is likely Norovirus, sometimes called the winter vomiting bug. It’s an illness that comes on quickly and produces vomiting, diarrhea and can spread easily. Amanda Kita-Yarbo, communicable disease epidemiologist with the public health agency, says it's also important to wash your hands properly with soap and water - a quick pass under the faucet is not going to protect you or others, especially when handling food. Alcohol hand sanitizer will also do the job. Norovirus is capable of spreading very quickly from person to person. The most common forms of transmission are either by touching a surface contaminated with the virus, or by eating food that has been contaminated by an infected person who prepares or serves it. 


The Mega Millions jackpot was raised by another $50-million today.  It's now at $636-million for tonight's drawing, the second-largest prize in U.S. lottery history.  The new jackpot is $20-million short of the world record jackpot of $656-million shared by four winning tickets in March of 2012.  Mega ticket sales triggered the big hike in tonight's jackpot.  Wisconsin players hope to be a little luckier.  For the last three drawings, they've won no more than five-thousand dollars.  Six of the 130,000-plus Wisconsin winners in the previous drawing won five-grand, by matching all but one of the five regular numbers plus the Mega Ball.  Tonight's jackpot has been building since October first.  Officials estimate a 65-to-70-percent chance that somebody will win it this evening.  The cash option is $341-million for a single winner who takes the whole prize now, instead of in annual installments as part of an annuity.  


Wisconsin is in the middle-of-the-pack among the states with the worst drivers in America.  That's according to a new report from Car Insurance, a Web site that lets motorists compare auto coverage rates.  The survey compared things like traffic deaths, drunk driving arrests, and traffic light and seat-belt violations for every 100-million miles driven.  In general, Wisconsin drivers are the 23rd worst among the 50 states and Washington D.C.  For all the concern about drunk driving, only 15 states were worse than Wisconsin.  However, the Badger State was the 20th worst for careless driving citations.  That was Wisconsin's worst showing among the individual categories.  Louisiana has the worst drivers in the country, and the entire Top-Five were southern states.  Neighboring Minnesota had the fourth-best drivers, or 48th worst of the 51 places.  Iowa was 43rd, Michigan 35th, and Illinois 21st.


The latest version of the USS Milwaukee will be christened tomorrow.  It's the newest littoral combat ship to be produced at Marinette Marine in northeast Wisconsin.  Sylvia Panetta, the wife of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, will do the christening honors during a ceremony at the Marinette shipyard.  The USS Milwaukee is just one ship being made in Marinette as part of a huge military contract.  Littoral combat ships are fast, and they're designed to conduct water combat off an enemy's shore.  They can also be used to track down submarines, support unmanned aerial units like drones, and defend troops on the ground.  The USS Milwaukee is 388-feet long.  It's the fifth naval vessel to be named in honor of the state's largest city.


Four Amish families face non-criminal citations for not installing home safety devices that go against their religious beliefs.  And a state lawmaker is trying to pass a bill in time to keep those families from being fined or evicted.  Clements Borntreger, Roman Borntrager, Eli Gingerich, and Mahlon Miller Jr. are all from the Augusta and Fairchild areas.  They're due in Eau Claire County Circuit Court tomorrow, when trial dates could be set on civil charges of failing to obtain building permits and not having sanitary permits.  State law requires new homes to have carbon monoxide-and-smoke detectors -- but the Amish residents say it forces them to install electronic equipment which goes against their religion.  County officials say they sympathize, but they must enforce the law equally -- until it's changed, which is what state Assembly Democrat Kathy Bernier of Lake Hallie's trying to do.  Her bill would exempt one-and-two-family homes without electricity from the mandate of having smoke-and-CO detectors.  Bernier says she hopes the bill can pass in time to avoid the four families from being evicted or fined.  They currently face fines totaling up to $52,000.  Eau Claire County planning official James Erickson says the detectors are especially needed in Amish homes because those people use wood to heat their homes.  However, he said he would enforce whatever laws go on the books.  


Wisconsin landowners who get tax breaks for maintaining forest land cannot lease their land for hunting or any other reason -- regardless of whether it's open or closed for recreation.  A state appeals court ruled today against Wayne Lautenbach of Door County. He was fined $750 last year for leasing property to a hunter on forest land closed for recreation under the state's Managed Forest program.  The program offers larger tax breaks to those who open their property for things like hunting-and-hiking -- but closed properties still get lesser tax breaks.  Lautenbach, who manages forest land for the firm of Wayne Logcrafters, claimed that the law only prohibits leasing on open forest land -- and the provision for closed land is vague, because it does not provide a notice that people cannot lease it.  The Third District Appellate Court in Wausau did not buy Lautenbach's argument.  The judges said the leasing ban clearly does not distinguish between open-and-closed properties.


Southern Wisconsin was basking in 30-degree warmth during the noon hour - a far cry from the early sub-zero readings we've had this month.  Boscobel in Grant County had 35 degrees with light rain at noon.  That's after the area had up to three-inches of snow -- thus creating soupy conditions that could freeze later on.  But for now, folks are getting a chance to shovel snow in relative comfort.  Madison had 32 degrees at mid-day, and Milwaukee 31.  Even far northern Wisconsin was in the upper-20's.  Scattered snow showers were in the forecast for this afternoon -- and then all of Wisconsin could get back down to around zero tonight, except close to Lake Michigan where it's supposed to be a few degrees warmer.  A dry day is in the offing for tomorrow, followed by more rain and-or snow on Thursday, with highs in the 20's-and-30's each day.


Both Wisconsin U.S. senators voted this morning to advance the new federal budget compromise to a final Senate vote no later than tomorrow.  Ron Johnson was one of only 12 Republicans to push the package along, and avoid a possible GOP filibuster.  Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin joined all of her fellow Democrats in keeping the package alive.  All 33 no votes came from Republicans who say the package cuts benefits for military retirees.  They also feared that a future Congress may wipe out much of the $23 billion in deficit reduction measures the bill requires over the next decade.  The GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly approved the deal last week.  The expected Senate passage would send it to President Obama, who promises to sign it.  The bill eases up on $45-billion in automatic spending cuts ordered last March.  Other spending cuts and new fees would make up for the restored funding.  House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville and his Senate counterpart Patty Murray crafted the two-year budget.  Murray said it quote, "takes the first steps toward re-building our broken budget process, and hopefully, toward re-building our broken Congress."


A deer that was shot outside of Wisconsin's management zone for chronic wasting disease has tested positive for the fatal brain condition.  The DNR said the infected animal was a buck taken November 24th near Lancaster in Grant County.  It was shot about four miles from where another deer had tested positive for CWD in 2012.  Officials say the discover does not change any of the remaining deer hunting periods in Grant County, which is in far southwest Wisconsin.  Don Bates, the DNR's operations supervisor for CWD, said his agency is focusing its surveillance on the fringes of the special management zone in southern Wisconsin.  The goal is to get a better understanding of how chronic wasting disease spreads.  The sampling of deer outside the special zone is voluntary on the hunters' part.


A new owner was announced today for two large Wisconsin chicken food facilities.  The Maschhoffs of Carlyle, Illinois has completed the purchase of GNP, the owner of Gold-'n-Plump Chicken of Arcadia.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.  The Maschhoffs is the largest family-owned pork producer in North America.  GNP is based in Saint Cloud, Minnesota.  It has a number of chicken brands -- including the Gold-'n-Plump processing plant in Arcadia, and a chicken hatchery in Independence.  Both those facilities are in Trempealeau County.  The new owner says the two companies' production businesses will keep operating as separate business units.