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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Rhinelander man dies in bar fight

RHINELANDER - Authorities in Rhinelander continue to investigate a New Year's Eve bar fight that killed a man and injured another.

Relatives identified the fatal victim as 48-year-old Jim Tanner of Rhinelander. An autopsy was scheduled for today. Police have been interviewing witnesses to find out what happened and why. The incident was reported just a half-hour into the New Year at Sackett's bar in Rhinelander. Officers found two men on the floor when they arrived. Witnesses said Tanner and a 62-year-old Rhinelander man were were having a conversation when Tanner suddenly punched him in the face, and knocked him to the floor. A karaoke DJ in the bar, a 59-year-old man, then shoved Tanner into the bar. That knocked glasses onto the floor, just before Tanner went down. The other man was treated at a Rhinelander hospital for head injuries, and later released. Tanner died in an ambulance outside the bar.


The head of the UW's two-year colleges and Extension Service is one of three finalists for the presidency of the 26-campus university system. Ray Cross was named today -- along with Peter Garland, the chief operating officer and vice chancellor of the Pennsylvania state higher education system -- and Robert King, head of Kentucky's Council on Post-Secondary Education. One of those leaders is expected to be chosen next Thursday to replace Kevin Reilly, who resigned at the end of December after nine years as the U-W president. The Board of Regents will make the final call, after a second committee of six regents will meet on Tuesday to pick the final candidate. The finalists will take part in a public video-conference on Monday, giving students, staffers, and community members a chance to learn more about the finalists and interact with them. The 64-year-old Reilly stepped down to become a leadership consultant for the American Council on Education. He also wants to return to teaching eventually.


A driver who died after her car went 40-feet down an embankment into the Mississippi River in La Crosse was identified today as 21-year-old Marie "Ellie" Ahmann. She was a finance major at Winona State University, and her hometown was Woodbury Minnesota near Saint Paul. La Crosse Police said Aumann's car went through an intersection early yesterday. It fell down the embankment and landed on its tires on an icy Swift Creek. The vehicle then turned left before it fell through the ice and became submerged. Ahmann's body was recovered after her vehicle was pulled from the river. An investigation continues. An autopsy scheduled today for Ahmann has been moved up to tomorrow.


A long-time family-owned business in La Crosse is giving its employees a chance to own part of the action, with the hopes that they'll improve the bottom line. An employee stock ownership plan has been created for the 170 workers at Badger Corrugating. The building material distributor has been owned by the Sexauer family for four generations. Company president Mike Sexauer has transferred 40-percent of the ownership stakes to the employees. The plan creates an option for retirement savings. Under the plan, part of Badger's profits will not be taxed, equal to the same amount of what the employees invest. The tax savings are put back into the company.


Wisconsin officials launched a new Web site today, to give state taxpayers a better idea of how their money's being spent. "Open-Book Wisconsin" was first scheduled to go online a year ago. Officials said part of the hold-up was to make sure that sensitive information did not get posted inadvertently, like Social Security numbers. Deputy Administration Secretary Chris Schoenherr told reporters that additional tests were also needed. Schoenherr said it was Governor Scott Walker's goal to gave taxpayers an easy way to see how their money is used. Majority Republicans approved the new Web site in the 2011 state budget. People can search more than $25-million state expense reports dating back to 2007. As time goes on, officials say Open Book Wisconsin will include more information about specific purchases, state government contracts, information about state grants, and salaries and fringe benefit data for state workers.


The heavy lake-effect snow that hit far southeast Wisconsin is now gone -- except in the Racine and Kenosha areas, where advisories continued until three this afternoon. The National Weather Service said 10 inches of snow fell near Racine. Franklin had almost eight-inches, and Union Grove had just over seven. Meanwhile, it remains bitter cold in the far northwest part of the state. It was still three-below in Siren, Osceola, and New Richmond at one o'clock this afternoon. Other places along Lake Michigan had lesser amounts of snow -- and most other parts of Wisconsin did not get any snow at all, nor the bitter cold that hit the far northwest. Wind chill advisories remained in effect until tomorrow morning for much of Wisconsin. Wind chills this afternoon were generally in the minus-single-digits and teens statewide.


Wisconsin traffic deaths last year were the lowest in almost 70 years. Preliminary figures from the DOT show that 527 people died on state roads in 2013 -- the lowest since 1944, when 526 people were killed. Last year's deaths were 12-percent fewer than in 2012. And they were 44 less than the average for the past five years of 571 deaths per annum. State Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb gave motorists the biggest credit for the drop in highway deaths. He said more motorists buckled up, drove sober, slowed down, and paid more attention to the roads. Gottlieb also cited better enforcement, education, and road engineering. The number of passenger deaths in Wisconsin dropped by 41 last year, to 83. Motorcycle deaths dropped by 28-percent to 84, due mainly to a shorter riding season caused by a late spring last year.


Janesville U.S. House Republican Paul Ryan defends an item in the federal budget compromise which cuts annual pension increases for those under 62 who retired from the military. The budget -- which Ryan helped negotiate as the chair of the House budget committee -- is drawing fire from veterans' groups. Gundel Metz from a VFW post in Madison says it's wrong to use veterans to balance the federal budget. She said less than one-percent of the nation's population is in the military, and only a tenth of those veterans stay in service long enough to retire before 62. She said police and fire-fighters are the only other groups who put their lives on the line -- and veterans should not have to worry about what they've been able to save up. In a recent op-ed piece in USA Today, Ryan defended the cut, which limits pay increases for younger military retirees to one-percent below inflation. Ryan said the federal cost for each service member has grown by 41-percent since 2001, accounting for inflation but not counting the costs of the Iraq-and-Afghanistan conflicts. Ryan noted that many military retirees are in their prime working years in their 30's-and-40's, and they're allowed to work while collecting full military pensions. Some critics in Congress have already announced plans to introduce bills that would scrap the pension reductions.


Drivers in Milwaukee's late afternoon rush hour will not have to worry about a burning semi-truck from earlier today. The fire happened during the noon hour, and it blocked two northbound lanes of the Highway 45 expressway at Good Hope Road on the city's far northwest side. Both lanes re-opened by 2:15 this afternoon, thus opening up the freeway for the going-home crowd. Authorities have not released other information about the truck fire.


Public school officials in Wausau plan to adopt an official policy on performing religious music at school events, after last fall's blow-back of an effort to limit Christmas music. Elementary education director Nell Anderson says a committee will be formed, with up to 20 people addressing the issue. Teachers, students, parents, and religious leaders will be a part of the panel that will offer suggestions on a policy. There's been no such policy in the past, but Wausau schools do have a rule that seeks quote, "balance, respect, and sensitivity toward all cultures and beliefs." Limits on Christmas music last fall caused a large public backlash -- especially after the Wausau West High School Master Singers temporarily disbanded because it could not perform at the Christmas programs of 15 community groups. The ban was later scrapped, amid promises to review the issue. Meanwhile, it's not known if the new committee was the recommendations in a report on the controversy from a Wausau legal firm. That report is due out tomorrow.


State and local authorities continue to investigate a house fire that killed one person in Sun Prairie. It was reported just before noon on New Year's Day. Fire officials were told that somebody was trapped in the flames, and the victim was found in the house when fire-fighters got there. They're not saying exactly where the victim was found -- or where the fire began. The victim was the only person in the house at the time.


Employees of a Wisconsin convenience store chain are finding their health care to be more convenient. Kwik Trip has opened a clinic for about three-thousand employees in its home area of La Crosse. It also provides online services for another eight-thousand Kwik Trip workers throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. Benefits manager Mila Spencer says the facility can be used by any Kwik Trip employee -- including those outside the area who are in La Crosse for training, or are passing through. She said it was really important to offer the online resources as well. Clinic manager Angie Hammond tells the La Crosse Tribune that wellness visits are free for things like stop-smoking classes, weight loss, and managing diseases. Insurance co-pays are required for other things. The Kwik Trip clinic is run by Marathon Health-for-Life. That's a national workplace health care firm.