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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: State Assembly approves interstate gun sales for state residents

MADISON - The Wisconsin State Assembly voted today to allow residents to buy shotguns and rifles from dealers throughout the nation.  The measure would put the Badger State in line with a current federal law.  

Interstate firearm sales were banned in 1968, but dealers were allowed to sell long guns to buyers in adjacent states.  In the late '80's, the federal law changed so people could buy long-guns from anywhere in the country.  Wisconsin never made that change in its law, and the Assembly voted 94-3 to proceed with it.  Democrats Chris Taylor of Madison, Terese Berceau of Madison, and Sandy Pasch of Whitefish Bay voted no.  The measure now goes to the Senate.  Also today, the state Assembly approved new pay requirements for companies with traveling sales crews.  The Republican measure would make employers pay the crews at least semi-monthly on agreed-upon dates.  Workers and operators would also have to be given ID cards to show while working in the Badger State.  That bill passed on a voice vote, and it now goes to the Senate.


Public hearings will be held next month on a bill to let students with special needs go to private schools at taxpayer expense.  Four Republican lawmakers from both houses re-introduced the measure today, after it was rejected as a part of last year's state budget. Under the new plan, disabled youngsters could only attend voucher schools if they're not able to find a public school which meets their needs in the annual open enrollment program.  The vouchers would be worth up to $14,000 a year.  Supporters say it would give parents more options to find schools that meet with youngsters' needs.  Opponents say special needs' youngsters lose their federal protections if they leave the public school system for private schools.  Critics also say private schools are generally not as accountable as the public institutions. 


Democratic leaders asked Governor Scott Walker today to use the state's projected billion-dollar surplus to reduce a future deficit and spend more on education and job training.  State Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) met today with the Republican Walker -- but they did not say exactly what the governor has in mind.  Walker is expected to unveil his proposal tomorrow night during his annual State-of-the-State address to lawmakers.  He has said he wants to use most of the surplus to cut both income-and-property taxes.  Larson says Democrats are not against tax cuts -- as long as the state's essential obligations are taken care of first.  That includes a $725-million shortfall that's predicted for the next state budget in 2015.  That shortfall represents almost three-fourths of the projected surplus in the current state budget that runs until mid-2015.  At least two Republican senators say they're open to using most of the surplus to eliminate the 2015 structural deficit.  That means Walker might not have the votes to pass the type of tax cuts he wants.


A city committee in Wausau has taken the first step in what could become a countywide ban on holding cell phones while driving.  Wausau's Public Health and Safety Committee has unanimously recommended that the full City Council adopt a cell ban next month. Area officials generally agree that such a ban would not be helpful unless all of Wausau's suburbs adopt the same measure.  There's also a move afoot to consider the same ban throughout Marathon County -- the largest in the state in land area.  Under Wausau's proposal, hands-free cell devices would still be allowed.  So would GPS navigation devices on cell phones, as long as destinations are pre-set before a trip begins.  Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids have city-wide cell phone bans behind the wheel.


A health care software firm that's based in Hartford is about to be sold.  GE Health-care said today it would buy API Health-care, which makes software for hospitals and health-related staffing agencies.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.  GE says it expects to finalize the purchase by the end of March.  Over 1,600 hospitals and other clients use API software for things like analytics, payroll, staff schedules, and patient classifications.


Kenosha Police say they won't know how a mother and her adult son died until toxicology test results come back in a few weeks.  The victims were identified today as 55-year-old Karen Dean and 31-year-old Jason Dean.  Their bodies were discovered on Saturday at their Kenosha home.  Police lieutenant Brad Kemen said investigators are not looking for any suspects in the two deaths. 


A middle school science teacher who's in the process of being reinstated will get about $200,000 in back pay.  That's according to the Middleton-Cross Plains School Board, which says it will bring back Andrew Harris to either his old job or a similar one.  Last week, the State Supreme Court refused to consider overturning an arbitrator's ruling which ordered that Harris be re-instated, after he was let go in 2010 for handling explicit e-mails at school.  The School Board has not confirmed the job Harris will be offered -- and it's not known where he'd take it.  After a closed meeting last night, the Board said it was to meet with teachers' union officials today on the matter.  WISC-TV says the Middleton-Cross Plains district will end up spending close to a million dollars in legal fees and back pay.


The Experimental Aircraft Association will not have to pay for air traffic controllers at its Air-Venture show in Oshkosh this summer.  The new federal budget approved by Congress includes $140-million to keep providing controllers at Oshkosh and over 250 other small airports through September 30th.  The funding ended last March in the automatic sequester cuts that Congress allowed to take effect.  Because of that, Winnebago County had faced the loss of $480,000 a year in federal support.  The FAA provides staff members for the Air-Venture show, and the experimental aircraft group had to pay $447,000 last year in the absence of the normal funding.  Peter Moll, the director of Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, said he's pleased that the money was restored -- but he expects it to be an issue again when the 2015 federal budget comes up this fall.  


Two new studies -- including one by UW-Madison -- deal with the connection between precipitation, evaporation, and water levels in the Great Lakes.  The UW study indicates that large-scale patterns in the atmosphere no longer affect the ups-and-downs of water levels.  A slump began in those patterns in the late 1990's -- and researchers are not sure why.  Meanwhile, the Michigan consulting firm of Limno-Tech said ice on the Great Lakes does not just act as a cap that limits winter evaporation.  Lead writer John Lenters said the ice also cools lake temperatures, and it helps delay the onset of evaporation.  Still, Lenters said heavy evaporation can take place on the Great Lakes shortly before the ice forms each winter.


The Wausau Paper Corporation defended its reorganizational strategy today and said it was "surprised and disappointed" over new criticism from its largest shareholder.  Last Friday, the Starboard Value hedge fund of New York revived a public feud it's been having with Wausau Paper over the last three years.  As it has in the past, Starboard said Wausau's management ignored shareholder concerns, missed earnings' projections, lined managers' pockets, and again said the firm should leave Wisconsin completely.  Wausau Paper kept quiet until it issued a statement this morning.  The firm defended what it calls quote, "a successful strategic transformation into a pure-play tissue company that is delivering strong volumes, margin expansion, earnings, and free cash-flow growth."  Wausau also noted that Starboard Value is trying to gain a disproportionate influence over the company by trying to gain a majority on Wausau's board -- even though it only owns 15-percent of the firm's stock.  Last year, Wausau sold its remaining Wisconsin paper mills, which Starboard Value took credit for.  Wausau's only remaining Wisconsin operation is its corporate headquarters in Mosinee.


The dean of the two-year UW campus in Baraboo was chosen today as the next president of Lake Superior State in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan.  The university's governing body is expected to finalize Thomas Pleger's nomination on Friday.  He'll replace Tony McLain, who said two years ago that he'll retire.  Pleger said Lake Superior State has a "remarkable history and tradition" with a commitment to quality both in-and-out of the classroom.  Patrick Egan, who heads the Lake Superior Board of Trustees, called Pleger a "proven manager and administrator" who's excellent in running academic programs.  Pleger was an associate campus dean at UW-Fox Valley before taking the top spot at Baraboo.