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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Water-main break closes schools in Neillsville

NEILLSVILLE - Schools in Neillsville are closed today because they don't have any water.  City officials said yesterday that a major water line broke, and crews have not been able to find the source of the problem.  

The city's water tower -- which is near the high school -- was empty as of late yesterday afternoon.  Officials asked residents to limit their water usage, and those who with medical issues are urged to fill sinks and jugs so they could have enough to last into today.  The city has brought in outside help to try and find the spot where the water main broke.  Neillsville is the county seat of Clark County in west central Wisconsin, with over 2,400 residents.


Wisconsin loggers say they'll be helped by the new federal Farm Bill because of what's NOT in the package.  Henry Schienebeck of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association in Rhinelander said loggers won't have to seek federal permits for run-off on forest roads.  He said it's been difficult to seek a clarification of whether permits would be required.  Now, Schienebeck says the Farm Bill assures loggers that they won't have to do extra paperwork and quote, "change the way we've been doing business" on road maintenance.  Also, the package extends contracting authority for forest stewardship -- a provision that was set to expire.  Schienebeck said the Farm Bill makes the stewardship program permanent.  Also, the USDA gets to designate treatment areas for forest-lands hard hit by disease and insects.  The package also gives state foresters a greater ability to implement certain forestry projects -- including watershed and fire-fighting efforts in national forests.


The iciest winter in two decades continues on the Great Lakes.  Officials said yesterday that 88-percent of the lakes' surface was covered with ice -- the most since 1994, when all but six-percent of the Great Lakes had an ice cover.  The Coast Guard has been working overtime, breaking ice so vessels can deliver essential goods like heating oil to places like Wisconsin.  But the large ice cover is not all bad.  Experts say it limits evaporation, and it might help replenish low water levels on Lake Michigan.  Also, you're not hearing about northern Wisconsin getting buried by lake-effect snows this winter.  In January of 2012, Gile in Iron County had more than 40 inches in just over a week because of a burst off Lake Superior.  Twenty-nine inches of that came in a two-day storm. Yesterday, Gile picked up six-and-a-half inches of new snow, in a storm that dumped anywhere from an-inch to a half-foot in the northern two-thirds of Wisconsin.  Forecasters say we'll have a dry Valentine's Day, with highs in the teens-and-20's.  More light snow is due in tomorrow.


An effort to throw out Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage appears to be going nowhere.  State Senator Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) and Assemblywoman JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) introduced a constitutional amendment yesterday to reverse the 2006 ban on gay marriage and civil unions.  Later, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said the measure would probably not get a public hearing before the current legislative session ends in April.  Vos said he believed that voters' opinions on gay marriage were quote, "fairly similar" to what they were in 2006 when 59-percent of voters approved the ban.  Recent polls have showed a more relaxed public view of same-sex marriage.  Last month's Marquette Law School poll showed that 53-percent of Wisconsin voters approve of gay marriage.  The new amendment comes a week-and-a-half after the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit to strike down the ban -- which was sought by the Wisconsin Family Action group.  Group leader Julaine Appling condemned the new constitutional amendment.  But she said Democrats did score points by using the political process instead of quote, "running to the courts like the ACLU did."


The Wisconsin State Assembly has voted to make police officers get warrants in most cases before they can tap into your cell-phone to see where you're going.  The lower house approved the measure yesterday on a voice vote. There have been reports that some U.S. police agencies are using fake towers to snap up people's cell data in entire neighborhoods where crimes are suspected.  Under the Wisconsin bill, cell-phone signals-and-data would be off-limits to the police unless a judge is convinced there's probable cause that a crime was committed -- and that tracking a phone would help investigators. Warrants would not be needed in emergencies.  The measure now goes to the Senate.  Also, the Assembly voted to make all hospitals test newborns for a congenital heart disease -- something most already do.  That bill now goes to Governor Scott Walker, along with another measure passed yesterday to let anyone invest in a child's state college savings plan in the Ed-Vest program.  Only family members can do that now.  The bill would also increase the current three-thousand-dollar-a-year tax deduction for Ed-Vest funds.  The new deduction would be tied to the inflation rate.


After a dozen years of trying, a Waupaca woman has finally convinced state lawmakers to stop letting people protect relatives who commit serious crimes.  The anti-harboring bill was approved by the Assembly yesterday on a voice vote.  It now goes to the Senate.  The bill would apply to those wanted in felony cases.  State law currently allows family members to hide relatives who are wanted.  They can also destroy evidence and mislead police investigations without facing consequences.  Shirley George has tried five times to end those family privileges.  Her grandson Joey was murdered outside a tavern in Oak Creek in 2000, and authorities said three suspects were protected by relatives -- including the son of former Milwaukee police union leader Brad DeBraska.  Under the new bill, victims of domestic violence would not be forced to rat on spouses who've been convicted of abuse in the past -- thus opening those victims to even more abuse.  That's been a sticking point for lawmakers in the past.  Also yesterday, the Assembly voted to increase the interest rate for unpaid small claims' judgments to 12-percent.  It's currently at four-and-a-quarter percent -- the prime rate plus one-percent.


Wisconsin couples would need government approval to transfer custody of their kids to non-relatives, under a bill passed by the state Assembly.  Yesterday's vote was 97-0.  The bill also prohibits couples from advertising online for informal adoptions.  A similar ban already exists for TV and newspapers.  Oconomowoc Republican Joel Kleefisch said government needs to get involved in out-of-family adoptions, to make sure the children are protected.  Last year, the Reuters News Service reported that couples were using Yahoo and Facebook to pass off their kids to homes outside their own states.  A Manitowoc County couple shipped their adopted child off to Illinois, without knowing that the mother was previously forced to give up her biological children due to concerns about violence.  The bill makes informal child transfers a criminal misdemeanor.  Kleefisch said he hoped Wisconsin could set an example for child protection.  The measure now goes to the Senate.  Also, the Assembly approved tougher laws against human trafficking.  On a voice vote, lawmakers expanded the definition of trafficking to include any schemes to control individuals. Victims who are prostitutes could try to have previous sex convictions expunged.  That bill also goes to the Senate.  


The proposed iron ore mine in far northern Wisconsin has cleared another regulatory hurdle.  The state DNR has approved a storm-water permit which allows Gogebic Taconite to sample four-thousand tons of rock.  It will help determine exactly where the mining project would be centered.  The company hopes to start its sampling in a few weeks on the proposed mining site in Ashland and Iron counties.  Also, the firm has applied for another storm-water permit for the upgrading of two roads on the site which could allow heavier traffic in the summer.  


If you were hoping to spear for a big fish on Lake Winnebago this weekend, forget it.  The DNR ended the annual sturgeon spearing season yesterday, after 90-percent of the quota for female fish was taken.  Spearers took home around 1,850 total sturgeon.  The season lasted only six days -- the third-shortest since 2002 -- and it lasted just three days on the lakes which are up the Fox River from Lake Winnebago.  Still, it was long enough for spearers to set a new record for catching sturgeon over 100 pounds.  Ninety-five of those giant-sized fish were harvested.  John Shaken of Chilton caught the biggest one.  It was 77-inches long, weighing 161 pounds. 


A woman accused of kidnapping a Beloit area baby returns to court today in Tipton Iowa.  A judge will decide if 31-year-old Kristen Smith should be extradited to Texas, to face charges of tampering with government records.  Authorities said Smith took five-day-old Kayden Powell from her half-sister near Beloit last Thursday.  Smith was later stopped on a freeway at West Branch, Iowa, where she was held on the Texas warrant pending an investigation into the alleged baby-napping.  She denied knowing where Kayden was.  Police found him a day later behind a gas station close to where Smith was pulled over.  She faces a federal kidnapping charge, but U-S Marshals have not taken her into custody yet.  Smith remains in an Iowa jail for now.  Yesterday, a prosecutor in Tipton charged Smith on a state count of child endangerment.  


Three people had minor injuries, after their small plane iced up and made a hard landing at Oconto in northeast Wisconsin.  It happened late yesterday afternoon.  Five people were in the twin-engine Cessna that was heading from Rochester Minnesota to Menominee Michigan.  A sheriff's officer said the pilot notified the Green Bay airport that his instruments and wings were getting icy -- and he would make an emergency landing in Oconto.  That's where the aircraft made a hard landing 20 minutes later, amid poor visibility due to the rain-and-snow at the time.  Authorities said the plane incurred heavy damage after it slid off the runway.  The pilot and co-pilot refused medical treatment. Officials said the three passengers were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.  


A Minnesota man convicted of killing his Wausau area wife has appealed both his verdict and his sentence.  Jeffrey Trevino of Saint Paul was sentenced last fall to 27-and-a-half years in prison -- twice the maximum under Minnesota's sentencing guidelines.  A jury convicted him of unintentional second-degree murder in the killing of 30-year-old Wausau area native Kira Steger.  She went missing a year ago next Friday, after going on a date with her husband in which she spent much of the night texting her boyfriend.  Steger's battered body was found in early May in the Mississippi River in Saint Paul, where the couple lived.  Defense lawyer John Conard filed an appeal yesterday in Ramsey County Circuit Court.  He's challenging the length of Trevino's sentence -- and he claims that circumstantial evidence was used to win a conviction.  Judge Leonardo Castro said the longer sentence was justified because Trevino acted with quote, "particular cruelty" by dumping Steger's body in the river to prevent large groups of searchers from finding her.


A state appeals court says a Madison doctor accused of fondling female patients must pay for the costs of disciplining him.  The state Medical Examining suspended former U-W Hospital physician Frank Salvi for 90 days in 2009.  He was also told to get a mental evaluation, and pay almost 47-thousand dollars for the state's costs of pursuing his case.  Salvi said he shouldn't have to pay that.  He claimed that the state's estimates of the time-and-costs spent on the case were not valid, because they reflected "information and belief" instead of personal knowledge.  The Fourth District Court of Appeals refused to buy that line of reasoning.  It said yesterday that both the administrative law judge and the prosecuting attorney had personal knowledge of the time spent on the case.  Salvi was accused of fondling four female patients in 2004-and-'05.  He challenged the state's punishment in court, and the appellate court later upheld it. 


Some Wisconsin law enforcement leaders will spend their Valentine's Day near Chicago, learning more about street gangs and a growing influence by Mexican cartels in drug dealing.  The "Tri-State Regional Gang Summit" was organized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Chicago Crime Commission.  About 150 regional police officials are expected to be on hand from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.  Chicago's U-S Attorney, Zachary Fardon, will be among those talking about strategies to fight an increase in gang-driven violence, and the roles of cartels in drug trafficking throughout the Midwest.  D-E-A official Jack Riley is also scheduled to address the group.