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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Emerald ash-borer found in more places across state

The tree-killing emerald ash borer continues to rear its head in new places throughout Wisconsin.  

State agriculture officials said today that the green beetle was discovered in Adams County for the first time, and at Merrick State Park along the Mississippi River near Fountain City.  Officials said an adult beetle was found in a trap July 22nd along Lake Petenwell along the border between Adams and Juneau counties.  In Buffalo County, the ash borer was spotted in a trap between a boat landing and the Merrick park nature center.  Adams, Juneau, and Buffalo counties are being added to the quarantine list, bringing the total to 32 since the emerald ash borer was first confirmed in Wisconsin in 2008.  No one can move firewood from quarantined counties to those which are not quarantined.  Ash products cannot be shipped to non-quarantined counties unless they're certified by the state as being pest-free.


A state trooper was wounded early today when she was stabbed by his wife during an argument -- and when he ran off, she reportedly killed herself.  It happened at Carl and Hollie Rowan's house in Janesville around three this morning.  Authorities were first told that a husband-and-wife were stabbed at the home, and they responded around three this morning.  Police said they found 32-year-old Carl Rowan outside the house, and his 31-year-old wife Hollie was found dead inside.  An investigation continues.


A one-year-old girl is recovering, after she was attacked by a pit bull at her grandparents' house in Racine.  The infant was taken to a Racine hospital before she was transferred by helicopter to Milwaukee Children's Hospital.  Her condition was not immediately disclosed.  Police said they ordered the grandparents to quarantine the male pit bull for the next ten days.  The incident happened last evening.


Wisconsin Energy filed applications today to seek approval from four states to buy Chicago's Integrys Energy Group.  The parent companies of We Energies and the Wisconsin Public Service utility would become one under the nine-point-one billion dollar deal.  Wisconsin Energy made its filings today with state regulators in Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan as well as the Badger State.  The required filings for federal approvals are expected later in August. The utilities hope to complete their merger by the second half of next year, as they try to become the 14th-largest utility company in the nation.  In its applications, Wisconsin Energy said there would not be immediate savings with the acquisition -- but there would be savings over time, compared to what would happen without the deal.  The Milwaukee holding company promised to freeze Illinois customers' rates for two years.  No such offer was made in its Wisconsin application.  It did say that acquisition and transaction costs would be funded by stockholders -- and not utility customers.  The proposed acquisition was first announced last month.


Six of Wisconsin's largest health care systems are forming a statewide network to contract with insurers, and to share what works best for each group.  The partnership includes health systems that serve about 90-percent of Wisconsinites -- Aurora Health of Milwaukee, UW Health of Madison, Gundersen of La Crosse, Aspirus of Wausau, Bellin of Green Bay, and Theda-Care of Neenah.  Jeff Thompson of Gundersen says it's not a merger or a consolidation -- but rather, a true partnership which will allow each system to learn more rapidly from each other, and serve patients more efficiently.  Among other things, each group uses the same technology for its electronic medical records.  


The Target department store chain has filed a legal brief in support of same-sex marriages in Wisconsin.  That's rare, since large companies normally shy away from hot-button political issues so they don't turn off customers.  However, as polls show growing support for gay marriage, several large U.S. companies have publicly defended the practice -- both in legal briefs, and in referendums.  Target filed its brief in the federal appeals court in Chicago, which is considering the constitutionality of gay marriage bans passed in both Wisconsin and Indiana.  Federal judges overturned those bans, and both states filed appeals.  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune said virtually all of Minnesota's biggest businesses took no stance on a state referendum from 2012 to ban same-sex marriages.  The referendum failed, and lawmakers approved the gay unions last year.


A state lawmaker from Milwaukee has created a special interest group to lobby against the return of former state Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan to the Legislature.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says Assembly Democrat Fred Kessler of Milwaukee has put five-thousand dollars of his money toward the group "Citizens Against Payday Loans."  Kessler is still rankled over what Sheridan did in 2010 -- when he supported a limit on payday loan interest rates, then did a flip-flop about the time he was dating a lobbyist for the payday loan industry.  Sheridan was defeated in the 2010 elections, but he's back now as a candidate for the Janesville area state Senate seat in next Tuesday's primary.  Kessler's group has been running ads which attack Sheridan's actions involving the payday loan bill, which never passed and never came up again after Republicans won control of the Legislature.  Kessler said he was also upset over Sheridan's stances on Milwaukee school choice, redistricting, and the residential placements of sex offenders.  Sheridan tells the Journal-Sentinel that Kessler's attacks are a "payback" over unsuccessful efforts to, as he put it, "sabotage my leadership."  


Most people used to think that if Congress was doing a bad job, their own members were still good -- until now.  For the first time, the ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 51-percent of Americans disapproved of the way their own representatives handled their jobs.  Also, the poll showed that 50-percent of Midwest adults disapproved of their congressional members' jobs -- while 46-percent approved.  The question has been asked for 25 years. The Post says the vast majority of incumbents are still expected to be re-elected in November -- and many observers do not expect Wisconsin's seven incumbent candidates to be vulnerable.  However, the Post says Americans are more likely to unseat incumbents when more folks disapprove of their own members.  In 1998, just over 70-percent approved of their own Capitol Hill representatives, and 98-percent of them were re-elected.  In 2010, when the overall approval rating was down to 51-percent, only 85-percent of incumbent candidates won. The new poll was conducted from last Wednesday through Sunday, with an error margin of three-and-a-half percent either way.


It's certain that you won't have to show a photo ID to vote in next Tuesday's primaries in Wisconsin -- but the requirement is still possible for November.  The federal appeals court in Chicago is giving the law's opponents until August 19th to respond to the state's request from yesterday to restore the ID mandate as soon as possible.  That's a week later than the state, congressional, and county primaries set for August 12th.  Earlier this year, Federal Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that the photo ID voting law passed by state Republicans in 2011 was unconstitutional, and it violated the federal Voting Rights Act.  State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is appealing that decision -- and he has asked that the law be put back into the effect while the court reviews the law itself.  The Wisconsin ID requirement has only been used once, in a low-turnout primary in February of 2012.  State officials say about 15-percent of Wisconsin's eligible voters are expected to turn out for Tuesday's primaries.  The biggest contests are a four-way Republican primary for the east central Wisconsin U.S. House seat, and a three-way Democratic primary for state attorney general.


You still hear lots of grumbling in Wisconsin about Obamacare -- but a survey shows that the reform law is indeed meeting its goal of reducing the numbers of uninsured.  According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 9.6 percent of Wisconsinites surveyed did not have health coverage at the start of July.  That's down from 11.7 percent at the end of 2013, as the Affordable Care Act began in earnest.  Wisconsin's two-point-one percent drop is higher than 17 other states.  The question was part of an ongoing survey of 88,000 Americans, which asks the same people about various health trends year-round.  In general, Gallup said states which embraced Obama-care had higher percentage declines in their uninsured -- while smaller drops were seen in states like Wisconsin which rejected both higher Medicaid funds and the creation of its own purchasing exchange.  However, the Badger State still fared better than three of its neighbors which accepted the Obamacare state options.  Gallup said Minnesota had a seven-tenths-of-one-percent drop in its uninsured since Obama-care began.  Michigan had a six-tenths percent drop.  And Iowa saw its uninsured increase by six-tenths of a percent to over ten.  Arkansas had the biggest drop in its uninsured, ten-point-one percent, after saying yes to both Obama-care state options.