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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: After latest cold spell, climate experts says the U.S. has become weather wimps

Climate experts say we've become a nation of weather wimps. That's because it's been 17 years since we had the type of cold snap that used to cover the nation every four years. Wisconsin is busting out its cold spell with some of the warmest temperatures of the New Year. It was almost 30 degrees at six this morning between Monroe and Kenosha. It was 17 in Tomahawk, just a day after it was 31-below there. Packer fans saw the weather-weenies firsthand last week. The cold was blamed for the slowest playoff ticket sales in three decades, and many fans had trouble finding people to go with them to last Sunday's game in Green Bay. Lots of Cheese-heads opted to stay home, even though it was 17-degrees warmer at kickoff than the classic 13-below "Ice Bowl" at Lambeau Field in 1967. It did get colder on Monday, when Rhinelander had a 55-below wind-chill. Still, it was only the 55th coldest day on record, as the average national average dropped below 18-degrees for the first time January 13th of 1997. Texas A-and-M climate specialist Andrew Dessler told the A-P that people's memories about the weather are horrible. He said this week's bitter cold felt more extreme than it actually was, because we're just not used to cold winters anymore. A wintry mix of snow-and-rain is predicted for many places today. By tomorrow, the state's mid-section could have 2-to-5 inches of new snow on the ground.


After a national search, the University of Wisconsin System found its new president in its back yard. Ray Cross -- who's been the chancellor of the U-W Extension and two-year colleges since 2011 -- was named yesterday to replace Kevin Reilly. It's the third straight time that the Board of Regents chose a president from within. Reilly held Cross's former job when he was picked nine years ago -- and Katharine Lyall was the U-W's vice president for academic affairs when she was promoted to the top. Regents' selection chairman Michael Falbo says the 66-year-old Cross has a quote, "deep understanding" of the challenges and opportunities facing the 26-campus system. Governor Scott Walker said he enjoyed working with Cross as they helped the create the new Flexible Option Degree program for non-traditional students. State lawmakers, who've had a shaky relationship with the U-W in recent years, also had good words for Cross. Assembly Colleges Committee chairman Steve Nass (nahss) said he trusts Cross -- and he'll make his top priorities will be in the best interests of Wisconsin families. Cross beat out two other finalists who head higher education systems in other states -- Robert King in Kentucky and Peter Garland in Pennsylvania. Cross will get 525-thousand dollars a year, close to the top of the salary range of 599-thousand.


Four bills aimed at stopping the rise in heroin use and overdose deaths will be up for approval in the state Assembly on Tuesday. The Assembly's criminal justice panel unanimously endorsed bills yesterday to let trained emergency responders give the antidote drug Narcan to those who O-D. Those reporting overdoses to 9-1-1 would be immune from prosecution in most cases. The third bill would expand collection drives for prescription drugs. The Assembly health committee endorsed the fourth measure, requiring I-D's to obtain prescription drugs. Assembly Republican John Nygren of Marinette proposed all four measures, after his daughter Cassie almost died from a heroin overdose in 2009. At a public hearing by the justice panel, some officials said the bills create too many levels of immunity -- and a local E-M-T group called the training for Narcan an unfunded mandate. Alex Hoffman of Menomonee Falls, whose son died of a heroin overdose in July, told lawmakers the concerns are understandable but quote, "Doing nothing is unacceptable. We fail if we don't try." He said if nothing's done, lawmakers wouldn't recognize Wisconsin in five years. Doctor Mike Miller of the State Medical Society said fears about liability over Narcan are unsubstantiated. A substance abuse coordinator said fellow users throw overdose victims in a shower instead of help, so they don't expose themselves to prosecution.


Three people are recovering, after they inhaled toxic fumes at a plant in Madison. It resulted from a spill which happened last evening at Mentor Biologics, a company that makes a drug that competes with Botox. Fire officials said the injuries were minor, and the three workers were taken to U-W Hospital as a precaution. Division Chief Art Price said they were all alert and walking after they were exposed. He said a small amount of chlorine dioxide was spilled in a cleaning fluid that was used during a cabinet-cleaning operation. Price said the cleaning agent is toxic, but the chemical was not at full strength because it was diluted before being used in the plant.


Under state law, we're supposed to be updated once-a-year about Wisconsin's war-on-drugs -- and that report is overdue by 21 years. Back in 1990, lawmakers ordered that the governor and attorney general file an annual report by November 15th, describing the state's drug enforcement efforts and recommendations for moving forward. Senate Democrat Bob Wirch of Kenosha County noticed that the reports were absent last year, while he was researching an issue. He asked state Auditor Joe Chrisman to find out why they were not forthcoming -- and Chrisman said the last annual report was filed in 1992. Aides to Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General J-B Van Hollen had no idea why, but they'll work together on filing a report. Both offices said Walker and Van Hollen are committed to fighting drug-related crime. Wirch said the information could be vital amid a national debate over easing up on marijuana laws, and curbing the rise in heroin use. The current administration is far from being the only ones guilty of not providing updates. They were never filed under former governors Tommy Thompson, Scott McCallum, and Jim Doyle -- and former attorneys general Doyle and Peg Lautenschlager.


State minority Democrats will hold a public hearing in Marshfield today on their effort to have independent panels re-draw congressional and legislative districts. A similar hearing was held yesterday in Chippewa Falls. Majority Republicans had sole control of the re-districting process in 2011, and they've refused to consider the independent route. Former long-time House Democrat David Obey is taking part in the hearings. Critics have said the G-O-P added its own voters to Obey's old district to try-and-keep Sean Duffy in office -- and it may have an effect in a district just to the south. Former Mauston alderman and retired building contractor Ken Van Doren is announcing his G-O-P bid this week for the Third District House seat, held for the last 17 years by Democrat Ron Kind. Van Doren says Obama-care should be voluntary instead of mandatory for both patients and health care providers -- and he claims that a number of actions in Washington have violated the constitution. The Third District has traditionally been considered a swing district where 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats have historically held the area's House seat. It appears to be more Democratic after state Republicans stretched it to Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point in 2011. That move also split party allegiances in the region, after the cities of Point, Rapids, Marshfield, and Wausau had the same House representative for years.  


A state committee plans to vote next week on letting Wisconsinites buy rifles and shotguns from dealers throughout the nation. A federal law from 1968 banned interstate gun sales, but it allowed people to buy long guns from dealers in adjacent states. Wisconsin law still has the contiguous state purchase requirement, even though the federal government ended a similar restriction in the late '80's. The Assembly's Natural Resources Committee plans to vote Wednesday to have Wisconsin catch up to the current federal standards.