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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Green Bay extending an invitation for Pope Francis to visit

GREEN BAY -- Pope Francis is considering a visit to the United States next year -- and Green Bay is among the places extending an invitation. Mayor Jim Schmitt wrote the pontiff, encouraging him to visit a Marian shrine that the Catholic church officially recognized just over three years ago. Schmitt says he could also see the relatively-new pope delivering Mass to a full house of close to 80-thousand at Lambeau Field. With bigger cities expecting to court Francis, Schmitt calls a visit to Green Bay a long shot but quote, "I think you need to ask for things." Vatican sources have said the pope is likely to visit the U-S in 2015. He's expected to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, an international event the Catholic Church holds every three years. Green Bay's mayor wants Francis to see the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in the tiny town of Champion, about 15 miles northeast of the city. The church verified in 2010 that the Virgin Mary had appeared to a young girl at the shrine in 1859. The Marian shrine is the only site of its kind in the U-S that the Catholic Church officially recognizes.  


It appears that gun control will be an issue in the Wisconsin attorney general's election this fall. Milwaukee Representative Jon Richards, one of three Democratic candidates for the A-G's post, is among the sponsors of a bill requiring universal background checks for all gun buyers. However, a spokesman for Republican candidate Brad Schimel said criminals could look to the black market to find guns -- and the concept of background checks is more about politics than about serious efforts to fight crime. Democrats pushed for the mandatory checks on all gun buyers at a news conference yesterday. They said the public clearly supports the idea, as evidenced by petitions with 16-thousand signatures displayed at the gathering. The Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort presented the petitions. Richards said the measure would prevent murders by keeping guns away from at least some violent criminals. His primary opponents in the attorney general's race -- Ismael Ozanne and Susan Happ -- have not commented on the bill. Lawmakers are running out of time to act on the measure, since the current session ends in just over a month.


This is the coldest morning in several weeks in parts of northern Wisconsin -- but it doesn't seem that way, because the winds have died down. It was 28-below at six o'clock this morning at Land O'Lakes in Vilas County at the Upper Michigan border. But just an hour later, the mercury jumped by a sizable 11-degrees in that community, to 17-below. Merrill had the state's coldest temperature at seven, with 19-below. Milwaukee was at three-above. Winds were either light or non-existent, and wind-chill factors ran between minus-eight in Milwaukee to minus-29 at Rice Lake. After a cold week, a slight warm-up is expected for the weekend -- still well below normal, though, considering that tomorrow is the first of March. Highs are expected to be in the teens, with places near Lake Michigan warming up to the low-20's. Snow is in the forecast for southern Wisconsin tomorrow, with a chance of snow on Sunday. And then another cold wave is due in for at least a couple days.


About 12-hundred students in Racine are getting a four-day weekend, as authorities continue to investigate a fire at Mitchell Elementary School. The gymnasium was destroyed after its roof collapsed, and there was smoke and water damage in other parts of the building. The blaze started early yesterday morning, and classes were called off for both yesterday and today in the elementary school and the adjacent middle school. An informational meeting will be held late this afternoon for the families of Mitchell's students.


Briggs-and-Stratton has come up with a quieter lawn-mower engine, so folks can cut grass earlier in the day without waking up their neighborhoods. The Milwaukee area small-engine maker has unveiled what it calls "Quiet Power Technology." Briggs says the new engine is 65-percent quieter than similar engines made in the past. Marketing director Carissa Gingras says it will let people change their habits, and mow earlier or later in the day without disturbing others. Briggs said it took over two years to develop the new technology. It will make its Wisconsin debut this spring on select Craftsman mowers sold at Sears. Briggs says the quieter engines will eventually become a staple on larger items like riding mowers and snow-blowers.


Ice fishing enthusiasts are supposed to get their shanties off Wisconsin lakes about now -- but that's easier-said-than-done, thanks to our cold winter. The D-N-R says people have been asking for advice about moving shanties which are frozen in, as temperatures climbed to the 40's and then dropped below zero again. Officials are asking people to do their best to follow the removal deadlines -- and if they can't, they should report their situations to the D-N-R, and the wardens will use their discretion. Ice-fishing shanties were supposed to be off the Wisconsin-Iowa boundary waters eight days ago. They're supposed to be taken off Minnesota boundary waters by tomorrow -- inland waters in southern Wisconsin by Monday -- Michigan boundary waters by March 15th -- and northern inland waters by Saint Patrick's Day.


A cold winter means a hot investment for shareholders of Wisconsin utilities. Madison Gas-and-Electric reports a 34-percent increase in its net income for the final quarter of 2013 -- due mainly to a 28-percent jump in natural gas sales. M-G-and-E made just over 14-million dollars from October-through-December, up from 10-and-a-half million the year before. Earnings totaled 41-cents a share, 11-cents more than the same quarter the previous year. The higher natural gas sales were spurred by an average temperature that was 13-degrees colder in December than in the same month of 2012. Madison's average temperature that month was almost 18-degrees. For all of last year, Madison Gas-and-Electric netted 75-million dollars, up from 64-million in 2012.


A 42-year-old man died late yesterday, after he got tangled up in a piece of equipment at a corn processing plant in Fond du Lac County. Rescuers were called just after 4:15 p-m to Seneca Foods in Oakfield. Other details of the mishap were not immediately released, and neither was the victim's name. Sheriff's officers are investigating.