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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Gas prices starting to inch up again

Wisconsin gas prices are inching up again. The Triple-"A" said the statewide average for regular unleaded was 3.33-and-a-half per gallon as of yesterday. That's up by six-cents from a week ago, and it's almost seven cents higher than a month ago. One factor is the rising cost of crude oil, as U-S crude for March deliveries went above 100-dollars a barrel this morning. Experts said growth in China signaled a steady demand for energy in one of the world's largest petroleum-consuming nations. Also, analysts at Gas-Buddy-Dot-Com said it's normal to see gas prices go up in late February. That's because refineries are cutting back production to perform plant maintenance -- and they're switching over to summer blends of fuel. Wisconsin motorists are still getting a bargain compared to a year ago -- when regular unleaded was 33-cents higher than it is now.


All of Wisconsin is supposed to get a heaping dose of snow today. Six-to-seven inches are predicted for the southern third of the state, including Madison and Milwaukee. Five-to-seven inches are in the forecast for the western half of the state, plus the Fox Valley. Central and north central areas can expect 3-to-5 inches. It's all courtesy of a large storm system that's being pushed ahead of a low-pressure band in the Great Plains. The new snow comes on top of up to four-inches in the Fox Valley late Saturday and early yesterday. Forecasters expect heavy drifting by this afternoon in southern and western areas, where winds from the southeast could reach 30-miles-an-hour. Parts of southwest Wisconsin could see one-inch-of-snow per hour until around noon. Today's highs are expected to be in the 20's statewide, getting down to the teens tonight. West central Wisconsin could get its warmest day of the New Year tomorrow, highs of 40 projected in some areas. There's a chance of freezing rain on Wednesday and Thursday.


The governor's office says it's doing what it can to approve some type of school accountability package before the legislative session ends in April. Governor Scott Walker has not talked about the subject nearly as much as he has about tax relief. But Walker spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the Republican governor and his aides are in daily contact with lawmakers, pushing to get something approved. Walker has said he wants to make every school which gets state tax money provide quote, "objective information about how those schools measure up." A major bill to strengthen the state's grading of schools, and punish the lowest performers, does not appear to be getting enough votes in the Senate. G-O-P Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is still pursuing a package of that nature. Last week, the Senate's education panel endorsed a measure to require schools with tax-funded voucher students to be under the same current report card system as public schools -- with no sanctions for those which don't make the grade. Walker now tells the Journal Sentinel he may have to accept quote, "something over nothing."


Two skiers from southern Wisconsin were killed over the weekend in an avalanche in Colorado. Authorities have not identified them -- but W-I-S-C T-V in Madison said they were Jarrard Law and 32-year-old Justin Lentz, both of Portage. The avalanche occurred Saturday about 120 miles southwest of Denver near Independence Pass, at an elevation of 11-thousand-feet. Lake County Emergency Management spokeswoman Susan Matthews said a total of seven skiers were swept away -- and investigators believe they triggered the slide in an area with steep and treacherous conditions. The bodies of Law and Lentz were found yesterday afternoon at the top of the avalanche. A friend of both victims told W-I-S-C that Law worked at the Cascade Mountain ski area near Portage, and Lentz was a snowboarder. Three of the other skiers survived with injuries -- one with broken ribs and a lacerated kidney. The other two were buried in the avalanche but escaped unharmed. Lentz and Law were the second-and-third Wisconsinites to die in Colorado avalanches this month. 26-year-old Joshua Lesniak of Berlin died last Monday, after he was buried in up to 20-feet of snow while snowmobiling with two others near Crested Butte Colorado.


Funeral arrangements are pending for Horst Rechelbacher, a pioneer in health-and-beauty products. He died on Saturday at his home at Osceola in northwest Wisconsin. He was 72. Rechelbacher, who emigrated from Austria, was a hairdresser in 1978 when he founded Aveda. The hair-and-skin care products' giant was headquartered in Minneapolis. It grew to about 25-thousand stores and salons throughout the world, plus teaching institutes in Minneapolis and New York. Rechelbacher sold Aveda in 1997 to Estee Lauder for 300-million dollars. After that, he started the Minneapolis firm of Intelligent Nutrients -- with a goal of creating the most environmentally-friendly health and beauty products through the use of the latest plant-cell research. Rechelbacher was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011, and gave up his presidency of Intelligent Nutrients in 2012.


Community groups in Appleton are banding together to help dozens of incoming refugees get a fresh start. Lawrence University bought a vacant office building in downtown Appleton, where donations will be collected for refugees expected to arrive this year from Iraq, Myanmar, and the Congo. Space is being loaned to the Fox Valley Kiwanis Club. It's heading up a furniture drive which seeks clean, usable items like chairs, dressers, and lamps. World Relief-Fox Valley, a local re-settlement agency, also has space in the Lawrence building. Lawrence spokesman Jake Woodford tells the Appleton Post-Crescent it's still trying to determine the long-term future of its facility -- and in the meantime, the school is taking advantage of a good opportunity to help with the re-settlement. About 75 refugees are expected in Appleton later this year. Another 60 are projected to settle in nearby Neenah-and-Menasha. ____________________

A southeast Wisconsin woman might go to prison, for allegedly violating a probation in the deaths of her twin babies. 28-year-old Melody Butt of East Troy was charged last Tuesday with four new misdemeanor charges, including possessions of marijuana and illegally-obtained prescription drugs. Butt is due in Walworth County Circuit Court February 28th on those new counts. In the meantime, state corrections' officials tell the Janesville Gazette they're reviewing her previous case, before deciding whether to send her to prison. Back in the summer of 2012, a 10-year prison sentence was stayed -- and Butt was given jail-and-extended supervision for letting her children drown in an overflowing bathtub while she fell asleep. The 11-month-old twin boy-and-girl died in September of 2011. She was convicted on two counts of child neglect causing death.


A Minnesota man who's suspected of kidnapping his 28-month-old son was arrested yesterday while driving near Lake Delton on Interstate-90-94. 33-year-old Marque Montez Charleston was taken to the Sauk County Jail. He did not have custody of the child -- who was sleeping in the car when it was stopped. He was not hurt. Officials said Charleston broke into a home early yesterday in the Twin Cities' suburb of Saint Louis Park, where he allegedly assaulted the child's mother and took the toddler by force. Reports said they might have been heading to either New York or Florida. A State Patrol official said troopers used cell-phone signals to track down Charleston. He was arrested without incident around two yesterday afternoon, 13 hours after the kidnapping reportedly took place. Media reports said the mother drove more than 200 miles to be reunited with the youngster.


Wisconsin O-W-I defense lawyers have formed a committee to investigate a concern over blood sample tests for suspected drunk drivers. Suburban Milwaukee attorney Andrew Mishlove said jagged humps appear on the graphs of some of the test results. Lawyers say it could raise questions about the accuracy of 17-thousand O-W-I tests performed each year by the state Hygiene Lab. A state official calls that "ridiculous," and the unexplained peaks have no bearing on the reliability of the blood tests. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the instrument's manufacturer, Perkin-Elmer, checked out the device -- and neither the company nor the state Hygiene Lab knows what's causing the humps on the graphs. Mishlove wrote in the Wisconsin Law Journal that his firm has obtained software to re-analyze Perkin-Elmer's tests -- and the attorneys' group has retained experts suggesting that lab instruments be taken out of service if they produce suspected results. Laura Liddicoat of the Hygiene Lab said the Law Journal article has "fallacies." She says the unexplained humps quote, "do not constitute a repeated failure or a malfunction under accreditation rules."


Milwaukee has the nation's third-highest tax burden among America's largest cities. That's according to Washington D-C's Office of Revenue Analysis. It said a Milwaukee family-of-three making 150-thousand dollars a year paid just over 26-thousand dollars in sales, income, property, and auto taxes in 2012. Families making 25-thousand dollars a year paid almost 32-hundred-50-dollars in total taxes. Washington analysts said Milwaukee's city property taxes were three-percent higher than all but a few regions in the survey. The report also said Milwaukee had especially-high income tax burdens. It did note however, that Wisconsin reformed its tax code last year -- and Governor Scott Walker asked lawmakers to cut property taxes and income taxes for the state's lowest bracket. The new report said Bridgeport Connecticut had the nation's highest tax burden, and Philadelphia was second.


Attendance jumped by 21-percent last year at Wisconsin's largest state historical site. Old World Wisconsin credits an expansion of its Laura Ingalls Wilder Days from one weekend into a month-long festival. Officials also said a family Halloween tour boosted attendance -- as did interactive Civil War events, plus a somewhat cooler summer. Attendance by school tours rose 19-percent from the previous year. Old World Wisconsin is located near Eagle. It has dozens of historic Wisconsin buildings.