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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Vilsak warns milk prices will rise dramatically if no Farm Bill passed

WASHINGTON D.C. - Milk prices could see a dramatic increase if a new Farm Bill isn’t passed by Congress.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says if a new bill isn’t approved very soon, his agency will start enforcing the dairy program devised in 1949. If that happens, experts predict the price of milk could sky-rocket to seven-dollar a gallon. Congress passed an extension to the Farm Bill but it has gone nowhere with passing a permanent fixture. Negotiators are hopeful that a new five-year bill will be passed when the U.S. House and Senate reconvenes this week, but Vilsack says his patience is running thin. The current extension of the 2008 Farm Bill expires on January 31.


The Humane Society of the United States wants a major Wisconsin farm group to help make the tail-docking of dairy cows illegal in the Badger State. Tail-docking is the amputation of cows' tails.  The Humane Society calls it "inhumane" -- and it wants the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation to try-and-halt the practice.  Some farmers do it to help keep cows clean, thus resulting in better sanitation and milk quality.  The Humane Society insists there's no evidence for such a link.  In a letter to Farm Bureau president Jim Holte, Society vice president Paul Shapiro said quote -- "Having the second-biggest dairy state join the shift away from tail-docking could be a helpful way to demonstrate that the industry takes animal welfare seriously."  Farm Bureau spokesman Casey Langan says his group supports appropriate animal husbandry practices -- and tail-docking should remain a decision between farmers and their veterinarians.  Langan said it should not be a government mandate prompted by quote, "an animal rights group whose end-goal is to eliminate animal agriculture."  California, the nation's top milk producer, bans tail-docking of cows.  The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes it for management purposes.  


A new bill that would waive sales taxes on certain purchased one weekend a year is receiving some mixed reactions. Two of the nation’s largest corporations, Wal-Mart and Apple, are lobbying in support of the bill that was up for a committee hearing today. Under the bill, purchases on some computers, Energy Star products and back-to-school supplies would receive a sales tax waiver once a year, in August and November. Supporters say the bill would draw people to the stores and stimulate sales.


With winter in full swing, the American Red Cross is warning Wisconsinites about the dangers of using alternative sources to heat their homes. Spokeswoman Liz Dorland says space heaters are often a cause to many house fires. Heaters should always be placed on a hard surface and at least three feet away from any flammable objects, like a couch or a pile of laundry. Another concern for homeowners is frozen pipes, which were numerous during the cold snap this past weekend. Dorland says allowing your faucets to trickle and opening cabinet doors to circulate warm air will prevent pipes from freezing up. She adds that a heat lamp could also be used if the pipes are in a concentrated space. Another option is electrically-powered heat tape, but never use a propane torch or blow torch to heat up plumbing.


Wisconsin started breaking out of its deep freeze this afternoon -- but it was still cold enough for many of us to stay in hibernation.  Medford was the only reporting station as cold as 10-below at 1 p.m.  Western Wisconsin was the warm spot, where it was two-above at La Crosse, Sparta, Viroqua, and Prairie du Chien.  Wind chills were still in the 15-to-30-below range statewide.  Wind-chill warnings ended at noon in Milwaukee, but advisories continued in much of the state.  Northern Wisconsin will spend one more night in the deep freeze, with lows getting down to 25-below.  Tomorrow, highs are expected from zero-to-10 above throughout Wisconsin.  The real January thaw begins Saturday, with highs in the 30's and a chance of snow or freezing rain.  During the cold snap, thousands of Wisconsinites were without power at one time or another -- and numerous residents needed help thawing out water pipes and starting their dead car batteries.  Nobody was reported to have died in Wisconsin since Sunday.  In Beloit last night, two young kids were okay after their mother allegedly left them in a cold car while shopping.  Today, authorities on the Lac du Flambeau Indian reservation said a woman escaped injury after using hot charcoal to help heat up her vehicle.  It worked, but officials said the bumper's under-cage started on fire.


Innocent pleas were entered today for a Rock County man accused of killing a woman and burning her body in a fire-pit at his home.  Nathan Middleton stood mute as he was arraigned on his 30th birthday.  A judge entered innocent pleas to felony counts of homicide, hiding a corpse, and escape.  All sides in the case will return to court March 6th, when a trial date could be set.  Prosecutors said Middleton advertised for sex on Craigslist, and 18-year-old Aprina Paul of Fitchburg answered the ad.  Officials said the two took drugs and had sex, and she was found dead the next day.  After being in jail for a month, prosecutors said he asked his mother to blow up part of the Rock County lock-up so they could escape together to Mexico.


A Milwaukee man accused of killing his wife was serving in Afghanistan when he suspected that she was cheating on him.  That's what a jury was told today as the trial of 29-year-old Keith Brooks got underway.  The Army veteran is charged with battery and homicide in the death of 27-year-old Anita Brooks in January of last year.  Defense lawyer John Moore said it was Anita who shot-and-killed herself as she was about to leave him for good.  Assistant District Attorney Kevin Shomin countered that Brooks' behavior and the scientific evidence would show that he indeed shot her to death.  When testimony began, jurors heard Brooks' 9-1-1 call to police after the shooting in which the defendant was crying and screaming -- and his young daughter could be heard in the background.


The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation says lawmakers should repeal last year's state law designed to speed up Gogebic Taconite's new iron ore mine.  Group director George Meyer said the state has "an unreasonably short permit-processing deadline."  That's after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it could not work together with the DNR on the state-and-federal environmental impact statements for the project.  The corps cited differing review requirements -- and the DNR's Ann Coakley told the Wisconsin Radio Network right after Christmas that it could delay the permit process.  She said the federal impact statement might come a year after the state's document. Today, Gogebic Taconite's Bob Seitz told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Meyer's trying to indicate that the corps will never work with his company on the project -- and it's not true.  Meanwhile, Seitz says Gogebic may file a formal application for the mine by late this year -- but he and the DNR both say that's optimistic.  The DNR said it needs 11 clarifications before it would let the firm test underground rock for the project -- and the state wants 29 clarifications before approving a storm-water handling permit.  Tomorrow, the state Legislature's Joint Finance panel will consider hiring an extra DNR hydro-geologist for the project.


A Beloit woman faces possible charges, for allegedly leaving two young kids in a cold car at a Walmart parking lot.  The 23-year-old mother was released, after being arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor child neglect.  Authorities say charges could be filed as early as today in Rock County.  Online court records did not list anything as of late morning.  Somebody called police after seeing the two kids -- ages five and one-and-a-half -- in a car that was not running.  It was 12-below at the time, with a wind-chill of minus-32.  Beloit Police said the woman kept the kids alone for about 10 minutes while she was shopping.  Officers were talking to the youngsters when the woman returned to her vehicle.  The kids were taken to the county's Child Protective Services, where another relative later picked them up.  They were checked out, and were fine.  


Wisconsin's two U.S. senators voted opposite ways this morning, when a bill to restore federal benefits for the long-term unemployed cleared its first hurdle.  Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Madison voted yes and Republican Ron Johnson of Oshkosh voted no, when the Senate voted 60-37 to limit debate on the measure.  Only a half-dozen Republicans sided with the Democrats, and Johnson was not among them.  The GOP wants to amend the package to make sure the $6.4 billion dollar cost does not add to the federal deficit.  Democrats have rejected that idea.  The bill has an uncertain future anyway, because it's attracting lots of opposition in the Republican-controlled House.  Baldwin says the package affects almost 24,000 Wisconsinites who lost their emergency federal jobless benefits on December 28th.  The bill restores 14-to-47 weeks of benefits for one-point-three million of the nation's longest unemployed individuals.  Baldwin says the nation's economy is moving forward but Wisconsin continues to lag behind other states -- as evidenced by the fact that unemployment rose in 53 of Wisconsin's 72 counties from October to November.  She also said the Badger State led the nation in new jobless benefit claims a few weeks ago.  


A mountain climber from Dodge County and his partner have died in Argentina.  22-year-old Jarod VonRueden of Clyman and 28-year-old Francis Keenan of Pennsylvania were just below the summit of Aconcagua when VonRueden activated a rescue beacon.  That was on New Year's Eve.  VonRueden's family learned on Sunday that rescuers had given up hope that he and Keenan were still alive.  Their bodies were found in a crevice, and crews were developing a plan to retrieve them today.  Officials said severe weather on the mountain was also a problem.  Aconcagua is the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.  VonRueden's cousin, Julie Feldman, tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the pair started planning a couple months ago to make their adventurous journey.  Feldman said they began their ascent on December 23rd.  The mountain is located in the Andes range in the Argentine province of Mendoza.  VonRueden graduated from Watertown High School.  His family said he was an avid climber, and he was studying to become an emergency medical technician.  


You've heard that 90-percent of success is just showing up -- and that's especially true for those who deliver pizza and other hot food during this week's cold snap.  Scott Perkins delivers for Glass Nickel Pizza in Madison.  He tells WMTV -TV that the key to success is having a good car battery, dressing appropriately, and having a spare key so his car can stay locked-and-running while he's at the door.  Perkins learned that last lesson the hard way last September.  He kept his vehicle running -- and it was stolen while he was dropping off a pizza.  The car was later found abandoned near a Madison shopping mall.  Lots of folks are choosing to have food delivered instead of cooking during the cold wave.  Perkins said it's as busy as a Packer game day -- when drivers can make twice as much as on a regular day.  


Wisconsin utility crews are working rapidly to restore power to customers trying to keep their homes and businesses warm during this bitter cold wave.  In Dodge County, We Energies said a-thousand customers lost their electricity this morning near Watertown -- but by eight o'clock, that number was reduced to about 280.  The only other outage of note was around Alma Center, where Xcel Energy said a dozen customers were in the cold as of eight.  In Monona, around 900 Madison Gas-and-Electric customers had their power back by four this morning.  The Monona City Hall was opened last night for those needing a place to stay warm.  In Door County, Wisconsin Public Service had around 220 customers out at four a-m in the Sister Bay area.  All those people are back online.


You might not think that ski hills would be closed due to the cold -- but some are.  Officials at Granite Peak near Wausau say they're concerned about injuries to folks going down Rib Mountain.  They're also worried that chair lifts would break down, thus leaving skiers stuck in the frozen air.  Granite Peak was closed yesterday.  The same is true today, and the ski area plans to re-open tomorrow.  The Sunburst ski area near Kewaskum has also been closed for the same two days.  It's no warmer this morning than it was yesterday.  Rhinelander had a wind-chill of 52-below at seven a-m, and an actual temperature of minus-27.  Both were the state's coldest.  In La Crosse, yesterday's high failed to reach 10-below for only the 40th time since 1873 when records were first kept.  Relief is on the way.  Much of southern Wisconsin expects to be above zero this afternoon for the first time since Sunday.  Tonight's lows are supposed to range from 5-to-25-below from south-to-north.  Tomorrow, forecasters say it could actually hit zero everywhere in Wisconsin.  From there, it's supposed to get much warmer -- possibly well into the 30's by Saturday.


The search is on for Wisconsin's most ethical hunter.  The state DNR and the La Crosse Tribune have sponsored a award program for the last 16 years, in which a hunter is recognized for helping others.  The DNR is taking nominations for this year's award through January 15th.  The nominees must be licensed hunters -- and their good deeds must have been done during the 2013 hunting seasons in the Badger State.  Nominations can be e-mailed to the DNR's new chief conservation warden, Todd Schaller.