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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Supreme Court won't rule on state's SSM ban

MADISON - Wisconsin's attorney general told officials throughout the state today to act "fairly and impartially" in handing out same-sex marriage licenses.  The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state's appeal to try-and-preserve the 2006 ban on gay marriage and civil unions.  

The order immediately ended delays on same-sex marriage license requests in Wisconsin and four other states.  Van Hollen said his Justice Department attorneys acted "admirably" in defending the ban, whether they agreed or not with the underlying policy issues.  Now, Van Hollen says he encourages "everyone to respect" the Supreme Court's action and "administer the law fairly and impartially."  County clerks in Madison and Milwaukee were the first to announce they would take same-sex marriage applications, after their county attorneys agreed the ban is now unconstitutional.  However, some counties are slow to go along -- just like in June, after Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the state's ban unconstitutional. WLUK-TV of Green Bay interviewed county clerks in northeast Wisconsin -- and officials in Oconto and Kewaunee counties don't expect to approve same-sex licenses until tomorrow.  Calumet and Waupaca counties said they were waiting for guidance from their internal county attorneys.  Clerks in Brown, Outagamie, Winnebago, Manitowoc, Fond du Lac, and Menominee counties said late this morning they would issue licenses immediately.  

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Governor Scott Walker says the battle against gay marriage in Wisconsin is over.  That's after the U.S. Supreme Court refused this morning to consider an appeal of same-sex marriage bans in five states -- including the Wisconsin constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2006.  Juliane Appling heads the group that pushed for the state's ban, Wisconsin Family Action.  She said she's disappointed that the nation's highest court did not take Wisconsin's case or one like it.  Appling still holds out hope that the Supreme Court could consider another state's ban, and rule gay marriage illegal nationally. Walker downplayed the idea, and believes the matter is resolved.  He told reporters outside a campaign event near Sun Prairie that "others will have to talk about it at the federal level."  Walker's Democratic election opponent, Mary Burke, hailed the legalizing of gay marriage in Wisconsin.  She said no loving, committed couple should ever be denied the freedom to marry -- and those who have stood in the way are "squarely on the wrong side of history."  Walker said he voted for the state ban in 2006 and had not changed his mind about it, but he still accepts today's decision.  The Wisconsin Justice Department says it will work with state agencies to implement the order -- however, county clerks in both Madison and Milwaukee say they'll issue same-sex marriage licenses right away.  Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarneski said he consulted with lawyers -- and they're comfortable that Wisconsin's ban is now unconstitutional.

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The American Civil Liberties Union filed Wisconsin's legal challenge on behalf of eight same-sex couples.  One plaintiff, Kathy Heyning, said she's "very happy" to see gay marriage legalized in the Badger State.  But she did not expect a ruling to come down until next year, and she would have liked to have seen a decision which covers all 50 states.  As it is, 30 states are now legalizing same-sex marriage.  U.S. House Democrat Mark Pocan of Madison, who is gay, said equality is here to stay -- and the court ended what he called a "dark chapter" in Wisconsin in which people were treated as second-class citizens depending on who they choose to love

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Two groups of raw milk supporters will ask the Wisconsin Supreme Court to legalize the use of unpasteurized milk purchased directly from farms.  Mark and Peter Zinniker of Walworth County, and the Grassway Organics Farm Store of New Holstein were expected to file appeals today with the justices.  Lower courts ruled that the sellers did not obtain state milk licenses for their product. Food rights activist Gayle Loiselle of Dousman tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the courts have not ruled on whether a user has the legal right to buy and drink raw milk -- and that's what the plaintiffs want the justices to decide.  Vernon Hershberger of Loganville, who lost in a trial over his raw milk operation, has also filed a petition with the Supreme Court.  The Zinnikers had a dairy license, but it was taken away in 2009 after 35 people got sick from drinking raw milk from the couple's farm.  A year later, the Zinnikers set up a group in which members could buy raw milk for their use at home.  Grassway also contended that a private association of raw milk users was legal.  Two lower courts ruled that Grassway's owners needed a license for retail food establishments.  That ruling did not say whether raw milk would have been legal under such a license.  A bill to legalize raw milk sales on Wisconsin farms was approved in 2010, but was vetoed by former Governor Jim Doyle.

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A 16-year-old boy struck-and-killed by a car in Milwaukee was identified today as Brian Molina.  Police said the Milwaukee teen was running across a street Friday night on the city's south side, and was hit by a 46-year-old Milwaukee woman who was driving to work.  The woman remained on the scene and was not arrested.  Prosecutors are expected to decide this week whether charges are warranted.

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A 32-year-old man is in jail in Oshkosh for allegedly driving drunk and killing a 53-year-old Winneconne man in a rear-end crash.  Oshkosh Police said the victim was waiting for a passing train to go by, when his vehicle was rear-ended by the alleged drunk motorist around 7:30 last night.  The victim's unit rolled over a struck a tree.  He died at the scene.  Police said the other driver walked away, and was picked up later.  He was taken a hospital with injuries, and was then transferred to the Winnebago County Jail.  He had a passenger.  A 41-year-old woman was taken to an Oshkosh hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

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Next month marks the third anniversary of Wisconsin's concealed weapons law -- and local schools and police are agreeing on their own to let off-duty officers carry guns in school buildings.  Tomorrow, officials in the Neenah School District will act on a memorandum-of-understanding with the police department.  It would allow off-duty officers to carry weapons in Neenah schools, despite a ban in the state law.  Before concealed carry was passed, both on-and-off duty officers could have weapons in-and-around Wisconsin schools.  But now, only on-duty officers who visit schools during their workday can have guns.  The Legislature did not act on a proposed amendment this spring to rectify the matter -- so schools and police are acting on their own.  Ken Trump of National School Safety-and-Security Services tells the Appleton Post-Crescent that law enforcement officers are essentially on duty at all times, and they should be equipped accordingly.  Schools in Green Bay, Ashwaubenon, New London, and Wisconsin Rapids are among those with agreements to let armed off-duty officers into schools.

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Lake Superior's water level keeps rising, at a time when it normally drops.  The International Lake Superior Board of Control said the largest of the Great Lakes went up by eight-tenths of an inch last month.  Normally, it drops four-tenths of an inch during September.  The current level is the highest for a September since 1998.  It's nine inches higher than in September of last year.  Lakes Michigan and Huron also rose two-inches last month, as part of a year-long trend in which the two lakes rose a total of 21-inches.  The recent rises are due to more precipitation, less than normal evaporation, and heavier ice covers in a winter which ended later than usual.

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The Gundersen Health System of La Crosse has unveiled a $14-million dollar facility near Middleton that uses manure from dairy cows to make electricity.  The plant was to be dedicated during a ceremony this morning at the GL Dairy Bio-Gas Farm.  The company entered a joint power venture with Dane County almost a year ago.  Manure from over two-thousand nearby cows is sent to the plant, where it creates methane that becomes electricity.  Gundersen then sells the power to the Madison Gas-and-Electric Utility, where it's used to provide power for about 2,500 homes and businesses.  The plant also produces compost, bedding, and liquid fertilizer that's used elsewhere.  Corey Zarecki of Gundersen says the firm hopes to achiever energy independence for the project by the end of the year.

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Stockholders will decide next month whether to approve Wisconsin Energy's plan to acquire the Chicago-based Integrys Energy Group. Shareholders of both firms plan to meet at the same time to vote on the acquisition -- 10 a.m on November 21st.  The stockholders of We Energies' parent firm will meet in Milwaukee.  Owners of Integrys, which owns the Wisconsin Public Service utility in Green Bay, will hold their vote in downtown Chicago.  Shareholders as of October 13th will be eligible to vote.  Proxy statements will go out sometime after next Monday.  Federal and state regulators must also approve the acquisition.  If approved, it could take effect in the third quarter of next year.  The proposed merger would create one of the nation's largest electric utility companies, with electric and natural gas operations based in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan.  

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A metal fabricating company in southeast Wisconsin has a new owner.  Weldall Manufacturing of Waukesha has acquired Mutz Manufacturing of Slinger.  Terms were not disclosed.  Weldall produces custom industrial metal fabrications, including those for mining equipment.  The firm now employs about 225 people, and is looking to hire about 20 more as the demand for mining equipment has grown recently.  Mutz Manufacturing has about 25 workers.  A company official said most, if not all of those employees will stay on with Weldall.

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Seven Wisconsin beers have won awards at the recent Great American Beer Festival, sponsored by the Brewers Association of Boulder Colorado.  Miller Lite was given the gold medal for the American-style lager or light category.  The Capital Brewery of Madison also won gold for German-style Marzen beers.  Mob-Craft Beer of Madison took second place for coffee beers.  The new Stillmank Brewing Company of Green Bay took the bronze medal for ordinary-or-special bitter products.  Titletown Brewing of Green Bay took bronze for Munich-style helles beers.  Leinenkugel of Chippewa Falls took bronze in the German-style kolsch category.  And the Stevens Point Brewery took third for pumpkin beers.  Over 5,500 beers were entered. Over 268 medals were handed out in 90 categories.

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