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Slim turnout expected in today's primaries; apple growers pleased with harsh winter; Kochs shun power-plant purchase prospects; more state briefs

Wisconsin apple-growers are hoping Mother Nature maintains her Big Chill until mid-April, assuring a traditional exit from dormancy for the state's apple trees.

Not even one of every 10 Wisconsin voters is expected to go to the polls Tuesday to help nominate finalists in a crucial State Supreme Court race and reduce the field of candidates in some local races, including Hudson School Board.

The Supreme Court's one-vote conservative majority is at stake again as incumbent Pat Roggensack faces a primary challenge by Marquette law professor Ed Fallone, who's backed by Democrats, and Milwaukee lemon law attorney Vince Megna, a self-avowed Democrat.

The top two vote-getters will move on to the April general election. A state Assembly seat in Waukesha County is also up for grabs today, and there are numerous local government and school board primaries.

All polls opened at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Voters in part of Waukesha County will elect a new state representative. Five Republicans are running, and there's no Democratic opposition. Jeanne Tarantino, a former chief-of-staff to Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, is on the ballot, along with Pewaukee Police Chief Ed Baumann, construction manager Todd Greenwald, window cleaning business owner Adam Neylon and Marquette graduate student Matt Morzy. Today's winner expects to run unopposed in April, and will then be seated in the Assembly to replace Republican Paul Farrow - who won a special Senate election in December.


Parents predict special kids will suffer under Walker's voucher expansion

MADISON -- Dozens of parents converged on the State Capitol Monday to protest Gov. Scott Walker's plan to let special needs children attend private schools with tax-funded vouchers.

Kimberly Nerone of Wauwatosa said public schools need to improve their already strong programs for kids with disabilities and not "chip away at them" by sending youngsters away from those programs.

Melissa Stoltz of Beloit predicted that vouchers would be given to kids with milder disabilities that are more easily accommodated and that would leave the public schools with more severely disabled youngsters and less funding to help them with therapists and special ed teachers.

Walker announced his special needs voucher plan over the weekend. By Monday, a group had already been formed called "Stop Special Needs Vouchers."

Stoltz also warned that families who take the private vouchers would give up their parental and student rights guaranteed for public school students under the federal disabilities education act.

Walker plans to propose the special needs vouchers as part of the next two-year state budget he'll submit to lawmakers Wednesday.

Walker asserts parents need viable alternatives if their schools do not meet expectations. At the same time, public schools would get no increase in their state revenue limits. That means a 1% school aid hike would be given to taxpayers. And they would decide in referendums whether their schools deserve the added aid in the form of revenue cap exemptions.

In the meantime, more of Wisconsin's largest school districts would lose some of their state aid as kids head off to private schools under the expanded vouchers. And that has some Republicans in the Legislature concerned.

Four GOP senators have expressed reservations - enough to force changes in the budget plan since the party only has a three-vote majority.

Senators Rob Cowles, Dale Schultz, Luther Olsen and Mike Ellis are demanding that new voucher programs be approved by voters in the affected districts.

State public school Supt. Tony Evers says he's against giving such a large amount of new money to a small percentage of students while banning revenue growth for the vast majority of Wisconsin youngsters who attend public schools.

Walker's plan is expected to sail through the Assembly where the GOP has a 20-vote majority.

Speaker Robin Vos says kids deserve the best education and expanding vouchers would "give options to those stuck in under-performing schools."


More traditional winter has apple growers smiling

This winter is closer to normal than last winter and Wisconsin apple growers hope it stays that way.

Ann Maenner of the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association says trees need to stay dormant until the frost is gone. That didn't happen in 2012, and the result was the state's smallest apple production in 67 years.

It was reported last week 54% from the year before. Yields plunged by more than three tons per acre. Wisconsin had summer-like weather last March, and the apple trees were spooked into blossoming only to die in April when it got cold and snowy again.

Maenner said the drought of 2012 didn't help matters either. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also said Wisconsin's cherry production dropped by 75% for the same reason while cranberry growers used the weather to their advantage and produced a record crop.


Frac-sand mining remains divisive but not like Minnesota

The debate over frac sand continues in Wisconsin, but the level of public opposition is nowhere near that of neighboring Minnesota.

On Tuesday, frac-sand mining opponents are rallying at the Capitol in St. Paul for a two-year statewide moratorium so Minnesota officials can develop pollution standards. The silica sand is used in oil drilling, and the demand for the product has grown due to the recent oil boom in North Dakota.

Wisconsin is somewhat ahead of the regulating game, depending on who you listen to. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources studied frac-sand mining in 2011 and its findings on potential health threats were mainly inconclusive.

But people who live near frac-sand mines have complained to the Natural Resources Board about polluted air and dust blowing off large sand piles.

As opponents state their case in Minnesota, Bobby King of the Land Stewardship Project blames corporate interests for devastating parts of western Wisconsin with polluted air and water, plus ruined farms. There's not been nearly that kind of talk here, but neighbors of proposed frac-sand mines are getting more vocal.

Last night, a number of people spoke out against a proposed new mine near Augusta in Eau Claire County. One speaker called it a valued asset with the new jobs it would create, but others cited increased medical bills that families would end up paying.

The county, the DNR and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation have all approved the project and the local town board will have the final say.

Minnesota News Network & WRDN-Durand


Koch Bros. say 'not interested' in state's power plants

MADISON -- Some critics immediately assumed the Koch Brothers would get in line for the chance to purchase some of the 37 publicly owned power and heating plants that Gov. Scott Walker wants to put up for sale.

Proceeds would be used to speed up the repayment of bonding for new highway projects.

Walker first brought up the idea of selling the government's power facilities two years ago. That was during the massive protests over Walker's public union bargaining limits, and critics said they were sure Walker would hand the plants over to the Koch Brothers for their GOP financial support.

But Koch spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia said the company had no interest in buying the plants in 2011 and it still has no interest.

"As was the case when this false storyline emerged, the plants are obsolete and do not in any way fit Koch companies' current operations or business plans moving forward," she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


ME: Cold weather killed 18-year-old woman

NEW HOLSTEIN -- An 18-year-old woman who collapsed outside a house in New Holstein died from exposure to the cold. That's what the Calumet County medical examiner ruled Monday after an autopsy was performed on Monica Batts of New Holstein.

Her body was found outside a man's house last Friday. Authorities said she was there for at least six hours beforehand.

The resident told officers he did not know Batts. Authorities still want to know why she ventured onto the property.

Toxicology tests could provide some clues, but the results won't be known for a few weeks.


Parochial school leader ousted over past sex abuse allegations

A long-time religious school leader in Fond du Lac County has been removed from his ministry because of sex abuse allegations in Montana over 25 years ago.

The Rev. Dennis Druggan has been on leave since last July when a complaint accused him of molesting a child. The Capuchin Province of St. Joseph said a second Montana victim later came forward, and the religious order said it found enough evidence that the allegations were true.

On Monday officials said they removed Druggan as the rector and president of St. Lawrence Seminary and its high school in Mount Calvary and he's been barred from public ministry.

He has worked at the Fond du Lac County school for 21 years and has been its president since 1997. There have no reports of improper activity during his tenure in Wisconsin.

Druggan will not face criminal charges since a statute of limitations has expired in Montana. The Capuchin Province says it's encouraging Druggan to lead a life of prayer and penance in a suitable friary.


Former Thorp coach accused of sex with student

THORP -- A former assistant high school track coach at Thorp High School is free on bond after being charged with having a sexual relationship with one of his female athletes.

Scott Bergman, 43, of Thorp is due back in Clark County Circuit Court Thursday on a felony count of sexual assault by a school staffer and two misdemeanor counts of having sex with a child 16 or older.

Prosecutors said Bergman started the relationship last fall when he was coaching the 17-year-old. Officers reportedly found nude photos of the girl and intimate text messages on Bergnab's cell phone.

Bergman was fired last November. He posted a $2,000 bond Monday.


Prisoner accused of making drug deal while incarcerated

SUPERIOR -- A man from Superior is accused of arranging drug deals while in jail.

Carlos Coleman, 28, has been ordered to stand trial on two felony charges of being a party to delivering heroin and he's scheduled to enter pleas to those charges on Friday.

Prosecutors said Coleman called his 23-year-old girlfriend from his Douglas County Jail cell, and while jailers were listening in, he gave her step-by-step instructions for diluting and packaging heroin.

Officials said they monitored a drug delivery a few hours later, and after Coleman called his girlfriend the next day, he was arrested him on the new charges.

Coleman was already facing drug charges from last December, and he'll enter pleas to those on Friday as well. Meanwhile, the girlfriend - Miryah Herron of the Duluth, Minn. suburb, Hermantown -- has also been ordered to stand trial on two counts of delivering heroin.

She's scheduled to enter her pleas on March 15. She's free on a $500 bond.


Former GI medic -- still unemployed -- warns colleagues to plan ahead

WAUKESHA -- Dan Huber was an Army medic for five years but two months after he returned home, Huber, 26, is still without a job. Now, he's telling his old colleagues at Fort Polk in Louisiana not to make the same mistake he did -- waiting until leaving the military to think about civilian life afterward.

Huber says troops must start their post-military planning months before they get home and not just for finding jobs, but how they'll survive in the meantime. Veterans have a lower unemployment rate than the U.S. as a whole, but younger vets are not as fortunate.

The jobless rate was 20% last year for veterans between 18 and 24, despite a wide range of efforts by both the public and private sectors to hire service returnees.

Since late 2011, departing troops have been required to attend workshops on things like writing resumes and improving their interviewing skills.

Huber said he waited too long to seek the help and he was too busy serving his country to worry about his future until it was too late. He served in Baghdad in 2008.