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Assembly votes to ban ‘revenge porn’; Study says Hudson ranks third in high-cost housing; More state news

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The state Assembly has voted to make Wisconsin the third state in the country to ban "revenge porn."

The lower house approved the measure on a voice vote Tuesday, despite a warning that it would never survive a court challenge.

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"Revenge porn" involves jilted lovers who post nude photos of their exes online either to embarrass them or prevent them from getting jobs or other things to help them move ahead. California and New Jersey are the other states that ban it.

The bill's main author, Marshfield Republican John Spiros, said he didn't know how widespread "revenge porn" is, but he wants to head off as much of it as possible.

GOP Speaker Robin Vos said the bill would encourage people to think twice about posting others' nude images. He said people should not continually become crime victims like this.

Milwaukee Democrat Fred Kessler, a former circuit judge, said the measure would never stand up in court unless a prosecutor can prove that a Web post intended to cause harm or humiliation. Without that, Kessler said the courts would consider it free expression under the First Amendment. He proposed an amendment to demand intent, but lawmakers chose not to consider that.

Spiros said his bill would pass constitutional muster. It now goes to the Senate early next year.

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Study: Homes are most expensive in Whitefish Bay

Whitefish Bay is the most expensive place to buy a house in Wisconsin, and Ashland is the most economical, according to an affordability survey by the real estate firm of Coldwell Banker.

The study also showed that Hudson – at $379,000 – is the third most expensive place in the state to buy a standard four-bedroom house with two baths.

The study compared average prices in 1,900 U.S. markets. The Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay had Wisconsin's highest average cost for such a house at just over $464,000. Ashland had the most affordable price for the same type of home at almost $105,000.

The Milwaukee suburb of Mequon had the state's second most expensive price of $380,000. Hudson was third, and Hayward and Eagle River rounded out the Top Five.

Richland Center, at $134,000, had the second most economical price behind Ashland. Wisconsin Rapids had the third-lowest average, followed by Rhinelander and Merrill.

The national average is just over $301,000 for the typical four-bedroom, two-bath house. Malibu, near Los Angeles, had the most expensive average in Coldwell Banker's survey, at almost $2.2 million.  Cleveland, Ohio, had the cheapest average, almost $64,000.

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State pays $325,000 to settle veterans secretary’s lawsuit

State Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos has agreed to take $325,000 to settle lawsuit he filed against the state after he got fired in 2009. The Wisconsin State Journal said the settlement was reached last month.

Scocos accused the Veterans Affairs Board of not letting him stay in his job soon after he returned from military duty in Iraq. The board cited communication problems and other issues in the veterans department, which Scocos had headed since 2003.

In 2011 Republican lawmakers took away the board's power to hire the department secretary. Gov. Scott Walker acquired that power, and he used it to bring Scocos back.

Scocos' lawyer, Don Daugherty, said the Veterans Board plainly violated the secretary's rights as a member of the military, and when Walker returned him to his job, it vindicated him. Daugherty said the new settlement "completes the vindication." The deal allows the state to legally deny wrongdoing.

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Senate passes bill to extend TIF authority to large towns

A bill passed by the Wisconsin Senate would give larger towns the same economic development tool that cities and villages have used for decades.

On a voice vote yesterday, senators approved a measure to grant tax incremental financing authority to towns of over 5,000 residents. Many of those towns are next to larger cities.

The measure gives those towns incentives to attract new and larger businesses by creating zones in which all of the property tax revenues from new projects would be used for things like streets and sewers nearby. Once the higher taxes pay for a project, only then would schools, counties and tech colleges gain a share of those local taxes.

Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon sponsored the measure, saying there are businesses that want to locate in urbanized towns but don’t because of the lack of TIF financing. He said it would benefit around 26 towns.

An amendment was approved requiring a town's equalized value to be at least $500 million. Special legislation recently gave the TIF powers to allow mail-order distributors to locate close to freeways south of Milwaukee. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

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Some farmers give up on corn harvest

The harvest rolls on in Wisconsin as some farmers continue to wait for their corn to dry a little more.

Others have given up on that as more waves of rain and snow have gone through the state in recent weeks. Officials say 62% of Wisconsin’s corn for grain has been harvested – 7% below normal but 12% more than a week ago.

There have been some reports of corn mold in Marathon, Chippewa and Buffalo counties.

Eighty-six percent of the Wisconsin soybean crop is in, 6% below the norm and 4% higher than a week ago. National corn and soybean harvests are slightly below normal.

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Assembly may delay vote on Medicaid paybacks

The state Assembly might wait until next year to consider a second cutback of new rules that require survivors of elderly patients to repay more of their relatives' Medicaid costs.

The Senate passed the measure 32-1 yesterday, with Janesville Democrat Tim Cullen casting the only no vote.

The Assembly could take up the bill tomorrow. However, Majority Leader Bill Kramer said many of his fellow Republicans are raising concerns about it so his leadership may hold the bill up until at least January.

The budget passed by Republicans in June expanded the state's powers to dig into a Medicaid recipient's estate to recover tax-funded services but not until after the surviving spouse dies.

The Joint Committee on Finance later scaled back the complicated rules, and the Senate OKed a second rollback. That's after concerns were raised that middle-class Wisconsinites would not be able to pass down assets to their children and grandchildren and elderly couples would consider divorcing in order to hang onto whatever assets they could.

Under the current law, the state would save $4.5 million by mid-2015. The new bill would forgo almost $1.5 million of those savings.

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Jordy Nelson named host of charity softball game

Jordy Nelson will be the next host of an annual charity softball game that has raised millions of dollars over the past two decades.

Nelson has become the Packers' flashiest wide receiver this season. It was announced yesterday that he'll help sponsor the annual softball game featuring the Green Bay offense against the defense. The game will be played next June 8 at Fox Cities Stadium near Appleton.

Donald Driver hosted the charity game for six years before he retired last December. Brett Favre headlined it for eight years before that.

Ex-Packers defensive back George Teague and singer Michael Bolton started the charity game in 1994. The main charity for next year's event is Young Life, a Christian-based program that mentors middle and high school youngsters.

A sell-out crowd normally attends the game. Over 9,000 showed up last year to watch the Packer defense beat the offense 24-20.

Driver had talked about staying on as the host, but he ended up agreeing with the game's organizers that a current Packer should be in that role.

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Thief who combed obits to target victims gets 16-month prison sentence

An Appleton man has been sentenced to 16 months in prison on a federal bank fraud conviction.

Travis Zielinski, 28, pleaded guilty to a scheme in which he withdrew $68,000 from 48 bank accounts.

Prosecutors said Zielinski combed through newspaper obituaries to target the bank accounts of people who had recently died. Authorities said the victims were either dead, incapacitated or were vulnerable in other ways.

Zielinski must spend three years under federal supervision once he leaves prison. He also has to repay all of what he stole.

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Man dies in Marshfield Walmart bathroom stall

Police in Marshfield are trying to find out how a man died in a bathroom stall at the city's Walmart.

An autopsy was scheduled on the 33-year-old man who was found dead shortly after 3 a.m. Tuesday. Police Lt. Darren Larson said there were no early signs of foul play.

The Marathon County medical examiner's office is helping with the investigation. The person's name was not immediately released, pending notification of relatives.

--Mike Warren, WDLB-WOSQ

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Archdiocese reaches settlement with some insurers

The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese has taken a big step toward resolving its nearly three-year-old bankruptcy case.

A group of insurers that includes Lloyd's of London has agreed to buy back policies they sold to the church, in exchange for avoiding liability in paying claims to victims of sex abuse by priests.

Church spokesman Jerry Topczewski would not say how much the archdiocese will get from the settlement. He said it will be spelled out in the church's financial re-organization plan which must be approved in federal bankruptcy court. Topczewski did not know when the plan will be filed.

Media reports say settlement talks continue with another carrier, Stonewall Insurance.

The Milwaukee Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011, saying it doesn't have the money to pay millions of dollars to victims of sex abuse by priests dating back for decades. It's been one of the most hard-fought Catholic bankruptcy actions in the country as both sides have wrangled over which victims should get compensated and which assets can be protected from creditors.

The court has ruled that the archdiocese cannot tap assets from its local churches to pay the creditors -- mostly around 575 sex abuse victims who filed for compensation in the bankruptcy process. Their attorney, Michael Finnegan, said the Lloyd's of London settlement excludes victims -- a first among the nation's church bankruptcies.

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Assembly passes 13 bills for mental health reform

Wisconsinites would find it much easier to obtain mental health services under a package of 13 bills approved Tuesday by the state Assembly.

Speaker Robin Vos calls it the most comprehensive set of mental health reforms in a generation. He said the bills address a wide range of concerns from access to mental health care to improved coordination of emergency detentions. The package would spend an additional $4 million through the middle of 2015.

The measures were proposed by a task force earlier this year. Its chairwoman, Shorewood Assembly Democrat Sandy Pasch, called it an important first step to addressing shortfalls in Wisconsin's mental health system.

Vos expects approvals from the Senate when it returns to session early next year.

Among other things, the bills would make it easier for mental health patients to seek treatments at home. Doctors would have a consultation line for advice on treatment choices. Law enforcement agencies would get grants to improve their response to crisis situations involving mental illness. And incentives would encourage more doctors to practice in rural areas.

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Biologists test Sturgeon Bay water for Asian carp

State and federal government biologists took water samples from Sturgeon Bay yesterday to find out if the invasive Asian carp has indeed arrived in northeast Wisconsin.

Earlier this month, a Notre Dame study turned up DNA evidence that the invasive carp showed up near Potawatomi State Park in Door County. That's where Sturgeon Bay empties into the Bay of Green Bay.

Officials say yesterday's water samples will be analyzed to give a better idea of whether the silver or the big-head Asian carp have taken any kind of hold in the area. The samples will be processed in Green Bay and will get DNA testing at a federal lab in La Crosse. The results are expected in January.

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