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Bill limiting junk-food purchases with food stamps passes Assembly; Heroin use spikes in mid-Wisconsin; more state news

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The state Assembly has voted to make Wisconsin the first state to force food stamp recipients to spend most of their benefits on healthy food.

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The lower house voted 68-26 yesterday in favor of a bill from Neenah Republican Dean Kaufert. It would make recipients in the FoodShare program spend at least two-thirds of their benefits of foods defined by the state as being healthy. The measure now goes to the Senate.

All the no votes came from Democrats. Milwaukee Representative Evan Goyke said inner city families are often miles away from stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables - and for them, the business model is the corner store with "no access to healthy food."

Also, critics said the state's list includes foods that aren't healthy in moderation - like some types of cheeses. Kaufert said he'd be open to adding more foods to the approved list in the future.

The federal government would have to approve the change, but those prospects are not good. It said no to similar restrictions in Minnesota, New York and Mississippi over the past decade.

Kaufert was undaunted, saying Wisconsin should lead the way and be a "test case." He admits that he has only anecdotal evidence that FoodShare recipients are spending a lot of their benefits on junk food. State officials say they don't have an exact breakdown.

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Heroin use spikes in mid-Wisconsin

Heroin is no longer just a big-city problem.

Marathon County sheriff's official Gary Schneck said heroin use in the Wausau area has jumped rapidly in the last three years, and it started when drug-makers added time-release coatings to painkillers like OxyContin to cut down on their abuse.

That's just part of Marathon County's drug problem, and officials started a campaign yesterday called "Push Back Against Drug Abuse." It seeks to educate people of how dangerous drugs are and how they affect the community.

Schneck said Wausau is now a hub for dealers who import drugs to northern Wisconsin. He said Mexican cartels are trafficking drugs from the Twin Cities into Wausau with very high profit margins.

Deb Piskoty of Aspirus Wausau Hospital said dealers often dilute drugs with poisonous substances, and even more health problems are created when addicts share their dirty injection needles.

In Wausau alone, Police Chief Jeff Hardel said his officers handled 79 heroin-related incidents in the last year and a half. He said drugs were also tied to a pair of gun store burglaries linked to three homicides and numerous other crimes - one as far away as California.

Marathon County Medical Examiner John Larson said three people have died this year from drug overdoses, with a high of eight in 2011.

Assistant District Attorney Lance Leonhard said his office had to create a fulltime drug prosecutor, and with the state's budget crunch, it puts a strain on his staff.

Melissa Dotter, who coordinates the local Drug Free Communities program, said people have no idea how many are struggling with drug problems as their struggles often go unreported.

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UW-Madison gets federal grant to study dairy gases

UW-Madison will conduct new research on reducing the greenhouse gases that come from dairy farms.

In a visit to Madison yesterday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the university will get part of a $10 million federal grant.

The UW will work with six other schools and five federal labs on the project. It will look for ways to improve dairy production while reducing the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

The research will study all aspects of dairy farming - everything from manure to methane. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020.

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EPA asked to investigate tribe's sewage plant

Wisconsin's federal lawmakers are being asked to investigate the Environmental Protection Agency's actions involving the sewage plant at Odanah.

The plant serves Ashland County's Bad River Indian Reservation, one of the biggest opponents of a new iron ore mine that's planned upstream.

State Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), who played one of the biggest roles in approving a new mining bill, asked the state's House and Senate members to look into the EPA's handling of the Odanah plant. He cited reports showing that E. coli bacteria exceeded allowable levels and in some cases, no reports were filed.

A federal comment period ended Monday for a proposed five-year permit extension for the Odanah treatment facility.

Earlier this year, the conservative Media Trackers reported on excess E. coli and phosphorus in the Bad River's plant. The New York Times said the plant has had 241 water pollution violations from 2004 through 2008, the most in the country.

Tribal leaders had blamed poor reporting and human error for the sewage violations, and Chairman Mike Wiggins said they were in the process of being fixed. He also said the water downstream from the plant was deemed safe to drink.

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Kuester charged with killing three with fireplace poker

Jaren Kuester, the man accused of killing three Lafayette County residents, was charged Tuesday with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide and related counts of burglary and vehicle theft.

Kuester, 31, is due in court Friday after a $3 million bond was set last week. He was raised in Waukesha. His last known address was Milwaukee.

Kuester was bailed out of jail April 26, the day after he reportedly made threats at a Waukesha animal shelter over his dead dog. Officials said Kuester drove to Green County, and he thought he was being followed when he took off his clothes, ran through the woods and broke into an empty farmhouse.

Prosecutors said Dean Thoreson was watching the farmhouse while Gary and Chloe Thoreson were visiting relatives in California. When Dean entered the house on April 27, he was hit and killed with a fireplace poker. That night, Gary and Chloe returned home and were killed in a similar manner.

Officials said Kuester then stole Dean Thoreson's pickup truck and drove it to Waukesha, where his father said he was in a confused state when he said he hurt three people. Police saw the truck and arrested Kuester the next day.

His family said he was being treated for mental health matters. His father Jim told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Jaren thought demons were following him, and he talked as if his dog was still alive, even though the pet was killed by a car in early April.

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Bill would make it illegal to drive recklessly near garbage trucks

The Wisconsin Senate agreed Tuesday to protect garbage haulers on the roads by making it illegal to drive recklessly near sanitation trucks.

Senators voted 31-1 to double the fines for those violations. West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman voted no, and Senate President Mike Ellis did not vote. The measure was expected to be voted on by the Assembly this afternoon.

Assembly Republican John Jagler of Watertown proposed the bill after a sanitation worker in his district was seriously hurt by a reckless driver in January while picking up trash.

Also Tuesday, senators voted 30-3 in favor of letting dentists charge more for certain services not covered by insurance contracts. The bill prohibits insurers from making dentists charge less for certain services to patients in certain networks. It would require contracts to be changed - something the state's largest business group opposed.

Republicans Grothman, Leah Vukmir and Paul Farrow voted no.

The bill now goes to Gov. Scott Walker after the Assembly passed it earlier.

Also, Walker is about to get another bill to expand the definitions of illegal food stamp trafficking in Wisconsin. The measure puts the state in line with existing federal rules. The bill passed 28-5 after being approved by the Assembly. Five Democrats voted no: Tim Cullen, Nikiya Harris, Mark Miller, Fred Risser and Lena Taylor.

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Consultant, domestic violence experts disagree on Brown Deer police actions

A consultant hired by the village of Brown Deer said the police department responded appropriately to domestic abuse complaints against Radcliffe Haughton, who killed his wife and two other women at a Brookfield spa last October before killing himself.

Domestic violence experts Judith Munaker and Linda Besser said police did not follow state guidelines or their own policies when responding to previous abuse calls at Haughton's Brown Deer home before the shootings.

Consultant Robert Willis' new report said police acted properly and professionally during those calls. He did make some recommendations that included more training and being more aggressive in domestic abuse contacts.

Both studies were done after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that police were called over two dozen times to Haughton's home in 11 years and never made an arrest for domestic violence. Police said Haughton's wife, Zina, was not cooperative during those calls.

A few weeks ago, state Assembly Republican Andre Jacque of De Pere proposed a series of bills in response to the Brown Deer case. One measure would require police to explain themselves to prosecutors for calls in which they don't make domestic abuse arrests.

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