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Bill would exempt young drinkers from prosecution if helping friends; fire kills 300,000 hens; more state news

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MADISON -- A Wisconsin Senate committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday on a bill that would not punish underage drinkers if they seek help for their intoxicated friends.

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The bill ran into opposition at an earlier Assembly hearing, when police officials expressed concerns about restrictions on their enforcement efforts.

The bill's supporters say underage campus drinkers are refusing to tell police about sexual assaults and other crimes they see, so they don't get in trouble themselves.

The Madison campus grants immunity, and Senate Democrat Fred Risser of Madison wants the other 25 UW campuses around the state to have the same policy.

Schools would not be able to suspend a student who seeks help for a friend and the bill would automatically throw out any related citations that police hand out. Lawmakers from both parties have gotten behind the measure.

Supporters say almost 200 campuses around the country have some form of protections for students who seek help.

Ryan about Obama: 'Increasingly lawless presidency'

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan said on a national news show Sunday that President Barack Obama is running an "increasingly lawless presidency."

Speaking on ABC's "This Week", the Janesville Republican accused the Democrat Obama of being unconstitutional with his use of executive orders.

Host George Stephanopoulos, a former Clinton White House official, noted that Obama's orders were far less than recent presidents of both parties.

Ryan said he's not upset about the number of orders, but rather their scope.

He mentioned Obama's delay of some major requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Ryan said it's up to Congress, not the White House, to change those things.

Stephanopoulos asked Ryan if he wants Obama impeached. Ryan said no -- and the courts will settle some major points of disagreement.

Ryan said he was most upset about Obama's declaration in his State of the Union that "If Congress doesn't give me what I want, I'm going to do it myself."

In Ryan's words, "That is not the way our constitution works."

Gubernatorial candidate Burke pushing for increased minimum wage

MADISON -- Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has joined her party's lawmakers in pushing for a graduated increase in Wisconsin's minimum wage.

Burke told Mike Gousha on the "Up Front" WISN-TV show Sunday that she's been talking to business owners throughout the state who support a higher minimum. She also said states which raised their minimum wages above the federal minimum have seen "absolutely no impact on unemployment rates."

That's not what Gov. Scott Walker says. The Republican Walker recently told Wisconsin grocers the Democrats' proposed minimum wage hike would be a "job killer."

He said employers would end up hiring fewer young employees -- or give smaller raises to their veterans.

A recent Marquette poll showed that 62 percent of Wisconsin voters favored a hike in the minimum wage. Minority Democrats are getting behind an immediate increase in the $7.25 an hour minimum wage to $8.20. It would rise a year later to $9.15, then to $10.10 an hour in two years.

Majority Republicans have shown no interest in the legislation. State GOP director Joe Fadness said Burke was "feeling pressure by her left-wing base" in backing the Democrats' legislative proposal.

Burke also said Walker's big tax cut plan is irresponsible and he's putting money on the credit card.

See excerpts from Burke's comments here: http://www.wisn.com/politics/upfront

Many Wisconsinites missing out on Earn Income Credit

As people start filing their income tax returns, the Internal Revenue Service says thousands of Wisconsinites are missing out on a major tax break.

Spokesman Christopher Miller said about 77,000 Badger State residents qualified for the Earned Income credit a year ago, and didn't claim it.

He said about one in five eligible Wisconsinites let Washington keep an average of $2,100.

About 385,000 state residents did claim the Earned Income credit and received a total of $813 million. Both the federal and state governments offer the credit, which encourages lower-income people to work.

Miller said farmers, self-employed people, and other workers can make up to $51,000 and he encourages people to take the extra time and see if they qualify.

Miller says the credit is refundable which means that people can still get the money even if they owe nothing in federal taxes. Three years ago, Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow legislative Republicans reduced the state's Earned Income Tax Credit by a total of $56 million over two years.

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau called that a tax increase, but Republican leaders disagreed at the time.

One said it meant that most low-income people were getting less "free money" than before.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Snowmobile crashes claim DePere firefighter, Illinois man

DE PERE -- A volunteer fire captain from the Green Bay area has died in a snowmobile crash in far northeast Wisconsin. Russell Krause, 48, of De Pere was killed early Saturday in Florence County.

Sheriff's officials said his machine went off a road and struck a tree in the town of Tipler. Authorities said Krause was wearing a helmet at the time and speed and alcohol were both contributing factors.

WLUK TV said Krause was a volunteer for 18 years in the Hobart Fire Department just west of Green Bay.

Also on Saturday, a 46-year-old Illinois man was killed in a snowmobile crash near Mercer. Iron County authorities said the man was riding with a group when his machine left a trail and hit several trees. The victim's name was not immediately released.

At least 13 people have been killed in Wisconsin snowmobile crashes this winter, eight of them since the start of the New Year and three last weekend alone.

Obscure law protecting prisoners has never been used

A Wisconsin law passed 30 years ago to hold law enforcement accountable when prisoners die has apparently never been used.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel checked online court records which date back 20 years. The paper said nobody in the state was charged in that time with violating laws on prisoners' treatment -- even though a number of deaths in Milwaukee County were not fully investigated.

Kent Lovern, the deputy district attorney in Milwaukee, said he could not remember any such charges since the law took effect in the 1980's.

The Journal Sentinel said there were 18 deaths in law enforcement custody in Milwaukee County from 2008 through 2012. Two-thirds of them were ruled as suicides or natural causes.

Critics said authorities should be asking if such deaths are preventable.

The Journal Sentinel profiled the death of Myron Weston, a state detention facility custodian who tried six times to commit suicide and succeeded the seventh time. A state official said jailors may not have known Weston's background. That's because the federal Health Information Portability & Privacy Act patient disclosure law prohibits many state corrections' workers from knowing an inmate's medical history.

Proposed ordinance would curb proliferating pit bulls

MADISON -- Wisconsin's Capital City might try to reduce its population of pit bulls. City committees in Madison will soon be asked to consider making all pit bulls five months and older to be spayed or neutered.

Show dogs and service dogs would be exempt, and the ordinance would only be enforced when somebody complains about a pit bull.

Madison Alderman John Strasser tells the Wisconsin State Journal that the city's animal service officers are being stressed by an over-population of pit bulls and the Dane County Humane County is also feeling the pressure.

Over half of all dogs euthanized from 2010 through 2012 at the Humane Society were pit bulls. If approved, the ordinance could take effect as early as next month.

CF guard unit will return to Afghanistan

CHIPPEWA FALLS -- A National Guard unit from western Wisconsin will go to Afghanistan later this year.

Major Paul Richert says the 829th Engineer Company from Chippewa Falls will dismantle U.S. operating bases. They'll also make sure the enemy does not get its hands on anything valuable from those facilities.

President Obama said in his State of the Union speech that he'll declare an end to the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 although a small military force will remain there next year. The 829th Engineer Company has about 160 troops from the Eau Claire region.

They'll train at Fort McCoy in March and then go to Fort Bliss Texas in April for pre-mobilization work.

Commander Kyle Gruber said about half his unit's members have been to Iraq or Afghanistan at least once. It will be his third deployment there.

Massive egg farm blaze kills 300,000 hens

WHITEWATER -- Firefighters returned Sunday to an egg farm near Whitewater that killed over 300,000 hens.

The blaze started Friday night at the S & R Egg Farm in the Walworth County town of La Grange.

It started in one of 14 barns, and the cause remains under investigation. There were no personal injuries.

La Grange Fire Chief John Duerst said the building was about 300- by 90 feet, and three stories tall. Up to 200 firefighters from 55 departments battled the blaze.

Duerst said Water had to be brought in from seven miles away and crews hauled at least 180 truckloads. It took until late Saturday morning to get the fire under control, and units returned Sunday to extinguish remaining embers. The Schimpf family owns the egg farm.

Its Web site said it planned to rebuild the structure, and all 13 of its other barns were still producing eggs.

S & R has about 155 employees. Before the fire, it had around two million hens.

Patrol recruiting new troopers, inspectors

MADISON -- The State Patrol is looking for new troopers and inspectors.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is urging candidates to apply at www.wisc.jobs through Feb. 21st.

Multiple-choice exams will be given in several places around the state in the next two months and the most qualified applicants will advance in the process.

The next recruiting class will start training in July at the State Patrol Academy at Fort McCoy. Those classes normally range from 35 to 45 candidates.

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Steve Dzubay
Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer since 1995. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.
(715) 426-1054
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