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Canadian Clipper brings snow; Only 41,000 Wisconsinites sign up for Obamacare coverage; More state news

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Almost all of Wisconsin is supposed to get a least a couple inches today thanks to a "Canadian Clipper" system moving into the state from southern Minnesota.

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The Fox Valley and east central Wisconsin are projected to get the most snow – 5 to 8 inches in almost blizzard-like conditions with winds of up to 35mph. The National Weather Service says the winds will cause reduced visibilities as the fluffy snow blows around.

Winter storm warnings are in effect from this morning until midnight for Washington, Ozaukee, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Calumet, Winnebago, Outagamie, Brown, Kewaunee and Door counties.

Two to five inches are predicted in the rest of Wisconsin where winter weather advisories are posted for much of the day, ending anywhere from mid-afternoon through late tonight.

It's supposed to get colder once the snow leaves. Tomorrow's highs will be in the teens before getting back up to the 30's on Thursday when it's supposed to snow again.

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Only 41,000 Wisconsinites sign up for Obamacare coverage

Almost 41,000 Wisconsinites signed up for health insurance by the end of December under the federal government's purchasing exchange.

That's way more than the 5,000 state residents who had signed up by the end of November. However, just 6% of the expected 700,000 Wisconsinites who need Obamacare coverage have signed up for it. That number includes those previously uninsured, plus BadgerCare recipients and high-risk pool members who will lose their state coverage at the end of March.

The Obamacare exchanges opened up in October, but problems with the healthcare.gov website made it difficult to sign up through October and much of November. This year's deadline for getting coverage through the exchanges is March 31.

Concerns have been raised that not enough young and healthy people will sign up, leaving less in premium revenues to treat older and sicker adults. However, Nancy Delew of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said those 55-64 were expected to sign up early and younger adults are expected to wait until the enrollment deadline gets closer.

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Raises expected for 2,400 union workers

About 2,400 unionized state employees may be closer today to receiving long-awaited pay raises.

Both houses of the Legislature are scheduled to act on new one-year contracts for members of five smaller unions. If Gov. Scott Walker signs them, the employees would get 1% pay hikes retroactive to June 30.

The bargaining units include professional education and legal employees, patient-care workers, building-craft trade employees and statistical and research personnel.

Many larger unions decided not to seek negotiations under Act 10, which limits bargaining to pay raises at or below inflation. Non-union state workers were given 1% pay hikes in July, and some unions had complained that the state was not acting quickly enough on the union packages.

Also today, the Assembly is scheduled to vote on requiring 12-person juries for all criminal cases -- both felonies and misdemeanors.

The State Supreme Court ruled over 15 years ago that the state Constitution requires 12-member juries for all criminal cases and six-person juries for misdemeanors were unconstitutional. The new bill mandates 12-member juries unless all parties involved in a case, and the presiding judge, agree to reduce the numbers.

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Higher pensions projected for state and local retirees

Most of Wisconsin's state and local government retirees could have something to look forward to this spring -- higher pension checks for the first time since 2008.

State Employee Trust Funds Secretary Robert Conlin says the core fund for retirees grew by 13.5% last year and a more risky variable fund mushroomed by 29%.

All 167,000 people in the state retirement system get pensions from the core fund. Around 40,000 investors are in the variable fund.

Like most of us, government retirees were hit hard by a loss of their pension funds during the Great Recession. The state spread the losses over five years of pension checks.

The retirement fund covers state, local and public school employees except for Milwaukee city and county personnel, who have their own system.

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Assembly set to vote on bills to combat heroin abuse

Wisconsin's growing problem of heroin abuse will be addressed today at the State Capitol.

The Assembly is scheduled to vote on a package of four bills authored by Marinette Republican John Nygren, whose teenage daughter almost died from a heroin overdose in 2009.

The bills would let trained emergency responders provide Narcan which counteracts heroin overdoses, provide immunity for those who call 9-1-1 to report overdoses, require ID's to obtain prescription narcotics and expand local prescription drug collection drives.

Nygren said the bills are a good start, but none are "silver bullets that are going to stop the problem that we face."

Also today, the Assembly will consider tightening the requirements for candidates who barely lose elections to get free recounts. To qualify, the margins of defeat would have to be .25% instead of the current .5%. Otherwise, recounts would cost $25 per ward instead of the current $5, and if the losing margin is 1% or greater, requestors would have to pay the full cost of their recounts no matter what they end up being.

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Gogebic says DNR asked too many questions

Gogebic Taconite says the state Department of Natural Resources wants too much information before it will let the company start drilling to test bulk samples from its proposed iron ore mine.

Last month, the DNR asked for 11 clarifications about excavation plans before it would issue an air pollution permit. The state also wanted 29 other clarifications before issuing a required stormwater permit.

Yesterday, the DNR released a response from Gogebic Taconite engineer Timothy Meyer. He said the DNR's questions go far beyond the state's involvement in the bulk sampling process. But Meyer answered the questions anyway so the process could keep moving forward.

DNR officials have not commented on the company's contention that it's seeking too much data. Gogebic is trying to get permission to excavate 4,000 tons of rock at five locations of its proposed mine in Ashland and Iron counties.

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Woman convicted of helping man flee murder charge

A La Crosse woman has been convicted of helping her boyfriend try to escape an arrest for murder.

Brittany Jones, 23, struck a plea deal with prosecutors. She pleaded guilty Monday to a felony charge of harboring a felon and misdemeanor bail jumping. A charge of obstructing an officer as a repeat offender was dropped.

Prosecutors said Jones helped Mitrel Anderson, 26, leave town after he allegedly stabbed Demario Lee, 24, to death last June 2 at a downtown La Crosse convenience store.

Lee was from Rockford, Ill., and was in La Crosse to visit relatives. Anderson and Jones were arrested the next day in Madison, where police caught them leaving an apartment building.

Jones is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 18.  Anderson is scheduled to have a week-long trial for first-degree intentional homicide starting June 9.

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Public input sought on state park hunting rules

Public hearings begin today on new permanent rules for hunting in Wisconsin state parks.

The new rules are not much different than the temporary emergency rules adopted a year ago. That was after the governor and Legislature passed a law in 2012 allowing hunting and trapping on state-owned recreational properties.

Under the permanent rules, park hunting seasons would be the same as last year. Bans on shooting across trails would be made permanent, along with a requirement for dog-proof traps on dry lands.

The DNR's public hearings are set for today in Appleton, Jan. 21 in Eau Claire, Jan. 22 in Wausau and Jan. 23 in Fitchburg.

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Warm weather, snow lead to slip and fall injuries

Many Wisconsinites celebrated the end of last week's cold snap by walking outside and getting hurt in the process.

Dr. Al Salmi of St. Mary's Hospital in Green Bay said he hadn't seen as many cases of slipping and falling as he saw this past weekend. Temperatures rose above freezing after being well below zero for the greater part of a week.

Salmi told WLUK TV in Green Bay that no extremity is safe when falling on the ice and even the most agile person can go down quickly with just one misstep.

Prevea Health therapist Heidi Gutschow said the best way to walk on the ice is to take shorter steps so your weight stands a little more upright. It also helps to turn the feet out a little bit and to wear outdoor sport shoes or hiking boots on the ice.

Meanwhile, new snow is falling in Wisconsin this morning. Doctors say it will cover the ice that's on the ground and make things even more slippery.

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Land and water bureau director named

The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has a new leader for its natural resource programs.

Keith Foye has been named the director of the Bureau of Land and Water Resources.

Foye began his career as a county conservationist in Clark County before joining the ag department in 1988 as a land and water planning analyst. He was named the agency's land management chief in 1992.

The land and water bureau is responsible for a host of programs that include farmland preservation, livestock siting, agricultural enterprise areas, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and ag impact statements. The bureau is also involved in the state's soil and water resource management program. Foye began his new duties yesterday. He's replacing Kathy Pielsticker, who recently retired.

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Worker dies at hotel construction project

A construction worker was killed yesterday at the site of a renovation project at the Edgewater Hotel in downtown Madison.

Rescuers were called just after 2 p.m. to the hotel along Madison's Lake Mendota, north of the University of Wisconsin campus. The project's main contractor, JH Findorff and Son, said there was a "serious accident." It released almost no other details.

The Dane County dispatch center told WKOW TV that a call came in about somebody falling 20 feet from the hotel construction site. Madison police and fire crews were called, along with the Dane County medical examiner. An investigator from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration arrived at the site later.

A $98 million expansion and renovation of the Edgewater Hotel began in 2012. The hotel is scheduled to reopen this summer.

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Father, son accused of murdering man in Milwaukee

A Milwaukee father and son are charged in the murder of a man who refused to hand over $50 in a New Year's Eve robbery attempt.

Eric Hill, 45, was being held under a $250,000 bond on charges of first-degree intentional homicide and attempted armed robbery.

Deonte Hill, 25, is charged with felony murder, bail jumping and illegally possessing a gun as a convicted felon. He's under a $150,000 bond.

According to prosecutors, both Hills and Fernando Winters, 36, were at a northwest side hotel to collect money that a woman owed them. Eric Hill then allegedly tried robbing Winters of his $50 just outside the hotel.

Prosecutors said Hill ended up shooting Winters twice and never got his money. Meanwhile, Deonte Hill told police he was listening to loud music close by while smoking marijuana and he never heard the shots.

A surveillance camera at a nearby hotel caught the shooting on tape. Both Hills are due back in court next Tuesday for preliminary hearings.

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