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Climatologist sees end of drought; Assembly passes job-training bill; Alleged Guido thief comes clean on website; more briefs

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Wisconsin has a better than even chance of getting above average precipitation from now until the end of May.

If that forecast holds true, assistant state climatologist Ed Hopkins says we probably will have dug ourselves out of the drought that has plagued the state since last summer.

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New figures show that about 85% of Wisconsin's land area remains abnormally dry or worse, and much of the northwest part of the state is still in a severe drought. But conditions have improved this winter in certain parts of the state, especially in the Milwaukee region which just recently lost its moderate drought status.

Climatologist Brian Fuchs of the U.S. Drought Monitor said we won't know the impact of the snowy winter until it all melts and we see how much seeps into the ground instead of running off.

Some University of Wisconsin experts say farmers still face a lot of uncertainty. UW-Madison agronomy professor Joe Lauer said farmers should keep as many options open as possible.

Forecasters expect dry weather throughout Wisconsin into early next week except for scattered flurries tomorrow night and a slight chance of snow on Monday and Tuesday.

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Assembly passes job-training bill

Wisconsin lawmakers have taken their first steps toward training workers for increasingly complex jobs that are going unfilled.

The Assembly voted 94-4 Thursday to pass a bill that gives $15 million in competitive matching grants to organizations that provide job training. It also sets up a new computer system to keep track of job data and match job-seekers to professions with the highest demand.

Racine Democrat Cory Mason said the effort should be run by technical colleges which train the workers rather than the state's workforce development agency. He claimed the bill would create duplicate programs, but his idea of switching the lead agency was voted down 58-40.

Also, the Assembly voted 92-6 to have the state's Economic Development Corporation conduct trade shows where manufacturers can work together to build their businesses.

And the Assembly voted 90-8 to award $1 million to a trade group to set up a marketing assistance program for factories.

Whitewater Republican Steve Nass said the idea has been bandied about for three years, and a manufacturer has never told him he supported it. As a result, Nass said, the money will end up being a subsidy for a special interest trade group.

All three bills that were passed yesterday now go to the Senate.

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Alleged Guido thief comes clean to USA Today

A woman who claimed to steal one of the costumes of the Milwaukee Brewers' famous racing sausages has given all the greasy details to USA Today.

The Italian sausage, Guido, was returned Wednesday night to a bar in Cedarburg, after it stolen Feb. 16 from a festival in that suburb.

The woman her group took Guido to a bar and then to a music house where the 7 ft. tall sausage danced the Harlem Shake.

She called the affair "Weenie Gate" and gave no names, of course. She sent a video and photos of the escapade to USA Today's website, along with an apology note filled with sausage-innuendos like, "You probably think I'm the wurst - spelled w-u-r-s-t."

The stolen sausage hit the media this week, complete with rewards from food companies as far north as Appleton.

The woman told the distributors to "donate the mustard and drink the beer" that they put up.

Her note said the group returned the costume because "We have morals."

Cedarburg Police have refused to say whether they'll keep investigating or if they'll try to arrest the thieves. The owner of the sausage, Klement's, issued a statement welcoming Guido home.

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Police presume Kira is dead; folks in Wausau hold out hope

Police in St. Paul now presume that a former Wausau area woman is dead after she vanished a week ago and was never found.

Yesterday, the husband of Kira Steger Trevino was charged in Ramsey County District Court with two counts of first-degree murder. Jeffrey Trevino, 39, of St. Paul had his bond doubled to $1 million.

Police said the evidence indicates that the 30-year-old Kira is no longer alive. Authorities pointed to a large amount of blood in the couple's home that was cleaned up; evidence of a violent struggle in their master bedroom; an odd place where Kira's car was discovered; and the fact that she never disappeared before.

Prosecutors said Kira Trevino had talked about marital problems. And they had GPS records showing that a rider took a cab from where Kira's car was parked to about a block from Trevino's home last weekend.

Kira worked as a clothing store manager at the Mall of America, and officials said her car was found in a ramp she didn't normally use. She was reported missing last Friday after she didn't show up for work.

Kira Steger Trevino graduated from Schofield DC Everest High School almost 12 years ago. Folks back in her hometown are still holding out hope for her safe return. A prayer vigil will be held at 5 p.m. today at Bethany Baptist Church in Weston, just east of Wausau.

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Walker may revise school voucher proposal

Gov. Scott Walker now says he might consider scaling back his proposed expansion of Wisconsin's private school voucher program.

Senators in his own Republican party have balked at the governor's budget plan to let parents in up to nine more school districts decide whether to get tax-funded vouchers to send their kids to private schools.

Thursday Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's editorial board that he might consider narrowing down the choice option to only those in schools that are not meeting state performance standards. That way, better-performing schools would not risk losing students and state aid to private schools in their districts.

Walker said he's most concerned about giving parents in poor-performing schools an option to improve their children's education.

Also, Walker said he would consider requiring the private schools that get voucher tax money to be part of the state's report card system. That system takes the place of the No Child Left Behind Act. The new "A" to "F" grades will be used to reward the best schools and challenge the worst ones.

The first report cards came out last year, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Luther Olsen said the bugs are still being worked out. Olsen believes it's too early to link major state funds to those report cards.

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Police chief lobbies for ban; man fires assault weapon at group in Milwaukee

A gunman in Milwaukee opened fire on a group of people with an assault weapon just one day after the city's police chief went to Washington to call for a ban on those weapons.

A man and a woman were wounded by Thursday's gunfire. They were taken to a hospital. There's no word on how they're doing, although the man's injuries were more serious.

The 48-year-old gunman was arrested after being chased down by a police dog. He was taken a hospital with dog bite wounds.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn went to the shooting scene to brief reporters. He said the neighborhood has had to live with too much violence due to high-quality firearms that include assault rifles.

Just 24 hours earlier, Flynn told lawmakers on Capitol Hill. "It's time for Congress to pick a side - I hope it's law enforcement's."

Flynn spoke in favor of a bill that bans assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and creates a standard system of background checks for all gun buyers, including those the law now exempts.

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Judge approves $6 million to pay long-term care providers

Long-term care providers in western Wisconsin are about to get $6 million that a former administrator never paid to them before going out of business.

Eau Claire County Circuit Judge Michael Schumacher has allowed the state to loan the $6 million to a court-ordered receiver that's handling obligations of the former Community Health Partnership.

The Eau Claire group administered long-term care to the elderly under Wisconsin's Family Care program, which is designed to keep lower-income seniors from going to nursing homes. But the group fell behind on its payments and went out of business at the end of last year.

Thomas Cook, who heads a rehab trade group, said the court action will resolve financial concerns for the long-term care providers he represents. He said many had to borrow money to keep paying their employees.

Cook said the state's new health secretary, Kitty Rhoades, played a role in resolving the matter.

The old Community Health Partnership administered the Family Care program for about 2,700 recipients in Eau Claire, Chippewa, Dunn, St. Croix and Pierce counties. A new administrative firm took over Jan. 1 with a goal of running a more financially sustainable service.

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Wisconsin braces for federal spending cuts

It's March 1 - and despite all the doomsday talk about "sequestration," there's a good chance that your favorite federal program hasn't been slashed just yet.

But a number of Wisconsin interests continue to brace for what might happen if Congress ends up doing nothing to stop $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that were due to take effect at midnight.

President Obama has summoned top congressional leaders from both parties to a White House meeting today.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association warns that a 2% cut in Medicare funding takes effect right away. The group figures it will cost hospitals $2 million a week or $1 billion over 10 years.

Brian Potter of the hospital association says smaller hospitals will feel the pinch the most because they serve larger proportions of Medicare patients.

Military facilities will feel a big impact, of course. Wisconsin's Fort McCoy says 1,500 civilian workers are getting their pay cut 20% by taking one unpaid furlough day per week.

All reports from Washington indicate that it will be a long, slow process for Americans to feel the impact. But when they do, the White House reportedly figures that people will be ready to urge Congress to approve the tax increases President Obama wants.

In the meantime, a larger six-month spending bill to fund the government expires March 27. If it's not extended, a government shutdown is a possibility.

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Walker toys with presidential bid

Gov. Scott Walker said he enjoys being mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for the White House in 2016.

He said it means that he's not doing what he calls a "crappy" job for Wisconsin.

But Walker refuses to say if he's really interested in the presidency. He told state newspaper executives in Middleton Thursday that he ought to stay focused on being the governor, considering all the time and energy he spent running for that job since 2010.

Walker said his name would not come up as a potential presidential candidate if he wasn't doing a good job in Madison. He said people will talk if they see Wisconsin improving.

Democrats take issue, as you might expect. State Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski calls Walker the "Tea Party belle" for 2016. He said Walker has "utterly failed Wisconsin in jobs, education and the economic security of our middle class."

Scot Ross of the liberal One Wisconsin Now group said Wisconsinites are outraged by "the long-term damage he's doing to us to ensure his right wing bona-fides are in place to compete in the 2016 Republican presidential primary."

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Feds propose $230,000 in safety fines for food company

Federal workplace safety officials have recommended $230,000 in fines for a Beaver Dam food plant cited for safety violations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Richelieu Foods is a repeat violator after the same facility was cited in 2009.

OSHA said Richelieu put employees' safety at risk by allowing a number of hazards and health violations to persist.

The company is based in Randolph, Mass. Its Beaver Dam plant has about 410 workers who make food items like frozen pizza, salad dressings and sauces. The company has not commented on the new citations.

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