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Domestic partner rules under scrutiny today; wolf kill nearly halfway to goal; more state news

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MADISON -- The State Supreme Court was to hear arguments Wednesday in a legal challenge to Wisconsin's registry for same-sex domestic partners.

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Members of Wisconsin Family Action have tried three times to get the justices to consider throwing out the registry and the court finally decided in June to act on the case.

Former Gov. Jim Doyle and his fellow Democrats created the registry in 2009. It gives domestic partners about 20 percent of the nearly 200 legal benefits of married couples, including end-of-life decisions and hospital visits.

Family Action vice-president James Mailette said the registry is the type of thing voters wanted to prevent, when they approved the 2006 constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage and civil unions. Fifty-nine percent of voters ratified that.

Republicans who oppose the registry ended the state's defense of it when they took charge of the Capitol in 2011. That left Fair Wisconsin to fight the battle.

The Lambda Legal group is handling the case in court. Attorney Christopher Clark says the law is constitutional because it grants only a fraction of the rights given to married couples.

It could be a few months before the Supreme Court makes a final decision.

Speaker: Kenosha casino approval appears unlikely

MADISON -- The Menominee Indians were to make their final pitch to Gov. Scott Walker Wednesday to try-and-get the governor to approve the tribe's proposed casino in Kenosha.

However, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Walker is giving supporters very little reason to hope. Vos says he has spoken to Walker about the project and "It's not looking good."

Walker has the final say on the $800 million casino and resort at Kenosha's Dairyland Greyhound Park, after the federal government approved it two months ago.

Menominee leaders will argue that every other Wisconsin tribe has essentially approved the new casino -- which is Walker's main condition for granting it.

The Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk tribes still oppose the project, saying it would cut into revenues at their own Wisconsin casinos. The Menominee contends that the tribes approved the Kenosha casino when they signed their new gaming agreements about a decade ago.

Menominee Chairman Craig Corn said the agreements required each tribe to be made whole if they lost business to a new gaming house. Also, the Journal Sentinel says the Menominee would pay a larger share of its gaming revenues to the state under its compact -- so the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk could pay less.

No quick consideration on frac regulation change, Vos says

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Assembly speaker says he does not want to ram through a bill that takes away most local government authority to regulate frac-sand mines.

Republican Robin Vos said Tuesday his majority would wait until next spring to take up the measure.

Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst proposed it last week. He said frac-sand miners are tired of dealing with a hodge-podge of restrictive local ordinances -- and it would be a lot easier for them if Madison took control.

Vos says he favors the measure, but he wants to thoroughly review all the possible effects.

Tiffany's bill would nullify a State Supreme Court ruling from last year, which allowed towns to use police powers to regulate things like blasting, and the hours that frac-sand mines could operate.

The new bill would still let communities use zoning powers on mining projects -- but many towns don't have their own zoning. Also, town and county officials are concerned that the bill would strike down their agreements with frac-sand companies on their load limits for trucks -- which seek to prevent damage to highways.

Wisconsin has about 115 frac-sand mines, most in the western half of the state with the type of extremely-fine sand that oil-and-gas companies want for their drilling equipment.

One of six wolf-hunting zones already closing

Hunters and trappers in Zone 2 of six zones have already taken the quota of wolves so the season in that area is closed.

Just nine days into the Wisconsin wolf hunt, the DNR says the zone in the far northeast corner of the state will close its season mid-afternoon Wednesday.

Zone Two covers all or most of six counties between Minocqua and Marinette. Twenty-six wolves were taken there at last word, and the quota is 28.

Five other hunting zones remain open, but maybe not for long. The DNR said Tuesday that almost 40 percent of the available wolves have already been taken statewide, in a season that was scheduled to run through February.

When the statewide take hits 251, that's it. Because it's only the second wolf hunt, the DNR's Kurt Thiede says it's hard to tell if this year's big harvest is a quirk -- or if it will be the norm.

The DNR is trying to get the state's wolf population down to about 350, to reduce attacks on livestock and farm crops.

Last winter, the DNR said there were as many as 834 wolves. Environmentalists say there are not enough wolves for hunting. They have a lawsuit pending that would end wolf hunts in the various states, and put the animals back on the federal endangered species list.

Baldwin, Kind say they'll keep pay earned during shutdown

At least a couple of Wisconsin's federal lawmakers say they'll keep the pay they're receiving for the time the government was shut down.

Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin says she'll pocket the $7,600 she's entitled to receive for the 16 days of the shutdown.

A spokesman for House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse says federal employees are being paid retroactively for their time off from work and Kind will accept the money as well. Spokesman Peter Knudsen tells WAOW TV in Wausau said Kind did not support shutting down the government "unlike some of his colleagues in Congress."

House Republican Sean Duffy's office still has a request in to withhold his share -- but House administrative officials said three weeks ago it won't happen. They said all Members of Congress will get their October salaries on the 31st of this month, as scheduled -- and while they could ask for a delay in their checks during the shutdown, the Constitution requires that Congress get paid on time.

U.S. Senate Republican Ron Johnson said he's returning his $7,600 share to the treasury.

Others said during the shutdown they would donate their shares to charity. Wisconsin House Republicans Paul Ryan, Tom Petri, and Reid Ribble all made that pledge.

State's hi-cap wells were tapped 5 percent more last year

MADISON -- Wisconsin's high-capacity wells pumped out more water last year than in 2011.

The Wisconsin DNR said the drought was the main reason. Officials said 2.3 trillion gallons of surface water and groundwater were pumped from high-capacity wells last year. That's 4.6 percent more than the previous year.

The DNR said farm irrigation was the largest use of water last year, surpassing community usage. Officials also said the amount of groundwater pumped from aquifers increased by 34.5 percent from the previous year.

Mitchell gets express security lane

MILWAUKEE -- The federal government's "pre-check" program for frequent fliers began Tuesday at Milwaukee's Mitchell International.

Eligible passengers will have their own lane where they do not have to remove their belts and shoes -- and they don't have to keep their laptops encased at the checkpoints.

Airlines are inviting their frequent-flyer members to be in the program.

The Transportation Security Administration says it will let officers focus on other passengers who may a risk to airline safety. Officials say it should also speed up the regular security lines.

By the end of the year, the TSA says it will offer its pre-check program at 100 airports throughout the country.

Xcel, ATC request permission for 180-mile LaX-to-Madison line

MADISON -- Two companies asked state officials Tuesday to let them build a large electric transmission line between the Madison and La Crosse areas.

The long-proposed project would cost just over $550 million, stretching across about 180 miles.

The American Transmission Company and Xcel Energy said the new line would move electric power more efficiently across southern Wisconsin -- provide a better link to power from Minnesota and make it easier to import wind power from the Great Plains.

The utilities say the overall result will be lower energy prices for customers in the long run. They cite total economic benefits of up to $840 million over a 40-year period.

Two routes for the new line remain under consideration. Both have attracted lots of opposition from local governments and citizen groups like Save Our Unique Lands.

The state Public Service Commission will take up to 18 months to consider all the pros and cons.

If approved, the line could start moving power by 2018.

White Halloween in northern Wisconsin at this rate

Far northern Wisconsin continues to be skirted by a storm system that's dumping early-season snow in the northern and northeastern U.S.

Parts of Bayfield and Vilas counties had three inches on the ground Tuesday morning. Much of it melted during the day, when afternoon highs went above freezing -- but forecasters say more lake-effect snow is on the way, as north winds continue to flow from Lake Superior.

The National Weather Service says far northern Wisconsin will be hit with occasional doses of the white stuff for the rest of the week, until things begin to warm up into the weekend. Highs are expected to be in the 40-degree range the next couple days.

Places near Lake Michigan could see 50 again by Saturday.

Stillwater Bridge ends routine lifts for season

STILLWATER, Minn. -- The Stillwater Lift Bridge at the Minnesota-Wisconsin border has ended its normal lift schedule for the year. The bridge will stay in the down-position until next spring, unless boaters ask 24 hours in advance that the 80-year-old bridge be lifted.

The scheduled lifts ended Tuesday for the season.

The new four-lane bridge now under construction is due to open in 2016. The lift bridge will continue to be used for bicycles and pedestrians.

Sun Prairie vet awarded Purple Heart six years late

SUN PRAIRIE -- A southern Wisconsin soldier has finally received a Purple Heart award for head injuries he suffered six years ago in Iraq.

Army Guard Staff Sergeant Joshua Koch of Sun Prairie was returning from a mission with other members of the 147th Aviation Regiment, when mortar shells blew up around them.

Koch received a concussion. The other soldiers were given Purple Heart medals soon after the attack -- but Koch never got his, due to an administrative error.

The error was fixed last week, and Koch finally got his medal in front of family, friends, and other troops. He thanked his fellow soldiers who helped him obtain his award.

The honor "means more than I can say in words," he said.

Kulp, Rodriguez win Assembly primaries

A Stratford businessman and a Milwaukee area school choice advocate won primary elections Tuesday for a pair of Wisconsin Assembly seats.

Bob Kulp got almost 44 percent of the vote in winning a four-way Republican primary for the seat given up by former GOP Majority Leader Scott Suder. Jessie Rodriguez of Franklin easily beat out four others to win the GOP bid for the seat given up by Assembly Republican Mark Honadel of South Milwaukee.

Kulp and Rodriguez now advance to general elections on Nov. 19th.

The outcomes will hardly affect the Republicans' huge majority in the Assembly, which is currently 57 to 39 over the Democrats.

-- Mike Warren, WDLB-WOSQ, Marshfield and Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

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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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