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Heaps of snow predicted; Aveda founder dies in Osceola; more state briefs

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All of Wisconsin is supposed to get a heaping dose of snow today.

Six to seven inches are predicted for the southern third of the state, including Madison and Milwaukee. Five to seven inches are in the forecast for the western half of the state, plus the Fox Valley. Central and north central areas can expect 3 to 5 inches.

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It's all courtesy of a large storm system that's being pushed ahead of a low-pressure band in the Great Plains. The new snow comes on top of up to four inches in the Fox Valley late Saturday and early yesterday.

Forecasters expect heavy drifting by this afternoon in southern and western areas where winds from the southeast could reach 30 mph.

Parts of southwest Wisconsin could see one inch of snow per hour until around noon.

Today's highs are expected to be in the 20's statewide, getting down to the teens tonight. West central Wisconsin could get its warmest day of the New Year tomorrow with highs of 40 projected in some areas. There's a chance of freezing rain on Wednesday and Thursday.

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Aveda founder dies in Osceola

Funeral arrangements are pending for Horst Rechelbacher, a pioneer in health and beauty products.

He died Saturday at his home at Osceola in northwest Wisconsin. He was 72.

Rechelbacher, who emigrated from Austria, was a hairdresser in 1978 when he founded Aveda.

The hair and skin care products giant was headquartered in Minneapolis. It grew to about 25,000 stores and salons throughout the world plus teaching institutes in Minneapolis and New York.

Rechelbacher sold Aveda in 1997 to Estee Lauder for $300 million. After that, he started the Minneapolis firm of Intelligent Nutrients with a goal of creating the most environmentally friendly health and beauty products through the use of the latest plant-cell research.

Rechelbacher was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011 and gave up his presidency of Intelligent Nutrients in 2012.

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Gas prices up again

Wisconsin gas prices are inching up again.

AAA reported the statewide average for regular unleaded was $3.335 per gallon as of yesterday. That's up by six cents from a week ago, and it's almost seven cents higher than a month ago.

One factor is the rising cost of crude oil as U.S. crude for March deliveries went above $100 a barrel this morning. Experts said growth in China signaled a steady demand for energy in one of the world's largest petroleum-consuming nations.

Also analysts at GasBuddy.com said it's normal to see gas prices go up in late February. That's because refineries are cutting back production to perform plant maintenance, and they're switching over to summer blends of fuel.

Wisconsin motorists are still getting a bargain compared to a year ago when regular unleaded was 33 cents higher than it is now.

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Walker wants to improve school accountability

The governor's office says it's doing what it can to approve some type of school accountability package before the legislative session ends in April.

Gov. Scott Walker has not talked about the subject nearly as much as he has about tax relief. But Walker spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the governor and his aides are in daily contact with lawmakers, pushing to get something approved.

Walker has said he wants to make every school that gets state tax money provide "objective information about how those schools measure up."

A major bill to strengthen the state's grading of schools and punish the lowest performers does not appear to be getting enough votes in the Senate. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is still pursuing a package of that nature.

Last week, the Senate's education panel endorsed a measure to require schools with tax-funded voucher students to be under the same current report card system as public schools with no sanctions for those which don't make the grade. Walker now told the Journal Sentinel he may have to accept "something over nothing."

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DNR offers chance at free rare plant and animal surveys

Wisconsin landowners can enter a drawing to have the Department of Natural Resources conduct free surveys of their properties for rare plants and animals.

Those reviews normally cost $150 each, but the agency says it will do 100 of them at no cost.

Those interested can enter a drawing on the DNR's website from now through March 10.

When a rare species is found, the DNR will give a landowner suggestions about preserving it and enhancing its habitat. Even if landowners are not interested in conservation, the DNR says the review can still help them secure permits for various projects while avoiding impacts by rare species.

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OWI defense lawyers claim test results suspicious

Wisconsin OWI defense lawyers have formed a committee to investigate a concern over blood sample tests for suspected drunk drivers.

Suburban Milwaukee attorney Andrew Mishlove said jagged humps appear on the graphs of some of the test results. Lawyers say it could raise questions about the accuracy of 17,000 OWI tests performed each year by the state Hygiene Lab.

A state official calls that "ridiculous" and said the unexplained peaks have no bearing on the reliability of the blood tests.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the instrument's manufacturer, Perkin-Elmer, checked out the device and neither the company nor the state Hygiene Lab knows what's causing the humps on the graphs.

Mishlove wrote in the Wisconsin Law Journal that his firm has obtained software to reanalyze Perkin-Elmer's tests, and the attorneys' group has retained experts suggesting that lab instruments be taken out of service if they produce suspected results.

Laura Liddicoat of the Hygiene Lab said the Law Journal article has "fallacies." She said the unexplained humps “do not constitute a repeated failure or a malfunction under accreditation rules.”

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Taxes high in Milwaukee, says analysis

Milwaukee has the nation's third-highest tax burden among America's largest cities, according to Washington DC's Office of Revenue analysis.

The analysis said a Milwaukee family of three making $150,000 a year paid just over $26,000 in sales, income, property and auto taxes in 2012. Families making $25,000 a year paid almost $3,250 in total taxes.

Washington analysts said Milwaukee's city property taxes were 3% higher than all but a few regions in the survey. The report also said Milwaukee had especially-high income tax burdens.

It did note however, that Wisconsin reformed its tax code last year, and Gov. Scott Walker asked lawmakers to cut property taxes and income taxes for the state's lowest bracket.

The new report said Bridgeport, Conn., had the nation's highest tax burden, and Philadelphia was second.

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Observers sight 112 eagles

A survey by the National Eagle Center shows 112 golden eagles were recently spotted in southwest Wisconsin and adjacent parts of Minnesota and Iowa.

Over 170 observers spent a day counting the birds Jan. 18.

Scott Mehus, the project's coordinator, said there were not many young eagles. They made up about one-sixth of the total numbers of golden eagles.

The group also counted 878 bald eagles and 400 red-tail hawks.

This was the 10th year of the Wintering Golden Eagle Survey, which is designed to learn more about the golden eagle population in the Upper Mississippi River blufflands.

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