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Last remnants of snow finally gone in Superior; Walker says son’s witnessing gay marriage was not policy statement; more state briefs

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The final evidence of an extremely snowy winter has just now disappeared in northwest Wisconsin.

The Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce ran a contest in which folks were invited to guess when the final remnants of snow would melt away. They called it the "Snowpocalypse" contest.

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The judges ruled that the final snow disappeared Monday, July 7, from the huge pile of snow that was removed from the city streets during the winter.

Gerry Olson of Superior had the right guess (among locals) and won a basket of prizes that included a family swim pass for a hotel, gift cards for food and gas and Blizzards for a year from Dairy Queen.

Winning the “out-of-towners” category was Leslie Filteau of Sheboygan with a guess of June 8. Filteau will receive the “out-of-towners” prize package including many of the same prizes.

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Walker says son’s witnessing gay marriage was not policy statement

Gov. Scott Walker said his 19-year-old son Alex was not making a policy statement when he served as a legal witness to a gay marriage last month.

Walker, a long-time opponent of same-sex marriage, confirmed yesterday that his son was a witness at the June 9 wedding of Shelli Marquardt and Cathy Priem. Marquardt is the first cousin of Walker's wife Tonette.

The wedding was among 550 that occurred in a one-week period in Wisconsin after Federal Judge Barbara Crabb found the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional. She later put her ruling on hold while the state appeals it.

The governor said his family's wedding involved a member they love dearly, and he had no problem with his son acting as a witness. Walker said his son doesn't need his blessing "to do anything he does."

Walker downplayed his opposition to gay marriage when he hit the campaign trail, saying his opinion no longer matters now that the issue is in the courts.

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Dozens of bronze military flag holders stolen

Somebody observed the nation's birthday by stealing dozens of military flag holders from veterans' graves at a cemetery in Beaver Dam.

Ross Kottke, who manages the Oakwood Cemetery, told the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen it's "disgusting" that someone would rob the veterans who were honored.

Authorities said the bronze markers were stolen from the graves of Korean War veterans and those who served in both World Wars. The markers were stolen sometime during the July Fourth weekend. The small flags on those holders were left behind.

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Milwaukee man strikes plea deal on dog-fighting charges

A Milwaukee man will be sentenced today after he admitted taking part in a dog-fighting ring.

Thomas Zollicoffer, 24, struck a plea deal on Monday that convicted him of two felonies -- instigating animal fights and training animals for those events. Two lesser felony counts were dropped.

Zollicoffer was among 13 people arrested in April as part of what investigators called a dog-fighting ring throughout Milwaukee County. Authorities recovered 22 living dogs, and the corpse of a dog in a suspect's back yard.

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Sensenbrenner drafts bill to eliminate ATF

Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner is so fed up with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), he's drafting a bill to eliminate it.

The Menomonee Falls Republican says the ATF keeps searching for a mission while it's plagued by what he calls "high-profile blunders."

A new report by the General Accounting Office said the 46-year-old ATF keeps trying to redefine itself as it struggles with high employee turnover and problems keeping track of its criminal investigations. The agency is not commenting for now.

In Milwaukee, there's been heavy criticism of the ATF in the wake of a botched undercover storefront operation that was supposed to get guns off the streets but instead resulted in a burglary at the storefront, the loss of critical documents and charges against the wrong targets.

Sensenbrenner says other police operations in the Justice Department can pick up the ATF's duties. His new effort to eliminate the ATF comes 21 years after a similar proposal failed to pass.

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We Energies applies to burn cheaper coal

Wisconsin's largest power plant would burn cheaper coal under a plan submitted to the state's utility regulating panel.

We Energies wants to spend $25 million to modify its plant at Oak Creek so it can burn coal from Montana and Wyoming that's 35% cheaper than the Appalachian coal it's now burning.

The utility has asked the state Public Service Commission to approve the project by December. We Energies says the plant would burn a mix of 60% western coal, and 40% from the eastern U.S., and it would save customers about $16 million a year.

The Citizens Utility Board, which represents electric consumers, says it's not wise to spend more money on a plant that cost $2.3 billion to build and had millions in cost overruns.

Katie Nekola of Clean Wisconsin said Wyoming coal burns less efficiently than the Appalachian product, and therefore, the plant would create more emissions at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency is ordering the state to reduce those carbon emissions.

We Energies doesn't buy that. Spokesman Brian Manthey says the new arrangement will allow the plant to burn coal as efficiently as any plant in the nation. He also said the mixture can flexible so the utility can adapt to future market conditions.

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July 21 court date set for woman accused of killing firefighter

A northwest Wisconsin woman is due in court July 21 after she was accused of killing the deputy fire chief of Milltown while driving drunk.

Jeanne Fisher of Frederic was charged on June 30 -- her 33rd birthday -- with homicide by drunk driving and with a prohibited blood alcohol level. Both counts are felonies.

Polk County prosecutors filed them more than five months after the crash that killed Chad Hansen, 34. Authorities said Hansen was walking on Hwy. 35 during blizzard conditions last January when a car hit him.

Fisher told officers she had four drinks and a shot of liquor at a bar in Luck, and she was driving to another tavern when she struck Hansen. Officials said her blood alcohol level was .136, over 1 1/2 times the allowable limit for drunk driving.

Hansen was on the Milltown Fire Department since 1997, and became the deputy chief a year and a half ago. He also served as a street employee for the village.

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Search goes on for boater missing near Oshkosh

A search for a missing boater is in its third day on Lake Winneconne, northwest of Oshkosh.

Winnebago County authorities said Roger Inderdahl, 52, of Weyauwega went missing on Monday while he was fishing on the lake. Witnesses called 9-1-1 after seeing his empty boat go around in circles on the lake.

Private boaters have been helping authorities with the search. It was suspended yesterday due to high winds.

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Supreme Court takes up hearsay testimony challenge

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to decide today whether criminal defendants had their rights violated when the preliminary hearing process was streamlined.

Majority Republicans passed a law in 2012 to allow hearsay testimony during an early stage of a felony case when a judge decides if there's enough evidence to order a trial. Now the only witnesses who testify at prelims are often police officers who summarize their evidence.

Three defendants from Kenosha and Walworth counties took the change to court, saying it violates their right to due process and the right to confront their accusers.

It's not often that judges throw out charges at the preliminary hearing stage. As a result, the new law's supporters said prelims are generally formalities, and their measure eliminated the need for crime victims to testify.

Because the vast majority of cases are settled with plea bargains, crime victims and/ or their relatives generally don't get heard in court until defendants are sentenced.

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Study shows U.S. kids below average in financial literacy

A new international study shows that U.S. students are just below average in learning how to manage their finances when they become adults.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says 18% of U.S. school students do not meet the proficiency level for being financially literate. Ten percent of Americans are said to be top performers, which means they can root out things like hidden costs in their purchases.

Jim Morgan of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce said the low numbers are caused in part by the lack of a uniform effort to increase student financial literacy.

Wisconsin was a national trendsetter back in 2006 when a task force created academic standards for financial literacy. However, public schools were not required to offer personal finance programs -- and less than half did.

In May, Gov. Scott Walker announced $350,000 in grants to help schools create literacy courses. Only 26 districts shared that money, and 66 others were turned away.

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Work begins on second bridge at Winona

Construction begins later this month on a second bridge between Wisconsin and Winona, Minn.

Minnesota’s Department of Transportation will hold a ceremonial groundbreaking a week from Friday for the $162 million span over the Mississippi River.

Officials decided that two more bridge lanes were needed after the city's original two-lane span was closed for part of 2008 with corroded gusset plates. Hundreds of Wisconsinites who work in Winona drove miles out of their way until a temporary ferry was put in place.

The new bridge was first announced in 2012, along with plans to preserve the existing 70-year-old structure connected by Hwy. 54 in western Wisconsin.

Temporary access points will start being built the week of July 21, followed by the installation of piers in the river. Officials are still acquiring land for the new bridge.

Construction of the driving lanes will begin next spring. Once the bridge is complete, crews will perform rehab work on the existing bridge.

--Minnesota News Network

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Air Force plane makes emergency landing in UP

An Air Force refueling plane from Milwaukee made an emergency landing late yesterday on an airport runway in Upper Michigan.

WVUP TV in Ishpeming said the plane was conducting a touch-and-go landing drill when it had a hydraulic problem. Three people were aboard the KC-135 plane at the time, and it was carrying 6,000 gallons of fuel.

Airport manager Duane DuRay said the crew radioed air traffic controllers about 25 minutes before they landed. The plane touched down around 5 p.m. yesterday at Sawyer International Airport in the central Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It's the former KI Sawyer Base that the Air Force retired in 1995 after almost 40 years of operations.

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Entrepreneur who failed to pay taxes on $1.3 million gets year prison sentence

A man who co-founded three self-help companies in Madison has been sentenced to a year in prison for not filing federal income tax returns.

Eric Plantenberg, 42, of Bend, Ore., said he made an "epic mistake" when he failed to pay taxes from 2006 through 2008. That was when he co-owned Personal Freedom Development, I-Kinetic and Freedom Professional Services, all of Madison.

Plantenberg failed to pay taxes on $1.3 million he made during the three-year period.

His attorney asked for probation, but Milwaukee Federal Judge Lynn Adelman said Plantenberg needs to go to prison to discourage others from running tax scams. Prosecutors said he shuffled money from a dozen accounts to avoid paying taxes.

His attorney said Plantenberg could owe almost $1 million in back taxes, penalties and interest once his past-due returns are filed. The Wisconsin State Journal says Plantenberg and his wife are selling a beverage company in Oregon to help pay what he owes.

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Appleton girl invited to lunch at White House

A 12-year-old Appleton girl will have lunch with Michelle Obama at the White House next week.

Sarah Ganser was the Wisconsin winner of the third annual "Healthy Lunchtime Challenge," a recipe contest put on by the First Lady's "Let's Move" program. She'll join winners from other states, Washington D.C. and three U-S territories at the July 18 White House lunch.

Ganser's recipe is for an African sweet potato stew. It was among 1,500 entries in the First Lady's contest. Ganser's recipe will be featured in a free cookbook that can be downloaded by the end of July from the program's Website at letsmove.gov

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Walker blames Burke for wasting $12.3 million grant

The state is under federal orders to pay back a $12.3 million grant it received in 2006 to help drug-maker Abbott Laboratories build a plant in Kenosha County that never materialized.

Gov. Scott Walker's campaign unveiled a TV ad yesterday that slammed his Democratic election opponent Mary Burke for wasting a grant she arranged while she was the state's commerce secretary. The ad mentioned nothing about the U.S.-Department of Housing and Urban Development's ruling that the grant was for a speculative project and therefore improper.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state was told a year ago to pay back around $6 million in cash and give up another $6 million in future block grant funds. Both state officials and the Burke camp disagree with the finding.

The paper said the funding bought land that prevented a truck stop from going on the Abbott sites. A Walker housing official said it eventually helped Uline build its new corporate headquarters in Pleasant Prairie.

Burke's camp said she disagrees strongly with HUD's finding, and she would officially challenge it if she's elected governor in November. Her camp said Abbott -- the Illinois drug giant -- made a major land investment in 2006, and it included taxpayer protections.

The village of Pleasant Prairie was given the grant funds that eventually went to Abbott. The company has not commented.

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14 more pages released in John Doe probe

We could soon learn a little bit more about the state's John Doe investigation into the recall elections against Gov. Scott Walker and GOP senators.

Yesterday federal appeals Judge Diane Wood ordered the release of about 14 pages of documents that the Wisconsin Club for Growth wanted to keep secret.

It's not known when the records will come out or what they might disclose. They concern the group's lawsuit which sought to strike down the John Doe probe for violating the group's free-speech rights.

Milwaukee District Judge Rudolph Randa said he agreed with the group, and he halted the probe twice this spring. State prosecutors continue to appeal the latest move.

Over 250 pages of documents have already been released from the John Doe.

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Judge decides against third mental exam for 12-year-old

A 12-year-old Waukesha girl will not have to undergo a third mental exam before she enters a plea to charges that she helped stab a classmate 19 times.

Circuit Judge Michael Bohren has halted an order he issued last week for a state exam that's designed to determine whether Morgan Geyser could raise a credible insanity defense. Bohren approved the state's request for such an exam last Thursday after two more limited exams showed that she was not mentally competent to stand trial.

The more formal state exam normally occurs after a criminal defendant pleads insanity. Therefore, defense lawyer Anthony Cotton said the order for the exam came too early since no pleas have been entered yet. Cotton also said the exam might force Geyser to give details that could eventually be used against her, thus violating her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Geyser and Anissa Weyer, 12, are charged as adults in the May 30 stabbing of a 12-year-old classmate. The defendants told police they did it to honor of the fictional horror character Slender Man. They're due back in court August 1. The stabbing victim continues to recover at home.

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