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Mississippi not expected to flood, but smaller rivers may; Democrats call for special session to address ‘the people’s agenda’; More state news

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The National Weather Service does not expect major flooding on the Mississippi River this spring. But smaller rivers could get the liquid leftovers from the 12.5 inches of snow that fell in far northern Wisconsin a week ago.

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The Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company of Wausau says flows are higher than normal on the hydroelectric dams it operates along the Wisconsin River. Manager Peter Hanson says anglers will be tempted to take advantage of good fishing near the dams where high waters and flows could make things risky. He said dams need to be respected, and anglers should pay attention to their surroundings and be on the alert for official warnings.

Forecasters expect highs in the 50's and 60's through tomorrow with a slight cool down and statewide rain showers during the weekend. Cooler highs in the 40's are predicted for Monday.

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Democrats call for special session to address ‘the people’s agenda’

Wisconsin Assembly Democrats want the governor to order lawmakers back to Madison to complete what they call unfinished business.

Minority Leader Peter Barca told reporters yesterday that Democrats want action on two dozen of their bills aimed at helping the middle class. Barca cited a hike in the minimum wage and a task force on clean-energy jobs among the measures that majority Republicans either ignored or rejected in the regular two-year session that ended last week.

The GOP controls both houses -- especially the Assembly, where Democrats hold just 39 of the 99 seats.

The Democrats also want an expansion of Medicaid coverage under Obamacare, more steps to make private voucher schools more accountable and other measures involving jobs, education and unemployment benefits. Barca called it "the people's agenda."

Assistant Minority Leader Sandy Pasch said the session ended too soon. Gov. Scott Walker has said he would call a special session if the State Supreme Court does not uphold the 2011 photo ID requirement for voting.

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4th Republican announces bid for Kind’s seat

Republicans keep lining up to challenge House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse this fall.

Retired Army veteran Tony Kurtz, a business owner in Prairie du Chien, has become the fourth potential GOP candidate for the Third District House seat. He said he wants to help achieve a balanced budget, deficit reduction, more jobs and better health care.

If he files, Kurtz faces a potential mid-August primary against three other Republicans who've announced their candidates -- former Ron Johnson staffer Chris Anderson, former Mauston alderman Ken Van Doren and Karen Mueller of Chippewa Falls.

Kind is in his 14th year in Congress. He says he's focused on doing his job instead of plotting to keep that job come November. Kind said campaigns start too early and cost too much.

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New medical college set to recruit students

The Medical College of Wisconsin plans to start recruiting students this summer for a new doctor training facility in De Pere that's due to open in 2015.

School officials say they're completing a fundraising effort for the new medical school and wrapping up the process of getting accredited.

The first class will have 20-25 students, who are scheduled to begin classes in the fall of next year. The goal is to help Wisconsin train enough doctors to treat the expanding senior population caused by the baby boom. The state's hospital association says Wisconsin is training about 100 fewer doctors than are needed to maintain current staffing levels around the state.

The Medical College said it was responding to the shortage when it announced new training centers in the Green Bay and Wausau areas a couple years ago.

College Vice President Joseph Kerschner said mental health would be a major focus of the De Pere school. He said the school is developing seven mental health residency programs in the Green Bay area.

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No lease, so envelope plant closes; 150 lose jobs

A plant near Appleton that makes envelopes is closing for good.

The Cenveo Corporation said today it would shut down the former National Envelope plant in the town of Grand Chute. About 150 people will be put out of work.

Cenveo bought the facility last September after National Envelope had filed for bankruptcy. However, the company said it could not reach a lease agreement with the building's owner, Spirit Leasing of Arizona.

Cenveo blamed the landlord for what it called a difficult decision to shut the plant down. Spirit Leasing has not commented.

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Some grass fires reported

A dry start to Wisconsin's wildfire season could run into the weekend.

The National Weather Service says a couple of weak systems could bring limited showers to parts of the state today and tomorrow. A large low-pressure system is expected to spread showers and thunderstorms statewide both on Saturday and Sunday.

Meanwhile, at least some grass fires have burned out of control due to high winds, low humidity and suddenly warmer temperatures.

Last night authorities said a grass fire near Sparta spread to a nearby forest. About 100 firefighters from five departments finally got the blaze under control late last night thanks to a shift in the wind.

Going into this week, the Department of Natural Resources reported 61 spring wildfires statewide, burning 227 acres at that time.

Officials said the risk of wildfires is high to very high in the southern half of the state and low to moderate in the northern half. A number of counties in the south have canceled burning permits. Officials say debris burning is the state's top cause of spring wildfires.

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Fire destroys Whitehall feed mill

Investigators are trying to determine what caused a fire late Wednesday that destroyed a 100-year-old building at the Larson Agri Service Feed Mill in Whitehall.

Units were called to the feed mill last night. No one was in the building at the time, and no one was hurt.

Units from nine fire departments got the blaze under control by midnight. By then, the building was a total loss, and there was damage to nearby grain bins.

WQOW TV of Eau Claire said a hazmat team was put on standby, but the building had no hazardous chemicals inside. The main feed mill structure was more than 100 years old.

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Gas prices headed up

Wisconsin gas prices are inching up this week.

AAA reports a statewide average of $3.64 a gallon this morning for regular unleaded. That's almost a penny higher than yesterday, and a nickel more than both a week ago and a month ago.

Greg Laskoski of gasbuddy.com said part of the increase is due to a recent spike in prices for corn-based ethanol, which is used in the most popular lower grades of fuel. He said transportation issues might be behind the increase.

Also refineries are still shifting their inventories to summer grades of gas. That's expected to completed soon, and Laskoski said prices should then level off.

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Ice still slowing river traffic

Commercial boat traffic on the Mississippi River is still not as far north as La Crosse.

That's bad news for Wisconsin farmers and businesses that rely on the vessels to keep their shipping costs down.

Normally, the first barges of the spring pass through La Crosse in late March. But thick ice from the bitter cold winter is still causing delays. The Army Corps of Engineers said Lake Pepin still had 22 inches of surface ice yesterday.

Tow operators say won't go through any more than 15 inches of ice, or they'll damage their equipment. As a result, the Corps said the first river barges were no further north than Guttenberg, Iowa, yesterday.

Officials said they could get to La Crosse before the week’s out thanks to a recent warming trend. La Crosse had a high of 69 degrees yesterday, and Zack Taylor of the National Weather Service said that should help the ice melt. The area expects highs in the 50's and 60's through Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Weather Service has issued a new flood warning for the Big Rib River at Rib Falls in Marathon County. The river was just over an inch above its banks overnight.

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Doctor files second Lemon Law suit

The luxury automaker Tesla questions the motives of a lawsuit filed this week under Wisconsin's lemon law.

Tesla Motors wrote on its blog that it's doing all it can to fix Robert Montgomery's 2013 Model S.

The Franklin doctor hired Milwaukee lemon law attorney Vince Megna to represent him, and Tesla noted that Megna helped the same client sue Volvo last year for another defective new car. In that case, Montgomery got a refund.

Tesla questioned Megna's motivations. The San Francisco area company said it never wants anyone to be unhappy owning a Model S.

Megna told the Associated Press his client's happiness is not the issue. He said Tesla is legally required to either fix the defects or grant a refund.

The new lawsuit said Montgomery asked Tesla for a refund last November and never got a reply. That was after the car was in a shop for about two months for problems that included the vehicle not starting.

The lawsuit said Montgomery took the vehicle four times to service centers in Chicago. The car cost almost $95,000, and Montgomery could get double damages if he wins his case.

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Utility intends to freeze base rates for two years

Wisconsin Power and Light has asked state officials for permission to keep freezing its base electric rates for the next two years.

The utility for south central Wisconsin filed a rate proposal yesterday with the state Public Service Commission. It would continue to give the Madison-based Power and Light a return of almost 10.5%, which it can invest in power plant improvements. The company's base electric rates have held steady since 2010, while its natural gas rates have dropped.

WP&L asked the state for the okay to reduce natural gas rates by a net of $5 million next year and then keep them steady in 2016.

Utility President John Larsen said his company has some of the lowest electric and gas rates in Wisconsin, and that’s welcome news for customers after one of the coldest winters in decades. Customers pay variable amounts for the fuel that's used in producing power. That charge increased by 1.6% in January.

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Wisconsinite among cadets competing in cyber battle

About 30 senior cadets at West Point are taking on the National Security Agency in a simulated four-day battle in cyberspace.

John Zeidler of Milwaukee is among the cadets competing in the annual Cyber Defense Exercise which is wrapping up today. Zeidler and the others are fending off computer threats cooked up by the NSA.

The exercise will determine which of the five military service academies can best create computer networks that can withstand barrages like those NSA is serving up.

Zeidler said the cadets are "playing ball against a major league team ... and that's why it's so much fun." He says it's not real combat, but the cyber battles are still very stressful.

Other cadets call it the Army-Navy game for electrical engineering. Some cadets hope to specialize in cyber operations when they become Army officers.

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Half million bond set for man accused of killing teen in 1997

A $500,000 bond was set yesterday for a man charged with killing a 14-year-old runaway in Racine County in 1997.

James Eaton, 36, of Palatine, Ill., made his first court appearance on charges of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse. He's accused of killing Amber Creek, who was also from Palatine.

A prosecutor called the case "chilling." Amber was beaten, sexually assaulted and suffocated with a plastic bag before she was left in a wildlife preserve near Burlington.

Investigators sent evidence to crime labs throughout the country, hoping they'd find a match of DNA with a possible suspect. In late February, Oklahoma officials said Eaton's fingerprints were on the plastic bag.

Racine County authorities said they then started following Eaton around, and they found a cigarette butt he dropped at a Chicago area train station. DNA on the cigarette matched DNA found near the victim’s body.

Eaton is due back in Racine County Circuit Court next Wednesday when a judge will decide if there's enough evidence to order a trial.

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Ellis admits to considering illegal PAC

State Senate President Mike Ellis admits that he talked about creating an illegal political action committee to attack his first election challenger in 16 years.

Ellis told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he scrapped the idea after he learned it would not be legal. That's because the "Super PAC" would have been independent of his campaign, and it's illegal for candidates to coordinate with outside groups.

Ellis, a longtime Senate Republican from Neenah, is challenged this fall by Assembly Democrat Penny Bernard Schaber of Appleton.

The conservative Project Veritas secretly recorded Ellis at a bar near the State Capitol about two weeks ago. In the video, he talked about building a separate operation with up to $500,000 in which his fundraiser, Judi Rhodes Engels, would coordinate attacks on his opponent.

She denied talking about the matter with Ellis, and she resigned from the Ellis campaign a few hours after the video and highlights of it went on YouTube.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chris Larson called it an example of Republicans "looking to do whatever they can to remain in power."

The Journal Sentinel said other Ellis opponents called his move hypocritical after he spent years pushing for campaign finance reform.

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Road crew hits gas main; 700 lose service

About 700 residents in eastern Wisconsin lost their natural gas service after a road construction crew broke a gas main in New Holstein.

Police Captain Jeff Hebl said a high-pressure line was struck around 3:30 p.m. yesterday. It did not explode, and nobody was hurt.

Hebl said 30 homes were evacuated as a precaution, and a shelter was set up at New Holstein High School. The residents were allowed back home around 8 p.m. The Wisconsin Public Service utility was working to restore the gas service.

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DNR invites public to Work-Play event

The Department of Natural Resources is giving Wisconsinites a chance to celebrate Earth Day by helping spruce up state parks and trails.

The agency is looking for volunteers to help during the sixth annual Work-Play Earth Day event. Work outings are planned April 19, April 26 and May 3.

The volunteers will plant trees and shrubs, remove invasive plants, put benches in, paint picnic tables, rake old leaves and pick up litter. When the work's done, the volunteers can join DNR staffers on hikes and other recreational activities.

Over 700 volunteers took part in last year's event. 

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