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Rain, hail, trees fall in northern Wisconsin; Capitol protestors move sing-along outdoors; more state news briefs

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news River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

More heavy thunderstorms rumbled through northern Wisconsin late Thursday and last night.

The National Weather Service said lightning struck an electric regulator in Manitowish Waters, and it started a house on fire.

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A tree landed on a truck in Antigo. Trees also fell in Shawano, Lincoln and Marathon counties.

Around four inches of rain fell in Rhinelander and Monico in Oneida County. Gile in Iron County got an inch in less than a half hour. That same community also had quarter-sized hail. Parts of northwest Wisconsin also had hail last evening.

Officials said the storms diminished as the moved to the southeast overnight. It cooled down yesterday in much of the state, but the mercury still soared into the 90’s in west central areas.

Much of southern Wisconsin is supposed to be in the 90’s today with highs near 80 in the north. Grant County will be under a heat advisory from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. A partly cloudy Labor Day Weekend is expected with a chance of storms on and off.

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Capitol protestors move sing-along outdoors

The Solidarity Singers moved their daily anti-Walker sing-along outside the State Capitol Thursday.

The group normally moves from the Rotunda on Fridays and when other groups get permits for Capitol events.

Almost a dozen Republicans staged a pro-Walker rally in the Capitol, singing patriotic songs among other things. Organizer Deb Stein told WKOW TV in Madison that the event was designed to “take back the Capitol” from the regular protestors. She said the noon-time Solidarity sing-alongs disrupt those who work in the statehouse, and those opposed to Walker should express their views at the ballot box come November of next year. Stein said her group plans four other Capitol rallies.

The Solidarity Singers have refused to get the required state permits for Capitol gatherings, saying they should not have to get government approval to protest the government.

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Utility pays $80,000 for violating air quality standards

The Wisconsin Public Service utility will pay $80,000 to settle a lawsuit over air quality violations at its Weston Power Plant near Wausau.

The state Department of Natural Resources said the utility committed a series of permit violations in 2008 and 2009 when the Weston-Four plant had excessive emission levels at various times.

Air management supervisor Jeff Johnson said the plant has not had any violations since the lawsuit was brought. He said the matter took a while to work through the court system because of repeated violations five years ago. He said there were different violations over different periods of time.

Marathon County Circuit Judge Jill Falstad approved the settlement earlier this week.

--WSAU, Wausau

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DNR secretary confirms $500,000 grant to United Sportsmen

State Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp has given her final approval to a controversial grant to encourage more Wisconsinites to go hunting and fishing.

Stepp had the final say on the matter after the Sporting Heritage Committee voted 4-1 earlier in the day to give the two-year $500,000 grant to the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation.

The panel heard a lot of testimony about the grant, almost all of it in opposition to the award. Critics said the group has no experience in training sportsmen and its members had political ties to majority Republicans at the State Capitol.

The GOP inserted the grant in the new state budget but did not allow several conservation groups to apply for the money. Others said they would have been interested in seeking the grant had they knew it was available.

Stepp said the budget measure gave the DNR no choice in approving the grant. But she promised “ample opportunity for public scrutiny” as the funding and promotional work are carried out.

The United Sportsmen were given $200,000 for this year, $300,000 for next year and $450,000 in each future two-year budget. The group promises to match $150,000 for every future grant.

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Schools kick off new year

Tuesday is when most Wisconsin schools open their doors for the new term.

State public Superintendent Tony Evers will mark the occasion by speaking at a back-to-school event in Mequon at Lake Shore Middle School.

He’ll encourage students to think about what they want to do after they graduate from high school. Evers will also take a short tour of the school and greet staffers and parents.

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Circus World will lose star exhibit

The Circus World Museum in Baraboo is about to lose one of its most prized exhibits.

The Ringling Brothers “Bell Wagon” will leave in mid-September after being on display for almost 30 years.

The Bell Wagon was the first stylish wagon built for the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1891. Besides the wagon, related costumes and floats have been on display since 1984 at Baraboo.

They’re owned by Feld Entertainment of Florida, which recently consolidated its operations. It’s now re-evaluating its circus collection, which is spread at seven sites around the country. Feld plans to use some of the items to celebrate 50 years of its ownership of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.

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Man, woman who died in police standoff identified

Two people found dead after a police standoff on an eastern Wisconsin freeway have been identified as Randy Lamb, 29, and Ashley Luka, 28, both of Neenah.

Winnebago County authorities said Lamb robbed a liquor store in Vinland late Wednesday afternoon and got away with $600. Authorities found his vehicle speeding on the Hwy. 41 expressway near Oshkosh.

Lamb and Luka refused to surrender. They were holed up in their vehicle as traffic backed up for miles. Officers said they heard shots about two hours after the standoff began. They found Lamb and Luka dead of apparent self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

Final autopsy results won’t be known until toxicology test results come in. Police said they found evidence from the robbery in the vehicle.

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Guard members expected back soon

Sixteen Wisconsin National Guard members could be home as early as next month as they start wrapping up a mission to train security forces in Afghanistan.

The Guard’s 104th Security Force Advise and Assist Team has been in the Middle East since January. They’ve been helping Afghan troops prepare for what happens after the U.S. withdraws from there.

The unit has also worked with local residents on a number of projects in Afghanistan. The troops helped open two new schools and created a water well. They also delivered school supplies to remote villages near Afghanistan’s borders with Iran and Turkmenistan.

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Gay couples in Wisconsin can file joint IRS returns

Same-sex couples in Wisconsin who get married elsewhere can file joint federal income tax returns and pay less than they would as individuals.

The IRS said yesterday that gay married couples will have the same federal tax status as heterosexual couples even if they live in states like Wisconsin that don’t recognize same-sex marriage. State officials were quick to point out that same-sex couples would still have to file their Wisconsin returns as individuals.

The IRS ruling comes after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in late June.

U.S. House Democrat Mark Pocan of Madison, who’s in a same-sex marriage, says the federal ruling is a huge benefit to similar couples in the Badger State. Pocan said he would ask state officials in the coming days to allow gay couples to file joint state tax returns.

Julaine Appling of Wisconsin Family Action said a state tax change would violate Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on gay marriages and civil unions. Appling’s group pushed for the passage of the anti-gay marriage amendment.

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Protestor released while prosecutors consider charges

A man arrested on the first possible felony charge in a crackdown on the State Capitol’s Solidarity Singers was freed on a signature bond Thursday.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne told a judge said he needed more time to consider what type of charge should be filed against Damon Terrell, 22. A final decision is expected by Sept. 12 when Terrell is scheduled to return to court. In the meantime, he was ordered to stay away from the Capitol and its grounds.

The Walker administration recommended charges of felony battery and resisting arrest against Terrell, who fell to the ground after officers confronted him during Monday’s protest sing-along at the Capitol. Officer James Brooks said he hurt his right finger while arresting Terrell and was bruised in several places.

Terrell’s attorney said his client merely tripped and did not intentionally hit anyone while going down.

The case involves the first possible felony resulting from over 300 arrests since late July, when the state began enforcing its policy requiring permits for larger gatherings at the Capitol.

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Lawsuit filed in police shooting of musician

A new lawsuit alleges that Madison police officer Stephen Heimsness used unnecessary and excessive force when he shot an unarmed musician to death last November.

Relatives of Paul Heenan, 30, filed suit Thursday, claiming that Heimsness could have used less drastic options to break up a scuffle between Heenan and a neighbor.

Previous news accounts said Heenan was so drunk that night, he thought his neighbor’s house was his own, and he got into a scuffle with the neighbor soon afterward.

Police said Heimsness was trying to break up the dispute when Heenan was reaching for the officer’s gun and that’s when Heimsness shot and killed Heenan.

The family disputes the official police account. They said Heenan was too drunk to be aggressive, and he could have been subdued with only a little effort. They said Heimsness could have used pepper spray, a baton or a Taser stun gun on Heenan but the officer used his most lethal option.

Jim Palmer of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association said multiple agencies have cleared Heimsness of wrongdoing, and the officer will let the facts speak for themselves in defending his lawsuit.

Outgoing Madison Police Chief Noble Wray and the city are also defendants. They did not immediately comment.

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Two die in Grant County motorcycle accident

Two motorcyclists killed in a traffic crash in southwest Wisconsin have been identified as David and Joan Edge, both 59 of Potosi.

Grant County authorities said a motorcycle driven by David Edge was turning right onto a rural road near Potosi when it collided with a pickup traveling north on that road. The truck driver, a 21-year-old Potosi man, tried to avoid hitting the bike but couldn’t.

Both people on the bike were ejected. Authorities said neither was wearing a helmet. Joan Edge died at the scene. David died later at a hospital.

The crash is still being investigated.

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