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State of emergency declared for St. Croix; Mudslide dumps truckloads of soil on Eau Claire highway; Lightning strikes boy on motorcycle; more state news

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

Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency Wednesday in St. Croix and six other counties hardest hit by torrential rains and floods over the past week.

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The seven counties are St. Croix, Grant, Crawford, Vernon, Richland, Iowa and Ashland.

Walker toured Boscobel in Grant County, which had 13 inches of rain last weekend alone.

Tod Pritchard of Wisconsin Emergency Management said he’s still rounding up damage reports to see if there’s enough to seek federal disaster aid. Grant County had the most damage – over $5 million at last word to public facilities like roads and bridges, plus flood damage to 660 homes.

The governor said he ordered the National Guard and other state agencies to provide help. He said the state would also work communities to help affected homeowners plus farmers with livestock and crop damage.

The Weather Service said two more waves of storms hit north central Wisconsin late Wednesday. Lake Tomahawk had over two inches of rain. Merrill and Tomahawk both had one-inch hail, and trees fell on a house and a power line at Tomahawk. Crandon’s downtown was flooded late last night.

Storms created more flooding in southern Wisconsin Wednesday morning, but they ended by early afternoon. Madison broke a 140-year-old rainfall record for the date with almost 3.2 inches. National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Baumgardt said the region would stay mostly dry for the next week.

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Mudslide dumps truckloads of soil on Eau Claire highway

A highway in northwest Wisconsin is open again after a mudslide shut part of it down for several hours late Wednesday.

Heavy rains caused the mudslide on the southbound lanes of Hwy. 53 at the Eau Claire-Chippewa county line.

Authorities said at least 30 truckloads of soil were removed, and both lanes were re-opened around 9 p.m. Officials said several other roads in the Eau Claire area were closed due to street flooding around that time.

To the west, the National Weather Service said River Falls had just over three inches of rain in one hour plus small hail that lasted for five minutes straight.

Parts of north central Wisconsin also had heavy rains and floods last night.

A National Weather Service meteorologist said Wednesday it would be a lot drier over the next week. However, the latest statewide forecast says more thunderstorms are likely statewide today and possibly tonight, and the same pattern is expected for tomorrow.

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Lightning strikes boy on motorcycle

An eight-year-old boy was struck by lightning during last night’s rainstorms in central Wisconsin.

Authorities said the youngster was on a motorcycle near Edgar, west of Wausau, when his father saw the lightning strike about 6:30 p.m.

The father then began CPR, put his son in a car, headed to a Wausau hospital and called 911. Officials said an ambulance met them on the way and took the child to the emergency room. He was later transferred to another hospital.

There was no immediate word on his identity or his condition.

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Rain continues in parts of Wisconsin this morning

Northeast Wisconsin was pounded with rain this morning.

The National Weather Service said three inches fell at Laona in Forest County as of 6:20 a.m. Pulcifer in Shawano County had about 2.5 inches as did Crandon. Mole Lake and Lake Tomahawk reported just under two inches.

The Wisconsin Public Service utility said just over 6,000 electric customers remained without power as of 8 a.m. Almost 4,500 of those customers are in the Green Bay area.

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Federal bill allocates more funds to clean up Great Lakes

A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate to authorize more money to clean up the Great Lakes.

The co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force – Mark Kirk of Illinois and Carl Levin of Michigan – introduced the measure. It would continue the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a long-range effort that includes thousands of projects aimed at curbing toxic and runoff pollution and invasive species.

In April President Obama included another $300 million toward the initiative. In the last four years, about $1.5 billion has been spent on 1,500 projects designed to improve sewage emissions, reduce algae, restore wildlife habitat and battle foreign species.

The new Senate bill would also reauthorize the Great Lakes Legacy Act. It helps remove contaminated sediments are more than 30 locations. The measure would create an inter-agency task force to make the Legacy spending more efficient. It would also create closer ties among federal, state and local governments.

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Report: 35% of Milwaukee works earn ‘poverty-level’ pay

Just over a third of all employees in Milwaukee make “poverty-level wages,” according to the Center on Wisconsin Strategy at UW-Madison.

The center says 35% of Milwaukee’s workforce makes $11.19 an hour or less. The center says a worker needs to make that much to keep a family of four from going into poverty.

Also, the UW report says growing numbers of Milwaukeeans are not getting fulltime work because low-wage sectors like retail stores are using hourly workers only when the demand justifies it. The strategy center calls it “just-in-time scheduling,” and the report says it’s an “increasing norm.”

The UW says 26% of employees in the Milwaukee metro area made poverty-level wages last year, up from 20% back in 1979.

The strategy center says Congress needs to raise the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour. The Obama White House has proposed an increase to $9 an hour.

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New Wisconsin law forgives income taxes for soldiers who die in combat

Gov. Scott Walker will sign a bill today to forgive state income taxes for military troops killed in combat.

The governor will hold a ceremony in Mayville, the home of a fallen troop’s father who suggested the measure.

Army Lt. David Johnson, 24, was killed last year in Afghanistan. His father, Andrew, said he was shocked that the state would not forgive his son’s income taxes after the federal government forgave what David owed the IRS.

Andrew Johnson asked his representatives to propose the tax forgiveness and on May 14 it was approved unanimously in both the Assembly and the Senate. The new law will forgive state income taxes for the year in which a soldier or Marine dies, plus the year before.

About 150 Wisconsin troops have died in combat since the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

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Boy reported missing found asleep in wrong car

A 12-year-old Rice Lake boy is OK after he thought he was returning to his grandmother’s car at a park to take a nap and it was actually somebody else’s vehicle.

The Leader-Telegram said the grandmother dropped off the boy at the Babe Ruth baseball fields in Eau Claire Monday night, and then looked for a place to park. After a while, the grandmother thought the boy went missing – so she called police, and a number of people searched for the youngster.

As it turned out, he went to a bathroom as soon as he was dropped off. He then said he was really tired so he fell asleep in the back seat of what he thought what his grandmother’s auto.

The actual owner found the youngster in her vehicle two hours later after she watched a baseball game. Grandmother and grandson were soon reunited.

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Woman accused of illegally receiving $22,000 in food stamp benefits

An Antigo woman is free on a signature bond after being charged in Oneida County with food stamp fraud.

Prosecutors said Nicole Young, 33, made false representations to get $22,000 more in FoodShare benefits than she had coming. Authorities said she was living in Hazelhurst when the fraud took place from 2008 through last year.

Officials said Young would try to hire an attorney. Her initial court appearance was adjourned until July 22.

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State lawmakers petition for immigration reform

Forty-six Wisconsin legislators from both parties are calling on the state’s federal lawmakers to pass an immigration reform bill.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote as early as today (Thursday) on an historic measure that offers a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. It would also spend billions of dollars to secure the U.S. Mexican border.

At a State Capitol news conference Wednesday, Assembly Republican Jeff Stone of Greendale joined Milwaukee Democrat JoCasta Zamarripa in releasing a letter signed by more than one-third of all state legislators. Zamarripa said the “time is now” for immigration reform, and it would strengthen the U.S. economy.

Wausau Assembly Democrat Mandy Wright says the measure would help Wisconsin agriculture maintain a stable workforce. She said agri-businesses would be hit hard without a good immigration and guest-worker policy.

In Washington, each of three procedural Senate votes attracted at least two-thirds support yesterday. Two such votes are set for today before the package can get final action.

If passed, it would go to the House where it prospects are much less certain. Many majority House Republicans oppose the pathway to citizenship that’s in the Senate bill. And many would rather see a piecemeal approach than the Senate’s sweeping reforms.

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Unemployment rates drop

All 12 Wisconsin metro areas saw their unemployment rates go down in May, compared to the month before.

Racine and Eau Claire had the biggest drops, at .7% each. Racine still had the state’s highest unadjusted jobless rate at 8.4%. Madison had the lowest at 5%. Metro Milwaukee was at 7.3%, down .2 from April.

Milwaukee gained an estimated 3,900 jobs during May, while Madison lost a reported 5,000 jobs and Oshkosh-Neenah lost 1,400.

The job numbers are seasonally adjusted, and state officials question their accuracy. That’s because they’re based on surveys of 3.5% of Wisconsin employers. The figures often get heavily revised later on.

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