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Tougher OWI law clears Assembly; evidence of Asian carp found near Sturgeon Bay; 12 more state news briefs

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MADISON -- Any fourth-offense driver would face a felony conviction and prison term, under a bill passed by the Assembly Tuesday. The lower house voted 88- to 7 to make four-time OWI a felony in all cases -- and to make all two-time drunk driving a criminal misdemeanor.

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The seven voting against the measure included Reps. Mary Czaja, R-Tomahawk; Brett Hulsey, D-Madison; Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee; Dan Knodl, R-Germantown; Tod Ohnstad, D-Kenosha; Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander; and Amy Vruwink, D-Milladore.

On voice votes, the Assembly also required all drunk driving suspects to appear in court at least once -- and to toughen rules for those required to breathe into sobriety tubes before they can start their cars.

Mequon Republican Jim Ott proposed all three measures. He also proposed making three-time OWI a felony, something which lawmakers balked at because of the high costs of sending more offenders to prison. Ott said he's still glad Tuesday's bills were approved. He said they would make a "substantial improvement" in the effort to curb drunk driving.

All three bills now go to the Senate.

Walker will decide tougher mascot-changing law

MADISON -- A bill making it harder to force Wisconsin public schools to drop Indian team names is on its way to Gov. Scott Walker.

The Republican governor has not said whether he'll sign the measure that got final legislative approval from the Senate Tuesday. The vote was 17- to 6, with Richland Center Republican Dale Schultz joining all Democrats in voting no.

Democrats said it would institutionalize racism in schools.

Milwaukee's Lena Taylor said society still struggles to overcome the "N"-word against blacks and quote, "I wish we were as uncomfortable with savages, redskins, and Indians."

New Berlin Republican Mary Lazich said the measure has nothing to do with discrimination, and everything to do with creating fairness and balance for public schools.

The bill largely guts a 2009 Democratic law which set up a system for handling complaints about school Indian mascots.

Under the bill, schools would no longer have to prove that their Indian monikers don't discriminate, whenever a single person complains that they do.

The complainants would have the burden of proof, and they'd need to submit petitions for the state to consider their cases Some Democrats raised doubts that they'd be able to get the required signatures.

Middleton Democrat Jon Erpenbach said the bill is being pushed by "glory days guys" who can't let their high school days go.

Lawmakers OK more lenient standard for physician advisories

MADISON -- Wisconsin doctors are one step away from being allowed to give less information to patients about alternative medical treatments they might not need.

The state Assembly gave final legislative approval to the measure Tuesday on a voice vote. The bill now goes to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.

It nullifies a State Supreme Court decision from last year which ordered doctors to inform patients about all alternative treatments which might benefit them -- even if they're not relevant to their diagnoses.

Also Tuesday, both houses gave their overwhelming approval to several job training proposals. They're all heading to Walker's office for his signature. One bill would spend an extra $4 million in the next 18 months on vocational rehab services to help the disabled find jobs. The measure is also designed to bring in additional federal dollars for the effort.

Lawmakers also agreed to start grants and scholarship opportunities for technical school students.

Another bill would add $450,000 for tuition in apprenticeship programs. Lawmakers also voted to raise youth apprenticeship grants by $1 million through mid-2015.

Compromise bill maintains some public access to Gogebic site

The Wisconsin Senate passed a compromise bill Tuesday which allows at least some public use at the site of the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine.

Democrats still didn't favor the measure, as all 15 minority party members voted no. All 18 Republicans voted yes, and they sent the bill on to the Assembly. The original bill from Hazelhurst Republican Tom Tiffany would have closed all 3,200 acres of the mining site in Ashland and Iron counties, even though the landowner gets a state tax break to keep it open for things like hunting and hiking.

The compromise, from Green Bay Republican Rob Cowles, would ban public access within 600 feet of mining roads, and 600 feet of most mining-related equipment. The site's owner would give up part of its tax break if the land is closed -- and all of it would have to stay open during the November nine-day gun deer hunt.

Cowles told colleagues it's a good compromise, but Poplar Democrat Bob Jauch still regards it as a "sweetheart deal" for Gogebic Taconite. He said it would still discourage critics from independently evaluating the mining site.

Assembly hearing set for voter ID law

MADISON -- A state panel will hear what people think Wednesday about the latest effort to pass a voter ID law that's constitutional.

The Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee will begin a public hearing late this morning at the State Capitol. The Republican measure was introduced last week.

It would grant exceptions to the requirement to show a photo ID for voting. Those people would sign affidavits explaining their difficulties in obtaining ID's. Their ballots would be marked, and they could be challenged during recounts.

Two freshman Republicans introduced the measure, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wants to speed it through so it can take effect for next year's elections. That might not happen unless the Senate majority leader changes his mind about waiting to take up the measure.

Republican Scott Fitzgerald says lawmakers should wait and see what the courts decide with the issue.

A two-week federal trial which challenges the photo ID voting law began Monday in Milwaukee. Also, the state is appealing two other judicial rulings at the state level which threw out the I-D mandate early in 2012. State appeals in both cases are pending.

Evidence of Asian carp found near Sturgeon Bay

For the first time, there's evidence of an Asian carp in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan.

A new study by Notre Dame and the Nature Conservancy turned up DNA for the bloated invasive carp at Sturgeon Bay, near Potawatomi State Park in Door County.

The DNA was found in a water sample taken at the end of May. It was not screened until this fall, when a comprehensive survey was conducted in search of a different type of invasive species. It was the only positive sample among 282 taken from the Wisconsin portion of Lake Michigan, as part of a larger invasive fish survey by Notre Dame researchers and government crews.

About 50 of those samples came from the Sturgeon Bay area. State natural resource officials plan to do more testing in the area next week -- and for now, at least, they say there's no reason to panic.

The DNR's Bob Wakeman says his agency needs to clarify what the new discovery really means. Dozens of water samples in the Chicago area have turned up DNA for Asian carp, which gobble up the food that native fish in the Great Lakes rely on.

Civil case against junkyard killers advances

A civil case is finally about to proceed against convicted killers Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey.

Relatives of Teresa Halbach filed the wrongful death suit in 2006 -- and Sheboygan County Circuit Judge Angela Sutkiewicz was just recently assigned to the case.

The civil suit has been on hold because of a slow-moving series of unsuccessful criminal appeals by Avery and Dassey -- who were both convicted of killing the 25-year-old Halbach on Halloween of 2005 near Mishicot. She was at the Avery family's auto salvage yard taking photos for Auto Trader Magazine when she was raped, shot, and burned-to-death.

The case drew worldwide attention because Avery had just been released from prison 2.5 years before the slaying. He served 18 years for a rape he didn't commit.

Avery was among the first in the U.S. to be acquitted by DNA evidence, only to be convicted with the help of DNA.

Plea deal struck in business embezzlement case

A north central Wisconsin woman has struck a plea deal in a federal embezzlement case. Amy Rajek, 37, of Merrill pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Madison. She agreed to pay almost $422,000 in restitution to G-3 Industries, where prosecutors said she forged a large check belonging to the firm.

The company has plants in Mosinee and Menomonee Falls, and it makes a variety of parts for manufacturers.

Federal Judge William Conley has scheduled a sentencing for Jan. 10th. Rajek could get up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

First winter storm wasn't epic due to warmer-than-expected temps

A winter weather advisory was to continue until mid-morning, Wednesday in northwest and north central Wisconsin, stretching as far east as Eagle River.

Forecasters now expect 2- to 5-inch snow totals for that region -- and it should be gone by mid-afternoon.

The National Weather Service said a low pressure system was aiming toward Wisconsin overnight -- and once it gets here, it will shift to the northeast.

Gile in Iron County had two inches of snow in two hours Tuesday evening. Poplar and Clam Lake each had two inches early Wednesday.

Actually, the storm is dumping a lot more precipitation in southwest Wisconsin -- and it's all rain, as temperatures stayed above freezing.

Readstown in Vernon County picked up 1.75 inches of rain by 4 a.m. That could have been a foot of snow or more had it been just a few degrees cooler.

Viroqua had almost 1.5 inches of rain, and La Crosse almost 1.25 inches.

Once it ends, a cold front will moving in, bringing highs Thursday in the 30's and 40's, with dry weather into Friday.

Victim in fiery crash near Osseo identified

EAU CLAIRE -- A man killed in a fiery car-truck crash early Tuesday near Osseo has been identified as Mark Kuhn, 53, of Augusta.

The State Patrol said Kuhn's car crossed the centerline on U.S. Hwy. 10 near Osseo, and collided head-on with a semi-truck driven by a 48-year-old Wisconsin Rapids man.

Officials said the car burst into flames upon impact. The truck was owned by the Uni-first Corporation of Wisconsin Rapids.

Its driver, a 48-year-old Rapids man, was not hurt.

Unruly Bears fan charged with tazing wife -- a Packer fan

A Chicago Bears' fan is charged with a felony, after he allegedly singed his Packer-loving wife with a stun gun outside a bar in Dodge County.

Authorities said it was part of a bet that John Grant, 42, had with his wife on Monday night's Green Bay-Chicago game, which the Packers lost 27 to 20.

The couple were traveling in a semi-truck that stopped at Dan's King Pin tavern in Mayville for the game.

Afterward, officials said the two were smoking outside the bar when Grant fired three shots with his stun gun, hitting her twice in the rear and once on her thigh. She had burn marks, but did not seek medical treatment.

When they got back to the truck, authorities said Grant got angry, threw his wife's dog out of the rig, and wouldn't let her in. She went back in the bar and called police.

An officer later found the stun gun and arrested Grant, who's from the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park.

He appeared in Dodge County Circuit Court Tuesday on a felony count of possessing an electric weapon. Grant is free after posting a $500 bond. He's due back in court next month.

Vietnam War anniversary events planned

MADISON -- The 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War will be observed on Friday at the State Capitol in Madison.

The state Veterans' Affairs Department is putting on a public event called "Operation Dust-off -- Vietnam Remembered." It will include a motorcycle rally led by veterans, numerous displays in the Capitol, and a ceremony in the Rotunda.

Speakers include U.S. Veterans' Affairs' official John Garcia, Medal of Honor winner Gary Wetzel, and Vietnam veteran George Banda.

After the ceremony, the nearby Wisconsin Veterans Museum will have an open house to show a new Civil War exhibit.

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Steve Dzubay
Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer since 1995. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.
(715) 426-1054
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