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Walker declares state of emergency ahead of storm; Joint Finance endorses loan program to help propane customers; more state news

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Gov. Scott Walker has declared a start of emergency in advance of what could be the nastiest storm of a nasty Wisconsin winter.

Fourteen to 18 inches of snow are predicted in the far northwest part of the state bounded by Phillips, Bayfield and Superior. Madison and Milwaukee could only get less than an inch of snow, but the southern half of the state can also expect a fair amount of ice due to freezing rain. And to top it all off, winds of 40 to 50 mph could cause drifting and whiteout conditions statewide.

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Walker's order puts the National Guard to work if necessary, along with Wisconsin Emergency Management and other state agencies. State officials are encouraging folks to limit or delay their travel plans and check road conditions before leaving home by calling 5-1-1 or logging onto 511 WI.gov.

The National Weather Service has issued winter storm warnings for most of the state from 9 a.m. today through noon tomorrow.

Eastern Wisconsin also has high wind warnings and advisories for the overnight through tomorrow morning. West central Wisconsin can expect 6-12 inches of snow, 4-7 inches in central areas, 2-5 inches into the far northeast, and a couple or inches or less, plus ice, for eastern and southern Wisconsin.

Once the storm clears out tomorrow, it's supposed to get colder. Highs in the teens are in the forecast from tomorrow through Tuesday.

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Joint Finance endorses loan program to help propane customers

A bill to help middle-income Wisconsinites pay for suddenly rising heating bills and related equipment was endorsed yesterday by the Legislature's finance panel.

Majority Republicans announced the measure this week in response to the sudden price hikes for propane fuel over the last two months.

Eligible residents -- whose don’t exceed 200% of the median incomes in their home county -- could borrow up to $2,500.

Also, finance Republicans voted to give refunds to store-label credit card outfits for sales taxes paid on bad consumer debts. Officials said it would reduce taxes by $12 million to card issuers over the next year and a half.

Assembly finance Chairman John Nygren said retailers with their own banks already get the refunds. The new measure is designed to help Wisconsin retailers like Kohl's Department Stores, which contract for their credit services.

The panel voted 12-4 to spend $35 million of the projected state surplus to train workers for high-demand jobs. Democrats said the package didn't do enough.

Earlier yesterday, the committee endorsed a revised surplus package which keeps Gov. Scott Walker's plan in place for income and property tax cuts.

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State superintendent says new bill would be huge mistake

Wisconsin's public school superintendent condemns a new bill which he says would result in legislators setting standards for what kids should learn.

Tony Evers went on YouTube Wednesday and said it would be a huge mistake to create a Model Academic Standards Board dominated by governor's appointees.

The Assembly education committee is scheduled to vote on the proposal today. Republicans say it would create more transparency in determining student standards. Gov. Scott Walker supports it, calling Evers' concerns a “worst-case scenario.”

The superintendent said the measure could destroy the state's Common Core standards it adopted three years ago. He said the bill was changed significantly from an earlier version which would have created a commission to provide input to the state superintendent on school standards.

The new bill creates a panel including with six appointees from the governor and four from the superintendent. The board would submit changes for academic standards to the superintendent, who would then submit a proposal to a legislative committee. A statewide test would also be created based on the new standards.

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Walker under fire in campaign finance probe

Gov. Scott Walker's campaign worked with lieutenant governor candidate Brett Davis in 2010 to seek donations from those who had already given the maximum legal amounts to the Walker camp itself.

The Associated Press found the connection, in reviewing thousands of documents released yesterday about a criminal investigation into former Milwaukee County aide Kelly Rindfleisch.

The AP said the arrangement broke down after Davis lost the lieutenant governor's primary to Rebecca Kleefisch.

The Journal Sentinel said Walker used his campaign email to communicate with his county aides -- some of whom were accused of illegally campaigning on county time for Walker's bid for governor.

Previous court records showed that aides in Walker's county executive office set up a secret wireless router, trading emails that mixed county and campaign business while taxpayers footed the bill.

Rindfleisch tried unsuccessfully to keep the campaign emails hidden while she appeals her conviction for illegal campaigning on Milwaukee County time.

Meanwhile, national Democrats tried to make as much political hay from as possible from the revelations since Walker is considering a bid for the presidency in 2016. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz called it an ethical scandal that voters should pay attention to. Walker said the released documents contained no surprises.

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Man pleads not guilty in bicycle-through-windshield mishap

A Manitowoc man has pleaded not guilty to charges that he struck a bicyclist with his vehicle and kept driving home while the victim was lodged in his windshield.

Jamie Hang, 20, waived a preliminary hearing yesterday. He entered not guilty pleas to felony counts of reckless endangerment and hit and run causing injury plus misdemeanor counts of hit and run and causing injury by driving drunk with an excess blood alcohol level.

Hang is scheduled to meet with Manitowoc County prosecutors March 27 to consider a pretrial settlement of his case.

Authorities said Hang struck Steven Gove, 56, the night of Jan. 18, while Gove was on a three-wheeled bike finishing deliveries of the Lakeshore Chronicle. The victim escaped with minor injuries.

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State rescinds job offer for man considered sympathetic to sex offenders

State officials have decided not to hire a former Florida official to evaluate sexual predators for possible releases.

Daniel Montaldi was on the hot seat for about a week after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said he quit a job in Florida because he was considered too sympathetic to sex offenders.

The state Health Services Department said yesterday it rescinded a verbal job offer to Montaldi. He was going to become the new psychologist supervisor at the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center at Mauston.

An agency spokeswoman said the evaluation program would continue with its existing resources while the supervisor's post remains vacant. The next step has not been determined for recruiting a new person.

Gov. Scott Walker told reporters yesterday he was not pleased that Montaldi was hired, but it wouldn't be easy to let him go because he would have been a civil service employee. Officials said Montaldi did not receive any payments from Wisconsin.

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State ships more farm products than ever overseas

Last year set a new record for Wisconsin agricultural exports.

State Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel said over $3.2 billion of Wisconsin farm-related products were shipped overseas in 2013. That's up 9% from the previous year.

Dairy products, eggs and honey led the way with almost $400 million in foreign sales -- a 41% jump from the year before. Cheese and whey made up 85% of the dairy products exported, and China bought almost a quarter of the state's total exports of whey.

Miscellaneous food ingredients had the second-highest exports with $315 million in sales. That was up 9% from 2012. Other major Wisconsin exports included ethanol, beverages, cereal grains and baking-related goods.

Over 150 nations bought Wisconsin products. The top five customers were Canada, China, Mexico, Korea and Japan. Chinese purchases rose 63%. Wisconsin ranks 13th in the value of its agriculture exports.

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Google invests $40 mil in Wisconsin software company

Google has become a minority owner in a central Wisconsin company that provides software for schools.

The Google Capital Investment Fund has put $40 million into Renaissance Learning of Wisconsin Rapids, and the Internet giant will soon have a representative on the company's board.

Many Google App programs are already tied to education. They were an early investor in Subtext, an e-reader platform that Renaissance Learning acquired last summer.

Renaissance is the third company that Google Capital has invested in. The others are Survey Monkey, a provider of online surveys; and the Lending Club, which is a peer-to-peer lending platform.

A London private equity firm bought Renaissance Learning in 2011 and will keep majority control. The firm's reading and assessment tools are used by almost 20 million students and teachers in about 40,000 schools.

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Two students suspended for developing ‘kill list’

Two east central Wisconsin high school students have been suspended and face possible criminal charges for drafting a so-called "kill list."

Hortonville High School was put under a "soft lockdown" Tuesday in which students and staffers had to stay in their classrooms while officials searched for the list.

The list was found Tuesday afternoon at the home of one of the girls suspected of writing it. Media reports said over 60 names were on the list, but police officials said it did not appear to be credible. That's because it did not have many details of what the girls might have been planning to do.

No students or staff members were said to be in imminent danger. Hortonville school officials say the girls will get school discipline, and police will make a recommendation on charges when they finish investigating the matter.

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Concealed-carry holder stops burglary suspect

A Manitowoc man with a concealed weapons permit held a burglary suspect at gunpoint until the police could come and arrest him around 6 p.m. yesterday.

Police said a resident heard someone break into his neighbor's garage. When the man checked it out, the burglar was inside. The man then drew his concealed weapon and held the suspect for authorities.

Police Lt. Matt Wallander said the 9-1-1 caller mentioned that there were guns involved. Both men were initially detained. Officials later learned that the man with the gun was the victim's neighbor and was actually a witness.

The suspect, a 25-year-old Manitowoc man, was booked for burglary and criminal damage to property.

--Damon Ryan, WOMT, Manitowoc

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Jury indicts half-sister for abducting infant

A federal grand jury in Madison has indicted the woman accused of kidnapping her half-sister's newborn near Beloit and leaving him behind an Iowa gas station.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said yesterday that Kristen Smith, 31, of Aurora, Colo., is charged with kidnapping, and she could go to prison for life if convicted.

Smith is due in federal court in Madison Friday afternoon. Officials say they'll transfer her from a jail in Iowa, where she's been since she was stopped for questioning on I-80 on Feb. 6.

That was just hours after she allegedly took newborn Kayden Powell from his mother, Brianna Marshall, 18. At first, officials said Smith denied knowing where the baby was. The next day, police found Kayden behind a nearby gas station, wrapped in blankets in a plastic storage bin in subzero temperatures. He survived the cold.

Smith was first held on a warrant from Texas. She was also charged in Iowa last week with child endangerment.

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