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Fallone, Roggensack face-off in final debate tonight; Baldwin will host hearing on Walker budget; more state briefs

MADISON -- The two finalists for the Wisconsin Supreme Court will debate each other Friday night for the second time.

Incumbent Pat Roggensack and challenger Ed Fallone will discuss the issues at a forum in Madison sponsored by the State Bar Association and We the People Wisconsin. WISC TV in Madison will televise the debate at a later time, and it will be shown on its web site as well. Eric Franke of WISC will moderate.

Roggensack is running for a second 10-year term. If she wins, the court will keep its current four-member conservative majority. Fallone, a Marquette Law School professor, has many Democrats supporting him. Fallone says he would end the dysfunction among the current justices - while Roggensack says her 17 years of judicial experience makes her the better choice.

Baldwin among four cities to host state budget hearings in April

MADISON -- Dates and times have been announced for four public hearings on Governor Scott Walker's proposed state budget for the next two years.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee has started reviewing the $68 billion package of spending and new policies, but won't consider changes until after the public hearings.

The first one is set for April 4th in the Milwaukee suburb of Greendale. Other hearings are April 8th at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, April 10th in Lake Delton, and Thursday, April 18th at Baldwin. Each hearing will last all day.

School 'report cards' tilted against troubled school, says Senate chair

MADISON -- The head of the Wisconsin Senate's education committee says the new report cards that were given to public schools last summer don't tell the whole story. At a committee hearing Thursday on the proposed state budget, Republican Luther Olsen said the state's evaluations do not reflect what he called the "toxic stress" youngsters face in schools with the worst grades.

He said many of those schools have high rates of students in poverty, homelessness, and a lower English-speaking skills. State Superintendent Tony Evers told Olsen and others on the Joint Finance Committee that it would take seven to eight years for the report cards to reflect the challenges the students face.

GOP finance chair Alberta Darling said the state and its kids cannot wait that long. Walker's budget would put the new school grading system to use right away, by giving parents the choice of sending their kids to private schools with tax-funded vouchers in places with the lowest public school grades. The governor also wants to use those grades to reward the highest-performers with additional state aid.

Democratic leaders won't hint whether they'll seek Gov. Walker's job

MADISON -- Both Democratic leaders in the state Legislature are not saying whether they would run against Gov. Scott Walker a year from now. Assembly minority leader Peter Barca and his Senate counterpart Chris Larson both side-stepped the question during a conference call Thursday.

The topic came up while Barca and Larson were criticizing the Republican governor's economic policies, and the numbers of jobs added since Walker was elected in 2010.

Barca was one of five Democratic possibilities examined in a recent survey by the Public Policy Polling firm. He trailed Walker by five points in a head-to-head survey of 1,800 likely voters. Barca said he's focusing on improvements in the proposed state budget.

Larson - who was not included in the Public Policy poll - said he wants to find ways for both parties to work together on the budget process. Barca said he was confident that Democrats would field a strong candidate against Walker in 2014.

The Public Policy poll said that only former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold attracted as much support as Walker and they ran even in a head-to-head poll.

Farmers reminded of isoxaflutole herbicide ban

Wisconsin agriculture officials are reminding farmers that it's illegal to sell or use corn herbicides with the chemical isoxaflutole.

Lori Bowman of the Ag Department says there's been some recent misinformation which led stores and farmers to believe that products like "Corvus" and "Balance" are registered for use in the state. She says they're not.

The pesticides were originally registered by the EPA about a decade ago for use in a number of states but Wisconsin was not one of them.

State officials were concerned that the chemical might damage surface and ground water, and hurt other vegetable crops.

Bayer Crop-Science had applied to register its isoxaflutole products in Wisconsin but the firm recently withdrew the request.

Cop memorial board still silent on fallen Waukesha officer's eligibility

WAUWATOSA -- The board of a national memorial for fallen police officers says it will wait until early next year to decide whether to honor slain Wauwatosa officer Jennifer Sebena.

The board said Thursday it needs more information. That's after it tentatively decided not to include Sebena because she was an apparent victim of domestic violence - even though she was killed in the line of duty.

Once that decision got out, numerous law enforcement leaders throughout Wisconsin called for Sebena's name to be added to the national memorial. Her husband has pleaded insanity to a charge that he murdered her while she was working last Christmas Eve.

Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are among the latest to write letters of support for officer Sebena. Walker, who's from Wauwatosa, said her death was "very personal to me."

An online petition has over 11,000 names urging that Sebena be included in the national memorial.

Jim Palmer of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association was the first to speak out. He said he's glad that the matter's still being considered but the delay would "do nothing to quell the anger that our state's officers feel about the disrespect the memorial has shown her."

Ten people facing voter fraud in false recall petition-signings

MILWAUKEE -- Ten people were charged Thursday with voter fraud in Milwaukee County, dating back to the petitions for the recall election against Governor Scott Walker.

Caitlyn Haycock, 24, was charged with a misdemeanor in the recall process. Prosecutors said she signed the anti-Walker petitions three times on behalf of herself and her parents - retired teachers who were out of the United States at the time.

The person who took the signatures, 64-year-old Jenny Wanasek, is charged with misdemeanor fraud for accepting them. She told officers she was planning to cross out the parents' signatures, but forgot.

Fifty-five year old Leonard Brown is charged with double-voting, giving false information to election officials, and voting as a disqualified person in four elections last year and one in 2011.

The others are charged with registering and voting in more than one place, telling election officials they were not convicted felons when they were, and voting in places outside their home areas.

Marathon County sheriff leaving his job

WAUSAU -- Embattled sheriff Randy Hoenisch submitted his retirement papers to the Marathon County clerk's office this week. Once the governor's office receives them, Scott Walker will announce a process for appointing a new sheriff.

Hoenisch announced a month ago that he would retire as soon as possible, so he can devote full-time to his family as his wife is about to be sentenced for stealing pain-killers. But there was a report that Hoenisch had not submitted his retirement papers three weeks after promising he would. He said he was waiting for paperwork from the State Retirement System before completing the process.

Hoenisch has been with the Marathon County sheriff's department for four decades, and he's been the sheriff since 2001. He announced his retirement after a report that he had spent very little time in his Wausau office this year.

Hoenisch said he was out at community and training functions, but he admitted spending more time with his wife Kim, a former state probation and parole agent convicted of stealing pain-killers from some of the offenders she was supervising.

She faces up to 18 months in prison when she's sentenced on April 25th.

Spencer man collared after smashing clinic windows

MARSHFIELD -- A 40-year-old Spencer man faces possible charges of criminal damage and disorderly conduct, after he allegedly used a hammer to smash windows at two buildings at the Marshfield Clinic.

Officials said the man broke windows and glass doors at the Clinic's Urgent Care Department Thursday afternoon and he then walked across a street to the Russell Lewis Building where more glass was broken.

One media report said there was several thousand dollars in damage. The only injury was to the suspect, who hurt his hands. He was treated at neighboring St. Joseph's Hospital, and was then taken to the Wood County Jail.

The clinic said urgent care patients were moved from the waiting room to another location where a reception desk was set up.

State's intense drought conditions starting to lessen

There's a silver lining in Wisconsin's long, snowy winter - the state's intense drought conditions are finally starting to ease up.

The U.S. Drought Monitor says 77 percent of the state's land area is abnormally dry or worse. That's down by seven percent a week ago.

Almost a quarter of Wisconsin is no longer in drought - mostly in eastern and south central areas, along with a small patch in the far southwest.

All of Milwaukee County has finally escaped the drought, along with Madison and the Wisconsin Dells area. But 21 percent of the Badger State remains in a severe drought, in far west and northwest regions.

Much of Wisconsin had snow or freezing rain on most days in March. Clear-to-partly cloudy skies are expected statewide through most of the weekend. The Wisconsin-Illinois border could get light snow on Sunday, and lake-effect snow could return early next week close to Lake Superior in the far north.

Wausau Paper will sell Rhinelander, Mosinee mills to investment firm

The Wausau Paper Corporation has announced plans to sell its specialty paper business - including its Rhinelander and Mosinee mills - to a new investment firm.

KPS Capital Partners of New York is forming the new company which plans to buy the division that makes Wausau's printing and office papers for $130 million.

Folks in Rhinelander and Mosinee have feared the worst over the past few months, as Wausau Paper and its future got tangled up in a power struggle with its biggest investor. But the United Steelworkers union says the KPS deal gives them "cautious optimism" that the two plants can move forward. They employ around 900 workers.

KPS has also signed a letter of intent to buy another company that will be combined with Wausau's specialty paper operation. The Wausau sale is contingent on the purchase of that firm.

Also, the new business would have to ratify collective bargaining agreements with the Steelworkers' Union and Wausau Paper would keep its obligations to provide post-retirement benefits, including pensions. Wausau would have the option to own up to 25 percent of the new company.

Wausau Paper put three of its specialty paper mills up for sale in January, during a battle by its largest investor to take control of the firm and sell everything but its tissue paper production.

KPS would not buy Wausau's plant in Brainerd, Minn. That plant is due to close this spring.

Baraboo near top on Smithsonian's '20 Best Small Towns to Visit'

BARABOO -- Looking for a great small town to visit this year? Look no further than Baraboo.

Smithsonian Magazine ranks the Sauk County seat at fourth on its list of the "20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2013."

The magazine says Baraboo offers "powerful moments of déjà vu" at Circus World Museum, antique shows, and bookstore showings of the Masterpiece Classic show "Downton Abbey."

Gettysburg, Penn., was number one, with neighboring Fairfield, Iowa ranked seventh and Galena, Ill., a few miles south of the Wisconsin border near Platteville, was ranked eleventh.