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UPDATE: Tardy workplace arrival may have saved woman's life; bid to close mining area fails; 11 more state stories

A northeast Wisconsin woman was just steps away from the Washington Navy Yard, when former reservist Aaron Alexis opened fire and killed a dozen people before he was shot dead.

Valynn Kuhns, a native of Oconto County, was heading to work Monday morning when she missed a bus and got to the office late -- after the shooting began. The 49-year-old Kuhns said she was literally 15 steps from entering the complex when people were running out and screaming "shooter, shooter."

She told WFRV TV in Green Bay that once she realized the massacre was for real, she and other workers scrambled to safer ground. Kuhns' parents, Glen and Letha Seering, told the TV station they were immediately concerned once they heard of the incident. Letha said she contacted her daughter on Facebook, and she immediately called to say she was okay.

Kuhns has worked in the Washington Navy Yard for about five years. Now, she says it's scary just to think about going back to work. It was not immediately known when the offices would re-open. Kuhns has been told it won't be today.

Bid to close prospective mining area to public lacks needed votes, author admits MADISON -- The author of a bill to cut off public recreational access near the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine says he doesn't have the votes to pass it.

The Wisconsin Senate was to meet Tudsday for the only time this month and Hazelhurst Republican Tom Tiffany got his measure pulled from the agenda.

He still believes the measure is needed to protect mine workers from violent protestors like those who damaged Gogebic Taconite's equipment and stole a worker's camera in June in Iron County. However, Tiffany says some of his fellow Republicans believe the cut-off of recreational access is too restrictive.

Green Bay Republican Rob Cowles says it closes too much land -- and the bill is moving so fast that many of his colleagues have not had a chance to review it. As a committee chairman, Tiffany rammed his bill through a public hearing and a panel vote on back-to-back days a couple weeks ago.

Gogebic Taconite has mineral rights on land that's in the state's managed forest program, which gives landowners tax breaks for providing access for things like hunting and fishing.

Last Saturday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the bill would have given the property's owners a $900,000 break on its property taxes even with the cut-off of recreational access.

Tiffany says he'll try again to get his measure passed in October -- possibly with a compromise to let deer hunters use the land in November.

Milwaukee schools dump letter grades for youngsters; DPI releasing school rankings today MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Public Schools are the latest in Wisconsin to drop "A" to "F" letter grades for kindergarten through eighth-graders. Instead, those kids are under a new evaluation system, which shows how proficient they are in meeting standards for their particular grade levels.

Milwaukee school officials say the idea is to get a better handle on a student's academic performance, by leaving disciplinary factors out of the equation -- things like zeroes for turning in homework late, or bad behavior in class.

The disciplinary factors will have their own grades, on a scale of 1 to 4. The new system is called "standards-based" grading. Among other things, it's designed to be aligned with the new Common Core educational standards that Wisconsin is adopting.

District spokesman Tony Tagliavia says it's a better way to assess student learning, so they can stay on track for college and career training. It's more difficult for high schools to drop the "A" to "F" system, because it determines grade-point averages needed to apply for college.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin parents will now be able to find out how their public schools are doing.

The state Department of Public Instruction will release a second year of report cards, which show how well schools are meeting performance standards. This year's version includes more data, plus more details for individual schools.

There were changes in the way some figures were calculated. That means this year's grades might not be comparable to the first ones issued last year. Local school officials should be ready to answer questions from parents.

Schools were given their data about a month ago. Last year's first report cards showed that 86 percent of Wisconsin schools met or exceeded expectations.

Find your school's performance scores here:

Seventy-six schools, or 3.5 percent of the total, failed to meet expectations. The DPI's John Johnson cautions that the report cards are still a work-in-progress.

In the spring, state Senate Education Committee chairman Luther Olsen said it was too early to use the report cards to reward or punish schools with things like increases-or-decreases in their state aid.

Walker open to raw milk sales -- with a qualifier

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker says he'd be open to letting farmers sell raw milk -- if the dairy and medical industries relax their stiff opposition to it.

The Republican Walker commented on the issue Monday, when the Senate Rural Issues committee held a public hearing in La Crosse on letting farmers sell unpasteurized milk directly to customers.

A similar hearing was held in Madison last week. Walker said he'd listen to the dairy industry and public health professionals -- and if they believe that consumer safety can be guaranteed, he'd approve the measure.

Jim Mulhern of the National Milk Producers Federation says there's no way that would happen. He said it's disheartening that Wisconsin is even considering a bill which he says would "damage public health."

Shawn Pfaff of the industry's Safe Milk Coalition says his group opposes any new raw milk legislation -- and science does not allow them to compromise.

Trempealeau Democrat Chris Danou, who's sponsoring the raw milk bill in the Assembly, says the proposal basically reflects what's already happening. He says there's a black market out there -- and it's not a good idea to keep it unregulated.

Supporters say eight of the nation's 10 top dairy producing states, including California, allow sales of unpasteurized milk.

West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman is the chief sponsor of the Senate version.

Gas prices now $3-plus for 1,000 days Tuesday marks the one-thousandth straight day that U.S. gas prices average above $3 a gallon.

Over the past year, the Wisconsin's American Automobile Association chapter said regular unleaded dropped to a low of about $3.20 in early January. Motorists here were not as fortunate as those in neighboring Minnesota, where the state's average price dipped below $3 for 11 days in January.

Gail Weinholzer of the Minnesota AAA says the days of paying under $3 for gas may be gone for good. This morning, Wisconsin AAA reports an average price of about $3.57, slightly lower than Monday's price, six cents lower than a week ago and three cents higher than a month ago.

-- Minnesota News Network

State's 'Lemon Law' would be relaxed under proposed changes MADISON -- Wisconsin's Lemon Law would offer fewer legal protections under a bill that's up for a vote in the state Senate Tuesday.

Those who buy defective new cars could no longer win double damages from automakers in court. The time limit for filing a lawsuit after buying a faulty vehicle would be reduced from six years to three. Also, car manufacturers would have 45 days instead of the present 30 either give refunds or replacements for defective vehicles.

The state's largest business group, automakers, and car dealers have lined up to support the bill. It passed the Assembly 88 to 8 in June. Sponsors said they were targeting Milwaukee Lemon Law attorney Vince Megna, who won $880,000 in damages, interest, and legal fees in a dragged-out court case involving a Waukesha businessman's defective sedan.

The bill's opponents say it would hurt consumers.

Restraining order issued against Stevens Point telemarketer A federal judge in Illinois has issued a temporary restraining order against a telemarketer from Stevens Point and eight others accused in a Medicare scam.

The Federal Trade Commission said yesterday that AFD Advisors of Stevens Point was among the companies and owners which had their assets frozen. That's after the FTC filed a lawsuit against those operators. The government said the telemarketers offered discount Medicare cards -- and the FTC said clients were falsely led to believe they had to buy the cards to keep their present Medicare, Social Security, and other benefits.

The seniors were asked to provide their bank account numbers -- and officials said the businesses withdrew up to $300 to pay for the cards, with the sole purpose of keeping the money.

A federal investigation began after Wisconsin's Better Business Bureau issued an alert against the Stevens Point AFD business in February. The bureau said the Point address was actually a UPS rental box.

Packer fans donate 592 coats for kids GREEN BAY -- About 600 needy children will stay warm outside this winter, thanks to the generosity of Green Bay Packers' fans.

The team held its annual "Coats for Kids" collection before last Sunday's Packer victory over Washington.

Fans donated 592 new and gently-used winter coats, along with $15,000 in cash. Both were new records for the event. About 150 more coats were donated than a year ago, plus an extra $2,000.

The Salvation Army ran the collection, along with a number of Green Bay area dry cleaners.

Services set for Fond du Lac soldier who drowned Funeral services are tentatively planned for next Tuesday for a soldier from Fond du Lac who drowned in New Mexico during the weekend. His friends said something might have caused 21-year-old Army Specialist Rob Vande Zande Junior to panic, and he could not stay above water about 15 feet from the shore.

It happened Saturday on Elephant Butte Lake near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, about a two-hour drive from where Vande Zande was stationed at Fort Bliss.

He and his wife went swimming with three Army friends, and they searched for him after he went under. Rescuers recovered Vande Zande's body in eight feet of water, about 50 feet from the shore.

A coroner's investigation is pending, but officials said neither alcohol nor foul play were involved.

The victim's father is former Fond du Lac City Council President Rob Vande Zande. He said his son was trying to get promoted to sergeant. Vande Zande's wife Sarah is expecting the couple's first child in November.

Weekend mobile home fire kills New Auburn woman NEW AUBURN -- An investigation continues into a weekend mobile home fire that killed a woman in New Auburn, north of Bloomer.

The body of Sharon Nelson, age 48, of New Auburn was recovered in the living room area not long after the blaze was reported early Sunday morning.

Authorities said the mobile home was engulfed in flames by the time New Auburn fire crews arrived. Foul play is not suspected.

Sturtevant man gets 38 years for reckless homicide A Racine County man will spend 38 years in prison for shooting a man to death in a dark pole barn.

Scott Mertins Sr., 47, of Sturtevant must also spend 13 years under extended supervision once he gets out.

Prosecutors said he shot 54-year-old Robert Greene, formerly of Mount Pleasant. Greene and his girlfriend were in the area for a funeral last year -- and they were sleeping in the pole barn when Greene heard a noise, stood up to investigate, and was shot.

His lawyer said Mertins was drinking when he decided to get some belongings from the barn. He told a judge Monday he did not mean to hurt anyone.

Mertins was convicted of reckless homicide. Charges of burglary, vehicle theft, and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon were dropped in a plea deal.

Fort McCoy gates to get overhaul SPARTA -- Fort McCoy is renovating stone gates which are almost 75 years old.

The South Post gates were constructed in 1941 at the Army base between Sparta and Tomah. TCI of La Crosse is overseeing the renovation. It's expected to be finished by the end of September, at a cost of almost $125,000.

The stone gates were built as part of the Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Project Administration, which gave jobs to the unemployed.

The last repairs were made in 1996. Since then, there has been broken and cracked cement capstones -- along with weather stains, deteriorated mortar, and possible internal erosion.

Steve Dzubay

Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer from 1995-2016. 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.