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Postal bill could save Eau Claire sectional center; Marshfield heart app wins acclaim; more state news

Five Wisconsin mail processing centers that are targeted for closure could get a reprieve, under a new bill to address the financial problems of the U.S. Postal Service.

Eight senators, including Democrat Al Franken of neighboring Minnesota, introduced a bill Thursday which also seeks to modernize the postal agency.

The bill would free up billions of dollars, by repealing a 2006 law that forces the Postal Service to set aside funds for up to 75 years of future health care benefits for the agency's retirees. It's the only federal agency which has such a requirement and postal union officials say it's why the service is bleeding millions in red ink.

Franken says the new bill would preserve Saturday deliveries, as well as spare many of the 200-plus processing centers due to close.

At last word, officials said the facilities in Wausau, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Portage, and Kenosha would shut down sometime after April. The bill would also let the Postal Service do new things to raise revenue like notarize documents, and issue hunting and fishing licenses. The bill would also let allow alcohol shipments for the first time.

Supporters said it could pave the way for the Postal Service to help customers take advantage of e-mail and Internet services - the very things that have caused huge drops in mail volumes.

Marshfield app tops field in heart-health awareness

MARSHFIELD -- The Marshfield Clinic's research facility has won a national competition for the best mobile-app to improve heart health.

It was the first app ever designed by the Marshfield Medical Research Foundation and clinic spokesman Jake Miller said it beat out 35 other entries in a contest put on the technology arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It's called the "Heart Health Mobile" app, and Miller said it only took five weeks to design.

Users enter their body statistics and health habits. The app then keeps track of the person's risk factors for things like heart disease and stroke - and its lets people keep track of their progress in reducing those risk. There's also a small game which keeps track of the risk factors.

Project manager Brian Weichelt said the goal was to entertain people as they pursue healthier lifestyles. The app now works in iPhones, iPads, and iPad touch devices. A Web-based version for other devices is expected to come out in March.

Kaukauna man gets 11 years in PP arson case

A Fox Valley man was sentenced to 11 years in prison Thursday, for starting a small fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic near Appleton.

Francis Grady, 50, of Kaukauna was found guilty in October by a federal jury of arson and criminal property damage. His lawyer, Tom Phillip, asked for the minimum sentence of five years. He said Grady only took 47 cents worth of gasoline to the abortion and reproductive health clinic last April - and therefore, the crime should be considered more of a vandalism than an arson case.

But Karen Kuhn of Planned Parenthood said the fire was an act of terrorism.

Grady said he didn't intend it that way - and he claimed he was incompetent, because he was "involuntarily intoxicated." He claimed to have heard voices which told him to set the fire.

At his trial, he said he "saw souls coming out" of the clinic - an apparent reference to the babies that were aborted. Judge William Griesbach said Grady has bi-polar and personality disorders, and is a drug and alcohol abuser.

Grady faced up to 21 years behind bars, but the judge agreed it shouldn't be that long. Griesbach said Grady needed to be in prison to be sure that he stays on his medications.

Police abandon landfill search for rapper's remains

MILWAUKEE -- After three weeks of combing through garbage, Milwaukee Police have given their landfill search for a transgender rap artist who was murdered.

Sgt. Mark Stanmeyer said detectives had narrowed the area where Ebony Young's remains were most likely to be located but after tons of trash were moved and searched, officers could find no signs of Young's body.

Stanmeyer says they're disappointed but they believe they have enough other evidence to convict five men who are charged with homicide. Search dogs, excavators, and landfill workers joined police in the search.

Young had been missing since New Year's Day, and police said she was the victim of an internal gang dispute. Her body was thrown in a trash bin but authorities didn't know it until after it was hauled away, and that's why the landfill search was necessary.

One of the defendants told police he thought Young was male, but officials said the victim changed genders to become a female.

Official blames old loophole for foster care agent's spending spree

MADISON -- A state official blamed a former loophole for letting a Middleton foster care business get away with charging taxpayers for $6 million in inappropriate expenses. Children and Families' Secretary Eloise Anderson told the Senate Human Services Committee Thursday that Community Care Resources was not required to submit annual expense reports to the state before 2010. But the loophole was closed that year, when a new law allowed state auditors to monitor foster care expenses and set rates.

The issues at Community Care were uncovered in a long review which her department began in 2011. The audit showed that Community Care charged taxpayers for lavish home renovations, cars, and travel - plus million-dollar salaries for owners Dan and Mary Simon over three years.

The agency revoked the company's license in January, and demanded that the money be repaid by next Friday.

Lawmakers were also told that the Justice Department has been contacted about the matter. The firm did not attend Thursday's state hearing. In a letter, attorney David Schwartz said the Simons were innocent - and they're appealing their license revocation.

Milwaukee violent crime rate jumps 9 percent

MILWAUKEE -- Violent crime in Milwaukee went up by almost 9.5 percent last year.

Milwaukee Police reported almost 7,600 murders, sexual assaults, robberies, and aggravated assaults in 2012 - the most since Police Chief Ed Flynn was hired in 2008.

The increase in violent crime was spurred by 33 percent more assaults, due mainly to domestic violence incidents which were up 50 percent in 2011.

Milwaukee had 92 murders last year, five more than the previous year. The news was not all bad, though. Robberies were down by 13 percent. Property crimes like burglary and theft dropped by just over 3 percent, and that led to a slight drop in overall crime.

Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett did not hold a news conference to announce the figures, like they normally do when violent crime goes down.

In a news release, Flynn said his policing strategies might have actually caused some categories of crime to go up. As an example, he said his department's outreach to prevent domestic violence might have caused more of those incidents to be reported to officers.

Mayor Barrett said vacant homes and foreclosures remain a factor in crime - and he asked state officials to help Milwaukee tackle that issue.