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UPDATE: Road-rage victim surprises harrassers with handgun; State wins fed education grant; unemployment benefit aps spike; more state news

Road-rage victim surprises perps with handgun

WAUSAU -- Supporters of Wisconsin's concealed weapons law insist it will save lives - and that might have been the case during a road rage incident in Wausau. The incident occurred Tuesday along the Hwy. 29 expressway.

Police said an 49-year-old Appleton man was driving into town from the west, when his sport utility vehicle passed a van and the van started ramming the SUV from behind.

The Appleton man called 9-1-1, and a dispatcher told him to wait in a parking lot for an officer. Meanwhile, the attackers followed the man - and police said the couple got out and started beating him and stabbing him with their vehicle keys. The man pulled his concealed gun, and the two backed off.

A 30-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman from Michigan were arrested on possible charges of battery and disorderly conduct. The SUV driver had a legal state concealed carry permit, and police say he will not be criminally charged.

E-poker will continue at Ho-Chunk

MADISON -- Electronic poker will continue to be played at the Ho-Chunk Indian casino in Madison. State officials went to court after an independent arbitrator ruled that the games were not legal and the tribe kept playing them anyway.

But Judge Barbara Crabb said yesterday that the arbitrator exceeded his authority and did not have the power to ban the electronic poker. The Madison casino is different from the state's other tribal gaming houses. It's a Class 2 casino, which only allows games of chance like bingo while it prohibits more tightly regulated Class 3 games like blackjack and slot machines that favor the house.

The state argued that its gaming agreement with the Ho-Chunk requires that the tribe abide by the arbitrator's decision.

Eight electronic poker tables have been provided since late 2010 at what used to be known as the DeJope Bingo Hall.

The state can appeal the ruling in a federal appellate court but the Justice Department has not decided whether it will do so.

Northwestern Mutual will build new 30-story tower

MILWAUKEE -- Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance plans to build a new 30-story office building in downtown Milwaukee, to replace at 16-story structure that faces high maintenance costs.

The company announced the $300 million project on Wednesday. It asked for $48 million in tax incremental financing from the city.

Northwestern Mutual said it would spend the money up-front, and then receive its allowable property tax breaks over the next 25 years. About 1,100 employees in the old building would move to a temporary facility while the new and larger building is built. Northwestern Mutual has said it would add up to 1,700 more downtown Milwaukee employees by 2027.

CEO John Schlifske calls the new project "a signature development that makes a huge statement about the attractiveness of the whole Milwaukee metro area." He said it would guarantee that Northwestern Mutual plays a vital role in the city for generations to come.

Mayor Tom Barrett said the proposal sends a "tremendous message" about the viability of downtown Milwaukee.

State posts nation's largest increase in new unemployment aps

U.S. labor officials said Thursday that almost 5,900 Wisconsin workers filed benefit applications during the week ending Nov. 24th. That's more than twice as many as second-place Oregon.

Wisconsin did not tell the federal government why so many more residents filed for unemployment.

Oregon said its increase was due to the holidays and winter weather. New Jersey had the biggest decrease in unemployment applications. About 24,000 fewer people filed for benefits, due to fewer claims connected with Hurricane Sandy. Nationally, a seasonally-adjusted 370,000 people sought jobless benefits for the first time during the week ending Dec. 1st. That's down 25,000 from the week before, and officials say the applications are consistent with a modest level of hiring.

The state figures normally lag a week behind the national data.

Wisconsin wins federal education grant

After more than three years of trying, Wisconsin is finally getting a competitive federal education grant.

The White House said Thursday that the Badger State is one of five that will share $133 million dollars to expand early learning programs, and improve their quality.

Gov. Scott Walker's office said Wisconsin would get $22.7 million over a four-year period as part of the Education Department's "Race to the Top" program. Walker's office said the funding would improve the Young-Star rating system for child care centers, to help parents of high-risk youngsters find the right care for them.

The funding also seeks to help day care facilities improve their Young-Star ratings, and get parents more involved in improving their children's early learning and development.

Walker said the grant would also help build a service delivery system for early learning programs, involving the state Departments of Public Instruction, Children-and-Families, and Health Services. The governor's office said it would help create more uniform standards for programs like Young-Star, Head-Start, and four-year-old kindergarten.

The Obama White House started the "Race to the Top" program in 2009, offering federal stimulus dollars to states that design the most effective educational reforms. Wisconsin has had several grant requests rejected.

New budget will include 25 FT nurses at King

MADISON -- The governor says his next state budget package will include 25 more full-time nurses and 58 nursing assistants at the state Veterans Home in Waupaca County.

The Veterans' Affairs Department asked for the additional staffers, after the unions at King complained about being overworked due to chronic staffing shortages.

Union leaders said they fear that a stressed employee will make a tragic error affecting the older veterans who get nursing care. Walker said the additional workers would ensure that there's a registered nurse in the unit at all times, and the ratio of patients to nursing staffers would be improved. Legislators will be asked next spring to approve the extra personnel.

UW Regents debate admitting more non-resident enrollees

MADISON -- The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents is about to decide whether to let a larger percentage of its students come from out-of-state. Currently, just 25 percent of students can come from outside Wisconsin, not including Minnesotans who pay in-state tuition under a long-time reciprocity agreement.

Regents are considering a 30 percent cap during meetings Thursday and Friday.

State Assembly Colleges Committee chairman Steve Nass objects on the basis it might create fewer opportunities for Wisconsin students to attend the state's largest campus in Madison. But officials say the proposal would add 200 more spots at Madison for Wisconsin freshmen.

Spokesman David Giroux says the school is trying to strike a balance between giving access to Wisconsinites, while attracting the best-and-brightest from throughout the world.

UW Madison is the only school that's close to the current out-of-state enrollment limit and Provost Paul DeLuca says it's difficult to stay under it. That's because officials must estimate their enrollments each year, due to the growing numbers of students who apply at more than one college and go somewhere else.

The proposal could also bring in more revenue, because out-of-state students generally pay higher tuition. Each percentage point in non-resident enrollments would give Madison an extra $4.5 million a year.

Nass said he was caught off-guard when the proposal was unveiled this week and he wants to delay it so the public can have more of a say, but DeLuca says many lawmakers support the change and he calls it a policy matter for the Regents, not a political matter for the Legislature.

Walker reverses position on Arizona-style immigration rules

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker now says he would try to stop his fellow Republicans from passing an Arizona-style immigration crackdown.

Walker said Wednesday it would be a huge distraction at a time when lawmakers should focus on creating jobs and training workers to fill vacant private sector posts.

This is the second time that Walker has flip-flopped on a Wisconsin immigration law. When he first ran for governor in 2010, he said he had serious concerns about the Arizona law in which police are required to ask criminal suspects about their immigration status if the officers believe they're in the U.S. illegally.

Walker changed his mind a few days after his initial comments and Assembly Republican Don Pridemore of Hartford introduced an Arizona-style crackdown in the most recent session.

The bill never went anywhere and Pridemore has not said whether he'll try passing it again in the new session which opens in January.

Trial date set in LaCrosse photo shop homicides

LACROSSE -- A tentative trial date of May 6th has been set for a Minnesota man accused of killing a La Crosse photography shop owner and his son.

Jeffrey Lepsch, 39, of Dakota is charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the Sept. 15th shootings of Paul Petras, 59 and and his 19-year-old son A.J.

Lepsch is also charged with armed robbery, for allegedly stealing about $16,000 worth of camera equipment and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon.

Prosecutors say the State Crime Lab has processed most of the evidence but the contents of a computer are still being reviewed.

The judge expects all the evidence to be in before the next hearing on Dec. 19th. The final trial date could be set then, and attorneys expect the trial to run for about a week.

S.S.Badger owners suffer a major defeat in Congress

The owners of the S-S Badger car ferry across Lake Michigan suffered a major defeat in Congress Wednesday.

The House removed an amendment from a Coast Guard spending bill that would have allowed the Badger to keep dumping coal-ash into the big lake, for as long as the 60-year-old ship can run.

Fond du Lac Republican Tom Petri and a Michigan lawmaker inserted the amendment, in an effort to keep the Badger running beyond Dec. 19th when a federal emission permit expires.

But critics said the coal-ash causes too much pollution. They called the Petri amendment an improper earmark and the full House removed it before sending the Coast Guard spending package to President Obama.

The Senate had approved it earlier without the Badger amendment. The S.S. Badger carries vehicles and people from between Manitowoc and Ludington Michigan. The ship's owners say they've had a hard time developing an alternative emission system on the Badger, which is the last coal-burning steamship on the Great Lakes.

A competing car ferry which runs between Milwaukee and Muskegon Michigan has accused the Badger to trying to get a government handout when it doesn't need one.

House fire claims life in Rhinelander

RHINELANDER -- A man was killed, and a woman was injured Wednesday in a house fire in Rhinelander.

Firefighters were called to the one-story structure just before 10:45 a.m. Officials said the woman had fled the house, and she was taken to a hospital. A man was trapped in the home, and firefighters could not reach him in time to rescue him.

Firefighters from Pelican helped Rhinelander units put out the blaze.

The state fire marshal has been called in to help determined what caused the fire. The victims' names were not immediately released.

Alvarez may return to coach at Rose Bowl

MADISON -- Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez says he'll announce Thursday whether he'll return to the sidelines for one game, and coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl.

Alvarez was in New York Monday and Tuesday and he told the Wall Street Journal he has not ruled out coaching Wisconsin in its New Year's game against Stanford in Pasadena.

The Badgers need a coach after Bret Bielema left for Arkansas. Alvarez was the Badgers' football coach for 16 years through 2005, when he handed over the team to Bielema, his hand-picked successor.

Alvarez has been Wisconsin's athletic director since the year before leaving his coaching post. His Badgers went 3-0 in the Rose Bowl.