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State poll: Dems in virtual tie, Trump leads GOP; Poverty in Wisconsin hits highest level in decades; 12 more state news stories

MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin's best-known independent poll has Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a virtual tie as the April 5 presidential primary gets closer.

A new Marquette Law School poll released Thursday gives Sanders a 44% to 43% edge, and he has a 30-point lead among independents, who can vote for him in April under Wisconsin's open primary set-up.

For the Republicans, Donald Trump has extended his lead from six to ten points since January, 30% to 20% over Marco Rubio. But GOP voters remain uneasy about Trump as his negative rating jumped by 10 points to 45% and in a head-to-head matchup, Clinton leads Trump by 10.

Marquette surveyed 802 registered voters last Thursday through Sunday with error margins of plus or minus 6.9% among likely Democratic voters and 7.5% among Republicans.

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Poverty in Wisconsin hits highest level in decades;

Poverty in Wisconsin is at its highest level in 30 years even as the nation's economy is recovering from the Great Recession, according to a trend analysis of U.S. Census data released Thursday by UW-Madison researchers.

The number of Wisconsin residents living in poverty averaged 13% across the post-recession time frame, the highest since 1984, according to the analysis by UW-Madison's Applied Population Laboratory. In 1984, the nation's stubborn unemployment rate stabilized in the wake of a double-dip recession.

The analysis dovetails with another study from the Economic Innovation Group that identified pockets of the country faring worse as the economic recovery gains some traction. It found the gap between the richest and poorest American communities widening, and ranked Milwaukee the seventh most distressed city in America.

But Milwaukee is not the only place in Wisconsin that's feeling the pinch. The new analysis shows poverty rates grew significantly in 31 of the state's 72 counties during a five-year period ending in 2014.

Analysts blame the poverty rate on racial disparities and the inability of the poor to get ahead. An estimated 738,000 Wisconsinites, or 13% of the population, lived in poverty at some point from 2010 through 2014 -- up from 605,000 the previous five years.

The new report says 239,000 children, 18.5% of the state’s kids, lived in poverty -- an increase of almost 4% from the latter half of the last decade.

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AAA cites ‘culture of indifference’ by drivers

Almost nine of every 10 U.S. drivers admit to committing at least one risky behavior behind the wheel in the past month, according to a survey by the AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The foundation cites a "culture of indifference" as too many motorists drive while distracted by cell phones or texting, speed in neighborhoods, drive while impaired, run red lights and don’t wear seatbelts.

The Wisconsin AAA says the findings are no surprise as traffic deaths in the state rose by 13% last year compared to 2014.

Nick Jarmusz of the state's motor club said crashes are not inevitable, and everyone has the ability to make the roads safer for all.

Wisconsin is among the states that banned texting while driving years ago, but the AAA survey of 2,400 motorists shows that 80% believe distracted driving is a bigger problem now than in 2013.

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Deputy on desk duty after shooting drug suspect to death

ELKHORN -- A southern Wisconsin sheriff's deputy is on desk duty for shooting a drug suspect who then drove away and died after his vehicle crashed.

Walworth County sheriff's officials say Christopher Davis, 21, died Wednesday night almost three hours after he was shot in a restaurant parking lot in East Troy, and was chased by officers at speeds of more than 100 mph when he crashed his vehicle in Muskego.

Deputies say they were helping East Troy town police with a drug investigation when they confronted suspects in a vehicle, and the unidentified deputy shot Davis for not following the officers' commands.

After the crash, two suspects fled and were caught later. The state Department of Justice continues to investigate.

The shooter has seven years of law enforcement experience and has been on the Walworth County sheriff's force since May of 2012.

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Wisconsin proceeds with Sandpiper hearings

SUPERIOR -- Wisconsin is moving ahead with public hearings on the proposed Sandpiper crude oil pipeline from the North Dakota oil fields to a terminal in Superior despite the fact the approval process is being held up in Minnesota.

The state Department of Natural Resources says hearings on a preliminary environmental impact statement on the short Wisconsin portion will be held March 10 at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. at the Superior Public Library. The DNR will accept written comments through March 25.

Enbridge Energy was planned to start construction of the $2.6 billion Sandpiper line next year, but the firm now says it might have push the project up to 2019 because a Minnesota appeals court has asked for more environmental reviews.

Oil production at the Bakken fields has been reduced since Enbridge first sought approvals for the new pipeline four years ago, but the firm says the line is still needed.

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Trial wrapping up in 32-year-old murder case

STEVENS POINT -- A jury in central Wisconsin could decide as early as today whether a man who killed his daughter's ex-boyfriend in 2008 also killed his wife in 1984.

Testimony ended Thursday in the Portage County trial of Joseph Reinwand, 56. The jury will hear closing arguments this (Friday) morning before starting to deliberate.

Reinwand contends that his wife Pamela committed suicide, but forensic witnesses say the apparent angle of the gun and the fatal wound do not indicate that the woman was holding the gun herself.

His lawyer was planning to have Reinwand testify in his own defense, but he decided against it.

Reinwand is already serving a life prison term for the 2008 killing of Dale Meister in Wisconsin Rapids. Jurors will now decide whether he's guilty of first-degree murder in his wife's death.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

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State may add felony charge for couple charged with keeping daughter locked in basement

BROOKFIELD -- Nearly one year after allegations first came out of a Brookfield couple keeping their teenage daughter with autism locked in a basement, the state says that it is considering adding a felony charge.

The parents, who are not being named in order to protect the identity of the daughter, were originally charged last March with child neglect.

But earlier this month, assistant district attorney Michael Thurston said a felony charge may be forthcoming. Thurston brought up the possibility of the additional charge after the parents and the presiding judge discussed the defendants seeking representation.

The parents said they went to the public defenders’ office but were told that they do not qualify for state-appointed counsel.

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Kohl's to close 18 department stores

MENOMONEE FALLS -- The Wisconsin-based Kohl's Corporation plans to close 18 of its most under-performing department stores by the end of June.

Company officials in Menomonee Falls said the affected locations will be announced by the end of next month.

The closings are a rare move for Kohl's, which has added average of 75 stores each year for the past decade. CEO Kevin Mansell said the firm needs to put more of its resources into what works and less into what doesn't work as well.

The announcement was made in conjunction with the release of Kohl's quarterly financial report, which says the firm's net income was down 20% from a year ago for the period of November through January.

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No charges in Ashwaubenon police shooting death

No criminal charges will be filed against a Green Bay area police officer who shot a robbery suspect to death.

The Brown County DA said Ashwaubenon Officer Brian Murphy was justified in shooting Dustin Kuik, 25, of Two Rivers last September, while he was wanted for a convenience store robbery several days earlier in Mishicot.

Officials say Kuik drove into a hotel's parking lot near Lambeau Field, and Murphy shot him after he refused to drop his weapon as the suspect was about to go into the building.

Officials later said the man's girlfriend, convenience store employee Raeana Nagy of Maribel, helped Kuik commit the robbery. She's scheduled to go on trial May 3 in Manitowoc County on six charges that include conspiracy to commit armed robbery, identity theft, forgery and obstructing police.

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Two Wisconsin utilities plan large solar power expansions

The cost of producing solar energy is reported to be 60% less than six years ago, and that has Wisconsin suppliers working on a number of solar projects.

Dairyland Power Cooperative of La Crosse has announced 12 new facilities to make electricity from solar panels, and Xcel Energy of northwest Wisconsin says it's planning three new projects plus two community "solar gardens" for this year.

The Dairyland facilities stretch from Eastman in Crawford County to Phillips in Price County, providing a total of 15.5 megawatts -- enough to provide power to 2,500 homes.

Xcel's plans calls for 3.5 megawatts.

Those, plus projects that Alliant Energy is working on, would create more than 26 megawatts of electricity.

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Walker approval rating still low

A new Marquette Law School poll shows that Gov. Scott Walker has not reaped the benefits of his renewed efforts to connect with Wisconsinites.

The poll released Thursday shows that 39% approve of the Republican governor's job performance and 55% of the 802 voters surveyed disapprove.

Walker gained a little more support than in January, but it's still a long way from the more than 50% approval he received before his ill-fated presidential bid last year.

He's been trying to regain support in Wisconsin with listening sessions and a package to help college graduates handle their student loan debt.

Marquette pollster Charles Franklin said Walker still feels the impact of his absences from Wisconsin during his White House bid -- and discontent from some of his own legislative Republicans over his state budget proposals from 2015.

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Poll: ‘Undecided’ leads State Supreme Court race

Three of every ten Wisconsin voters still don't know who they'll choose in April for the State Supreme Court.

A new Marquette Law School poll gives the undecided group a slight lead over each of the two finalists – 31% for the undecideds to 30% each for Rebecca Bradley and JoAnne Kloppenburg.

Both advanced in a primary nine days ago, but about nine of every ten registered voters stayed home.

Sixty-percent of the 802 voters in the new Marquette poll could not say if they had a favorable opinion of Bradley, who was appointed last fall by Gov. Scott Walker following the death of Justice Patrick Crooks.

Marquette pollster Charles Franklin said it's common for voters not to be tuned in to the Supreme Court race at this point and a lot could depend on voter interest in the presidential primaries on April 5.

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Church cuts ties with Boy Scout troop

A church in Appleton will cut off a 60-year relationship with a Boy Scout and Cub Scout chapter.

Faith Lutheran of the Missouri Synod cites a decision by the national Scouts last summer to allow openly gay troop and den leaders. The national Synod had decided to cut ties to the Boy Scouts of America, and it urged local churches to do the same.

Pastor Dan Thews of Faith Lutheran said it was a difficult decision, but the Missouri Synod considers homosexuality a sin, and therefore the church could not go along with the allowing of gay leaders.

Appleton's Troop 73 will have to find new places for its meetings and events before June 1. Thews says church families with kids in the scouting program will have to decide if they feel comfortable staying with the group.

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Skee-Ball becomes a Wisconsin product

PULASKI -- The classic arcade game Skee-Ball will soon be made in Wisconsin.

Joseph Sladek sold Skee-Ball Inc. this week to Bay Tek Games of Pulaski, northwest of Green Bay. The price was not disclosed.

Bay Tek CEO Gaetan Philippon said production will be moved to northeast Wisconsin after a three-month transition.

Skee-Ball was invented in Philadelphia in 1909. Sladek bought the company in 1985.

About 30 people work at a plant near Philadelphia that makes the games in which players roll wooden balls toward large targets for points.

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