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Health exchange premiums here nearly twice Minnesota costs; Rain, snow predicted for Wisconsin; More Wisconsin news

Obamacare costs a lot more in western Wisconsin than across the St. Croix River in Minnesota.

Insurance agent Dennis Conger said premiums on the new health exchanges in Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties are almost twice as high as in Minnesota's Twin Cities region.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press said it found the same disparity. The paper says it's not because Minnesota set up its own exchange and Wisconsin didn't. Instead, it's because of the premiums created within the 400-plus geographic rating areas of the Affordable Care Act.

The Twin Cities has the nation's lowest benchmark premium for a 50-year-old non-smoker -- while that same non-smoker in western Wisconsin has the nation's second-highest benchmark premium.

Cynthia Cox of the Kaiser Family Foundation said it's one of the nation's highest cost disparities for neighboring regions. Cox said there could be several reasons, including less competition between insurers on the Wisconsin side of the border.

New Richmond insurance agent Linda Skoglund said the Twin Cities has plans in which consumers pay less with more limits on the doctors they can see.  She said those plans are not available in Wisconsin.

The Pioneer Press says the price difference could also be the result of state Medicaid costs, each state's high-risk pool programs and renewal dates for various policies.


Rain, snow predicted for Wisconsin

Much of northern Wisconsin could get another coating of snow this week. The National Weather Service says a cold front will push a new low-pressure system into the state tomorrow afternoon into Wednesday.

It's expected to produce widespread rain throughout Wisconsin, but a few inches of snow are possible in the far northwest part of the state, stretching eastward at least into Vilas County. It's the same region where an early-season snow dropped up to 3.5 inches in late October. That's been long gone, however.

Meanwhile a cold front that brought cloudy skies and light precipitation during the weekend is about to fizzle out but not before giving us a chance of some more scattered light showers today.

The Weather Service in Green Bay says rain might linger into early this evening as Packer and Bear fans get ready to watch their teams play at Lambeau Field in a 7:40 kickoff.

The current weather system brought strong southerly winds to parts of Wisconsin yesterday, but the gusts diminished after leaving Minnesota. Gusts of 46 mph were recorded in Rochester, Minn. The biggest Wisconsin gusts from that system were in at La Crosse at 35 mph.


Bone fragments found in fire expected to be those of missing woman

A neighbor said a fire was burning for almost a week in a home pit at Evansville where female bone fragments were confirmed during the weekend.

Officials believe the fragments belonged to 18-year-old Aprina Paul of Fitchburg, who disappeared last Sunday night after entering a man's car outside her home.

Stacy Wagner told the Janesville Gazette that she noticed a fire burning the next day at her neighbor's home pit and it constantly kept going with flames similar to a campfire. Wagner told the paper she didn't notice any trouble until officers showed up last Friday night.

Sheriff Robert Spoden said the State Crime Lab confirmed during the weekend at the bone fragments belonged to an adult female. That and other evidence is expected to be further reviewed today.

Spoden said information from Fitchburg police led his deputies to the house, where a 29-year-old male resident was questioned and arrested for violating a previous probation.


Plans made to step up sex-predators stings

Sheriff's investigators in northeast Wisconsin say they want to catch more child sex predators by stepping up Internet sting operations.

Last month 15 people were arrested in six northeast and central counties in a sting conducted by several law enforcement agencies.

Door County investigator Jim Valley told WLUK TV in Green Bay that the largest numbers of arrests showed that either the sting was a rousing success or more needs to be done to address the problem.

The October sting was the first in the region to include a weekend with the busiest activity on Friday and Saturday nights. Valley said he'd like to see future stings run for at least seven days.

Brown County Sheriff John Gossage said he's working on ways for adding officers to the multi-jurisdictional Internet stings.


$8,000 in Christmas decorations stolen

The Grinch That Stole Christmas showed up early in north central Wisconsin.

Authorities said about $8,000 worth of holiday decorations were stolen in the past month from a semi-truck parked in the Lincoln County town of Russell.

The trailer had materials for making wreaths and ribbons. Its owner said the unit was not locked and it was parked at two different spots around Bloomville around the time the theft occurred.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Lincoln County Crime Stoppers program.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Assembly plans vote on three drunken-driving bills

Another crack-down on drunken driving will be considered tomorrow by the Wisconsin Assembly.

The lower house will vote on three of several bills offered by Mequon Republican Jim Ott and Senate Republican Alberta Darling, both from the Milwaukee area.

One would require that all four-time OWI offenses be considered as felonies, regardless of how far back a third offense had occurred. Second offenses would be treated as misdemeanors, regardless of when the first ones took place.

Right now, a fourth offense that happened more than five years after a third OWI is considered a misdemeanor. Second offenses that happen at least 10 years after the first ones are considered non-criminal first offenses.

A second bill up for a vote tomorrow would require everyone arrested for drunken driving to appear in court at least once. The third proposal would speed up the process for installing ignition interlock devices on offenders' vehicles.


Bill to move 17-year-olds back to juvenile court lags

It might be awhile before Wisconsin lawmakers act on a bill to treat non-violent 17-year-old criminal defendants as juveniles instead of adults.

The Assembly Corrections Committee has endorsed the measure, but it's not on the calendar for the next full meeting of the lower house tomorrow. Speaker Robin Vos' office says it's still considering the measure, and it could be placed on January's agenda.

Milwaukee Assembly Democrat Jon Richards, who's running for attorney general next year, said a cost factor on local government needs to be considered. Richards, who appeared on a WKOW TV program in Madison over the weekend, said officials need to be sure that more serious teen offenders actually carry out their sentences.

The bill would still allow 17-year-old suspects in murders, sexual assaults and similar major crimes to continue being tried in adult court.


Trial delayed for man accused of killing two-year-old

For the fourth time, a new trial date has been set for a man accused of killing his girlfriend's two-year-old son while babysitting him in central Wisconsin.

Reymundo Perez, 27, is now scheduled to have his jury selected Feb. 26. A week and a half of testimony and arguments are expected to begin Feb. 27 in Portage County Circuit Court in Stevens Point.

Perez is charged with reckless homicide and reckless child abuse in the death of two-year-old Felix Espinosa-Villa at his girlfriend's mobile home in Bancroft in late October of 2011. Prosecutors said Perez threw the toddler to the ground twice because the youngster would not stop crying. The child died two days later at a Marshfield hospital.

Among other things, the trial delays involved the availability of expert witnesses. Perez is being held at the Lincoln County Jail in Merrill.