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Family fights to keep comatose student in U.S.; Assembly approves Walker tax cuts; 10 more state news briefs

The family of a Wisconsin foreign exchange student from Pakistan is trying to prevent a Minnesota hospital from sending the student back home.

Muhammad Shahzaib-Bajwa, 20, was injured last November when he and his friends were driving from Minneapolis back to UW-Superior, and their vehicle hit a deer. Bajwa has been comatose since the accident, and he's now at a hospital in Duluth.

His brother said it might be a couple years before doctors can find out how much more the victim can recover. In the meantime, the brother told the Associated Press that the Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center has urged the family to sign consent forms to return Bajwa to Pakistan. His family is against it, saying he faces a certain death if he returns.

The hospital says the man will not be allowed to remain in the U.S. legally, once his visa expires Feb. 28. Bajwa's family says it's looking for every possible avenue to extend his stay.

The A-P reported last year that hospitals often reduce high treatment costs for foreign citizens by sending them back home without review by immigration authorities or the courts. The A-P said Bajwa's health bill is now up to $350,000 and he's only insured for $100,000. The family said the hospital is not tapping that policy, so he can get care in Pakistan. The brother said it would only cover about three months.


Assembly approves Walker tax cuts

Two Democrats joined all Republicans in voting yes as the state Assembly approved Gov. Scott Walker's $500 million income and property tax cut.

The vote yesterday was 62-37. The only Democrats favoring the package were Amy Sue Vruwink of Milladore and Stephen Smith of Shell Lake.

A Democratic alternative -- which would have spent more on job training and given a larger property tax cut -- was rejected.

The GOP added a sales tax break for builders of new schools and churches. The total tax break was $20 million, but the Assembly cut it back to $7.5 million.

The package now goes to the Senate where Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said a more moderate tax relief plan will be needed. He and other Republicans have raised concerns that the Walker tax cut leaves too much of a structural deficit to start the next budget in mid-2015.

Fitzgerald says his party caucus is close to crafting its own alternative, and he expects a tax cut package to be approved in late February or early March. He wants the Joint Finance Committee to review it before the Senate takes it up.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke pushed an alternative plan which would put half the surplus into the state's rainy day fund while reducing the state's borrowing plans by $2 billion. She would use the rest for job training and property tax relief.


Assembly passes $35 million worker training bill

Wisconsin would spend $35 million more to train workers for high-demand jobs under a measure passed by the Assembly yesterday.

Seventeen Democrats joined all Republicans in supporting the package, and it was sent to the Senate on a 77-22 vote.

The bill also includes incentives for businesses to hire more disabled workers. The funding would come from the projected surplus in the current state budget. The package and one other measure to be funded by the surplus now go to the Senate.

The Assembly voted unanimously to spend $43 million to speed up 11 highway projects so they'll start in the current fiscal year -- thus allowing more projects in the next year.


Kenosha school officials balk at deducting dues

Despite what the teachers' union claims, Kenosha school officials say they will not automatically deduct union dues from employees' paychecks.

The Kenosha Education Association said the automatic dues deductions would be restored a week from today and so would fair-share deductions for non-union members who get the benefits of the group's bargaining.

Interim superintendent Joe Mangi told the Kenosha News the school district will not deduct an employee's dues unless it gets written approval from that person.

Critics question whether the deductions are legal since the state's Act 10 bargaining limits banned those automatic payments. The law has been temporarily suspended in the courts for school and local government unions.

Both sides in Kenosha used the window to come up with a new agreement last November. Teacher dues run about $850 a year and less for other staffers.


More charges expected against man who allegedly tricked girl into going to Mexico

State officials say they plan to file new charges against the ex-boyfriend of a Wausau woman who said that he took her to Mexico for nine years against her will.

Freddie Ruiz, who's now 31, faces possible counts of truancy and interfering with child custody.

Connie McCallister was a 15-year-old student at Athens High School when her family moved to Wausau, and she disappeared with Freddie Ruiz who was 22 at the time.

McCallister returned to central Wisconsin last fall and told her story to Wausau police. She said she was tricked into going to Mexico with Ruiz, and she left him after he assaulted her. Later she married Jesus Velaquez Ramos, who is still in Mexico.

At last word, authorities were trying to find Ruiz.


UW-Point gets $150,000 grant to study soybeans

UW-Stevens Point is about to look for genetic ways to improve the production of Wisconsin's major farm crops.

The United Soybean Board has given the university a $150,000 grant to find out what makes the soybean tick.

Associate biology Prof. Devinder Sandhu said the soybean genome was recently sequenced, and now that scientists know what the bean is made of, the next step is to connect the genes with possible functions.  Sandhu says his research will help producers create new strains of soybeans with an eye toward improving its growth and output.

The grant will cover the expenses of 10 research students at Stevens Point. The study will begin March 1 and will be tied to projects at Iowa State where the soybeans are being grown for the testing.

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau


Alleged kidnapper of baby apparently used aliases

A woman accused of kidnapping her baby nephew near Beloit last week has used multiple names and birth dates, which may have gotten her out of jail in November.

Authorities said Kristen Smith, 31, of Denver, Colo., was arrested last Thursday in Iowa. But the Associated Press says court records and warrants indicate that she was charged elsewhere as Kristen Pearson, 32. Smith did get married last year, but she was listed as having differing birth dates on various court records.

The AP said that might have been why the woman was released from a Colorado jail Nov. 3, while she was wanted for felony crimes in other states.

She was arrested just hours after she allegedly left a home near Beloit with the five-day-old son of her half-sister, Brianna Marshall. Marshall has said she was not certain about her half-sister's last name.

Officials said they tracked down the woman along I-80 in Iowa, where she reportedly left the child behind a gas station in bitter cold temperatures. He was found unharmed 29 hours later and was returned to her mother.

The suspect was listed as Kristen Smith when she was held last week on outstanding warrants from Texas. In Marathon County, she was known as Pearson when she was fined $434 for misdemeanor theft by fraud Nov. 1. She previously spent nine months in jail as Kristen Pearson for four misdemeanor convictions of writing bad checks.

She faces possible federal charges in the baby's kidnapping. The FBI continues to investigate.


Pig disease raises new worries

The presence of a pig disease is raising concerns in Wisconsin. State Veterinarian Paul McGraw has ordered a ban on spring weigh-ins for pigs to be entered at fairs throughout the state.

Also McGraw recommends that only terminal hog shows be held this year. Those are shows in which the exhibited animals are sent directly to slaughter after the show.

The state is trying to prevent the spread of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus or PED. There have been six confirmed cases of the disease in the state recently.

McGraw says fairs that hold non-terminal shows face possible state action if the virus is found at the event. If PED is not found, McGraw said the pigs could return home as planned. The non-terminal shows allow people to exhibit their pigs multiple times.


Wausau bans holding cellphones while driving

Wausau will soon become the latest Wisconsin city to make it against the law to drive while holding a cellphone.

The City Council approved the ban on an 11-0 vote last night with very little discussion. Council President Lisa Rasmussen says she's not surprised by that because growing numbers of people have horror stories about chatting drivers going awry. She said it's clear that more people favor the ban than oppose it.

Violators will face $40 fines.

Surrounding communities like Schofield and Weston are expected to approve identical bans so drivers won't have to guess whether they're in a place where hand-held cell phones are prohibited.

Wausau's ordinance still allows hands-free devices. It will take effect in a few days, once the new law is published.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau)


Assembly passes constitutional amendment, which now goes to Senate

It would be harder to raise Wisconsin's two major taxes under a constitutional amendment approved by the state Assembly Tuesday.

All 60 Republicans voted yes, and all 39 Democrats voted no to requiring a two-thirds' majority in both houses before the state sales and income taxes could be raised. The so-called "super-majority" is already a state law for tax increases, but the Republicans who passed it want to make sure the requirement is not repealed by a future Legislature.

The amendment now goes to the Senate. It would have to be approved in the next session and then by the voters in a statewide referendum.

Also the Assembly gave its first approval to another constitutional amendment that would eliminate the state treasurer's position. That vote was 67-32. It now goes to the Senate.

There's been talk for years about eliminating both the treasurer and the secretary of state positions. Republicans plan to introduce a separate amendment next year to dump the secretary post. The GOP dramatically reduced the duties of both positions a couple years ago and gave most of their work to other agencies.


Rhinelander tells residents to run water taps wider

As our cold winter continues, a number of Wisconsin communities have asked residents to run their water constantly so the pipes don't freeze.

Now one of the first cities to make the request, Rhinelander, wants the taps open a little wider. At first, people were told to run their water the length of a pencil lead. Now it's the whole pencil.

Frost lines in the ground are eight ft. deep, and they're expected to go deeper.

Rhinelander officials want residents to keep running their water until further notice even if the weather gets a bit warmer. City Councilman Mark Pelletier said it might be another month. Folks should make sure it's the cold water that's running.

--Mike Michalak, WHDG, Rhinelander


State tracks 81 deer from game farm with CWD buck

Eighty-one deer from a Wisconsin game farm that recently had a case of chronic wasting disease have been tracked down in eight states.

State veterinarian Paul McGraw said yesterday the animals will have to be quarantined after they left the Wilderness Whitetails shooting preserve near Eland in Marathon County.

A five-year-old buck at the preserve tested positive for CWD after it was shot Nov. 4. It was the first captive deer in five years to be diagnosed with the fatal brain disease.

McGraw said all deer on the Wilderness Whitetails shooting preserve and breeding farms have been quarantined. The group has breeding farms in nearby Portage County, where the infected deer was kept from 2008 until the fall of 2010.

Game farm co-owner Greg Flees said none of the deer shipped from the preserve had contact with the infected animal, and he has never received deer from outside the facility.

McGraw said it's possible the buck might have gotten CWD from soil or contact with another deer through a fence. State officials said they traced eight deer from the Eland site at farms in Outagamie and Burnett counties and at sites in Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.