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Walker 'frustrated' that felon was invited onto dais; delivery rules relaxed to ease propane shortage; 10 more Wisconsin stories

Gov. Scott Walker says he's frustrated that a convicted felon and sex offender stood nearby while he lauded him as an example of the state's economic recovery.

Christopher Barber, 32, of Two Rivers was among 13 workers the Republican governor brought in for his State-of-the-State address on Tuesday night.

Thursday, it was reported that Barber was convicted of charges including third-degree sexual assault and three drunk driving cases -- and he violated probation twice.

Walker said his office assumed Barber's employer, the Ariens' snow-blower and riding lawmower plant in Brillion, did a background check on him.

The firm said it didn't, but it said Barber was an example of how an unemployed person turned a part-time opportunity into a full-time job. Ariens' says it's now reviewing Barber's job status, now that his criminal record has been revealed.

Walker said most of those appearing with him had background checks, but Barber was one of the last people added -- and he came from a credible employer who suggested him at the last minute.

In Walker's words, "There were thousands of other examples we could have used, and that would have been preferred."

Tight propane supplies prompt official advisory

Neighboring Minnesota expects an increase in federal funds for its low-income heating assistance program -- and it's doubling the grants available for the propane fuel that's in short supply.

The Gopher State's Commerce Department is making crisis grants available as early as next week, providing up to $1,000 instead of the maximum $500 for the winter. That applies to those heating their homes with propane.

Wisconsin has not announced such an increase, but Gov. Scott Walker plans to meet Monday with those involved in the propane shortage which is being exacerbated by the cold and snowy winter we're having.

State Senate Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center says Walker should use some of the new $1 billion surplus to address the matter, but Walker said money won't solve the problem.

For now, the Republican Walker has waived weight limits for propane trucks, and he's letting drivers who deliver propane to work longer hours. He's also encouraging people to check on their neighbors and loved ones who use propane to heat their homes.

Walker says people should contact their fuel suppliers once they get down to 30 percent -- and conserve the fuel they have, possibly by turning down the thermostat a degree-or-two. Over a quarter-million Wisconsinites use propane to hear their homes.

-- Minnesota News Network

Some push-back, but Walker expects approval on tax cut

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker says he expects legislators from both parties to approve his $500 million tax cut plan, despite concerns that it might leave a bigger deficit for the next state budget.

After speaking to the Wisconsin Grocers Association Thursday, Walker said only a couple people have raised concerns. The governor still believes that more economic growth will wipe out the structural deficit for the next budget, which is now up to $825 million.

The current budget is projected to have a surplus of almost a $1 billion, and Walker said it's only right to give it back to the people who paid it.

He told the grocers "The budget surplus is really your money. You earned it."

Democrats want the money to go to public schools and job training, reduce the state's debt, and give more back to the middle class. But they're in the minority in both houses, and even those Republicans who are concerned about the structural deficit say some type of tax cut will pass.

GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos expects Walker's plan to be approved largely as he proposed it.

Walker said $10.10 minimum wage would hobble state's job growth

MADISON -- Proposals to boost Wisconsin's minimum wage were slammed Thursday in a speech by Gov. Scott Walker.

The Republican Walker brought up the subject to a friendly audience of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, which also opposes a higher minimum.

He said it was nothing but a "misguided political stunt" that would "put a buzz saw on the economic recovery we've seen in this state."

Rep. Cory Mason of Racine and other Democratic lawmakers have sponsored a bill for a staggered increase in the state's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 over two years.

Democrat Mary Burke, Walker's election challenger, said she supports a more modest 35 cent increase to $7.60. The governor told reporters it's a "political grand-standing stunt" from people who claim they're helping workers when they're really not.

Mason said that if Walker's really that out of touch with people struggling to get by, he shouldn't be governor.

Majority Republicans who control both houses of the Legislature are tying up the bill in a committee.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's new unemployment rate is the lowest since November, 2008, when the Great Recession was just starting to settle in for many.

State officials said Thursday the jobless rate for December was 6.2 percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis, down one-tenth percent from November.

Shooting outside Congresswoman's house prompts federal response

MILWAUKEE -- Federal authorities are trying to get to the bottom of a shooting incident near the Milwaukee home of Congresswoman Gwen Moore.

The incident occurred early Wednesday morning. Moore was not there, nobody was hurt, and there's no indication that the House Democrat was targeted.

Moore's press secretary, Staci Cox, tells WITI TV that five shots were fired outside Moore's house. One bullet ricocheted off a house, and landed inside the congresswoman's residence in a second-floor bedroom.

Neighbors said the gunshots woke them up, and the police never showed up.

Under federal policy, the U.S. Capitol Police from Washington are investigating. WITI says the FBI may also get involved.

Collisions kill two Thursday in Manitowoc, Washington counties

Authorities in eastern Wisconsin are investigating a pair of traffic deaths from Thursday afternoon.

In Manitowoc County, investigators said a 78-year-old Cato woman died after her van was hit by a pick-up truck that failed to stop for a stop-sign. It happened in the town of Cato on County Trunk "A" at Hilltop Road. The pick-up driver, a 49-year-old Cato man, was not hurt.

In Washington County, a 55-year-old Sheboygan man died after a car hit a trailer that was attached to a truck. The truck was stopped on County Trunk "A" in the town of Farmington. The driver was outside the truck when the car slammed into the trailer. The car driver, a 28-year-old West Bend woman, was extricated and flown to a hospital.

Neither of the victim's names were released, pending notification of relatives.

-- Damon Ryan, WOMT, Manitowoc

Mother killed son, then self, police say

GREEN BAY -- Green Bay Police now say a woman killed her nine-year-old son before taking her own life.

Officers found the bodies of April Veraghen, 33, and her son Damien on Tuesday in an apartment on Green Bay's west side.

Preliminary autopsy results released Thursday indicate Damien Veraghen was suffocated on purpose, and his death was ruled a homicide.

His mother appeared to have died from suffocation and prescription drugs. Her death is being listed as a suicide.

Cudahy woman charged in man's heroin-induced death

PORT WASHINGTON -- A 33-year-old suburban Milwaukee woman has been charged with reckless homicide, in the death of a man from a heroin overdose.

An Ozaukee County judge ordered a $75,000 bond Thursday for Kirsten Nadolski of Cudahy, who's also charged with bail jumping from a previous case.

She was one of two people arrested in the death of 31-year-old Joel Rebarchik of Grafton.

Police and sheriff's investigators said Rebarchik died last Sunday from an apparent heroin overdose.

The arrests were made Tuesday at a hotel in Franklin, and the second suspect was released after questioning.

Nadolski waived the state's time limit to hold a preliminary hearing, and the status of her case will be reviewed at a proceeding next Thursday.

'Officer-in-training' guise backfires on alleged shoplifter's dad

WAUSAU -- State law lets families hide criminal evidence so they don't incriminate their relatives -- but that courtesy does not apply to using deception to get a relative out of jail.

Bradley Woodward, 63, of Wausau is accused of trying to pass himself as an "officer-in-training," to try and get a signature bond and reduced charges for his daughter.

Marathon County jailers didn't buy it, and Woodward was charged with misdemeanor counts of impersonating an officer and obstructing police.

Authorities said the incident happened last November, when Woodward's 28-year-old daughter Autumn was in jail for allegedly stealing $1,400 worth of merchandise from a Walmart. She was later freed on a signature bond, with a pre-trial hearing set for Feb. 6th. Her father is also free on a signature bond, with a tentative trial date of March 19th.

Court records show that both father-and-daughter have previous records for thefts and drug convictions.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

DNR researchers hunting for diseased bats

Wisconsin experts are about to find out whether a deadly bat disease has crept into the Badger State.

For the last three years, scientists have checked out caves and mines for evidence of white-nose syndrome. So far, at least, they've found no traces in Wisconsin. The DNR says a fourth search is underway this week. It's asking people to report any unusual behavior -- like bats flying around in January or February, or dead bats at their normal summer roosting areas.

White nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in the eastern U.S. since 2007. Experts in Wisconsin are extremely concerned, saying it could be a big problem for farmers who rely on bats to kill insects and prevent crop losses.

The disease causes white fuzz to grow the noses, ears, and wings of hibernating bats -- and it burns up their internal fat prematurely.

The fungus which causes white-nose syndrome turned up last year in a Minnesota cave about 50 miles west of the Wisconsin border at Vernon County.

In Iowa, white-nose was confirmed in 2012 about 30 miles from the Badger State. It's also been spotted to the south in Illinois.

Former Packer displays singing talent in NFL promotional ad

Former Green Bay Packers' receiver Greg Jennings is showing off his singing talent in a video that promotes Super Bowl 48.

Jennings, who's now with the Minnesota Vikings, joined present and former NFL stars in singing the national anthem.

Met Life Insurance produced the video. It's on YouTube, and it will welcome fans to the Super Bowl game a week from Sunday at Met-Life Stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey.

Jennings, Justin Tuck, Emmitt Smith, Eddie George, Josh Brown, and Nick Mangold each sang a couple lines for the video. Jennings starts with "and the rockets' red glare."

The sports Web site "Bleacher Report" said Jennings sang unexpectedly well. The review said "He's not great -- but hey, he gave it a go." Opera singer Renee Fleming will sing the national anthem live just before the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos kick it off on Super Bowl Sunday.

View the video here:

-- Minnesota News Network