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Assembly passes contentious bills involving voting, asbestos; region still labeled in moderate drought; more state briefs

MADISON -- Wisconsin American Legion, Wisconsin Veterans of Foreign Wars and Wisconsin Military Order of the Purple Heart all say they are “stunned” and claim Assembly Republicans have refused to stand up for veterans.

This comes on the heels of the State Assembly passing a bill that sets restrictions on asbestos-related lawsuits. The bill passed the Assembly Thursday on a partisan 55-to-38 vote.

Democrats believe the bill denies rights to victims of asbestos exposure. Republicans claim the bill is necessary to prevent multiple lawsuits.

Under the bill, cancer victims suing an existing company would have to disclose whether they have also filed a claim with any of asbestos compensation trust funds.

Lawmakers continued debate on a variety of issues until after 5 a.m. Friday.

Pending bill would bring statewide uniformity to balloting hours

MADISON -- If signed by Gov. Scott Walker, a new bill will restrict in-person, absentee voting by limiting such early voting to between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, for two weeks before an election, and prevent clerks from holding weekend voting hours.

Democrats say the measure targets minorities and Democratic voters and spent hours Thursday night fighting the bill which eventually passed a partisan vote.

Republicans argue the bill is needed for "uniformity" - because rural areas can't offer extended voting hours.

Despite seemed endless winter, widespread drought persists

It may have felt like a wet winter, but a new study released this week by the U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly 45 percent of Wisconsin is experiencing abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions.

The dry areas are in the south, central and western portions of the state.

The map labels most of Pierce and St. Croix counties as "abnormally dry" to "moderate drought".

Southeastern Wisconsin has received less than 50 percent of normal precipitation over the past 90 days.

For complete details, visit the site

Bong Bridge renovations start March 31st

SUPERIOR -- A two year construction project to make improvements on the Bong Bridge between Superior and Duluth will begin on March 31st.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says the $18.2 million project is the most significant project on the Bong Bridge since it opened in 1984, and is expected to preserve the life of the structure for years to come.

Bridge work will include a new pavement overlay, expansion joint replacement and arch painting.

Mosquitos, some ticks will likely emerge unfazed by snowfall, bitter cold

The long, cold winter may not have had as big of an impact on certain insects as people hoped for.

There are reports that the extreme winter killed off a portion of invasive insects, like the emerald ash borer, but other pests, like mosquitoes and ticks, are more adapted to Wisconsin’s climate and likely survived the brutal temperatures.

La Crosse County’s vector control manager Dave Geske says the number of mosquitoes is more dependent on warmer temperatures and rainfall, not the winter.

“The mosquitoes we have here, the majority overwinter as eggs,” said Geske. “Those eggs can stay viable through really difficult conditions. Some of the species we have here you can find in Alaska — (the) Arctic Circle even.”

Wisconsin is home to 55 mosquito species.

Ticks are a little more unpredictable. University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Entomology professor Susan Paskewitz says the early snowfall likely kept the ground warm enough for deer ticks this winter, but it’s too early to tell. She said it’s possible the lone star tick, which has been slowly arriving in Wisconsin from the south, could not handle the extreme cold.

Paskewitz says some major tick hosts, like white-footed mice and white-tailed deer, did not do well this winter.

“It certainly is possible that with the loss of a major host, a year from now we might see some real differences in Lyme disease,” said Paskewitz.

Paskewitz says this year they’ll be looking to see how the brutal winter affected tick-borne illnesses, like Lyme disease and the West Nile virus from mosquitoes.

-- Maureen McCollum, Wisconsin Public Radio