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New designation may boost Mississippi barge traffic; unemployment down in most Wisconsin counties; 11 more state stories

MADISON -- Wisconsin officials say the Mississippi River could soon ship a larger share of the state's products.

That's after the Upper Mississippi was designated as a federal marine corridor from Minneapolis to St. Louis. Wisconsin and four other states asked for the designation, saying it would enhance trade and business growth while relying less on highways and railroads to ship goods.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb calls it a positive step toward creating an integrated network in the region that involves all modes of transportation.

The five states estimate that about 5 percent of truck merchandise, and 1.5 percent of rail tonnage will eventually move to the Mississippi River, saving millions of dollars on highway maintenance, energy use, and air-and-noise pollution.

The new corridor will be called "M-35", a companion name to Interstate 35, which parallels much of the corridor's new route.

State's police agencies share $28 million in military larder

Wisconsin law enforcement has received over $28 million in military equipment from the Pentagon since 2004.

Gannett Wisconsin Media reported that 219 police agencies throughout the state have received things like mine-resistant trucks, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and night-vision goggles.

It's all part of a program that began in 1990 and it's getting renewed scrutiny in the wake of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and its violent aftermath.

Earlier this week, President Obama called for a tight separation of military and civilian forces. He said it might be time to review the program in which U.S. law enforcement has received $5 billion in military gear since 1997.

Milwaukee Police have acquired $600,000 in military items since 2004, including M-16 combat rifles.

The Juneau County sheriff's department -- which covers an area that includes a stretch of the Wisconsin River and two large lakes -- has obtained the most in the state, almost $3 million dollars' worth. Officials there said rescue boats and night-vision goggles have been a big help.

SWAT teams say they've found the mine-resistant trucks useful in tactical situations. However, the American Civil Liberties Union says the events in Ferguson are triggering a public debate over whether all the gear is really needed.

The program was started to help communities fight the war on drugs. Its use was broadened twice since then, most recently after the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

Faith-based group pushing again for early prison releases

A faith-based coalition made another push yesterday to urge Wisconsin officials to cut the prison population in half by the end of next year.

Over 100 members of WISDOM held a rally outside Milwaukee's Secure Detention Facility. They said almost 4,000 parolees return to prison each year due to "technical violations."

Jerry Hancock, who heads a church prison ministry project, says most parole violators don't commit new crimes and some get sent back just for using computers and cellphones in violation of their extended supervision.

A state corrections' official said 40 percent of parolees sent back to prison last year were violent offenders. WISDOM said those classifications were made at the times of their crimes -- in some cases, decades ago.

WISDOM wants to reduce the state's total prison population from 22,000 inmates to 11,000 by the end of next year.

State officials say their top priorities are to keep law-abiding Wisconsinites safe.

Unemployment down in 63 of 72 counties

MADISON -- Unemployment rates have dropped in all but one of Wisconsin's 12 metro areas.

State figures released Wednesday show that Racine was the only area where actual joblessness rose in July. That city's un-adjusted rate rose one-tenth of a point to 7.7 percent. That's the highest in the state. Madison had the lowest at 4.1 percent. Unemployment rates also fell in 63 of the 72 counties. They rose in five counties, and stayed the same in four others. Menominee County had the highest unadjusted jobless rate at 18.3 percent. Dane County, which includes Madison, had the lowest rate at 4 percent.

Twenty-two of the state's 32 largest cities also saw drops in their jobless figures.

Grothman confirmed as winner in U.S. House primary

Glenn Grothman had his U.S. House primary victory confirmed Wednesday.

An official canvass of last Tuesday's ballots had the Campbellsport Republican winning his Sixth District primary by 219 votes over fellow state Senator Joe Leibham of Sheboygan.

Grothman gained six votes from the unofficial Election Night returns, and Leibham gained one vote.

About 64,000 people voted in what was a four-way GOP primary. Grothman's winning margin was about one-third of one percent, the smallest for the Wisconsin congressional contest since 1970.

The canvass totals gave Grothman 23,247 votes, and Leibham 23,028. Leibham says he and his campaign staff will review the canvass results, then decide whether to seek a recount.

For now, Grothman will face Democrat Mark Harris in November, for the right to replace retiring House Republican Tom Petri of Fond du Lac.

Meanwhile, a recount begins Friday in the 87th Assembly District in northwest Wisconsin. Michael Bub asked for the recount, after losing by 17 votes to James Edming for the GOP nomination for the Assembly seat given up by Medford Republican Mary Williams.

Tribe, Vilas Co., win grant for unique drug court

EAGLE RIVER -- A joint tribal and county drug court in far northern Wisconsin has received a federal grant of almost $900,000.

The Zaagiibagaa Healing-to-Wellness Court is run by Vilas County and the Lac du Flambeau Indian tribe. It helps certain drug suspects with chronic addiction problems get treatment instead of incarceration. The program has been in operation since June of last year.

Defendants start their cases in Vilas County Circuit Court, and those who may quality for the program are later screened. If they get admitted, they meet once a week with a treatment team which monitors their progress. The three-year federal grant will provide more staffing and equipment for the wellness court. It was awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration within the federal health agency.

-- Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander

Media, watch-dog groups press for release of John Doe probe documents

MILWAUKEE -- A coalition of media and open government groups has asked a federal appeals court to release 34 more documents from the John Doe probe into the state's recall elections.

The court was planning to unseal the documents on Tuesday. That move was held up, after prosecutors and targets of the probe asked that all or some of the records remain secret.

In a new brief filed Wednesday, the media coalition said there's no compelling reason to keep the items secret anymore.

The group called the John Doe a highly-publicized case that "goes to the heart of the public's right to observe the conduct of its prosecutors and the decisions of its courts."

The investigation was halted by a federal judge in May, but prosecutors continue to appeal to try and revive it. The probe involves illegal campaign coordination between Gov. Scott Walker, GOP state senators, and outside conservative groups in the recall elections from 2011 and 2012. Walker has denied wrongdoing.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth and two unnamed parties say the 34 documents in question contain personal information and internal strategies that could damage the reputations of innocent people.

Waukesha charter school logs state's top ACT scores

WAUKESHA -- A charter school in Waukesha had Wisconsin's top score in the ACT college entrance exam.

Nine students from the Waukesha Engineering Preparatory Academy average 27.1 points of a possible 36. Whitefish Bay again had the top score among the state's traditional public high schools, at 26.72. A year ago, Whitefish Bay topped the state results with a slightly lower average of 26.

Those numbers are well above the statewide average of 22.2-- which was the nation's second-highest score among state administering the ACT. Williams Bay High School near Lake Geneva had the state's third-highest score at 26.1. Mequon Homestead was fourth, followed by Middleton and Waunakee.

Travel agencies settle lawsuit over alleged false promises

MADISON -- Two out of state travel companies have agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a state lawsuit, which alleged that customers were bilked out of money and promises of free airline tickets.

The state Justice Department said Green Palm Vacations of Texas held sales presentations in Middleton in 2012 and Perfekt Marketing of Arizona sent postcards to lure people to those sessions.

The state said people were promised airline tickets and gift cards and some never received them, even after paying up to $6,600 for club membership fees, taxes, and processing costs.

The state said at least 87 people lost a total of $343,000, and those people will get at least some of their losses back.

The state's consumer protection division learned of the matter after an assistant state attorney general received one of the post cards.

Former builders group director facing embezzlement charges

WAUSAU -- A former head of the Wausau Area Builders Association has been ordered to stand trial for allegedly embezzling almost $170,000.

Christopher Briquelet, 43, of Iola waived a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Marathon County Circuit Court on 14 felony theft charges.

He's scheduled to enter pleas on Sept. 5 to those counts, plus two similar misdemeanors.

Briquelet is accused of improperly writing numerous checks to himself, and making unauthorized purchases from the builders association's credit card from 2009 to 2012. He was fired in March, 2012.

The missing funds were discovered after some of the checks reportedly bounced.

Authorities quoted Briquelet as saying he blamed alcohol and an addiction to Vicodin for what happened.

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

Darlington man -- ex-con -- gets 25 years for producing child porn

A southwest Wisconsin man has been sentenced to 25 years in a federal prison for what authorities have called one of the state's largest child pornography cases ever.

Investigators said they found several million child porn images last summer in numerous storage devices owned by Timmy Reichling, 47, of Darlington. He pleaded guilty in June to a federal charge of producing child porn.

If he's still alive after he leaves prison, Reichling will have to spend his remaining years under federal supervision. He also faces 11 charges in Lafayette County that include child porn possession and child sexploitation. The status of that case will be reviewed on Sept. 24th.

Prosecutors said Reichling posed as a teenage boy on Facebook, to get girls to send nude photos to him and he hid cameras in the homes of acquaintances.

A 13-year-old girl went to authorities, saying that Reichling asked her to send him nude photos and when she wanted him to stop, he allegedly threatened to show the images to her family. Reichling spent about 15 years in prison for a sexual assault conviction in 1993. The judge in his federal case said it was a factor in his new term.

Man wounded in police shooting released from hospital

PLOVER -- A man shot by a Plover police officer on Aug. 8 has been moved out of a hospital and into a jail cell.

Investigators said Brett Lieberman, 33, of Manawa was carrying a knife as he lunged toward an officer who stopped his vehicle for driving erratically.

While he was in the hospital, he was charged with attempted homicide. On Wednesday, Lieberman appeared on video at a bond hearing in Portage County Circuit Court where a judge set bail at $100,000. He's due back in court Sept. 2nd for a formal initial appearance.

Plover Police officials said officer Andrew Hopfensperger acted justifiably in shooting the suspect.

The State Justice Department has yet to give its opinion, as it continues to investigate.

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau