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UPDATE: Walker hints he won't embrace a hike in car registration fees; Badger thriftiness confirmed by new federal study; more state news

MILWAUKEE -- Gov. Scott Walker appears to have ruled out higher vehicle registration fees to help reduce his budget plan to borrow $1.3 billion for road work.

At an appearance in Milwaukee late Thursday, the Walker said motorists would not have a choice in paying the extra fees and to him, that would be a tax.

The governor said any revenue increases for transportation would have to be off-set somewhere else. Otherwise, he said it "goes at odds" with what he said about the issue during his re-election campaign.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he'd be open to higher vehicle registration fees.

Joint Finance Committee co-chair Alberta Darling said her colleagues were looking at possible $25 to $35 registration fee hike -- which would mean that car owners would pay more than $100 a year to register their vehicles for the first time.

Both Vos and Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald have said there respective houses don't have enough support for a gas tax increase.

Lawmakers have also said they're open to reducing road construction over the next two years but they have not talked about which projects might be on a chopping block.

Justice founding new division to handle appeals

MADISON -- The state Justice Department will create a new division to handle its growing workload for court cases that get appealed.

Majority Republicans on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted Thursday to create a solicitor general's office within the agency.

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed state budget would create a five-person office, with no extra tax funding. The cost would be around $1 million over the next two years, but the Republican governor wanted the agency to take it from elsewhere.

On a 12-to-4 vote, the panel approved a revised plan in which the money would come from Medicaid, trust, and environmental cases the state wins.

Also, four vacant Justice Department positions would not be filled. The minority Democrats on the finance panel said the solicitor general's office is not necessary.

The state's high-profile appellate cases in recent years have included measures most Democrats opposed such as photo I.D.'s for voting, gay marriage, and forcing abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges.

Snowy owl's death linked to avian flu

MADISON -- A snowy owl in northeast Wisconsin has died from the same avian flu virus discovered on 10 poultry farms in the Badger State.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported Thursday that a snowy owl in Oconto County tested positive and died from the H5N2 bird flu virus. It's the first wild bird in the Badger State reported to have the disease.

Most of the other cases occurred on commercial chicken and turkey farms, and one backyard flock.

The DNR's Tami Ryan said the snowy owl was found dead around mid-April near a breakwater of the Bay of Green Bay at Oconto. The owl had no outward indications of poor health, but a necropsy at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison revealed that the bird died from the virus.

Ryan said there's no way to know how the snowy owl contracted it and there are no poultry operations close to where the bird was found.

The Journal-Sentinel newspaper reported 59 birds in the U.S. were known to be infected with avian flu strains since mid-December. Wisconsin's case is the 60th.

Most of the others were in the western United States.

UW-Stevens Point dean named MIAD president

STEVENS POINT -- A dean at UW Stevens Point is leaving to become the next president of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

The institute said Friday that Jeffrey Morin will replace the retiring Neil Hoffman on June 1.

Morin has three decades of higher education experience. He's currently the dean of the UW-Stevens Point College of Fine Arts and Communication.

He's been a professor of art and design at Stevens Point since 1996, and has previously chaired that department.

Morin has also served at Tennessee-Chattanooga and Bethany College in Kansas.

Woman arrested for hiding infant's corpse in 2010

BARABOO -- Authorities said a 33-year-old woman buried her newborn baby who died during childbirth five years ago.

Baraboo Police arrested Brenda Bomstein on Tuesday, saying she buried the infant in her family's yard, and did not notify authorities of the death.

Police said they received a tip on Tuesday that the baby was buried at the Blackhawk Mobile Home Park in Baraboo. A cadaver dog was used to find the remains, and they were exhumed.

Bomstein appeared in Sauk County Circuit Court Thursday on a felony charge of concealing the death of a child. A judge set a cash bond of $10,000.

She asked for a preliminary hearing and waived the state's time limits for holding one. A pre-trial conference in the case is set for May 29.

Lawmakers move to prevent on-line student-teacher testing

MADISON -- Wisconsin lawmakers have taken another step to make sure the state's new online achievement test will not be used to evaluate teachers or their schools.

The Assembly Education Committee voted unanimously Thursday in favor of a bill that was recently passed by the Senate. It seeks to nullify some of the effects from the new Badger Exam in which there were problems in rolling it out this spring, attracting criticism from parents, school districts, and politicians.

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed state budget would require a new exam from a number of options. Under the current bill, the Badger Exam's results would not be held against teachers in their evaluations and the scores would not be reflected in the schools' report cards which the state plans to issue this fall.

Meanwhile, Assembly education panel chairman Jeremy Thiesfeldt has asked colleagues to co-sponsor a bill in which parents of youngsters from all grades can opt-out of future state achievement tests.

Current law allows only grade-levels that took the state's previous exam could opt-out. The numbers of parents opting out of the Badger Exam rose significantly from previous years.

Wausau Paper reports profitable quarter

MOSINEE -- Wausau Paper is back in the black.

The firm reported a net income of $442,000 for the first quarter of 2015. The profit comes after it lost $4.9 million in the same quarter a year ago.

Stockholder earnings totaled a penny a share this year, after a loss of 10 cents in the same quarter the previous year.

Wausau Paper has been re-structuring for the past several years.

The firm sold or shut down its conventional paper plants in Wisconsin and Minnesota. It's now producing more financially-lucrative paper toweling and tissues at plants in Ohio and Kentucky.

Cart-borne ice cream vendor struck, killed in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE -- An ice cream vendor riding a pedal cart was killed Thursday in a freak traffic accident in Milwaukee.

Authorities said two motor vehicles crashed at a south side intersection and one then careened into a pedal cart driven by 48-year-old Andres Marin of Milwaukee.

Marin died later at a hospital. Police continue to investigate the crash.

Officials said a 61-year-old woman turned left in the path of an oncoming car driven by a 27-year-old man. The man's vehicle then struck the ice-cream cart.

Former DARE officer implicated in Lambeau-area parking scam

GREEN BAY -- A former officer for the DARE school anti-drug program in Green Bay is among three people facing possible criminal charges.

Brown County Sheriff John Gossage said the former DARE officer and two others conspired to sell fake parking passes near Lambeau Field for Packers' games and keep the money that otherwise would have gone to the local DARE program.

Officials were not certain how much was stolen but the former officer turned in $1,200 and resigned two days after he was suspended.

Gossage said the ex-DARE officer "tarnished the badge."

The alleged fake parking pass conspiracy was uncovered during the Packers' home game against Minnesota on a Thursday night, Oct. 3, 2014.

The other suspects are a drug and alcohol abuse counselor, and a former Brown County printing employee.

The case has been referred to the district attorney's office for possible charges.

Park entry, camping fees likely to be hiked, corporate sponsorships possible

MADISON -- It will cost Wisconsinites and non-residents to enter Wisconsin state parks, use the trails, and camp overnight under a budget proposal endorsed Thursday.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted 12 to 4 to end state funding for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources park system.

The panel endorsed an alternative package from Senate Republican Howard Marklein of Spring Green, with more and higher fee hikes than what Gov. Scott Walker proposed.

Marklein said the state should take advantage of the parks' popularity to charge what the private market would.

Democrats called it a slap in the face to working people who need affordable recreation -- and they again accused Republicans of making bad fiscal decisions to the point where the state cannot sustain its park system.

Madison Assembly Democrat Chris Taylor said the fee hikes would not generate enough money to run the parks. Marklein's plan would generate an extra $5.6 milllion over two years. Walker's plan would have brought in an extra $2.6 million.

The committee agreed to let the DNR seek corporate sponsorships for park facilities, something Taylor said could result in a "McPark" or a "McTrail" someday.

GOP finance co-chair John Nygren said it wouldn't happen, because the names of many state parks are written in state law. He said it's more likely the DNR would sell sponsoring signs at things like trail entrances and allow businesses to operate concession stands.

Badger frugality confirmed by new federal study

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Wisconsinites have a near-legendary reputation for being frugal and a new federal report confirms it.

The U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis rounded up its most detailed data yet on consumer spending in each state. It found that Wisconsin consumers spent an average of $34,721 in 2012 on household items, utilities, and other personal consumption. That's about $750 a person below the national average, and it ranks Wisconsin 26th in consumer spending among the 50 states and Washington D.C.

The nation's capital, with its reputation for politicians and lobbyists, had the highest per-capita consumer spending by far at $59,500. Mississippi was the lowest at $27,500.

North Dakota had the country's fastest spending growth, due to the state's oil boom of recent years.

Wisconsin especially shows its frugality in things like luxury cars, expensive dinners, and impulse purchases. The state ranks 30th for personal consumption.

The state's reputation for expensive health care also shows up in the new report, with 15 percent higher costs than the national norm.

The Commerce bureau now has spending data from 1997-2012 but it does not account for each state's differences in cost-of-living.

Agency economist Ledia Guci says they'll try to fix that next time.

Modifications to proposed 20-week abortion ban suggested

MADISON -- The speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly would seek to modify a proposed bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of fertilization.

A spokeswoman for GOP Speaker Robin Vos said he'd prefer to see exceptions for those abortions forced by rape or incest.

Republican Senate President Mary Lazich and three Assembly Republicans started asking colleagues Thursday to co-sponsor their proposed legislation.

Lazich said the measure includes exceptions for when a woman's life is at risk but she did not want a blanket exception for rape and incest.

Lazich contends that fetuses can start feeling pain after 20 weeks. She calls it cruel and unusual punishment for babies and she doesn't want some to feel that pain and not others.

Democrats immediately criticized the measure, which Gov. Scott Walker said in March that he would support.

Milwaukee Senate Democrat Nikiya Harris Dodd said the bill "intrudes into the rights of Wisconsin individuals" to make private decisions affecting health care and their families.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said 13 states currently ban abortions after 18- to 20 weeks and West Virginia will join that group in June. Courts have blocked three of the 13 bans.

Woman's remains ID'd; search continues for killer

MILWAUKEE -- Now that Kelly Dwyer's remains have turned up, the next task is to find out how she died.

The 27-year-old Milwaukee woman vanished in October 2013. Surveillance cameras caught Dwyer entering her boyfriend's condominium on the city's lakefront but she was never seen leaving.

A passerby found human skeletal remains last Friday about 20 feet from a dead-end road near Sullivan in Jefferson County.

An autopsy was been conducted by the Milwaukee County medical examiner's office, but a cause of death was not determined at last word. Authorities in Milwaukee and Jefferson County continue to investigate.

The boyfriend, Kris Zocco, was considered a person-of-interest in the disappearance but has never been charged. He was later arrested for other offenses.

In January, Zocco was sentenced to 18 years in prison for possessing child pornography and he got an extra year for maintaining a house for illegal drugs.

Iconic smokestack at Two Rivers is coming down

TWO RIVERS -- An iconic smokestack in Two Rivers will be coming down this month.

Crews will use dynamite to level a 230-foot-tall brick structure on May 31 at the former Fisher-Hamilton plant near Lake Michigan.

It's the last remaining structure on a site where 1.2 million square feet of factory and office space has been cleared over the last year.

Fisher-Hamilton was a mainstay in Two Rivers for over 130 years. It used to be Manitowoc County's largest employer.

City Manager Greg Buckley says the demolition day will be bitter-sweet. On Thursday, city leaders met with the general contractor for the project, the Geiss Companies of Ohio, along with blasting sub-contractor S-X of Menomonee Falls.

Prior to the demolition, buildings within 200 feet must be vacated and no one will be allowed with 500 feet during the tear-down.

Other details, including possible public-viewing parties, will be announced soon. The city remains optimistic that the former Fisher-Hamilton site will be re-developed successfully.

The 12.5-acre site is next to downtown Two Rivers, and it includes a quarter-mile of harbor frontage.

-- Damon Ryan, WOMT, Manitowoc

Farm census falls under 10,000 but production higher than ever

MADISON -- The total number of Wisconsin dairy farm operations has dropped below 10,000 for the first time in generations.

The state agriculture department said the total number of dairy herds fell by 412 on April 1, compared to the same month a year ago.

The Wisconsin Ag Connection farm news web site said it dropped the state's total to 9,992 dairy operations. There was a further reduction of 63 herds by May 1, with the latest total being 9,929.

Despite fewer dairies, Wisconsin produced a record 27.7 billion pounds of milk last year with record numbers of milking cows that totaled over 1.25 million.

The growth of mega-dairies is one factor. In the last agricultural census in 2012, Wisconsin had 25 dairies with over 2,500 cows each.

Currently, Clark County has the highest number of dairy herds in Wisconsin with 872. Marathon County, a traditional dairy leader with the state's largest land area, is second with 581.

Forest County, in northeastern Wisconsin, is last in the state with one dairy herd while Milwaukee County has two.

Wisconsin has kept track of dairy farm numbers since 1950, when the state had 143,000 operations, and accounted for about four percent of the nation's total dairy farms at that time.

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