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Mississippi River shipping should begin early; plastic-bag ban comes under fire; Thompson weighs in on SCOTUS nomination; seven more state news stories

PEPIN – Farmers and others can expect an early start to the shipping season on the Mississippi River.

That's because so much ice has melted, it's no longer necessary for the Army Corps of Engineers to measure the ice depths at Lake Pepin on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. It was 10 inches thick a couple miles north of Pepin on the Wisconsin side this past week -- the earliest it's been that low since early February of 2007.

This is also the second earliest that the Army Corps stopped its weekly measurements -- another sign that the mild winter will let shipping barges go up the river before their average start date of March 25.


State bill takes aim at plastic-bag ban

MADISON – Wisconsin communities could not ban plastic bags from store check-outs, under a bill that could be taken up by the state Senate Tuesday.

Senate GOP leaders have yet to announce which bills they'll consider in their final session of the year -- but with the Assembly gone, the only bills the Senate can pass are close to 200 measures referred to the upper house.

Appleton Republican Roger Roth says local bans on plastic bags could be "burdensome" -- and that's why he wants to ban ordinances against single-use bags at retail stores and restaurants. He also wants to prevent local governments from charging fees for stores to use them. Chicago has banned plastic bags from retail chains.


GOP's Thompson wants Senate hearings on Obama nominee

MILWAUKEE – Former Gov. Tommy Thompson disagrees with his fellow Republicans on their refusal to hold hearings on a U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

On the statewide Sunday television show "Up-Front With Mike Gousha," Thompson said the GOP-controlled Senate should "take on the responsibility and hold hearings" on whomever President Barack Obama nominates.

He says they can always vote it down, but be believes America is entitled to "democracy at work" -- which Thompson says has not happened at the congressional level in years.

Thompson was the Wisconsin governor from 1987-2000, and was George W. Bush's health-and-human services secretary for four years after that. Thompson's comments came after Senate Republicans vowed to block any Supreme Court nominee from the Democrat Obama.


Spain group eyes Wisconsin land for wind farm

PLATTEVILLE – A global renewable energy company based in Spain wants to build a wind farm in Lafayette County next year.

Nearly 50 wind turbines would be erected east of Platteville in a project valued at around $200 million.

The wind farm would generate an estimated 99 megawatts of electricity. The last major wind farm built in Wisconsin was in Columbia County in 2011.

As they consider that project, state regulators will also take a second look at a proposed wind farm project in St. Croix County.


Hundreds attend vigil for Milwaukee murder victims

MILWAUKEE – Hundreds have attended a candlelight vigil for three people murdered in a Milwaukee apartment building as their children looked on.

Mayor Tom Barrett was among those showing up for Sunday night's vigil during a light rain. Forty-year old Jesus Manzo-Perez, 36-year-old Phia Vue, and 32-year-old Mai Vue were shot last Sunday night, allegedly by a fellow resident of their building on Milwaukee's southwest side.

Thirty-nine year-old Dan Popp is undergoing a mental exam before a judge decides if he's mentally competent to help with his defense. Police district Hmong task force co-chair Chia Vang called the killings an "act of terror" which made neighborhood Hmong residents question their security.


Victim ID'd in fatal gas spill

ANIWA – A driver who died in the weekend crash of a semi-tanker in north central Wisconsin has been identified as 29-year-old Shane Low of Ringle.

The State Patrol says the truck veered onto a shoulder and overturned Saturday morning on Highway 45 near Aniwa in Langlade County. The tank punctured and spilled 5,000 gallons of gasoline.

The Oneida County Hazardous Materials team was called to control the leak. Authorities say the two-lane highway was closed for most of Saturday, while crews were cleaning up the spill.


Woman set to enter plea in husband's death

WAUKESHA -- Waukesha County woman is scheduled to enter pleas this Monday afternoon in the shooting death of her husband last May.

Fifty-two year old Amy Van Wagner of Oconomowoc is charged in Waukesha County with homicide and hiding a corpse. According to prosecutors, she claimed she saw legs sticking out from a tarp in the couple's basement -- but investigators say her husband, 50-year-old Stanley Van Wagner, was actually shot in another room and was then hidden downstairs.

The defense lawyer has said the prosecution's case is weak -- and the couple's 16-year-old son has said he would have heard the gunshots but didn't.

Why Badgers Weren't Shown When Their Names Were Called

MADISON – f you watched the NCAA Tournament Selection Show to see where Wisconsin would play, you might wonder why they were not seen celebrating when their names were called.

WISC television says the crowd at the Kohl Center already knew, as the entire bracket was leaked on Twitter 15 minutes before CBS announced that the Badgers would get a No. 7 seed and a Friday night game against Pittsburgh. The team reportedly decided to play it cool when they were shown on TV, pretending to talk on their cell phones and giving each other fist bumps.

Madison's CBS affiliate says the network apparently did not find that interesting enough to show the national viewers.


Son receives military medals from father he never knew

NEILSVILLE – The son of a Vietnam veteran whose father died in action in 1971 has finally received his father's war medals.

A ceremony was held Sunday at the Highground Veterans Memorial near Neillsville, where Floyd Watts received his dad's Air Force medals, Purple Hearts, casket flag, and a photo album. Watts grew up in Fort Knox, Ken., and he said he was too young to remember when his 26-year-old father went off to war.

The family placed the items in a Fox Valley storage facility -- but Floyd says he couldn't keep up with the rental payments, and the unit was about to be auctioned off when facility owner Scott Ring and Highground volunteers spent months looking for Watts to give him the war items. He said his father died while on a third tour of duty in Vietnam, to get money to buy a home for his family.


Teen's homicide trial set to begin in Wausau

WAUSAU – A two-week jury trial is set to begin this Monday morning for a 16-year-old boy charged as an adult with a killing in Wausau triggered by a gang dispute on social media.

Dylan Yang of Mosinee is charged with first-degree reckless homicide in the stabbing death of 13-year-old Isaiah Powell in late February of last year. Marathon County prosecutors say two youth gangs argued on Facebook before Powell and others fired a BB gun at Yang's house.

Yang reportedly responded by grabbing a long knife and stabbing Powell, an eighth-grader at a Wausau middle school. The incident resulted in community forums where Wausau police and school leaders encouraged parents to monitor their children's use of social media.


Shots fired at hotel in Oak Creek; man arrested

OAK CREEK – Police in suburban Milwaukee say there's no threat to the general public after a man was arrested for firing gunshots at a hotel.

Police were called just before 5 p.m. Sunday to an intersection in Oak Creek, south of Milwaukee. A 25-year-old man was taken into custody. No other details were immediately available.


Fatal train strike leaves authorities puzzled

OSHKOSH – A fatal train-pedestrian accident Saturday didn't happen at an intersection with a road or a pedestrian crossing.

Oshkosh police say they don't know why a 20-year-old man was on the railroad tracks early Saturday when a Canadian National train hit and killed him. The freight train was headed north when the accident happened. The man's name hasn't been released.