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Lobbyist says votes aligned for new Wisconsin mining bill; teachers' unions in merger talks; Mississippi navigation ends today, more briefs

A lobbyist for Gogebic Taconite says he believes there are enough votes in the state Legislature to pass mining incentives that were defeated in March.

Bob Seitz told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the mining firm is taking a "wait-and-see attitude" about reinstating a project it scrapped after the last mining bill was voted down.

At a hearing last week, Tim Sullivan of the state's Mining Association said a new bill needs to be different from the previous package, which Democrats said would have slashed environmental protections and reduced public input.

Sullivan said federal officials could raise objections to whatever the state does, and it might take a mining company five years or more to get a required state permit.

But Gogebic's lobbyist said it shouldn't take that long. Seitz said the political landscape has changed enough to get it done.

Last week, Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst was named to chair the Senate's mining panel. Tiffany was a strong supporter of last spring's Assembly package, which was later watered down in the Senate.

Gogebic started planning for the largest mine in state history - a $1.5 billion iron ore mine stretching along parts of Ashland and Iron counties. But the firm dropped the project after the Senate's actions in March.

Seitz said Gogebic has been watching the latest developments.

Gov. Scott Walker said if a bill could pass early next year, Gogebic could get started soon after. Seitz said an early approval could let Gogebic get data on wetlands in its project area when water levels are high in the spring.


Navigation on Mississippi ending today

The navigation season was to end Monday on the Wisconsin portion of the Mississippi River.

The water is not frozen yet but the Army Corps of Engineers needs to do some repair work.

A renovation and maintenance project begins today on Lock & Dam 6 at Trempealeau, between La Crosse and Winona. The work is expected to be finished by March 11th, before next season's boat traffic begins on the Mississippi.

This season is closing two days earlier than a year ago.


State's two largest teachers' unions consider merger

The Wisconsin Education Association Council's representative assembly approved merger talks over the weekend after the state's chapter of the American Federation of Teachers did the same.

Membership in both groups plunged by 30 percent since the 2011 law which virtually eliminated collective bargaining by most public unions. That's because union dues are no longer mandatory.

WEAC President Mary Bell said her group has had a relationship with AFT for decades, and it's more useful for the two to work together and present a united front.

WEAC Director Dan Burkhalter told the Wisconsin State Journal that its business model has been "busted up." He said the union was geared mainly toward collective bargaining and spending big money to campaign for public officials who would preserve those privileges.

Members said the new focus is to make local unions as powerful as possible.

Just before the bargaining law passed, many school districts extended their previous contracts, but they generally expired in June. Some schools, like Madison, scrambled to approve new contracts in September after a Dane County struck down the collective bargaining limits for schools and local governments. The state is appealing that decision.

Senator hopes to stop 'robocalls'

Wisconsin state Senator Dave Hansen says he got eight or nine "robocalls" per day during the last election.

The Green Bay Democrat said he wants those calls permanently banned, calling them a nuisance and a waste of time. Hansen says he has heard similar complaints from many of his constituents.

So-called robocalls are recorded political solicitations placed through a computer which dials a list of phone numbers.

Putting your number on a Do Not Call list doesn't protect you from the unwanted contacts. It's been suggested banning the calls could be the same as limiting free speech.

Hansen says a court could deal with those types of challenges.


Killer's attorney says $36,000 funeral price tag too high

A defense attorney told the Sheboygan County court $36,000 is too much for a funeral.

Kuo Yang, 22, was convicted of shooting Pheng Lee, 20, to death.

Part of his punishment was to pay the funeral expenses for his victim. That funeral lasted three days and included food and drink for 500 guests.

Yang's attorney called the $36,000 price tag "extremely high."

Judge L. Edward Stengel doesn't agree. He said he believes the Lee family was simply following Hmong tradition and wasn't running up the bill because they thought they were going to be compensated.

Yang is serving an 18 year prison sentence and said he has no assets or savings.


Woman admits to scalding tot's feet

Prosecutors say Myrna C. Staten, 22, Racine, gave them two different stories before admitting she had dunked a small boy's feet into scalding water.

She said she was frustrated with his lack of progress in an effort to toilet train him. Staten called the two year old a "very difficult child" and admitted she pushed his feet into the hot water to punish him for soiling himself.

She has been charged with physical abuse of a child. Prosecutors say the boy suffered second-degree burns on both feet.


Northwest zone now closed to wolf hunting

MADISON -- The Department of Natural Resourses ended the season this weekend in Zone One in the far northwest part of the state because the zone's quota of 32 wolves was reached Saturday.

Two other zones in northeast Wisconsin were recently closed. Three of the six wolf-hunting zones remain open, but the DNR says two of them are expected to close soon because both were within two wolves of their quotas at last word.

Officials say wolf hunters and trappers should check each day to see what's closed.

Some experts thought Wisconsin would not reach its statewide quota of 116 wolves in the inaugural season that started a month and a half ago and was supposed to run until the end of February.

The DNR's Kurt Thiede said wildlife managers are learning a lot about the things that make wolf hunting and trapping a success in Wisconsin, and some of that will be reflect in the state's permanent rules to be adopted next year.


Explosion destroys outbuilding at sausage firm

Authorities in Manitowoc are investigating a series of explosions and a fire that destroyed an outbuilding at the Cher-Make Sausage plant.

No one was injured.

Firefighters were called around 4:30 a.m. Sunday. Battalion Chief Ken Cayemberg said a corner of the building was engulfed in flames when his crews arrived and explosions were still taking place. The outbuilding was destroyed.

No one was inside when firefighters arrived. Crews used a forklift to remove pallets of cardboard that were inside.

There's no word on what caused the fire, and a dollar estimate of damage was not immediately determined.

Cher-Make is a family-owned company that makes a host of sausage products that includes hot dogs, brats, summer sausage and ring bologna.


Christmas break comes early for Lutheran students

Almost five dozen students at a Lutheran high school in central Wisconsin are getting an early holiday break.

A broken water main caused heavy damage on Saturday night at the Wisconsin Valley Lutheran High School in Mosinee. Classes will be off until at least next Monday.

Police responded to an alarm at the school and found several inches of standing water inside. Ceilings were collapsed, and wires were hanging.

Volunteers have been asked to remove computers, desks, band equipment and book shelves today when an insurance adjuster is due in. Electrical and plumbing repairs were expected to begin immediately, along with restoration work due to damaged drywall, ceiling tiles and carpeting.

It's not known what caused the water line to break or how much the cleanup will cost.

School officials say they may also have to rework the student schedule for the rest of the term.

Wisconsin Valley Lutheran High School opened eight years ago. It has students from throughout central Wisconsin.


Man accused of beating another to death with bat

An 18-year-old man faces a possible homicide charge after a man he allegedly beat with a baseball bat died over the weekend in Madison.

Dane County sheriff's deputies said drugs might have played a role in the beating, which happened last Tuesday in Mount Horeb.

Ryan Smith, 20, of Fitchburg died Saturday at University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison.

Dane County prosecutors have not filed charges because they were waiting to see what would happen to Smith.

Assistant DA Rachel Sattler now expects to file a charge of first-degree intentional homicide.

The suspect has reportedly claimed that he acted in self-defense. He's being held under a $1 million bond and is due back in court tomorrow.


Two hurt in plane crash following flight from Green Bay

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Two men were injured last night after a small plane left Green Bay, and crashed in heavy fog at its destination in Rochester Minnesota.

Fire officials said the pilot missed the runway and the aircraft bounced and flipped over in a farm field.

The 1976 Cessna 172 Skyhawk did not start on fire. Two male passengers were taken to a Rochester hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The pilot and a boy on the plane were not injured. The crash happened around 6:30 p-m.

Firefighters said they had trouble finding the aircraft due to the fog - and they used a global positioning system signal from the pilot's cell phone to locate the wreckage.

Officials said the plane was owned by the Southeastern Minnesota Flying Club. The FAA is investigating.


Goodwill bargain has worth of $9,000

MILWAUKEE -- A woman spent $12.34 at a Goodwill store in Milwaukee, for an art work that was found to be worth $9,000.

Karen Mallet got her amazing bargain for a lithograph called "Red Nose," by American artist Alexander Calder. It was a black-and-white picture of an ape with a black eye - and the red nose was the only color on the drawing.

The marked price was $12.99, but Mallet used her Goodwill loyalty card to save 65 cents. Then she saw Calder's signature and went online to see what kind of a deal she got.

The piece was among 75 that were signed, and a Chicago fine art business recently valued it at $9,000.

The Associated Press said it was the fourth time in six months that a Goodwill store drastically undervalued an art work at its stores throughout the country. One woman got $27,000 for a painting she bought for $9.99 at Goodwill. And an ancient Indian artifact was returned to its tribe instead of being sold.

Cheryl Lightholder of Goodwill said her charitable group tries to spot valuables and auction them off but some items fall through the cracks, and their employees are not experts at fine art.


Two LaCrosse city employees under investigation

LA CROSSE -- The city of La Crosse has been investigating two of its employees since late May, but it's not saying what they might have done.

Assistant City Attorney Peter Kisken and Community Development Administrator Liana Escott have been paid nearly $80,000 since they were placed on administrative leave.

Both Kisken and Escott said they haven't been told what city policy they might have violated.

City officials confirm the investigation, but say they can't comment on personnel matters.

The two workers haven't been to work at City Hall since May 24.


Milwaukee convention expected to draw Anime fans

About 4,000 fans of Japanese animation are expected to attend a convention in Milwaukee in a couple months.

The Anime convention will include costume contests, board game and video game contests, viewing rooms for animated shows and educational discussions.

The Japanese Animation Association started the group at UW-Milwaukee, and organizers say the group is now branching out.

Anime uses Japanese animation to explore fantasy and science fiction in items ranging from DVD's to video games to trinkets.

The convention is the sixth for the Milwaukee group. It's set for Feb. 15-17.