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Legislature's mining committees endorse GOP bill; Dems plan public hearing on mining bill; Strategist says Walker, Ryan are rising national stars; more briefs

Mining committees in both the state Assembly and Senate endorsed a Republican bill Wednesday that makes it easier for Gogebic Taconite to open a new iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.

The Senate's Mining Committee voted 3-2 in favor of the package with both Democrats voting no. None of the Democrats in the Assembly panel supported the bill. It was sent on by a 10-6 vote.

Republicans said they made a number of changes which address Democrats' concerns about a reduction in environmental protections. But the Democrats said the changes did not nearly go far enough.

Minority members of the Assembly panel wanted a one-month delay, saying the package was being rammed through too quickly.

The Senate's Democrats wanted to scrap the GOP package altogether and pass an alternative from Janesville Democrat Tim Cullen to restore all environmental protections and to keep letting the public challenge the Department of Natural Resources mining decisions. The GOP package scraps the public challenges.

The Republican bill is expected to make a stop in the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee before it goes to the floors of both houses.

A coalition of about 15 dozen environmental groups spoke out against the package soon after it was endorsed.


Dems plan public hearing on mining bill

If Republicans won't do it, Democrats will.

Two Democratic lawmakers say they'll hold a public hearing Saturday in Ashland on the GOP's bill that would make it easier for Gogebic Taconite to open a new iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.

Senator Bob Jauch and Representative Janet Bewley represent the area where the new mine would go. They say those living near the mine site have not been heard.

Majority Republicans had said a public hearing in northern Wisconsin was not needed because a hearing took place there two years ago on a similar package. Also folks who wanted their say on the new package could have driven to Madison for the State Capitol hearing a couple weeks ago.

Yesterday, mining committees in both the Senate and Assembly endorsed the GOP's package, including 11 amendments aimed at improving environmental protections.


Strategist says Walker, Ryan are rising national stars

Republican strategist Karl Rove says Wisconsin has two of the most remarkable political talents in the country, and he believes both Gov. Scott Walker and Congressman Paul Ryan can be viable national candidates if they want to be.

Rove spoke during an hour-long program yesterday at Ripon College and met with reporters.

He said Democrats control the message from Washington, but the GOP still has at least some strength with its control of the House and a majority of state governorships.

Rove said it will have to be people like Walker and Ryan, the House Budget chairman from Janesville, who create the party's policies going forward.

Rove is currently working to recruit candidates for the U.S. Senate in 2014. He said the party can do better than Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, both of whom lost key Senate races in November.

Rove also said he's confident Wisconsin will soon carry a Republican to the White House after Ronald Reagan was the last to win the state in 1984.

Rove said both parties have strong bases, and it's the independent voters who decide the major races. He said the GOP needs a candidate who can reach out to "blue-collar Democrats and rural moderate conservative Democrats in the western part of the state."


DNR study shows Wisconsin landfilling too much plastic

About $64 million worth of plastics are being buried in Wisconsin landfills each year when they could be recycled instead, according to a new study commissioned by the state Department of Natural Resources.

The agency says it will run a pilot project this spring to expand the recycling of flexible film packaging.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp says it would be a "win-win" for both the state's economy and the environment. That's because the expanded recycling would create more jobs and new opportunities for small- to medium-sized plastics recyclers.

The study said the DNR could improve the economy even more by allowing more plastics to be recycled like clam-shell containers, drink cups and margarine tubs, in addition to plastic bags and other film-type plastics.

The report said Wisconsin employs about 40,000 people in the plastics industry, the 8th-highest total in the nation.


Mix of rain and freezing rain expected this morning

Most Wisconsinites will be slipping and sliding when they're out and about today.

A mix of rain and freezing rain is in the forecast for this morning in most parts of the state. Then it will be covered by snow, at least in the eastern half of Wisconsin.

Four to eight inches are predicted through tonight in the Milwaukee region. It's the only part of the state with a Winter Storm Warning, and it's in effect through midnight.

Green Bay and northeast Wisconsin expect 3 to 6 inches of snow. Two to five are possible in the Madison region, and central areas can expect 1 to 3 inches.

Lake-effect snows will continue along Lake Superior. Gile in Iron County had three inches by late last night. Part of Rusk County near Bruce had the most snow Wednesday, with 3.6 inches. Many places got an inch or two, and Ferryville in Crawford County reported freezing rain for 24 hours straight.

A partly cloudy and dry day is predicted tomorrow throughout Wisconsin with highs in the 20's. There's a slight chance of freezing rain on Saturday, and more snow on Sunday.


Supreme Court candidates debate tonight

The three candidates for a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat will debate each other only once, and that's today in Milwaukee.

Justice Pat Roggensack is trying to get re-elected to her second 10-year term. She's opposed by Milwaukee Lemon Law attorney Vince Megna and Marquette law school professor Ed Fallone.

The primary is a week from next Tuesday, and the top two vote-getters will advance to the April general election.

Both challengers have mentioned excessive discord among the seven justices, but Roggensack insists that they're getting along fine. Fallone has made it a bigger part of his campaign, while Megna says the court has divided itself along partisan political lines. He wants the justices to make it official by giving themselves a party label.

Roggensack is one of the court's four conservative justices. Her campaign says she follows the rule of law in her rulings and not the political winds.


Judge denies change of venue in cemetery killing case

A judge in Kenosha says there's no need to have a jury from outside the area hear the possible trial of a man accused of killing a woman and leaving her body in a cemetery.

Javier Garcia's attorney questioned whether local residents could make a fair verdict, and he asked for a change of venue.

But Circuit Judge Mary Wagner said yesterday that the news coverage about the case has not been prejudiced against the defendant.

Garcia, 52, is charged with homicide in the slaying of Lisa Mezera, 26.

A police officer found her partially clad body last August while passing a cemetery near Kenosha in the town of Somers. The next day, her father told police that Mezera had been missing for a couple days, and she had been spending time with a co-worker he only knew as "Javier."

Prosecutors said DNA evidence links Garcia to the crime. Mezera died from strangulation, and officials said she was also beaten in the head.

Meanwhile, the defense wants to prevent a jury from hearing that Garcia was accused of kidnapping and molesting another woman over a decade ago. Charges were dropped in that case, and Judge Wagner has not decided whether to suppress that information.


Wife agrees to come back to face charge related to murder of her brother-in-law

A military police officer in Washington State will not fight efforts to bring her to Wisconsin to face a criminal charge connected with her husband's murder case.

Army Private Shannon Remus, 26, the wife of Jeffrey Vogelsburg, was charged in Dane County this week with being a party to hiding a corpse. She waived extradition Wednesday during a court hearing in Pierce County, Wash. Her first Dane County court appearance has not been scheduled.

Vogelsburg has pleaded innocent to killing his autistic half-brother Matthew Graville, 27, and burying him in a five-foot grave near Lone Rock.

Prosecutors said Vogelsburg had his wife inspect the burial site to see if anything suspicious was exposed.

Authorities found the body last November. Vogelsburg is charged with homicide and hiding a corpse. A court hearing is set for early May on his request to move his possible trial out of Dane County due to heavy publicity.

Robert McCumber, who owned the house in Mazomanie where Vogelsburg and Graville lived, is also charged with hiding a corpse. He's due back in court a week from today.

On Monday, Vogelsburg's mother was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading no contest to identity theft. Laura Robar was convicted of using Graville's food assistance card to buy groceries after he died.


Businesspeople wanted for trade mission to Australia

The Council of Great Lakes Governors is planning a regional trade mission to Australia in May. And the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is looking for business people who might want to go along.

The trip is planned from May 6-11 to Sydney and Melbourne.

The goal is to help small- to medium-sized Midwest businesses grow their exporting opportunities with Australia. The continent is Wisconsin's fourth-largest export market, and it's the second-largest to China in the Asian Pacific region. Wisconsin firms wanting more information are asked to contact the WEDC.


Milwaukee district needs 700 new teachers

Wisconsin's largest school system is looking for a few good people - a few hundred, actually.

The Milwaukee Public Schools will hold a series of recruiting events over the next month and a half. Administrators want to hire 700 teachers plus paraprofessionals and over a dozen new principals.

The first recruiting event is next Wednesday. Others are planned for Feb. 20, March 2 and March 20.

Several hundred Milwaukee teachers were laid off a couple years ago due to budget pressures. Many retired a year ago for fear that Gov. Scott Walker would cut into their pensions just like he did with their union bargaining privileges.

The wave of retirements continues, and officials say it's aging baby boomers who've had enough.

Milwaukee school officials said they recently increased the pay for starting teachers from $38,000 a year to $41,000. And they're giving teachers in hard-to-fill positions more time to move into Milwaukee and follow the city's residency requirement.


Processing plant fire means lower egg prices

Shoppers may have noticed that a dozen eggs are cheaper after last week's fire that destroyed production facilities at the Echo Lake egg processing plant in Burlington.

Plant general manager Jerry Warntjes said the fire created a glut of eggs on the national market because the firm has stopped buying two million eggs a day from producers mainly in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

Warntjes spoke to a number of the plant's 300 employees yesterday at meetings where they received information on things like living assistance and finding new jobs.

The Echo Lake official said dozens of workers have been transferred to a nearby plant at Yorkville in Racine County. He said the Burlington plant could resume limited production in a few weeks as it rebuilds.

Warntjes said the company wants as many employees back as possible, but they shouldn't be without jobs. He said they should take other work now. A job fair has been set up for next week, and 21 employers have agreed to take part so far.

The Echo Lake plant employs a high percentage of Hispanics. Warntjes said up to half don't speak English very well and that causes special problems for them.

The general manager said he believes the fire was caused by a problem in a boiler that heats oil for ovens. State and local authorities are still investigating.