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Friday Wisconsin News Roundup: Stillwater lift bridge reopening ahead of schedule

STILLWATER, Minn. -- The historic Stillwater Lift Bridge between northwest Wisconsin and Minnesota will operate full-time starting next Wednesday. 

That's earlier than what the government requires. The lift schedule will run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m. to midnight weekends and holidays. 

The more than 80-year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge carries traffic over the St. Croix River, and it's a popular commuting road for northwest Wisconsinites who work in the Twin Cities. Starting in late 2017, a new four-lane bridge will replace the old lift bridge for motor vehicles -- but the classic structure will stay in place for bicyclists and pedestrians.

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Tax breaks approved for high-demand teachers in rural areas

RICE LAKE -- A new Wisconsin law will forgive student loan payments for teachers of high-demand subjects who work in rural areas. 

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill in Rice Lake Thursday that forgives 25-percent of loans made by the Higher Educational Aids Board for each year a qualifying teacher works in a rural area. A similar program is already in place in Milwaukee. 

The Republican Walker will sign six more bills Friday during ceremonies in Ashwaubenon, La Crosse, and Stevens Point. They include higher sales tax exemptions for occasional sales by non-profit groups -- and the federal excise tax on heavy trucks and trailers would no longer be subjected to the Wisconsin sales tax.

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Eau Claire boating death victim identified

EAU CLAIRE -- A 30-year-old Eau Claire man who died after his boat capsized in a pond has been identified as Kyle Keith. 

Rescuers pulled his body from Dells Pond in Eau Claire Thursday, after he fell into the water Wednesday morning at Mount Simon Park. Authorities say Keith was fishing with another man when his boat capsized. 

The survivor swam to shore and called 911. Eau Claire Police say the two men were not wearing life jackets. Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the mishap.

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Walker defends state effort to address CWD

APPLETON – Gov. Scott Walker defended the state's efforts to control chronic wasting disease in the deer herd. 

Assembly Democrats Nick Milroy of South Range and Chris Danou of Trempealeau want the DNR to do more to control the spread of the fatal brain disease, which turned up in 9 percent of deer tested last year. 

Interviewed in Appleton Thursday, Walker said he brought in "Deer Czar" James Kroll to address CWD and other issues. But Kroll suggested a more passive approach to fighting the disease, saying previous aggressive efforts to eradicate infected deer populations have not worked. Testing continues, and Walker says he'd be "more than happy" to work with people or groups with specific ideas -- but he notes that science will determine what action the state takes, and not politics.

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State crashes kill at least 3

A 32-year-old western Wisconsin man was one of three people killed Thursday on Wisconsin roads. 

The State Patrol says Richard Baier of Elmwood lost control on a curve, and the unit veered into a ditch and overturned Thursday afternoon on Dunn County Road P near Menomonie. 

Elsewhere, Dane County authorities say high speed was an apparent factor in a one-vehicle crash that killed an unidentified driver in Fitchburg Thursday. Officials say the vehicle started on fire after the impact. 

In Grant County, authorities say 44-year-old Richard Line of Dodgeville died after his vehicle crossed a center line on Highway 18 near Fennimore and hit the side of an oncoming semi-truck.

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Congressional hearing on Wisconsin heroin abuse

PEWAUKEE -- Wisconsin's two U.S. senators will learn more Friday about the state's heroin problems.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson and panel member Tammy Baldwin will hear from Attorney General Brad Schimel, state lawmakers, local leaders, drug control officials, and a parent whose teenager died from an overdose of heroin. The Republican Johnson says at least some of the problem is the importing of illegal drugs due to lax security at the U.S. borders. 

The Democrat Baldwin says she's trying to pass a bill that includes prevention and more treatment for drug abusers. Friday's hearing begins at 2:30 p.m. at Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee.

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Start-up businesses remain short on venture capital

A national report says only one start-up business in Wisconsin has raised venture capital from investors so far this year. 

Madison Vaccines received $1.5 million to create therapies for prostate cancer, according to the Money-Tree report from the National Venture Capital Association and Price-Waterhouse-Coopers. 

It says Wisconsin is off to its slowest start since 2005 in raising venture capital. The state's Technology Council has larger figures showing that 28 start-ups attracted almost $46 million in venture capital from January through March -- but at least some of those investments were reportedly too small to meet the criteria in the national study. That would put Wisconsin on an annual pace to raise more than $100 million for the first time since before 2000.

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Economist: state job picture strong, wage growth weak

MILWAUKEE -- A Marquette economist says Wisconsin's job growth is strong right now, but not for higher-paying jobs like manufacturing and computer technology. 

State officials have announced a 4.5 percent statewide unemployment rate for March -- down .010 from February, and 0.5 percent lower than the national figure. 

Marquette's Abdur Chowdhury says 400,000 Americans entered the job market last month, and he calls that a big positive. But he tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the new jobs are being fueled by the lower-paid service and hospitality sectors, and wage growth remains "relatively flat." 

Wisconsin's total employment remains at an all-time record of more than 3 million, with a preliminary total of 13,500 private sector jobs added in March.

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Walker approves changes in forest land tax break program

RHINELANDER -- Owners of private forest land in Wisconsin can put new limits on public recreation while still keeping tax breaks to open that land. 

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill in Rhinelander Thursday that changes conditions for those in the state's Managed Forest Program. 

Participants no longer have a 160-acre limit that's closed to people like hunters and hikers -- and those who own non-industrial forests can restrict all public access. Those who close their properties altogether would get smaller tax breaks than those who still allow at least some public recreation -- and fees the DNR charges for closing land would go to local governments instead, which Walker says would provide more property tax relief. 

Supporters say the change is needed to assure steady supplies of timber for paper mills and wood products' businesses.

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Baldwin commits to court candidate Garland

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says she'll support Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland if he ever comes up for a confirmation vote. 

The Wisconsin Democrat met Thursday with President Barack Obama's choice to replace the late conservative Antonin Scalia. 

Baldwin points out that Garland is the longest-serving federal judge to be nominated to the nation's highest court, and she calls him "incredibly qualified." She also called it "outrageous" that Republicans are refusing to act on the appointment. 

Baldwin says the hold-up is "disrespectful" to the president, the Constitution, and the American people -- but Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson is among those who say voters should have a say, by choosing the next president who would nominate Scalia's replacement.

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Wisconsin jobless rate drops slightly in March

MADISON -- New preliminary data shows Wisconsin's unemployment rate dropped slightly in March. The state Department of Workforce Development released a report Thursday that put the unemployment rate last month at 4.5 percent, down from 4.6 percent in February. 

The national unemployment rate was 5 percent in March. The report shows that the state added 11,500 nonfarm jobs in March. The private sector gained 13-,000 jobs but the government sector lost 1,600 jobs.

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DPI: more school questions passed in 2016

MADISON -- Voters across Wisconsin said yes to their local schools this year. 

A new letter from State Superintendent Tony Evers says voters approved 77-percent of 85 ballot questions this spring. Evers says 10 years ago, schools put almost 140 questions on the ballot and voters approved just 60 percent of them.

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DNR releases fall bird hunting schedule

MAIDSON -- Hunters looking to bag a Canadian goose will now be allowed to hunt on any day of the 92-day goose season, as opposed to a specific day. 

That's the only major change as part of Wisconsin's 2016 fall migratory bird hunting rules. Early duck season starts in September, and goose season runs into December.

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