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Big Joint Finance decisions expected today as Walker travels; Lake Superior warm-up blamed for waning Lake Trout population, more state news

Researchers say the waters of Lake Superior have warmed by 2.5 degrees in the last decade. The warm up has helped diminish the presence of large lake trout by 20 percent. Image courtesy of

Several high-profile items in the proposed state budget will be up for committee endorsements Tuesday.

The Joint Finance panel is expected to decide whether childless adults on food stamps should lose their benefits if they don't spend 20 hours a week searching and training for new jobs. Yesterday, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau said around 30-thousand people would drop out of the Food-Share program if the job-search requirement was approved.

Also, the Finance panel will decide whether the governor should have the authority to sell off state properties - without having to get competitive bids - in order to help pay down the state's debt.

For now, state officials say they'll look to sell things like excess land that was never used for highway projects. UW officials are afraid that campus buildings could be sold in the future - and the student fee money which built those structures would pay for other things.

The finance committee was also expected to decide Tuesday whether the budget should ban double-dipping by public employees who retire, only to return a short time later and get both a pension and a paycheck.

The committee will vote on offering public employees the option of creating tax-free health savings accounts to pay for future benefits.

The finance panel will also consider ending discharge fees for Great Lakes shippers who must dump ballast water with the goal of controlling invasive species the boats might bring in. Finally, the committee will consider spending almost a half-million dollars in environmental management fees to cover inspections for frac-sand mining facilities.

Another budget measure under consideration would make all high school students take the ACT college entrance exam during their junior years. The Joint Finance Committee will decide whether to recommend the mandate.

Gov. Scott Walker and state school Superintendent Tony Evers want 11th graders to take the ACT and the Work Keys exam that evaluates job skills. Those tests would replace the long-running WKCE achievement exam starting in the 2014-15 school year.

The state would pay the $50 cost of taking the ACT. Also Tuesday, the finance panel will consider a budget proposal to make state employees pay $50 more for health insurance if they smoke. Walker says the fee is necessary because smokers have 35 percent higher health care costs than non-smokers.

Walker won't be around to lobby lawmakers. He spoke in Hartford Conn., Monday evening at the Prescott Bush Awards Dinner. Tuesday evening, he's to be in New York City for a state GOP fundraiser. On Thursday, Walker speaks to the county Republicans in Des Moines at an event that has hosted previous GOP presidential hopefuls including Mitt Romney.

Walker is speculated by many as a possible White House hopeful for 2016.

The governor's office says Walker has stayed focused on his duties as Wisconsin's chief executive - and he has appearances planned within the Badger State Wednesday through Friday.


Law revision would make local recalls tougher

MADISON -- It would be harder to recall local government leaders under a bill that up's for a public hearing Tuesday at the State Capitol.

Nearly two dozen Republican lawmakers are co-sponsoring the measure.

It would allow recalls of municipal officials and school board members only if they're charged with crimes, or accused of ethics violations. The bill does not apply to state officials and legislators - a number of whom were put up for recall because of their votes for-or against the 2011 law which virtually ended collective bargaining by most public employee unions.

Robert Kraig of Wisconsin Citizen Action says the bill would make local leaders less accountable to the public.


Lake Superior warm-up blamed for lake trout decline

Lake Superior has lost about 20 percent of its most abundant large fish over the last 30 years, as the average water temperature has warmed by 2.5 percent.

Scientists at U-W Madison say the Siscowet lake trout love colder temperatures, and their numbers have dwindled while other fish like walleye and Chinook salmon thrive in the warmer water.

The research was funded by the UW's Sea Grant program. It builds on previous studies from Minnesota-Duluth, which found that the average surface temperatures on Lake Superior grew by 2.5 degrees Celsius from 1979-to-2006.

It was said to be among the most graphic examples of global warming in North America.

In 2010, the average temperature on Lake Superior was the highest in 31 years of record-keeping.

The author of the new study says the warming has already caused changes in Lake Superior's fish population. Tim Cline says the lake deserves attention because it's had some of the largest temperatures increases seen anywhere.


Oklahoma disaster should be 'wake-up call' for Wisconsinites

Wisconsin officials say the Oklahoma tornado tragedy should be a "wake-up call" for what might happen here.

Tod Pritchard of Wisconsin Emergency Management says the cold spring in the Badger State might have lured us into a false sense of security.

All has been quiet on the Wisconsin tornado front this year - and because of the drought, the state only had four twisters in 2012, well below the average of 24.

At least 51 people were killed in a huge tornado that hit suburban Oklahoma City Monday.

Pritchard said people only had up to 12 minutes of advance warning - and "that's very little time."

Meanwhile, WISC TV in Madison said the Midwest Severe Storm Tracking Center just happened to be in its monthly meeting during Monday's tornado.

Dale Bernstein, the center's president, said it was a "great teaching moment" that forecasters can use for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, thunderstorms are in the forecast for the next two days throughout Wisconsin.

The National Weather Service says severe weather is possible Tuesday afternoon and evening, especially in northern and southeast areas.

A flash flood watch is in effect through this morning in far northwest Wisconsin. The region got almost three inches of rain Sunday and early Monday, and more rain was expected Monday night.

No major damage was reported in last night's storms. Janesville had winds up to 47 miles per hour. Once the storms leave Wednesday, dry and cooler weather is expected at least into the holiday weekend.


Wausau Paper wraps up Wisconsin production

WAUSAU -- A Wausau firm ended 114 years of paper-making in Wisconsin Monday.

The Wausau Paper Corporation signed a final agreement to sell its mills in Rhinelander and Mosinee to a new company sponsored by KPS Capital Partners of New York.

The private equity firm is also acquiring Thilmany Paper mills in Kaukauna and De Pere, and it has a new name for the group - Expera Speciality Solutions. It will employ a total of 1,800 people at the four Wisconsin mills.

Raquel Palmer of KPS says it will be the largest specialty paper company in North America.

Wausau Paper will net about $110 million from the sale.

It will not hold an equity ownership in the new firm, but there's still a chance to get some contingency payments if Expera reaches certain performance goals.

Meanwhile, Wausau Paper also unveiled a new tissue product to be made at its plant in Harrodsburg, Ken. It's a cloth-like paper towel called Dubl-Nature that uses 100 percent recycled fiber. It's the first of two new product lines planned at Harrodsburg.

Many of Wausau's products are sold to commercial users, but some are available to shoppers in the retail market.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Raw milk trial enters its second day

BARABOO -- The raw milk trial of Sauk County dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger enters its second day in Baraboo.

The state says the only issue is his refusal to get the required licenses that would have barred him from selling raw milk.

Supporters of raw milk want the health benefits of their product to be debated, but Circuit Judge Guy Reynolds said he would not move the case in that direction.

State prosecutor Phillip Ferris objected repeatedly during Monday's opening statement by defense lawyer Glenn Reynolds.

Ferris tried to stop Reynolds from telling the jury about the relationship between Hershberger and the people who obtained his milk.

The Loganville farmer calls them members of a "community, without the blood relationship" and therefore, Hershberger didn't need a license to serve them. Reynolds said state regulators never understood how his client's operation runs and "They still don't know the facts."

After Monday's testimony, Hershberger's attorneys challenged the state's introduction of a food license fee scale as evidence.

The defense said the state was trying to imply that Hershberger could have avoided his criminal charges if he had just bought a milk license. Prosecutor Eric DeFort said it's clear that Hershberger could have bought the license but "He would have had to stop selling some product, which is the raw milk." Th


State's milk production up YOY

MADISON -- Wisconsin dairy cows continue to pump out more milk than the national average.

New federal figures show that Wisconsin made just over 2.3 billion pounds of milk in April. That's up by 1.3 percent from the same month last year.

The national increase was a fraction of a percent to about 17.25 billion pounds.

Wisconsin is the nation's second-largest milk producer, but it's been catching up on first-place California.

Of the 23 major milk-producing states, 13 had year-to-year increases, including third-place New York and fourth-place Idaho. Pennsylvania, the fifth-largest milk producer, had steady output from last year.


Fire damages hardware store, tire-engine manufacturing plant

SAUK CITY -- Fire heavily damaged a building that housed a True Value hardware store and a tire- and small engine plant.

The blaze started late last night at the McFarlane Manufacturing facility. Units from more than a dozen area fire departments responded. There were no injuries reported from the three-alarm blaze.

Investigators are expected to comb the wreckage Tuesdy to look for clues on what caused it.

By daybreak, virtually all of the fire was out. Fire-fighters were still taking care of some hot spots.

Sauk City is located about 35 miles northwest of Madison, on the Wisconsin River.

McFarlane is a 95-yera-old family-owned firm that manufactures agricultural harrows, provides structural steel fabrication and operates a New Holland dealership.


Car-tree crash kills elderly passenger

BONDUEL -- A passenger has died after the vehicle in which he was riding struck a tree in Bonduel, in Shawano County

Sheriff's deputies said a 46-year-old woman who was driving the vehicle was injured. The fatal victim was a 75-year-old man.

The crash happened shortly after noon Monday. The man's identity was not immediately released.


Pulaski school board member ticketed for hosting underage party

PULASKI -- A school board member in Pulaski has been ticketed for hosting an underage drinking party at her home.

Police said they were called to the home of Christine Vandenhouten in Hobart early on Sunday, May 12th.

Vandenhouten, her teenage son, and nine other Pulaski High students were given citations.

Acting district administrator Bec Kane tells WLUK TV in Green Bay that some students who were not cited admitted to school officials that they were at the party.

She said school athletes and club members who went have been penalized.

Kane also said the school district cannot impose its own discipline on Vandenhouten, since only the voters can decide the fate of school board members.

She's in her first three-year term, which expires next spring. Vandenhouten has not commented.


Rogers, Braun to open second restaurant

GLENDALE -- Wisconsin sports fans love what Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Braun serve up on the field - and apparently, diners like what the two are serving up in their restaurant.

It was announced Monday that the "Eight-Twelve MVP Bar & Grill" will open a second location at Bayshore Mall in the Milwaukee suburb of Glendale.

The Packers quarterback and Brewers outfielder opened their first restaurant last summer in nearby Brookfield.

It's run by the SURG Restaurant Group.

Company spokeswoman Jamie Jacobs says there's not a firm date to open the new restaurant, but they hope it will be by October.

Braun and Rodgers said they're excited to open a second location.