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Carol controversy may change sounds of Christmas; landlord rights bill nears passage; plus 12 more state stories

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news New Richmond, 54017
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

WAUSAU -- The Wausau School Board will meet in a closed session tomorrow evening to decide how it would react to a possible lawsuit over limiting Christmas music by school choral groups.

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After that, the Board will meet in public to talk about an issue that's gotten national attention. It started last week, when the Wausau school administration issued new policies telling choral groups to keep religious music at a minimum during their holiday concerts -- or wait until after the holidays to perform.

It caught school board members off-guard -- and it caused the Wausau West High School Master Singers to temporarily disband. They were scheduled to sing Christmas carols at 15 events around the Wausau area close to the holidays.

Superintendent Kathleen Williams told WAOW TV it might be a problem, because those performances could be interpreted as endorsing a religion.

In a more general statement last night, Williams said it was not true that groups were told to have five non-religious songs for every religious song in a school program. She said the district's music committee never set an exact ratio.

Williams told the TV station the policy makes sure that students don't feel coerced into performing songs which make them uncomfortable. She also said the district wants to stay within the law by not endorsing any religion.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

'Crowd-funding' measure moves forward in the Assembly

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Assembly has agreed to give businesses a new way to tap into investment funds. On a voice vote Tuesday, the lower House decided to relax some state laws on stock sales, to let investors make donations that provide capital for companies that need it.

The concept is called "crowd-funding." Companies could raise up to $1 million on Web sites like Kick Starter (http://www.kickstarter.com) -- or $2 million if they're willing to be audited and let investors see the results.

Donors would not get direct returns, but could get things like free products that a funded company sells. The bill now goes to the Senate. Supporters say it would let new businesses get donated capital in place of more traditional financing like grants, loans, and venture capital -- all of which can still be hard to get in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

One of the bill's main sponsors, Assembly Republican Dave Craig of West Bend, says Wisconsin would have the most comprehensive crowd-funding program in the nation. That's because it would allow face-to-face donations, as well as Internet sales. Only Kansas and Georgia allow crowd-funding.

Assembly OKs drinking on 'pedal pubs'

MADISON -- The state Assembly has voted to legalize "pedal pubs" -- vehicles that roll from tavern-to-tavern in places like downtown Milwaukee, where riders can drink while pedaling with their feet.

Milwaukee officials say drinking on the pedal pubs violates a state law which bans the use of alcohol in vehicles. Assembly Republican Jeff Stone of Greendale responded with a bill to let Wisconsin communities allow drinking on pedal pubs.

The Assembly Small Business Committee later took the decision out of the municipalities' hands by allowing pedal-pub drinking unless a local ordinance is passed to ban it.

That's the measure now moving through the Legislature. Next stop is the Senate.

Landlords near to winning more power over tenants

MADISON -- The state Assembly has given its second approval to a Republican bill to give landlords more power over their tenants.

The Assembly made some minor changes to the bill's language Tuesday on a 57-37 party-line vote, with Democrats voting no.

The Senate would have to approve the changes before the bill goes to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.

The bill would let landlords dispose of property that evicted tenants leave behind. Building owners could immediately tow improperly-parked vehicles without having to call police. They could also evict tenants if crimes occur in their units, and the tenants are in a position to prevent those crimes.

Republicans say the package would provide much-needed fairness to building owners. Opposing Democrats say it would force tenants to give up some of their rights, and reduce local control of rental housing. They say it would also result in more evictions and legal challenges. Just over 3,500 eviction cases were filed in Wisconsin courts last year.

Election Day irregularities overblown, say Democrats

MADISON -- Wisconsin Senate Democrats say it's wrong for Republicans to assume that local polling place workers are tied to political parties -- or that their mistakes are evidence of corruption.

On Tuesday, Senate Republicans approved four bills to avoid a repeat of what the GOP called sloppy practices and irregularities in last year's Senate recall election in Racine County.

Republican Van Wanggaard, who lost that election, blamed numerous irregularities at the polls. Racine County authorities investigated, but never charged anyone. Still, GOP Elections Committee chair Mary Lazich said there was a need for reform -- and it resulted in four bills passed Tuesday with only a handful of Democratic yes votes.

One bill would require poll workers of different parties to perform various tasks, but only where a party exercised its right to nominate a poll worker. Other bills require two poll workers of opposite parties to secure ballot containers -- mark ballots with damages and other problems uniformly -- and make poll workers record the documents voters present to show proof of residency.

Middleton Democrat Jon Erpenbach said it could make personal data public, thus opening those people up to identity theft. Green Bay Democrat Dave Hansen says the measures are designed to make it harder to vote, and harder to be a clerk.

The measures now go to the GOP-controlled Assembly.

Committee expected to support making it harder to drop Indian team names

MADISON -- A legislative committee was expected to endorse a bill Wednesday to make it harder to drop Indian team names for Wisconsin public schools.

The Assembly's governmental affairs panel was set to take up the proposal late Wednesday morning. If approved, it would then go to the full Assembly.

The committee held an emotional public hearing on the measure last week, where the bill's supporters said schools were being judged guilty before proven innocent -- and opponents said it would allow for more discrimination against Indians.

The measure would basically undo a 2009 law from Democrats. Indians would have to prove that school nicknames and logos are discriminatory, instead of making school boards prove that they're not.

Instead of letting one person file a complaint with the state, the new bill requires petitions with signatures equaling at least 10 percent of an affected school's student population. The governor's administration would act on mascot complaints instead of the state Department of Public Instruction. All of the state's previous orders to change Indian names under the 2009 law would be dropped.

Benzene found in Jackson well; 2012 spill suspected

JACKSON -- Benzene has turned up in a village well in Jackson -- and a consultant blames a 2012 gasoline pipeline spill more than two miles away.

Jackson is located in Washington County, between Slinger and Grafton or about 60 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

The consulting firm of City Water said the village well attracted groundwater from broken rock underneath the spill -- which occurred 15 months ago in the town of Jackson. A gas distribution line owned by the West Shore Pipeline Company broke open and spill almost 55,000 gallons of gas.

Forty-four private wells have been contaminated with benzene and related chemicals. The consultant's finding marks the first time that a municipal well has been affected by the spill.

Jackson officials say the water supply has not exceeded the federal safety standards for benzene levels. The well has not been used since the testing in July. Officials say it will have to re-open so another well in Jackson can be shut down for a routine inspection.

The adjacent town has sought to use village water for the most affected residents. Meanwhile, the spill continues to be cleaned up. Just under 20,000 gallons, or about one-third of the lost fuel, has been recovered as of last week.

Justice accuses funeral directors of 'bait-and-switch'

MADISON -- The State Justice Department is fighting a request by Wisconsin funeral directors to reduce the amount of interest they promised to those who bought certain pre-paid funerals.

A statewide fund that holds the families' payments for their future funerals went into receivership last year after investment issues caused a $24.5 million shortfall. Funeral homes have been absorbing cost of the shortfall, so families can still get the services they were promised. Now, the group has asked the Madison judge in the case to stop paying an interest premium for funerals ordered after last Sept. 1st when the case went into receivership.

Earlier funerals would get the promised interest.

The court-appointed receiver in the case criticized the funeral directors' request, saying it would result in lower-quality funerals than what families had paid for.

The funeral directors disagreed, saying their facilities should not have to meet an artificial investment goal.

The Justice Department filed a brief Tuesday calling the new stand by the funeral directors a "bait-and-switch."

Obama-care web site still clunky, but insurers say they're getting sales

Problems are still being reported with the Internet site where those without health insurance are required to buy it under the Affordable Care Act. Healthcare.gov crashed a number of times last Tuesday, the first day people could sign up for coverage under one of the new Obama-care purchasing exchanges.

Since then, glitches have been fixed -- but apparently not all of them.

The Milwaukee Health Department says it has tried for over a week to help hundreds of people with their online purchasing, and not one client could finish the process. Still, insurers are getting business from the online exchanges.

Anthem Blue Cross says it has had unprecedented interest on its own Web site -- plus heavy volumes of phone callers from those wanting to sign up.

Anthem, Molina Health-care, the Common Ground Cooperative, and the WPS Arise plan say they've had sales from the online marketplace. Up to 700,000 Wisconsinites are signing up, including 92,000 childless adults who will lose Badger Care coverage after income limits were raised.

The uninsured must buy coverage by Dec. 15th. It would take effect on Jan. 1st.

Madison man turns himself in to answer charges in brutal beating

LA CROSSE -- A Madison man appeared in court in La Crosse Tuesday, on charges that he brutally beat a man at the home of his ex-girlfriend.

Police said Thomas Beitlich, 31, fled after the attack -- and he turned himself in Tuesday while accompanied by an attorney.

Authorities said Beitlich busted into the woman's house early Sunday, and repeatedly struck the man who was there with an undisclosed blunt object.

Police said the 33-year-old victim had up to 20 cuts to his head, plus a possible skull fracture. In court Tuesday District Attorney Tim Gruenke said the man had several skull fractures -- and there's a chance he might not survive, in which case Beitlich could face a full homicide charge with the possibility of life in prison.

Right now, he's charged only with attempted homicide, and he's jailed under a $250,000 bond. Gruenke said burglary and stalking charges could also be filed.

Beitlich returns to court Oct. 25th, to determine if there's enough evidence to put him on trial.

ATV accident toll reaches 18 dead to date

More people are being killed in all-terrain and ultra-terrain vehicle accidents in Wisconsin.

DNR warden Todd Schaller said 18 people have died so far this year in ATV and UTV crashes in all parts of the Badger State. That's the same number of deaths as in all of 2009.

Schaller says recreational vehicles are popular tools for hunting -- and with the height of the hunting seasons still approaching, he says it's a big concern. The predominant cause is alcohol. Schaller said half of this year's deaths involved people who were drinking. Staying sober while driving is a key to ATV safety, said Schaller. Other considerations should include include wearing helmets, driving at reasonable speeds for conditions and driver experience, and taking an ATV safety course.

-- Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander

Federal shutdown impeding some would-be craft brewers

In Wisconsin, there could be less beer if the federal government shutdown drags on. That's because the Treasury Department's bureau for alcohol-and-tobacco trade has stopped considering applications from craft brewers.

Mike Brenner tells the AP he wants to open a new craft brewery in Milwaukee by December -- but his applications for a tasting room and four labels are on hold right.

He said he would lose about $8,000 each month his plans are delayed.

Also, Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery is waiting on applications to package a dark ale, and create a sour cherry dark lager that an employee came up with.

The brewery says it has not lost money over the matter just yet -- but it could happen if the shutdown doesn't end soon. Brenner says the Washington politicians don't seem to care how much damage they're causing.

Police chief quits on accusation of inebriation

HAZEL GREEN -- Investigators did not have to look far to confirm that the former police chief in Hazel Green was working under the influence of alcohol. The village attorney said then-Chief Brian Klein had a blood alcohol level of .07 when he met with an investigator from nearby Platteville on Sept. 19th.

Village attorney Eileen Brownlee said a number of residents complained that Chief Klein had been working under the influence. The village asked Platteville Police to check it out. And while Klein was not legally drunk when he met with the investigator, Brownlee said it was the "catalyst" for Klein submitting his resignation.

It took effect Sept. 30th in Hazel Green, which is in Grant and Lafayette counties.

Kenosha-area collision claims 5-year-old

Kenosha County authorities said a driver might have been drunk when he caused a crash that killed a five-year-old boy.

It happened just after 6 p.m., Tuesday at an intersection in the town of Somers.

According to sheriff's deputies, a man was heading north on 72nd Avenue when he drove through a stop-sign on CTH E and collided with a van coming from his right.

The boy was a passenger in the van, and his sister was the driver. She and the other driver were both taken a hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

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