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Democrat plans to hand out KKK hoods at Republican convention; DOT asks Legislature for $27 million more to cover winter road costs; More state news

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Assembly Democrat Brett Hulsey plans to hand out Ku Klux Klan hoods to Republicans as they arrive at their state convention tonight in Milwaukee.

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Hulsey, who announced his candidacy for governor last month, told reporters that the white hoods will reflect what he calls the GOP's racist policies.

State Republican Party director Joe Fadness calls it a "reprehensive, vile stunt" -- and people should be outraged by it.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate also chastised Hulsey.

“We may disagree with the policies of this Republican Party,” said Tate, “but this type of behavior is completely unacceptable and grossly inappropriate.”

Hulsey said he made the hoods with his daughter's sewing machine, using material from curtains.

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DOT asks Legislature for $27 million more to cover winter road costs

The brutal winter had Wisconsin highway departments spending their entire year's allotment and more on snow and ice removal.

As a result, the state Department of Transportation will ask the Legislature to approve an extra $27 million to cover the overruns.

Ashland County whipped through its entire $350,000 snow removal budget for the year -- plus $20,000 more -- by March 31. County workers don't know yet how much it will cost to remove April snows that were still coming down this week, and they've got nothing for next fall's snowstorms.

The DOT contracts with counties to remove snow and ice from state highways. The state's cost took a big hit when it had to buy more salt at higher prices. The state bought 150,000 tons this winter. Because of short supplies, just over 10,000 tons were bought from a vendor at a markup of over 350%.

If lawmakers don't approve the extra funding, local highway officials and their state association say they'll have to cut down on road maintenance work this summer.

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Mine alleges fraud as neighbors complain about dust from sand pile

EAU CLAIRE -- A frac-sand mine has turned into a legal landmine in Eau Claire County.

WQOW TV said it all began last month when the state Department of Natural Resources started getting dust complaints from residents. The dust came from a 20,000-ton silica sand pile near Augusta that had not moved in a while.

The DNR told the mine's operator – Five Star Properties of La Crosse -- to explain what was going on. The company responded by saying it was a victim of fraud.

According to the TV station, Five Star was to deliver the sand to a plant in Oklahoma run by Cardinal Glass Industries. However, Five Star said it never received $4.2 million that Cardinal Glass was supposed to pay. The report said the glass company paid the money, but a man who was reportedly acting as the glass firm's representative apparently kept it.

WQOW said the man is now being sued by both Cardinal Glass and Five-Star. Meanwhile, Five-Star says it's working with the glass firm on moving the sand that's been bothering local residents to a rail loading site.

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Feds investigate UW-Whitewater’s handling of sexual abuse claims

UW-Whitewater is one of 55 colleges under federal investigation for the way it handled sexual abuse complaints as part of Title IX -- the law that requires equal opportunities for male and female students.

Whitewater media relations director Sara Kuhl would not comment on the specifics of the school's complaint since the investigation is continuing. She said UWW investigates all reports of sexual or gender-based misconduct in a timely manner, and the complainants are given a number of resources that include information about counseling, options for changing class or living arrangements and help in making reports to law enforcement.

Kuhl also said Whitewater has ways to educate students and others about their rights.

The U.S. Education Department said the list of colleges under investigation is designed to create greater transparency on the way campus sex assaults are handled. Assistant secretary Catherine Lhamon said the goal is to spur community dialogue about the problem.

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Minnesota second, Wisconsin third for bike-friendly states

Minnesota ranks second and Wisconsin third among the most bike-friendly states in the U.S., according to the League of American Bicyclists.

Only Washington ranked higher for having better trails, laws, promotion of and participation in bicycling.

The League released its rankings Thursday at the start of National Bicycling Month. Minnesota moves up from fourth on the 2013 list and Wisconsin is up from eighth.

The rankings are based on several criteria, including infrastructure and funding that provide safe trails to bike, education and encouragement programs that promote cycling; and passage and enforcement of bicycle-friendly laws that make it safe and comfortable for people of all ages and abilities to ride.

Washington managed 66.8 out of a possible 100 points on the bike-friendly tally sheet, with Minnesota at 62 and Wisconsin at 56.9. Alabama, which ranked 50th, tallied only 17.4 points.

Nearly half of Minnesotans rode a bicycle last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

For more information on biking in Minnesota, or to participate in the development of a statewide bike plan, go to www.mndot.gov/bike.

--Forum News Service

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About 140,000 Wisconsinites sign up for Obamacare; 91% quality for subsidies

Almost 140,000 Wisconsinites have signed up for Obamacare as of April 19.

Federal officials said enrollments skyrocketed close to the March 31 deadline for the uninsured to avoid penalties for not getting coverage.

Of the Wisconsin residents who signed up, 91% of them are eligible for federal subsidies to cover part of their costs. That's more than the national average of 85%.

Earlier, there were concerns that mainly older people were enrolling in the federal exchanges -- and not the younger healthy people whose insurance premiums subsidize older folks who need more care. However, the government now says that just over a quarter of Wisconsin's Obamacare signups were from those age 18 to 34. Thirty-two percent were in the 55 to 64 age group.

Wisconsin dropped a number of childless adults from the state's BadgerCare on April 1 while letting more people who are in poverty get into that program. State officials were not immediately sure how many of the newly eligible BadgerCare recipients have signed up.

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Walker will let voter ID issue play out in courts

Gov. Scott Walker now says he will not call the Legislature into a special session to make voters show photo ID's by the time he stands for reelection in November.

Walker said earlier he would call the session if the courts throw out his party's ID law from 2011, which Federal Judge Lynn Adelman did this week.

Walker said it's pretty clear that Adelman objects to the principle of the mandate so it's best to try to appeal that decision.

Adelman said poor and minority voters would face an unfair burden if they had to get ID's. He also said there's virtually none of the voter fraud that Republicans cite as a justification for the law.

Republican Attorney General JB Van Hollen is working to file an appeal of Adelman's ruling with the Seventh Circuit federal appellate court in Chicago.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos initially urged the Senate to pass a modified ID requirement that his house approved last fall. But GOP Senate leaders say the issue will be tied up in the courts on Election Day even if they do approve something new.

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Dane County deputies kill man who stabbed them

A man was shot and killed by two Dane County sheriff's deputies whom he stabbed after a domestic disturbance early yesterday afternoon at a home near Belleville in the town of Primrose.

Media reports said Lt. Brian Hayes underwent surgery and would spend several days at University of Wisconsin Hospital. Deputy Roger Finch stayed at the hospital for overnight observation. Both were stabbed in their lower legs.

Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney said the officers were attacked with a sharp instrument when they entered the house and went up a staircase.  The officers apparently fired shots right after that.

The attacker was suspected of severely beating two elderly relatives -- a man and a wife, with whom he reportedly lived. Both officers have spent more than 20 years on the Dane County sheriff's department.

The shooting was the second by law enforcement in Wisconsin over the past two days. Milwaukee officials said an officer killed a mentally ill man who attacked him on Wednesday in a downtown park.

Outside investigators are in the process of looking into both shootings -- the first ones under a new state law in which law enforcement agencies can no longer investigate their own officers who are suspected of killing those in custody.

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Green Bay cheese plant will close, laying off 90 workers

Land O'Lakes is planning to close a cheese plant in east central Wisconsin and expand another in the same region.

The Minnesota-based co-op said yesterday it will stop processing milk at its Denmark plant near Green Bay on July 1 and will start laying off 90 employees.

The plant makes provolone and mozzarella semi-soft cheeses, and the firm said neither have been profitable.

Meanwhile, Land O'Lakes says it will build a multi-million-dollar expansion at its plant at Kiel in Manitowoc County. New cheese vats and milk silos are planned over the next few years. It was not immediately known whether any of the Denmark employees would be offered jobs at Kiel.

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Jury sends killer back to mental institution

It took only 40 minutes for a jury in Stevens Point to turn down a killer's latest request to be freed from a state mental institution.

Prosecutors successfully argued yesterday that Steven Feck, 50, is still too dangerous to himself or others to be considered for any type of release.

He was given a mental commitment after being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1989 slaying of his 76-year-old grandfather. Feck stabbed Elton Favell with a pair of scissors at the victim's mobile home in Stevens Point.

The six-person jury pored over evidence from both sides, and psychology expert Mary Kay Luzi provided testimony. Under current state law, judges are required to decide whether institutionalized criminals can get released. Feck's case will remain grandfathered under a previous law which lets juries make those decisions.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

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State’s cheese production up a little

Wisconsin cheese production is up, but at a slightly slower pace than the nation as a whole.

New U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that Wisconsin made almost 249 million pounds of cheese in March. That's an increase of .9% from the same month a year ago.

Nationally, cheese production was up by 1% in March to 964 million pounds. Wisconsin is still the national leader in cheese, but second-place California had a much larger increase in March – 7.6% to around 206 million pounds.

Wisconsin increased its Italian cheese production by 2%, but its cheddar output was down 13% while American cheeses were down 7%.

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