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Democrats facing uphill fight on nixing gay marriage ban; elusive leak leaves Neillsville dry; 10 more state stories

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MADISON -- An effort by Democrats to throw out Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage appears to be going nowhere.

Sen. Tim Carpenter and Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, both of Milwaukee, introduced a constitutional amendment Thursday to reverse the 2006 ban on gay marriage and civil unions.

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Later, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the measure would probably not get a public hearing before the current legislative session ends in April. Vos said he believed that voters' opinions on gay marriage were "fairly similar" to what they were in 2006 when 59 percent of voters approved the ban.

Recent polls have showed a more relaxed public view of same-sex marriage.

Last month's Marquette Law School poll showed that 53 percent of Wisconsin voters approve of gay marriage. The new amendment comes a week and a half after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit to strike down the ban, which was sought by the Wisconsin Family Action group.

Group leader Julaine Appling condemned the new constitutional amendment, but she said Democrats did score points by using the political process instead of quote, "running to the courts like the ACLU did."

Still-elusive water main break paralyzes Neillsville

NEILLSVILLE -- Schools in Neillsville were closed Friday because they don't have any water. City officials said yesterday that a major water line broke, and crews have not been able to find the source of the problem.

The city's water tower, which is near the high school, was empty as of late Thursday afternoon. Officials asked residents to limit their water usage, and those who with medical issues are urged to fill sinks and jugs so they could have enough to last into Friday.

The city has brought in outside help to try and find the spot where the water main broke.

Neillsville is the county seat of Clark County and has just over 2,400 residents.

Pending legislation aims to stave off adoptions via Facebook

MADISON -- Wisconsin couples would need government approval to transfer custody of their kids to non-relatives, under a bill passed by the state Assembly. Thursday's vote was 97-0.

The bill also prohibits couples from advertising online for informal adoptions. A similar ban already exists for television and newspapers.

Oconomowoc Republican Joel Kleefisch said government needs to get involved in out-of-family adoptions, to make sure the children are protected.

Last year, the Reuters News Service reported that couples were using Yahoo and Facebook to pass off their kids to homes outside their own states.

A Manitowoc County couple shipped their adopted child off to Illinois, without knowing that the mother was previously forced to give up her biological children due to concerns about violence. The bill makes informal child transfers a criminal misdemeanor.

Kleefisch said he hoped Wisconsin could set an example for child protection. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Also, the Assembly approved tougher laws against human trafficking. On a voice vote, lawmakers expanded the definition of trafficking to include any schemes to control individuals. Victims who are prostitutes could try to have previous sex convictions expunged. That bill also goes to the Senate.

New Farm Bill eases federal oversight for loggers

Wisconsin loggers say they'll be helped by the new federal Farm Bill because of what's not the package.

Henry Schienebeck of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association in Rhinelander said loggers won't have to seek federal permits for run-off on forest roads.

He said it's been difficult to seek a clarification of whether permits would be required. Now, Schienebeck says the Farm Bill assures loggers that they won't have to do extra paperwork and "change the way we've been doing business" on road maintenance.

Also, the package extends contracting authority for forest stewardship -- a provision that was set to expire. Schienebeck said the Farm Bill makes the stewardship program permanent.

Also, the United States Department of Agriculture gets to designate treatment areas for forest lands hard hit by disease and insects. The package also gives state foresters a greater ability to implement certain forestry projects, including watershed and firefighting efforts in national forests.

-- Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander

New legislation will make it tougher for police to track cell signals

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Assembly has voted to make police officers get warrants in most cases before they can tap into your cell phone to see where you're going. The lower house approved the measure Thursday on a voice vote.

There have been reports that some U.S. police agencies are using fake towers to snap up people's cell data in entire neighborhoods where crimes are suspected.

Under the Wisconsin bill, cell phone signals and data would be off-limits to the police unless a judge is convinced there's probable cause that a crime was committed and that tracking a phone would help investigators. Warrants would not be needed in emergencies.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

Also, the Assembly voted to make all hospitals test newborns for a congenital heart disease something most already do. That bill now goes to Gov. Scott Walker, along with another measure passed to let anyone invest in a child's state college savings plan in the Ed Vest program (www.edvest.com). Only family members can do that now.

The bill would also increase the current $3,000 tax deduction for EdVest funds. The new deduction would be tied to the inflation rate.

Proposed Gogebic mine wins another DNR permit

The proposed iron ore mine in far northern Wisconsin has cleared another regulatory hurdle. The state DNR has approved a storm-water permit which allows Gogebic Taconite to sample 4,000 tons of rock. It will help determine exactly where the mining project would be centered.

The company hopes to start its sampling in a few weeks on the proposed mining site in Ashland and Iron counties.

Also, the firm has applied for another storm-water permit for the upgrading of two roads on the site which could allow heavier traffic in the summer.

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

'Anti-haboring' law clears Assembly; price rises for unpaid small claim judgments

MADISON -- After a dozen years of trying, a Waupaca woman has finally convinced state lawmakers to stop letting people protect relatives who commit serious crimes.

The anti-harboring bill was approved by the Assembly Thursday on a voice vote. It now goes to the Senate.

The bill would apply to those wanted in felony cases. State law currently allows family members to hide relatives who are wanted. They can also destroy evidence and mislead police investigations without facing consequences.

Shirley George has tried five times to end those family privileges.

Her grandson Joey was murdered outside a tavern in Oak Creek in 2000, and authorities said three suspects were protected by relatives, including the son of former Milwaukee police union leader Brad DeBraska.

Under the new bill, victims of domestic violence would not be forced to report spouses who've been convicted of abuse in the past thus opening those victims to even more abuse. That's been a sticking point for lawmakers in the past.

Also Thursday, the Assembly voted to increase the interest rate for unpaid small claims' judgments to 12 percent. It's currently at 4.25 percent -- the prime rate plus one percent.

Alleged baby-kidnapper returning to court Friday

A woman accused of kidnapping a Beloit area baby was to reappear in court Friday in Tipton, Iowa.

A judge will decide if 31-year-old Kristen Smith should be extradited to Texas, to face charges of tampering with government records.

Authorities said Smith took five-day-old Kayden Powell from her half-sister near Beloit last Thursday. Smith was later stopped on a freeway at West Branch Iowa, where she was held on the Texas warrant pending an investigation into the alleged baby-napping.

She denied knowing where Kayden was. Police found him a day later behind a gas station close to where Smith was pulled over. She faces a federal kidnapping charge, but U.S. Marshals have not taken her into custody yet. Smith remains in an Iowa jail for now.

On Thursday, a prosecutor in Tipton charged Smith on a state count of child endangerment.

Forced landing results in minor injuries to 3

OCONTO -- Three people had minor injuries, after their small plane iced up and made a hard landing at Oconto in northeast Wisconsin, about 50 miles north of Green Bay.

Late Thursday afternoon, five people were in the twin-engine Cessna that was heading from Rochester, Minn. to Menominee, Mich.

A sheriff's officer said the pilot notified the Green Bay airport that his instruments and wings were getting icy and he would make an emergency landing in Oconto. The aircraft made a hard landing 20 minutes later, amid poor visibility due to the rain and snow at the time.

Authorities said the plane incurred heavy damage after it slid off the runway. The pilot and co-pilot refused medical treatment.

Officials said the three passengers were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

Censured physician forced to pay costs

MADISON -- A state appeals court says a Madison doctor accused of fondling female patients must pay for the costs of disciplining him.

The state Medical Examining Board suspended former UW Hospital physician Frank Salvi for 90 days in 2009. He was also told to get a mental evaluation, and pay almost $47,000 for the state's costs of pursuing his case.

Salvi said he shouldn't have to pay that. He claimed that the state's estimates of the time and costs spent on the case were not valid, because they reflected "information and belief" instead of personal knowledge.

The Fourth District Court of Appeals didn't agree. It said Thursday that both the administrative law judge and the prosecuting attorney had personal knowledge of the time spent on the case.

Salvi was accused of fondling four female patients in 2004 and '05. He challenged the state's punishment in court, and the appellate court later upheld it.

Wisconsin investigative contingent learning about gangs, cartels Friday

CHICAGO -- Some Wisconsin law enforcement leaders were to spend their Valentine's Day near Chicago, learning more about street gangs and a growing influence by Mexican cartels in drug dealing.

The "Tri-State Regional Gang Summit" was organized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Chicago Crime Commission.

About 150 regional police officials were expected to be on hand from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.

Chicago's U.S. Attorney, Zachary Fardon, will be among those talking about strategies to fight an increase in gang-driven violence, and the roles of cartels in drug trafficking throughout the Midwest. Drug Enforcement Administration official Jack Riley is also scheduled to address the group.

Early success closes Wisconsin sturgeon-spearing season

FOND DU LAC -- Anyone hoping to spear for a big fish on Lake Winnebago this weekend can forget it.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ended the annual sturgeon spearing season Thursday, after 90 percent of the quota for female fish was taken.

Spearers took home around 1,850 total sturgeon. The season lasted only six days, the third-shortest since 2002, and it lasted just three days on the lakes which are up the Fox River from Lake Winnebago.

Still, it was long enough for spearers to set a new record for catching sturgeon over 100 pounds. Ninety-five of those giant-sized fish were harvested.

John Shaken of Chilton caught the largest fish. It weighed in at 161 pounds and was 77 inches long.

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