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Eau Claire SWAT duo cleared in shooting death; Legislature votes to drop 180-day school year; 11 more state news briefs

MENOMONIE -- A prosecutor said a special weapons and tactics team and regional drug officers were justified in killing a drug suspect during a raid at his home near Menomonie Feb. 12.

Dunn County District Attorney James Peterson announced the ruling after the state Department of Justice looked into the raid in which Dennis Grohn was shot.

Authorities said Grohn sold $200 of methamphetamines to an undercover agent just hours before an Eau Claire SWAT team led officers into Grohn's home without knocking. The state's report said Grohn, 32, got up from a chair, made a growling sound, ran into Dunn County Deputy Peter Forbes and got into a football-type stance.

At that point, Forbes said he feared for his life and others and made the decision to shoot Grohn. Fall Creek Officer Adam Prorok fired a second shot when he entered the area to see Grohn and Forbes scuffle. At one point, he said Grohn had a hand on Forbes' rifle, which raised enough fears for him to decide to shoot. An autopsy showed that Grohn died from the two gunshot wounds.


Legislature votes to drop 180-day school year

Wisconsin public schools would no longer have to open their classrooms for 180 days a year under a bill passed by the state Assembly.

The measure was sent to Gov. Scott Walker yesterday on a voice vote after the Senate approved it earlier.

Schools would still have minimum classroom hours that vary according to grade levels.

Mother Nature was the biggest lobbyist for this bill as most Wisconsin schools were closed for at least four days due to the bitter cold temperatures in January and February. Under the new measure, schools could have the option of having longer and fewer days. Rural school officials say it would help them cut down on busing costs throughout their large districts.


Lawmakers divided over pay to man wrongly imprisoned for 23 years

Compensation for a wrongfully convicted murder suspect has been thrown into doubt in the Wisconsin Legislature.

The Assembly did not go along yesterday with the Senate's earlier approval of $136,000 for Robert Stinson, a Milwaukee man who spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

The State Claims Board can only approve $25,000 in compensation, which it did, and it asked the Legislature to give Stinson another $90,000. The Senate recently approved $21,000 more than that, but the Assembly did not approve the higher figure yesterday. It voted 96-3 in favor of the original total of $115,000, leaving the Senate to decide whether to go along with that during its only remaining meeting in the current session.

Stinson was convicted of raping and killing a 62-year-old woman in Milwaukee in 1984. He was freed several years ago with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project at UW-Madison, which obtained DNA evidence and a signed confession from another man.


Entries from 22 countries compete in ‘world cheese contest’

The World Championship Cheese Contest is wrapping up today in Madison.

Fifty judges began sampling over 2,600 entries yesterday – 2 1/2 times more entries than just 14 years ago.

Twenty-two nations are represented in this year's contest. Producers from Greece and Romania entered for the first time.

Awards are presented in 82 categories. The top 16 overall finalists will square off tonight for the "best-of-show" award.

In the last contest two years ago, a low-fat Gouda from the Netherlands was the grand champion. But Wisconsin producers also did pretty well, winning 30 of the 82 categories with four entries among the top 16.

The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association has hosted the world contest since 1957.


Not in America’s interest to send troops to Crimea, says Kind; Ryan disagrees

House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse says it is not in America's best interest to send U.S. troops to help defend against Russian aggression in Crimea and the Ukraine.

But Janesville House budget Chairman Paul Ryan says the conflict is exactly why U.S. military spending should not be scaled down as President Obama proposes in his next budget.

Both Kind and Ryan made their cases to voters attending town hall meetings in Wisconsin yesterday. Kind told about 65 people in Stevens Point that he supports political and economic sanctions that Obama has laid out to try to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to back down. Kind also said the president would need the support of America's allies in Europe.

Ryan, a potential Republican White House candidate in 2016, told 100 people in North Prairie that Obama's defense cuts send the wrong message to the rest of the world. Ryan said it would send a signal to China that the U.S. military is shrinking and therefore, "They have an incentive to catch up to us."

Ryan said U.S. defense policy cannot be blamed for Russia's aggression, but it doesn't help if America looks weak.


Bill rejecting ‘too drunk to know’ defense passes Assembly

The Wisconsin Assembly has voted to stop letting suspects get away with murder, by claiming they were too drunk to know what they were doing.

On a voice vote yesterday, the lower house agreed to remove "voluntary intoxication" as an allowable defense in homicide cases. The bill was sent to the Senate. It's not certain whether the upper house will take up the measure with only one meeting left in its session.

Assembly sponsor Steve Nass notes that a Senate committee has endorsed an identical version of the measure so there's still a chance it could pass. If it does, the Whitewater Republican said it would be one of the proudest moments of his career.

The bill is in response to the case of Brian Cooper, who allegedly raped and strangled a pregnant Alisha Bromfield in Door County. His jury could not agree on a homicide verdict after he claimed he was too drunk to have intended to kill Bromfield and her unborn child.

Cooper is scheduled to be retried in May on two counts of first-degree intentional homicide.


Assembly OKs medical marijuana for kids bill

Children with dozens of seizures a day could take a marijuana extract to get relief under a bill passed on a voice vote by the state Assembly yesterday.

But with the session winding down, it's not certain whether the Senate will give the measure its needed approval.

Monona Democrat Rob Kahl is the chief sponsor of allowing youngsters with seizures to take Cannabidiol. He said if lawmakers don't give their blessing now, the affected children would have to wait until 2015, and he's not sure if some of the kids who attended a recent public hearing on the measure could wait that long.

Nekoosa Republican Scott Krug was among those who were skeptical at first.  But yesterday he said, “We can change our minds once in a while.”

Marshfield Republican John Spiros also had a recent change of heart, saying there's no potential to abuse the extract for recreational purposes.

The use of Cannabidiol as a medical treatment received a major boost last year, when Dr. Sanjay Gupta reversed his position on medical marijuana and explained the benefits in his documentary "Weed."


Fox River flood warning continues

A flood warning continues today in Kenosha County where the Fox River was over its banks by about ten inches this morning at New Munster.

Forecasters say the Fox will crest to about 2.3 feet over its flood stage by Saturday morning before it begins to recede.

Only minor flooding is forecast for the Salem and Silver Lake areas.

The National Weather Service has warned river communities to get ready for floods as heavy snow this winter has just started to melt over the past week or so in much of Wisconsin.

The Weather Service is putting out a bunch safety tips this week, which is "Flood Safety Awareness Week." The state Department of Natural Resources says owners of private wells need to prevent contamination caused by the spring rains and snow melt. The DNR's Liesa Lehmann says landowners need to watch for high water around their wells, conduct bacteria tests and disinfect their wells if they notice changes in the taste, smell or color of their water.


Ma Nature says it’s not spring yet

With spring arriving tomorrow, a brutal winter refuses to let go in much of northern Wisconsin.

As predicted, the far northwest part of the state got the brunt of a snowstorm that's supposed to drop another 1-3 inches today in many locations.

Seeley in Sawyer County and Mellen in Ashland County each had over seven inches and counting by mid-afternoon yesterday. Ashland and Superior each had around four inches by early last evening -- less than predicted. Central Wisconsin had an inch and a half or less.

Today the snow line is supposed to drop further south. Places like Fond du Lac and Wisconsin Dells can expect a couple inches, and up to three more inches could fall in northeast Wisconsin. Central areas expect another inch, along with much of the northwest.

Freezing rain is also possible in some areas. The Hudson region expects a total of 2-5 inches of snow from this storm. It's all supposed to clear out later today. Then dry and mild weather is in the offing for tomorrow before a new round of precipitation and colder temperatures come in for the weekend.


Duluth, Superior mayors support bigger oil pipelines

The mayors of Superior and Duluth will express their support today for new and expanded oil pipelines from Canada to northwest Wisconsin.

Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen and Duluth Mayor Don Ness have scheduled a news conference this morning to explain their support for Enbridge Energy's multi-million-dollar projects.

Ness says pipelines are the safest and most responsible way to transport crude oil, which flows into a major hub of storage facilities in Superior that create about 750 jobs and $62 million for the local economy each year.

The projects' opponents say the oil comes from heavy tar sands and it needs more energy to refine, thus creating more carbon dioxide pollution.

Enbridge plans to build a new pipeline, the Sandpiper, from North Dakota's oil fields to Superior. An aging pipeline would be replaced from northwestern Canada to Superior, with double the oil capacity. Those two projects would cost almost $10 billion.

Enbridge is also seeking approvals to add 800,000 more barrels a day to its existing Alberta Clipper pipeline from southern Canada to Wisconsin. Minnesota utility regulators are holding public hearings on the Clipper project this week.


Cancer-pill-coverage bill may be stalled

It's still far from certain whether cancer patients will be able to get insurance coverage for expensive chemotherapy pills.

Yesterday Wisconsin senators unblocked a bill held up by their majority leader.  They voted 30-2 yesterday to require health insurers to cover the chemo pills and make it easier for patients who must now go to hospitals to get IV's for their therapy.

The Assembly will consider the bill tomorrow in their final scheduled meeting of the two-year session. Speaker Robin Vos said he would consider amendments to make the bill more effective -- however, it might not give the Senate enough time to ratify Assembly changes before the session ends April 1.

Assembly GOP finance Chairman John Nygren said his party would consider caps on what insurers could charge patients for chemo pills.

California limits out-of-pocket expenses to $200 a month for chemo pills. Missouri has a $75 cap on pills from companies that also offer IV treatments.

Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald said his house would consider whatever the Assembly does. But Democratic house Minority Leader Peter Barca believes GOP leaders will make it impossible for a final bill to pass before the session ends.

Barca's Democrats tried to force a vote in the Assembly yesterday, but they were turned back 58-38.


Legislature adopts bill to block releasing kids to nonresidents

A bill passed by the state Senate would make it a crime for Wisconsin parents to turn over their children to nonresidents without government approval.

The upper house sent the measure to Gov. Scott Walker on a voice vote.

The bill is meant to prevent parents from advertising online and give away adopted youngsters. Last year, the Reuters News Service told how Todd and Melissa Puchalla of Kiel adopted a teenage girl from Liberia. They then turned her over to an Illinois couple without knowing that the girl's new mother had children taken away from her in the past due to the couple's violent tendencies.

Assembly Republican Joel Kleefisch of Oconomowoc drafted the bill, saying, "God only knows what is happening to these children in our country."

Also yesterday, the Senate gave final legislative approval to ending the longtime practice of letting family members harbor relatives wanted for felonies.

Senators also endorsed a new set of required court hearings to make sure that adults under restraining orders give up their firearms as required by federal law.  That bill is also on its way to the governor.


Feds say they’ve stopped one of largest online child exploitation network

Federal officials say they've broken up one of the nation's largest online child exploitation networks with victims in Wisconsin, 38 other states and six countries.

One official said eight of the 250 child victims were from Wisconsin. Fourteen people were arrested in a nationwide sting operation led by U.S. immigration and postal authorities.

Authorities said the agents posed online as girls, and they convinced the victims to share sexually explicit images of themselves. Prosecutors said the Websites had over 27,000 members worldwide, who were producing and distributing child porn.

More arrests are expected. Immigration spokesman Shawn Neudauer in Minneapolis said one of the early arrests was in Minnesota.

Neudauer said there were 12 victims each from Minnesota and North Dakota, six in Iowa and two in South Dakota plus those from Wisconsin. The victims were generally in their early-to-mid teens, both girls and boys from all walks of life.