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Lawmakers consider boost to jobless benefits; Senators split on Farm Bill vote; more state news

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MADISON -- The Wisconsin Senate was scheduled to vote Tuesday on a bill to increase weekly jobless benefits, while making it easier to recover money that was overpaid to recipients.

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The bill would increase the weekly payments by $1 to $7, while letting officials check private bank accounts for evidence of overpayments.

Banks that do business with the state government would have to disclose information about the accounts held by those who owe money to the unemployment fund. Those measures are expected to bring in $8 million a year, to help pay a half-billion dollars back to the federal government for helping the state provide jobless benefits during the recession.

The Senate bill would also toughen the standards for those applying for benefits after they rejected job offers. They would not be eligible for benefits until they find a job and make six times their weekly benefit rates. That's up from the current four times.

The Legislature's finance panel has already endorsed other controversial changes in the unemployment system, as part of the proposed state budget. They include making the unemployed look for four jobs a week instead of two.

Ten exceptions in which employees can quit and still get benefits would be eliminated. Also, the budget requires taxpayers to chip in $26 million to help pay the federal government back.

Baldwin, Johnson, split on support for new Farm Bill

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Wisconsin's two U.S. senators went different ways, when the chamber approved a five-year farm policy package costing a half-trillion-dollars.

Democrat Tammy Baldwin joined a 66- to 27 majority which passed a new Farm Bill late Monday. Republican Ron Johnson voted no, saying the large amount of food stamps in the package was too much to stomach.

The Senate package cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $400 million a year, or a half-percent.

The Republican-controlled House is about to consider a much larger cut of around $2 billion per year - while making it harder for some people to get food stamps.

The food aid was added to the Farm Bill several decades ago, to help round up support from urban lawmakers for various farm subsidies. That support has gone sour since the Great Recession, when millions more Americans went on food stamps. Johnson says food stamps should be debated on their own.

As for the other Farm Bill programs, he said a positive risk management effort was off-set by negatives that include a dairy supply management package. Both the Senate and the House versions would overhaul federal dairy policy by creating a new insurance program for producers, while dropping other dairy subsidies and price supports. A market stabilization program could order cuts in production when high supplies drive down prices. The dairy package got little debate in the Senate - but the House could be another story.

GOP Speaker John Boehner says the stabilization program is "Soviet-style," and he vows to push for an amendment.

Manpower survey forecasts slow but steady job growth

MADISON -- Wisconsin will continue to have slow-and-steady job growth from July through September.

That's according to the latest employer survey by Milwaukee's Manpower Inc.

The global hiring firm says 24 percent of Wisconsin employers expect to add jobs in the third quarter of the year while another 5 percent expect layoffs, for a net employment outlook of 19 percent. That's 1 percent above the current quarter - and it's 3 percent lower than the third quarter a year ago, when the Manpower Index was the highest during the current recovery.

The company expects more vigorous hiring in Metro Milwaukee. Twenty-six of those employers plan to add jobs, and 5 percent expect layoffs.

Wisconsin's job growth is expected to out-pace the nation. Only 22 percent of U.S. firms expect to add jobs from July through September.

Still, it's Manpower's highest projected national gain since the Great Recession began in earnest in 2008.

Walker names two to UW Board of Regents

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker says he hopes to add oversight and transparency to the University of Wisconsin system, by naming a former state auditor to the UW Board of Regents.

Janice Mueller was one of three people named Monday to the university's policy-setting body. She and former Republican Lieutenant Governor Margaret Farrow were each named to seven-year terms.

UW Platteville student Joshua Inglett from Portage was named to a two-year term as one of two student Regents. He'll replace Katherine Pointer of Madison, while Mueller and Farrow replace Jeffrey Bartell and Regents' president Brent Smith.

Mueller was the state auditor from 1998 until she retired two years ago. Walker hopes Mueller can foster more openness involving the UW, after the revelation in April that the campuses were sitting on $650 million in reserves.

Farrow was the state's lieutenant governor under Scott McCallum in 2001-and-'02. She has also been in the state Assembly and Senate. Inglett is studying in engineering physics at Platteville. Their appointments require Senate confirmation.

Corn planting is still behind schedule

Corn planting continues to be behind schedule in Wisconsin, as a result of the wet spring and heavy soil moisture.

Officials say 81 percent of corn is in, 18 percent behind normal for the date. About 60 percent of the corn has emerged, down from the norm of 87 percent. Farmers say a lot of what has emerged is very yellow.

Soybean planting is only 55 percent complete. Almost all of the beans are normally in by now. Farmers are also behind on their initial hay harvests. Seventeen percent of the first crop is in, less than the norm of 50 percent.

Recent rain continues to cause problems. Forty-four percent of the state's topsoil has surplus moisture, and 26 percent of the subsoil moisture has a surplus.

Most areas have received above-normal precipitation for the year. Madison is the most above the norm, by almost 8.5 inches.

Temperatures are somewhat warmer this week, but it didn't help farmers that it was 5-to-7-degrees cooler-than-normal last week.

La Follette says politicians are chipping away his job duties

MADISON -- In his 34 years in office, Secretary-of-State Doug La Follette has seen numerous politicians chip away at his responsibilities.

Now, as he seeks re-election in 17 months, the state's only Democratic constitutional office-holder is fighting back. La Follette tells the Wisconsin Radio Network that the Badger State is the only one that requires new companies to find government agencies other than the Secretary-of-State to seek approvals for such things as forming new corporations.

He says it goes against Wisconsin's claim that it's "Open for Business," the slogan set by Gov. Scott Walker. La Follette is especially critical of a 1995 decision to put many of his former duties under a newly-created Department of Financial Institutions - an initiative approved by another Republican governor, Tommy Thompson.

In the years that followed, La Follette says people have been confused when asking about things like trademarks, notaries public, and other business rules. He said he made a recent pitch to Walker about tossing partisan politics aside and bringing those jobs back.

Today, the Secretary of State's only duties are to maintain the official acts of the governor and Legislature, affix the state seal to gubernatorial actions, and serve on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.

Republican Rohn Bishop says he'll run against La Follette next year with the goal of eliminating the Secretary of State's office eventually - a move that requires a constitutional change. Republican State Treasurer Kurt Schuller ran on the same premise three years ago. He'll leave after next year without achieving his goal.

Fed grant will help ex-cons get fresh start

MILWAUKEE -- The federal government is giving $1.5 million to a Milwaukee program which helps prisoners get a fresh start after they've served their time.

The Labor Department has announced the grant for Milwaukee's Center for Self-Sufficiency. The non-profit group provides training and employment services for women and young people who are coming out of prison.

The center also works with school-and-community groups on programs that help make families stronger. It helps former inmates deal with the aftermath of substance abuse and other trauma in their past.

Teacher accused of sex with students appeals charges

MILWAUKEE -- A Catholic high school teacher at Milwaukee Messmer will ask a judge to drop two sexual assault charges against her.

The attorney for 28-year-old Megan Garland told a judge Monday that the victims' statements to police were not enough to prosecute the instructor.

The district attorney's office says the evidence points to a teacher who was taking advantage of her students. A hearing on the dismissal request is set for June 24th in Milwaukee County Circuit Court.

Garland has been suspended as a science teacher at Milwaukee Messmer High School, for allegedly having sex with a pair of teen boys.

An adult witness reportedly saw Garland having sex with a 14-year-old Messmer student in the parking lot of another school.

WDNR appoints new deer-elk researcher

MADISON -- Dan Storm was recently promoted to replace the departed Jared Duquette. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says Storm will work on mortality studies for bucks and fawns, and the nutritional content of deer killed by vehicles.

He'll also be a consultant to DNR managers on a host of issues that involve deer and elk.

Storm joined the department last year as a researcher.

Waukesha man gets 11 years for supplying heroin that killed two

A Waukesha man will spend almost 11 years in prison, for providing the heroin that killed two people six months apart.

Kevin Cobus, who turns 29 on Wednesday, must also spend eight years under extended supervision when he's no longer behind bars.

A jury convicted him in early April on two counts of reckless homicide. Jamie Hansen, 24, of Muskego died of a heroin overdose in July of 2011, and Cody Riggs, 26, of Delafield died from a similar overdose in January of last year.

Cobus told authorities that he drove the two victims to a dealer in Milwaukee so they could get the heroin.

In exchange, he was given part of the drugs for his own use.

Cobus was ordered to pay almost $14,000 in restitution as part of a 12-year sentence that was shortened by 455 days to include the time he spent in jail during his court case.

Man struck by bus after helping wayward turtle

A Waukesha County man paid dearly by helping a turtle cross a road.

Sheriff's deputies said a school bus avoided hitting the turtle - but the vehicle struck and injured a 70-year-old Eagle man.

It happened Monday on Hwy. 59 near Eagle.

Authorities said the bus driver slowed down after seeing the man. However, the victim did not see the bus and he stepped back in the vehicle's path. The bus was going about 15 miles an hour when it hit the man.

He was taken to a Waukesha hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The bus had 49 children, three teachers, and two parents. Nobody on the bus was hurt.

Woman succumbs, two days after being struck along I-94

A Milwaukee woman has died, two days after being hit by a vehicle while walking in an Interstate construction zone west of Kenosha.

The State Patrol said Monday that Loretta Pollock, 24, was taken off life-support on Sunday. She was struck around 3 a.m., Friday, while walking in the southbound lanes of Interstate 94 near Kenosha CTH N.

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