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Lawmakers mull criminalizing resale of food stamps; new Walker-driven protest rules termed 'totalitarian'; permit OK'd for 5,300-cow farm, more state news

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MADISON -- A bill that would make it illegal to sell a person's food-stamp benefits was endorsed Thursday by a state Assembly committee - and it's up for a vote Friday by a Senate panel.

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Assembly Republican Samantha Kerkman of Powers Lake is the bill's main sponsor. She wants to make it a crime to buy, sell, or transfer Food-Share benefit cards for cash and other purposes.

The Assembly committee endorsed the bill 5 to 2, and it's scheduled for a vote in the full lower house on Tuesday.

Kerkman says she's heard that people in her district are selling their Food-Share cards, and then asking for replacements, but the bill's opponents say it will put an unfair stigma on those who follow the law and don't sell their benefits.

Wisconsin's Food-Share program went to a debit-card system over a dozen years ago and there have been occasional reports of fraud.

A state report last year said the number of Wisconsin Food-Share participants jumped from 388,000 people a month in 2007 to 816,000 per month in 2011.

First-term Democrats call for end to lawmakers redrawing of districts

MADISON -- First-term minority Democrats are the latest to propose that the state Legislature stop drawing its own districts.

Wausau-area Rep. Mandy Wright says the process has been abused for decades by both parties and it's time that an independent commission redraw the state's legislative and congressional district lines.

The process is required every 10 years, to create districts with equal populations according to the most recent Census.

In recent decades, a split in the state government's political make-up forced a federal court to re-draw the lines but in 2011, Republicans controlled all of state government and that allowed the GOP to draw the new maps in secret.

Critics say the party loaded numerous districts with its own voters, with a goal of keeping control of the Legislature throughout the next decade. Three federal judges decried the GOP's process - part of which is still being challenged in court at a cost to taxpayers of $2 million and counting. The federal judges said they couldn't stop the end result, because all but two Assembly districts met the constitutional requirement to have nearly equal populations and those districts were soon realigned.

Democrats could have changed the process in the 2009 session, when they had complete control of state government, but they didn't.

Minority parties often propose redistricting reforms, but the majority never takes them up.

Walker administration toughens protest rules; opponent labels them 'Totalitarian'

MADISON -- The Walker administration toughened the rules Thursday State Capitol protestors who don't get permits.

The new rules allow spectators and participants of unlicensed demonstrations to be cited if they don't leave.

Earlier this year, a Dane County judge ruled that only organizers of unapproved protests could be cited under the language of the administration's previous rules. As a result of that decision, members of the Solidarity Singers were protected during the daily protest sing-alongs - and only the conductors could be arrested.

Also, the new rules say the Administration Department can waive a 72-hour requirement for seeking permits for most Capitol demonstrations.

Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis says the new rules change nothing for "any person or group that follows the permit process."

The Solidarity Singers have refused to get the state permits ever since a crackdown on them began last summer. On Thursday, state Assembly Democrat Chris Taylor of Madison said protestors have received about 140 tickets, and 68 have been dropped. He said the prosecutions are a waste of money, and they only curb free speech.

Former Kenosha County prosecutor Bob Jambois represents many of the protestors. He told the Wisconsin Radio Network that the administration's protest rules "could have been written in Russia" or in "any other totalitarian state."

Abrahamson becomes the longest-serving justice

MADISON -- Shirley Abrahamson has become the longest-serving State Supreme Court justice in Wisconsin's 165-year history.

Abrahamson has been on the state's highest court for just over 36 years and seven months. On Thursday, she surpassed Orasmus Cole, who had held the previous longevity record since 1892.

Legal historian Joseph Ranney of Madison calculated Abrahamson's service time. The court said she has written almost 500 majority opinions, over 400 dissents, and almost 300 concurrences.

Abrahamson became the state's first female justice in 1976, when former Gov. Patrick Lucey appointed her. Voters first elected her in 1979, and she's been re-elected three times since.

On her last Election Night, the 79-year-old Abrahamson said she looked forward to running again in 2019. She's been the chief justice since 1996, a position given to the court member with the most seniority.

She needs another five years to become the longest-serving chief justice, a distinction held by Marvin Rosenberry in the early- to mid-1900's.

Scattered power outtages remain as snow continues up north

Thursday's snow and ice storms were not as bad as forecasters predicted and that gave utilities a chance to restore power to thousands of Wisconsinites who lost it.

Up to 35,000 customers of the state's four major utilities were put in the dark at any one time during the week and around 9,000 were still out Thursday but as of Friday morning, that number is down to around 1,300.

The largest power outages are in the Stevens Point area, which had freezing rain late Thursday. The Wisconsin Public Service Corporation said just over 400 Stevens Point area customers were without power as of 4 a.m., Friday. In surrounding Portage County, Wisconsin Power & Light reported another 230 outages.

Meanwhile, it was still snowing overnight in the northern half of Wisconsin but the region got nowhere near the 11 inches that were predicted in some areas.

Bayfield had almost four inches as of 11 p.m. and it was still coming down. It was the remnant of a much larger storm through the Midwest and southern U.S. that spawned tornadoes and killed three people - none in Wisconsin.

Superior had around four inches of snow late yesterday, and Gile - along Lake Superior in Iron County - picked up just a half-inch.

Forecasters said the north would get another one- to three inches Friday.

Freezing rain was a problem in the state's mid-section. One-and-a-half inches of ice caused numerous ditched vehicles in Buffalo County. Meanwhile, southern Wisconsin still had light rain and drizzle overnight, after extremely heavy rains this week. Mukwonago had the biggest four-day total, with just under 4.5 inches. It caused flooding close to rivers, but it also did a lot to alleviate the state's year-long drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that the southeast third of Wisconsin is now entirely drought-free.

Former coach-principal gets short jail term for drug charges

ANTIGO -- Former Antigo football coach and elementary principal John Lund will spend three months in jail and 18 months on probation, for selling marijuana to teachers.

At his sentencing hearing Thursday, Langlade County District Attorney Ralph Uttke said the 48-year-old Lund admitted smoking pot since he was 16.

The DA said educators and school coaches are role models and they need to lead by example.

Lund apologized. His attorney, Henry Schultz, said the public would not be protected by giving his client more punishment.

Lund resigned as principal soon after he was charged in January, 2012. He was about to go on trial a year later, when he struck a plea deal that convicted him of a single count of manufacturing marijuana with the intent to sell. Six other charges were dropped.

As part of his sentence, he must perform 200 hours of community service. Authorities said Lund ran a business which sold pot to teachers in Antigo and Merrill. Officials said it was part of a larger drug ring which also sold cocaine.

Fifteen people were charged - mostly teachers who got deferred prosecution agreements for using marijuana.

Judge clears way for proposed mega-dairy farm near 'Rapids

A judge has ordered that building permits be issued for a proposed 7,000-acre mega-dairy farm south of Wisconsin Rapids.

Visiting judge Tom Eagon ruled Thursday that the Wysocki family should get permits for seven structures from Lorelei Fuehrer, the building inspector in the Wood County town of Saratoga.

She refused to issue the permits after the Golden Sands Dairy applied for them and the town later placed a moratorium on new construction.

The proposed farm would have 5,300 animals. Jim Wysocki says the family hopes the dairy can now move forward, and become good neighbors.

An appeal is possible, but Fuehrer's attorney is not sure about that yet. The dairy still faces some other hurdles - including a court case which challenges the Saratoga moratorium, and the state's process for approving DNR permits for a series of large wells.

The DNR will hold public hearings on the project, once an environmental impact statement is submitted.

Girl injured on 'Dells ride meets therapy dog donated by Charlie Sheen

MILWAUKEE -- A Florida teenager who fell 100-feet from a Wisconsin Dells amusement ride has met a therapy dog that Charlie Sheen donated.

Teagan Marti will receive the dog for good when she turns 16 in September.

On Thursday, the two got acquainted in Milwaukee. Her family went along, and Teagan was excited to meet the four-month-old English golden retriever.

A family friend who is Sheen's godfather contacted the actor in February - and he donated $10,000 to buy Charlie, and train him near Fond du Lac.

Sheen said at the time that he hoped the dog would be named after him and that's what the family did.

Teagan Marti suffered brain, back, internal, and pelvis injuries in the summer of 2010, when a landing device failed on a ride at Extreme World in the Dells. Teagan now uses a walker, after she was paralyzed at first.

Three dead from West Allis house fire

WEST ALLIS -- Three people were killed late Thursday in a house fire in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis.

Fire-fighters were called around 5:20 p-m to a two-story structure. The initial word was that four people were inside the house but Acting Police Chief Charles Padgett later said that rescuers could only confirm three individuals.

He said the rescue personnel could not search all parts of the house due to structural instability.

The ages and identities of the victims were not immediately released. Padgett said the cause of the blaze remained uncertain last night.

It's the second fire in West Allis this year with multiple deaths.

The first happened on March 17th, when two 14-year-old boys were killed -- Isaiha Kobow and Michael Gonzales.

Neillsville hotel, Lake Michigan shipwreck, added to National Register

Two Wisconsin landmarks have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, including a shipwreck in Lake Michigan.

The state Historical Society said Thursday that the scow-schooner Silver Lake is now a part of the National Register, along with the 120-year-old Omaha Hotel in Neillsville.

The Silver Lake is located about seven miles northeast of Sheboygan in 200 feet of water. It was built in 1889, and was used to carry lumber between Door County and Racine. It sank in 1900, and one crew member was killed.

Officials say the Silver Lake might be the only known double-centerboard scow-schooner in the Great Lakes. They played a major role in connecting small towns to regional markets.

Ed and Peter Weber opened the Omaha Hotel in Neillsville in 1893, to accommodate train riders who stopped there. It later became known as the Hotel Paulus and the Hamilton Hotel.

Whooping cranes returning from Florida

Wisconsin whooping cranes are returning from their annual migration trip to Florida.

Despite the cold and snowy weather, 84 cranes were confirmed to be in central Wisconsin as of April 3rd. That's out of 108 total cranes known to be in the wild throughout the eastern part of North America.

The numbers come from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, which helps run the 12-year-old effort to increase the population of the endangered whooping crane in the eastern United States.

Also, two chicks that hatched in the wild last year in Wisconsin spent the winter in Indiana with their parents and they've since flown back to the Badger State.

The Eastern Partnership says it's the first time in which chicks born in the wild have completed a migration cycle.

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