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Minimum-wage survey called ‘PR stunt’; Ticket back to prison: Burn the apartment?; More state briefs

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Supporters of a higher minimum wage question a recent survey showing that Wisconsin would lose 27,000 jobs if the wage is raised to $10.10 an hour.

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Four business groups in the state unveiled results yesterday of a survey from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. It agreed that just over half of state residents support hiking the minimum wage by almost $3 from the current $7.25. But once people realize the jobs that could be lost, the support drops to 39%.

Leaders of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the grocers and restaurant associations and the National Federation of Independent Business say small businesses don't have the money to cover the higher labor costs. They said it would jack up consumer prices, force layoffs and provide incentives for people not to fight for fewer jobs.

Democrats call those false claims, saying bigger paychecks would put more money into the economy. They also raise a new argument not brought out in past debates -- that taxpayers are picking up health care and other benefits for low-wage workers who can't get them from the boss.

Also Scot Ross of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now questioned the questioners' objectivity. He called the survey a "corporate PR stunt."

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Ticket back to prison: Burn the apartment?

Prosecutors said a Stevens Point man burned down his apartment because he apparently wanted to go back to prison for some reason.

Investigators said Roy Strait, 39, poured gasoline in his apartment and lit it on fire Tuesday morning. Two people escaped unharmed, and no one else was hurt in the blaze.

A Portage County judge set bond at $100,000, and Strait is due back in court March 24 for arson and reckless endangerment.

Prosecutors said Strait has been talking to police about his apparent desire to go back behind bars. Online court records showed that Strait was sent to prison in late 2006 for violating probation. That's after he was convicted in Milwaukee County of seeking sex with a child while online. Strait was living in Beloit at the time. In 2009, he was re-confined for another two years.

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Lawmakers consider state board to set educational standards

Wisconsin school superintendents plan to converge on Madison today to oppose a bill that could have lawmakers setting academic standards.

The Senate Education Committee will hold a public hearing at 10 a.m. on the proposed creation of a state board to set new standards and possibly replace the three-year-old Common Core standards for math and reading.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker says Wisconsin needs its own academic requirements. He believes they can be more rigorous than the more stringent Common Core standards adopted three years ago. Wisconsin was among the first of 45 states to adopt them.

Tea party conservatives fear Common Core would lead to a national education system.

School administrators and others say the Wisconsin bill would politicize the process of determining what kids should learn. It would create a board of both politicians and educators to write model standards for public schools. The superintendent would then have a say, and if they disagree, lawmakers would make the final decisions.

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Lake Superior’s water-level rising

Wisconsin's two Great Lakes continue to recover from dramatically low water levels in the past decade and a half.

New forecasts from the Army Corps of Engineers show that Lake Superior will rise by one inch this month, and the lake's average height for March will be larger than normal for the first time since 1998.

By August, Lake Superior is projected to be 13 inches higher than the spring of 2013. Lakes Michigan and Huron expect to be 9-12 inches higher during that time period.

This is all welcome news to shippers whose boats have sometimes run aground as water levels have hovered below normal since the late 1990's.

The newly rising waters are mostly because of our bitterly cold winter, and the near-record ice cover on the Great Lakes. The lakes' environmental research lab said 91% of the five Great Lakes were covered by ice as of Tuesday -- the most since 1979 when a record 95% was covered.

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Enbridge plans to expand crude oil pipeline

Environmentalists say they'll fight plans by Enbridge Energy to replace a crude oil pipeline from Canada to Wisconsin with a much larger facility.

Enbridge said this week it wants to spend $7 billion to replace a 1,000-mile pipeline that's been carrying crude from the Canadian tar fields to a refinery in Superior. The old line was built in 1968, and it's designed to carry 410,000 barrels of oil per day.

The new line would carry up to 760,000 barrels. The project would accommodate the boom in North Dakota's oil production in recent years -- same as a different pipeline Enbridge wants to build between western North Dakota and Superior.

Sierra Club attorney Doug Hayes says the new project would attract the same opposition as other lines from the Canadian tar sands. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is scheduled to be briefed on the matter this afternoon when he meets with Enbridge Energy officials in Superior.

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State trooper accused of instigating bar fight

A trial date could be set later this month for a state trooper accused of instigating a fight at a tavern in Merrill while she was off duty.

Jennifer Latzig, 28, of Stevens Point has pleaded innocent to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Prosecutors said her blood alcohol level was .21 when she flashed her State Patrol badge to two women she thought were drinking underage Dec. 28 at Humphrey's Bar in Merrill.

Reports said one of the women accused Latzig of harassing her, and she threw a drink in the officer's face to get away. Latzig allegedly responded by grabbing the women's hair.

She's free on a signature bond and is due back in Lincoln County Circuit Court March 27 for a pre-trial scheduling conference.

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Lawmakers look at limiting online court records

Some of what you see on Wisconsin's online court records would be deleted under a bill to be voted on today by the state Senate's judiciary panel.

Defendants who have civil cases dropped or dismissed would see them disappear from the popular Internet files within 90 days of those actions. Criminal convictions would be deleted within 120 days if they result in dismissals or acquittals or if they're overturned on appeals.

The bill's supporters say the innocent face job and housing discrimination for the rest of their lives as employers and landlords ignore the Website's warning that it's illegal to discriminate that way.

The bill's opponents say lawmakers don't trust landlords and employers to be fair, the deleted court files will pop up elsewhere for profit, and the state's Internet database would mistakenly show that prosecutors win all the time.

News media have opposed this and other efforts to restrict online files. They say it interferes with coverage of local court cases, and deletions would prevent people from seeing larger trends and problems in the justice system.

Charges dropped in plea bargains would stay on the Website. Files on all cases would remain available at state and county court offices.

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Proposal to exempt e-smokes from indoor smoking ban debated

Both sides made strong arguments yesterday on whether smokers should be allowed to puff electronic cigarettes in the public areas of Wisconsin buildings.

A Senate committee held a public hearing on a bill to exempt e-cigarettes from the state's public indoor smoking ban adopted in 2010.

The bill's supporters said the vapors from e-cigarettes are a lot less harmful than second-hand tobacco smoke. Doctors said the vapors spew heavy metals and other toxins into the air.

Madison radio talk show host Vicki McKenna said she got healthier after she substituted e-cigarettes for one to two packs of Camel Lights she smoked each day for 23 years.

Madison pediatrician Murray Katcher said e-cigarettes should be evaluated on the air they pollute and not whether they're safer than tobacco.

Dr. Michael Fiore of the UW-Madison Center for Tobacco Research said allowing e-cigarettes would put children who sensitive to nicotine at risk. He asked, "Why would we do that?"

The bill's chief sponsor, Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend, said it's sad that he had to write a bill that clarifies that the state's smoking ban does not apply to electronics. Several places, including Los Angeles, include e-cigarettes in their smoking bans.

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State’s national parks attract money, jobs

Wisconsin's two national parks attract more than people. The National Park Service says they also create jobs and millions of dollars to the places where they're located.

In a new report, the agency said 274,000 people spent $28 million in 2012 in and around the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore at Bayfield and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway in Saint Croix Falls.

The Park Service credits the facilities for creating 442 jobs in the areas of the parks -- both of which are in the northwest part of the state.

Almost 60% of the total visitors went to the Apostle Islands. The St. Croix Riverway is lesser known since it was only established eight years ago.

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Singapore police investigate death of CEO from Wisconsin

Police in Singapore are investigating the death of a 28-year-old Milwaukee area woman.

A spokesman called Autumn Radtke's death "unnatural." Her body was found eight days ago at her home in Singapore.

She was the CEO of First Meta, an exchange that traded bitcoins and other virtual currencies. Radtke also played a role in starting up two other high-tech businesses -- X-Fire and Geodelic Systems.

Her funeral was held yesterday in the Milwaukee suburb of Hales Corners.

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100-year-old Mirro plant will be dismantled

A century-old landmark in downtown Manitowoc is coming down. Demolition has begun on the abandoned Mirro cookware manufacturing plant.

Eric Spirtas bought the 900,000 square foot building almost eight years ago for $200.

He said it was impossible to reuse the industrial space, due in part to the Great Recession. Instead Spirtas said he's trying to salvage what he can, including northern hemlock and maple floorboards. He says the demolition should be finished within a year.

Thousands of people worked at the old Mirro plant before Newell-Rubbermaid moved the work to Mexico.

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Cheese production rebounds

A recent drop in Wisconsin's cheese production may be a blip on the screen. The USDA said the nation's top cheese-maker rebounded in January, producing 2.5% more cheese than the same month the previous year.

That followed a 1.5% decrease in December.

Cheese factories in the state churned out 242 million pounds of products in January. Wisconsin made 3.5% more Italian cheeses. Cheddar and American cheese output was down.

Second-place California still caught up a little, increasing its output by 4.6% to 204 million pounds. Number-three producer Idaho and number-four New Mexico also had increases.

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Green Bay starts petition to encourage Pope Francis to visit

If you want to see Pope Francis come to Wisconsin, the mayor of Green Bay hopes you'll sign an online petition.

Jim Schmitt has launched a Website with the goal of getting the pontiff to the Green Bay area during his expected visit to the U.S. next year.

Schmitt wrote the Vatican about a week ago. He encouraged Francis to visit the only Marian shrine in the U.S. that the Catholic Church recognizes -- the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help at Champion. The church verified in 2010 that the Virgin Mary had appeared at the shrine.

Mayor Schmitt says he'd also like to see the pope hold Mass at the 80,000-seat Lambeau Field.

Francis is expected in America in September of 2015 for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. You'll find the online petition for the proposed Green Bay visit at PopeToGreenBay.com

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