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Osceola was state’s morning warm spot; Elderly Barron woman dies of exposure; more state news

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It's supposed to get a lot warmer in Wisconsin today even though it's the coldest morning of the week in some places.

It was 31 below at 7 a.m. in both Tomahawk and Land O'Lakes in far north central Wisconsin. The far southern part of the state was still as cold as 20 below.

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But the bitter cold spell was finally breaking in far northwest Wisconsin, where Osceola had a temperature of zero at 7 a.m. That was the state's warm spot, believe it or not.

The National Weather Service says southerly winds are finally about to blow some warmer air into the state, and more clouds will keep the new-found warmth locked up for us. Highs are supposed to leap into the teens and 20's and drop very little tonight.

There's a slight chance of freezing drizzle in southern Wisconsin today and in the west tonight. A wintry mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain is due in tomorrow and early Saturday. Forecasters say parts of the state could get a few inches of snow, along with some minor icing.

Meanwhile, the mercury will keep heading toward the 30's and will stay there through early next week.

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Elderly Barron woman dies of exposure

A 76-year-old woman died from the extreme cold after she wandered away from an assisted living facility in northwest Wisconsin.

Juanita Toews was found lying on an icy creek in Barron early Wednesday morning. She was taken to a hospital where she died.

Police Chief Byron Miller said Toews was not wearing appropriate clothing for the temperature -- which was 24 below at the time. He said she may have died from exposure or hypothermia.

Officials said Toews left Monroe Manor through her living room window. Authorities were first called around 4:45 a.m. yesterday, and searchers found her an hour and a half later. The death remains under investigation.

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Fifth day: Rescuers try again to find 4th person presumed drowned in Mississippi

Rescuers will try for a fifth day to find the body of a La Crosse man missing after an SUV plunged into the Mississippi River in Winona, Minn.

Andrew Kingsbury, 29, of La Crosse is the last of four bodies to be recovered. Two people were in the SUV when it was pulled from the river on Sunday. The third body was recovered Monday. Those three were all from Minnesota.

The driver, Christina Hauser, 36, had left a downtown Winona tavern early Sunday with the three friends. Authorities said the vehicle failed to make a turn when it slammed into a guardrail and plunged into the Mississippi.

Yesterday, a rescue team from the Wazee Sports Center in Black River Falls was among those brought in to help find Kingsbury -- who is presumed drowned. Teams used sonar equipment, robots and underwater cameras along the shore where the mishap occurred, but there's been no trace of Kingsbury. Winona County Sheriff Dave Brand said he wants to bring in cadaver dogs for today's search.

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Wausau area man accused of leaving nine dogs out in bitter cold

The owner of nine dogs near Wausau may soon face criminal charges for allegedly leaving the pets outside during this week's bitter cold wave.

The Marathon County Humane Society was called in after it was learned that the dogs' water was frozen. The animals were found to be tethered outside at a property in Hamburg when it was 15 below with a wind chill of minus 40.

Shelter director Mary Kirlin said there are minor issues with the pets, caused by their lack of ability to maintain themselves in the extreme cold. A veterinarian's report is pending.

Sheriff's officials say they'll recommend animal cruelty charges, but they still need to gather evidence before asking the district attorney's office to pursue the case in court.

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU

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Attorney general candidate regrets OWI conviction

A candidate for Wisconsin's top law enforcement office says he deeply regrets a "terrible error of judgment" when he was ticketed for drunk driving in 1990.

A campaign consultant confirmed Brad Schimel's OWI citation after Schimel said Tuesday he is skeptical about making first-time drunk driving a crime.

Schimel, 48, is the Waukesha County district attorney. He's the only Republican candidate to replace JB Van Hollen, who will leave office after this year.

Schimel said he pleaded guilty to his OWI citation, and he works each day to help others learn from his experience. As DA, Schimel said, he has helped create "innovative and successful programs" to reduce the numbers of OWI offenders.

Wisconsin is the only state in which first-time drunk driving is not a criminal offense.

One of Schimel's Democratic election opponents, Milwaukee Assembly Democrat Jon Richards, said Schimel should have been more forthcoming about his OWI conviction. Richards noted that if Schimel gets caught today, he still wouldn't be charged with a crime because a second OWI ticket would come more than 10 years after his first.

The Assembly voted last year to make all two-time offenses criminal misdemeanors. The Senate does not plan to take it up this spring, thus killing the measure for the current session.

Richards voted for the tighter penalty. Schimel's campaign said he supports it as well.

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Two die in separate fires

At least two people were killed in separate fires in southern Wisconsin yesterday.

One person died and two others were hospitalized last night in a fire at a senior housing complex in Waunakee, north of Madison in Dane County.

Madeline Christensen, 78, died yesterday morning after she was pulled from her burning house in Racine.

The causes of both fires remain under investigation by state and local authorities.

Waunakee Fire Chief Gary Acker said two of the 16 units of the senior housing complex had damage. The survivors' injuries were not said to be life-threatening. Officials said the fire apparently started in a kitchen area.

In the Racine blaze, smoke was billowing from the windows when firefighters arrived. Christensen, the only resident of the house, was taken to a hospital where she died. An autopsy is pending. Media reports said Christensen relied on oxygen to help with her normal breathing. Her dog also died in the blaze.

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Milwaukee jury convicts concealed-weapon permit holder of murder

Just because you have a concealed weapon permit does not mean you can use it to kill an unarmed person -- even if you feel threatened.

That's what a jury in Milwaukee ruled yesterday, when it convicted Philip Green, 40. The Milwaukee man is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 27 after he was found guilty of first-degree reckless homicide while armed.

Authorities said Green shot Ernest Banks, 26, once in the face during a fight in Milwaukee last May 25.

Green testified that he was afraid for his life after being assaulted by one of three men he went barhopping with. He and his lawyer tried to convince the jury that Green acted in self-defense.

A prosecutor said Green fired back in anger and was not protecting his life at the time. The Journal Sentinel cited a case last November in which a concealed weapon permit holder shot two unarmed people outside a house party, killing one and injuring another. In that case, the shooter said he felt threatened because a group has chased him after he fired warning shots.

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Agency lags in answering calls from unemployed

If you're filing for unemployment and you can't reach a claim specialist, you're not alone.

The state Department of Workforce Development says it's dealing with high volumes of phone calls, and staffers are working overtime to handle it all.

Ron Youngbluth of Pewaukee had trouble getting through after he was laid off Dec. 6 as a part-time optometrist. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he tried two dozen times to get through and all he got was an automated system.

Agency spokesman John Dipko said a call-back feature was added late in 2012, giving folks the option of being called by somebody. Youngbluth said he never got that. The state did call him after the Journal Sentinel looked into his case.

Dipko said his agency is in the peak season for handling unemployment claims from about Thanksgiving to mid-to-late January. He said extra phone personnel are added as needed. Dipko expects the situation to improve now that businesses are going full speed again after the holidays.

In the meantime, those seeking help are being urged to avoid calling on Mondays, early mornings and noon hours, which are all the busiest. They're urged to have their work and Social Security information handy. Officials also say the fastest way to file is online.

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Confirmation hearing raises questions for federal judge nominee

Wisconsin federal judge nominee James Peterson ran into a little turbulence yesterday during his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing.

The Madison lawyer told the judiciary panel his rulings would not be influenced by his previous work for the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

President Obama appointed Peterson two months ago to replace the late John Shabaz in a district that covers the western half of Wisconsin.

Iowa Democrat Charles Grassley questioned Peterson's previous comment that a display of the Ten Commandments on government property cast non-believers as "outsiders to the political community."

Peterson responded that he has handled First Amendment issues from clients with a variety of viewpoints and it was an honor to do so.

Peterson was chosen by a selection panel formed by Wisconsin's two U.S. senators, Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson. Both praised Peterson's work and asked for a quick confirmation because the judgeship has been vacant for several years. It's been open since 2009 because Obama nominated former State Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler four times, and Republicans on Capitol Hill kept casting him aside after Butler lost an election for the state's highest court in 2008.

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Higher use of W-2 means $28 million shortfall

Almost $10 million in federal dollars will be used to partially reduce a funding shortfall in Wisconsin's W-2 welfare to work program.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted 11-4 yesterday to devote available dollars from Washington to offset about a third of an expected $28 million shortfall. The deficit is caused by a higher than expected use of the W-2 system.

All Democrats voted against the allocation. Racine Assembly Democrat Cory Mason said the state needs to fully fund the projected W-2 enrollments through mid-2015. The vast majority of W-2 clients are from the Milwaukee area.

Also yesterday, the finance panel released the second year of funding that was budgeted for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The agency is getting a net of $44 million minus an $18.5 million surplus from a business tax to the WEDC. Lawmakers wanted the ability to use the surplus for other purposes if need be.

The second year's funding was withheld due to the problems uncovered in a state audit which included a lack of proper tracking for business loans. Agency CEO Reed Hall said the problems have been resolved and WEDC is fully committed to "transparency and accountability."

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Charter school hearing planned today

MADISON -- State lawmakers will find out today what people think about the idea of having more charter schools in Wisconsin.

The Assembly's Urban Education Committee will hold a public hearing late this morning on a GOP bill to expand the numbers of institutions that can create charter schools. Those schools provide specialized education with fewer regulations than public schools.

Right now, school boards create the vast majority of charter schools -- along with the city of Milwaukee, UW-Milwaukee and Parkside, and Milwaukee Area Technical College.

The new bill would allow all University of Wisconsin campuses -- as well as all technical college boards and the state's regional cooperative educational service agencies -- to create charter schools

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