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Polk authorities need public's help to solve fatal hit and run; majority mulls labor law change; 10 more state stories

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The Polk County Sheriff's Department is seeking help from the public, hoping that someone can provide information to help find the driver responsible for the deaths of two men, struck and killed on CTH E near Big Round Lake, southwest of Cumberland on Saturday night.

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Authorities have not identified the men. Deputies said two men had been in a physical altercation at a nearby home that spilled onto the roadway just before the truck hit them. The area is home to many native Americans who are members of the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin.

Investigators were looking for a dark-colored pick-up with mostly frontal damage to the under-carriage. Witnesses recalled that the truck had at least two amber signal or warning lights above the cab and may have had a blue plastic barrel in the truck bed. It was last seen traveling southbound on CTH E.

The tribe's web site states there are 1,054 enrolled members in the St. Croix Chippewa Tribe. Along with Round Lake, members also reside in communities of Big Sand Lake, Danbury, Maple Plain, Gaslyn, Bashaw, Clam Lake, Balsam Lake.

Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's department at 715-485-8310

Law change would permit longer work week

MADISON -- Wisconsin's retail and factory workers would no longer be required to get a day off each week, under a bill proposed by Republicans in both houses.

West Bend Senator Glenn Grothman and Beaver Dam Republican Mark Born are seeking co-sponsors for the measure. They said the state's largest business group first suggested the change, after noticing that federal law does not require what the state mandates -- at least 24 hours off for each seven-day week.

The bill's authors say it would let employees volunteer for a seventh day each week, so they could make a little extra money and their companies can boost production.

Democrats and labor leaders say bosses would pressure their workers into volunteering -- and the employees might have to go along or get fired.

Grothman says he's never heard of that happening, and he wonders why Democrats want to hold back employees who want extra money.

Racine Assembly Democrat Cory Mason says the required day off is a legal protection that exists for a reason. Mason calls the GOP measure a "slap in the face to ordinary working folks," saying they've fought long and hard for 40-hour work-weeks and weekends off.

Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Scott Walker's office have not said whether they back the measure.

Sportsman's group appealing to IRS to waive penalties

MILWAUKEE -- The sportsmen's group that had a controversial state grant rescinded last year is now asking the IRS not to assess penalties for the tax trouble the group got into.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the written request was part of a host of tax-related documents the United Sportsmen recently provided to the newspaper. They showed that the group's only income for 2011 was a grant from the political group "Citizens for a Strong America."

In 2012, the United Sportsmen had a $29,000 deficit just a few months before seeking and getting a $500,000 state grant.

Majority Republicans included a the money in last year's state budget to promote hunting and fishing, even though the United Sportsmen had no direct experience in that area. Gov. Scott Walker later rescinded the grant after questions were raised about the group's tax-exempt status.

The Journal Sentinel said the group misrepresented its status and did not make required tax filings.

Last month, the group told IRS it should not get tax penalties. It said its mistakes were the result of an administrative oversight and not deliberate late filings.

Committee assembled to select new UW-Stout chancellor finalists

MENOMONIE -- A committee of 21 people will look for U-W Stout's next chancellor.

Interim System President Richard Telfer has named a search panel that includes 11 faculty members and two students from the Menomonie campus.

Their assignment is to find a replacement for Charles Sorenson, who plans to retire in August.

The panel will nominate up to five finalists, and another selection panel from the Board of Regents will choose the final nominee.

Settlement checks cut for wronged Wisconsin Auto Title Loans' customers

MILWAUKEE -- About 23-thousand customers of the Wisconsin Auto Title Loans' company are expected to get checks next month in the settlement of a state lawsuit.

The state Justice Department and Milwaukee's Legal Aid Society accused the company of adding extra costs to title loans, by enrolling borrowers into a motor club.

The lawsuit alleged Wisconsin Auto Title Loans never told certain customers about the enrollment, or else they said it was mandatory.

Under a settlement announced in September, the firm put $750,000 into a restitution fund for customers who took out loans from 1999 through 2010, and paid back the amounts of their loans or more.

To get settlement checks, customers had to confirm their addresses by last Nov. 15th.

Auto Title Loans is based in Green Bay and has 22 locations throughout the state.

Tighter firewood rules mulled to slow spread of ash borer

MADISON -- Wisconsin officials will consider tighter restrictions on moving firewood, in an effort to slow the spread of the tree-killing emerald ash borer.

The Natural Resources Board will consider new rules on Jan. 22nd to allow those in state recreation areas to use firewood from just 10 miles away.

Firewood is a main carrier of the emerald ash borer, which has been spreading more rapidly throughout Wisconsin. In 2006, the DNR prohibited campers from using out-of-state firewood in state parks and forests.

A year later, the state barred any firewood within 50 miles of a state property. That was reduced to 25 miles in 2010. Now, a 10-mile limit will be considered -- and out-of-state firewood would also be allowed if it comes from within 10 miles.

DNR staff members say the tighter perimeters have been known to slow the spread of the ash borer, which first appeared in the Badger State about five years ago.

Night blaze destroys Oshkosh banquet facility

OSHKOSH -- A fire that destroyed a banquet hall in Oshkosh remains under investigation.

Crews were called just before 2 a.m., Sunday to the Timbuktu Bar and Banquet Hall. The bar was open at the time, but nobody was hurt.

Officials said a firewall prevented fire damage to the bar area, but it still had smoke and heat damage. The adjacent banquet hall was a total loss. Authorities said icy conditions hindered the fire-fighting efforts, but they had the blaze under control in about three hours.

A photo of the damage can be seen at http://www.thenorthwestern.com/article/20140112/OSH0101/301120306/Early-...

Snowmobile crashes claim rides in Price-, Racine counties

At least two people were killed in Wisconsin snowmobile crashes over the weekend.

A 70-year-old woman died Saturday afternoon in Price County in the northwest part of the state. Sheriff's officials in Phillips said her snowmobile left a public trail near Phillips and struck a wire, and then a tree. She died at the scene. Her name has not been released.

In Racine County, 52-year-old Thomas Dretzka of Caledonia was killed Saturday morning when his machine crashed in his home community. Caledonia is located just north of Racine and south of Milwaukee.

The DNR continues to investigate the crash. Officials said speed and alcohol were the main factors.

At least seven people have been killed in Wisconsin snowmobile accidents this winter.

Search continues for fourth accident victim

WINONA, Minn. -- A search for a missing La Crosse man is entering its second week on the Mississippi River near Winona Minnesota. 29-year-old Andrew Kingsbury was one of four people in a sport utility vehicle that missed a turn, struck a guard-rail, slid down an embankment, and went through the ice on the river.

The driver and a passenger were dead in the vehicle when it was pulled out last Sunday. A third person's body was recovered last Monday, Jan. 6th.

Rescuers from as far away as Black River Falls have used sonar equipment, cameras, and cadaver dogs -- and they've found no trace of Kingsbury.

Winona County Sheriff Dave Brand says about 95 percent of the searchers are volunteers, and it's not an easy search because they can only see four to ten feet underwater. Brand says it's possible that Kingsbury's body might be hidden behind a rock or a crevice that no one's been able to see yet.

Kingsbury's brother Chad tells WXOW TV in La Crosse the search has been heart-wrenching -- and he says he's grateful for all the help and persistence.

He said he makes sure the volunteers are fed, in gratitude for their efforts. Officials say the search will continue as long as the weather is still safe for divers.

"Behind the Candelabra," an H-B-O film about Wisconsin native Liberace, wins a pair of Golden Globes.

An H-B-O movie about Wisconsin native Liberace won a pair of Golden Globe awards last night. "Behind the Candelabra" received the Best T-V Mini-Series or Movie award. Michael Douglas was named the Best Actor for a mini-series or movie, for his portrayal of the flamboyant pianist from West Milwaukee. Milwaukee native John Ridley Junior was nominated for the best movie screenplay for his film "12 Years a Slave" -- but he lost out to Spike Jonze for "Her." "Twelve Years a Slave" won the Golden Globe for the best dramatic film.

Warmer weather keeping many snowmobile trails closed

MADISON -- The state web site www.travelwisconsin.com says trails are closed in most of the southern half of the state.

In the northern half, most trails are described as in good to excellent condition.

Portage County, near the middle of the state has all its trails closed.

Officials said about 20 inches of snow have fallen in central Wisconsin this winter -- but most of it's been light and fluffy, and it doesn't last under the weight of high-powered sleds. Many snowmobile clubs in Portage County are looking for another four- to six inches and they need it to be wet and heavy.

The National Weather Service has issued winter weather watches for central and southern Wisconsin with two to six inches predicted for the region Monday night and Tuesday.

Temperatures were near or slightly above freezing in most of Wisconsin -- and just below freezing in central areas where rain turned to ice on some roads in that area.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Madison leaders reviewing 20 applications for city's new police chief

MADISON -- Officials in Wisconsin's second-largest city were to start reviewing applications Monday for a new police chief.

Twenty people applied to replace Madison Chief Noble Wray, including four from within the city's police force.

Wray retired last fall after 28 years in the department, his last nine as chief.

Acting Police Chief Randy Gaber is not among the candidates for the permanent job. He said it would have taken time away from his family, and he doesn't want that.

Also, Gaber built a house just outside Madison last year -- and a city ordinance requires the top officials to live within the city limits.

After 50 years, indoor smoke harder to find in Wisconsin

This past weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the federal government's first recognition that cigarette smoking was harmful.

Pulmonologist Steven Brown, who volunteers for the Wisconsin chapter of the American Lung Association, said the Surgeon General's report came at a time when half of American adults smoked.

He said teachers smoked in classrooms, bank tellers smoked at their windows, fliers smoked on airplanes, and cigarettes were given out as party favors.

At the same time, he said tobacco companies cried foul against Surgeon General Luther Terry's report on Jan. 11th, 1964. They gave all sorts of denials that the product was hazardous to your health. They paid billions for that stand more than three decades later, in the form of settlements with state governments.

Smoking is still prevalent -- and it's much more expensive due all of the taxes slapped on cigarettes.

About 18 percent of Americans still smoke, and Brown tells the Wisconsin Radio Network he'd like to see that cut to 10 percent or less over the next decade.

The Lung Association and others also want to see reduced exposures to second-hand smoke, and to ultimately eliminate diseases and deaths caused by tobacco.

Former 'Jeopardy' champ ready to compete again

WEST ALLIS -- A former "Jeopardy" champion from Wisconsin will compete in a tournament that features the top players from the 30 years that Alex Trebek has been the host.

Viewers chose Michael Falk of West Allis to be among 45 players in "Jeopardy's Battle-of-the-Decades."

Fifteen players from each of the current show's three decades will starting squaring off later this month. The contest will be televised this spring. Falk won $310,000 during eight appearances on "Jeopardy" in 2006. He won $60,000 in his original run, and another $250,000 in the 2006 "Tournament of Champions."

Falk is now a math teacher at St. Mary's Visitation School in Elm Grove. Naturally, he's the coach of the school's quiz bowl team.

He tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the "Jeopardy" winnings helped him change jobs, buy a house, and have a son.

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