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Slight warm-up expected for weekend; Cold weather means higher profits for utility company; 12 more state news briefs

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This is the coldest morning in several weeks in parts of northern Wisconsin, but it doesn't seem that way because the winds have died down.

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It was 28 below at 6 a.m. this morning at Land O'Lakes in Vilas County at the Upper Michigan border. But just an hour later, the mercury jumped by a sizable 11 degrees in that community to 17 below.

Merrill had the state's coldest temperature at 7 a.m. with 19 below. Milwaukee was at three above.

Winds were either light or nonexistent, and wind-chill factors ran between minus eight in Milwaukee to minus 29 at Rice Lake.

After a cold week, a slight warm-up is expected for the weekend -- still well below normal, though, considering that tomorrow is March 1. Highs are expected to be in the teens, with places near Lake Michigan warming up to the low 20's.

Snow is in the forecast for southern Wisconsin tomorrow with a chance of snow on Sunday. Another cold wave is due in for at least a couple days.

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Cold weather means higher profits for utility company

A cold winter means a hot investment for shareholders of Wisconsin utilities.

Madison Gas and Electric reports a 34% increase in its net income for the final quarter of 2013 due mainly to a 28% jump in natural gas sales.

MG&E made just over $14 million from October through December, up from $10.5 million the year before. Earnings totaled 41 cents a share, 11 cents more than the same quarter the previous year.

The higher natural gas sales were spurred by an average temperature that was 13 degrees colder in December than in the same month of 2012. Madison's average temperature that month was almost 18 degrees.

For all of last year, Madison Gas and Electric netted $75 million, up from $64 million in 2012.

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Time to move ice shanties – but many won’t budge

Ice fishing enthusiasts are supposed to get their shanties off Wisconsin lakes about now, but that's easier said than done thanks to our cold winter.

The Department of Natural Resources says people have been asking for advice about moving shanties that are frozen in as temperatures climbed to the 40's and then dropped below zero again.

Officials are asking people to do their best to follow the removal deadlines. If they can't, they should report their situations to the DNR, and wardens will use their discretion.

Ice-fishing shanties were supposed to be off the Wisconsin-Iowa boundary waters eight days ago. They're supposed to be taken off Minnesota boundary waters by tomorrow, inland waters in southern Wisconsin by Monday, Michigan boundary waters by March 15 and northern inland waters by St. Patrick's Day.

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AG candidates disagree on gun-control issues

It appears that gun control will be an issue in the Wisconsin attorney general election this fall.

Milwaukee Representative Jon Richards, one of three Democratic candidates for the AG post, is among the sponsors of a bill requiring universal background checks for all gun buyers.

A spokesman for Republican candidate Brad Schimel said criminals could look to the black market to find guns and the concept of background checks is more about politics than about serious efforts to fight crime.

Democrats pushed for the mandatory checks on all gun buyers at a news conference yesterday. They said the public clearly supports the idea as evidenced by petitions with 16,000 signatures displayed at the gathering. The Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort presented the petitions.

Richards said the measure would prevent murders by keeping guns away from at least some violent criminals. His primary opponents in the attorney general's race -- Ismael Ozanne and Susan Happ -- have not commented on the bill.

Lawmakers are running out of time to act on the measure, since the current session ends in just over a month.

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Kids get four-day weekend after elementary school fire

About 1,200 students in Racine are getting a four-day weekend as authorities continue to investigate a fire at Mitchell Elementary School.

The gymnasium was destroyed after its roof collapsed, and there was smoke and water damage in other parts of the building. The blaze started early yesterday morning.

Classes were called off for both yesterday and today in the elementary school and the adjacent middle school. An informational meeting will be held late this afternoon for the families of Mitchell students.

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Lawmaker wants to block ‘voluntary intoxication’ as homicide defense

Under a new Wisconsin bill, suspects could no longer escape murder convictions by claiming they were too drunk to know what they were doing.

Assembly Republican Steve Nass of Whitewater wants to remove "voluntary intoxication" as an allowable defense in homicide cases.

The bill got a public hearing yesterday before the Assembly's judiciary committee. It's in response to the case of Brian Cooper of Illinois, who allegedly raped and strangled a pregnant Alisha Bromfield at a Door County resort after she rejected his request for a deeper love relationship.

At his trial in 2012, jurors from Wood County could not agree to convict Cooper for murder after he claimed he was too drunk to have intended to murder Bromfield and her unborn child.

At the hearing on the new bill, Cooper's own sister Kellie Stryker called the hung jury "the ultimate injustice." She urged lawmakers to stop letting people use alcohol as an excuse. Bromfield's mother said the defense kept Cooper from being found guilty.

Cooper, 37, was convicted of sexual assault, but there was a hung jury on two first-degree intentional homicide counts. A retrial on those is scheduled to start May 2. Nass' bill would affect future cases, but not Cooper's.

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Briggs and Stratton debuts quieter lawnmower

Briggs and Stratton has come up with a quieter lawnmower engine so folks can cut grass earlier in the day without waking up their neighborhoods.

The Milwaukee area small-engine maker has unveiled what it calls "Quiet Power Technology."

Briggs says the new engine is 65% quieter than similar engines made in the past. Marketing director Carissa Gingras says it will let people change their habits and mow earlier or later in the day without disturbing others.

Briggs said it took over two years to develop the new technology. It will make its Wisconsin debut this spring on select Craftsman mowers sold at Sears.

Briggs says the quieter engines will eventually become a staple on larger items like riding mowers and snow blowers.

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Concrete company faces fines of $57,000 after workplace accident

A maker of precast concrete products in central Wisconsin has been cited by federal officials after a truck driver lost a foot in a workplace accident.

County Materials of Marathon was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 18 serious violations. Fines of almost $57,000 were proposed.

Officials said a cable broke on a boom-crane at a job site in Elderon, and the driver was pinned against a concrete riser. One of his feet was severed, and a leg got crushed.

County Materials has about 1,250 employees at numerous locations throughout Wisconsin. OSHA said the firm had eight previous citations for unsafe working conditions dating back to 2001.

The firm has not commented on the newest case. It has 15 days to pay the fines, challenge the citations or meet with OSHA to bargain down the penalty.

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

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Deputies look for evidence in shooting death of woman

Dane County sheriff's deputies combed a rural highway yesterday, to look for evidence in the murder of a woman from Mazomanie.

Media reports said investigators searched part of Hwy. 14 near Black Earth, and they'll go back there today.

A 39-year-old Janesville man is being held as a person of interest in the shooting death of Cheryl Gilberg, 43. A relative found her body last Sunday at her home. The Janesville man is being held in the Rock County Jail on unrelated charges.

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Duffy-drafted bill requires customer OK before government stores credit data

Congress would oversee consumer protection efforts for people like bank customers under a bill passed by the U.S. House last evening.

Wausau-area Republican Sean Duffy drafted the measure which passed 232-182 with only 10 Democrats voting yes.

The four-year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would become a separate agency under congressional oversight -- instead of being part of the Federal Reserve.

Duffy said the change is needed because the bureau has been collecting people's credit-card data and transaction records much like the National Security Agency. His bill would require consumers' approval before the government stores their credit data.

Duffy also said big Wall Street banks have the power to overturn the consumer bureau's rules while smaller banks and credit unions have no say over matters that could hurt them.

La Crosse Democrat Ron Kind said Duffy is wrong. Kind said the new consumer agency has benefited 10 million consumers. He said the bureau has recovered $3 billion for Americans -- including student loan abuses.

The Financial Protection Bureau was established after alleged faulty practices by Wall Street were blamed for plunging the nation into the Great Recession in 2008.

Wisconsin's two other House Democrats joined Kind in voting no. The state's four other Republicans all joined Duffy in voting yes.

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Man sentenced to life in prison for 16-year-old murder

A 53-year-old man will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing a teenager in northeast Wisconsin 16 years ago.

An Oconto County judge said no yesterday to giving Peter Hanson of Oconto Falls a chance for a supervised release.

He and another man were charged in the shooting death of 19-year-old Chad McLean of Green Bay in early 1998 after a night of drinking. The charges were not filed until last spring when witnesses finally brought enough evidence forward.

A jury convicted Hanson last December. The other defendant, Charles Mlados, 55, of Oconto Falls, is scheduled to have a two-week trial starting Aug. 4 on murder and perjury charges.

Prosecutors said the two defendants argued with McLean before killing him. His body was later found in the Pensaukee River near Abrams.

Authorities said Hanson gave himself away by telling investigators details that were never released to the public -- like the fact that McLean died from gunshot wounds to the head.

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Pope invited to visit Green Bay, hold Mass at Lambeau Field

Pope Francis is considering a visit to the United States next year, and Green Bay is among the places extending an invitation.

Mayor Jim Schmitt wrote the pontiff, encouraging him to visit a Marian shrine that the Catholic Church officially recognized just over three years ago. Schmitt says he could also see the relatively new pope delivering Mass to a full house of close to 80,000 at Lambeau Field.

With bigger cities expecting to court Francis, Schmitt calls a visit to Green Bay a long shot, but "I think you need to ask for things."

Vatican sources have said the pope is likely to visit the U.S. in 2015. He's expected to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, an international event the Catholic Church holds every three years.

Green Bay's mayor wants Francis to see the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in the tiny town of Champion about 15 miles northeast of the city. The church verified in 2010 that the Virgin Mary had appeared to a young girl at the shrine in 1859. The Marian shrine is the only site of its kind in the U.S. that the Catholic Church officially recognizes.

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Father charged again after boy dies

A man sentenced to five years in prison for injuring his young son in 2007 was given 10 more years behind bars yesterday because the child later died.

Kenneth Larson, 31, formerly of Balsam Lake, was convicted in Polk County in 2008 for the child abuse that severely injured Xavier. He was one month old at the time.

The boy died in 2011, and Polk County prosecutors charged Larson again -- this time with first-degree reckless homicide. He pleaded no contest to that charge in January.

Officials said it was not a case of double jeopardy because the death was considered a separate crime.

Besides the added prison time, Larson must spend 10 additional years under extended supervision when he leaves prison. That was on top of the five years of supervision that was ordered before.

Larson first told authorities that his son rolled off a bed, but a doctor later testified that the infant was severely disabled. Xavier died from complications of a brain injury.

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Man dies in industrial accident

A 42-year-old man died late yesterday after he got tangled up in a piece of equipment at a corn processing plant in Fond du Lac County.

Rescuers were called just after 4:15 p.m. to Seneca Foods in Oakfield. Other details of the mishap were not immediately released, and neither was the victim's name.

Sheriff's officers are investigating.

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