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Vinehout still a 'maybe' for gubernatorial run; lad wears Rogers jersey 1,000-plus days; more state news

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State Senate Democrat Kathleen Vinehout says it's still "doable" to win the governor's race next year, even though she'd have to beat two very well-funded opponents.

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The lawmaker from Alma says she'll spend the next six weeks talking to people around the state about her possible chances -- and she'll make a decision by early next year.

Some Democratic groups are not waiting. They're getting behind Mary Burke now, so she can have time to round up enough money to challenge the heavily-funded Republican incumbent Scott Walker.

Burke got major endorsements this week from Russ Feingold's Progressives United, and Emily's List -- which spent $5 million last year to help U.S. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin get elected.

Overflow audience shows for frac-sand hearing

MADISON -- A State Capitol hearing room was not big enough for the dozens of people who had their say on a proposed state takeover of frac-sand mining regulations. Two overflow rooms were opened, as the Senate's mining committee heard hours of emotional testimony Thursday on a bill from its chairman, Hazelhurst Republican Tom Tiffany. He said local governments are taking away the miners' property rights with their restrictive local ordinances and "If any government gets away from that, I come down for property rights."

However, Democrats said the bill strips the ability of local leaders to protect their residents, thus putting their health at risk.

Senate Democrat Kathleen Vinehout and Assembly Democrat Chris Danou said it would nullify a moratorium on new frac-sand mines in Trempealeau County -- ending a health study which is part of that moratorium.

Dozens of mines are in Vinehout's district, and she says the people who live near them deserve a say in their regulations.

The bill's future is uncertain. GOP Senate President Mike Ellis says it must be amended to address local residents' concerns.

Richland Center Republican Dale Schultz wants a committee to study the impact.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has delayed a vote in his house until next spring to learn as much about the issue as possible.

Kira Steger's memory prominent in today's 'Domestic Violence Awareness Day'

WAUSAU -- Friday is Domestic Violence Awareness Day.

Statewide, there's a lot of focus on Wausau area native Kira Steger, and whether she could have avoided being murdered in Minnesota by her husband Jeffrey Trevino. He was convicted earlier this month, upset that she was seeing another man.

Steger's funeral is Saturday in Rothschild. Her body was found in May, but her family could not bring her home until after Jeffrey Trevino's recent trial.

It was never made clear whether Steger feared for her safety before she was beaten-and-smothered to death -- or if she sought help before getting divorce papers that were found in her vehicle when she disappeared in February.

Jane Graham-Jennings of the Women's Community in Wausau says part of Steger's legacy is encouraging other women in her situation to get help -- to not live in pain, and recognize there are ways to better themselves. Graham-Jennings says domestic violence escalates. Eighty-five percent of killings take place after a victim leaves an abuse partner or threatens to leave.

Graham-Jennings heads an agency which provides resources and shelter for abused women. A family friend made a bench in Steger's honor and presented it to the Women's Community.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Woman challenging constitutionality of fetal protection law

A pregnant woman is challenging Wisconsin's 15-year-old fetal protection law, which allows severe drug users to be detained to protect their unborn babies.

The New York Times first reported on the case of Alicia Beltran of Jackson, after a pregnant women's advocacy group from the Big Apple filed suit on her behalf. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in late September, claiming that the 28-year-old Beltran had her civil rights violated -- and that the fetal protection law is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit said Beltran was arrested and sent to an Appleton treatment facility, after she told medical personnel that she overcame an addiction to painkillers. She insisted she was no longer on drugs -- and she claimed that the center confined her for over two months, despite passing a drug test.

The Times said Beltran was released from the treatment center this month, after the lawsuit was filed.

Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women said it's the first civil rights challenge to a law that quote, "explicitly says the state can control adult women because they're pregnant."

Susan Armacost of Wisconsin Right-to-Life says her group agrees that the fetal protection law is good, even though she could not speak to Beltran's case.

Wausau panel supports driving-cellphone ban

WAUSAU -- Wausau is the latest Wisconsin community to consider banning cell phones while driving. Officials say there's a lot of public support for a ban.

A committee asked the city attorney's office this week to draft an ordinance for the City Council to consider. The Public Safety panel plans to issue a recommendation next month.

Wausau's suburbs would be asked to pass their own cell-phone bans.

Police Chief Jeff Hardel says that's key, so drivers would not have to guess the boundaries of where cell phone usage could stay legal. Everest Metro Police Chief Wally Sparks says Schofield and the village-and-town of Weston should all endorse the ban.

Sparks' department serves all three communities, and he tells the Wausau Daily Herald his officers should be able to enforce the law without worrying about what community they're in. Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids are among the places with cell-phone bans, and they allow hands-free usage.

Some local officials say it would be best if Wisconsin had a statewide ban, but it has never been seriously considered in the Legislature.

Group behind sportsman's fund boffo starting process over

A state council that got into hot water for approving a politically-tainted sportsmen's grant has endorsed a new approach to achieve the grant's original goals.

On Thursday, the Sporting Heritage Council asked the DNR to come up with a series of small grants to encourage more Wisconsinites to go hunting and fishing. The panel also told lawmakers to fix the state budget measure which barred some well-established sporting groups from applying for the original $500,000 grant.

Critics said majority Republicans tried targeting the grant to the politically-connected United Sportsmen, which had no experience in teaching people how to hunt and fish.

The group's tax status was later questioned, and its leader left the group after it was learned that he was fined for a bear-hunting violation.

Former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, who reportedly engineered the budget measure, left to take a state bureaucratic job -- but while the grant controversy kept brewing, he left state government altogether to take a lobbying post with the Wisconsin Paper Council.

Assembly Democrat Nick Milroy of South Range urged the sporting council to re-work the law to remove any attempt at favoritism.

Council chair Scott Gunderson said grants could be arranged outside the political process, and he saw no need to revisit the law.

Ryan hints at low expectations for new federal budget negotiations

JANESVILLE -- House Republican Paul Ryan appears to have low expectations going into the first full round of talks on a federal budget agreement.

Ryan is co-chairing a House-Senate negotiating panel formed as part of the agreement which ended the federal government shutdown.

Ryan, the House Budget chairman, has been warning people not to expect a grand bargain to end the continuing resolutions which have replaced annual budgets since 2009. He hopes to cut federal spending on the margins, manage expectations, and search for "common ground to see if we can make divided government work."

Ryan said he's had productive talks with the panel's other co-chair, Democratic Senate Budget chair Patty Murray -- but he says neither party should expect the other to compromise their widely-different core principles.

All 29 committee members will meet for the first time on Wednesday, including both of Wisconsin's U.S. senators -- Republican Ron Johnson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin. They have until mid-December to reach an agreement.

State money will help with Organic Valley expansion

CASHTON -- The nation's largest organic food cooperative is getting more help with an expansion project in western Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker said Thursday that the state would kick $1.4 million dollars for road work at the Organic Valley facility.

The farmer-owned co-op is spending $25 million to build new headquarters and an expanded distribution center at Cashton in Monroe County.

Walker says the project will add close to 340 new jobs at Organic Valley, and will indirectly support another 360 jobs.

Organic Valley is the nation's largest handler of organic milk. It also distributes organic meat, eggs, and juice.

The state grant will help Cashton pay for about $3.2 million in road amenities.

Trial ordered for man accused of violent assault on girlfriend

A 33-year-old man has been ordered to stand trial for a violent effort to kill his girlfriend in Plover.

Jason Hyatt is scheduled to enter pleas on Monday in Portage County to eight felony charges that include attempted homicide, kidnapping, false imprisonment, reckless endangerment, stalking, and aggravated battery.

At a preliminary hearing Thursday, a police officer quoted the 31-year-old girlfriend as saying she was hit 60 times in the head with a baseball bat on Oct. 6th. She told investigators that Hyatt ambushed her after she came home from a bar with a friend, and started hitting her. He then allegedly tied up the victim, and tried feeding her sleeping pills which she spat out.

The woman said Hyatt tried apologizing, but then tied her to a bed and refused to take her to a hospital. She managed to get away after he fell asleep, and called police.

Hyatt remains in jail under a $250,000 bond. His address is listed as unknown. Online court records indicate that he was living in Madison when he was charged in Fond du Lac County with a fifth- or sixth-time drunk driving felony, and driving with a revoked license.

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

Alleged UW campus area robber collared in Illinois

MADISON -- A man suspected of committing up to 30 armed robberies and other crimes in Madison has been arrested in Illinois.

Interim Police Chief Randy Gaber said his officers have a lot of investigative work to do, and they're looking for other suspects who might have been involved.

Most of the incidents took place in two neighborhoods close to Madison's downtown and the U-W campus.

Wallets, iPhones, and small electronics were among the items stolen. The latest robbery occurred Wednesday in a man's home just off the downtown area.

A UW student told WISC TV that the victim walked into his house, left the door unlocked, and followed the man to his bathroom where the robber said "Give me your phone and your wallet."

None of the incidents took place on UW property, but campus Police Chief Susan Riseling is still encouraging students to be vigilant and pay attention to their surroundings.

Sixth-grader wears Aaron Rogers jersey 1,000-plus days

HOLMAN -- A sixth-grader near La Crosse has worn the same Aaron Rodgers jersey every day for almost three years.

David Pehl of Holmen is trying to wear his shirt longer than a Connecticut boy who wore a Brett Favre jersey for almost 4.5 years. Pehl must wear his green-and-gold Rodgers shirt for 547 more days before he can break the mark set by David Witthopf from 2003 TO 2008.

David said he just couldn't stop wearing the jersey given to him for Christmas. He's had it on for 1,035 days. David's father tells WKBT TV in La Crosse that he put the idea into his son's head by mentioning the Connecticut youngster.

David's shirt is hand-washed every other day. The green faded a while back, and the Rodgers name can barely be read.

Still, Pehl is determined to surpass Witthoff's record of 1,581 days -- which ended after the boy grew out of his Favre shirt, and it barely got down to his belt-line.

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