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Wisconsin’s Obamacare count is 877; Gas prices dip to $2.73 in Milwaukee suburb; More state briefs

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Federal health officials now say that 877 Wisconsinites managed to buy insurance on the troubled healthcare.gov site last month.

Up to 700,000 state residents are supposed to buy coverage from the federal government's purchasing exchange by Dec. 15. Thousands ran into technical glitches, and some could not even register on the site.

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Yesterday the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a state-by-state breakdown of the numbers of people managing to buy insurance on the Website from Oct. 1 through Nov. 2. Wisconsin's total was about one-sixth of the 5,500 people projected to sign up for Obamacare in the first month of purchasing.

The government said just over 19,000 Wisconsinites got far enough to submit applications online, although just 877 got through. The report did not have a breakdown on the types of coverage purchased.

Federal officials hope to get Healthcare.gov working smoothly by the end of this month. Earlier this week, state officials began mailing paper applications to the 77,000 BadgerCare recipients who will lose their coverage at the end of the year.

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Gas prices dip to $2.73 in Milwaukee suburb

It's been almost three years since gasoline prices started with the number "2" in Wisconsin.

That's what we're seeing this morning in parts of the Milwaukee area. MilwaukeeGasPrices.com reports a low of $2.73 a gallon in suburban Greenfield for regular unleaded, but that's the exception rather than the rule.

AAA reports a statewide average of $3.14 a gallon this morning. The Milwaukee price site reports an average of $3.05 in the state's largest metro -- down about 25 cents over the past month.

Analyst Patrick DeHaan of GasBuddy.com says gasoline supplies are swelling due to higher U.S. oil production in places like North Dakota. He said that for the first time in decades, America is producing more of its own oil than it's importing.

Also experts say gas prices generally fall in the winter due to lower demand for fuel.

Energy consultant Jim Ritterbusch of Galena, Ill., said he expects crude oil prices to fall by as much as $6 a barrel in the coming weeks. Benchmark U.S. crude closed slightly higher in New York yesterday to almost $94 a barrel.

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Assembly takes up voting bills in marathon session

A long and contentious agenda awaits the Wisconsin Assembly in its final meeting of 2013.

Majority Republicans are expected to approve bills to reinstate the photo ID law for voting, ban early absentee voting on nights and weekends, allow recalls of state officials only if they're suspected of criminal or ethics violations and let pro-lifers show off their support with a new “Choose Life” license plate. Those measures would go to the state Senate early next year.

The Assembly also plans its first vote on a constitutional amendment which makes it easier to have a chief justice with the same philosophy as the majority of the Supreme Court. Final legislative action is also expected on a compromise to keep people off public recreational land close to where Gogebic Taconite is doing exploratory work for its proposed iron ore mine.

The Assembly is also expected to act on less controversial legislation to require three credits of math and science for Wisconsin high school graduates, instead of the current two. The Senate approved that measure Tuesday.

Observers say today's session could run into early tomorrow. Speaker Robin Vos has said he wants to act on much of the GOP's agenda now to avoid a logjam at the end of the two-year session next spring.

Democrats plan to stretch out today's proceedings by demanding action on their bill to set up a non-partisan panel to set up new congressional and legislative districts -- something the party in power now does every 10 years, often to their favor.

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No hearing set for death-in-custody bill

The Wisconsin Assembly has a marathon session set for today, but one bill that won't be considered is a state review of deaths in police custody.

The bill was introduced a few weeks ago, but it has not been scheduled for a public hearing.

Michael Bell of Kenosha, who lost his son in a police shooting nine years ago, has tried in vain to make police more accountable for their shooting incidents. Now Bell is advertising on USA Today to urge lawmakers to take up the new measure, and he plans an online petition next week on change.org.

The bill would set standards for outside agencies to review deaths of those in custody. A state panel will study all incidents and make decisions on whether they were justified. Local prosecutors would also get those reports to consider whether or not to file charges.

Right now, Assembly GOP Criminal Justice chairman Garey Bies said, larger police agencies investigate their own officers, while the state Department of Justice or neighboring agencies fill the role in smaller places.

Attorney General JB Van Hollen has opposed the bill. He says it's "unnecessary, unworkable and an expansion of government's already too-burdensome bureaucracy."

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Tractor driver killed in highway accident

A central Wisconsin man dies after his tractor was rear-ended by a car.

Kenneth Brandl, 74, of Auburndale died at a Marshfield hospital after the crash, which occurred around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon on Hwy.10 in Auburndale.

Wood County sheriff's deputies said Brandl's tractor was pulling an empty gravity box west on 10 when his unit was rear-ended by a car driven by a 55-year-old Plainfield man. The State Patrol said alcohol did not appear to be a factor.

Investigators are still trying to determine how fast each motorist was going.

--Mike Warren, WDLB-WOSQ, Marshfield

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Teacher with previous brushes with law now faces seven criminal charges

A Rhinelander High School English teacher is due in court this afternoon on seven criminal charges.

Joshua Juergens, 35, was suspended from his duties after authorities said they caught him with over 60 marijuana plants, prescription drugs that were not his and stolen computers belonging to the Rhinelander district and others.

School Superintendent Kelli Jacobi said officials are still doing an inventory on the stolen property. She said the total value could be around $9,000.

Juergens was hired at Rhinelander this fall after officials got "glowing references," said Jacobi. She said the school board will consider terminating him at a meeting on Monday night.

Jacobi said they knew about some of his past brushes with the law and accepted them, but they didn't get the whole story, and she believes they show disturbing character issues.

Jacobi said officials knew that Juergens was convicted of possessing marijuana, which online court records said was in 1997 in Marathon County, when he was 19. The superintendent said she was not happy to learn that Juergens had numerous charges of disorderly conduct, small claims actions, criminal damage and driving several times while his license was suspended or revoked. Most of those were in Dane County. His latest charge for driving while suspended was filed on Halloween in Lincoln County.

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Governor, Alice cut Christmas trees

If the governor didn't convince you to start thinking about getting that Christmas tree, perhaps Alice in Dairyland will.

Kristin Olson will join fourth-graders tomorrow at the annual first-cutting ceremony held by the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Growers Association. The event will be held at the R and S Tree Farms near Neillsville in Clark County. It's designed to call attention to Wisconsin's large Christmas tree industry, which harvests 1.8 million trees a year.

The event will also promote next year's Alice in Dairyland finals to be held in Clark County in May.

Yesterday, Gov. Scott Walker and First Lady Tonette Walker chopped down the Christmas tree for the Governor's Conference Room at the Capitol. That happened at Dave and Mary Vander Velden's tree farm near Oconto.

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Woman killed in car versus bus accident IDed

A woman who died in a weather-related car crash with a school bus was identified yesterday as Teresa Cummins, 55, of Spencer.

Marathon County authorities said her car veered out of control on nearly invisible black ice and was hit by an empty school bus. The bus driver suffered undisclosed injuries. The crash happened Monday morning on Hwy. 13 in Spencer.

It was one of almost three dozen traffic mishaps investigated by Marathon County authorities after a surprise bout of snow and plunging temperatures.

It's been warmer since then. A high pressure system raised yesterday's highs by at least 10 degrees from Tuesday. Parts of eastern Wisconsin had high winds last night, up to 51 mph at Sherwood.

Forecasters say parts of northern and central Wisconsin could see light rain today from a weak low pressure system. It will be partly to mostly cloudy elsewhere with near-normal highs in the 40's.

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Boyfriend accused of killing 5-year-old

A southern Wisconsin man is due in court tomorrow for allegedly causing the death of his girlfriend's 5-year-old son.

Dakota Black, 24, of Oregon in Dane County was charged yesterday with first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Brayden Turnbill.

Rescuers were called to a home in Sun Prairie Oct. 22 soon after the youngster was found to have bruises on his chest and did not appear to be breathing. A doctor told authorities that Brayden had brain injuries consistent with either an impact to his head or violent shaking.

Black is in jail for violating a previous probation.

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Beanie Baby donor can ring the bell again

The Salvation Army has reinstated a man's bell-ringing privileges in Wausau after he raised suspicions by giving Beanie Babies to school kids.

Police said the man was dressed as Santa Claus on Monday. He was on his way home from helping raise money for the Salvation Army's Red Kettles when he stopped at Franklin Elementary School in Wausau and gave kids Beanie Babies.

The toys were returned, and the Salvation Army said the man could no longer ring bells for the organization. Yesterday Salvation Army Lt. Melinda Tripp told Wausau's WAOW TV that she believed the man did not mean any harm.  She said bell-ringers can hand out items, but only those approved by the Salvation Army -- and Beanie Babies are not on the list.

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Congressional Democrats try to block wave of anti-abortion bills

Democrats in Congress are trying to stop the wave of Republican anti-abortion bills passed in states like Wisconsin.

Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin from Madison spoke at a news conference yesterday on the introduction of a bill prohibiting states from limiting abortions and abortion providers.

The bill's lead author, Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, admits it might not have the votes to pass this session, but he said it will force those running for office next year to say where they stand on the issue.

Baldwin said state politicians have been "standing between women and their doctors, restricting the choices women can make regarding their own reproductive health.”

She added, “It's not the job of a politician to play doctor.” She specifically mentioned the state law that requires abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges -- a measure that two abortion agencies say would close some of their Wisconsin clinics. The bill is tied up in the courts for now.

Blumental said that if states won't protect women's reproductive rights, Washington will. He said he is confident the measure would survive all possible legal challenges.

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