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Wisconsin's population is aging; big storm drops rain, damages Wal-Mart roof; more state news

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If you think you're seeing fewer young people in Wisconsin, you're right.

The U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday that 14.4 percent of the state's population was 65 or older as of last July. That's just less than one percent more than in the 2010 Census.

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Wisconsin had an estimated 824,500 seniors as of last July. That includes 124,000 who were 85 or older - an increase of 6,000 during the previous two years.

Also, Wisconsin's percentage of senior citizens is larger than the national figure of 13.7 percent. The median age of Wisconsinites was 38.9 last July - four-tenths-of-a-year older than in 2010.

For the first time, the median age of Wisconsin women is above 40.

The fastest-growing demographic group is multi-racial. About 96,000 Wisconsinites are of more than one race - almost 8 percent more than in the 2010 Census.

Storm damage injures two, causes minor flooding in southern reaches

A massive storm system that's rumbling from Iowa to the Mid-Atlantic coast is not as bad as originally feared - but it's still causing lots of damage.

In Lake Delton, two Walmart employees suffered minor injuries last evening when part of the store's roof collapsed. No customers were hurt. Watertown and Juneau each had two inches of rain - and most of Juneau's rainfall came within 45 minutes.

A number of communities in southern Wisconsin had street flooding. The National Weather Service said the side of a garage was blown at Rio in Columbia County, where winds gusted up to 70 miles an hour.

A building in Fall River had severe roof damage. Nickel-sized hail fell at Williams Bay near Lake Geneva. Parts of southwest Wisconsin had tornado warnings.

We Energies said 20,000 electric customers had no power last night in southeast Wisconsin. That number dropped to 1,300 by 4:30 a.m., Thursday. Wisconsin Power-and-Light still had about 140 customers out, mostly in Columbia County.

The damage could have been worse. The Weather Service said the storms did not rise to the severe derecho level that was forecast between the Upper Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard.

The storms have cleared out of Wisconsin, and a sunny day is expected with highs in the 60's-and-70's.

State attorneys question constitutionality of last-minute paint bill

State legislative attorneys question whether a last-minute item in the proposed state budget is constitutional.

The measure says that over 170 families cannot win product liability suits against the lead-based paint industry, unless those families can identify the manufacturer of the paint which made their children sick.

Republicans decided in 2011 to nullify an old Supreme Court ruling, and require the paint identification in future cases.

The new budget measure applies retroactively to cases filed between 2006 and 2011.

Yesterday, the non-partisan Legislative Council said it might be unconstitutional to change the legal playing field that far back. Peter Earle, who represents lead-based paint victims, says he'll challenge the budget measure if it's approved - and he believes he'll win. If he does, Earle says taxpayers would have to cover the costs of his legal challenge.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says lawmakers will most likely press ahead with the measure. Vos, who's a landlord, says he considers Earle's cases against paint-makers to be frivolous.

Vos says lawmakers should try to fix problems even if a court may rule against them later.

Assembly eases Lemon Law a bit for auto-makers

MADISON -- The state Assembly has voted to make Wisconsin's Lemon Law a little sweeter for auto-makers.

The lower house voted 88 to 8 yesterday in favor of a watered-down package that eliminates double-damages against car companies that don't provide either refunds or replacements within 30 days when new vehicles go bad.

The time limit to provide replacements would be extended to 45 days. Also, the amount of time to file lawsuits would be reduced from six years to three.

Several other provisions were dropped in negotiations with trial lawyers.

Assembly Republican Bill Kramer of Waukesha and Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon proposed identical bills aimed at reducing large settlements in Lemon Law cases.

Vince Megna, a Milwaukee attorney who specializes in these cases, says the double-damage provision often resulted in early settlements - and without the provision, he expects cases to drag out in court longer. The Senate takes up the bill next. All eight no votes in the Assembly came from Democrats.

Contentious Farm Bill moves slowly forward

It now appears that the battle over the Farm Bill will be fought in a House-Senate conference committee.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday he would not block passage of a new five-year series of U.S. agricultural policies.

The House could take up its version of the Farm Bill as early as Monday. Boehner said this week that he strongly opposes a market stabilization program for the dairy industry - which could order reductions in milk output when high supplies drive down prices.

Boehner says he has a number of concerns about the Farm Bill - but he'd rather see the negotiating process continue than simply doing nothing, and having the current programs continue.

Last fall, Congress granted a one-year extension for the 2008 farm policy package, after the two parties could not agree on a new one.

The Senate voted earlier this week on its version of the new Farm Bill. Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson was among 27 senators voting no. He said the package had too much funding for food stamps, despite a $400 million dollar annual reduction that was passed.

Assembly bill allows more money for political candidates

MADISON -- Wisconsin political candidates can get more money from individual donors, under a bill passed by the Assembly Wednesday.

A scaled-down package of Republican election reforms was passed by a voice vote without almost no debate. It now goes to the Senate.

Among other things, the bill tentatively scraps the idea of bringing back the photo I-D mandate for voting, while letting poor people vote without I.D.'s by signing affidavits about their status.

The package also would have restricted hours for early voting. Republicans agreed to wait until at least this fall to consider those controversial changes, if they come back at all. Instead, they pushed for a doubling of allowable campaign contributions by individuals.

Donors to statewide candidates could give $20,000 per cycle, $2,000 to Senate candidates, and $1,000 to Assembly hopefuls. Those limits would be automatically adjusted for inflation in the future.

Milwaukee Democrat JoCasta Zamarippa was the only lawmaker to discuss the new bill before the vote. She called it a "mixed bag."

Zamarippa said she did not want more money in politics. However, she noted that donors to individual candidates are disclosed, while those to special interest campaign advertisers are not. Afterward, three Democrats said they would have voted no, had their votes been recorded.

Amy Sue Vruwink of Milladore, Chris Taylor of Madison, and Janet Bewley of Ashland said there's nothing in the bill that will restore the public's confidence in the integrity of the voting system.

Protestors appear as Gogebic Taconite starts exploratory drilling

ASHLAND --Gogebic Taconite started drilling test holes Thursday at the site of its proposed iron ore mine near Lake Superior in Ashland and Iron counties.

The state DNR confirmed the start of the drilling, one day after about 15 protestors showed up at the site.

Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk said the protestors scattered into a wooded area before his officers got there. He said they're reviewing allegations that a one person stole a geologist's camera and cell phone.

Wisconsin Public Radio said there were reports of vandalism and barricades blocking the site - but the sheriff didn't mention that in his news release.

The Bad River Indian tribe, which is downstream from the proposed mine, raised a number of concerns about the exploratory permit. Among other things, the tribe said the DNR did not consult with them before issuing the permit.

The DNR's Ann Coakley told the Associated Press that Gogebic Taconite followed all the proper steps to get a drilling permit - and her agency had no legal grounds to reject it.

Authorities ID man killed by Beloit police

BELOIT -- A man killed by police officers in Beloit was identified Thursday as 23-year-old Darrius Lowery-Baptiste.

He was under surveillance late Tuesday afternoon when he left a house, and officers tailed him. Officials said the man was boxed in by squad cars when he ignored an order to put his own vehicle in park.

He then rammed one squad, and drove toward an officer when two others on the scene shot him. Both are on administrative leave, pending the completion of state-and-local investigations. Officials did not release the officers' names.

One of the shooters was an 18-year veteran of the Beloit Police Department, and the other had three years in.

The state Corrections Department had a warrant out for Lowery-Baptiste for violating a probation. Beloit Police said they also wanted to question him about a series of recent shootings.

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