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New UW Madison chancellor hails from Twin Cities; tribes announce highest-ever spearing goals; more state news

Wisconsin's six Chippewa tribes have filed documents with the WDNR stating they hope to harvest 59,000 pounds of walleye by spearing this spring, up 13 percent from last year's goal.

MADISON -- Officials from President Obama on down have high praise for the nation's commerce leader who was picked Monday to be the new chancellor at UW-Madison.

Rebecca Blank was chosen by UW President Kevin Reilly and a special Regents' committee to replace Biddy Martin, who left two years ago to become the president of Amherst College.

Blank, the acting U.S. commerce secretary since 2009, was one of four finalists to run Wisconsin's flagship public campus. She grew up at Roseville, Minn., and earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota.

Obama called Blank a tireless advocate for American businesses. He said the UW would have an "outstanding chancellor for years to come."

Gov. Scott Walker said Blank has excellent academic credentials, strong leadership experience and "a keen knowledge of economic issues that can help the UW promote great prosperity in the state."

Reilly said Blank has a strong track record of educational innovation. Among other things, she created a new undergraduate major in public policy during a decade-long tenure at the University of Michigan. Blank is currently out of the country, co-chairing a meeting of the U.S. Brazil CEO Forum. She said she's honored to be appointed at the UW, calling it one of the nation's foremost public universities.

The Board of Regents is expected to confirm her appointment April 5. She'll replace acting chancellor David Ward in July.


State's Medicaid substitute to 'Obamacare' will cost employers at least $24 million

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker's Medicaid plan under the Obama health law could cost Wisconsin employers a total of $24 million to $36 million a year, according to a new national study by the Jackson-Hewitt Tax Service.

The firm estimates that Wisconsin will have 12,000 workers who get government subsidies while relying on the new federal exchanges for their insurance. Under the health law, their employers will be hit with additional taxes of $2,000 to $3,000 each.

Under Walker's proposed state budget, those above the poverty line who now get BadgerCare Plus would be moved to the exchanges - thus letting more adults in poverty get BadgerCare.

Walker spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster defended the extra employer taxes by saying that the governor's plan would cut the number of uninsured Wisconsinites in half. She said it would also reduce government dependence and let more people make their own health care decisions.

The federal government has offered to pay the added expenses of expanding state Medicaid programs at least through 2020, but Walker turned it down, saying that Washington might not be able to keep its end of the bargain.

Meanwhile, at least two Wisconsin counties want to see if the federal government would give them extra money to expand their Medicaid programs even though the governor has rejected the funding statewide.

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said he has written federal officials about the idea and he's working with U.S. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin to see if it's possible. A spokeswoman for Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said he's also exploring it.

Nelson said it would bring in an extra $30 million a year for his county. He says he has a responsibility to "get our fair share of those resources."

Both Nelson and Parisi used to be in the state Assembly as Democrats and their current party brethren have been extremely critical of Walker for saying no to the increased federal aid.

Stephanie Smiley of the State Health Services Department said there's no way counties can break from the Walker edict. She said federal rules require Medicaid programs to be run by a single state agency and their components must be available statewide unless there's a local waiver for a pilot program.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he, too, looked at his own Medicaid expansion. But after talking with federal officials, he agreed it wouldn't work.


Chippewa tribe promises near-record spearing harvest this spring

Chippewa Indians in northern Wisconsin say they'll take a near-record number of walleye in their annual spring spearing harvest.

Six tribes said they would spear just over 59,000 fish as part of their long-standing treaty rights. That would leave a lot fewer walleye for sport anglers once their season begins in May.

Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp said the Indians are acting within their treaty rights, but she said the increase in the spearing declarations is "significant, unprecedented and a challenge to long-standing partnerships."

The DNR said the largest of the six tribes, the Lac du Flambeau, effectively ended a 1997 agreement to limit its harvests in exchange for the ability to sell state recreational licenses. The Lac du Flambeau will lose $84,000 from the state plus revenue from license sales.

Tribal officials have not commented on that.

The DNR said the bag limits for sport fishing would be cut to one per day on 197 lakes, two per day on 331 lakes, and three on seven lakes. The state's normal daily limit is five.

Most years, the tribes don't take all the fish they declare, and the state ends up increasing the daily bag limits for sport anglers. Last year, the Chippewa speared 32,000 walleye after declaring 54,000.


Severe weather continues; Green Bay breaks 30-year snow record

Most of Wisconsin remains under severe weather advisories until late Tuesday morning, due to a wicked combination of snow, freezing rain and strong winds.

The snowstorm is pretty much gone, but strong gusts continue in the 30 mph range and that's causing some difficult drifts, especially in west central Wisconsin.

Schools are closed today in Medford, Bayfield and Wabeno. Many other schools are running two hours late, especially in the western half of the Badger State. Only a handful of delays are reported in the east, although Green Bay had the most snow with almost six inches.

The National Weather Service said Green Bay broke a 30-year-old snow record for the date Monday with 4.8 inches. Parts of southwest, north central and northeast Wisconsin had 4-5 inches. In other places, the big problem was the freezing rain.

Clark County authorities reported numerous slide-ins and white-out conditions occurred on the Hwy. 41 expressway in the Appleton area.

Clearing skies and diminishing winds are in the forecast for this afternoon. It's also supposed to get colder again with lows dropping down from 2 to 10 above statewide. More snow showers are possible tomorrow with highs around 20.


Rep. Severson co-sponsoring 'Doctor Apology' bill

MADISON -- Republicans will try again to let doctors apologize for their medical mistakes without having it come back to bite them in court. Wauwatosa Sen. Leah Vukmir and Rep. Erik Severson of Star Prairie are asking colleagues to co-sponsor their measure.

Severson is a doctor, and Vukmir is a nurse. Both say they want to give medical professionals the chance to express condolences to patients and families without fear of "frivolous malpractice lawsuits."

Republicans in the Assembly passed the same bill two years ago, but it never passed the Senate. Former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed the same bill in 2006 in which critics at the time called a bias toward trial lawyers.

The state's Medical Society and Hospital Association both support the measure. They say it could reduce the need for patients' relatives to file lawsuits in order to find out what happened to their loved ones.

The Wisconsin Association for Justice says the bill goes too far by not holding doctors accountable if they admit fault in their apologies. Thirty-five states have medical apology laws, but the justice group says only a few are as strict as the Wisconsin bill.


State's 'Open Book' website aims disclose state spending

MADISON -- The state Administration Department now says it will launch a website next week to give people a better idea of where their state tax dollars are going.

Department Secretary Mike Huebsch said "Open Book-Wisconsin" has been two years in the making and the first data will show what the state paid for goods and services from the 2008 fiscal year until the most current month. Users will be able to search for records by departments, expense categories and vendors.

Huebsch told Wisconsin Public Radio that state employee salaries and fringe benefits will be added to the "Open Book" site in the next few months. But some employees, like undercover agents, will not have their data posted.

Huebsch said Gov. Scott Walker has made transparency in government expenses a major priority, and there's a lot of data to enter into the new website.

The state created a website in 2006 which was supposed to list state government contracts, but Gannett newspapers said only 14 of 98 agencies posted the data. On Monday, Gannett reported that compliance has improved, but it's still not where it should be.


Officers honored for saving troubled 15-year-old

STEVENS POINT -- Two Stevens Point police officers are being recognized for saving a 15-year-old boy while he was trying to take his own life.

It happened Friday afternoon on the Clark Street Bridge over the Wisconsin River. Police Chief Kevin Ruder said the boy was unruly when he ran away from counselors and he had climbed over a railing to jump into the river's frigid waters.

Officer Joan Moss leaned over the rail and caught the teen and Officer Joe Kramer and the boy's counselor helped get him back to the bridge deck.

Ruder said the teenager is now getting the help he needs, and the two officers will be honored at an upcoming meeting of the Stevens Point Common Council.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


State's honey output grew 21% last year

Wisconsin's honey bees were much busier in 2012.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said producers with five or more colonies made over 4.3 million pounds of honey last year. That's a whopping 21% more than the previous year, while similar production nationally went down by 1%.

Wisconsin is the nation's eighth-largest honey producer. The state's larger beekeepers had 63,000 colonies in 2012 -- 6,000 more than the previous year.

The state's yield per colony was 69 pounds, 13 pounds higher than the national average. Wisconsin's honey brought a premium price of $2.04 a pound last year, up from $1.89 in 2011 and 9 cents higher than the national price of $1.95.

North Dakota is the largest honey state by far with its 500,000 colonies churning out 34 million pounds of honey in 2012. South Dakota was a distant second.


No criminal charges expected in tot's killing by pit bulls

Sheriff's deputies in far southern Wisconsin are almost finished investigating an attack by two pit bulls that killed a 14-month-old boy almost two weeks ago.

Walworth County sheriff's captain Dana Nigbor said she does not expect criminal charges in the mauling of Daxton Borchardt. The district attorney's office will have the final say on charges and D.A. Daniel Necci said it's too soon to tell what his office might do.

Daxton was at a babysitter's house near Walworth on March 6 when both the child and the female babysitter were attacked by a pair of pit bulls.

The 30-year-old babysitter owned the dogs, which were euthanized soon after the incident. The woman survived.


Family that provided alcohol for teen party strikes plea deal

PEWAUKEE -- A Pewaukee couple and their teenage son will pay a total of $2,700 in fines for hosting a youth alcohol party that resulted in three traffic deaths.

Scott and Charlene Wetzel and their 18-year-old son Jason were initially given 26 citations by Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel.

On Monday, a judge accepted a plea deal in which Charlene accepted four citations, and the two male defendants accepted one ticket. The district attorney said the fines send a strong message that it's not acceptable for adults to provide alcohol to other people's children.

All three people killed in the traffic crash were 18. They were Hartland Arrowhead High School graduates Kody Koepke and Timothy Peters, and Arrowhead senior Ian Glidden.

Koepke had a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit from what he drank at the Wetzels' party. Police said he was going 53 mph in a 30 mph zone when the car slammed into a utility pole.

Schimel said just nine underage people admitted drinking at the party and it was almost certain that more alcohol was provided than a 30-pack of beer that Charlene was caught with.


Langlade authorities unable to pinpoint snowmobiler's cause of death

ANTIGO -- Authorities in north central Wisconsin say they're puzzled by Saturday's death of a snowmobiler.

Langlade County Chief Deputy John Schunke told the Antigo Daily Journal there was no evidence of a crash.

He said Robert Ottman, 55, of Rhinelander was alive when his machine reached the end of a private stretch of land next to Otter Lake near Elcho. Ottman was reportedly planning to ride on the lake.

Langlade County Coroner Larry Shadick said Ottman could have died from exposure, but other factors remained possible before an autopsy was conducted Monday.

Ottman's body was found next to his machine. Authorities have not been able to find his helmet. There's no evidence of foul play.