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Between showers, bulk of state's corn crop now planted; Severson-sponsored 'apology' bill gets hearing; more state briefs

Almost two-thirds of Wisconsin's corn crop has been planted. Officials say over 20 percent of the crop was put into the ground last week but corn planting is still 21 percent below the average for the past five years.

Wisconsin is the only Midwest state with less than 80 percent of its corn planted. There are reports that growers are thinking about switching some of their normal corn acreage to soybeans, due to the planting delays caused by the extended winter.

A series of rainstorms further delayed field work last week and after the Drought of 2012, soil moisture has gone the other way.

Madison has received almost seven more inches of precipitation this year than normal and Eau Claire is six inches above normal.

Twelve percent of Wisconsin farm fields have surplus moisture.

The rains have helped fill in some of the bare spots in the hay fields. That provides at least a little help for farmers short of forage.

Twenty-nine percent of Wisconsin's soybean crop has been planted, down from the norm of 60 percent. The state's oat crop needs warmer temperatures, as only 55 percent of the crop is out of the ground with 86 percent planted.

-- Bob Meyer, Brownfield Ag News Service


Lawmakers' per diems tally at $775,000

MADISON -- Wisconsin taxpayers spent $775,000 last year to feed and house state legislators while they were in Madison.

Ninety-six Assembly members claimed about $546,000 in per-diem payments.

Thirty-six senators - including some chosen in special elections during the year - claimed $228,000.

Republican Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau received $14,600 in expense checks, the most among the lawmakers in both houses. Assembly GOP leader Scott Suder of Abbotsford had the second-highest claims, around $13,000.

Both lawmakers spent more time at the Capitol than others, as they helped set the agendas for their respective houses.

The Wisconsin State Journal says Democrats claimed more expense money on average than Republicans. Democrats ran the Senate for about six months last year. The GOP ran both houses the rest of the time.

Lawmakers can claim $88 a day for food and lodging expenses while in Madison. Legislators from surrounding Dane County get $44 a day.


Rep. Severson-sponsored bill up for hearing Wednesday

MADISON -- Wisconsin doctors would not be held liable for apologizing to their patients for medical mistakes, under a bill that's up for a public hearing Wednesday.

The Assembly Health Committee will take testimony on a measure which seeks to let health professionals express condolences to patients and families, without fear of losing malpractice suits.

The Assembly's main sponsor is Star Prairie Republican Erik Severson, who is an emergency room physician.

A similar measure was proposed in the Senate by Wauwatosa Republican Leah Vukmir, who's a nurse.

The GOP Assembly passed the bill two years ago, but it did not get through the Senate.

Former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle vetoed the same bill in 2006. Critics said Doyle was showing his bias toward trial lawyers.

A lawyers' group opposes the new bill, saying it goes too far by not holding doctors accountable if they admit fault in their apologies. The state's Hospital Association and Medical Society both support the bill, saying it could reduce the need to for families to file lawsuits to see what really happened to their loved ones.

Also Wednesday, the Assembly Health panel will take testimony on two abortion-related bills.

Elkhart Lake Republican Steve Kestell is sponsoring a bill that calls for civil liability and penalties against doctors who perform abortions just because the mother doesn't like the gender of the fetus.

The other bill would restrict abortions to public employees if any public funds are involved. It also lets health plans use religious grounds to side-step the requirement that contraceptives be included in plans that cover other prescriptions.


Voter ID law sponsor seeks support for revised bill

MADISON -- A chief sponsor of Wisconsin's photo identification law for voting wants his colleagues to support a new bill to address concerns raised by judges who struck the law down.

Assembly Republican Jeff Stone of Greendale is asking lawmakers to co-sponsor his new measure - which would also make changes to other state election laws.

Stone's bill would exempt poor people from having to show ID's if they sign affidavits saying they're poor, cannot get an ID without paying for a birth certificate, or have a religious objection to being photographed. Their ballots would be marked, and their credentials would be checked if there's a recount.

The state continues to appeal rulings from two Dane County judges who struck down the voter ID law last year. Two federal challenges are also pending.

Assistant Democratic Minority Leader Sandy Pasch says the GOP should work to create jobs instead of quote, "pushing a divisive and unnecessary anti-voter agenda."

Stone's bill would also prohibit voters from showing electronic items as proof-of-residence when they register. It also lets lobbyists give to state candidates for a longer period during election years.

School boards would be banned from using tax dollars to promote referendums to exceed state revenue limits. Candidates who seek recounts would have to pay more, if they lose by over a half-percent. Recalls of local officials could only be sought for criminal charges or ethics violations - something that's already being considered in a separate bill.

Stone says he'd rather address necessary election reforms in one bill, instead of 25 to 30 measures floating around.


All juniors would have to take the ACT under budget measure

MADISON -- All Wisconsin high school juniors would have to take the ACT college entrance exam, under a budget measure to be considered by the state Legislature's finance panel Wednesday.

Gov. Scott Walker and state public school Superintendent Tony Evers wants to use the ACT and other tests to replace the long-running WKCE achievement exams.

Eleventh-graders would take the ACT and the Work-Keys' test that's designed to test job skills. Elementary youngsters would take a new exam designed by a group of 28 states including Wisconsin.

All of tests are aligned with the state's new education standards. The budget panel is also scheduled Wednesday to take up the governor's plan to expand private school vouchers in up to nine additional school districts.

Senate Republicans had talked about a possible compromise, but no deal emerged as of Tuesday.

Also Wednesday the budget panel will decide whether to clarify a law to require stores with roll-your-own cigarette machines to pay manufacturing taxes.

Wisconsin requires cigarette makers to pay taxes of just over $2.50 per pack. The state began a crackdown on roll-your-own businesses last year, to get them to pay the manufacturing tax.

Wausau store owner Robert Petersen then filed suit, saying it's customers who do the manufacturing - not the machine owners.

Petersen withdrew his lawsuit after President Obama signed a federal law last year which declared roll-your-own machine owners as manufacturers.

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed state budget would put Wisconsin law in line with the new federal designation.


Justice to close Superior field office

SUPERIOR -- The state Justice Department will close its field office in Superior to save money.

Attorney General J.B Van Hollen says two of the four special agents in the office are retiring. The other two will keep working, but their boss will be the agent-in-charge of the Eau Claire office, Jed Sperry.

The current supervisor at the Superior office, Jay Smith, will keep working without his administrative duties - and he's getting a pay cut as a result.

Justice officials did not say when the Superior office would close, or how much money it would save.


GOP at impasse on school vouchers expansion

MADISON -- Top Republican leaders met Tuesday to seek an agreement on expanding Wisconsin's private school voucher program.

Senate President Mike Ellis said the group was at an impasse. Negotiations will continue, but it's not likely they can reach a deal Wednesday - when the Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on Gov. Scott Walker's plan to expand the voucher program.

It gives tax funding to low-income kids so they attend private schools with the goal of getting a better education. It operated in parts of Milwaukee for 20 years before expanding to the Milwaukee suburbs and Racine two years ago.

Now, Walker wants to expand the choice program to Madison, Green Bay, and seven other Wisconsin districts with low-performing public schools. He said parents should have the choice of sending their kids to better schools.

Some GOP lawmakers are concerned about the loss of state aid that the public districts would face. They've been pushing for a compromise.

Ellis said Walker met Tuesday on the issue with him, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Senate Education Committee chair Luther Olsen, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.


Wausau-area girl with heart condition succumbs

WAUSAU -- A Wausau area girl with an incurable heart condition has died, the day after she turned six on Memorial Day.

Kayleigh Gurzynski of Rib Mountain had Turner's syndrome and a rare heart defect known as "Hypo-plastic Left Heart syndrome."

Officials at Milwaukee Children's Hospital said Kayleigh lived longer than any of its previous patients with the same diagnosis.

Earlier this year, Kayleigh had a dream-come-true when she met Lady Gaga. The two chatted on the eve of Valentine's Day in Chicago.

Tony Waitekus of WIFC Radio in Wausau pulled some strings at the request of the girl's family - and Gaga agreed to see her, even though the rock music star could barely walk herself. She had canceled a show in Chicago after developing a hip injury and extreme joint inflammation.

Kayleigh Gurzynski died just before 2 a.m., Wednesday.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU-WIFC, Wausau


Ex-postman who stole rebate catches a break

MADISON -- A former letter carrier in Superior has been fined $2,500 for stealing a $118 Menards rebate check he was supposed to deliver on his walking route.

Brent Olson, 37, told Federal Judge Barbara Crabb of Madison that he didn't know why he stole the check. He said sought counseling to find out why he took the postcard rebate that Ed Nelson never received.

Store video showed Olson using the rebate, and Crabb said it appeared that three checks were involved in the theft.

Still, the judge said she would not send Olson to jail or probation because he's been a "good citizen" except for the incident - which occurred a year ago last Sunday. Olson has already reimbursed Nelson.