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Wisconsin roundup: State calls for hold on redistricting pending SCOTUS decision; Jarchow's DNR plan interests Walker; 8 more state news stories

MADISON -- The state Justice Department says Wisconsin should not be forced to redraw its Assembly and Senate districts until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the matter.

A panel of three federal judges ruled in November that the maps drawn by GOP lawmakers in 2011 were unconstitutional, saying they wrongly prevented Democrats from winning enough seats based on the numbers of votes they received. The judicial panel gave both sides until Wednesday to suggest future courses of action -- and the Justice Department says lawmakers should be allowed to redraft the maps, and then put the order on hold while the Supreme Court handles the state's appeal of the November ruling. GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who approved his party's maps, says the state should keep trying to reverse the federal order.

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Walker: Long-debated DNR split may have merit

MADISON — Once again, a state lawmaker proposes splitting the Department of Natural Resources into separate agencies for hunting and fishing and for environmental enforcement.

Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday it's an "interesting idea" that might have merit. In a year-end interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker says his office has examined the latest proposal from fellow Assembly Republican Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake.

Walker calls it interesting, and he says Jarchow has "probably spent as much time and interest in looking into this issue as about any lawmaker" he's seen in the past. Lawmakers of both parties have called for splitting the DNR from time to time and none have gone anywhere. Walker's administration recently proposed a major reorganization of the DNR for next year's state budget, and the governor says he'd like to "give that some time to play out."

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Assembly colleges chairman checks UW courses to see if they're 'legit'

MADISON — The head of the state Assembly Colleges Committee says he's not interested in micromanaging UW-Madison -- but he told his staff to review course offerings to make sure they're "legit."

Greenville Republican Dave Murphy says a Madison class this spring called "The Problem With Whiteness" is not legit -- and unless it's canceled, he and other Republicans say it could put additional state funding for the university system in jeopardy for next year. The UW says the non-required course is a legitimate examination of white culture throughout the world, and will lead to a "deeper understanding" of racial issues. But Murphy tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the class adds to the "polarization of the races in our state," and he says the instructor should be fired.

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State milk production grows for 31st straight month

MADISON — The streak continues.

The USDA says November was the 31st straight month that Wisconsin milk production grew from the same time the previous year. Dairy cows in the Badger State pumped out a little more than 2.4 billion pounds of milk last month, 2 percent more than last November -- and they did it with 3,000 fewer cows, each of which made 45 pounds more milk than last November for a total of 1,890 pounds per animal.

Wisconsin remains the country's second largest producer behind California -- which saw its milk output rise 0.2 percent during the past year, to 3.2 billion pounds. Wisconsin's November increase was the same as the national jump, but a bit smaller than the 2.6 percent rise among the 23 major dairy states.

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State argues why Dassey's conviction should stand

CHICAGO — A deputy solicitor general for the state Justice Department says it's not true that police used a false story to squeeze out a murder confession from a vulnerable Brendan Dassey.

The state filed a legal brief Wednesday with the federal appeals court in Chicago, as it tries to uphold Dassey's conviction for the brutal 2005 death of Teresa Halbach in Manitowoc County. A federal magistrate judge in Milwaukee threw out the conviction earlier this year, saying the then-16-year-old Dassey could not handle the techniques police used in drawing out confessions that both he and his uncle Steven Avery shot, burned, and raped Halbach -- and therefore, Dassey's constitutional rights were violated. Avery is also appealing his murder conviction, after the Netflix series "Making a Murderer" raised doubts about both guilty verdicts.

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Packers offer chance to make Christmas cash

GREEN BAY — Folks who live close to Lambeau Field will have a chance Thursday morning to make some extra cash for Christmas.

The Green Bay Packers say they need up to 650 people to shovel snow from the bleacher seats, so fans can be halfway comfortable at Saturday's home game against Minnesota. It's been 18 days since the Packers played at Lambeau, and a lot of snow has fallen since then.

Interested shovelers must be at least 18, the Packers will provide the shovels, and they'll get $10 per hour when they're finished.

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Walker won't push for high school drug testing

MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker says he's not wild about making high school students pass drug tests if they want to be in extracurricular activities or park their cars at school.

Assembly Republican Joel Kleefisch of Oconomowoc says he'll push for the requirements next year as part of a recommendation by various leaders to fight heroin abuse. But during his annual year end interviews with individual reporters, Walker said he had not heard the drug testing idea discussed anywhere else -- and he wants to focus on things that "seem to have the most universal attention" in the upcoming legislative session. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he has not "seen a groundswell of support" for Kleefisch's proposed bill.

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Furnace installed hours before house exploded

NEW AUBURN -- Fire officials in Chippewa County say a furnace had been installed in a house under construction just hours before an explosion destroyed the structure.

The blast Monday night leveled the three-story house being built on Long Lake near New Auburn. Officials say the blast was so strong it damaged homes up to a-half mile away.

Television station WQOW reports that New Auburn Fire Chief Thomas Bishel said there had to be a tremendous amount of gas in the house to cause such a powerful explosion. Bischel says crews will continue to investigate what caused the gas leak that they suspect triggered the explosion. Officials say it caused extensive damage to at least six other homes.

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Eagles continue to soar in Wisconsin

When Tommy Thompson was governor, he told people that Wisconsin was where "Harleys roar, eagles soar, and the Packers score."

Well, Harley-Davidson and the Packers are not having their best years, but the state DNR says observers counted a record 1,504 occupied eagle nests throughout the Badger State this past spring. Eagles and other raptors were close to extinction as recently as the 1970s before the pesticide DDT was banned, and new federal and state laws protected bald eagles.

They were found in all parts of the state this year except for the far southeast where no breeding eagles were spotted in Kenosha, Walworth, and Milwaukee counties. Record numbers of osprey nests were also spotted.

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Packers, Vikings both hurting as Saturday showdown nears

GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings are both limping into Saturday's NFC North contest at Lambeau Field.

First, the good news for Packer fans -- Aaron Rodgers was a full participant at Wednesday's practice, as his strained right calf appears better than last week. But the Green Bay defense is short at outside linebacker with Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, and Kyler Fackrell the only healthy players. Clay Matthews presses on despite a shoulder injury -- and Jayrone Elliott and Nick Perry may or may not play after Elliott broke a finger on his left hand at Chicago. Nick Perry is back at practice on a limited basis with a club on an injured hand that forced him to miss two games.

For the Vikings, running back Adrian Peterson now says he might not play Saturday after missing Wednesday's practice with his knee and groin injuries -- and receivers Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell both missed Wednesday practice. Both teams remain in the playoff chase with Green Bay at 8-6 and Minnesota at 7-7.

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